My first thought upon waking up these days is still the meaning of this November election, the feeling that little clicking wheels are going a little faster all around me. How can I explain this strong feeling of an abyss gaping below or ahead?
I start from what I think is the frightening ground. The reality of the global economy in our post-industrial nations is that automation and the search for cheaper labor will continue to develop. It means that well-paying jobs that have been lost since the seventies in highly industrialized nations are not coming back. Predictions by the government labor statistics bureau is that most jobs will be created in services over the ten coming years. Most are low-pay jobs. It also means that a consumption-driven economy is going to remain flat. Unless new forms of enforced consumption can be entertained and paid by hitherto hidden resources?
Major profits are being sought by corporations, shareholders, and their political allies. One way, as I said above, is to turn to cheap labor and automation. But with labor productivity and the consumption-driven economy remaining stuck at a low level (1.3% in nonfarm business sector, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics, the other way is to pick pockets directly. Much capital can still be skimmed off the lower and middle classes. Off their hopes for a future. This skimming could be presented as an economic success. Even if productivity stays stuck at below 1%, the economy might look good for a while, perhaps the US Treasury too, since money can be borrowed at such low interest… My temporary list of the skimming methods likely to be practiced by capitalist institutions, as enabled by Trump’s nominees, includes:
- increased financial pressure on industry and service companies to concentrate activities and lower salaries at jobs with no minimum wage increases, no pension, no health plan.
- in the health field, new rollout of predatory private health insurance for which the Affordable Health Act was apparently not sufficient—with due precaution of course—, continuation of big payouts to the pharmaceutical industry—continued absence of bidding by Medicare—, plus financial pressure on hospital chains and medical services to be more efficient. Hope of doing to Medicare what is being done to education, that is, replace it with vouchers and “local” state solutions.
- education from K to university: vouchers, online education, increased tuition at public universities as a form of taxation on middle class. For most of the new generation of students, these education costs will hardly be repaid by participation in a low-growth economy.
- pensions: there will be renewed attemps to privatize Social Security and force risky, private accounts (called personal accounts) on individuals, with the risk being shouldered entirely by them, in the name of freedom.
- the military budget, which is a form of massive, forced consumption of useless products, will continue to be an enormously profitable jumble of industries and services for military purposes, intelligence gathering, prisons, drug policing, local police. Much of it is privatized. More of it will bring more war, less peace.
- entertainment and gambling, à la Trump Enterprises, is a time-tried way of taxing wages, or money loaned against wages.
With Trump’s election and nominations, capitalism has dropped its thin moral and missionary disguises and wears its true face and colors. It is agressive and empty of concerns and ideas, except one, the inflation of the ego. Capitalism’s old face had been an ersatz of moralization on the right (abortion, gender politics) and liberal concerns on the left, as disguises for the market-based radical transformation of all virtues. Other masks have fallen or evolved: efficiency is still there but limited to monopolies, progress is invoked but only in the form of growth and quantifiable goals, freedom is reduced to that of self-expression via consumption, opportunity has become the grabbing of what you can get away with, patients and students have become clients, humans are resources, etc… Politics has become almost entirely subject to a narcissistic race of egos.
There is little pretense now of keeping to a modicum of values. There are gestures, such as pretending respect for “national” ethos by cloaking it as brutal justice. Flag burners should lose their citizenship, no matter what the constitution and a very conservative Supreme Court say about freedom of expression. Or the keeping of 750 jobs as part of a ransom deal with Carrier and its parent company, United Technologies, is expected to make people forget about the real forces at work in the job market.
I used to accept what I read in Badiou and other modern critics regarding the success of global capitalism. The first step of any critic of the modern situation was to recognize that global capitalism had won and eradicated any competitor on the political or economic stage. Strange to say, the election of Trump and his choices for cabinet positions make me feel that the signs of capitalism’s weakness are everywhere, against all appearances. This is little consolation. What are we going to replace it with?