New Issue! Focus on Europe

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We have just sent our May/June 2017 issue to e-subscribers, and print subscribers should find the issue in their mailboxes soon. (Not a subscriber? You can subscribe online here.)

You can find the full table of contents for the issue here. Here is the page 2 editors’ note for the issue:

The Resistible Rise of the Far Right

We could be forgiven for feeling like we are living through a replay of history.

The last epic wave of capitalist globalization—whether we think of it as ending in 1914 or 1929—gave way to spasms of war, depression, and reaction. It’s not a coincidence that we see similar menaces again today, for key underlying factors leading into the two crisis periods are similar—the strength and directness of owning-class control over state policy, the growing concentration of income and wealth, and the defeat of working-class movements (especially due to their failure to overcome nationalistic impulses).

The articles in this issue tackle the current situation—the weaknesses of reformism today, the menace of far-right “populist” movements, and the necessity for clear alternative politics. Two focus on the United States; three, on Europe.

John Miller tackles the Border Adjustment Tax (BAT) proposal—a combination of import tax, export tax exemption, and corporate tax giveaway—championed by House Republicans. The design of the policy suggests a political aim, appealing to U.S. workers on the basis of “economic nationalism”—the view that U.S. workers are being ruined by foreign competition, that workers in China and Mexico are “stealing” their jobs, and that boosting the trade balance is good for jobs, the economy, and American “greatness.” But at its heart the big winners would be giant corporations—they would get a big export subsidy and an enormous corporate tax cut.

In this issue’s interview, UMass Amherst economist Gerald Epstein makes the case for a new critical response to the presidency of Trump and the menace of a “proto-fascist” regime. Progressive economists have become accustomed to doing garden-variety policy analysis: What will be the effects of a proposed policy on economic growth, employment, income inequality, and so on? “Trumponomics,” Epstein argues, calls for an approach more clearly focused on questions of political power. Progressives cannot be distracted by, say, the potential growth impact of increased infrastructure spending, when the real aim of the policy is to cement support for the proto-fascist regime.

John Weeks takes us across the Atlantic, to the UK and the situation in the wake of the Brexit vote. The result was fueled by a vile and mendacious xenophobia. It also, however, owed to the failure of “remain” proponents to make a case for what was good about the EU—protections for human rights and labor rights that restrain European capitalists. Always lukewarm toward the European project (except the supposed economic benefits), the Labour Party did little to combat the right-wing campaign against the “bureaucrats in Brussels.” With the Brexit result irreversible in the short run, Weeks argues, the task at hand is to muster resistance to a new business offensive against human rights and workers’ rights.

Marjolein van der Veen looks at the recent electoral outcome in the Netherlands, where the right-wing xenophobic-Islamophobic “Party for Freedom” finished second in a crowded field. Observers around the world, fearing that the country would be the next “domino” to fall to an ascendant far-right politics, may have breathed a sigh of relief. Van der Veen cautions, however, against a too-sanguine conclusion. The main outcomes were the collapse of the center-left Labor Party, punished by voters for its embrace of austerity policies, and the overall rightward shift of Dutch politics—a big business party being the election victor (in part due to embracing more anti-immigrant politics itself). The question now is how the left parties can confront racism and xenophobia and craft an appealing alternative program.

Finally, we have the concluding third installment of D&S co-editor Alejandro Reuss’ series on social democracy and the crisis of Europe: “Reform or Revolution?” Reuss both assesses the overall political trends of the European left—including cases where there are signs of a break from compromising “Third Way” politics and a revival of traditional social-democratic reformism. He does not, however, end there—pointing instead to the possibility of a new revolutionary anti-capitalist politics and a plausible vision for a new egalitarian, cooperative, democratic, and sustainable society.

All our authors call on us to remember that—while events today may echo those of the past and why we need to apply historical lessons to our present problems—we are not living through a replay of the past.

History does not follow a preset script. It is ever written anew, in words and in fire.

New Issue–Costs of Empire

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Our March/April issue has been sent to e-subscribers and should be hitting print subscribers’ mailboxes soon.  (Not a subscriber? You can subscribe online here.)

This is our special “Costs of Empire” issue (though we are covering the theme throughout 2017).

Here is the editors’ note from page 2:

Costs of Empire

At one time or another, almost the entire world has been colonized by one European power or another. By the early 20th century, the British empire alone ruled nearly one fourth of the world’s people. The map of the world, however, is no longer a mosaic of European colonial possessions. Most of the Americas became formally independent in the late 18th or early 19th centuries; most of Asia and Africa, in the mid to late 20th century. Formal colonial empires—characterized by the direct political and military control of the colonial powers—gave way to informal empire over much of the world. Britain became the dominant power in South America in the 19th century without recolonizing the entire region. The United States supplanted Britain and Spain as the dominant power in Central America and the Caribbean in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with only some former colonies of European powers becoming formal colonies of the United States. By mid 20th century, the United States had eclipsed Britain as the dominant power in the capitalist world.

The United States ruled its informal empire through a combination of military, political, and economic power. It plied local elites with promises of a cut of the riches extracted from the “open veins,” to use the words of Uruguayan essayist Eduardo Galeano, of the dominated lands and peoples. It maintained a system of client governments reliable in their suppression of revolutionary political movements and maintenance of profitable conditions for U.S. companies. And it asserted the right to intervene militarily in other countries—first within its “sphere of influence” (or, even more demeaningly, “backyard”) of Latin America, and then across the world.

In her article “Globalization and the End of the Labor Aristocracy,” economist Jayati Ghosh argues that imperialism has not disappeared, but changed shape. The direct military conquest and control of economic territory by the great powers has given way (at least some of the time) to control through multilateral agreements and international institutions. Economic territory may still mean the seizure of land, mines, or oil fields—but it also may mean privatization of public assets and services, or the extension of intellectual property rights to new realms. Where the “labor aristocracy” of the imperialist countries once shared in the bounty of empire, the new incarnation of empire as “globalization” has helped grind away the incomes and status they once enjoyed.

Lest anyone think that the old hallmarks of dollar-gunboat diplomacy are now ancient history, Arthur MacEwan revisits a perennial question of U.S. foreign policy—“Is It Oil?” MacEwan earlier addressed the question in the May/June 2003 issue of Dollars & Sense, in the wake of the U.S. invasion of Iraq (beginning the Second Iraq War). Today, he looks at the outcomes of the war in terms of control of Iraq’s oil reserves (especially timely given Trump’s statement, when speaking to the CIA in late January, that the U.S. should have kept Iraq’s oil and “maybe we’ll have another chance”). MacEwan emphasizes—contrary to “conventional wisdom,” even among progressive critics of U.S. foreign policy—that the primary concern is not securing oil resources essential to American’s energy-hungry lifestyles, but rather securing control of those resources and profit for giant U.S.-based oil interests.

Speaking of profits for giant companies, James M. Cypher trains his sights on the corporations that profit directly from the United States’ gargantuan military spending. What Cypher calls the “Industrial-Military-Congressional Juggernaut” doles out defense dollars to a vast complex of arms contractors and subcontractors—one nestled inside the next, like matryoshka dolls. Profits multiply as the markup on the inputs produced by a subcontractor become part of the costs of the contractor at the next level up—and to which it applies its own mark-up. One arms system, meanwhile, may beget additional supporting systems—and additional profits. The profiteering only stands to get more brazen, Cypher argues, under a Trump administration that seems to be aiming for “more bucks for more and bigger bangs.”

Immanuel Ness shows us the opposite side of the equation. As capitalism penetrates every corner of the world, it not only extracts profit but also expands the realm of capitalist relations of production—and with it the growth of the working class. While “first world” workers have suffered mightily under conditions of deindustrialization, and are still struggling to rebuild their capacity for struggle, “third world” workers are suffering under conditions of subordinate industrialization and are, in various places, rising up with new strength—as the formation of industrial unions and eruption of strike waves testifies.

An empire may have an impressive head of gold—but mind what its feet are made of.