Our latest issue!

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We have sent our latest (July/August 2020) issue to the printers and to e-subscribers, and we’d already posted several articles from the issue to the website, including the cover story by Mateo Crossa and James M. Cypher, “Essential–and Expendable–Mexican Labor.”

Here is the p. 2 editors’ note from the issue:

Loss and Hope

As infections and deaths from the Covid-19 pandemic spike in the United States, largely due to incompetence at all levels of government, we bring you two feature articles about the impact of the pandemic outside of the United States.

Mateo Crossa and James M. Cypher relate how U.S. corporations and the U.S. government have pressured the Mexican government to declare maquiladora workers as “essential,” forcing them to produce decidedly non-essential consumer products for U.S.-based corporations, even as the novel coronavirus spreads in the factories. Meanwhile, President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act not for much-needed personal protective equipment, but to force meatpacking workers, many of them Mexican immigrants, to work in even more dangerous conditions.

Smriti Rao details how, under India’s right-wing Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the plan was to have no plan. Although Modi imposed a stringent and punitive lockdown, with police ready to throttle violators with batons, the lack of a transportation plan for migrant workers and the lack of a meaningful relief program has led to economic devastation for most Indian households.

Ongoing nationwide protests against police violence in the United States continue to offer glimmers of hope in an otherwise bleak political and economic scene. Here we include two articles about how liberal politicians and corporations alike contribute to the over-financing of the police. Plus: John Miller on the cure-all of capital gains tax cuts, Mark Maier on the ideology of entrepreneurship, Mark Paul on how to make sense of the current unemployment crisis, and more.

Amidst the stories of death from a global pandemic and from a rash of police violence, we are mourning the loss of three friends and supporters of Dollars & Sense.

Mason Gaffney, professor emeritus at the University of California at Riverside and a proponent of the ideas of 19th-century economist Henry George, died on July 16. Mason wrote a piece for our March/April 2006 special issue on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina about how San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and fire, rebuilt with the help of a Georgist land tax, could be a model for the rebuilding of New Orleans (find the piece here). Mason was a friend of and mentor to frequent D&S author Polly Cleveland, who said in a tribute that she will always be grateful for Mason’s “courage and honesty in confronting bastardized economics and history, and for his generosity, clarity, and humor in this benighted world.”

London-based economist John Weeks died on July 26. John wrote frequently for the magazine and our blogs (especially Triple Crisis), serving as our de facto London correspondent, with several articles updating our readers on Brexit. His most recent piece
for us was a post at the D&S blog on June 16, “The Murder of George Floyd and My Segregated Youth,” about his upbringing in Austin, Texas. John was a friend and mentor to the British economist Ann Pettifor, who said on Twitter that John’s death “leaves vacant an important intellectual leadership role in macroeconomics.”

And Louis Kampf, professor emeritus of literature and women’s studies at MIT and a long-time friend and supporter of D&S, died May 30, at 91. He was born in Vienna, and he and his parents fled the Nazis, via Belgium, France, and Casablanca, to New York. In 1967, Louis published the widely acclaimed On Modernism: The Prospects for Literature and Freedom. The book appeared to be launching him into a career of academic fame, but Louis chose political activism instead. He was heavily engaged in anti-war work and support of the women’s and the civil rights movements. D&S columnist Arthur MacEwan described Louis as “smart, erudite, funny, loyal to many friends and students, and a stalwart progressive.” And D&S collective member Jeanne Winner said that what made him so important to his friends “was Louis’ intellectual power combined with his passionate sympathy for people and their well-being, and his very sensitive and powerful aesthetic feelings.”

In these troubled times with some glimmers of hope, Mason, John, and Louis would want us to look to the glimmers of hope and fight on. All three have left us with ample inspiration and tools to do so.

Assessing the UK Electoral Avalanche of December 2019

By John Weeks

On 12 December the UK Conservative party scored a stunning victory as it buried the opposition in an electoral avalanche.  As I venture some thoughts on that outcome and its implications for US politics, transparency requires that I make it clear that I supported the Labour Party and publicly endorsed its policies and disparaged its critics.  My disappointment will surprise no one.  How should I interpret this disastrous electoral loss by a party advocating a range of policies that I consider appropriate and essential for our country?

As is the case with many complex events, I find it useful to begin with simple, even simplistic, explanations, when inspect those simple narratives for their flaws.  I seek to avoid seizing on explanations that conveniently support my predilections.  Defeats (as well as victories) call for humility and introspection rather than definitive convictions.

The “Labour critics narrative” goes as follows.  In retrospect we see that the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party in September 2015 was a mistake.  The new progressive, social democratic focus of the party did not appeal to most UK voters.  His surprising gains in the election of June 2017 resulted from the party’s ambiguous position on EU membership, which attracted “remain” voters to the Labour Party.  Over the subsequent two years, as the position of the party on the EU clarified, voters concluded that the Labour leadership, especially the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, represented a narrow radical faction (stated in extreme form by McFaddin, Guardian 29 December 2019).  The election disaster was the predictable outcome.

The “Labour loyalist narrative” unfolds the same facts differently, along lines stated succinctly by shadow chancellor John McDonnell to the BBC’s Andrew Neil immediately after announcement of the exit poll that showed Labour had lost.  The election outcome resulted from the vote-attracting power of the Tory’s “get Brexit done” message.  The public had grown weary of the parliamentary deadlock over an exit agreement and wanted the issue resolved quickly.  No quick resolution is possible, but the Tory promise to act immediately and decisively crowded out all other issues, especially in face of a mainstream media overwhelmingly hostile to progressive social and economic policies.  Labour’s relative success in the 2017 election showed the public popularity of many of those policies when not obscured by the Brexit issue.

The table below provides the election results from 2017 and 2019 to assess the two interpretations of the outcome.  My division of votes among the centre, right and left requires a brief explanation.  The first I identify with the Liberal Democrats and the tiny Alliance Party of Northern Ireland.  The right consists of the Conservative Party, the United Kingdom Independence Party, Brexit Party, and in Northern Ireland the Democratic Unionists and Ulster Unionists.

While the Conservatives retain many from the centre-right, under the leadership of Boris Johnson its shift to the right has been dramatic, drawing support from extreme reactionaries (article by Townsend Guardian 28 December 2019).  Designating the Labour Party as on the left should be uncontroversial.  While at the local level the Green Party displays mixed practice, I judge its only MP, Carline Lucas, as one of the most progressive in Parliament, consistently anti-austerity.

A fourth category includes “nationalists” who do not fit neatly into the centre, right and left categories.  Plaid Cymru (Wales), Scottish National Party and the Northern Ireland parties representing the catholic community include a range of political views, though generally advocating progressive policies.

On the basis of this four-fold division, we find no evidence of a shift of voters to centrist parties.  While the centre gained 1.3 million votes compared to 2017 (+4.2%), its total share remained quite low, 12.1% — almost 88% of UK voters cast ballots for the right, left or nationalists.  The election did not reflect a substantial shift of voter sentiment to the centre left and centre right.  If one reallocates the Greens to the centre my conclusions remains valid.

The table also allows an assessment of whether despite the large conservative win, the election outcome indicates a possible majority for remaining in the EU.  Several commentators put forward this interpretation (for example, Hutton and Keegan, Guardian 29 December 2019).  The interpretation carries the policy implication that Brexit remains in political contention.  It is consistent with the Labour critics narrative that attributes the Conservative victory primarily to the unpopularity of Jeremy Corbyn and the allegedly extreme policies associated with him.

Numerically, the remain majority hypothesis views the 47% share of the right as an accurate approximation of the leave vote, and contrasts this with the 51% gained by the combination of Labour, Green, Liberal Democrats and Scottish Nationalists (and higher with the Welsh Nationalists and Northern Ireland parties).  This hypothesis is consistent with arguments for some form of proportional representation such that the 51% would have won a number of MPs consistent with their popular vote.

   UK General Election Results, 2017 and 2019

Votes thds Percentage Change MPs
Party 2017 2019 2017 2019 Thds Prcnt 2017 2019 change
Right 14,607 14,969 45.4% 47.0 362 1.7 324 373 +49
Conservatives 13,637 13,967 42.3 43.9 330 1.5 314 365 +51
UKIP, Brexit 594 665 1.8 2.1 71 0.2 0 0 0
DUP, UU (N Ireland) 376 337 1.2 1.1 -39 -0.1 10 8 -2
Centre 2517 3840 7.8 12.1 1,323 +4.2 12 11 -1
Liberal Democrats, others 2517 3840 7.8 12.1 1,323 +4.2 12 11 -1
Left 13,399 11,135 41.6 35.0 -2,264 -6.6 267 203 -64
Labour 12,874 10,269 40.0 32.3 -2,605 -7.7 266 202 -64
Green 525 866 1.6 2.7 341 1.1 1 1 0
Nationalists 1381 1696 4.3 5.3 315 1.0 46 62 +16
Scottish 978 1242 3.0 3.9 264 0.9 35 48 +13
Welsh 164 153 0.5 0.5 -11 0.0 4 4 0
N Ireland Catholic 239 301 0.7 0.9 62 0.2 7 10 +3
Others 301 190 0.9 0.6 -111 -0.3 1 1 0
Total 32,205 31,830 100.0 100.0 -375 -1.2 650 650 0

Note: Numbers refer to general election results, 8 June 2017 and 12 December 2019.

References: 2017 Guardian 9 June 2017; & 2019, Financial Times 28 December 2019.

The remain majority assertion relies on assuming that the entire Labour 32.3% reflects remain voters.  While many people who previously voted Labour shifted to the Conservatives because of their support for Brexit, until more detailed statistics and analysis are available it would be arbitrary to presume that all Labour voters were pro-EU.   One should not rule out the possibility that the 2019 election showed a split between remain and leave not significantly different from the outcome of the 2016 referendum (48:52).

Further research is also required to assess the extent to which the 2019 represented a rejection of the Labour manifesto as too left wing, as many argue, or, alternatively, that “Labour won the argument” (McTernan in FT 20 December 2019), and lost  due to Brexit.  At this point it is difficult to move beyond the obvious inferences that “get Brexit done” swayed the electorate, with no substantial shift of voters to the centre.

One possible implication of Labour’s defeat for US politics follows from the voting results.  No shift from the political left to the center occurred.  It appears that Labour lost almost eight percentage points of the electorate, 2.6 million votes, because of its neutral policy on remaining in the European Union, and to some extent the unpopularity of its leader Jeremy Corbyn.

However, any implications for US politics should be reached with great caution, because the electoral systems in the two countries are so different.  British voters do not vote directly for the equivalent of a president.  Rather, they vote for the parliamentary candidates in their constituency, the equivalent of members of the House of Representatives.  The elected MPs then select the country’s government.

At the time of the 2019 election, the UK private polling company YouGov found that 21 percent of those surveyed held a “positive” view of Jeremy Corbyn and 61% a “negative” opinion.  This may seem a devastating balance, minus 40 percent on the negative side, caution is required.  The Scottish National Party won 48 of the 59 MPs from Scotland, yet the YouGov survey for its leader, Nicola Sturgeon, showed a negative-positive outcome of 23:49, minus 26 percent.  The popularity or lack of it by the party leader is but one of many influences on voting behavior.

Labour suffered a devastating defeat in December 2019.  That defeat did not result from a shift of the electorate to the center.

 is a London-based member of the Union for Radical Political Economics (URPE), one of the founders of the UK-based Economists for Rational Economic Policies, and part of the European Research Network on Social and Economic Policy.