[Marxism] Why aren’t the poor storming the barricades?

Gary MacLennan gary.maclennan1 at gmail.com
Mon Jan 27 15:56:44 MST 2014


Very interesting.  The Cato institute's analysis that in terms of
consumption we are all equal.  Australia's richest person, or one of them,
the mining magnate Gina Rinehart has assets worth 18 billion or so.  The
gap between narrows when we discuss consumption.  It would seem.  She is a
great porker of an individual, so I am not entirely convinced by that
analysis.  I also suspect that the quality of the wine we both consume is
somewhat different.  But let's allow that Gina and I are almost equal in
terms of consumption.

Where is the difference then pray tell?  Well of course there is power. I
rave and rant about the vileness and the stupidities of the ruling class
and the politicians. I almost wept when I saw the videos that accompanied
Lou's blog on Mercedes Sosa: such poverty and such misery and there is
nothing I can do about it.  Rinehart meanwhile is busy buying up an
important newspaper and when she clicks her fingers politicians come
running. She talks disgraceful rubbish about the poor and gets away with it
all. She would have an IQ of around 80 on a good day with the sun shining
and the wind behind her. Still she is Ms Powerful here in Oz.

There is also the difference in security. Like most people my age I dwell
in Precaria.  I manage (well), but am just like most people a hop, skip and
a jump away from economic misery. Rinehart on the other hand is like to
survive the coming plunge.  That is what the super rich do. In fact they
emerge stronger from crises. Ask the Mellon family about the Great
Depression.  It is only if the economic crisis becomes a political one that
there will be a danger to the likes of Rinehart.

Which brings me to the key question,  not "Why aren't the poor out in the
streets?", but why is *The Economist* asking it.  A subsidiary question
here might be "why has a conservative organization like Oxfam highlighted
the fact that 85 people own 50% of the world's wealth?"  For me that answer
is two fold.  Always and always , power and privilege and the ability to
dominate is accompanied by fear.  No rulers are without fear of those they
rule.
the second answer for me brings us back to consumption.  the other side of
the Cato analysis is that there is not much of a consumption gap between
the rich and the poor, means in fact that there is under-consumption.
Imagine those 85 trillionaires pigging out all day long and I am sure they
do.  There would still be a short fall in consumption.

Now I can almost hear the Tendency for the Rate of Profit to Fall (TRPF)
folk getting restless.  And before I scuttle back into the
under-consumptionist closet, I want to share briefly an experience I had at
the recent Post Keynesian conference at the University of New South Wales,
December 2013. It was attended by great figures like Professors Harcourt
and Neville and Kriesler.  I was lucky enough to have time to talk to
them.  They were incredibly erudite yet very gracious with it.  I confessed
that I was an economic ignoramus and that when I read Michael Roberts or
Andrew Kliman I became a believer in the TRPF, but that when I read Krugman
and co I became an under-consumptionist. But they assured me it was a case
of both explanations being valid.  So there!

Comradely

Gary


On Tue, Jan 28, 2014 at 6:48 AM, Marv Gandall <marvgand2 at gmail.com> wrote:

> ======================================================================
> Rule #1: YOU MUST clip all extraneous text when replying to a message.
> ======================================================================
>
>
> (The focus should have more properly been on the demise of the once
> powerful international trade union and socialist movement and the resulting
> power imbalance between the classes only fleetingly mentioned in the last
> paragraph.)
>
> Why aren’t the poor storming the barricades?
> The Economist
> Jan 21st 2014
>
> MATT MILLER of the Washington Post has a hunch: there hasn’t been a
> “broader revolt” of the underclass against rising income inequality, he
> writes, because the poor don’t experience inequality as intolerable.
> Pointing to a Cato Institute report by Will Wilkinson from 2009, Mr Miller
> suggests that “technology’s impact on quality and prices complicates the
> way people perceive these matters and how we should judge them”:
>
> That’s because the surging income gap often masks a narrowing difference
> in the actual consumption experiences of the rich and the rest of us. 'At
> the turn of the 20th century, only the mega-rich had refrigerators or
> cars,' Wilkinson wrote. 'But refrigerators are now all but universal in the
> United States, even as refrigerator inequality continues to grow.'...The
> difference between the rich man’s $11,000 Sub-Zero 'monument to food
> preservation' and the poor man’s $550 fridge from IKEA is smaller than the
> difference between being able to enjoy fresh meat and milk and having none.
> 'The Ikea model will keep your beer just as cold as the Sub-Zero model,' he
> wrote dryly.
>
> This argument has the ring of a truism, which should elicit suspicion.
> Yes, any refrigerator is an infinite improvement on none. And, as Mr
> Wilkinson wrote, “a widescreen plasma television is a delight, but a cheap
> 19-inch TV is enough to allow a viewer to laugh at Shrek.” While we’re at
> it, it’s better to ingest salty, fat-laden fast food than to starve, and
> donning a burlap cloak is preferable to tromping around naked in the snow.
> But is the undeniably significant improvement in the quality of life for
> the poor and working class enough to explain why Occupy Wall Street fizzled
> and the fast-food workers’ strikes last year were isolated “angry
> gestures,” in Mr Miller’s words? Are America’s poor telling us that they’re
> only moderately mad and are fine with taking it some more?
>
> Maybe, maybe not. The serfs went centuries with only sporadic uprisings,
> and a hundred years elapsed before significant slave rebellions erupted in
> North America. Horrible conditions do not guarantee revolts, and moderately
> bad conditions do not necessarily thwart them. The question is what to make
> of the relative quiescence of America’s poor. Is it a mistake for Barack
> Obama to make reducing inequality a priority for 2014 if there is no
> revolution of the proletariat in the offing?
>
> No. It is fallacious to argue that because no one is storming the castle,
> no real injustice exists. But maybe income inequality isn’t really a
> problem. “Overall material well-being” should be our lodestar, the Cato
> report reads, and an individual’s lifetime level of consumption is a better
> proxy for material well-being than how much money he makes in a given year.
> While our incomes vary wildly from youth to adulthood to retirement, our
> level of consumption wanders up and down in a much narrower range. We might
> borrow money or draw on our savings to maintain a pattern of consumption in
> lean times, while prime-earning years afford opportunities to build a nest
> egg. This "consumption smoothing" renders year-to-year income inequality
> data all but meaningless, some say. Conservatives then attempt to pooh-pooh
> rising income inequalityby pointing out that inequality in how much people
> consume, the figure to watch, is growing much more slowly.
>
> Recent data shows, however, that consumption inequality is hardly
> insignificant. In a 2012 paper, Orazio Attanasio and two colleagues at the
> National Bureau of Economic Research exposedmeasurement errors in earlier
> research. They found that previous studies had seriously underestimated the
> extent of consumption inequality. “The well documented rise in income
> inequality during the last thirty years,” the report reads, “was
> accompanied by an increase in consumption inequality of nearly the same
> magnitude.” That goes for food and entertainment spending, home appliances
> and car purchases—the works.
>
> But leave aside that data for a moment. If we grant that the poor tend to
> have refrigerators and air-conditioners and cell phones and are objectively
> better off than their medieval peers, there is still good reason to worry
> about the rich-poor gap. The trouble with inequality isn’t primarily about
> consumables. As Elizabeth Anderson, a philosopher at the University of
> Michigan, pointed outa few years ago, public goods must be considered as
> well. The more inequality, the less rich and poor citizens tend to see
> eye-to-eye on these common benefits:
>
> As economic inequality increases, the better off perceive fewer and fewer
> shared interests with the less well-off. Because they buy many critical
> goods—health insurance, education, security services, transportation,
> recreation facilities—individually from the private sector, or pool the
> provision of these goods within private gated communities or municipalities
> governed by zoning regulations designed to exclude the less well-off, they
> tend to oppose public provision of these goods to the wider population.
>
> This is why Mr Obama calling inequality the “defining issue of our time”
> has moral resonance. It has nothing to do with the rabble envying Sub-Zero
> refrigerators. It is not about the iPhone/cheapo-cell phone gap. Inequality
> is problematic not because it makes some people jealous of others but
> because it effectively locks millions of people out of opportunities to
> improve their lives. Ms. Anderson put it well: “To live in a low-crime,
> orderly, unpolluted neighborhood, free of run-down and abandoned property,
> graffiti-marred buildings, open drug dealing, prostitution, and gangs; to
> have access to public parks where one’s children can safely play, to
> well-maintained sidewalks and roads, to schools that offer an education
> good enough to qualify one for more than menial, dead-end jobs: how many
> cell phones and athletic shoes is that worth?”
>
> So why are the lower orders twiddling their thumbs while the plutocrats
> continue their ascent? Maybe the lesson of Occupy Wall Street is that drum
> circles and pithy slogans accomplish little, in the end. Maybe the
> underclass is taking their relative plight in stride because they have
> decent refrigerators. Or maybe the gradual demise of the labour movement
> and the power differential between rich and poor Americans make it unlikely
> we will see a raid on the barricades any time soon.
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