The Power and the Mediocrity of the Sign

In “What Americans Keep Ignoring about Finland’s School Success,” Anu Partanen reveals capitalist Anglo-America’s elephant-in-the-room-sized blind spot, why its focus on competition and “excellence” results in diminishing performance in order to promote concentrated power and idealism.

The Finns (Per Sahlberg) on education reform that demands accountability from teachers: “There is no word for accountability in Finnish. Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.” In Finland all teachers and administrators are given prestige, decent pay, and a lot of responsibility.

The Finns (Samuli Paronen) on competition: “Real winners do not compete.” There are no lists of best schools or teachers in Finland. The driver of education policy in Finland is not competition amongst teachers and schools, policy forcing the ideal conservative conditions of bellum omnia contra omnes, but rather cooperation. School choice is not an issue, nor is putting education in the hands of the private sector and profit motive. This is in distinct contrast to America, Sahlberg observes, where “schools are a shop.”

The Finnish education reform goal was always equality and equity, never “excellence” or whatever conservative daydreams that word stands in for. “Education has been seen first and foremost not as a way to produce star performers, but as an instrument to even out social inequality.” What the world dominated by conservative Anglo-american capitalist dogma still cannot face is that it is equality that most efficiently produces star performances and substantive excellence.

Tiger Moms’ genius boys in Shanghai and Singpore can put in 20-hour days of rote memorization and exhaustive cramming, and only manage to approximate in performance the Finnish children who are simply well cared for and supported by valued, independent, unionized teachers and their egalitarian society. Surely, the East Asian genius boys are better poster boys for conservative capitalist discipline; but just as surely they are inefficient…and 99% of these memorizers and crammers will never be able to write a non-plagiarized essay, that is, communicate independently, like humans can.

Why does egalitarianism more efficiently make excellence? The answer is right in front of our nose, right in front of our blind spot. It’s because in the inequality tradition, poor people are overwhelmingly, structurally prevented from attaining their human potentials, and, a factor that perversely torments conservative theorists much more, the rich enjoy the comfort of knowing that surrounded by throngs of shackled “competitors,” they can enjoy many a good old slack.

In such a conservative culture, it is the appearance and ideal of excellence that matters, because the sign unmoored is directed by and justifies power. To be chosen is a sign, necessarily imposed upon the material world. The grim “play” of signs, only ordered by the mystified, atopic distribution of power in a reified collective imagination (a world not made but given, or made by all because you cannot choose unfreely), is Anglos’ obsession, and the more people you can induce to submit to this obsession, the more human life chances are allocated by market power and the more absolutely necessary capitalism (or its feudal and slavery complements)  is for any life chance at all.

At or adhered to central nodes of global capitalist accumulation, Anglo-Americans are altogether too kind, too attentive to, too solicitous of the promotional, the unmoored sign, constantly mistaking it for the legitimate, autarkic limits of knowable (meta)reality. Our literature, for one example, is far too ready to believe that the con man is the true knower.

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Crisis is based in Maldistribution

In “Celebrating Consumption,” Sasha Lilley (“Against the Grain”) interviews (and clarifies) economic historian and “residual marxist” James Livingston’s study of the structural problems of capitalism.

Lilley’s clarifications are integral to this discussion, because Livingston’s project seems to be taking Marxism and rebranding it and making it palatable to Cold War-scarred, pro-capitalist and Judeo-Christian Americans. While this ambition I think creates problems in his diagnosis, on the other hand, it must be said that Dr. Livingston nonetheless seems to be a remarkably gracious gentleman and a scholar. For now, I think it would be unsporting to begrudge him his reframing experiments.

Private investment is not key to productivity or growth in capitalism

Livingston:

Empirically,
Private investment is not historically key to increasing productivity, to growth in the US.
Private investment has been atrophying since 1910.
What has increasingly promoted growth is consumer spending, government spending (officially classified as investment), residential investment.

Against Brenner, the problem with the decline of manufacturing in the US is not the loss of productivity, but the loss of wages and unions, leading to the maldistribution of income and wealth.

In view of the historical evidence (private investment atrophy), what happens when we drop the assumption that private investment is key to growth? What kinds of policies can we work on that move us out of crisis mode?

Livingston’s use value-exchange value discussion (TBD)

To get to innovative policy formation, we need to address a cultural block. Livingston: to advance structural development, we have to address the moral question. We need to move from attaching income to waged work to attaching it to need. The cultural revolution Livingston advocates: Making things should not be so important. “People deserve an income that allows for a decent, humane life, that allows for freedom, mobility, dignity.”

Lilley points out that that’s communist (From each according to her abilities to each according her needs). Livingston would prefer to identify this value as historical religious culture.

Livingston observes that crisis arises in capitalism as we socialize risk but let the 1% decide everything. Where bankers won’t invest, we need to socialize our ability to use the tremendous store of wealth.

Toward market socialism: We collectively decide, will this investment create the kind of jobs that afford everyone a decent, humane and dignified life? Use value re-enters politics.

Talk About Repression: Weber! Nietzsche! Freud! Anybody but M__x!

Crises are problems internal to the economic structure. According to Livingston, the problem is the distribution of income. There is too much surplus capital. Crisis is not a problem of money, monopoly, the Fed’s choices, or morality.

Why do Americans lean so heavily on the morality explanation? Livingston follows Weber, blaming this dependence, this urge to personify the cause of crisis, on the Protestant ethic. But the Weberian approach plays a larger role in Livingston’s explanatory scheme. Repressive protestant culture is the cause of, or primary impediment to Americans’ inability to switch out of crisis-prone economic relations to a more rational, constructive grasp of work and wealth distribution.
What can replace Protestant repression?, he asks. What can transform our characters? His overdetermined answer is a more libidinal culture. Livingston wants to start by valorizing the libidinal culture that currently exists–as is promulgated by advertising and consumer culture.
However, empirically, it’s very hard to say that such libidinal culture hasn’t been emphatically encouraged and harvested–and we have the austerity agenda. If Livingston is attempting a reframing experiment, I fail to understand the strategy in that I fail to understand how a political historian’s weight can modify the trajectory of the great mass of marketeers’ raison d’etre. Consumer spending and advertising have been dominant cultural institutions (See Michael Dawson’s The Consumer Trap.), and they have not freed us from Protestant repression–and I doubt they can be hitched to anti-austerity. I would argue that is because repression and libidinal excess are two sides of the same coin, capitalist culture in dialectic. They do not exclude one another. They constitute each other as two ends of a cultural teeter totter. But it’s possible there’s a strategic grappling hook in there.

Here is Ehrenreich’s alternative theory on what needs changing in US culture (elite belief in and reification of a “culture of poverty”)…that I think could get us to a rational approach to work and distributive justice. (It also contains of story of how neoliberalization happens to good socialists who just want to be heard…but at what a price.)

2nd part of Livingston’s book: It kind of goes off the rails

It is Livingston’s market-aficionado thesis that commercial culture is liberatory and solidaristic. Commercial culture is disfigured utopia, but tells us that after work is when we become unalienated, and advertising reminds us of that. Livingston feels that this is culturally important because work should not define us. Basically, commercial culture, he feels, can lead to libidinal liberation.

Lilley reminds us that advertising touching on and co-opting desires isn’t the same thing as unleashing desires. We can contrast Livingston’s capitalist dichotomy, ascetic Protestantism / libidinal carnival, to Marxist Epicureanism. Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain is much, much better than Livingston on the psycho-social / cultural theory of work and making. Perhaps because she’s not afraid of M__x.

Purchasing commodities is social, Livingston insists.

Citing consumer movements, Livingston argues that consumption does not negatively impact the environment. If consumers have requisite income, then they reduce their footprint (modified Bruntland argument). That is not a strong argument, see Jevon’s Paradox, ecological footprint/slaves analyses. I don’t know why anti-austerity should entail abandoning the headway the Left has gotten from Red-Green coalition-building.  That seems unstrategic.

Another Anglo Fabian in want of a Marxist backbone?

Livingston’s arguments can at times seem to be overblown sophistry or excessively solicitous of current hegemons. But he’s trying to do interesting things, seeing ways of looking at capitalism’s problem institutions (the capitalist Protestant Ethic abstemiousness/libidinal commodity consumption–which he doesn’t recognize as intertwined) as potential sites of market socialist development. I think though that James Livingston would be more effective if he re-read Scarry, picked up Dawson, checked out Epicurean ethics, and if he engaged Sasha Lilley as his co-author.

…Or maybe I just need to write an article on the Marxist approach to making / unmaking, production and consumption, as an alternative to the austerity dogma. Eureka.


“Such discrete, theoretically-unintegrated critical impulses attacked the irrationality and inhumanity of capitalism. The common aim was to reform it piecemeal into a more rational and human social order in which inequalitites of wealth and incomes would be drastically reduced and democratic rights extended and substantiated, and in which the still-marginalised and -alienated working class would be integrated into the political system. In a(n Anglo) cultural landscape dominated by laissez-faire Liberalism, these concerns made a shift from individualist to collectivist thought a ‘necessary intellectual adjustment’ on the part of the more socially conscious liberal intellectuals. This was the common temper of the New Liberals as well as the Fabians” (Desai 1994: 47, describing the conservative Anglo inteligensia’s tepid and temporary “radicalization” to Fabianism in response to working class disruption).

We Have Never Been Modern

This Robin post reviews Karen Orren’s scholarship into the persistence of feudal law in the US workplace. Right, where people spend almost all of their waking time, when not unemployed.

Orren, Karen. 1991. Belated Feudalism: Labor, the Law and Liberal Development in the United States. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521422543.

Orren’s “”Belated Feudalism” set off multiple explosions when it appeared in 1991, inflicting serious damage on the received wisdom of Harvard political scientist Louis Hartz. In his 1955 classic ”The Liberal Tradition in America,” still taught on many college campuses, Hartz argued that the United States was born free: Americans never knew feudalism; their country – with its Horatio Alger ethos of individual mobility, private property, free labor, and the sacred rights of contract – was modern and liberal from the start. For decades, liberals embraced Hartz’s argument as an explanation for why there was no – and could never be any – radicalism in the United States. Leftists, for their part, also accepted his account, pointing to the labor movement’s failure to create socialism as evidence of liberalism’s hegemony.

 But as Orren shows, American liberalism has never been the easy inheritance that Hartz and his complacent defenders assume. And the American labor movement may have achieved something far more difficult and profound than its leftist critics realize. Trade unions, Orren argues, made America liberal, laying slow but steady siege to an impregnable feudal fortress, prying open this ”state within a state” to collective bargaining and congressional review.

By pioneering tactics later used by the civil rights movement – sit-ins, strikes, and civil disobedience – labor unions invented the modern idea of collective action, turning every sphere of society into a legitimate arena of democratic politics.”

While the US had slavery and identifiable feudal lords in the South, it maintained feudal workplaces throughout, and up through the entirety of the 20th century. Along with the continuing influence of anti-revolutionary British culture (P. Anderson), instilled via the Anglo American elite class (W. Domhoff), no wonder Southern feudal conservatism (D. Blackmon) was resonant and spread throughout the US even after the Democratic Party was modernized in the mid 20th century.

I had been aware that the contemporary torture and domestic and international repression privileges of the US Executive office were based in ancient and barbaric Anglo feudal law, but now I recognize that, considering British feudal warlords became the capitalist class, the idea flogged, that there was a legal or institutional break with feudalism in the Anglosphere, has been vastly overmarketed.

The last thing we have needed is a break from the fledgling Enlightenment movement, which set up the US as a semi-independent state locked into global economic elite rule, but would have been thereupon abandoned per the Federalist and slaver preferences, save for the unions. American unions were not radical because they were busy trying to push the US from slavery and feudal law and institutions into basic liberal law and institutions.

…Now, that argument is not going to get you very far, if viewed without historical depth. Societies and their institutions obviously don’t have to try to mince their way through lukewarm liberalism. Sweden, for one, developed much more radical and effective unions starting from feudalism. Then there’s Russia, the Latin American countries, etc. However, given the fact that the US was advertising itself as a modern, liberal bastion–to immigrants, to foreign allies–the early 20th century unions found political opportunity in pushing for actual liberal laws and policies within the US.

Here the thesis I will again advance is that liberal institutions as your “Left” do not create a sufficient or robust counter to conservatism–Liberalism is incapable of moving a society into even merely political democracy, let alone democracy and freedom egalitarianism.

And with the destruction of the unions and labor rights, the US has slid back down the muddy liberal bank and sunk back into the dank, suffocating morass of conservatism: Freedom for a few; slavery for most.

Here in “Birth Control McCarthyism” (referencing his book “Fear: The History of Political Idea,”) Robin explains why feminists and labor have a lot of ground in common, faced with conservatives. Insofar as we lose sight of the necessity of the feminist-labor coalition, it is because we have come to have a scandalous blindspot for the horrible, deranged, rabid elephant in the Western livingroom, the ubiquitous, pervasive, legal fact of our (especially Anglosphere) societies: the totalitarian workplace.

Neoliberal Education Mangler Tactics

Michelle Rhee is a charismatic, top-notch conservative orator who knows how to destroy public education in America, with zest. Even though she was a failure when she first hopped on the public education destruction gravy train.

Joanna Bujes analyzes neoliberal education entrepreneur Michelle Rhee’s rhetorical strategy, and proposes a tactical pro-education strategy.

Rhee’s rhetorical strategy:

“I’m a maverick, fighting for children. Education is children v. teachers. To help children, we need to fight teachers. We do that with standardization/top-down micromanagement and privatization.”

Rhee is a high-earning forward on the fightin’ Right-wing Lady Mavericks team

Lois Weiner’s “A Witch Hunt Against Teachers” (2012) reveals the new divide-and-conquer public education destruction strategy: ‎

“Instead of teachers as a group being blamed for children’s lack of achievement, only the ‘bad teachers’ are going to be targeted. And who are the ‘bad teachers’ in this new campaign? Those who oppose what’s supposed to be ‘right for kids’: the use of standardized testing, charter schools, privatization — and the destruction of teachers’ unions.

Hollywood will once again enter the fray of school politics, with a new propaganda vehicle, Won’t Back Down, an action film, funded by the same right-wing think tank (Walden Media) that produced Waiting for Superman. This time Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal will carry the message that good teachers don’t need or want unions or any of those ‘selfish’ (so un-mother-like!) desires like pensions, good salaries, limited working hours.”

To counter Rhee, Bujes recommends this pro-public education talking point:

“A good education arises out of strong, healthy, respectful, supported relationships.

We need to support a great educational environment where teachers work and children learn together, so we can foster the relationships that make for education excellence.”

Finland’s superlative education reform has been built around supporting teachers and their working environment–students’ classrooms. 
Real education based in valuing teachers and treating them with respect, as a group: 
It’s not just for Nordic Middle Earth elven folk.

I see its strengths, but the weakness of Bujes’ counterhegemonic argument is that it’s incredibly vague–I think because it needs a firming step 2, like Rhee’s argument has. Me, I think we also need to reintroduce to the public the radical Dewey ideas about the importance of public education for a capable, critical, analytical, decision-making, self-organizing democratic citizenry–because our elites are making terrible autonomous decisions, repeatedly, from an overly narrow set of parameters. Occupy education.

In “We can do better than this,” Doug Henwood discusses the OECD’s recent comparative study of education success and failure.

“In the most successful systems, teachers are treated as high-level professionals; curricula emphasize creativity and complex skills; work organization is flat and collegial rather than hierarchical and authoritarian; accountability is to peers and stakeholders, not the authorities; and all students, not merely the best ones, are expected to learn at high levels. The U.S. scores poorly on many of these criteria, and many of our ‘reforms’ take us in a worse direction. 

… The (successful education reform of the Ontario) provincial government, says the OECD, ‘drew a sharp contrast between its capacity-building approach…and the more punitive versions of accountability used in the United States.’ Their approach was collegial and cooperative, not competitive. 

…In successful systems like Ontario and Finland, teachers have a great deal of professional autonomy. There may be a national curriculum, but teachers are expected to know their subject well and develop their skills at imparting knowledge. …And in most successful systems, standardized tests are rare” Henwood 2012.

Do you want to know how to actually improve education, as opposed to simply deunionizing workers so that elites wind up with more cash which to blow upon their shitty, unchecked, unproductive, counterproductive speculation cons as well as upon their beloved pastimes, political and economic mismanagement, running us into the ground, and collecting serfs? Here’s how: Finnish education reform. The upshot of real education improvement? You need political commitment, for 40 years; you need unions and teachers to help make education policy; with the exception of providing warm lunches to nourish children, you need to provide welfare, adequately, through other institutions, so that teachers can focus on teaching; and you need to support and promote the human and intellectual development of teachers as professionals.

Not constant top-down imposed testing, AKA infantilizing micromanagement. Not privatization. Not deunionization. Just the very opposite.

So you tell me: How feasible is real education improvement in the Anglosphere, insofar as real education improvement relies on improving the conditions and status of the working class labor involved? Yeah, I thought so. It’s heresy. That’s why we’re left with the code “education reform” for yet another mouldy old program to dismantle workingclass-serving state institutions and redistribute the social wealth ever upwards, to people who use it to wipe their ass.


Why is the current elite consensus on Education Reform a reactionary project?

The reactionary goal is austerity–to appropriate social wealth upward into a financial elite by, inter alia, invoking the decline of mass public education. The decline of mass public education is accomplished step-wise, by dismantling the fundamental social institutions that are required to maintain a mass public education system: “professional” (semi-autonomous, self-developmental, and organized) teachers.

Because of the structure of the market, and conservative, antidemocratic workplace law, teachers can only retain professional development so long as they have organizational independence–unions. The campaign is reactionary because it is orchestrated by elites to cannibalize and kill off working class institutions–unions, professional teaching, and mass public education. The US capitalist class is cohered around this primitive accumulation project.

An understory of middle class managers can make a living off this state-facilitated wealth and assets grab in a short-term framework. They can think of themselves as Men of Action. They can tell themselves they’re Doing It for the Children. They don’t ever have to face the big picture of what tune they’re tap dancing to…Or maybe, like Ravitch, they will when they retire with rare pensions.

[This brings forward the strategic question of middle-class neoliberal managerial rationality cost-benefit calculation: Middle class neoliberal managers make a comfortable living, but don’t accumulate much, given the ever-widening maw of inequality their work helps build. Their immediately-“successful” work creates the conditions whereby their own children will have fewer freedoms. There are big environmental parallels here.

I think that people in such a position could just as easily be pushed into the other, longer-term rationality path–If they don’t whore out, inequality will not balloon to cancel out their subordinate self-promotional economic strategy.

Except these social factors overdetermine Neoliberal Whore Rationality: 1) Social humans’ competitive positional incentives–which are exacerbated as inequality rises. This is how sociability is translated into alienation. 2) Social humans’ conservative deference to hierarchically-defined truth and value claims, especially in a milieu of elite political cohesion and homogeneity. 3) Access to and retention of jobs and incomes, where these are allocated on the basis of conformity to the elite austerity agenda. Capital’s got coercion locked down.]


Occupy: Radicalize for Education

Of course, Occupying education would mean that teachers cannot stay de-radicalized. I don’t know how they could be fence sitters at this point; but entrenched habits are hard to break, and Pew polls seem to indicate that young people have naturalized their own proletarianiation and dispossession.

Teachers have to recognize and proudly champion public education and decent working conditions–which must include unionization for most, as dependent upon a radical political-economic agenda. They have to reconsider what it is to be the good boys and girls–It’s not being non-disruptive (Though sometimes it might mean in a machiavellian way posing as non-disruptive retainers).

I know this is a socialization problem. It makes me think of my grandpa, one of the many teachers in my family. He moved his family to South St. Paul, Minnesota after WWII because that school district had the best compensation and working conditions and fostered the highest social status for teachers of any public school district in the U.S. at that time. Why? They had the most radical teachers’ union in the US. He admitted that. Yet all my grandpa could kvetch about, when I knew him nearing his retirement and afterward, was how unjust the capital gains tax was. “I’m being taxed twice!” he complained. That’s right, he enjoyed such low inequality, such access to the social wealth, such social status based in a successful working-class education system, fought for by other workers, that he imagined he was a capitalist. My grandpa, who was so sweet and kind to me, and whom I love and miss, was in that sense a parasite, a free rider but worse–who helped kill off the working conditions he himself enjoyed, along with the great public education system those conditions created. He never fought for those great working conditions he went to take advantage of. In fact he voted for, and contributed money to a political agenda to destroy those working conditions in his wake. He was a good boy. Here is the real tragedy of the commons–a tragedy, we’ve seen over and over again, that is overdetermined by capitalism’s incentive system.

It’s capitalism; it’s not supposed to be about wealth distribution–it’s about wealth accumulation. But that doesn’t justify such depths of autistic self-interest as to reify labor aristocracy and competitive intra-working class managerialism. If, against all market rationality, people sacrifice for better working conditions that improve your life chances and the life chances of your children, the very, very least that you can do is to use the resources they’ve built for you to continue the fight to replace market rationality with social and ecological rationality. (However, I also think it’s a bit late for this. After decades of conservative hegemony and the coordinated expropriation of working class institutions and resources, we’re entering an era when people will have to fight for distributive, etc., justice from nearly first base. I’m just saying, as always, that such a fight is particularly futile and aimless without a socialist backbone. We get beat down time and again by our own inability to recognize where power is accumulated, for what end, in an accumulation system.)

In the face of the current 1% despotism, a popularized Dewey education revival can be a rousing, emotional, altruism-activating collective project; and it has the virtue of taking on superficially-altruistic neoliberal entrepreneurs right at the discreetly-hidden heart of their agenda to pulp and expropriate independent working class organizations–such as unions and public education itself, a necessary-but-insufficient last-resort welfare safety net for millions of families in Anglo-American societies–and to throttle working class intellectual and political capacity…The better to primitive-accumulate, my dear.

Good Old Brute Power

Look for the Union Label” (Chronicle of Higher Ed 2005)–On the very real, active, large, non-trivial, continuing, foundational role of hierarchical, non-“Foucauldian,” brute power in our everyday (especially our work) lives, and the importance of middle class radicalization (for example, academics’ recognition of brute power.)
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Nothing–no Walmart jobs, no charity, no church, no Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR), no tenured profs wrapping themselves gloriously in the flag of the Global Truly Oppressed in order to most righteously demand access to cheap adjunct labor–will “improve the lot of the poor” like middle class Americans becoming radicalized (Not forming their own labor aristocracy craft unions).

It’s what the whole world is waiting for. (…I know. That sounds overblown. This is not an ego love song; it’s pointing out a vast problem. This occurred to me again when I came across foreign graphic t-shirt websites; boy, does the world wish Obama were socialist. And as Zizek pointed out, the world gets fantastically buoyed by the small signs that democracy can break through the managerial barrier in the US.)

 If only the GSO Alum movement expanded. I hope that’s OWS.

In “Bright Minds and Dark Attitudes: Lower Cognitive Ability Predicts Greater Prejudice Through Right-Wing Ideology and Low Intergroup Contact,” Hodson & Busseri (2012)  give the conservatives a taste of their (Chas. Murray/The Bell Curve) own mystery g-factor snake oil.

As the countless, devout non-readers of this blog well know, I am a political sociologist who struggles with an inability to pick favorites between structuralist Marxist explanations and instrumentalist Marxist and social movement explanatory frameworks, and in particular I am of the view that if you’re interested in contemporary (post 1870) Anglosphere politics and political economy, then you’d better be analyzing what the capitalist (and pro-capitalist) Right has been up to lo this past century.

Therefore, although I’ve not found political scientists to be terribly useful to me in the past, at this stage, I’ve found political scientists Corey Robin’s and Radhika Desai’s works on conservatism to be very stimulating and a perfect next step from social movements sociology, and a wonderful complement to the a-bit-more-structuralist (but nowhere near so bad as Bloch) analyses of Varoufakis, Dumenil & Levy, Monthly Review, Harvey, Henwood, Pollin, Baker, and PERI, etc.(1)

While Radhika is pretty good at feeding me her books and articles, Robin is doing the hard public intellectual road, and therefore continually throws out fascinating US conservative mobilizations historical tidbits all the time, which I need to store for future reference. Here.

Good old brute power is executed in the workplace, for example in universities. During the McCarthy era, Whitney Griswold (who was something of a 5th Amendment scholar) had a famous line that there would be no witch hunts at Yale because there would be no witches at Yale. One of the things that I have to look into is the pre-McCarthy-era (1941 & on) NY state effort to purge education institutions of socialists, that served as the template for the national HUAC purges. This is written about, I am led to believe, in Andrew Hartman’s Education and the Cold War.

(1) On the other hand, for an excellent example of the descriptive and predictive limitations imposed by instrumentalist Marxist/elite scholarship’s avoidance of structural explanations, see William Carroll’s “From Canadian Corporate Elite to Transnaitonal Capitalist Class: Transititions in the Organization of Corporate Power” (2007). Now don’t get me wrong–I love me some Domhoff, Burris, etc. and Carroll’s no doubt a great scholar. But this 2007 article is an interesting example of how instrumentalist method–unrelieved by structuralist analysis– can produce subpar political economic analysis. The reliance on corporate interlocking directorates as well as financial press discourse (seen as constructing a multicultural, pro-reform “value framework”) leads the analyst to overlook the very structural way that banks stayed central, stayed in power, stayed in control of the “business community” and everything and everybody else, in the financialization era.

Whereas in the same pre-financial collapse period, JB Foster at the more structuralist MR was basically flapping his arms from the barn roof, shouting, trying to point out the profound flaws and non-equilibrium poise of the financial system and public and private debt, proud anti-structural determinists were basically affirming a contradiction-free marketing story (parallel to and not unlike the eco-modernism story) of how the capitalist elite had both elegantly reformed into a more meritocratic, cosmopolitan, multicultural and so trustworthy fraternity, and, via conflictless, voluntary, pro-democratic capitalist institutional reform, institutional investors (eg. teacher’s unions) now efficiently controlled and disciplined investment.

Carroll did allow that from the mid-70s on, national and international capitalist policy planning organizations were the new coordinating mechanism for–now cosmopolitan, meritocratic, so trustworthy–banker hegemony. But that doesn’t change that fact that neoliberal-era scholarship that refuted or discounted or avoided structuralist Marxism tended to produce an analytical bias toward taking financial capital’s beautiful 1990s legitimation campaign at face value, and amplifying it, blinding them, blinding lots of people to the development of Crisis conditions.

Obviously, the post-2007 banks’ clearly-continuing, central role in regulating liquidity strictly for the benefit of FIRE upper management (And oh okay, for the benefit of US imperial hegemony as well. That’s the same class benefitting there.–Unless of course you’re the sort who likes to argue that working class stagnant wages, indentured servitude, wrecking-balled working class state institutions, and the measurable health symptoms of declining working class welfare are all subjectively or objectively in working class interests in some random, tiny timeframe or cosmic global sense or in some opportunistically-idealist theoretical view.), and banks’ clear colonization and control of the state, blew any marketing amplification to smithereens (and demand caution about the explanatory power of the network analysis-dependent and media analysis-dependent power structure methodology).

I mean, I think in the year 2012 Canadians still basically believe Carroll’s story operates in Canada, because, obviously, Canadians are so civilized (relative to Americans), that determines all; but look at the private (and future public) debt, the reversion to an extractive economy–with the class warfare uberalles politics (Wild Rose, conservative diffusion and adoption) that tends to (except in the case of Norway) produce.

People who’ve gotten themselves to a place where they can consider social context are reliable if they can both pay attention to political movements, including elite-maintaining conservative movements, and seriously take into account the structure as well.