Prosperity Gospel – religion and capitalism – Page 1

see also  Prosperity Gospel – Religion and Capitalism – Page 2

How Hyper-Religious Political Stunts by Republicans Keep Voters Captive to Corporate Ideology by CJ WERLEMAN, AlterNet, Mar-3, 2014  If you want to know why nine out of the 10 poorest states are located in the hyper-religious South, look no further than this calculated right-wing political play, which is designed for one purpose: to ensure Southern and Sunbelt voters continue to vote against their own self-economic interests.

A Christian Nation? Since When? By KEVIN M. KRUSE, New York Times, MARCH 14, 2015 How Business Made Us Christian 

How Corporate America Invented Christian America By KEVIN M. KRUSE, Politico.com, April 16, 2015  Inside one reverend’s big business-backed 1940s crusade to make the country conservative again.

How Big Business Invented the Theology of ‘Christian Libertarianism’ and the Gospel of Free Market By Kevin Kruse / AlterNet, June 1, 2015 The inside history of how Evangelical preachers were used to infuse society with the economic dogma that plagues us today.

Why Christian Fundamentalism Is Still a Big Deal in U.S. Politics and How It Got That Way By Eric C. Miller / Religion Dispatches June 10, 2015 

 

We Need to Advocate Radical Solutions to Systemic Problems

- Interview By Mark Karlin with Robert McChesney, Truthout, January 4, 2015

In this interview, Robert McChesney, author of “Blowing the Roof Off the Twenty-First Century,” discusses net neutrality advocacy, how the concentration of capital and media monopolies stifle democracy, and his hopes for a post-capitalist democracy in the United States.

Robert McChesney, a leader in challenging the corporate media’s role in degrading democracy, carries on this fight with Blowing the Roof Off the Twenty-First Century. In the book, he makes an urgent and compelling argument for ending communication monopolies and building a post-capitalist democracy that serves people over corporations. You can obtain the book now with a contribution to Truthout by clicking here.

Mark Karlin: In a Truthout Progressive Pick of the Week interview in 2013 about your book, Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism Is Turning the Internet Against Democracy, you reflected profound pessimism about the capture of the internet by large corporations – and the evolution of net consumers into marketing “products.” Is the trend of the co-option of the web by a few large corporations accelerating?

Robert McChesney: Whether the process is accelerating is a difficult question to measure or to answer. That the process exists and that it is the dominant fact about the internet is not controversial. Barring radical policy intervention, the domination of the internet by a handful of gigantic monopolists will continue and remain the order of the day. After Digital Disconnect was published, I had a meeting in October 2013 with Sue Gardner, who was then the person in charge of Wikipedia. Sue told me that it would be impossible for Wikipedia or anything like it to get launched by then, because the system was locked down by the giants and privileged commercial values. I was left with the impression that Wikipedia got in just before the deadline, so to speak.

If economic power is concentrated in a few powerful hands you have the political economy for feudalism, or authoritarianism, not democracy.

What is striking about this corporate monopolization of the internet is that all the wealth and power has gone to a small number of absolutely enormous firms. As we enter 2015, 13 of the 33 most valuable corporations in the United States are internet firms, and nearly all of them enjoy monopolistic market power as economists have traditionally used the term. If you continue to scan down the list there are precious few internet firms to be found. There is not much of a middle class or even an upper-middle class of internet corporations to be found.

This poses a fundamental problem for democracy, though it is one that mainstream commentators and scholars appear reluctant to acknowledge: If economic power is concentrated in a few powerful hands you have the political economy for feudalism, or authoritarianism, not democracy. Concentrated economic power invariably overwhelms the political equality democracy requires, leading to routinized corruption and an end of the rule of law. That is where we are today in the United States.

You were a co-founder with John Nichols of Free Press, the leading citizens’ advocate for net neutrality. Do you have any expectation that the FCC [Federal Communications Commission], headed by a former lobbyist and shill for mass communication corporations, will actually preserve net neutrality – such as it is – by bestowing “common carrier” status on the internet?

Everything structurally points to a pessimistic answer, as your question implies. There are grounds for hope. First, understand that what net neutrality is trying to prevent is the privatization of the internet – its conversion to cable TV – by the handful of behemoths that have created a cartel for internet service provision (ISP), most notably Comcast, Verizon and AT&T. These firms are parasites who enjoy spectacular profitability due to their ability to build on government monopoly licenses and their ownership of politicians and regulators. But the balance of the corporate community has no particular reason to be enthusiastic about eliminating net neutrality.

When people tune out politics, they are not being hip or cool or ironic. They are being played.

It will simply mean that the ISPs will be able to shake them down for more money to have access to their networks. The ISP cartel has tried to buy off or at least neutralize key internet monopolists with varying degrees of success, but they cannot make an especially compelling argument. Corporations like Google are frustrated by the crappy, overpriced service the ISP cartels provide, and it is affecting their business models. So proponents of net neutrality have some important moneyed interests who are sympathetic to their cause. And in American politics today – where democracy in the textbook sense does not exist – that means everything. It is worth noting that in the scores of US cities with municipally owned and operated broadband networks, local businesses form an enthusiastic base of support. They love getting much better service – for them and their customers – at a lower cost.

Second, there is near unanimous public support for net neutrality among those who know what the issue is and what it is about. This is true across the political spectrum. Free Press has led the organizing coalition and the support is simply off the charts. Behind much of the so-called grassroots support for abolishing net neutrality among (the absurdly misnamed) “libertarian” groups on the right or civil rights groups of the left, one can find a direct or indirect payoff from the cartel. So a politician like Barack Obama used his unconditional support for net neutrality as a rallying cry for his presidential campaign in 2007-08. That has put him in an uncomfortable position in view of the cartel’s pressure on the FCC to accede to the cartel’s wishes. But Obama, to his credit, has recently restated his commitment to net neutrality and his support for seeing the internet regulated like a telecommunication industry would be by law. So there are grounds for hope.

Your latest book, Blowing the Roof Off the Twenty-First Century: Media, Politics, and the Struggle for Post-Capitalist Democracy, returns – as you almost always do in your writing – to the issue of how the concentration of capital and corporate behemoths stifle democracy. Do you have any expectation – given how the internet offered so much promise of being a tool to invigorate a robust democracy and then was co-opted – that the course of unbridled capitalism can be reversed?

How the tension between really existing capitalism and democracy plays out in the United States is impossible to predict, but it is the definitional issue of our times and will be until it is resolved. Every other issue of note – from militarism and the environment to the quality of our lives and the status of our liberties – runs through it. In the book, I address the pessimism that pervades our times because of the sense that the powers-that-be are all-powerful, and resistance is therefore futile. Although understandable, and a safe position to take, it is also absurdly ahistorical. Humans invariably think that tomorrow will be an extension of today. Change is impossible to anticipate in a precise sense. Then once it happens everyone acts like they saw it coming. What we can do is understand the problems in our system and be prepared to resolve them in a humane and equitable manner when they grow so severe as to create crisis points. We do not have the luxury of giving up, because pessimism is self-fulfilling. And, as I discuss in the book, those in power are obsessed with depoliticizing society because they know we have the numbers on our side and they cannot win a fair fight. When people tune out politics, they are not being hip or cool or ironic. They are being played.

How do two of your chapters, “The US Imperial Triangle and Military Spending” and “The Penal State in an Age of Crisis,” illustrate the degeneration of capitalism in the US?

US capitalism is fundamentally flawed, and has a strong tendency toward stagnation. Left to its own devises, without exogenous factors, the private economy cannot generate sufficient jobs and incomes for full employment. That means low growth rates, rising poverty and growing inequality. Due to popular pressure, government politics can arrest these tendencies, with public works programs, progressive taxation, support for unions and the like. Capitalists generally oppose these measures as an impingement on their prerogatives and their control over the economy. Even in Scandinavia, where working-class victories created a much-admired social democracy (unless you are a FOX News fan), capitalists lie in wait always keen to reverse the victories and turn back the clock. In the United States, military spending became the one form of government stimulus spending that faced no serious opposition from capitalists coming out of World War II, and instead it created an army of corporate supporters: Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex. Militarism is now so hard-wired into really existing capitalism in the United States that the call to reduce it to a level approaching sanity becomes a demand to rethink the entire structure of the economy.

Civilian spending remained constant because a significant portion of what had been social spending was converted to prison spending, which is included in the civilian (non-military) spending category.

Since the 1970s, the far right has come to dominate American politics and both political parties have become more preoccupied with serving large corporations and billionaire investors – and much less concerned with the needs of the general population. In doing research on the matter of whether Obama might launch a new “New Deal” upon his election in 2008, my friend John Bellamy Foster and I wrote an essay that is in the book arguing that the key determinant of a new New Deal will be if the amount of government spending for civilian (non-military) purposes increases as a percentage of GDP above the level it had been stuck at since the New Deal raised it in the late 1930s. We argued that it was highly unlikely because of the strong corporate political pressures that exist, and we have been proven right.

But we were also struck by the fact that civilian spending at all levels of government had not changed much as a percentage of GDP for decades, despite all the right-wing attacks on social spending that have dominated the past three or four decades. How could that be? The answer became clear: Civilian spending remained constant because a significant portion of what had been social spending was converted to prison spending, which is included in the civilian (non-military) spending category. Factoring this in, the actual provision of social services had declined as a percentage of GDP. And now, as with the military, there is a huge private sector that benefits from the prison-industrial complex and lobbies for its expansion at every turn, while no major corporate interests oppose the expansion of prisons.

What does this illustrate about the degeneration of US capitalism? As a system, it requires extensive government spending, but it tends toward military and police spending as the preferred option, and that creates all sorts of spectacular problems for anything remotely close to democracy. This point was well understood by the [constitutional] framers who wanted to eliminate as much as possible the scourge of militarism from coming into existence. As Madison and Jefferson repeatedly wrote, a nation that is permanently at war cannot remain free. Militarism generated secrecy, inequality, corruption and what we would call jingoism that in combination would overwhelm democratic institutions and practices.

Truer words have never been written.

What do you mean by the term “post-capitalist” democracy?

If one believes, as I do, that the evidence points squarely to the conclusion that really existing capitalism is fundamentally flawed and increasingly incompatible with democracy and possibly human existence, then establishing an alternative is of paramount importance. I should qualify this immediately. I use the term “really existing capitalism” to describe what actually exists in the United States (and, to varying degrees, worldwide): massive corporations, unfettered greed, corrupt governance, hollowed-out democracy, endless corporate propaganda, obscene inequality, crumbling physical and social infrastructure, crappy, dead-end jobs and a mindless, narcissistic culture. I do not refer to the PR pabulum spewed by politicians and pundits about free markets, entrepreneurs, upward mobility, meritocracy and the invisible hand. That has as much to do with capitalism in the United States today as paeans to workers democracy did to describing the Soviet experience.

The problem with capitalism is ultimately that it radically increases the productive capacity of society but it keeps control over the wealth in the hands of profit-driven individuals and firms.

Why not call the alternative socialism? Well, I am a socialist and I understand that [socialism] to be a system where the vast wealth of society is controlled democratically and put to social purposes; it is not controlled by a narrow sliver of society to do with as suits them. I think the general Marxist assessment of capitalism’s fatal flaw applies today more than ever: The problem with capitalism is ultimately that it radically increases the productive capacity of society but it keeps control over the wealth in the hands of profit-driven individuals and firms, who control how this potential will be developed to suit their own interests. So it is that the productivity of the average worker is many times greater today than is was 50 years ago. But that increase in productivity has not translated into higher living standards, a shorter working week and/or a huge buildout of the infrastructure. Instead we see living standards in decline, inequality mushrooming and infrastructure in varying states of collapse, while there is a record number of gazillionaires. These are clear signs of an economic system that no longer plays a productive role and needs to be replaced.

But the term socialism begs as many questions as it answers and from my experience tends to get people off-track. I think we have to begin tangible discussions and debates over how to take important aspects of our society where capitalist control is clearly dangerous and inimical to democratic practices and values and eliminate it there. For example, take the profit out of militarism and prisons. No one should have a vested interest in war. Take the profit out of financial speculation, that serves no public good. Take the profit out of energy, if we agree that we have a handful of mega-corporations flossing their teeth with politicians’ underpants while the earth gets flame-broiled like a marshmallow. Let’s create nonprofit, accountable alternatives. The point is to replace profit-driven institutions with democratically run alternatives in key sectors, all the while extending democratic freedoms and practices. I could go on and on.

I have no particular antagonism to small business, and a great deal of respect for the people who launch and run them. I started two concerns in my life, one a for-profit rock magazine in Seattle and another a nonprofit public interest group called Free Press. Both succeeded not by exploiting the labor of its workers as much as exploiting the labor of its owners and management. We worked our butts off. I see small business as an extension of labor as much as an extension of capital. In this sense, I am influenced by Lincoln.

So to me the debate should not concern whether some dude selling falafel sandwiches out of his van near a football game should have his enterprise nationalized. That is idiotic. The debate has to be whether we can afford to have so much of the commanding heights of our economy under the control of billionaires and monopolists who use their immense power to enrich themselves but impoverish the rest of us. Until we start having that debate we will not make much headway on the great problems we face.

Can you expand upon your statement in the book that “many liberals who wish to reform and humanize capitalism are uncomfortable with seemingly radical movements, and often work to distance themselves from them”? What are the implications of such a stance?

One of the ironies of American politics is that an element of the progressive community recoils from what I just said because they fear it will antagonize people in power and limit their effectiveness when, say, Democrats win office. The argument is that we can only argue for positions that are acceptable to the mainstream liberal community or else we will lose our ability to influence policy because we will get cast into the wilderness as certified weirdos. The evidence is now in: that approach does not work.

What was most striking about the Occupy movement was how it instantly changed the discussion – albeit briefly – on inequality. Even the Republicans mouthed pieties that this was a real problem that needs a policy solution. That shows what happens when people take principled positions and stick to them. It also shows what happens when people take to the streets for nonviolent protest. It is why the right to assemble and redress grievances is as important a part of the First Amendment as freedom of the press, freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

The paradox is that when there are radicals in the streets raising hell on a principled position, it creates space for the “inside-the-system” crowd to actually get reforms accomplished. The 1960s and early 1970s is a great example of this. But the “inside-the-system” progressive crowd never quite gets that. To some extent it is because they gain their legitimacy by being border policemen, and denigrating those outside the corridors of power as irresponsible and not serious players.

How do you respond to those who argue that revolutionary economic change in the US is not possible because those who earn the minimum wage or are unemployed as a result of capitalist indifference often are ardently pro-capitalist and anti-socialist? This is documented particularly among whites who have only a high school education. What is the disconnect here in getting this demographic to join in systemic economic change that would benefit them?

Neil Postman tells the great story of two priests in a monastery who enjoy smoking every day during their morning prayers. They begin to wonder if this is sacrilegious, so they each wrote to the pope to get his benediction for their daily smoking fest. The first priest gets a letter back from the pope saying it is an insult to the faith to smoke during prayer time. The second priest gets a letter from the pope saying it is wonderful to smoke during prayer time. They looked at the two letters they had sent to the pope. The first priest asked the pope if it was OK to smoke during morning prayers and the pope was aghast in his response. The second priest asked if it was OK to go into a prayer while having a morning smoke. The pope was delighted to see the priest extending his spiritual commitment.

The problems we face are social problems – not individual ones – and require social solutions. That means political movements and activism.

The moral of the story: It is how one asks a question that shapes the type of answer you get. Because many of the best-known pollsters are stuck within a mainstream framework their questions accept and reinforce that framework. So one could probably ask a series of questions of white working-class people on fairness and justice that would make them look amenable to radical social change. These are not the sorts of questions that generally get asked.

It is striking that in recent years a few major pollsters have asked people whether they preferred capitalism or socialism. This would seem a loaded question because Americans know nothing about socialism except that it is a pejorative term to dismiss anyone whose ideas are considered out of bounds. Yet in recent years socialism has been almost as popular across the population as capitalism, and more popular among young Americans. That doesn’t say much about socialism, but it tells us a great deal about what the acceptance of really existing capitalism actually is. And that includes a lot for white working-class people.

This does not diminish the basis of your question, and the series of significant issues it raises, in particular, white supremacy and white racism and the role it plays. There are times that I am optimistic that we have made important headway on this issue and times that I am troubled by the lack of progress. It is a central issue in political organizing. In the book, I have a long chapter on the prison-industrial complex, and it is impossible to understand that phenomenon except through the lens of white racism.

You are a professor of communications at the University of Illinois. Are you seeing increased activism for economic change among the young people you teach and come in contact with?

Not really. There is clearly a willingness to take a harder look at capitalism and be critical of the obvious problems of the economic system today that was largely absent prior to 2008. Even my most conservative students want to get past the PR BS on free markets and understand why their future looks so grim. Students are more open-minded.

But the depoliticization of the past 40 years still weighs like a nightmare on their brains. Students are encouraged to see the world as it is and the solution is an individual solution, not a social one. Being “political” is a sign that someone is not cool and is a weirdo, and God forbid that is the last thing anyone wants to be accused of. This is an issue I write about at some length in the book, because those atop our society regard it as mission critical to keep the nation depoliticized. Their survival depends upon it.

But the problems we face are social problems – not individual ones – and require social solutions. That means political movements and activism. I am optimistic we are moving toward a more political moment as there really is no other credible option.

The book contains a chapter on the 2011 Wisconsin uprising against Scott Walker. What do you say to people who dismiss the historic, massive and lengthy protests in Madison as an anomaly – that the re-election of Scott Walker as governor of the state this year (2014) indicates that the revolt had no long-term impact?

It is too early to know what to make of the Wisconsin uprising, and to dismiss it categorically at this point is absurd. I was at the demonstrations almost every day for six weeks, and I was there as a member of the crowd and not as a “leader.” It was an extraordinary experience. What it taught me was that there is a wellspring of progressive and humane politics in people that is being repressed. The energy, the enthusiasm, the intelligence, the solidarity of the demonstrations was entirely unexpected and almost defies description. (Fortunately it does not, or I could not have written a chapter on it.)

The experience, like Occupy later in the year, raises all sorts of serious questions and issues for organizers going forward. But the idea that the re-election of Scott Walker proves it flopped seems wrong to me, though I can understand the idea. Walker’s victory in the 2012 recall election and then his 2014 re-election has much more to do with: 1) the idiocy of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, which ran incomprehensibly terrible campaigns, especially in 2012; 2) how low voter turnout is crucial to right-wing success – Scott Walker could not win a statewide election in a presidential year when the turnout is closer to 60 percent than 40 percent of adults; 3) money means everything and Scott Walker had unbelievable amounts of it, largely from out-of-state gazillionaires; 4) the absence of journalism means people were increasingly reliant upon asinine TV political ads; and 5) Scott Walker had enough money to flood the airwaves with his propaganda. And it was world-class propaganda.

The importance of media reform in achieving a robust democracy is something you frequently return to. Can you briefly discuss the top three media reform steps that you recommend at the end of the book?

I argue that some of the most brilliant left thinkers of the postwar era moved toward a position that democratizing the media system was central to creating a democratic socialism. I did this research with my buddy Duke Foster because much of it has been ignored or forgotten with the demise of the New Left and the long winter of neoliberalism in the 1970s.

I believe that is still the case, and I believe that communication is an area where there are immediate demands to be developed that can be foundational to a post-capitalist democracy in the United States. I also believe – in fact, I know from personal experience – that each of these issues has the potential for support outside of the political left, even among self-described conservatives. First, let’s eliminate the ISP cartel of Verizon, Comcast and AT&T. Those mega-corporations have divvied up the broadband market and as a result the US pays a fortune for crappy service for broadband, cable, satellite and cell phones. These firms are parasites pure and simple, and play no productive role. There is a magnificent already successful alternative with municipal broadband, and we should have that nationally. These firms – all based on government monopoly franchises and their control of politicians and regulators – have to go. Broadband should be ubiquitous and free.

Ironically, as I motioned before, as radical as this sounds, it is actually a measure that has great appeal to businesses that do not benefit directly from the existence of the cartel. Businesses would love to lower their own costs and also have much better speeds and service for their markets.

What we need is to recognize that journalism is a public good, something society desperately needs but that the market cannot and will not generate in sufficient quantity or quality.

Second, as I also mentioned above, the digital revolution has spawned a dozen or so super-monopolies that dominate not only communication, but capitalism itself. The digital revolution permeates every aspect of the economy. These dozen or so firms simply have too much power for democracy to successfully co-exist with it. It is not just economic power, but political power, that is the concern. This is not simply a left-wing concern. Indeed, it was Henry Simons, Milton Friedman’s mentor at the University of Chicago, who said monopolies were unacceptable, because they destroyed competitive capitalism as well as genuine democracy and the rule of law. The laissez faire champion Simons said if the giants could not be effectively broken into smaller pieces, they should be taken over by the government and run like the post office. I think that is a good way to understand what to do with these giants, especially now that we know the dreadful consequences of their lucrative and secretive marriage with the national security state.

Finally, the resources going toward journalism are in free fall collapse, as the commercial model is evaporating. I have written about this at length for years and will not repeat the analysis here. Nor will I discuss how the absence of journalism produces an existential crisis for any known theory of self-government, and with that the preservation of our freedoms. In a nutshell, advertising provided the lion’s share of support for news media for the past 125 years, and, with the internet, that support has disappeared for the most part. Hence we have maybe 40 percent of the working reporters and editors as we did a generation ago on a per capita basis. It is only going to get worse. (In the book, I have some new research on how Walter Lippmann assessed the last great crisis in journalism almost 100 years ago. It has some important lessons for us.)

What we need is to recognize that journalism is a public good, something society desperately needs but that the market cannot and will not generate in sufficient quantity or quality. We need extensive public support but without government control over who gets the money. That is the great public policy issue we face and a lot is riding on whether we rise to the occasion. The same problem faces every nation on the planet, though each country has somewhat different circumstances.

In the book, I develop an idea that I have written about a good deal in the past, the notion of the $200 voucher. Basically every person over 18 can allocate $200 of government money to any recognized nonprofit news medium of her choice. The core idea comes from Milton Friedman, who accepted that it was necessary to have government funding for education, but did not want to have government-run schools. Friedman’s voucher scheme proved to be a crappy idea for public education, but it is a brilliant idea for news media. You get up to a $40 billion annual subsidy with no government control over who gets the money. Anyone who accepts the vouchers cannot also accept advertising so there is no competition for what little remains of commercial news media. Anything produced as a result of the vouchers must be put online for free immediately and enter the public domain, so anyone can use the work. And people can change their allocation every year so there is tremendous competition to win support.

The idea is becoming increasingly popular. I think it is an idea whose time has come.

Mark Karlin

Mark Karlin is the editor of BuzzFlash at Truthout.  He served as editor and publisher of BuzzFlash for 10 years before joining Truthout in 2010.  BuzzFlash has won four Project Censored Awards. Karlin writes a commentary five days a week for BuzzFlash, as well as articles for Truthout. He also interviews authors and filmmakers whose works are featured in Truthout’s Progressive Picks of the Week.

http://www.truth-out.org/progressivepicks/item/28294-robert-mcchesney-we-need-to-advocate-radical-solutions-to-systemic-problems

America’s Obscenely Rich Know Full Well That They Are Destroying America

By Jim Sleeper, AlterNet, December 9, 2014

Excerpt

…more than a few of these writers resigned and these students marched because they’re indignant as citizens. The eerie dislocations of journalism and criminal justice are only the most recent developments since the passage of the USA Patriot Act, the perpetration of the Iraq War, the capitalist predation and regulatory defaults that have thrown millions of Americans out of their homes and jobs, the revelations about Orwellian state and corporate surveillance that have coalesced into a crisis of legitimacy for the American constitutional system and capitalist republic. Hannah Arendt described the importance of “speech acts” in politics, warning against letting words and deeds get so far apart that the words become empty and the deeds become brutal. Consider first today’s journalistic vortex of increasingly empty words…transformation of American news and opinion outlets into what his CEO Guy Vidra calls “vertically integrated digital media companies.” These ventures break down voices of the American republic into market-driven metrics and repurpose them …to maximize profit, not public deliberation…The answer isn’t that they misread what journalism, politics and capitalism in America are becoming. They read it only too well. The answer is that, like so many other young, market-molded Americans, they don’t understand how the perversion of public life by tsunamis of marketing, financing and technological innovation has decontextualized and overwhelmed thoughtful writing, reading and the habits of mind and heart that sustain republican deliberation and institutions. It is impossible to exaggerate the physical as well as moral danger we are in as a result. We’ve been sleepwalking or dancing up the garden path into it. The American republic – and therefore our expectation that we can express controversial political opinions without going to prison – depends on those habits.…their own lives are spun so finely around commodification that they’ve become its creatures. They may crave a token or two of civic credibility…they lack the civic grounding, the nerve ends, the viscera and the body scars that enable most people to distinguish surface gestures from substantive struggles, and bought speech from real political speech…Although we like to think of ourselves as free men and women, many people’s pressing needs and fears prompted a foot-shuffling deference to power…Leadership to interpret and address the crisis of legitimacy that’s upon us will have to come from people who’ve shared their neighbors’ experiences of expediency and dependency and have found the strength and talent to see past the usual snares and delusions. But in a republic, some citizens have to uphold codes of honor and civic loyalty that are strong enough to keep power responsive to social purposes that can’t be met by markets and can’t be bought off or finessed by them. If capitalism becomes predatory and insinuating, citizens’ codes and trust of one another become empty, the stuff of slick videos and click-bait that lead to slavery. And the predators lose their ability to tell the difference: “Few tricks of the unsophisticated intellect are more curious than the naïve psychology of the business man, who ascribes his achievements to his own unaided efforts, in bland unconsciousness of a social order without whose continuous support and vigilant protection he would be as a lamb bleating in the desert.” That was written by the British economic historian R.H. Tawney in May 1926, in the New Republic — whose present owner is bewildered and bleating. But journalism isn’t justice. It would take a lot more disciplined defiance to make prosecutors and police officers bleat, too. From Nathan Hale and Thomas Paine to Jonathan Schell and Edward Snowden, some Americans have always emerged to announce the need and others to lead in breaking ties that had to be broken and framing new understandings and courses of action that had to be tried.

Full text

The tech oligarchs like Chris Hughes understand the direction this country is going in.

Last Friday, as New Republic writers and contributing editors wrenched themselves out of the whirling, digital vortex into which their employer and Facebook fantasist Chris Hughes is plunging the magazine, I witnessed another wrenching departure, at one of the selective university campuses where most New Republic staffers begin their public lives.

Driving through the Yale campus, I got stuck in traffic as hundreds of law students, undergraduates and faculty, holding hands in a disciplined single file, wended their way from the Yale Law School’s imposing gothic towers to the imposing, marble U.S. Courthouse on the New Haven Green several blocks away.

Indignant at the complicity of prosecutors, grand juries and militarized police departments in shielding uniformed murderers of unarmed black men, the marchers were anything but the conformist “zombies,” preening careerists and “entitled little shits” who fill the pages of former New Republic contributing editor William Deresiewicz’s anti-Ivy jeremiad, “Excellent Sheep.” They were citizens, whose existence he’d ignored, as had the New Republic when it ran an excerpt of his book under the headline,“Don’t Send Your Kids to the Ivy League! The Nation’s Top Colleges Are Turning Our Kids Into Zombies.”

It’s not easy for magazine writers and editors to walk off their jobs these days. And it’s risky for law students, preoccupied with obtaining judicial clerkships and law firms’ signing bonuses that might erase their debts, to interrupt their classes and traffic to denounce prosecutors, grand juries and officers of the law.

Yet more than a few of these writers resigned and these students marched because they’re indignant as citizens. The eerie dislocations of journalism and criminal justice are only the most recent developments since the passage of the USA Patriot Act, the perpetration of the Iraq War, the capitalist predation and regulatory defaults that have thrown millions of Americans out of their homes and jobs, the revelations about Orwellian state and corporate surveillance that have coalesced into a crisis of legitimacy for the American constitutional system and capitalist republic.

Hannah Arendt described the importance of “speech acts” in politics, warning against letting words and deeds get so far apart that the words become empty and the deeds become brutal. Consider first today’s journalistic vortex of increasingly empty words.

Deresiewicz tried to sound an alarm in an essay on the corruption of elite liberal education that went viral and prompted him to write “Excellent Sheep.” But his warnings came on more like fireworks than depth charges because they, too, were part of the tsunami of casino-like financing and consumer-groping that drives the New Republic and his publishers at Free Press. The latter crafted the book and its roll-out ”for coronation by the gilded cage’s resident pundits and conscience keepers, who’ll use it to guide the kept through another empty ritual of self-flagellation on their way back to college this fall,” as I put it in a review for Bookforum.

Hughes’ New Republic then celebrated precisely the empty ritual I’d sketched by packaging Deresiewicz’s chapter under that headline, “Don’t Send Your Kids to the Ivy League!” “Excuse me,” I wrote here in response, “but aren’t most editors, staffers, and writers at that faux-contrarian magazine themselves Ivy Leaguers…? Have they all met and pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to dethrone their alma maters? … Or are they playing on the insecurities of 18-year-olds and their parents with yet another of the click-bait headlines and graphics they produce each day to redecorate the cage of their own house-broken hopes?”

Not that the pre-Hughes New Republic was much better. Its political incoherence has been characterized smartly by Corey Robin. Bracing though it could be in debunking politically correct indulgences (not least via my own critiques of black racial demagoguery at the time), its treatment of left-liberals was marinated in resentment, whether in Martin Peretz’s and Paul Berman’s attacks on critics of Israel, Michael Kelly’s loathing of Bill Clinton and the left-leaning “sandalistas” of Vermont, and Peter Beinart’s lambasting of opponents of the Iraq War with a fervor worthy of neoconservative field marshal Bill Kristol. (Beinart reversed course several years ago, after leaving the New Republic.)

And nothing compares with the preening, Cold War-ish orotundities of the magazine’s literary editor, Leon Wieseltier, a brilliant editor who should write only three times a year under his own name, and then with an editor at his elbow, because he’s a cankered horror show of unction and alliterative pomposity with the ethics of a faculty-lounge lizard who holds Washington journalists of upper-middling intelligence in his thrall. By comparison, his editorial counterpart at the magazine, Franklin Foer, author of “How Soccer Explains the World” and would-be scourge of Amazon, is at least anodyne.

The magazine has always struggled to be a voice, or at least a forum, for a “liberalism” that has mostly failed to balance its need for citizens to uphold public virtues and beliefs against its knee-jerk obeisance to every whim and riptide of a go-go capitalism that dissolves civic virtues and republican sovereignty itself. What the New Republic lacks is a civic republicanism rooted in something deeper than politics. Under Peretz, it tried Jewish nationalism. Under Hughes, it has nothing, and his writers, lost as they are, can’t help but feel it.

Other liberal magazines also face this problem as they try to present American life to the well-educated reader who seeks “the most comfortable and least compromising attitude he can assume toward capitalist society without being forced into actual conflict,” as the critic Robert Warshow once put it in an essay about the New Yorker.

Hughes’ new New Republic represents the even scarier transformation of American news and opinion outlets into what his CEO Guy Vidra calls “vertically integrated digital media companies.” These ventures break down voices of the American republic into market-driven metrics and repurpose them – as I suspect even Deresiewicz’s book publishers induced him to do somewhat in writing “Excellent Sheep” – to maximize profit, not public deliberation. (I experienced such pressure from Viking/Penguin Books when I was writing “Liberal Racism.” More blood! More angry words! I gave in only a little.)

It’s also worth noting that Hughes’ husband, Sean Eldridge, 28, tried to eviscerate electoral politics pretty much as Hughes was eviscerating the New Republic when the couple bought two estates in two New York congressional districts while Eldridge decided which one to run in. He then funded economic development initiatives in his chosen district, made slick videos proclaiming his love for the Hudson Valley, and launched politically correct but highly negative ads against the conservative but likable and homegrown Republican incumbent Chris Gibson, who won 65 to 35 percent. That public repudiation of Eldridge’s opportunism was as humiliating as the mass resignations at the New Republic have been for Hughes.

How could these guys and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, creator of the vertically integrated, digital and disastrous First Look Media, have been so blind?

The answer isn’t that they misread what journalism, politics and capitalism in America are becoming. They read it only too well. The answer is that, like so many other young, market-molded Americans, they don’t understand how the perversion of public life by tsunamis of marketing, financing and technological innovation has decontextualized and overwhelmed thoughtful writing, reading and the habits of mind and heart that sustain republican deliberation and institutions.

It is impossible to exaggerate the physical as well as moral danger we are in as a result. We’ve been sleepwalking or dancing up the garden path into it. The American republic – and therefore our expectation that we can express controversial political opinions without going to prison – depends on those habits.

So let’s try to open these men’s eyes to the loss of opportunities and the sickening demoralization they can’t see because their own lives are spun so finely around commodification that they’ve become its creatures. They may crave a token or two of civic credibility — a title like “Publisher of the New Republic” or “Member of Congress.” But they lack the civic grounding, the nerve ends, the viscera and the body scars that enable most people to distinguish surface gestures from substantive struggles, and bought speech from real political speech.

These men’s consuming passions for veneers and the money to sustain them isolates and insulates them from Americans who — like the departed New Republic writers, the voters who rejected Eldridge, and many students and faculty at Yale – have bestirred themselves to challenge riptides that Hughes, Eldridge, Vidra and Omidyar are surfing and even accelerating. Chris Lehmann’s account of Omidyar in In These Times offers a delicious exposition of these surfers. They aren’t as overpowering and irresistible as they seem at first.

An Eldridge campaign video that shows him consulting with citizen-activists in the district he wanted to represent becomes more subtly annoying when one or two of these courted citizens offer testimonials to his hands-on engagement and reliability. Now that he’s unlikely ever again to run for office there, time will tell whether his professed love of the Hudson Valley keeps him funding and working on these economic and other development projects.

Rich misadventurers rush in to fill widening gaps between their wealth and others’ declining fortunes. I saw it in the 1970s while running a newspaper in a beleaguered Brooklyn congressional district represented by multimillionaire Fred Richmond, whose largess kept him in office until his crimes forced his departure.

Although we like to think of ourselves as free men and women, many people’s pressing needs and fears prompted a foot-shuffling deference to power in that district more abject than I’d ever expected.

Richmond, who’d made $40 million (a lot of money in the late 1970s) in the steel industry and then on Wall Street, was old-fashioned enough to crave the legitimacy that might come with prestigious public service. Glimpses I’ve had of Eldridge and Hughes suggest something similarly, almost endearingly old-fashioned in them.

But insinuating oneself into a proprietary posture toward others’ long-term efforts isn’t leadership. Nor is Vidra’s and Omidyar’s arrogance and impatience with underlings. It reminds me of the late Brazilian educator Paolo Freire’s observation, in “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” that

“Any attempt to ‘soften’ the power of the oppressor always manifests itself in the form of false generosity. In order to express their ‘generosity,’ the oppressors must perpetuate injustice as well. That is why the dispensers of false generosity become desperate at the slightest threat to its source.”

It’s at this point that the more proximate enemy of the needy and those of us who care about the republic becomes not only a Hughes, an Eldridge or an Omidyar but the criminal-justice system and, with it, tragically, the white working-class men I wrote about here a couple of days ago and won’t address again now.

Leadership to interpret and address the crisis of legitimacy that’s upon us will have to come from people who’ve shared their neighbors’ experiences of expediency and dependency and have found the strength and talent to see past the usual snares and delusions.

Interlopers like Hughes and Omidyar, who try to buy leadership in such circumstances, find themselves nourishing only love-hate, passive-aggressive relationships. As a certain social critic once explained, “Money appears as a disruptive power for the individual and social bonds. It changes vice into virtue, stupidity into intelligence. He who can purchase others’ bravery is brave, though a coward … But if you are not able, by the manifestation of yourself as a loving person, to make yourself a beloved person, your love is impotent, and a misfortune.”

I’m far from claiming there’s no social benefit in the creation of Facebook, in which Hughes was involved, and of eBay, which Omidyar founded. Separating the creators’ massive accumulations from conventional social constraints is part of capitalism’s triumph, a source of its dynamism and innovation.

But in a republic, some citizens have to uphold codes of honor and civic loyalty that are strong enough to keep power responsive to social purposes that can’t be met by markets and can’t be bought off or finessed by them. If capitalism becomes predatory and insinuating, citizens’ codes and trust of one another become empty, the stuff of slick videos and click-bait that lead to slavery.

And the predators lose their ability to tell the difference: “Few tricks of the unsophisticated intellect are more curious than the naïve psychology of the business man, who ascribes his achievements to his own unaided efforts, in bland unconsciousness of a social order without whose continuous support and vigilant protection he would be as a lamb bleating in the desert.”

That was written by the British economic historian R.H. Tawney in May 1926, in the New Republic — whose present owner is bewildered and bleating. But journalism isn’t justice. It would take a lot more disciplined defiance to make prosecutors and police officers bleat, too. From Nathan Hale and Thomas Paine to Jonathan Schell and Edward Snowden, some Americans have always emerged to announce the need and others to lead in breaking ties that had to be broken and framing new understandings and courses of action that had to be tried.

Jim Sleeper is the author of Liberal Racism (1997) and The Closest of Strangers: Liberalism and the Politics of Race in New York (1990).

http://www.alternet.org/media/americas-obscenely-rich-know-full-well-they-are-destroying-america?akid=12572.125622.5LNNv0&rd=1&src=newsletter1028595&t=11&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

How capitalism enriches the few rather than the many

By Harold Meyerson, Washington Post, April 2, 2014

Excerpt

Michael Lewis’s “Flash Boys,”…explains how the fastest-growing form of trading enriches the few at the expense of the many, the other book, Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” provides a more fundamental and disquieting explanation: how capitalism itself enriches the few at the expense of the many.…[Piketty] has shown that the share of Americans’ income going to the wealthiest 1 percent has risen to the level last seen just before the 1929 crashwith heightened accumulations of wealth come heightened accumulations of political power — a shift toward plutocracy to which Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision, permitting the wealthy to contribute to as many electoral campaigns as they wish, adds a helpful push…“No self-corrective mechanism exists” within capitalism to retard this descent into plutocracy, he writes. Rather, he concludes, its prevention requires political action…Lewis gives us a great read on today’s latest scam. Piketty gives us the most important work of economics since John Maynard Keynes’s “General Theory.”

Full text

Michael Lewis’s “Flash Boys,” his takedown of high-speed stock trading, may be making headlines this week, but it’s just one of two books on our economic dysfunctions that are flying off the shelves. While “Flash Boys” explains how the fastest-growing form of trading enriches the few at the expense of the many, the other book, Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” provides a more fundamental and disquieting explanation: how capitalism itself enriches the few at the expense of the many.

Piketty, a Paris-based economics professor, is one of a small but growing number of economists who are scanning digitized tax records to discover the distribution of income and wealth in various nations, both today and in the past. Piketty’s work with Emmanuel Saez, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley, has shown that the share of Americans’ income going to the wealthiest 1 percent has risen to the level last seen just before the 1929 crash. In his new book, in which he looks at tax records that in Britain and France date all the way to the late 18th century, Piketty has unearthed the history of income distribution for at least the past hundred years in every major capitalist nation. It makes for fascinating, grim and alarming reading.

Piketty’s chief conclusion is that, in most nations in most times, the interest on capital — income from investments and ownership — accumulates at a higher rate than that at which the overall economy is growing. In the largely preindustrial economies that Jane Austen and Honore de Balzac chronicled in their novels, he notes, the road to riches came through inheritance rather than even professional labor. The interest rate on property of all kinds was roughly 4 to 5 percent a year, while the overall economies of Britain and France were growing at a rate of just 1 percent (a figure Piketty derives by adding the nations’ population growth to their economic growth). Over time, this meant that the value of those nations’ capital rose to six or seven times their gross domestic product, and capital’s major owners — the richest 1 percent — controlled the lion’s share of their nation’s income and wealth.

Even after the Industrial Revolution, those ratios largely persisted until the outbreak of World War I. The combination of two world wars and the Great Depression destroyed many European fortunes, while the Depression wreaked havoc on American fortunes. The reforms of the New Deal in the United States and of social democracy in Europe then boosted workers’ incomes on both continents and gave rise to a sizable propertied middle class. The rate of return on the property of the wealthy remained high, but the value of their property had been so diminished by the cataclysms of the first half of the century that their wealth was diminished.

Since 1980, however, their fortunes have swelled again — at the expense of everyone else. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher slashed taxes on wealth, workers lost the ability to bargain for wages and, crucially, the population growth of many nations ground nearly to a halt. Capital, again, was accumulating faster than the overall economies were growing. In the United States, Piketty shows, the incomes of the top 1 percent have grown so high — chiefly due to the linkage of top executive pay to share value, a form of capital — that they soon will create the greatest level of income inequality in the recorded history of any nation.

Indeed, Piketty’s book provides a valuable explanatory context for America’s economic woes. Wages constitute the lowest share of U.S. GDP, and profits the highest, since the end of World War II. And with heightened accumulations of wealth come heightened accumulations of political power — a shift toward plutocracy to which Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision, permitting the wealthy to contribute to as many electoral campaigns as they wish, adds a helpful push.

Piketty’s primary contention is that it is inherent to capitalism that the returns on capital generally exceed the growth of nations’ economies, save in times of epochal population growth or almost unimaginable technological breakthroughs, and that this leads to ever-rising concentrations of wealth and power. “No self-corrective mechanism exists” within capitalism to retard this descent into plutocracy, he writes. Rather, he concludes, its prevention requires political action: He suggests a global tax on capital, which, he acknowledges, is a utopian solution, though others — empowering workers again, increasing the social provision of goods and services — are more readily attainable.

Lewis gives us a great read on today’s latest scam. Piketty gives us the most important work of economics since John Maynard Keynes’s “General Theory.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/harold-meyerson-how-capitalism-enriches-only-the-few/2014/04/02/f2295a5e-ba95-11e3-9a05-c739f29ccb08_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines

How Christianity Became a Lucrative Brand

 By Sarah Banet-Weiser, New York Press, posted on Alternet.org, December 17, 2012  http://www.alternet.org/books/how-christianity-became-lucrative-brand – The following is an excerpt from Sarah Banet-Weiser’s book Authentic published by NYU Press.

Mini-excerpt

Prosperity Christianity, or what some call “health and wealth” religion…is the adoption of the logic of free enterprise and branding as a way of understanding, experiencing, and proselytizing Christian religious values….. A focus on “free” enterprise—meaning (in part) an opposition to organized labor, state intervention, and public resources—made Christian enterprise compatible with conservative, anticommunist ideologies and the ideology of whiteness…. As a set of religious teachings and training, the theology is centered on the notion that God provides material wealth—prosperity—for those individuals he favors… the teaching that believers have a right to the blessings of health and wealth and that they can obtain these blessings through positive confessions of faith and the ‘sowing of seeds’ through the faithful payments of tithes and offerings…..a prioritizing of individualism, a privileging of the free market, a distrust in the state…

Excerpt

Prosperity Christianity, or what some call “health and wealth” religion… is often tied to Oral Roberts and other evangelists…historically related to faith healing… is related to the rise of Christian free enterprise in the mid-20th century and the interrelation between professional business and theologyChristian business schools (specifically in the midwestern US) emerged as places in which future evangelists could be trained to merge business skills with religious principles…provide a conservative and “moral” frameworkin the late 1970s. In the economic recession during this period, combined with residual countercultural fears…cultivated the individual entrepreneur as an important element to Christian free enterprise, which found a particularly rich home in small towns, farms, and local churches…the entrepreneur was cast as a special and rare type, not your typical bureaucratic businessman: “In this guise, the entrepreneur inherited the mantle of Jeffersonian virtue from the independent farmers and the Populist rebellion—a hero for the age of the mass office…. the Waltons, the founders of Wal-Mart, promoted Christian business schools and Christian free enterprise and free trade, which serve a vital function in the economic backdrop of advanced capitalism in the branding of religion Christian free enterprise is not simply the use of the marketplace to sell religion. It is the adoption of the logic of free enterprise and branding as a way of understanding, experiencing, and proselytizing Christian religious values. This not only is a necessary condition for the branding of particular religions but also changes the understanding of religion itself.

Indeed, the connection between Christian religious values and a kind of pro-corporate populism is crucial for branding Christianity because it offers the possibility of a wide audience for the brand. As Moreton points out, procorporate populism (which argues vehemently against government or state intervention) imbues the political economy with moral legitimacy, infusing it with the conservative values of a “rural white virtue.” … A focus on “free” enterprise—meaning (in part) an opposition to organized labor, state intervention, and public resources—made Christian enterprise compatible with conservative, anticommunist ideologies and the ideology of whiteness.Prosperity Christianity. As a set of religious teachings and training, the theology is centered on the notion that God provides material wealth—prosperity—for those individuals he favors. Prosperity Christianity cuts across denominational boundaries and is defined “as the teaching that believers have a right to the blessings of health and wealth and that they can obtain these blessings through positive confessions of faith and the ‘sowing of seeds’ through the faithful payments of tithes and offerings.” …found a welcome home in many megachurches across the US in the early 21st century this reimagined relationship between religion and the economy has become increasingly mainstream: a cover of Time magazine, in 2006, asked, “Does God Want You to Be Rich?”; a later cover, after the global economic collapse in the fall of 2008, asked a follow-up question: “Maybe We Should Blame God for the Subprime Mess?”

The Atlantic Monthly in 2009 asked a similar question: “Did Christianity Cause the Crash?” ….The most popular evangelical in the US in the 21st century, Joel Osteen…Another popular Prosperity evangelist, T. D. Jakes…primarily African American church in Dallas, Texas… televangelists Kenneth Copeland and Gloria Copeland, founders of the Kenneth Copeland Ministries and authors of books such as The Laws of Prosperity and Prosperity: The Choice Is Yours, preach that the more money worshipers give to the church, the more they will receive in their own lives. sermons focus on the righteousness of acquiring individual wealth and material success, a pursuit that becomes its own sort of salvation.

Not only are religious messages packaged like other brands, through infomercials, merchandise, and sophisticated media distribution, but also the content of the message can only be understood within a brand context: materialism, consumption, capitalist exchange, and personal empowerment… megachurches and other contemporary religious institutions (including many religious websites) are strategically nondenominational or “postdenominational” in their religious messages and practices. Within branded religions such as Prosperity Christianity, vague references to a Christian tradition that are individualized, such as how to make one’s life better, are more lucrative than specific and community-oriented content, such as a mention of Jesus….In the 1980s, televangelists like Jerry Falwell, Billy Swaggart, and Jimmy Bakker used television to build huge congregations across the nation…evangelicals draw millions of followers by reimagining Christianity, and part of this reimagining has been enabled by the normalization of the entrepreneur… With weak or no denominational ties, they are ‘free agents’ who make their mark on contemporary American society.”… some evangelists to consider themselves “free agents” in a neoliberal marketplace…

 

In the vacuum that was left by the eradication of the safety net [public provisions], churches and other faith-based organizations became the provider of last resort. Their family values rendered care a private privilege awarded in defense of marriage, not a mutual social duty of citizens to one another.…the fundamentalism of Christian ideology works in concert with the fundamentalism of the market, so that “prosperity” preaching provides a space in which the contradictions of “free” enterprise are resolved…The branding of religion in contemporary capitalism also means that neoliberal ideologies of the individual, the “free” market, and a lessening of state intervention of any kind are increasingly part of religious ideologies….a prioritizing of individualism, a privileging of the free market, a distrust in the state…For the vast majority of televangelists, commitments to hyper-American patriotism, free-market capitalism, and patriarchal conceptions of the ordering of society are regularly transmitted through mass-mediated images and ‘Christian’ discourse.”

If branding in its contemporary form emerges from a kind of fundamentalism of the free market, then this connects to (though does not always neatly map onto) a particular fundamentalism within religion. “Fundamentalism” here indicates not merely a strict adherence to religious doctrine as the truth but also a powerful belief in the set of neoliberal principles that structure contemporary cultural, political, and economic life. The fundamentalism of the free market, in turn, implies not only a strict adherence to capitalist doctrine as the truth (though it is about this kind of observance) but also a loyalty to capitalist logic as structuring principles for everyday life.

…Sarah Palin has efficiently built a self-brand as a religious American woman... The collapse of conservative ideologies into affective, indeed nostalgic, sentiments, especially those of a neoliberal definition of morality, is achieved through the use of conservative women as spokes- people for the nation. This collapse is also the crux of religious brand culture, which retools capitalist strategies and logics into cultural norms.

Full text

Prosperity Christianity, or what some call “health and wealth” religion, is largely a North American religious movement, connected to Pentecostal Christianity and Word of Faith teachings, and is often tied to Oral Roberts and other evangelists who became well known in the 1980s and 1990s. However, Prosperity Christianity is also historically related to faith healing; in the early 20th century, evangelicals focused on physical well-being as the therapeutic ethos of culture became normative and activities like the “mind cure,” which stressed the power of positive thinking as a cure for disease, became popular. Additionally, Prosperity Christianity is related to the rise of Christian free enterprise in the mid-20th century and the interrelation between professional business and theology. For instance, business schools began to attract religious individuals as both students and administrators by midcentury, and as business schools began to take a more prominent role in higher education, Christian business schools (specifically in the midwestern US) emerged as places in which future evangelists could be trained to merge business skills with religious principles.

In the later half of the 20th century, schools such as the University of Arkansas, the University of Ozarks, Southern Methodist University, and others developed business schools as a response to a variety of factors, including national market concerns, postwar inflation and debt, an increasing national demand for vocational business instruction, and a growing desire for whitecollar workers in the US. Christian business schools, however, could provide a conservative and “moral” framework for this kind of education. In her careful history of the global corporation Wal-Mart, Bethany Moreton argues that the figure of the contemporary religious entrepreneur became important to the rise of business programs at schools and universities around the US in the late 1970s. In the economic recession during this period, combined with residual countercultural fears of big business and bureaucratic businessmen, small-business enterprises and business schools cultivated the individual entrepreneur as an important element to Christian free enterprise, which found a particularly rich home in small towns, farms, and local churches. Outside the crowded, competitive urban industrial landscape, the emphasis on religion and American heritage that often characterized rural areas in the 1970s provided a welcoming context for the emergence of Christian free enterprise. These cultural spaces, as Moreton argues, “provided the cultural resources to enable a massive shift of economic possibility.”

In the small business schools that cropped up along the Sunbelt in the late 1970s, courses were offered in entrepreneurship, where, as Moreton states, the entrepreneur was cast as a special and rare type, not your typical bureaucratic businessman: “In this guise, the entrepreneur inherited the mantle of Jeffersonian virtue from the independent farmers and the Populist rebellion—a hero for the age of the mass office, a foil to sissified bureaucrats and the distant Shylocks of Wall Street.” As Moreton points out, the Waltons, the founders of Wal-Mart, promoted Christian business schools and Christian free enterprise and free trade, which serve a vital function in the economic backdrop of advanced capitalism in the branding of religion.

The commodification of religion had been a practice for centuries, but the use of the commercial marketplace to “sell” religion to reluctant, hard-to-reach, or otherwise inaccessible potential congregations proved successful in making religion “relevant” to an increasingly modern and pro-corporate population. But Christian free enterprise is not simply the use of the marketplace to sell religion. It is the adoption of the logic of free enterprise and branding as a way of understanding, experiencing, and proselytizing Christian religious values. This not only is a necessary condition for the branding of particular religions but also changes the understanding of religion itself.

Indeed, the connection between Christian religious values and a kind of pro-corporate populism is crucial for branding Christianity because it offers the possibility of a wide audience for the brand. As Moreton points out, procorporate populism (which argues vehemently against government or state intervention) imbues the political economy with moral legitimacy, infusing it with the conservative values of a “rural white virtue.” In the contemporary moment, the merging of Christian values with capitalist entrepreneurship takes the form of megachurches and charismatic evangelist leaders. A focus on “free” enterprise—meaning (in part) an opposition to organized labor, state intervention, and public resources—made Christian enterprise compatible with conservative, anticommunist ideologies and the ideology of whiteness. As Moreton argues, the wedding of conservative corporate ideologies to not simply Christian enterprise but Christian education in the formation of private Christian business schools created a context in which these two discourses were completely compatible, each informing the other: “The southwestern Christian college and the new mass white-collar workplace were just beginning a quietly historic partnership, and the terms of the bargain were clear enough.”

In the advanced capitalism of the later 20th century, the terms of the bargain find purchase in Prosperity Christianity. As a set of religious teachings and training, the theology is centered on the notion that God provides material wealth—prosperity—for those individuals he favors. Prosperity Christianity cuts across denominational boundaries and is defined “as the teaching that believers have a right to the blessings of health and wealth and that they can obtain these blessings through positive confessions of faith and the ‘sowing of seeds’ through the faithful payments of tithes and offerings.” Prosperity preaching has found a welcome home in many megachurches across the US in the early 21st century, spaces in which an evangelist preaches to hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals, as well as offering services to even larger audiences through live streams online. While there are certainly many religious detractors from Prosperity Christianity—indeed, Christianity Today describes it as “false gospel,” “unethical and unChristlike,” and “spiritually unhealthy”—it has garnered attention from thousands of followers, its message of gaining material wealth through prayer and commitment to one’s own congregation especially powerful since the global recession of 2008.

Recent headlines tell us something about how this reimagined relationship between religion and the economy has become increasingly mainstream: a cover of Time magazine, in 2006, asked, “Does God Want You to Be Rich?”; a later cover, after the global economic collapse in the fall of 2008, asked a follow-up question: “Maybe We Should Blame God for the Subprime Mess?”

The Atlantic Monthly in 2009 asked a similar question: “Did Christianity Cause the Crash?” Christian blogs have taken up the issue of merging money talk with scripture in sermons (alternately defined as Prosperity Christianity or “Christianity Lite”), with vehement defenders on both sides of the debate. The most popular evangelical in the US in the 21st century, Joel Osteen, whose Prosperity megachurch in Houston boasts more than 40,000 weekly worshipers, writes in his best-selling book Your Best Life Now, “Telling yourself you are poor, or broke, or stuck in a dead-end job is a form of sin and invites more negativity into your life.” Another popular Prosperity evangelist, T. D. Jakes, emphasizes personal achievement in his role as pastor of Potter’s House, a 28,000-member, primarily African American church in Dallas, Texas. As Shayne Lee and Phillip Luke Sinitiere point out, Jakes “argues that his ministries provide African-Americans with the life skills, emotional health, and psychological well-being to be successful.” They continue: “[Jakes’s] brand of personal empowerment promotes the bourgeois conservatism of the new black church.” In yet another example of Prosperity preachers, televangelists Kenneth Copeland and Gloria Copeland, founders of the Kenneth Copeland Ministries and authors of books such as The Laws of Prosperity and Prosperity: The Choice Is Yours, preach that the more money worshipers give to the church, the more they will receive in their own lives. 

The focus of evangelicals on personal empowerment and individuals (and, in this case, individual wealth) has reached a heightened significance in the early 21st century. Prosperity Christianity has become an important non- or postdenomination for many contemporary evangelical preachers, where sermons focus on the righteousness of acquiring individual wealth and material success, a pursuit that becomes its own sort of salvation.

Not only are religious messages packaged like other brands, through infomercials, merchandise, and sophisticated media distribution, but also the content of the message can only be understood within a brand context: materialism, consumption, capitalist exchange, and personal empowerment. As Einstein says about Prosperity preaching, “In order to draw in the masses, preachers must include what will attract the largest number of people—ideas about how their lives will be better, more prosperous, more fulfilling—and exclude those things that will lead viewers to reach for the remote control—mentions of Jesus, requests for contributions, suggestions that they are going to hell.”

A mention of Jesus is a turnoff for Christians? If Jesus is not an appropriate focus for spiritual leaders, the question then becomes: How does a spiritual leader become a valuable brand in a rapidly changing society? Evangelists now need to self-brand but another element obviously has to do not only with how particular individuals are skilled at making religion “relevant” to a contemporary culture (through communication technologies, social media, and so on) but with what identities are particularly brandable. That is, a lack of specificity in religious branding is important in order to reach a broad audience of religious consumers, so that megachurches and other contemporary religious institutions (including many religious websites) are strategically nondenominational or “postdenominational” in their religious messages and practices. Within branded religions such as Prosperity Christianity, vague references to a Christian tradition that are individualized, such as how to make one’s life better, are more lucrative than specific and community-oriented content, such as a mention of Jesus.

Contemporary evangelists, including Prosperity preachers, are the latest in a long history, dating back to the 18th century, of successful evangelists in the US. George Whitefield, who came to the US in 1738, was arguably the first successful evangelist; he was also an early marketer of religious ephemera.

The most successful early evangelists were skilled orators and entrepreneurs who were particularly savvy at using communication technologies to publicize their messages. Radio was a very useful medium for early 20th-century evangelists (as well as for advertisers and politicians). Religious leaders such as Aimee Semple McPherson, Charles Fuller, and Charles Coughlin became expert at using mass media to spread religious messages. In the 1930s, Coughlin’s weekly broadcasts reached more than 30 million listeners. In the 1980s, televangelists like Jerry Falwell, Billy Swaggart, and Jimmy Bakker used television to build huge congregations across the nation.

Today, as Lee and Sinitiere point out, evangelicals draw millions of followers by reimagining Christianity, and part of this reimagining has been enabled by the normalization of the entrepreneur: “Through the power of their appeal, rather than the authority of ecclesiastical positioning, [contemporary evangelists] assemble multi-million-dollar ministries and worldwide renown. With weak or no denominational ties, they are ‘free agents’ who make their mark on contemporary American society.” One way contemporary evangelicals “make their mark” is through the efficient use of new communication technologies to distribute their messages, from live streaming online videos of their services, to selling books and DVDs on iTunes, to Facebook pages. Self-branding, for some contemporary evangelists, has become an effective way to promote both themselves and the religious teachings they provide. Since, as I have argued elsewhere, self-branding is becoming a more normative practice in contemporary US culture as a way to craft personal identity, it makes sense for some evangelists to consider themselves “free agents” in a neoliberal marketplace. In other words, it is not simply more sophisticated media technologies, or a shifting capitalist system, or new understandings of individual subjectivities that authorize the emergence of the new evangelists in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. It is all of these elements, along with a more general cultural ethos of promotion, which suggests that branding is an aspect of new media logic that is altering even seemingly unconnected domains (such as religion).

The mass white-collar workplace Moreton details as emerging in the mid-20th-century US is precisely the demographic on which 21st-century advanced capitalism depends, both as a source of labor (itinerant labor, antiunion) and as the locus of racialized fears about immigrant labor (outsourcing, denial of immigration rights). Historically, the church has been an advocate of some state intervention and support—social gospelers, for instance, worked with New Deal policies in the early 20th century. Additionally, various Christian denominations have been community oriented rather than individually oriented. But rather than challenge neoliberal economic practices of “free enterprises” and work toward reestablishing state and federal public policies and practices, Christian “free” enterprise and individual entrepreneurship provide solutions to increased alienation (an alienation that ostensibly is caused partly by a multiracial and multicultural workforce and widening income gaps). The church becomes a site of refuge:

In the vacuum that was left by the eradication of the safety net [public provisions], churches and other faith-based organizations became the pro- vider of last resort. Their family values rendered care a private privilege awarded in defense of marriage, not a mutual social duty of citizens to one another. The irony was that both the corporations and the churches were already public-private partnerships by definition, built with public subsidy and dependent on state nurturance.

Advanced capitalist doctrine is expert in circumnavigating this kind of irony, where the emergence of the private, individual entrepreneur is validated by the state and public-private partnerships. In the context of the religious, individual entrepreneur, this irony manifests not only in the public- private partnerships of the church but also in the practice of spiritual leaders of simultaneously disavowing of capitalism and embracing of its logic. For instance, an immensely popular evangelist, Rick Warren, with an impressive megachurch of his own (the Saddleback Church in Orange County, California, currently the eighth-largest church in the US, averaging 22,000 weekly attendees) strongly disagrees with emphasizing a relationship between God and personal financial success.

As he says, “This idea that God wants everybody to be wealthy? There is a word for that: baloney. It’s creating a false idol. You don’t measure your self-worth by your net worth.”  Warren’s comments are another example of how religious leaders purport to use the strategy of capitalism in the name of faith, without capitulating to capitalism’s system of value. This double mobilization maintains authenticity for such leaders; Warren’s statement that Prosperity teaching is “baloney” is another way to articulate it as inauthentic. Yet Warren has also been described being “as much Bill Gates as he is Billy Graham.” Forbes magazine “called Warren a ‘spiritual entrepreneur’” and stated that if Warren’s ministry were a business, it “would be compared with Dell, Google, or Starbucks.” Of course, Warren’s ministry is a business, so it makes perfect sense to situate it alongside Google or Starbucks. His book The Purpose Driven Life is a New York Times best seller and offers a personal guide for individuals to figure out their purpose in life (and despite the first line of the book, which answers this question with “It’s not about you,” it clearly is about you, and buying the book, and following his “Purpose Driven” philosophy).

Warren gave the benediction at President Obama’s inauguration in 2008, and Time magazine named him one of “15 World Leaders Who Mattered Most in 2004” and in 2005 one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World.” Also, in 2005 U.S. News & World Report named him one of “America’s 25 Best Leaders.” So while Warren may preach against Prosperity Christianity, he is nonetheless part of a broader pattern of branding Christianity.

Warren and other contemporary evangelists like him, even when not expressing Prosperity Christianity explicitly, demonstrate the various ways in which religion is increasingly understood through the language of the brand. As Linda Kintz argues in her work Between Jesus and the Market, the fundamentalism of Christian ideology works in concert with the fundamentalism of the market, so that “prosperity” preaching provides a space in which the contradictions of “free” enterprise are resolved. That is to say, the practice of branding religion does not merely indicate that religious doctrine is simply communicated and experienced in an economic context. The branding of religion in contemporary capitalism also means that neoliberal ideologies of the individual, the “free” market, and a lessening of state intervention of any kind are increasingly part of religious ideologies. For example, the Prosperity leader Benny Hinn preaches about the specific ways in which God “wants” people to become wealthy. In one of his articles on his website, “Your Supernatural Wealth Transfer Is Coming,” Hinn cites Psalm 35:27: “Yea, let them say continually, Let the Lord be magnified, which hath pleasure in the prosperity of his servant.” Hinn interprets this as “It is God’s will that you prosper!” In this article, Hinn lists six “wealth transfers” that have happened throughout history, offering narratives of biblical figures such as Abraham and Isaac as benefiting materially from God’s will. The seventh person on Hinn’s list in line for a “wealth transfer” is, not surprisingly, “you” (“Next in line for a great wealth transfer is you!”). The key to becoming rich, Hinn tells his congregation, is to pray and spread the word of the gospel.63 Alongside tabs on his website like “spiritual life” and “healing,” Hinn features “financial freedom,” where he gives advice on money management, tithing, and God’s prosperity.

Hinn, like Osteen and other Prosperity preachers, is committed to an ideology of free-market capitalism and has found ways to imbricate this ideology into religious practice. Indeed, as Jonathan Walton points out, too little attention has been paid by religious scholars to evangelists as proselytizers of a particular Christian identity, “an identity defined, for the most part, by theological, cultural and political neoconservatism.” While neoconservatism cannot be collapsed with neoliberal culture, they share similar tenets in terms of a prioritizing of individualism, a privileging of the free market, a distrust in the state—and the way all of these discourses form a national- ist sensibility. As Walton continues, “For the vast majority of televangelists, commitments to hyper-American patriotism, free-market capitalism, and patriarchal conceptions of the ordering of society are regularly transmitted through mass-mediated images and ‘Christian’ discourse.”

If branding in its contemporary form emerges from a kind of fundamentalism of the free market, then this connects to (though does not always neatly map onto) a particular fundamentalism within religion. “Fundamentalism” here indicates not merely a strict adherence to religious doctrine as the truth but also a powerful belief in the set of neoliberal principles that structure contemporary cultural, political, and economic life. The fundamentalism of the free market, in turn, implies not only a strict adherence to capitalist doctrine as the truth (though it is about this kind of observance) but also a loyalty to capitalist logic as structuring principles for everyday life.

As Kintz argues, part of this fundamentalism has been the use of women as spokespeople for a kind of Christianity. Women have helped move fundamentalist religious concerns, once thought to be on the extreme margins, to the mainstream by collapsing these concerns into affective feelings about family, home, and domesticity: “That collapse has also paradoxically helped establish a symbolic framework that returns manliness to the center of culture.” A brief glance at US politics in the first decade of the 21st century demonstrates this, as former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin has efficiently built a self-brand as a religious American woman. In all her roles, as running mate to Republican presidential candidate John McCain, a political pundit for conservative news network Fox News, a spokesperson of the Tea Party, and a reality television star, Palin has clearly proselytized that the moral principles of the right wing in US politics and those of a masculinized religious sentiment can be merged—and merged most effectively in a feminine, preferably maternal, body. The collapse of conservative ideologies into affective, indeed nostalgic, sentiments, especially those of a neoliberal definition of morality, is achieved through the use of conservative women as spokes- people for the nation. This collapse is also the crux of religious brand culture, which retools capitalist strategies and logics into cultural norms.

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/books/how-christianity-became-lucrative-brand

Links:
[1] http://nypress.com/
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/sarah-banet-weiser
[3] https://nyupress.org/books/book-details.aspx?bookid=5999
[4] http://www.alternet.org/tags/mormons
[5] http://www.alternet.org/tags/christianity
[6] http://www.alternet.org/tags/propserity-gospel
[7] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

6 Facts About Hunger That Demonstrate the Shameful Excesses of American Capitalism

AlterNet [1] / By Paul Buchheit,  June 23, 2013

Of all the miseries placed on human beings in their everyday lives, the lack of food may be the most inexcusable. Even in a world controlled by unbending attitudes of self-reliance and individual responsibility, the reality of children and seniors and disabled citizens going hungry is a stain on humanity, a shameful testament to the capitalist goal of profit without conscience.

The facts presented here all touch on the lives of human beings, in the U.S. and beyond, who lack food or the means to pay for it.

1. Congress wants to cut a food program that feeds low-income children.

According to the Department of Agriculture [3], 48% of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients in 2011 were children. Either unaware or indifferent to this, Congress is considering a new farm bill [4] that would cut food assistance by $2 billion a year while boosting the farm subsidies of big agriculture.

2. Some individuals make enough in two seconds to pay a SNAP recipient’s food bill for an entire year.

Americans [5] Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Larry Ellison, two Kochs, and four Waltons made an average of $6 billion each from their stocks and other investments in 2012. A $6 billion per year person makes enough in two seconds (based on a 40-hour work-week) to pay a year’s worth of benefits to the average SNAP [6] recipient. Just 20 [5] Americans made as much from their 2012 investments as the entire SNAP budget [7] for 47 million people.

Capitalism encourages an individual to make as much money as possible, even without producing anything. Most Americans accept that. But questions should be raised about a system that allows the yearlong needs of a hungry person to flash by in two seconds of an investor’s life.

3. McDonald’s profits are double the total wages of all its food servers.

McDonald’s has 440,000 [8] employees, most of them food servers making the median [9] hourly wage of $9.10 an hour or less, for a maximum of about $18,200 per year. The company’s $8 billion profit, after wages are paid, works out to the same amount: $18,200 per employee.

As noted by MSN Money [10], the company pays its front-line workers minimum wage or very close to it. But instead of passing along part of its profits to employees, McDonald’s just announced plans for increased dividends and share repurchases.

4. Just 10 individuals made as much as all the fast-food counter workers in the U.S.

The 10 richest [5] on the Forbes list increased their combined wealth by almost $60 billion from 2011 to 2012. That’s approximately equivalent to the total annual salaries of 3,378,030 fast-food [11] counter employees if they were all able to work 40-hour weeks, 50 weeks a year.

5. Apple avoided enough in taxes to mount a global attack on malnutrition.

The World Bank estimates the total cost [12] for “successfully mounting an attack on malnutrition” would be about $10.3 to $11.8 billion annually. Apple [13] alone underpaid its 2012 taxes by $11 billion, based on a 35% rate on total global income. (The company paid $8,443 current taxes on $55,763 total income, or a little over 15%.)

6. Speculation on food prices has contributed to the impoverishment of 115 million people.

From 1996 to 2011 the portion of speculative [14] wheat market trades by Goldman Sachs and other players went from 12 percent to 61 percent. The price [15] of wheat went from $105 a ton in 2000 to $481 a ton in 2008.

Food prices dropped after the recession, but the World Bank [16] notes that they’ve jumped 43 percent since 2010. The World Food Program [17] reported that since 2008, high prices have pushed 115 million more people into hunger and poverty.

Speculation hasn’t hurt the speculators. According to the World Wealth Report 2013 [18], the number of high net worth individuals ($1 million or more in investable assets) increased by 11.5% in North America in 2012, the highest rate in the world.

Billionaires are on the rise, and a billion people are without adequate food. The speculators should be ashamed.

See more stories tagged with:

hunger [19]


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/hard-times-usa/6-facts-about-hunger-demonstrate-shameful-excesses-american-capitalism

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/paul-buchheit
[3] http://blogs.usda.gov/2011/06/24/fact-vs-fiction-usda%E2%80%99s-supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program/
[4] http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/17/opposition-to-house-farm-bill-spans-political-spectrum/
[5] http://www.usagainstgreed.org/Forbes400_2011-12.xls
[6] http://www.fns.usda.gov/pd/18SNAPavg$PP.htm
[7] http://www.obpa.usda.gov/budsum/FY13budsum.pdf
[8] http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/63908/000006390813000010/mcd-12312012x10k.htm
[9] http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm#35-0000
[10] http://money.msn.com/investing/5-companies-that-owe-workers-a-raise
[11] http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm#35-3020
[12] http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/resources/online-library/life-free-hunger-tackling-child-malnutrition
[13] http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/320193/000119312512444068/d411355d10k.htm
[14] http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/may/23/goldman-sachs-agm-drive-food-prices-up
[15] http://www.odi.org.uk/sites/odi.org.uk/files/odi-assets/publications-opinion-files/1630.pdf
[16] http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2012/09/13/america_latina_crisis_precio_alimentos
[17] http://home.wfp.org/stellent/groups/public/documents/newsroom/wfp204445.pdf
[18] http://www.capgemini.com/sites/default/files/resource/pdf/wwr_2013_1.pdf
[19] http://www.alternet.org/tags/hunger
[20] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

5 Ways That Raw, Unregulated Capitalism Is Acting Like a Cancer on American Society

By Paul Buchheit, AlterNet, May 5, 2013  |

Unregulated capitalism is out of control. Like a cancer [3], it has become “something evil or malignant that spreads destructively,” with tumors growing in several once-healthy parts of the American body.

1. Attacking the Hungry

The uncontrolled growth of investment wealth is diverting resources away from vital programs, effectively smothering them. The average Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) [4] recipient received about $1,500 for food for the entire year. At least ten Americans each made that much in under ten seconds from their investment gains in 2012 [5], about the time it took each one to fluff his pillow and roll over in bed.

Under capitalism, fortunes accrue to a few while 47 million [6] Americans, or one out of seven, need food assistance [7]. Almost half of the hungry are children [8]. For every food bank we had in 1980 [9], we now have 200.

Yet just 20 people made more from their investment income in one year [5] than the entire 2011 food assistance budget [10]. That’s $73 billion, taxed at the capital gains rate. Meanwhile, President Obama couldn’t get the $1 billion per year he needed to improve childhood nutrition [9]in schools.

Most recently, the House proposed a farm bill [11] that would cut another $2 billion a year from the food stamps account.

2. Suffocating the Students

The corporate style of capitalism allows young college graduates, the bright hope of the future, to work in minimum wage positions while carrying an average of $26,000 [12] in student loans, which accumulated because tuition rose ten times faster [13] than the cost of living, and which now come with interest rates [14] many times higher than the banks pay.

The great majority of pre-recession jobs have been replaced, if they’ve come back at all, aslow-wage [15] jobs in food service and retail. The number of college grads working for minimum wage has doubled [16] in five years. They may be the ‘fortunate’ ones. In 2011, about 360,000 [17]Americans holding advanced degrees were on food stamps or some other form of public assistance. Many of them are homeless [18].

Jobless and frustrated young Americans trusted the system, and it failed them. Yet free enterprise entrepreneurs hustle [19] them for even more college, in order to extract federal loan money, which goes right to the schools to pay administrative salaries.

Defenders of capitalism say hard work will ensure success. At a recent jobs hearing [20] in Washington, only one Congressman bothered to show up.

3. Weakening the Children

The disease has been spreading since the 1960s, when life expectancy [21] began to decrease along with increasing health care costs. Capitalism has betrayed our children. A UNICEF study [22] places the U.S. 22nd out of 24 OECD countries in “children’s health and well-being.”

Child poverty, perhaps the main cause of their health problems, is up 50% [23] since 1973, with the rate for minorities three times that for white children.

Our global poverty ranking is shameful. Despite having the second-highest average income for children among the 30 OECD countries, the U.S. ranked 27th out of 30 for child poverty [24](percentage of children living in households that are below 50% of the median income).

4. Depleting the Taxpayers

The body of our society has been drained of its vital juices by tax avoidance. Loopholes and exemptions cost the public about a trillion dollars [25] a year, and underreported [26] income costs another $450 billion. The total is much more than the cost of our stable but always threatened Social Security program.

Since the recession, Fortune 500 corporations have cut [27] their tax payments in half, even though their profits have doubled in less than ten years.

Finally, it is estimated [28] that between $21 and $32 trillion is hidden offshore, untaxed, with up to40% [29] owned by Americans. U.S. PIRG [30] estimates that the average taxpayer in 2012 paid an extra $1,026 in taxes to make up for tax havens by corporations and wealthy individuals. The average small business paid $3,067.

5 .Paralyzing the Voters

Corporations and Congress are a carcinogenic mix. Voters are rendered useless, like withering organs, as all the attention is given to the greedy mass of nutrient-taking super-rich individuals and companies.

A vast majority of Americans want background checks [31] on guns, an emphasis [32] on clean energy [33], job stimulus [34] programs, taxes on the rich [35], and an uncut Social Security [36] program. Yet Congress only hears the ka-ching of campaign contributions. Of the 435 House elections [37] in 2004, 95% of them were won by the candidates who outspent their opponents.

Healing

There’s much more to the sickness, like the workplace explosions and fires triggered by cost-cutting measures, banks preying [38] on working people, the environmental [39] destruction caused by oil companies [40] and herbicide [41] manufacturers, attempts [42] to profit [43] from global warming, the middle class collapse caused by corporations transferring jobs overseas and then calling themselves multi-nationals to avoid allegiance to the country that supported their growth. Et cetera, et cetera.

This all allows a small number of people to make most of the money. These are the people who demand ‘freedom’ at the first hint of regulation.

The post-WW2 American body began to deteriorate around the time of Milton Friedman, author of one of the all-time economic inaccuracies: “The free market system distributes the fruits of economic progress among all people.” For forty years the sickness caused by his teaching has spread, at first without pronounced symptoms, but now in an out-of-control process that threatens to incapacitate the better part of America. A revolutionary medicine may be the only hope for recovery. A revolution, that is, of co-ops and small farms and local currencies and solar panels on the rooftops.

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/economy/5-ways-raw-unregulated-capitalism-acting-cancer-american-society

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/paul-buchheit
[3] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cancer
[4] http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=1269
[5] http://www.usagainstgreed.org/Fortune400_2011-12.xls
[6] http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=3239
[7] http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/884525/err141.pdf
[8] http://www.fns.usda.gov/Ora/menu/Published/SNAP/FILES/Participation/2011Characteristics.pdf
[9] http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/03/09
[10] http://www.obpa.usda.gov/budsum/FY13budsum.pdf
[11] http://www.capitalpress.com/content/jh-farm-bill-details-042913
[12] http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2012/09/26/a-record-one-in-five-households-now-owe-student-loan-debt/
[13] http://www.deltacostproject.org/pdfs/Delta_Not_Your_Moms_Crisis.pdf
[14] http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-04-15/how-obama-wants-to-change-student-loan-interest-rates
[15] http://www.nelp.org/page/-/Job_Creation/LowWageRecovery2012.pdf?nocdn=1
[16] http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2013/03/30/number-of-the-week-college-grads-in-minimum-wage-jobs/
[17] http://chronicle.com/article/From-Graduate-School-to/131795/
[18] http://www.alternet.org/college-students-are-going-homeless-and-hungry-and-corporate-america-trying-exploit-them?paging=off
[19] http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/10_19/b4177064219731.htm
[20] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/24/lawmaker-unemployment-hearing_n_3148362.html
[21] http://www.oecd.org/els/health-systems/oecdhealthdata2012-frequentlyrequesteddata.htm
[22] http://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/rc9_eng.pdf
[23] http://www.childrensdefense.org/child-research-data-publications/data/soac-2012-handbook.pdf
[24] http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/19/4/43570328.pdf
[25] http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/UploadedPDF/412404-Tax-Expenditure-Trends.pdf
[26] http://finance.yahoo.com/news/irs-estimate-17-percent-taxes-204637410.html
[27] http://www.payupnow.org/CorpTaxByYear.xls
[28] http://www.taxjustice.net/cms/upload/pdf/Price_of_Offshore_Revisited_120722.pdf
[29] http://www.taxjustice.net/cms/upload/pdf/Inequality_120722_You_dont_know_the_half_of_it.pdf
[30] http://www.uspirg.org/news/usp/offshore-tax-havens-cost-average-taxpayer-1026-year-small-businesses-3067
[31] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2013/04/03/90-percent-of-americans-want-expanded-background-checks-on-guns-why-isnt-this-a-political-slam-dunk/
[32] http://www.alternet.org/environment/how-country-one-worlds-largest-economies-ditching-fossil-fuels?paging=off
[33] http://www.gallup.com/poll/161519/americans-emphasis-solar-wind-natural-gas.aspx
[34] http://www.gallup.com/poll/158834/economy-entitlements-iran-americans-top-priorities.aspx
[35] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/28/taxing-the-rich-poll_n_2203400.html
[36] http://www.politico.com/story/2012/12/battleground-poll-hike-taxes-on-the-rich-84824.html
[37] http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2004/11/2004-election-outcome-money-wi.html
[38] http://www.alternet.org/economy/rich-have-gained-56-trillion-recovery-while-rest-us-have-lost-669-billion?paging=off
[39] http://www.thenation.com/article/164497/capitalism-vs-climate?page=full
[40] http://itsoureconomy.us/2013/02/oil-sands-mining-uses-up-almost-as-much-energy-as-it-produces/
[41] http://www.biosafety-info.net/article.php?aid=267
[42] http://www.alternet.org/environment/cynical-companies-are-already-scheming-how-getting-rich-global-warming?paging=off
[43] http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-03-07/investors-seek-ways-to-profit-from-global-warming
[44] http://www.alternet.org/tags/capitalism
[45] http://www.alternet.org/tags/us-0
[46] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

In History Departments, It’s Up With Capitalism

By JENNIFER SCHUESSLER, New York Times, April 6, 2013

Excerpt

…a new generation of scholars is increasingly turning to what, strangely, risked becoming the most marginalized group of all: the bosses, bankers and brokers who run the economy…courses in “the history of capitalism” — as the new discipline bills itself …The events of 2008 and their long aftermath have given urgency to the scholarly realization that it really is the economy, stupid. The financial meltdown also created a serious market opportunity….

The dominant question in American politics today, scholars say, is the relationship between democracy and the capitalist economy. “…The new work marries hardheaded economic analysis with the insights of social and cultural history, integrating the bosses’-eye view with that of the office drones — and consumers — who power the system…

Harvard, which in 2008 created a full-fledged Program on the Study of U.S. CapitalismPrinceton, Brown, Georgia, the New School, the University of Wisconsin and elsewhere…While most scholars in the field reject the purely oppositional stance of earlier Marxist history, they also take a distinctly critical view of neoclassical economics, with its tidy mathematical models and crisp axioms about rational actors..The history of capitalism has also benefited from a surge of new, economically minded scholarship on slavery…

Full text

A specter is haunting university history departments: the specter of capitalism.

After decades of “history from below,” focusing on women, minorities and other marginalized people seizing their destiny, a new generation of scholars is increasingly turning to what, strangely, risked becoming the most marginalized group of all: the bosses, bankers and brokers who run the economy.

Even before the financial crisis, courses in “the history of capitalism” — as the new discipline bills itself — began proliferating on campuses, along with dissertations on once deeply unsexy topics like insurance, banking and regulation. The events of 2008 and their long aftermath have given urgency to the scholarly realization that it really is the economy, stupid.

The financial meltdown also created a serious market opportunity. Columbia University Press recently introduced a new “Studies in the History of U.S. Capitalism” book series (“This is not your father’s business history,” the proposal promised), and other top university presses have been snapping up dissertations on 19th-century insurance and early-20th-century stock speculation, with trade publishers and op-ed editors following close behind.

The dominant question in American politics today, scholars say, is the relationship between democracy and the capitalist economy. “And to understand capitalism,” said Jonathan Levy, an assistant professor of history at Princeton University and the author of “Freaks of Fortune: The Emerging World of Capitalism and Risk in America,” “you’ve got to understand capitalists.”

That doesn’t mean just looking in the executive suite and ledger books, scholars are quick to emphasize. The new work marries hardheaded economic analysis with the insights of social and cultural history, integrating the bosses’-eye view with that of the office drones — and consumers — who power the system.

“I like to call it ‘history from below, all the way to the top,’ ” said Louis Hyman, an assistant professor of labor relations, law and history at Cornell and the author of “Debtor Nation: The History of America in Red Ink.”

The new history of capitalism is less a movement than what proponents call a “cohort”: a loosely linked group of scholars who came of age after the end of the cold war cleared some ideological ground, inspired by work that came before but unbeholden to the questions — like, why didn’t socialism take root in America? — that animated previous generations of labor historians.

Instead of searching for working-class radicalism, they looked at office clerks and entrepreneurs.

“Earlier, a lot of these topics would’ve been greeted with a yawn,” said Stephen Mihm, an associate professor of history at the University of Georgia and the author of “A Nation of Counterfeiters: Capitalists, Con Men and the Making of the United States.”But then the crisis hit, and people started asking, ‘Oh my God, what has Wall Street been doing for the last 100 years?’ ”

In 1996, when the Harvard historian Sven Beckert proposed an undergraduate seminar called the History of American Capitalism — the first of its kind, he believes — colleagues were skeptical. “They thought no one would be interested,” he said.

But the seminar drew nearly 100 applicants for 15 spots and grew into one of the biggest lecture courses at Harvard, which in 2008 created a full-fledged Program on the Study of U.S. Capitalism. That initiative led to similar ones on other campuses, as courses and programs at Princeton, Brown, Georgia, the New School, the University of Wisconsin and elsewhere also began drawing crowds — sometimes with the help of canny brand management.

After Seth Rockman, an associate professor of history at Brown, changed the name of his course from Capitalism, Slavery and the Economy of Early America to simply Capitalism, students concentrating in economics and international relations started showing up alongside the student labor activists and development studies people.

“It’s become a space where you can bring together segments of the university that are not always in conversation,” Dr. Rockman said. (Next fall the course will become Brown’s introductory American history survey.)

While most scholars in the field reject the purely oppositional stance of earlier Marxist history, they also take a distinctly critical view of neoclassical economics, with its tidy mathematical models and crisp axioms about rational actors.

Markets and financial institutions “were created by people making particular choices at particular historical moments,” said Julia Ott, an assistant professor in the history of capitalism at the New School (the first person, several scholars said, to be hired under such a title).

To dramatize that point, Dr. Ott has students in her course Whose Street? Wall Street! dress up in 19th-century costume and re-enact a primal scene in financial history: the early days of the Chicago Board of Trade.

Some of her colleagues take a similarly playful approach. To promote a two-week history of capitalism “boot camp” to be inaugurated this summer at Cornell, Dr. Hyman (a former consultant at McKinsey & Company) designed “history of capitalism” T-shirts.

The camp, he explained, is aimed at getting relatively innumerate historians up to speed on the kinds of financial data and documents found in business archives. Understanding capitalism, Dr. Hyman said, requires “both Foucault and regressions.”

It also, scholars insist, requires keeping race and gender in the picture.

As examples, they point to books like Nathan Connolly’s “World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida,” coming next year, and Bethany Moreton’s “To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise” (Harvard, 2009), winner of multiple prizes, which examines the role of evangelical Christian values in mobilizing the company’s largely female work force.

The history of capitalism has also benefited from a surge of new, economically minded scholarship on slavery, with scholars increasingly arguing that Northern factories and Southern plantations were not opposing economic systems, as the old narrative has it, but deeply entwined.

And that entwining, some argue, involved people far beyond the plantations and factories themselves, thanks to financial shenanigans that resonate in our own time.

In a paper called “Toxic Debt, Liar Loans and Securitized Human Beings: The Panic of 1837 and the Fate of Slavery,” Edward Baptist, a historian at Cornell, looked at the way small investors across America and Europe snapped up exotic financial instruments based on slave holdings, much as people over the past decade went wild for mortgage-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations — with a similarly disastrous outcome.

Other scholars track companies and commodities across national borders. Dr. Beckert’s “Empire of Cotton,” to be published by Alfred A. Knopf, traces the rise of global capitalism over the past 350 years through one crop. Nan Enstad’s book in progress, “The Jim Crow Cigarette: Following Tobacco Road From North Carolina to China and Back,” examines how Southern tobacco workers, and Southern racial ideology, helped build the Chinese cigarette industry in the early 20th century.

Whether scrutiny of the history of capitalism represents a genuine paradigm shift or a case of scholarly tulip mania, one thing is clear.

“The worse things are for the economy,” Dr. Beckert said wryly, “the better they are for the discipline.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/07/education/in-history-departments-its-up-with-capitalism.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130407

Reclaiming Our Imaginations from ‘There Is No Alternative’

by Andrea Brower, Friday, January 25, 2013 by Common Dreams

Excerpt

We live in a time of heavy fog. A time when, though many of us dissent and resist, humanity seems committed to a course of collective suicide in the name of preserving an economic system that generates scarcity no matter how much is actually produced. To demand that all have enough to eat on a planet that grows enough food, that absurd numbers of people do not die from preventable disease, that utter human deprivation amongst plenty is not tolerated, or that we put the natural laws of the biosphere above socially constructed economic “laws” — is presented as unrealistic, as the fantasy of idealists or those who are naive to the “complexity” of the world’s problems. If we create and recreate the world everyday, then how has it become so supposedly absurd to believe we might actually create a world that is honestly making the possibilities of egalitarianism, justice and democracy?

Capitalism — the logic of subordinating every aspect of life to the accumulation of profit (i.e. the “rules of the market”) — has become today’s “common sense.” It has become almost unthinkable to imagine coherent alternatives to this logic, even when considering the most basic of human needs — food, water, healthcare, education. Though many have an understanding of capitalism’s failings, there is a resignation towards its inevitability…

What sustains the tragic myth that There Is No Alternative? Those committed to building a more just future must begin re-thinking and revealing the taken-for-granted assumptions that make capitalism “common sense,” and bring these into the realm of mainstream public debate in order to widen horizons of possibility…

Full text

We live in a time of heavy fog. A time when, though many of us dissent and resist, humanity seems committed to a course of collective suicide in the name of preserving an economic system that generates scarcity no matter how much is actually produced. To demand that all have enough to eat on a planet that grows enough food, that absurd numbers of people do not die from preventable disease, that utter human deprivation amongst plenty is not tolerated, or that we put the natural laws of the biosphere above socially constructed economic “laws — is presented as unrealistic, as the fantasy of idealists or those who are naive to the “complexity” of the world’s problems. If we create and recreate the world everyday, then how has it become so supposedly absurd to believe we might actually create a world that is honestly making the possibilities of egalitarianism, justice and democracy?

Capitalism — the logic of subordinating every aspect of life to the accumulation of profit (i.e. the “rules of the market”) — has become today’s “common sense.” It has become almost unthinkable to imagine coherent alternatives to this logic, even when considering the most basic of human needs — food, water, healthcare, education. Though many have an understanding of capitalism’s failings, there is a resignation towards its inevitability. Margaret Thatcher’s famous words, “There Is No Alternative,” no longer need to be spoken, they are simply accepted as normal, non-ideological, neutral.

What sustains the tragic myth that There Is No Alternative? Those committed to building a more just future must begin re-thinking and revealing the taken-for-granted assumptions that make capitalism “common sense,” and bring these into the realm of mainstream public debate in order to widen horizons of possibility. We can’t leave this task to the pages of peer-reviewed journals and classrooms of social theory — these conversations must enter also into the family dining rooms and TV screens. Here are some thoughts on conversation starters:

Alternatives could never work. Does capitalism “work”? Even by its own indicators, as we’ve become more capitalist (i.e. neoliberalism), economic growth and productivity has actually declined.

Today’s globalized world is too complex to organize things any differently. Of course the world is complex — each of us is a bundle of contradictions and we need look no further than the dynamics of a single relationship to make a case for social complexity. But things are also quite simple — we live in a world where one billion people go hungry while we literally dump half of all food produced. Can we not come up with a productive socio-economic system that also meets people’s most basic needs? The gift of today is that we have the ability to reflect and draw-upon many forms, past and present, of non-capitalist social organization, and to creatively experiment with blending the best of these possibilities. The fact that we are more connected than ever before and have advanced so far technologically gives us more possibilities, not less.

Because of our “human nature,” we can only create economic systems based on competition, greed and self-interest. This is not only utterly pessimistic, but plain wrong. Again, we can start by remembering all sorts of societies that have existed through history. Then just look around and ask the question, what motivates you and the people you know? Fields as diverse as neuroscience and anthropology have mounted evidence showing humans’ incredible capacity for cooperation and sensitivity to fairness. We are actually all quite capable of anything; but it is up to us to decide how to use our capabilities, and of course that will be dictated by what our social systems encourage and teach us to value. If there is one thing that can be said about “human nature,” it is that we construct ourselves from within our societies and we are incredibly malleable.

Freedom is only realizable through a free-market. Attaching our values of freedom to the market is not only de-humanizing, but it also fails to recognize how one person’s “freedom” to economic choice is another’s imprisonment in a life of exploitation and deprivation. There is no possibility for freedom and emancipation until we are all free, and this will only come through a much richer and deeper conception of human freedom than one that is premised upon going to a grocery store and “choosing” between 5,000 variations of processed corn.

Capitalism is the only system that encourages innovation and progress. Progress towards what? And how does enclosing common knowledge through intellectual property rights, or excluding most of the world from quality education, or depriving half of humanity from the basic life-sustaining goods needed to function healthily, lead to greater innovation? Just begin to imagine the innovative possibilities of a world where all people had access to everything they needed to live, to think, and to contribute to the common good.

Things could be worse. Of course they could, but they could also be better. Does the fact that we’ve lived through bloody dictatorships mean that we should settle for a representative democracy where the main thing being represented is money?

Things are getting better. Can we really say that things are getting better as we head towards the annihilation of our own species? Sure, we may have our first black president and be making small gains in LGBT rights or in women’s representation in the workforce; but let’s not neglect the fact that capital is more concentrated and centralized than it has ever been and that its logic now penetrates into the most basic building blocks of life. I think we should give ourselves more credit than to settle for this “better.”

Change is slow. Slow is not in the vocabulary of the corporations who are stealing our common genetic heritage, or their buddies who are getting rich playing virtual money games that legally rob us all. The enclosure of our commons and the concentration of capital is not happening slowly. Whether we acknowledge it or not, change is happening — what is up for grabs is the direction of that change.

The best we can hope for is “green” and “ethical” capitalism. The logic of this belief is fundamentally flawed because it assumes that within capitalism, businesses can prioritize anything above the bottom-line. In actuality, businesses that commit themselves first and foremost to being truly and fully ethical and green will find it very difficult to stay in business. Of course there are great models of ethical business — worker-owned organic farms, for instance — but these cannot thrive and become the dominant norm when they are functioning within an economic structure that concentrates wealth and power in the hands of Monsanto. And while we should support these alternatives that exist within capitalism, we need to recognize that it’s way too little, way too late — structural change must (and will) happen, one way or another.

Getting rid of capitalism means abandoning markets as a tool of social organization. This is not necessarily true, although perhaps we would do best without markets anyways. Societies have existed that have used markets but restrained oligopoly capitalism, and many brilliant thinkers have envisioned a transition to a society structured by norms of equality and sharing where markets do play a role. I’m not advocating for or against any specific proposals here, but the point is that this assumption is historically inaccurate and we have barely begun to give serious thought to other possibilities.

People don’t care. People may be distracted by consumerism, may only have enough energy to struggle to pay their bills, may be fearful, may lack access to good information… but none of these things mean that they don’t care. Show anybody an image of a starving child who works in the cacao fields but can’t afford to eat (much less taste chocolate), and they will feel disgust. The charity industry is thriving precisely because so many people do feel implicated in the revolting manifestations of capitalism. But people’s sense of outrage has been channeled away from collective political action and towards ethical buying and holiday-time charitable donations. Without an honest and sophisticated society-wide conversation about the structural issues we are facing, people’s care is reduced to individual guilt and disempowerment.

People won’t stop consuming, plus all the poor people want what the rich people have. Of course they do! Doing away with capitalism doesn’t mean resorting to primitivism, or abandoning all of our washing machines, or leaving the poor destitute. While of course there are limits to the earth’s resources (fossil-fuels in particular), this doesn’t mean that we can’t organize a productive, equitable and sustainable social order that includes many of the comforts of modern life and excitements of technology. We need not abandon desire with capitalism. In fact, getting rid of capitalism gives us the best chance of having time to organize a sustainable system of consumption before it is too late — staying hooked into capitalism may actually be the quickest route to primitivism.

Capital’s enclosure of our commons — our common resources, genes and even intellect — has been accompanied by an enclosure of our imaginations. We need to re-claim and re-orient what it is to be “realistic” from the falsehoods of There Is No Alternative. This is not a call for pure imaginations of some future utopia. It is not a fantastic plea for a sudden and complete dissolving of all the social structures that currently pattern our lives. Instead, it is a call to take what is already going on all around us, all the time — cooperation, sharing, empathy — and let these aspects of our humanity that we most cherish guide our future. To begin to re-direct and re-structure our social systems towards the things we most desire and value — caring for and cooperating with one another, true participation and democracy, human freedom and free time, peace and co-existence — and in doing so, to watch these things begin to flourish.

If it is naive to believe that we can structure society to reward goodness instead of greed and prioritize people instead of profit, then I’m fighting until the bitter end to maintain my naiveté! Things become possible when we believe they are possible; so let’s start believing.

Andrea Brower is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Auckland. She has been very active in alternative food and global social justice movements, and spent several years co-directing the non-profit Malama Kauai in Hawaii, where she is originally from.

Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/01/25-2

How Climate Change Is an Historic Opportunity for Progressives

by Bill Moyers & Naomi Klein,  BillMoyers.com, published on AlterNet, November 16, 2012

Naomi Klein, author of the international bestseller The Shock Doctrine, says the tragic destruction of Hurricane Sandy can also be the catalyst for the transformation of politics and our economy. She’s been in New York visiting the devastated areas — including those where “Occupy Sandy” volunteers are unfolding new models of relief — as part of her reporting for a new book and film on climate change and the future, and joins Bill to discuss hurricanes, climate change, and democracy. “Let’s rebuild by actually getting at the root causes. Let’s respond by aiming for an economy that responds to the crisis both [through] inequality and climate change,” Klein tells Bill. “You know, dream big.”

Full transcript

BILL MOYERS: If you’ve been curious about why New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg endorsed Barack Obama for re-election, just take another look at the widespread havoc caused by the Frankenstorm benignly named Sandy. Having surveyed all this damage Bloomberg Business Week concluded: “It’s Global Warming, Stupid: If Hurricane Sandy doesn’t persuade Americans to get serious about climate change, nothing will.”

Well it was enough to prompt President Obama, at his press conference this week, to say more about global warming than he did all year.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behavior and carbon emissions. And as a consequence, I think we’ve got an obligation to future generations to do something about it.

BILL MOYERS: But he made it clear that actually doing something about it will take a back seat to the economy for now. He did return to New York on Thursday to review the recovery effort on Staten Island. Climate change and Hurricane Sandy brought Naomi Klein to town, too. You may know her as the author of “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.” Readers of two influential magazines to put Naomi Klein high on the list of the 100 leading public thinkers in the world. She is now reporting for a new book and documentary on how climate change can spur political and economic transformation. She also has joined with the environmental writer and activist Bill McKibben in a campaign launched this week called “Do the Math.” More on that shortly…. First, congratulations on the baby.

NAOMI KLEIN: Thank you so much.

BILL MOYERS: How old now?

NAOMI KLEIN: He is five months today.

BILL MOYERS: First child?

NAOMI KLEIN: My first child, yeah.

BILL MOYERS: How does a child change the way you see the world?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well it lengthens your timeline definitely. I’m really immersed in climate science right now because of the project I’m working on is related to that. So you know there are always these projections into the future, you know, what’s going to happen in 2050? What’s going to happen in 2080? And I think when you’re solo, you think, “Okay, well, how old will I be then?” Well, you know, and now I’m thinking how old will he be then, right? And so, it’s not that– but I don’t like the idea that, “Okay, now I care about the future now that I have a child.” I think that everybody cares about the future. And I cared about it when I didn’t have a child, too.

BILL MOYERS: Well, I understand that but we’re so complacent about climate change. A new study shows that while the number of people who believe it’s happening has increased by, say, three percentage points over the last year, the number of people who don’t think it is human caused has dropped.

NAOMI KLEIN: It has dropped dramatically. I mean, the statistics on this are quite incredible. 2007, according to a Harris poll, 71 percent of Americans believed that climate change was real, that it was human caused. And by last year, that number went down to 44 percent. 71 percent to 44 percent, that is an unbelievable drop in belief. But then you look at the coverage that the issue’s received in the media. And it’s also dropped dramatically from that high point. 2007, you know, this was this moment where, you know, Hollywood was on board. “Vanity Fair” launched their annual green issue.

And by the way, there hasn’t been an annual green issue since 2008. Stars were showing up to the Academy Awards in hybrid cars. And there was a sense, you know, we all have to play our part, including the elites. And that has really been lost. And that’s why it’s got to come from the bottom up this time.

BILL MOYERS: But what do you think happened to diminish the enthusiasm for doing something about it, the attention from the press, the interest of the elite? What is it?

NAOMI KLEIN: I think we’re up against a very powerful lobby. And you know, this is the fossil fuel lobby. And they have every reason in the world to prevent this from being the most urgent issue on our agenda. And I think, you know, if we look at the history of the environmental movement, going back 25 years to when this issue really broke through, you know, when James Hansen testified before Congress, that–

BILL MOYERS: The NASA scientist, yeah.

NAOMI KLEIN: Exactly, our foremost climate scientist, and said, “I believe it is happening. And I believe it is human caused.” That was the moment where we could no longer deny that we knew, right? I mean, scientists actually knew what well beforehand. But that was the breakthrough moment. And that was 1988. And if we think about what else was happening in the late ’80s? Well, the Berlin Wall fell the next year. And the end of history was declared. And, you know, climate change in a sense, it hit us at the worst possible historical moment. Because it does require collective action, right? It does require that we, you, regulate corporations. That you get, you know, that you plan collectively as a society. And at the moment that it hit the mainstream, all of those ideas fell into disrepute, right? It was all supposed to be free market solutions. Governments were supposed to get out of the way of corporations. Planning was a dirty word, that was what communists did, right? Anything collective was a dirty word. Margaret Thatcher said, “There’s no such thing as society.”

Now if you believe that, you can’t do anything about climate change, because it is the essence of a collective problem. This is our collective atmosphere. We can only respond to this collectively. So the environmental movement responded to that by really personalizing the problem and saying, “Okay, you recycle. And you buy a hybrid car.” And treating this like this could or we’ll have business-friendly solutions like cap and trade and carbon offsetting. That doesn’t work. So that’s part of the problem. So you have this movement that every once in a while would rear up and people would get all excited and we’re really going to do something about this. And whether it was the Rio Summit or the Copenhagen Summit or that moment when Al Gore came out with Inconvenient Truth, but then it would just recede, because it didn’t have that collective social support that it needed.

And on top of that, you have, we’ve had this concerted campaign by the fossil fuel lobby to both buy off the environmental movement, to defame the environmental movement, to infiltrate the environmental movement, and to spread lies in the culture. And that’s what the climate denial movement has been doing so effectively.

BILL MOYERS: I read a piece just this week by the environmental writer Glenn Scherer. He took a look and finds that over the last two years, the lion’s share of the damage from extreme weather, floods, tornadoes, droughts, thunder storms, wind storms, heat waves, wildfires, has occurred in Republican-leaning red states. But those states have sent a whole new crop of climate change deniers to Congress.

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, someone’s going to have to explain Oklahoma to me, you know?

BILL MOYERS: My native state.

NAOMI KLEIN: My sister lives in Oklahoma. And, you know, it is so shocking that James Inhofe, the foremost climate denying senator is from the state that is so deeply climate effected. There was something, actually, I was– last year I covered the Heartland Conference, which is the annual confab for all the climate deniers. And James Inhofe was supposed to be the keynote speaker. And the first morning of the conference, there was lots of buzz. He’s the rock star among the climate deniers. Inhofe is coming, he’s opening up this conference, right? And the first morning the main conference organizer stands up at breakfast and lets loose the bad news that James Inhofe has called in sick and he can’t make it.

And it turns out that he had gone swimming in a lake filled with blue-green algae, which is actually a climate-related issue. When lakes get too warm, this blue-green algae spreads. And he had gone swimming. And he had gotten sick from the blue-green algae. So he actually arguably had a climate-related illness and couldn’t come to the climate change conference. But even though he was sick, he wrote a letter from his sickbed just telling them what a great job he was doing. So the powers of denial are amazingly strong, Bill. If you are deeply invested in this free-market ideology, you know, if you really believe with your heart and soul that everything public and anything the government does is evil and that, you know, our liberation will come from liberating corporations, then climate change fundamentally challenges your worldview, precisely because we have to regulate.

We have to plan. We can’t leave everything to the free market. In fact, climate change is, I would argue, the greatest single free-market failure. This is what happens when you don’t regulate corporations and you allow them to treat the atmosphere as an open sewer. So it isn’t just, “Okay, the fossil fuel companies want to protect their profits.” It’s that it’s that this science threatens a worldview. And when you dig deeper, when you drill deeper into those statistics about the drop in belief in climate change, what you see is that Democrats still believe in in climate change, in the 70th percentile. That whole drop of belief, drop off in belief has happened on the right side of the political spectrum. So the most reliable predictor of whether or not somebody believes that climate change is real is what their views are on a range of other political subjects. You know, what do you think about abortion? What is your view of taxes? And what you find is that people who have very strong conservative political beliefs cannot deal with this science, because it threatens everything else they believe.

BILL MOYERS: Do you really believe, are you convinced that there are no free-market solutions? There’s no way to let the market help us solve this crisis?

NAOMI KLEIN: No, absolutely the market can play a role. There are things that government can do to incentivize the free market to do a better job, yes. But is that a replacement for getting in the way, actively, of the fossil fuel industry and preventing them from destroying our chances of a future on a livable planet? It’s not a replacement.

We have to do both. Yes, we need these market incentives on the one hand to encourage renewable energy. But we also need a government that’s willing to say no. No, you can’t mine the Alberta tar sands and burn enough carbon that you will have game over for the climate as James Hansen has said.

BILL MOYERS: But I’m one of those who is the other end of the corporation. I mean, we had a crisis in New York the last two weeks. We couldn’t get gasoline for the indispensable vehicles that get us to work, get us to the supermarket, get us to our sick friends or neighbors. I mean, the point I’m trying to make is we are all the fossil fuel industry, are we not?

NAOMI KLEIN: You know, we often hear that. We often hear that we’re all equally responsible for climate change. And that it’s just the rules of supply and demand.

BILL MOYERS: I have two cars. I keep them filled with gasoline.

NAOMI KLEIN: But I think the question is, you know, if there was a fantastic public transit system that really made it easy for you to get where you wanted to go, would you drive less? So I don’t know about you, but I, you know, I certainly would.

BILL MOYERS: I mean, I use the subways all the time here.

NAOMI KLEIN: And if it was possible to recharge an electric vehicle, if it was as easy to do that as it is to fill up your car with gasoline, you know, if that electricity came from solar and wind, would you insist, “No, I want to fill my car with, you know, with dirty energy”? No, I don’t think you would. Because this is what I think we have expressed over and over again. We are willing to make changes. You know we recycle and we compost. We ride bicycles. I mean, there there’s actually been a tremendous amount of willingness and goodwill for people to change their behavior. But I think where people get demoralized is when they see, “Okay, I’m making these changes, but emissions are still going up, because the corporations aren’t changing how they do business.” So no, I don’t think we’re all equally guilty.

BILL MOYERS: President Obama managed to avoid the subject all through the campaign and he hasn’t exactly been leading the way.

NAOMI KLEIN: He has not been leading the way. And in fact, you know, he spent a lot of time on the campaign bragging about how much pipeline he’s laid down and this ridiculous notion of an all of the above energy strategy, as if you can, you know, develop solar and wind alongside more coal, you know, more oil, more natural gas, and it’s all going to work out in the end.

No, it doesn’t add up. And, you know, I think personally, I think the environmental movement has been a little too close to Obama. And, you know, we learned, for instance, recently, about a meeting that took place shortly after Obama was elected where the message that all these big green groups got was, “We don’t want to talk about climate change. We want to talk about green jobs and energy security.” And a lot of these big green groups played along. So I feel–

BILL MOYERS: You mean the big environmental groups?

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, big environmental groups went along with this messaging, talking about energy security, instead of talking about climate change, ’cause they were told that that wasn’t a winnable message. I just think it’s wrong. I think it’s bad strategy.

BILL MOYERS: He got reelected.

NAOMI KLEIN: He got, well, he got reelected, but you know what? I think he, I think Hurricane Sandy helped Obama get reelected.

BILL MOYERS: How so?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, look at the Bloomberg endorsement that came at the last minute. I mean, Bloomberg endorsed Obama because of climate change. Because he believed that this was an issue that voters cared enough about that they would, that Independents would swing to Obama over climate change, and some of the polling absolutely supports this, that this was one of the reasons why people voted for Obama over Romney was that they were concerned about climate change and they felt that he was a better candidate on climate change.

The truth was, we didn’t have a good candidate. We had a terrible, terrible candidate on climate change, and we had a candidate on climate change who needs a lot of pressure. So I feel more optimistic than I did in 2008, because I think in 2008 the attitude of the environmental movement was, “Our guy just got in and we need to support him. And he’s going to give us the legislation that we, that we want. And we’re going to take his advice. And we’re going to be good little soldiers.”

And now maybe I’m being overly optimistic, but I think that people learned the lesson of the past four years. And people now understand that what Obama needs or what we need, forget what Obama needs, is a real independent movement with climate change at its center and that’s going to put pressure on the entire political class and directly on the fossil fuel companies on this issue. And there’s no waiting around for Obama to do it for you.

BILL MOYERS: Why would you think that the next four years of a lame duck president would be more successful from your standpoint than the first four years, when he’s looking to reelection?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, I think on the one hand, we’re going to see more direct action. But the other strategy is to go where the problem is. And the problem is the companies themselves. And we’re launching the “Do the Math” tour which is actually trying to kick off a divestment movement. I mean, we’re going after these companies where it hurts, which is their portfolios, which is their stock price.

BILL MOYERS: You’re asking people to disinvest, to take their money out of, universities in particular, right? This is what happened during the fight against apartheid in South Africa and ultimately proved successful.

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, and this is, we are modeling it on the anti-apartheid divestment movement. And the reason it’s called “Do the Math” is because of this new body of research that came out last year. A group in Britain called “The Carbon Tracker Initiative.” And this is, you know, a fairly conservative group that addresses itself to the financial community. This is not, you know, sort of activist research. This is a group that identified a market bubble and were concerned about this meant to investors. So it’s a pretty conservative take on it. And what the numbers that they crunched found is that if we are going to ward off truly catastrophic climate change, we need to keep the increase, the temperature increase, below 2 degrees centigrade.

NAOMI KLEIN: The problem with that is that they also measured how much the fossil fuel companies and countries who own their own national oil reserves have now currently in their reserves, which means they have already laid claim to this. They already own it. It’s already inflating their stock price, okay? So how much is that? It’s five times more. So that means that the whole business model for the fossil fuel industry is based on burning five times more carbon than is compatible with a livable planet. So what we’re saying is, “Your business model is at war with life on this planet. It’s at war with us. And we need to fight back.”

So we’re saying, “These are rogue companies. And we think in particular young people whose whole future lies ahead of them have to send a message to their universities, who, and, you know, almost every university has a huge endowment. And there isn’t an endowment out there that doesn’t have holdings in these fossil fuel companies. And so young people are saying to the people who charged with their education, charged with preparing them for the outside world, for their future jobs, “Explain to me how you can prepare me for a future that with your actions you’re demonstrating you don’t believe in. How can you prepare me for a future at the same time as you bet against my future with these fossil fuel holdings? You do the math and you tell me.” And I think there’s a tremendous moral clarity that comes from having that kind of a youth-led movement. So we’re really excited about it.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean rogue corporations? You’re talking about Chevron and Exxon-Mobil and BP and all of these huge capitalist or institutions.

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, rogue corporations, because their business model involves externalizing the price of their waste onto the rest of us. So their business model is based on not having to pay for what they think of as an externality, which is the carbon that’s spewed into the atmosphere that is warming the planet. And that price is enormous. We absolutely know that the future is going to be filled with many more such super storms and many more such costly, multibillion-dollar disasters. It’s already happening. Last year was– there were more billion-dollar disasters than any year previously. So climate change is costing us. And yet you see this squabbling at, you know, the state level, at the municipal level, over who is going to pay for this

NAOMI KLEIN: The public sector doesn’t have the money to pay for what these rogue corporations have left us with, the price tag of climate change. So we have to do two things. We have to make sure that it doesn’t get worse, that the price tag doesn’t get higher. And we need to get some of that money back, which means, you know, looking at issues like fossil fuel subsidies and, you know, to me, it’s so crazy. I mean, here we are post-Hurricane Sandy. Everyone is saying, “Well, maybe this is going to be our wakeup call.” And right now in New York City, the debate is over how much to increase fares in public transit. And they want to, the Metro Transit Authority wants to increase the price of riding the subway, you know, the price of riding the trains, quite a bit. And so how does this make sense? We’re supposedly having a wakeup call about climate change. And we’re making it harder for people to use public transit. And that’s because we don’t have the resources that we need.

BILL MOYERS: You’ve been out among the areas of devastation. Why?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, for this book I’m currently writing about climate change and a documentary to go with it, so we were filming in the Rockaways, which is one of the hardest-hit areas and Staten Island and in Red Hook. And also in the relief hubs, where you see just a tremendous number of volunteers organized by, actually, organized by Occupy Wall Street. They call it Occupy Sandy.

BILL MOYERS: Really?

NAOMI KLEIN: Yes. And what I found is that people are—the generosity is tremendous, the humanity is tremendous. I saw a friend last night, and I asked her whether she’d been involved in the hurricane relief. And she said, “Yeah, I gave them my car. I hope I get it back. If you see it, tell me.” So people are tremendous.

BILL MOYERS: This means–

NAOMI KLEIN: So one of the things that you find out in a disaster is you really do need a public sector. It really important. And coming back to what we were talking about earlier, why is climate change so threatening to people on the conservative end of the political spectrum? One of the things it makes an argument for is the public sphere. You need public transit to prevent climate change. But you also need a public health care system to respond to it. It can’t just be ad hoc. It can’t just be charity and goodwill.

BILL MOYERS: When you use terms like “collective action,” “central planning,” you scare corporate executive and the American Enterprise Institute and The Heritage Foundation because they say you want to do away with capitalism.

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, first of all, I don’t use a phrase like “central planning.” I talk about planning, but I don’t think it should be central. And one of the things that one must admit when looking at climate change is that the only thing just as bad or maybe even worse for the climate than capitalism was communism. And when we look at the carbon emissions for the eastern bloc countries, they were actually, in some cases, worse than countries like Australia or Canada. So, let’s just call it a tie. So we need to look for other models. And I think there needs to be much more decentralization and a much deeper definition of democracy than we have right now.

BILL MOYERS: Decentralization of what, Naomi?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, for instance, you know, if we think about renewable energy, well, one of the things that’s happened is that when you try to get wind farms set up, really big wind farms, there’s usually a lot of community resistance that’s happened in the United States. It’s happened in Britain. Where it hasn’t happened is Germany and Denmark. And the reason for that is that in those places you have movements that have demanded that the renewable energy be community controlled, not centrally planned, but community controlled. So that there’s a sense of ownership, not by some big, faceless state, but by the people who actually live in the community that is impacted.

BILL MOYERS: You’ve written that climate change has little to do with the state of the environment, but much to do with the state of capitalism and transforming the American economic system. And you see an opening with Sandy, right?

NAOMI KLEIN: I do see an opening, because, you know, whenever you have this kind of destruction, there has to be a reconstruction. And what I documented in “The Shock Doctrine” is that these right-wing think tanks, like the ones you named, like the American Enterprise Institute or the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, they historically have gotten very, very good at seizing these moments of opportunity to push through their wish list of policies.

And often their wish list of policies actually dig us deeper into crisis. If I can just– if you’ll bear with me, I’ll just give you one example. After Hurricane Katrina, there was a meeting at the Heritage Foundation, just two weeks after the storm hit. Parts of the city were still underwater. And there was a meeting, the “Wall Street Journal” reported on it. And I got the minutes from the meeting.

The heading was 31 free market solutions for Hurricane Katrina. And you go down the list and it was: and don’t reopen the public schools, replace the public schools with vouchers. And drill for oil in ANWAR, in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, more oil refineries. So what kind of free market solutions are these, right?

Here you have a crisis that was created by a collision between heavy weather (which may or may not have been linked to climate change, but certainly it’s what climate change looks like) colliding with weak infrastructure, because of years and years of neglect. And the free market solutions to this crisis are, “Let’s just get rid of the public infrastructure altogether and drill for more oil, which is the root cause of climate change.” So that’s their shock doctrine. And I think it’s time for a people’s shock.

BILL MOYERS: People’s shock?

NAOMI KLEIN: A people’s shock, which actually we’ve had before, as you know, where, you know, if you think about 1929 and the market shock, and the way in which the public responded. They wanted to get at the root of the problem. And they wanted to get away from speculative finance and that’s how we got some very good legislation passed in this country like Glass-Steagall, and much of the social safety net was born in that moment. Not by exploiting crisis to horde power for the few and to ram through policies that people don’t want, but to build popular movements and to really deepen democracy.

BILL MOYERS: Well, the main thesis of “Shock Doctrine,” which came out five years ago before the great crash was that disaster capitalism exploits crises in order to move greater wealth to the hands of the fewer and fewer people. You don’t expect those people to change their appetites do you or their ways do you, because we face a climate crisis?

NAOMI KLEIN: I don’t expect them to. I wrote “The Shock Doctrine” because I believe that we, I believed at the time that we didn’t understand this tactic. We didn’t understand that during times of crisis certain sectors of the business world and the political class take advantage of our disorientation in order to ram through these policies. And I believed, at the time, that if we understood it, you know, if we had a name for it, if we had a word, a language for it, then the next time they tried it, we would fight back. Because the whole tactic is about taking advantage of our disorientation in those moments of crisis. And the fact that we often can become childlike and look towards, you know, a supposed expert class and leaders to take care of us. And we become too trusting, frankly, during disasters.

BILL MOYERS: It used to be said that weather, now global warming, climate change, was the great equalizer. It affected rich and poor alike. You don’t think it does, do you?

NAOMI KLEIN: What I’m seeing. And I’ve seen this, you know–I’ve been tracking this now for about six years, more and more, there’s a privatization of response to disaster, where I think that wealthy people understand that, yes, we are going to see more and more storms. We live in a turbulent world. It’s going to get even more turbulent. And they’re planning. So you have, for instance private insurance companies now increasingly offer what they call a concierge service. The first company that was doing this was A.I.G. And in the midst of the California wildfires about six years ago, for the first time, you saw private firefighters showing up at people’s homes, spraying them in fire retardant, so that when the flames came, this house would stay. This mansion, usually, would be standing and the one next door might burn to the ground. So this is extraordinary. Because we would tend to think of, you know, firefighting. This is definitely, you know, a public good. This is definitely something that people get equally. But now we’re finding that even that there’s even a sort of two-tiering of protection from wildfires.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, there was even a short-lived airline in Florida I read about that offered five-star evacuation service in events of hurricanes.

NAOMI KLEIN: After Hurricane Katrina a company in Florida saw a market opportunity. And they decided to offer a charter airline that would turn your hurricane into a luxury vacation. That was actually the slogan. They would let you know when a hurricane was headed for your area. They would pick you up in a limousine, drive you to the airport, and whisk you up. And they would make you five star hotel reservations at the destination of your choice. So, you know, why does a hurricane have to be bad news after all?

BILL MOYERS: And this kind of privatization is what you wrote about in “Shock Doctrine,” that privatization of resources, monopolization of resources by the rich, in times of crisis, further divide us as a society

NAOMI KLEIN: Absolutely. And, you know, one of the things about deregulated capitalism is that it is a crisis creation machine, you know? You take away all the rules and you are going to have serial crises. They may be economic crises, booms and busts. Or there will be ecological crises. You’re going to have both. You’re just going to have shock after shock after shock. And the more, the longer this goes on, the more shocks you’re going to have.

And the way we’re currently responding to it is that with each shock, we become more divided. And the more we understand that this is what the future looks like, the more those who can afford it protect themselves and buy their way out of having to depend on the public sector and therefore are less invested in these collective responses. And that’s why there has to be a whole other way of responding to this crisis.

BILL MOYERS: You wrote recently that climate change can be a historic moment to usher in the next great wave of progressive change.

NAOMI KLEIN: It can be and it must be. I mean, it’s our only chance. I believe it’s the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced. And we’ve been kidding ourselves about what it’s going to take to get our emissions down to the extent that they need to go down. I mean, you talk about 80 percent lowering emissions. I mean, that is such a huge shift.

And I think that’s part of the way in which, and I don’t mean to beat up on the big environmental groups, because they do fantastic work. But I think that part of the reason why public opinion on this issue has been so shaky is that it doesn’t really add up to say to the public, you know, “This is a huge problem. It’s Armageddon.” You know, you have “Inconvenient Truth.” You scare the hell out of people. But then you say, “Well, the solution can be very minor. You can change your light bulb. And we’ll have this complicated piece of legislation called cap and trade that you don’t really understand, but that basically means that companies here can keep on polluting, but they’re going to trade their carbon emissions. And, you know, somebody else is going to plant trees on the other side of the planet and they’ll get credits.”

And people look at that going, “Okay, if this was a crisis, wouldn’t be we be responding more aggressively? So wouldn’t we be responding in a way that you have, we’ve responded in the past during war times, where there’s been, you know, that kind of a collective sense of shared responsibility?” Because I think when we really do feel that sense of urgency about an issue, and I believe we should feel it about climate change, we are willing to sacrifice. We have shown that in the past. But when you hold up a supposed emergency and actually don’t ask anything of people, anything major, they actually think you might be lying, that it might not really be an emergency after all. So if this is an emergency, we have to act like it. And yeah, it is a fundamental challenge. But the good news is, you know, we get to have a future for our kids.

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/bill-moyers-naomi-klein-how-climate-change-historic-opportunity-progressives

 

Links:

[1] http://billmoyers.com/

[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/bill-moyers-0

[3] http://www.alternet.org/authors/naomi-klein

[4] http://billmoyers.com

[5] http://www.alternet.org/tags/bill-moyers

[6] http://www.alternet.org/tags/naomi-klein

[7] http://www.alternet.org/tags/climate-change

[8] http://www.alternet.org/tags/capitalism

[9] http://www.alternet.org/tags/shock-doctrine

[10] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B