Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Alison highlights the attempts of Sun TV to rally the most extreme reactionary movements in the country behind its bid for mandatory carriage. And the question of whether we want to publicly sanction a network beholden to such interest groups would seem to answer whether the application is justified.

- Paul Krugman comments that the Republicans' attacks on disabled workers are both thoroughly contrary to any sense of fairness, and utterly useless in practice:

(W)hen Reagan ranted about welfare queens driving Cadillacs, he was inventing a fake problem — but his rant resonated with angry white voters, who understood perfectly well who Reagan was targeting. But Americans on disability as moochers? That isn’t, as far as I can tell, an especially nonwhite group — and it’s a group that is surely as likely to elicit sympathy as disdain. There’s just no way it can serve the kind of political purpose the old welfare-kicking rhetoric used to perform.
The point, I think, is that right-wing intellectuals and politicians live in a bubble in which denunciations of those bums on disability and those greedy children getting free health care are greeted with shouts of approval — but now have to deal with a country where the same remarks come across as greedy and heartless (because they are).
- Justin Ling spins a rollicking yarn about Justin Trudeau's whiplash-inducing reversals on federalism.

- Nick Cohen notes that even the U.K.'s Conservatives are starting to come to terms with the failins of doctrinaire free-market dogma. And Seth Ackerman offers an interesting discussion as to how the benefits of markets can be decoupled from the tendency toward corporatism found in our current version:
What is needed is a structure that allows autonomous firms to produce and trade goods for the market, aiming to generate a surplus of output over input — while keeping those firms public and preventing their surplus from being appropriated by a narrow class of capitalists. Under this type of system, workers can assume any degree of control they like over the management of their firms, and any “profits” can be socialized– that is, they can truly function as a signal, rather than as a motive force. But the precondition of such a system is the socialization of the means of production — structured in a way that preserves the existence of a capital market. How can all this be done?

Start with the basics. Private control over society’s productive infrastructure is ultimately a financial phenomenon. It is by financing the means of production that capitalists exercise control, as a class or as individuals. What’s needed, then, is a socialization of finance  — that is, a system of common, collective financing of the means of production and credit.
At the end of the process, firms no longer have individual owners who seek to maximize profits. Instead, they are owned by society as a whole, along with any surplus (“profits”) they might generate. Since firms still buy and sell in the market, they can still generate a surplus (or deficit) that can be used to judge their efficacy. But no individual owner actually pockets these surpluses, meaning that no one has any particular interest in perpetuating or exploiting the profit-driven mis-valuation of goods that is endemic under capitalism. The “social democratic solution” that was once a contradiction – selectively frustrating the profit motive to uphold the common good, while systematically relying on it as the engine of the system – can now be reconciled.

To the same end, the accrual of interest to individuals’ bank deposits can be capped at a certain threshold of wealth, and beyond that level it could be limited to simply compensate for inflation. (Or the social surplus could be divided up equally among everyone and just paid out as a social dividend.) This would yield not exactly the euthanasia of the rentier, but of the rentier “interest” in society. And while individuals could still be free to start businesses, once their firms reached a certain size, age and importance, they would have to “go public”: to be sold by their owners into the socialized capital market.
But the basic point is clear enough: since these firms buy and sell in the market, their performance can be rationally judged. A firm could be controlled entirely by its workers, in which case they could simply collect its entire net income, after paying for the use of the capital. Or it could be “owned” by an entity in the socialized capital market, with a management selected by that entity and a strong system of worker co-determination to counterbalance it within the firm. Those managers and “owners” could be evaluated on the relative returns the firm generates, but they would have no private property rights over the absolute mass of profits. If expectations of future performance needed to be “objectively” judged in some way, that is something the socialized capital markets could do.

Such a program does not amount a utopia; it does not proclaim Year Zero or treat society as a blank slate. What it tries to do is sketch a rational economic mechanism that denies the pursuit of profit priority over the fulfillment of human needs.
- Which leads nicely to Simon Enoch's analysis as to how the Sask Party is following a traditional right-wing model in trying to undermine the successful publicly-owned institutions we already enjoy in Saskatchewan.

- Finally, Josh Eidelson discusses the "alt-labor" movement seeking to improve the lot of workers through means other than traditional certification.

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