The Resumption of the American Civil War

‘All of the post-war agreements and compromises are being torn up’, he said.

In reply to my puzzled look, he added: ‘Post-American Civil War’.

With that observation, a whole new angle opened up on what is happening in the ‘United’ States of America. Forget using a certain Mr Donald Trump as a scapegoat, for he is a symptom of a far deeper malaise. Forget the idea that things were going relatively well until the current anomaly in the system appeared.

Instead, the ‘United’ States has always been based on a compromise. The organs of governance, the institutions of society, the structure of the ‘sacred’ constitution,  if not the infamous American version of liberal democracy, all witness to the compromises and efforts to ameliorate a fundamental contradiction.

Let me put it in more philosophical terms: the much-vaunted ‘freedom’ championed by US ideologues is based on a structural unfreedom. As Losurdo has shown so well, the freedom in question is based on slavery.  The early liberals of the United States argued that a basic right of a ‘free man’ was to own slaves. The ‘all men are created equal’ of the Declaration of Independence restricts the meaning of ‘all’, for it excluded slaves, let alone women and indigenous people. You cannot have an idea of freedom within this framework without unfreedom. In some respects, American liberal democracy expresses the ultimate truth of ancient Greek democracy: the first European development of a robust category of freedom was enabled by a structural slavery, so much so that the Greeks could simply not imagine a world without slaves.

How does all this bear on the civil war? It is the obvious manifestation of this contradiction. We may distinguish between the ‘hot’ war of 1861-1865 and the ‘cold’ war since 1865. As with ‘cold’ wars, actual skirmishes are frequent. Think of the lynch mobs after 1865 (which can be seen as the ultimate expression of the self-governance of civil society), the prison system with its millions of inmates, the almost daily massacres in one part or another, the incredibly high death toll from handguns, if not the sea of poverty and lack that surrounds islands of obscene wealth and power … One can easily argue that the civil war has never really abated.

If you care to look at what passes for ‘news outlets’ in the United States, you will find quite a bit of discussion about a new civil war. It is nearly always framed as a war to come (soonish). Obviously, this misses the whole point I have been proposing.

What form might a resumption of the ‘hot’ civil war take? Perhaps it would once again be a move to secession, as happened in the 1860s. Wait a moment: are there not already multiple secession movements, challenging directly the constitution’s efforts to rule out precisely this possibility? Indeed, a 2017 poll found that ‘nearly four in ten (39%) agree that each state has the ultimate say over their destiny and that secession is a right’. Region by region, the poll found ‘high support for secession within the South, Northeast, and out West (48%, 43%, and 43% respectively)’.

Or perhaps it is the comment from a forlorn liberal: ‘they hate us’.

Or the Rhode Island’s resident’s wish that all the ‘deplorables’ in the central west and south would be moved to cities to learn how to work, die off or be killed by a foreign power.

Or the observation from an ex-pat: ‘This is just like Pakistan, so I am used to it’. But this is somewhat unfair to Pakistan, is it not?

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The Deindustrialisation of the United States

The situation in which the United States currently finds itself – a lone superpower that lacks true power, a world leader nobody follows and few respect, and a nation drifting dangerously (Wallerstein 2003, 17).

One of the consequences of the supposed ‘end of the Cold War’ in eastern Europe and Russia has been the process of deindustrialisation. With the aggressive ‘shock therapy’ of the 1990s, industries in one country after another in that part of the world were bought up by western European companies and promptly shut down.

On the many occasions I have been in that part of the world, I have passed by former factories, now crumbling and overgrown. Even locals who have no sympathy for communism lament this deindustrialisation. As a consequence, there has been a re-agriculturalisation along with significant temporary or permanent immigration to other parts of the world as people seek work. If the country is large enough, like Russia, it has become a major exporter of raw materials. In Russia at least, there is vigorous debate as to what a re-industrialisation might look like and who would drive it.

But I have a bit slow in picking up that the United States has become increasingly deindustrialised in the last 30 years or so. I do not mean some ‘loss’ – more or less – of manufacturing to overseas locations, but wholesale deindustrialisation. It hit me only recently as I was reading some local Chinese news about the growing trade wars the United States is waging with nearly all countries in the world. As I looked more closely, I saw that the main items exported by the United States are in fact agricultural products. China has been until recently a major importer of soy beans, among other produce. To be sure, there are a few niche industries that continue, such as aircraft manufacture. But Boeing’s main focus is the production of military machines, so it receives significant government support. Further, China – to take one example – has mostly been buying from Airbus, so much so that Airbus has eclipsed Boeing as the leading manufacturer of domestic aircraft in the world. Another niche industry is in some areas of high-technology. Even this is fading, since more new breakthroughs happen in China than in the United States, and China is a net exporter of high-tech products.

There are many angles on this aspect of decline, more than I can mention here. One is the heavy focus in recent years on the ‘financialised market’ (which Marx already foresaw in the third volume of Capital). In this case, money apparently produces more money (M-M1), so much so that wealth is made through speculation and not through actually making anything much. For example, in the first decade of this century a third of manufacturing jobs disappeared, so that now less than ten percent of employment is in manufacture. Meanwhile, financialisation took hold in more and more areas. The catch is that the crucial mediating role of making commodities (M-C-M1) is either concealed or goes elsewhere. By contrast, the Chinese socialist market economy focuses clearly on production, having already been the world’s largest manufacturer for almost a decade. A major feature is significant infrastructure investment and construction. So sustained has this focus become that Chinese technology now outstrips that found elsewhere. No wonder Chinese bids for international projects are usually the best available – blocked occasionally by bumbling politicians elsewhere keen to make themselves look strong.

Another factor is the longer-term decline of the United States. In 2003, Immanuel Wallerstein published The Decline of American Power. It was written immediately in response to the successful attack on the World Trade Centre in 2001, but the idea runs further back. In fact, Wallerstein argues that it began with the defeat in Vietnam, in which the communists defeated the vastly superior United States armed forces. It was not even that someone dared to challenge that power, but that they did so successfully. The decline has been economic, ideological and political. At the time he published the book, many dismissed the suggestion that ‘the eagle has crash landed’, but since the Atlantic economic crisis of 2008, many have begun to take notice. Crucially, it is clear on this matter that Trump simply continues the trajectory since the first Bush presidency: a declining power never does so happily. Increasingly, it uses or threatens to use the only thing it has left: military power.

All of which brings me back to deindustrialisation. Not only is the United States becoming mainly a producer of primary materials, but it also has crumbling infrastructure. The cracks become wider, the worn machinery more and more dinted. The place is literally falling apart – materially, socially and politically. By comparison, even Pyongyang has been able to build a shiny new airport.

Report on United States human rights abuses in 2017

The Information Office of the State Council in China has published its annual report on human rights abuses in the United States. You can find a full copy of the report here, and a news summary at Xinhua News. While the report details abuses of civil rights, systemic racial discrimination, increasing flaws in US-style democracy, and flagrant abuse of human rights in other countries, an underlying theme concerns the right to economic wellbeing (a basic principle of Chinese Marxist approaches to human rights).

On this note, the following points are relevant:

In December 2017, 52.3 million Americans lived in “economically distressed communities” and 18.5 million were living in deep poverty.

Of those living in poverty in the United States, there were about 13.3 million children – 18 percent of those under the age of 18. The U.S. Urban Institute statistics revealed that nearly 9 million children in the United States (11.8 percent of American children) would grow up in persistently poor families.

The average wealth for white families is seven times higher than average wealth for black families and that median white wealth is twelve times higher than median black wealth. More than one in four black households had zero or negative net worth.

Germany and China surpass the USA in global leadership approval

An interesting survey from Gallup, based on interviews and telephone conversations with 1,000 people in each country.

The result: the global approval of US leadership in 2017 dropped to 30%, behind Germany on 41% and China on 31%. Both Germany and China remained at the same level from the previous year, indicating stability.

Some graphs tell the story:

GL 01

Notably, Russia and the USA are quite close to one another. Now for the disapproval rating, which for the USA sits at 43%:

In the Americas it has shot up to 58%:

I am most intrigued by the last graph, which indicates how much the approval/disapproval rates have shifted in different parts of the globe:

 

In much of Europe, the Americas, central and southern Africa, south and south-eastern Asia (including Australia in this last group), it has plummeted, while parts of northern Africa, eastern Europe and Russia have seen an increase! Not sure it will make much difference in Russia.

However, the danger of such graphs is to enhance the idea that Trump’s USA is an anomaly, in contrast to the ‘golden age’ of Obama et al. All manner of concerted efforts are underway to generate this impression, whether blaming the Russians for meddling, questioning Trump’s mental stability, or indeed asserting that his election victory was the result of purely racist elements. Instead, Trump is merely a symptom of a much longer trajectory.

 

How to buy political influence in Australia

The normal way to do business in Australia is open the cheque book and start handing over dollops of money to politicians and political parties. Soon enough, decisions will go your way and you will make even more cash. Indeed, the vast majority of those who have made their millions and billions in Australian history have done so through the government.

But – and it is a big but – you have to be the ‘right’ sort of person. I usually don’t pay much attention to this corporate news source, but there is one economist – of the neo-classical sort – who has a sharp eye. Michael Pascoe is his name, and he has penned a piece called ‘There’s five rules in the business of buying influence‘. It arose in response to a kerfuffle, in the context of a wave of Sino-phobia, of Chinese influence – specifically the generous Huang Xiangmo who is currently deemed not the ‘right’ person by some (I admire him a lot) .

So Pascoe lists not only a few of the more egregious examples of earlier influence-buying by those deemed acceptable, but also offers the following rules:

1.   Hire lobbyists to do it at arm’s length. There’s a conga line of them waiting for your direct deposit, many of them recently ex-politicians and staffers, all with excellent access to power to push your case. For example, who do you think really formulates our tax policy?

2.   Use industry bodies.  They provide tax-deductable funding for absolutely political ends just when the government is threatening charities with the loss of tax-deductible status if they indulge in “political” (i.e. anti-government) activities.

The Minerals Council comes to mind, or the National Automotive Leasing & Salary Packaging Association – McMillan Shakespeare certainly didn’t like Labor’s policy of abolishing the novated lease lurk, but it was the NALSPA that donated the $250,000 to the Liberal Party. And Labor subsequently fell into line.

3.   China links. Try and not be a successful mainland Chinese with the somewhat inevitable relationships with the Chinese government. It’s perfectly fine to organise and push Israeli or American policy of dubious value to Australia, but not Chinese.

4.  The art of disguise. Adopt an anglicised name and have your PR people start referring to you as “Aussie” e.g. “Aussie Moe” Huang will work better than “Huang Xiangmo” – and you’ll be spared Australian newsreaders being unable to pronounce it.

Become a prominent supporter of such bodies as the American Australian Association and the Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce that ASIO is less likely to be bugging. And sponsor events that no politician can avoid and many will get taxpayers to fund attending – State of Origin, Melbourne Cup, Grand Prix, Grand Finals.

5. Be Rupert Murdoch, or at least own some prominent shock jocks.

Beware of European ‘foreign agents’

There seems to be some concern in Australia over foreign ‘soft power’ and spying, if not influencing social and political processes. Anyone working for, promoting or even speaking favourably about a foreign entity may soon have to register as a ‘foreign agent’. Apart from the problem that Australia has nothing really worth spying upon, the most obvious culprits as ‘foreign agents’ would have to be EU and European Studies Centres. They are directly funded by the EU and foster pro-EU positions. It means, for instance, that any serious assessment of matters such as Brexit find little room, or indeed the treatment of Greece. And it entails a good degree of Russophobia and even Sinophobia.

A U.S. Cultural Revolution?

I am completely out of things for a while, cycling more than 1,000 km across Germany on the Mittelland Route (d4). But I did notice this intriguing Chinese take on what is happening in the United States, with statues being torn down, violent skirmishes, etc. The People’s Daily notes that more and more people in China are seeing what is evolving as a ‘Cultural Revolution‘, understanding the term as a wave of anger, violence and chaos.