Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Oberlin, 2016

This is a tough post to write because there is almost nothing to write about. Still, it's important to comment on the Socialist Workers Party's (SWP) most important annual event.

Oberlin conferences, held on the eponymous campus annually since about 1970, have historically hosted the Party's biannual conventions, and in the alternate years a Marxist Summer School or Educational Conference. That pattern has changed recently--the Party's last convention was in 2014, and if there was an Oberlin Conference in 2015, it went unremarked on this blog.

This year's conclave was billed as an Active Workers Conference. (Given the Party's demographics, it might more accurately be called the Active Retirees Conference.) The program included classes on the Party's trade union work, on their call for unilateral nuclear disarmament, on Puerto Rican independence, on the Middle East (with emphasis on Iran), and on the importance of the Cuban revolution, among other topics. Attendees numbered 320--the same number as attended the 2014 convention--including foreign visitors.

The major purpose of the meeting, however, was to tout Jack Barnes' new book, entitled Are They Rich Because They're Smart?: Class Privilege Under Capitalism. From The Militant's review, I was disappointed to learn that the book is not original, but instead is an updated compilation of articles Mr. Barnes has written previously. I did inquire about getting an advance review copy--unsurprisingly they didn't reply--but I have since ordered the book from Amazon (temporarily out of stock). It only costs $10. I'll post a review as soon as I can. I don't believe an appraisal has appeared in any other publication.

Mr. Barnes delivered the keynote address entitled The Changing Face of US Politics. The brief description in The Militant isn't very informative, containing only predictable boilerplate about "the unprecedented and irresolvable worldwide crisis of capitalist production, trade and finances." I can't help but hope there was more substance in the actual talk, i.e., about Donald Trump, who really is a new face in American politics.

The upshot of all this are the two tasks for the coming period: the Alyson Kennedy for President and Osborne Hart for vice-president campaign, and the drive to sell 1750 copies of Mr. Barnes' new book. Given the "irresolvable worldwide crisis of capitalist production, trade and finances," this seems remarkably modest. But the book is selling like gangbusters (despite Amazon being out of stock): "Since June 25 teams campaigning in Utah have sold 76 copies of the book; in Vermont, 133 copies; and in Washington state, 16." This, of course, is accomplished by comrades going door-to-door.

So there are three levels of political thought and activity. At the top are core principles. Then comes some overarching strategy for accomplishing those principles. Finally, this leads to tactics that are an implementation of that strategy.

I have read nothing indicating that the Party has violated any core principles, which remain mostly unchanged since I was a comrade 40 years ago. On this they are without sin.

Their mission to run an election campaign and sell books is a perfectly good tactic (however small).

What is missing is a strategy. They have none, and haven't had one for many years now. That's why this article is so short and doesn't have much to say. I can't comment on a strategy that doesn't exist. They bounce around from one idea to the next: appeal to Trump supporters, lobby for education (not) reform, defend the Jewish right of return, plead for nuclear disarmament, etc.

It's a long list. But nothing inspires. Nothing carries through from one week to the next. It's all ad hoc.

Note: Blogging has been light recently, due partly to some time-consuming, personal issues, and also because Mrs. Trotsky and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary with a two-week holiday in Japan.

Further Reading:




Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Old, White Man Runs For President

Socialist Action (SA) must not have much of a bench.
  • Lead writer for their newspaper -- Jeff Mackler
  • National Secretary of the Party (or whatever the title is) -- Jeff Mackler
  • 2016 Presidential Candidate -- Jeff Mackler
And SA accuses the Socialist Workers Party of being a cult? At least Jack Barnes spreads the work around.

I'll happily acknowledge that Mr. Mackler is a good writer--this blog has spent far too many pixels on his articles for me to claim otherwise. And clearly he has some organizational smarts, what leading SA since its founding in 1983.

But as a presidential candidate? Frankly, the guy sucks. Consider this video (from July, 2010) as representative. Clearly there's a charisma deficit. He talks like a bad high school teacher.

Though I guess that's understandable. "A former teachers union leader, Mackler was the organizer and longtime elected officer of the AFT and CTA locals in Hayward, Calif." Hayward, we suppose, has whole high schools filled with time-serving, boring teachers, the most tedious of which are elected to fill union posts.

The Marxist terminology for people like Mr. Mackler is petty bourgeois. He represents a class of people who produce nothing useful, but instead live off tax dollars extorted from hard-working citizens. Though I can't be too hard on Mr. Mackler--I, too, belong to the same parasite class as a member in good standing of our own (AFT) professors' union.

It is obvious that Mr. Mackler has no understanding about how the economy works. In any economy (not just a capitalist one) people earn a living by trading goods and services with other people. In a pure free market trade is unrestricted--people get to choose which goods and services they want to buy. We aren't required to buy something we don't want (e.g., educational "services" from Mr. Mackler), nor are we prohibited from buying things we do want (e.g., marijuana).

But Mr. Mackler doesn't live in a free market--his income is extracted at the point of a gun from other people. And so no wonder his campaign platform demands more money for parasites like him.

Here is Socialist Action's 10 point program (with my editorial comments on the side):

  • Rapid conversion to 100% renewable energy to stop fossil-fuel-induced climate change [Impossible]
  • For a just transition: Guaranteed jobs at top union wages for all workers displaced in the conversion to renewable energy [Make-work jobs doing imaginary things does not make people richer]
  • Quality, universal government-paid health care and education [Of course Mr. Mackler demands more money for teachers!]
  • Abolition of all racist, sexist, and homophobic laws and practices. [Are we gonna arrest people for thought crimes?]
  • Affordable housing and jobs for all at top union wages [Aren't union wages enough to afford housing?]
  • For $15 and a union now, as a short first step toward a minimum wage high enough to sustain quality living standards [Didn't they already say this?]
  • Abolition of the U.S. war machine [Civil rights for terrorists now!]
  • Amnesty, legalization, and equal rights for all immigrants [Presumably they also get top union wages, even if like everybody else they're prohibited from doing useful work]
  • For a Labor Party based on a revitalized, democratic, and expanded labor movement that is allied with the oppressed and exploited [Hard to see the point of a labor party when everybody is getting top union wages for doing no useful work]
  • For a workers’ government! Abolish capitalism! For socialism! [Welcome to North Korea!]
Mr. Mackler's running mate is a lady named Karen Shraufnagel, who lives up to her Germanic name.
Karen Schraufnagel is a member of Socialist Action’s National Committee and organizer of its Twin Cities branch. She is a founder of Minnesotans Against Islamophobia, and is active in the anti-Zionist Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions [BDS - ed] movement and the animal rights, antiwar, and environmental movements.
The woman is a full-fledged, card-carrying antisemite. Yes, I know there is a distinction between antisemitism and anti-Zionism, but BDS is unequivocally antisemitic. As is Hamas, which SA unconditionally supports. Further, many of the Islamophobia-phobic groups are similarly so inspired.

According to Ms. Schraufnagel apparently animal rights are more important than the human rights of Jews.

But what's the point? Mr. Mackler's program is practically identical to that of Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, antisemitism included. Why is he running a separate campaign? Mr. Mackler's answer is likely that the Greens are "petty bourgeois," while SA isn't. But I think I've just demonstrated that's not true.

Jeff Mackler is just as much a petty bourgeois, pro-poverty campaigner as any other socialist.

Down with antisemitism!
Down with poverty!
Down with Jeff Mackler's presidential campaign!!

Further Reading:

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Classy

Vincent Kelley writes a useful article entitled Class: Its Core Dimensions and Relationships to Levels of Organization, published in The North Star. It's a superior exercise in Marxist theory as it tries to actually describe reality instead of just rehashing ancient texts. Plus Mr. Kelley is a good writer.

In the end, it fails, and mostly because Mr. Kelley begins with a severely truncated toolkit.

Economists usually begin such discussions with the so-called factors of production. Often three ingredients are required: access to natural resources, labor, and capital. But the resource factor is usually subsumed into the other two, so most economic argument starts with how to allocate labor and capital in order to maximize production. This is enshrined in the well-known Cobb-Douglas production function,

Y=AL^{\beta }K^{\alpha }

Here Y is total output (to be maximized), L is the amount of labor used, and K is the capital invested. The other terms are empirical parameters. In particular, alpha and beta represent the relative importance of capital and labor, respectively.

So a cab driver has to buy a car ($30K in capital investment), and then spend hours driving (a labor investment). The result, he hopes, is a good living. And if the driver does not himself buy the car, then somebody else has to lay out the money, and accordingly will want some return on investment, aka profit.

But Mr. Kelley does not acknowledge capital as a factor of production. For him it is unnecessary for a cab driver to have a car--he could just simply start driving anyway. Or equally absurd, the person (even the driver) who purchases the car is willing to lend it out for free, just as a favor. Mr. Kelley says that there is only one factor of production--only labor counts, and nobody should be reimbursed for capital.

His ideal world, where capital is abolished, is one where there will be no taxis, no factories, no roads and no airplanes. I can't imagine what such a better world might look like--it'd be rather like a world without gravity.

Yet the article has some merits. First, he acknowledges that class is a malleable quality--it depends on the class struggle. Or putting it in my own words, class exists only insofar as the people involved recognize that they're in different classes. Or, in Mr. Kelley's language, 
Because class is created through historical class struggle, classes are made and remade over time. For the same reason, they can also be altered and destroyed. Class ideologies can be even more dynamic than classes in economic and political terms since ideology encompasses not only what is but also what was and what could be.
I think this is true, though it doesn't sound very materialist, and therefore odd coming from a Marxist.

And then he makes some odd distinctions:
...the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs in the last several decades has pushed many long-term production workers into the service sector, in which they sell their services to clients as opposed to selling their labor-power to capitalists. This shift of many workers from the occupational proletariat to the occupational petite bourgeoisie has formed a large segment of the U.S. petite bourgeoisie whose material conditions are comparable to or even below the proletariat, even though this segment is not in direct contradiction with industrial capital as it used to be. We call members of this lower strata of the petite bourgeoisie fundamental laborers...
So our taxi driver (even if he just works for the cab owner) is nevertheless not a member of the proletariat. Instead he is a fundamental laborer (aka, service worker) who is "occupationally" a member of the petite bourgeoisie. The distinction is that the cabbie works for passengers more than for the car owner, and is thus not an employee in the way a true proletarian would be.

In Mr. Kelley's view fundamental laborers, while they might be allied with the proletariat, lack the power to shut the mother down in the way that actual production workers can. They're rather like Russian peasants--in Lenin's view useful allies but ultimately irrelevant.

Mr. Kelley could mention that 80% of the American labor force are in service occupations, and only 12% are in traditional manufacturing. The actual proletariat then is already rather small, and is still shrinking fast. Mr. Kelley blames this on foreign outsourcing, when in fact the biggest culprit by far is automation. The day is not far off when only 1 or 2% of the population is involved in manufacturing, similar to the fraction now working in agriculture.

Further, that 12% in manufacturing are not the interchangeable proletarians of yore, but instead are increasingly highly skilled and well-paid workers. These are not people who have any interest in "shutting the mother down."

Beyond this, I'd take issue with his distinction between service workers and proletarians. We'll all agree that the UAW guy at the River Rouge plant is a worker. But what about the salesman at the local dealership? The salesman is the crucial link in the chain--without him the worker's labor is wasted, as is Henry Ford's capital investment. If the cars don't sell, there's no point in building them. So if anybody has his finger on the pulse of the economy, it's the salesman. I don't think Mr. Kelley understands that.

And then: Are McDonald's employees fundamental laborers trained to respond to customers? Or are they instead workers in a hamburger manufacturing plant? Mr. Kelley needs to answer such questions before he makes such dramatic distinctions.

There are bits of Mr. Kelley's article that I agree with. He writes,
To return to our examples, the Afro-American petite bourgeoisie is a largely reactionary sub-class segment because of its attachment not only to what it has but also to what it could have. Hence we observe the fallacious political line of uplifting all Afro-Americans through the development of an Afro-American (mis)leadership class of race leaders who advocate an individualized politics bolstered by explicit or implicit cultural nationalism. This cultural nationalism has most recently expressed itself through the petite bourgeois leadership of Black Lives Matter, which has co-opted the militant struggle of urban poor and working class Afro-Americans into the cultural nationalist paradigm of Afro-Americans “coming together across class.” Similarly, the racist sub-class elements of the American proletariat establish themselves as a reactionary segment of the working class when they support capitalist politicians like Donald Trump in exchange for a promised populism for whites only.
I think this is mostly correct, though (as a Trump supporter myself) I'd be a bit more generous to the Trump people.

Also,
The latter position is a result of the petite bourgeoisie’s tendency to fetishize its own, very real, domination under capitalism and equate this domination with a proletarian class location. This line leads to a disproportionate attention on unionized public sector service workers, such as teachers, postal workers, and graduate students as opposed to the largely non-unionized private sector production workers who most urgently must be organized if the workers’ movement as a whole has any chance of challenging, defeating, and finally destroying capital at its origin.
He implies (and I'd agree) that public sector workers are not very useful people (I've used the less polite term parasite). And very few people are more useless than graduate students (a total waste of time and money).

So Mr. Kelley's goal is to overthrow capital. I have no clue what that means. But I enjoyed reading about how we're supposed to get there.

Further Reading:

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Verizon's Horizons

Bill Onasch is both a good writer and very knowledgeable about the US labor movement. His articles are well worth reading. Indeed, his latest piece on the Verizon strike is the most informative that I've so far read anywhere.

We'll get back to the Verizon strike in a minute.

There are always two ways to interpret economic data--is it a demand issue or a supply issue? Usually there is no way to distinguish between those two possibilities.

Take, for example, the recent BLS employment report, tallying a meager 38,000 new jobs in May. Most pundits argue that it is a demand issue: consumers are holding back, nobody is buying anything, there is too much inventory, and we're on the verge of a recession. This view might be correct.

The alternative interpretation is that it is a supply issue: the economy has run out of qualified workers to employ. That unemployment is now down to 4.7% suggests the economy is going full-tilt, actually over-heating. Far from a recession, we're more likely to see wage inflation, and then inflation more generally. It looks like the Fed subscribes more toward this point of view.

I have no idea what the truth is, and what's more, I don't think anybody else knows either. Most likely it's some complicated mix of demand and supply factors. But Mr. Onasch's article lends credence to the supply-side explanation.
First of all, they [Verizon workers] remembered what the company tried to ignore—the boss had been paying them because they needed their work. The landlines can’t be moved to Mexico and there aren’t enough qualified white shirts to keep up with installations, repairs, or even the call centers for long. And efforts to employ “temporary replacements” fell far short of expectations.
Fixing telephones is a skilled job, not one they teach in college. There are not that many people who can do the work--you can't just hire somebody off the street. The "white shirts" may have their own value, but when it comes to climbing poles they're fairly useless.

Mr. Onasch claims--probably correctly--that the company had no other source of labor. They had to settle with the union. Even robots can't help them--it'll be a long time before a robot can look at a telephone circuit, figure out what's wrong with it, isolate the individual pole, climb it and then fix the problem.

In short, Verizon ran out of skilled labor--a classic, supply-side constraint. This gave the union a lot of bargaining power, which they used to the max.

To keep a more flexible workforce, Verizon wanted to contract out some of the repair work to non-union shops. But given the supply constraints, the contractors aren't going to be able to hire workers at a lower wage than Verizon. The company is better off putting the people on the payroll. Thus the union "won" a 25% increase in the number of pole jobs in New York City.

Beyond that, what did the union use it's bargaining power to accomplish? According to Mr. Onasch,

  • 1300 new call center jobs will be added.
    This is good for the union, but not for the skilled workers. The latter have bargaining power even without the union, but the union itself earns money only by extracting union dues from contracted employees. Adding 1300 call center jobs to Verizon's payroll will augment union dues, without much improving the lives of the call center workers (who are eminently replaceable).
  • Annual 1% increases in defined-benefit pensions.
    This only works if the pension plan is fully funded. If not, then it's a big lie--just ask unionized mine workers about that.
  • A modest number of retail store workers and technicians in the wireless division will be included in the contract.Again, this is good for the union, but potentially terrible for the employees. The retail workers are both dispensable and low-paid, and will now have to contribute to support the pensions of the skilled workforce.
  • An immediate 3% raise, along with three 2.5% raises over the life of the contract.
    Yeah, when there's a labor shortage salaries get bid up.
Mr. Onasch is cautious about using the strike tool.
Major industrial corporations today have alternative sources of production to reduce a strike’s impact on their “bottom line.” These formidable challenges have succeeded in reducing the numbers and length of strikes in the United States over the last few decades—and especially during this century. 
But some modest or partial strike victories in recent years—Temple University Hospital nurses, Chicago teachers, oil workers national agreement, Kohler—have inspired a few unions to continue this tactic even as all the pundits tell them that their shrinking unions are now irrelevant and strikes are futile.
He shows he implicitly understands the supply/demand distinction made above. Firms that have run up against labor supply constraints are easier to bargain with than others. That surely is true for the oil workers and the Kohler employees--both drawn from a skilled workforce. So contrary to Marxist assumptions, strikes are more common and more successful when the economy is strong rather than when it is weak.

The teachers, on the other hand, are public employees, and nurses are so heavily regulated that they might as well be public employees. These workers are in a different category altogether. Their success depends on how good they are at lobbying politicians for bennies. This is a form of corruption, and has little to do with any supply/demand issues. Personally, I think the future for public employee unions is grim.

But for workers in skilled trades that can't be automated--their future is bright. Mr. Onasch explains why with more clarity than perhaps he is aware of.

Further Reading:

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Canada's NDP Rejects Suicide

Barry Weisleder was a candidate for president of Canada's New Democratic Party (NDP), and he authors Socialist Action's (SA) report on the recent NDP convention in Edmonton. It is very hard to take him seriously, but we will try.

The problems begin in the lede:
Will the left seize this golden opportunity to fight for an anti-capitalist agenda and make North America’s only mass, union-based political party a weapon in the fight against austerity and climate catastrophe?
"Austerity" presumably refers to the supposed increase in poverty across Canada (mostly a myth, I'd argue, but that's a topic for another day), the solution of which is to give more people jobs at higher wages to raise their standard of living. Ultimately, Mr. Weisleder claims he wants to reduce poverty.

"Climate catastrophe" is the dire prediction, maintained by the far Left, that we're all doomed--and it's all the fault of the fossil fuel industry. There is very little evidence that "climate catastrophe" is a likely outcome of whatever climate change is occurring. The best argument one can make is to invest in some insurance against the possibility. But Mr. Weisleder and his comrades are so certain of imminent disaster that any compromise or common sense solution is for them impossible.

Mr. Weisleder must surely understand that Canada's is a natural resource based economy. Most recently its fortunes have been tied to oil--the Loonie's value has closely tracked the price of crude. More generally, Canada depends on an array of resources: mining (gold, nickel), lumber, agriculture, and hydroelectric power. Canada (along with Australia) is unique in the world in that it has managed to build a first-world economy from natural resources--compare it with, for example, Russia, Saudi Arabia, or Congo.

Even an 80% decline in oil prices has not doomed Canadians to poverty, unlike, e.g., Venezuela.

But Mr. Weisleder wants to put an end to all that. He wants to shut down the fossil fuel industry altogether and replace it with some ill-defined (and non-existent) "green energy." Presumably he means mostly solar and wind power, neither of which will ever play more than a niche role in meeting the world's energy needs. But leaving that impracticality aside, consider the consequences.

Among the more egregious failings of Marxist economics (and not just Marxists, but also Donald Trump) is that they don't recognize the importance of trade. A Canadian gold miner earns a living only because he can trade gold for food, gas, cars, and plane tickets, etc. But if nobody wanted gold, then all he'd have is a hunk of yellow rock. The value of gold depends solely on its ability to be traded for other things. Economics is not about wealth or value. It is all about trade. Political parties (and candidates) who think we will get richer by restricting trade are just flat-out wrong.

And that's the rub. Even if solar energy were practical, and even if hundreds of square kilometers of the Canadian arctic were covered with solar panels, the power is not readily exportable. That is, unlike Alberta oil, solar energy can't be traded and will produce no income. Without exports there will be no imports. And then Canada becomes as poor as Venezuela.

So when Mr. Weisleder claims that "green energy" is good for the economy, he is simply wrong. Please, sir, tell us what Canada's exports will be? How will your country earn money to buy fruits and vegetables from warmer climes?

Do Canadians really want to reduce their standard of living to that of the 19th Century?

Indeed, Mr. Weisleder is against anybody being able to earn a living. Miners, oil workers, hydroelectric workers, and likely many more are to be put out of an income-producing job. Instead Mr. Weisleder wants to revert to "local agriculture" (aka subsistence farming) and, bizarrely, high-speed rail.

High speed rail? How does that make sense in a huge country with perhaps the lowest population density in the world? From what income stream (i.e., exports) is this supposed to be paid for? It's a completely wacko idea, though personally I'd love to ride the express train from Chicoutimi to Chilliwack. At a billion dollars per passenger it'd be a marvelous ride--comparable to a trip to the moon.

Mr. Weisleder's goals are contradictory. On the one hand his green agenda will drive everybody into deep poverty, Venezuela style, by denying Canadians any right to earn an honest living. On the other hand, his solution to poverty is to waste money--to create make-work projects on a grand scale, and then invest in things (e.g., high-speed rail) for which there is no hope of any economic payoff.

Mr. Weisleder represents a faction in the NDP called the Socialist Caucus (SC), loosely allied with another faction, Momentum. Depressingly, he boasts that the SC recruited 70 new members, out of 1700 people attending the convention. Also,
Jointly with Momentum, the SC ran 16 candidates for party executive and federal council posts. Vote results, ranging from 5.2% to 15%, revealed a significant hard-core radical left base. It also indicated that, while the broad membership wants change, it is not yet convinced of the need for a Marxist programme. But the SC will continue to make the case for revolutionary change.
So within the already left wing NDP, the SC has had only modest success.

Similarly bothersome, "[d]elegates also voted about 60 per cent in favour of conducting a grassroots discussion of the environmental and social justice proposals in the Leap Manifesto." The latter is a completely ridiculous proposal, doubling down on Mr. Weisleder's contradictory program. The subtitles give it away:
A Call for a Canada Based on Caring for the Earth and One Another

We start from the premise that Canada is facing the deepest crisis in recent memory
The Call is petty-bourgeois, hippie sentimentality, and the premise is completely wrong.

Fortunately most of the NDP doesn't go along with this silliness. The Premier of Alberta, Rachel Notley, is the only NDP member who occupies an office of any consequence. Surely she represents, among others, all the hardworking men and women of Fort McMurray--that burned out, far-north town in the middle of Alberta's oil patch. Abolishing fossil fuels is certainly not going to help them any.

Fort McMurray is best served by building the Keystone Pipeline, giving them direct access to US markets, and via the Gulf of Mexico to the broader world. But Mr. Weisleder's comrades in the US have sabotaged that project, forcing Canadians to come up with alternative options. During the 2015 election campaign Tom Mulcair, leader of the party in the federal parliament, advocated building a pipeline from Alberta to Thunder Bay on Lake Superior. From there oil could be shipped out via the St. Lawrence. This is known as Pipeline East.

An alternative proposal is to build west from Alberta to Prince Rupert on the British Columbia coast--Pipeline West. Ms. Notley--honestly speaking for her constituents--is calling for a pipeline from west to east, presumably including both of the above.

But the best solution for everybody is the Keystone Pipeline. If Mr. Weisleder were sincere about reducing poverty in Alberta (and Canada) he'd enthusiastically support it. He should demand that his comrades in the US stop hurting Canada by denying them access to markets. Instead, Mr. Weisleder thinks Canadians should count on the free unicorns and magic windmills described in the Leap Manifesto.

I'm glad that saner voices prevail--even in the Leftist NDP.

Down With Poverty!

Further Reading:

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Where Have All The Workers Gone?

That's the question Kim Moody tries to answer in this wonderful article in Solidarity. Mr. Moody, an expert economist and unrepentant Marxist, manages to successfully combine those two contradictory traits.

An article of faith among Marxists is that workers are getting poorer. Mr. Moody is no exception, stating at the top of his piece,
In a sense, the current debate over just how much employment is or isn’t “precarious” misses the bigger change in U.S. working-class life over the past three decades or more: the decline in living standards experienced by the vast majority of this class. 
But the whole rest of the article contradicts that claim. It is simply not possible, on the facts that Mr. Moody presents, to conclude that workers are worse off and living standards have declined.

Let's consider some of Mr. Moody's arguments.

The rise of the gig economy is a myth.
A JP Morgan survey found when it looked at what it called “capital platforms” such as Etsy, Ebay, and Airbnb, versus “labor platforms” such as Uber and TaskRabbit, that it was the “capital platforms” that captured the lion’s share of the 1% of adults who used any income generating digital platform. By mid-2015, those who used “labor platforms” accounted for .04% of adults surveyed.”
Though the link he cites (here) indicates a continuing rapid growth in gig-economy jobs, they remain a small fraction of employment. Whatever the wrenching changes in the labor market, it can't be because of gigs.

The growth of the precariat is largely a myth.

Mr. Moody makes a convincing argument that the precariat has not grown much at all, concluding,
So while there might have been some net gain in total precarious jobs, it seems unlikely the overall proportion of precarious workers in the total workforce could have risen much since 2005 or 1995. Give or take a couple of percentage points, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that at least since the mid-1990s precarious work in the United States has not grown as much as many impressionistic accounts claim, and that the large majority of workers, about 85%, are still in “traditional” employment arrangements; though these like the precarious workers have seen their incomes and conditions change significantly for the worse.
So again, nonexistent percentage growth in precarious employment can't explain the perception that the labor market is far worse than it used to be.

Rather than hopping from job to job as one might expect, Mr. Moody shows that the length of tenure at a given job has not decreased. Indeed, workers spend longer times with employers today.
BLS figures covering wage and salary workers of all age groups and industries, using median years of job tenure, actually show an increase for all groups. For all those 16 and older the median years on the job at the time of the survey rose, with business cycle ups and downs, from 3.5 years in 1983 to 3.8 years in 1996 to 4.6 year in 2014.
But manufacturing employment has collapsed:
While manufacturing has been a declining source of employment for a long time, the dramatic loss of nearly five million manufacturing, production, and nonsupervisory jobs since 1980 calls for an explanation.
Manufacturing occupied about 19% of the labor force in 1980, down to only about 12% today.

He correctly dismisses foreign imports as the culprit, saying that only accounts for 20% of the total job loss. If imports were the problem then one would expect a commensurate decline in domestic manufacturing output. But no such decline is apparent--indeed, quite the contrary.
The problem with trade-based explanations is that manufacturing output hadn’t shown a decline, but had grown in real terms by 131% from 1982 to 2007 just before the Great Recession reduced output.
Let me say that again: The US lost five million manufacturing jobs, and yet output since 1982 increased by 131%. Accounting for population growth, the per capita growth in manufacturing output has effectively doubled.

So let's get this straight. The much touted gig economy is a non-event; the precarious workforce is constant at about 15%; non-precarious workers have more job security than they used to have; And...

...we have twice as much stuff as we used to have.

So please, Mr. Moody, tell us how it is we are all getting poorer. There is no way.

Mr. Moody, blissfully unaware of the contradiction in his article, characteristically resorts to data to make his case. He says
One measure of [the decline of living standards] is the fall in both hourly and weekly real wages which despite some ups and downs remain below their 1972 level. 
But now the data lead him astray. For as we have seen, it is simply impossible, given all the other data he's presented, to believe that living standards in these United States have gone down. Indeed, it boggles the mind that one would even think that--all those people buying new cars, flying around the world in airplanes, ordering more & more stuff from Amazon, eating ever fancier food from Trader Joe's or some ethnic eatery, and so on. There simply is no mass increase in poverty, even without taking into account that all the stuff we buy is of substantially higher quality than it was 30 years ago.

The solution to this conundrum is simple. Inflation has been systematically overstated for decades. Actual inflation must be significantly lower than the headline number produced by the government. It makes sense--inflation is intrinsically difficult to measure, but in an era of rapid technological change it becomes impossible. How much did a cell phone cost in 1982? Or an MRI scan? What did Google charge for using its search engine?

So Mr. Moody's estimate for "hourly and weekly real wages" is way short of the mark. Lower the inflation rate by 1 or 2% over many years, and far from declining living standards, workers have been getting richer like gangbusters. Which is obviously true.

Then comes the last bit of the paragraph quoted above:
So stagnant has been the income of the working class majority that 30% of the workforce now relies on public assistance to get by.
Leave aside that people on public assistance can buy more stuff than people used to be able to buy with the same amount of money, so things are not quite as bad as Mr. Moody will have you believe. But they're bad enough, and that brings us to the word that he never mentions: automation.

He talks around it a good deal.
...employment remained flat due primarily to the large productivity gains, averaging over 3% a year achieved by capital through the application of new technology and lean production methods often supplemented or even supplanted by biometric and electronic monitoring, measuring and enforcing of labor standardization and intensification. One measure of the intensification of labor over these years has been the decrease in break time from 13% of the work day in the 1980s to 8% in the 2000s for those in routine goods and service-producing jobs.
Incredibly, he significantly attributes a doubling in the amount of stuff we have to a 5% lengthening of the workday ("speedup" in The Militant's terminology). But the major reason for the increase in productivity is automation--robots are replacing human beings.

And that process is accelerating--driverless trucks are on the near horizon. 3.5 million people work in the transportation sector. It is easy to see how more than a million of them might be losing their jobs within a decade.

So the rise of people on the dole is not a symptom of greater poverty, but rather quite the opposite. There is increasingly not enough work to go around. Some estimate that in the next couple of decades only 50% of working-age people will have a job. The rest will be members of the new leisure class. Obviously that will mean some big changes in social welfare policies--many are suggesting that the government provide a Universal Basic Income to everybody.

But Mr. Moody doesn't see this. He looks at the picture below (copied from his article) and sees future union members. I look at it and see a future army of robots, with one or two human overseers.



There's much more to like about Mr. Moody's article. I love the way he describes recessions as "capital destruction." It's point on, and worth another post just in itself. But I'm already past my word count so you'll have to read it on your own. Here's the link again.

Further Reading:

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Jeff Mackler Goes Full (Groucho) Marxist

"Whatever it is, I'm against it" (from Horse Feathers, 1932).

And that's Jeff Mackler's attitude toward all presidential candidates of whatever party--no matter who they are or what they say, he's against them.

And this, he claims, is because the "US left collapses before Sanders." Only Socialist Action (SA) has the presence of mind and class consciousness to tell the good guys from the bad guys. Everybody else is "collapsing."

Mr. Mackler's big advantage over the rest of us is telepathy; he's able to infer other's motivations from even the slightest reference. He is convinced that the candidates, their svengalis, and most of their staffs are all in cahoots with each other to defraud the working class. For example, rather than trying to win the election, Sander's purpose is to sucker the working class into the Democratic Party.
[Sanders] clearly explained his views in a recent KQED National Public Radio (NPR) interview: “I think we are perpetuating the political revolution by significantly increasing the level of political activity that we’re seeing in this country. I think it is good for the United States of America and good for the Democratic Party to have a vigorous debate, to engage people in the political process” [emphasis added by Mackler].
Most people wouldn't expect Sanders to say anything different. But Mr. Mackler is on to the fraud, so certain is he that Bernie is purposely deceiving his public.
Any illusion that these lifelong professional ruling-class politicians [superdelegates--ed.] will accede to the “popular will” and shift to Sanders is absurd. But promoting this illusion is Sanders’ current bait-and-switch tactic.
What does somebody have to do to prove their working class bonafides? Mr. Mackler provides no answer, but he's clear on what he will not accept.
Solidarity and the International Socialist Organization call on Sanders to run for the presidency as an “independent” or as the Green Party candidate. The Workers International League also speaks favorably of an “independent” campaign by Sanders.
These are the leftists Mr. Mackler accuses of "collapsing." But what's so unprincipled about demanding that Bernie leave the Democratic Party? He'd take his fans with him, and the Left would grow substantially. Socialist Action never explains why this would be a problem.

That Mr. Mackler opposes the Republican and (especially) the Democratic Parties is par for the Trotskyist course. But not just them. Even the Greens are in on the big conspiracy, including Ralph Nader.
In the case of the Green Party, let me remind readers that Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader achieved ballot status in six states via heinous agreements with Patrick Buchanan’s incipient fascist Reform Party. Nader ran on the Reform Party’s ballot line in return for making reactionary statements limiting the right of women to abortion and restricting immigrants from entering the country. (See Nader’s June 21, 2004, interview with Patrick Buchanan in the American Conservative.)
A link to the referenced article is here. It definitely does not support Mackler's claim that Nader was anti-abortion. That seems like a slander. And it is only by taking Mr. Nader completely out of context that you can interpret his statements on immigration as "reactionary." Nader objects primarily to a US foreign policy that essentially forces poor people to move to the United States. Finally, the article says nothing about any electoral deal, which would in any case prove nothing about a conspiracy to favor Democrats.

It is very odd that Mr. Mackler doesn't mention Ralph Nader's running mate, Peter Camejo. Mr. Camejo devoted his life to opposing the Democratic Party. Mr. Mackler apparently lacks the courage to accuse him of secretly conspiring otherwise. Nevertheless, SA is against the Green Party, dubbing them "middle class." An odd insult, to be sure, for which he provides no justification. What would the Greens have to do to win Mr. Mackler's support?

A similarly strange omission is any mention of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) campaign. In past years Socialist Action has offered them "critical support." That's obviously not forthcoming this year, perhaps they're too "right-wing," what opposing reactionary groups like Hamas.

But the SWP is as leftist as it ever was, as revealed by a front-page campaign statement.
More drones or fewer, more diplomacy or less, more special forces or more infantry, more money for NATO or less, trade pact or no trade pact — everything Washington does, whoever the occupant of the White House happens to be, is to defend the interests of U.S. capitalists around the world, not working people anywhere. 
Clinton and Trump’s tactical differences are on how to best defend imperialist interests.
If Mr. Mackler can't agree with that then I don't know what he thinks. Whatever their other sins, accusing the SWP of selling out to the Democrats (much less being part of a huge conspiracy to do so) is simply incredible.

So like Groucho, Mr. Mackler is against them, no matter who they are or what they say. Apparently Socialist Action is going to abstain in this year's election--a typically Trotskyist thing to do. Nothing and nobody is good enough for them

Instead they're hosting forums that let them feel good about themselves.
Keenly aware of the rapidly growing interest in socialist ideas generated by capitalism’s deepening crises and sparked by the Sanders campaign, Socialist Action branches across the country have sponsored a series of well-attended public debates where most of the above socialist organizations, as well as representatives from the Labor for Bennie campaign, shared the platform for fruitful exchanges. While the “lesser evil” syndrome was undoubtedly at work in the presentations of these socialist groups, we were heartened to see that the Marxist-grounded revolutionary socialist ideas of Socialist Action were well received and that our proud party, a consistent participant and advocate of independent mass-action united-front mobilizations against all aspects of capitalist racism and plunder, won new members to the cause of socialist revolution.
Yes, it's true my friends. The most important outcome of the 2016 election will be that Socialist Action recruits two or three new comrades.

Further Reading: