imagesby Michael Roberts

The New York Times has launched a debate about whether Karl Marx was right after all about capitalism (http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/03/30/was-marx-right). As the NYT put it in its introduction to the contributions of some well-known economic commentators and bloggers: “in the golden, post-war years of Western economic growth, the comfortable living standard of the working class and the economy’s overall stability made the best case for the value of capitalism and the fraudulence of Marx’s critical view of it. But in more recent years many of the forces that Marx said would lead to capitalism’s demise – the concentration and globalization of wealth, the permanence of unemployment, the lowering of wages – have become real, and troubling, once again. So is his view of our economic future being validated?”

You can see what’s worrying the NYT. Like many supporters of capitalism as the only and best system of human social organisation, the NYT is worried that capitalism does not (or no longer seems) to deliver ever-increasing living standards for the majority, but instead is producing ever greater inequalities of wealth and incomes, to such a point that it could provoke a backlash against the system itself.

So the NYT offers a debate. And the question of whether Marx was right about capitalism is put to five bloggers. Of course, most of these are very quick to assume that Read the rest of this entry »

Damo

Damien Dempsey

by Philip Ferguson

“Damo! Damo! Damo!” came the roar, punctuated by shouts of “You’re a legend!” The legend is the magnificent Damien Dempsey, one of Ireland’s finest singer-songwriter-musicians – indeed described by the Guardian as “the greatest Irish singer of his generation” – currently touring in New Zealand to promote his Best Of collection. This is a man with three platinum albums and a string of gold ones, who can pack stadiums and places like the Sydney Opera House, and here he is in New Zealand playing bars. Last night I was part of a crowd of about 200 packing out the Dux de Lux post-earthquake bar in Addington.

“Thank you for coming to Christchurch,” called out one Irish accent. “Thanks for coming to see me,” Damo shot back. The whole night I never heard a single New Zealand accent; it was like being transported back to Ireland. The crowd was overwhelmingly Irish, young – mainly in their twenties and early thirties – and very, very enthusiastic. I don’t think Dempsey initially realised the make-up of the crowd. When he came on stage, he said “Kia ora” to a rather blank response; then someone called back “Dia duit!” (Irish for ‘hello’) and he responded “Dia’s Muire duit”.  (Unfortunately, the Irish language was colonised by religion, so ‘hello’ is literally “God be with you” and the response is literally “God and Mary be with you.”)

Dempsey sings about all kinds of aspects of the human condition, but he’s also from a poor, hardcore working class area in Dublin. So he’s republican and a kind of gut socialist. It was fascinating watching the Read the rest of this entry »

refugeesby Diane Fieldes

National identification is today taken for granted by virtually the whole of humanity. An underlying assumption is that such identification is natural and therefore of very long duration.

Similarly, the idea of national borders and the need to police them is assumed to have a long history. A daily diet of stereotypes about “national character” and television shows like Border Security, Customs and Border Patrol reinforce these ideas.

Yet, as British-Czech philosopher Ernest Gellner pointed out in his Nations and Nationalism, “Nations as a natural God-given way of classifying people are a myth; nationalism which sometimes takes pre-existing cultures and turns them into nations, sometimes invents them and often obliterates pre-existing cultures – that is the reality.” The nation is a recent phenomenon, and so are the closed borders that surround it.

Passports and capitalism

English “safe travel” documents were in use from the 1400s. But they weren’t associated with citizenship – a concept not yet born. They were written in French and freely available to foreigners until the mid-1800s, when the passport began to assume the role of a national identity document.

The nation-state was a product of the rise of Read the rest of this entry »

Kim_Schmitz_cropped_and_editedby Don Franks

Come quick and join the Party, of the Internet!
it won’t be old and boring, it’s the latest you can get
just take a micro second and the mouse will click you there
for a virtual revolution
you won’t have to leave your chair

No leafleting or knocking doors will be required of you
just punch in your password, that’s all you need to do
no meetings, billboards, arguments
all so yesteryear
just one touch of the button
and your virtual world’s right here

Grandad raffled pickled onions ev’ry Friday round the docks
so that his workers party might raise its financial stocks
cent by cent a fighting fund they made accumulate
to help spread some ideas
aimed to smash the bosses state

Read the rest of this entry »

Crimeaby Alex Chklovski

To an uproar of applause, cheers and tears in the Russian parliament, Vladimir Putin on 21 March signed the decree that absorbed Crimea into Russian territory.

This annexation was portrayed by Putin as a response to the democratic wishes of Crimea – referencing the recent referendum that overwhelmingly voted for the unification of Russia and Crimea. Putin’s newfound enthusiasm for democracy must surely be one of the most moving personal developments in recent history, akin perhaps to an aging Nazi’s sudden conversion to Judaism.

How are we to understand the 93 percent vote in favour of joining Russia? Under the caring eyes of Russian troops, tanks and a complete blackout of all media that isn’t rabidly pro-Kremlin, residents of Crimea had a choice between two options: joining Russia, or returning to the obscure historical status of the 1992 Crimean constitution which declared Crimea an independent republic – a state of affairs that lasted slightly less than two weeks.

The option of remaining part of Ukraine seems to have accidentally got lost when the ballot papers were being produced. Strangely enough, despite Crimea’s 24 percent ethnic Ukrainian and 12 percent Crimean Tatar populations – both of whom are not overly fond of Russia – only 7 percent voted no.

To be fair, if the referendum had been transparent and honest, it is likely that Read the rest of this entry »

indexby Philip Ferguson

For twenty years inequality was off the mainstream radar as an issue of any importance.  In the past few years, however, especially since the global financial crisis has undermined the supposedly mythic qualities of the market, public discussion of the issue of inequality has become more common.  Among those raising the issue most forcefully at present are Max Rashbrooke and the people at inequality.org.nz.

Last Monday (March 17), the Canterbury Workers Educational Association hosted an early evening meeting for Max, as part of his tour promoting his 2013 book Inequality: a New Zealand crisis and the brand new The Inequality Debate, which is a shorter work drawn from last year’s book.  The meeting attracted about 50 people, not bad for a tea-time meeting in a city centre that remains largely deserted at night three years on from the February 2011 quake.

Max began by emphasising the human side of inequality: that it is real and lived.  And that it is also not something that just appears; it is created.

He looked at what has happened here since the fourth Labour government began slashing wages and conditions, with the following fourth National government doing the same.  Focussing on incomes, and adjusting them all for inflation, he noted that since 1994 the disposable income of the bottom 10% of income earners, has stayed about the same.  The next 80% of income earners have seen their disposable incomes rise by only about $5,000 in the past 20 years – far, far below total inflation over that period.  The top 10% of income earners, however, have seen their disposable incomes double, while the top group within that decile, the top 1% of total income earners, have seen their pre-tax incomes Read the rest of this entry »

index

The conditions of the people above exist because of the people below:

ultras

The graph is taken from the blog of Global peace and Justice Auckland, here.

Further reading: How capitalism works – and doesn’t work

See also: Global inequality greatest ever and Marx’s critique of classical political economy