Long-term unemployment and the failure of capitalism

By Lew Jeppson,

In a op-ed reprinted in the Deseret News, economist Robert Samuelson makes a startling admission: we don’t know what to do about the long term unemployed!

Says Samuleson: “Long-term unemployment is a huge national and personal tragedy. It’s an idleness trap. We don’t know how to solve it; but we can at least not make it worse.”

This is a very frank admission that capitalism has failed, utterly failed, labor.

What do we say? A socialist president and congress would put the long term unemployed to work, doing what they already know how to do if possible, retraining them if necessary. But government would be the employer of last resort. And there are plenty of potential projects to soak up the idle labor, with our rotting transportation infrastructures for just one example.

In the meantime this is a tragedy, a permanent one for many. While a tiny percentage continue to command a greater portion of the world’s wealth, the rest of us fall further and further behind. Capitalism’s promise of raising everyone’s well-being is belied by the continuous theft of wealth by the rich.

Lastly, we socialists need to make it completely clear, we understand that people NEED to work. Not being able to work destroys human beings.

Hard Times for the Economists (who aren’t reading Marx)

Karl Marx

Want to understand the economy? Consult my published works.

by Lew Jeppson

Business columnist Robert Samuelson had an opinion piece in the Washington Post.  It was entitled “Economists in the Dark.”  In it he bemoans the inability of contemporary economists to get or predict anything right. But he offers no solution. Below is my response:

I continue to contend that economics will remain static and ineffective until Marxian analysis is let into contemporary economics. Marxian analysis makes pretty quick work analyzing our current problems:

  • First, profits come from incomplete compensation to labor.
  • Second, the need of capital to grow profits without limit leads to stagnant wages and off-shoring of jobs.
  • Third, the stagnation of wages leads to increasingly top heavy distributions of wealth and income (this is happening, it’s not just theory), and the falling from the middle class of many families.
  • Fourth, as capitalism matures banking capitalism becomes more prominent (financial services have climbed to 20% of GDP) and for that reason their recklessness lends increasing instability (Wall Street banking created the collapse of 2007-2008).
  • And finally fifth, government steps in to save the system from collapse by borrowing heavily and flooding the system with money to save the banks which in turn loan to the government to finance the bailout of themselves.

Marx predicted all of this. Isn’t this just great? We Marxists understand this stuff. Samuelson and the rest can’t because they don’t have the right tools.

Socialists: Saying What We are For

Another title for this article might be – how do we respond to the right wing?  I recently listened to an exchange between Michelle Bachman and Senator Bernie Sanders (thank God he’s around).  As Congressman Bachman went through her talking points I found myself screaming at my CRT.  I called her every name I could think of.  Crazy?  Yes, I’m afraid so. It’s not good for the body to get so angry.

As socialists we need to be proactive and state what we are FOR – continually.  We are for protecting those most vulnerable – the young and the old.  We want early childhood education and protection for Social Security and pension funds.

We need to advocate for an evolution of our system, one which deemphasizes profits and advocates for workers’ receiving full value for their contribution, that is, for the value they add.   We need to be for equal rights always, not only for races, creed, and genders, but also for LGBT.  There should be no ambiguity here.

We need to be for environmental protection.

We need to be for single payer health care, while we are guardedly supportive of what President Obama is trying to do to alleviate health care want.

We need to be for family life as a protection against the capitalist system and the vicissitudes of life in general.

We need to be for worker control of enterprise.  This we need to advocate vigorously.
In short, the Wasatch Socialist Party needs to write a platform, describing what we are FOR!

We need to avoid attacks against opponents.  When we do that we argue on their turf and invite retribution and venom, which could be very harmful to all, to us particularly so, in the years ahead.

What do you think?

ACA is Socialism? Think again.

Kelsey Brown, Wasatch Socialist

Healthcare reform has been one of the most prominent topics in the news ever since the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010. The ACA is often incorrectly referred to as the “socialization” of medicine. The truth is, the ACA is still capitalist, for-profit healthcare. Socialists always have and always will support a single-payer system of healthcare. We believe that access to good healthcare is a human right completely unrelated to someone’s income. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing about why the United States healthcare system is in desperate need of change, and I will give a real-life example of how, even with health insurance, healthcare can be a financial death sentence and why the ACA is incapable of fixing these problems.

How many times have you heard that the United States has the best healthcare in the world and that switching to a single-payer system, the dreaded “socialized medicine,” would ruin it? We don’t want to have to deal with a Canadian or British system, do we? Our taxes would be unbearable and we’d get substantially worse healthcare than we get now, or so the argument goes. What many people don’t realize is that the numbers already indicate that we pay more for healthcare than any other country and we’re not getting our money’s worth.

In the United States, we spend over $8000 per capita annually (the next closest country is Norway at less than $6000) and still have a lower life expectancy than other Western countries (although we’re still ahead of China and Brazil, if that makes you feel any better). We rank 46th of 48th in terms of healthcare efficiency. We’re paying much more than anyone else and receiving much worse care.

Maybe efficiency isn’t everything though. Our doctors make a lot of money, this must attract a lot of bright minds to the field, right? Not so much. A common argument is that if we go to a single-payer system American doctors will flee the country (I’m not sure where they’d go since we’re the last westernized country without a single-payer system) and good students will be deterred from going into healthcare. This fear is probably unfounded. The United States has actually fewer physicians per person than most other OECD countries (34 countries) and our average of 2.6 hospital beds per 1000 people is lower than the OECD average 3.4.

As of 2012 (before the ACA went into effect), 47 million Americans under 65 lacked health insurance. 75% of the uninsured were working and only 40% lived before the poverty line. Before the ACA, only 57% of companies offered their employees health coverage. Even then, though, coverage is not guaranteed. Part-time and contract employees (a growing portion of the population) usually do not qualify for employer-sponsored health coverage. Employer-sponsored coverage isn’t necessarily affordable either. In 2013, the average premiums for family coverage were $16,351. Employees don’t bear this whole cost, but the amount that employees have been asked to pay has risen as much as 70% over the past 10 years. This leaves many employees unable to afford health insurance even if they are offered it. The worst part is that in 2012 due to the high cost of medical services, 27% of those with insurance put off getting needed healthcare and 23% reported difficulty paying medical bills in the past 12 months.

In summary, the United States spends more on healthcare than any other country, has fewer doctors per 1000 people and a lower life expectancy than most other western countries and still manages to leave a significant portion of its population unable to access healthcare. Around half of all bankruptcies in this country are due to medical bills and the vast majority of filers had health insurance. The next entry on healthcare will focus on a real-life example (mine) of how medical bills, even with insurance, can easily become overwhelming to a family well above the federal poverty line.

Response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address

By Kshama Sawant, Socialist Alternative, Seattle City Council
Tuesday January 28, 2014

Tonight, President Obama talked about the deepening inequality.

But that is a testament of his own presidency. A presidency that has betrayed the hopes of tens of millions of people who voted for him out of a genuine desire for fundamental change away from corporate politics and war mongering.

Poverty is at record-high numbers – 95% of the gains in productivity during the so-called recovery have gone to the top 1%.

The president’s focus on income inequality was an admission of the failure of his policies.

An admission forced by rallies, demonstrations, and strikes by fast food and low wage workers demanding a minimum wage of $15. It has been forced by the outrage over the widening gulf between the super-rich and those of us working to create this wealth in society.

While the criminals on Wall Street are bailed out, courageous whistleblowers like Edward Snowden are hunted down and the unconstitutional acts he exposed are allowed to continue.

Obama is the president who is using smartphone apps – games like Angry Birds – to spy against tens of millions of ordinary people in a completely blatant violation of basic constitutional rights.

The President claims ending two wars while he continues to intensify a brutal campaign of drone wars in multiple countries, killing hundreds of innocent civilians, and not to mention the plight of US soldiers returning with permanent medical conditions and declining veterans’ benefits.

Obama is the president whose broken website is a symbol of the broken hopes of millions who believed his promises for affordable healthcare.

“Climate change is a fact,” says Obama.

Here is another fact: Climate change is getting worse and worse, on his watch. There has been a massive increase in incredibly destructive practices like the use of coal and fracking.

Leadership in stopping the disastrous Keystone XL pipeline has come not from Obama or Congress, but from the thousands of courageous people organizing and taking direct action to stop it.

Obama shouts “Fix our broken immigration system.” He is the president with record numbers of deportations.

My brothers and sisters, these problems are not new. And they are not an accident.

Working people have faced nearly four decades of wage stagnation and rising income inequality.

Four decades, with four Republican presidents and three Democratic presidents. Four decades that show neither party can solve these problems and that both fundamentally represent the same interests – the interests of the super-wealthy and big corporations.

We will only make progress on the basis of fundamental, systemic change. We need a break from the policies of Wall Street and Corporate America. We need a break from capitalism. It has failed the 99%.

Both parties bow down before the free market, and loyally serve the interests of their corporate masters – the only difference being a matter of degree.

The political system is completely dysfunctional and broken. It is drowning in corporate cash.

Working people, youth, people of color, women, the elderly, the disabled, immigrants – the 99% – have no voice or representation

We need our own political party. Independent of big business, and independent of the parties of big business.

Some say it cannot be done.

But look at the example of my campaign for Seattle City Council. I ran as an open socialist. I did not take a penny in corporate cash. My campaign raised $140,000 from ordinary working people. I ran as an independent working-class challenger to the capitalist establishment.

I ran on a platform of $15 minimum wage, taxing the super-rich to pay for mass transit and education, and for affordable housing, including rent control.

I am only taking the average worker’s wage while politicians in Seattle and in Congress are totally out of touch with the lives of the rest of us.

We built a grassroots campaign of over 450 people. With almost 100,000 votes, my election was the first time in decades an independent socialist was elected in a major US city.

Americans are hungry for something different. And it’s not just in Seattle. A recent poll showed that sixty percent of Americans want a third party.

Let’s talk about minimum wage. Obama said, “No one working full-time should have to raise a family in poverty.”

And his solution? Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 over 3 years.

I absolutely welcome any step forward on raising the minimum wage. And it is outrageous how the Republican Party is standing in the way.

But let’s be honest: $10.10/hour over three years – or $20,000 per year if you are lucky enough to have a full-time job – is not a ticket out of poverty for working families.

Fast food workers and Walmart workers have gone on strike and built powerful protests in cities in every part of the country over the past year for $15/hour. And that is the only reason politicians are now talking about raising the minimum wage.

Look at the example of the SeaTac $15/hour initiative. A initiative for $15/hour minimum wage was on the ballot – and won!

“Let’s make this a year of action,” Obama said.

In my view, we need action by working people and the poor for higher wages and a $15/hour minimum wage. Action by young people fighting student fees and the debt around their neck for the rest of their life. Action by homeowners against the epidemic of foreclosures. By trade unionists against anti-trade union laws and for workers’ rights.

Get organized!

Get active in your union. Get active in a local movement. Join the struggle to defend the environment.

Join with me and my organization, Socialist Alternative, to challenge big business and fight capitalism.

The epicenter of the fight back in 2014 is the Fight for Fifteen. I urge you to be part of this struggle. Find out more and sign up to get involved at 15Now.org.


Announcing Free Seminars on Marxian Economics

There are three main branches to economics today – Neoclassical, Keynesian, and Marxian. Each school has something to teach the others. But, unfortunately, the Marxian school is largely absent from the scene in most universities and colleges. Why? Well, frankly, Marx is taboo – pure and simple. Some of this is due to the cold war which prevented examination of Marx’s intricate theory found in works like “Capital” and others. But some of it is due to the laziness of the economics profession and the dominance of right wing dogma today.

The absence of Marx in most economics departments is critical. It has prevented economics from advancing. It is no exaggeration to state that Marx is to economics as Freud is to psychology! Marx explains capital accumulation in capitalism, and moreover explains such as an exploitation of labor. This changes everything! Marx also explains much more. Marx must be let in, and the sooner the better. The environmental crisis requires some degree of socialist action. We need to have Marx’s explanation of how capitalism works to guide us in developing socialist institutions.

The Wasatch Socialist Party will hold some ground-breaking seminars in Marxian economics, open to the public, in conjunction with the Salt Lake Community College Revolutionary Students’ Union. The seminars will be conducted by Lew Elton Jeppson, recently retired professor of economics at SLCC, and others. The seminars will be in open discussion format with lots of Q and A. The Wasatch Socialist Party will keep all informed of dates. The seminars will begin early in March at SLCC.

We are back!

After a hiatus of a year, the Wasatch Socialist Party is re-forming and meeting again! As you can imagine, it takes a lot of work to establish a local branch of a political party.

For those of you interested in meeting up, we’re going to resume meeting at Mestizo Coffeehouse once month, Saturdays at 4 pm. The next meeting will be Saturday, January 18 at 4.

And if you’re interested in joining the Socialist Party USA, you can do so at the SPUSA site.

Watch this site for new articles and ideas in the coming weeks!

What We Want for Christmas

Two days ago, here in Utah just as all over the country, thousands of Christmas shoppers lined up outside stores like Walmart and Target, seeking deals on commodities manufactured in factories all over the world. As in any other shopping season, these consumers probably gave little thought to where the items they bought came from. They only cared if these goods were cheap, or if they could get the latest branded shirt or popular toy.

Over the next two days, a massive fire broke out in a garment factory in Bangladesh. According to the New York Times,

Bangladesh’s garment industry, the second largest exporter of clothing after China, has a notoriously poor record of fire safety. Since 2006, more than 500 Bangladeshi workers have died in garment factory fires, according to Clean Clothes Campaign, an anti-sweatshop advocacy group based in Amsterdam. Experts say many of the fires could have been easily avoided if the factories had taken the right precautions. Many factories are in cramped neighborhoods, have too few fire escapes and widely flout safety measures. The industry employs more than three million workers in Bangladesh, mostly women.

While consumers in the US were hiding away their newly bought presents under beds, in attics, or in closets, these workers were cramming into too-few staircases in a 9 story building, lying low on floors in a futile attempt to escape smoke, or jumping out of windows.

This is the price of low prices: hundreds of burned bodies and hundreds more injured people. This a fraction of a global workforce dedicated to bringing us the names brands we want at the prices we can’t beat. Their wages are low, and the safety and environmental standards they work in are even lower. Their work is a large part of what makes Black Friday work.

These same Bangladeshi workers have been agitating for better wages and working conditions. I doubt any Christmas shopper here in Utah would begrudge them those things – especially after this tragedy – but of course the result would be prices at Walmart and Target going up, and perhaps that’s untenable for us. We live in a system where such price changes are anathema, because it’s not about decent wages anymore, it’s about the ability to maintain a consumer lifestyle just as our parents did. Our wages, in fact, are going down, too, but just so long as we can get cheap stuff from underpaid people in Asia we don’t notice. And as long as we don’t notice, the owners of the giant retailers, factories, sourcing firms, importers, and distribution companies make tremendous profits and widen the gap between them and us.

So, what do we want for Christmas? Less stuff. Less consumption, less demand for cheap goods at any cost. Less environmental destruction. Lesser lines outside global companies that push wages down around the world and push dangers up. More worker control of these factories. More worker control of retailers. Far less profit going to owners. Far more going to the people who actually do the work.

That would make for a fine Christmas.

Obama Re-elected – The Fightback Begins

Posted: 06 Nov 2012 10:45 PM PST

Tonight, Barack Obama was declared the winner of the U.S. Presidential election. Obama ran a centrist, lackluster campaign that was fueled by an avalanche of campaign donations from corporate America.  The losers were poor and working class people all over the country.

By Billy Wharton

Although, Mitt Romney was the other corporate funded candidate in the race, it will be regular Americans who will have to live with repercussions of a second Obama presidency.  Over the next four years, the administration will continue to extend the damage it has initiated since 2008.

On the healthcare front, four more years of Obama will mean that the terms of his Obamacare legislation will be frozen into place.  The possibility of re-initiating grassroots campaigning for single-payer healthcare will be mostly foreclosed until the causalities of this new system emerge en masse.  Obama made sure to protect the pharmaceutical companies and further entrench private health insurers into the healthcare system. No wonder then that a major healthcare company such as Kaiser Permanente lavished more than $500,000 on the Obama campaign while ignoring Romney. Private healthcare companies were the real winners in the first Obama presidency and they will certainly consolidate these gains in the next four years.  Poor and working class Americans will pay the price for this.

And the same will be true as the hysteria about the “fiscal cliff” gets ramped up.  This discussion will be the pretext for bringing the kinds of harsh austerity measures currently being enacted in Europe across the Atlantic to America.  The Obama administration has already begun negotiations with Republican members of Congress for what they are calling a “compromise budget.”  The compromise will entail cutting social programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and social security in return for slightly higher taxation on the rich.  Such cuts will bring the federal government in line with state and local governments who have been engaged harsh budget cuts for the past four years.  What once were called the “third rail” programs of American politics – Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security – will instantly be converted into a target for an Obama administration intent on slashing the federal budget.

A second Obama term will also mean more of the same for foreign policy. Far from advancing a peace agenda, the Obama administration had intensified aspects of the military aggression in the Middle East initiated by George W. Bush and has, in some cases, accelerated the erosion of civil rights.  The two symbols of this militaristic approach are the homicidal drone bombing campaign that Obama has personally overseen and Private Bradley Manning who currently sits in a military detention facility.  The drones demonstrate that even if Obama slightly reduces the military budget, he will remain committed to using the military industrial complex as a tool to enforce American global interests even if this violates international human rights.  Manning is Obama’s prisoner – a brave whistle blower who refused to comply with criminal military aggression.  He stands as a permanent symbol of Obama’s war on civil rights and his case should be a point of struggle for left-wing activists.

Finally, both Obama and Romney have almost entirely disregarded issues related to climate change.  Obama’s administration has the advantage of actually recognizing that climate change exists.  Yet, this has meant little in regards to either pro-environment legislation or  even a shift to renewable energy sources. Obama’s environmental bankruptcy has been on vivid display during the periodic environmental disasters.  He was asleep at the wheel during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, coddling the multinational corporate offenders at BP as they foot dragged through a clean up.  More recently, he was purely reactive during Hurricane Sandy, offering consoling words, but nothing in the way of a strategic plan of action to ensure safety today and environmental balance in the future.  Four more years of Obama will bring us no closer to this vision that lies at the heart of Eco-socialism.

Not surprisingly, the challenge faced by regular people all over the country will be the same with a second Obama administration as it would be with a new Romney regime.  We must build the capacity to fiercely resist the austerity policies that are sure to be imposed on us.  No fiscal cliff, grand compromise or economic common sense should be allowed to be used as a justification for these cuts.  Resist, resist, resist should be the clarion call of the next four years.

Throughout this process, democratic socialism will remain a viable alternative to the politics of austerity. Socialism’s critique of capitalism and counterposing of the global commons to American hegemony offer a vision of a different future – one in which the great wealth of the world is put to work to make life better for everyone, one in which the people of America are reconnected to the world by bonds of solidarity and one in which humanity regains equilibrium with the natural world.  This is what we continue to fight for -  a world based on the socialist values of solidarity, compassion and justice.

Billy Wharton is a writer, activist and co-chair of the Socialist Party USA. His articles have appeared in the Washington Post, the NYC Indypendent, Spectrezine and the Monthly Review Zine. He can be reached at whartonbilly[at]gmail[dot]com.