The View from Political Science

The Political Science consensus in Canada holds two hand-me-down electoral strategy theories, the first older and derived from the US Democratic Party experience of mid-20th century African American internal migration, and the second newer and reflecting the financial- metropole (Wall Street-based and City of London-based) liberal national parties’ effort to theorize why following the first theory seems not to produce expected results (votes) today.

1a) Political parties should continue to focus on policies that appeal to the hypothesized interests of suburban voters, in particular conservative-liberal immigrant blocs, because of the theory that “The party that durably binds these rapidly growing groups to its coalition will dominate in the long term” (Zach Taylor, University of Western Ontario, 2018).

1b) The suburban-voter interests that parties and Political Scientists project include public provision of car-based infrastructure and the withdrawal of the state from supporting rival urban infrastructure.

Some theorize that core and suburban voters favour different parties because they have different policy interests. Core areas are dense and therefore support much lower automobile use in favour of transit and active transportation, and they feature a mix of land uses, housing types, and housing tenures. In postwar suburban areas, lower-density, single family detached housing tends to predominate, and home ownership and automobility are the norm. Homeowners have a stronger interest than core-area renters in preserving property values. At the same time, the individualist experience of detached-home ownership and automobile commuting has been correlated with lower political support for redistribution and collective benefits in Canada and other countries. The characterization of the suburbs as politically conservative derives in part from the lifestyles generated by physical environments and associated mobility systems (Fischel 2005; Moos and Mendez 2015)” (Taylor, 2018).

Thus, political-science/political parties’ older populism theory can be recognized as the Suburban Strategy.

By way of neutralizing the naturalizing elements of the structural analysis of suburban populism, I should note that in my government experience, what political parties and political scientists recognize as inevitable suburban “preferences” are demands marketed to suburb residents by suburb developers, as where developers’ communiques advise a suburb’s residents to take their experiential dissatisfaction with suburban life (as it falls short of the nuclear-family empyrean that was sold to them) and direct it into demanding exclusive public investment from politicians. It’s wise to seek out the underlying feudal ties in all conservative manifestations; identifying these permits strategy development (by which I certainly do not mean electoral tactics).

2) The spatial segregation of winners and losers produces liberal progressivism v. populism. “Neighbourhoods and regions in decline are found to be more supportive of defensive populist agendas, while the geographic winners of globalization and post-industrialization are generally more supportive of collective benefits, open trade and immigration (Inglehart and Norris 2017; Rodrigues-Pose 2018; Gest 2018)” (Taylor 2018).

Above I have highlighted some of the core hypotheses of these influential Political Science theses, including to underscore their logic hiccups. It seems clear that Political Scientists and the political parties that subscribe to and act upon these political theories will struggle to produce expected results, due to both spatial indeterminacies and changes in relevant variables.

Logic Hiccups:

  1. If Losers are Populist as theorized, and if the number or percent of Losers is declining or in equilibrium as liberal theories would suggest, how does today’s populism undercut the Political Science theory of growth-population political and policy pandering, the Suburban Strategy, where Political Scientists and parties had treated the Suburban Strategy as the main natural law of politics and policy?
    1. Might it be that the Suburban Strategy theory was itself a populism framework, and an excuse for prioritizing decidedly anti-populist FIRE interests? (See also research results showing that young people in suburbs have preferences unexpected in suburban pandering theory (Moos and Prayitno in the same volume, 2018).) In that case, “populism” is not new or resurgent. “Populism” is always the political party theory; political party theory only distinguishes varieties of populisms that diverge or converge with FIRE interests, and thus populisms which parties are variably geared to cater to.
    2. If the amount of Losers is not declining or in equilibrium, but is increasing, is there a problem with the effectiveness of the political system?
      1. Liberal theorists will answer 1.2 above with the Hobbesian theory that Today’s Losers are Racist White people whose pernicious impact on politics is outsized, due to their illegitimate, holdover White Privilege. It is a population that, morally, deserves a moderating comeuppance–citizenship reduction, per Hobbesian theory. Restoring the validity of the Suburban Strategy requires reducing the voice and collective action capacity of today’s Losers.
        1. This Antiracist TM antidemocratic political agenda, citizenship reduction, also reinforces expropriative FIRE interests.
        2. We note that while antidemocratic strategies to reduce the voice and collective-action capacity of today’s Losers are amply discussed by today’s Winners, there is no effort toward reducing the patently antidemocratic institutions— such as Houses of Lords (Senates), court systems, gerrymandering, electronic voting manipulation, unbounded marketing, unbounded private property legal innovation, international hoarding/tax avoidance institutions, and the electoral college–that would be amplifying right-wing populism. Nor has using wealth to build pro-democratic public institutions (public libraries, public schools, public research, public media, public transit, public planning capacity, tax enforcement, democratic property law reform, etc.) been on the liberal agenda for a couple generations.
  2. How are Winners both more supportive of “collective benefits” and “open trade and immigration”? That sounds like an unwarranted projection of contradictory preferences, or at best the preferences of a very tiny population: professional political scientists. It seems like Political Science is optimistically aggregating distinct social groups with distinct interests, and distinct electoral behaviour (“Go away, Bernie Sanders, AOC, Ilhan, and Jeremy Corbyn. Won’t someone please bring back our beloved Clintons and Biden, our dearest Blair and Giddens“), into an ersatz liberal-virtue bloc that it then terms “Winners.” Shady. That’s not social science. That’s not even economics. That kind of wishful self-delusion is going to continue to produce unexpected electoral loss. Again, however, if electoral success is only an exoteric goal, always evaluated within a framework of probability given by unacknowledged variables, then perhaps that framework, and the true goal, is simply ongoing polity support for FIRE asset expropriation. If political scientists can’t clear this up, then they have been too colonized by political parties to be recognized as scholars.

For example, here is an argument for de-democratization forwarded through the Washington Post by a Marquette political scientist (Azari, Julia. 2020. “Fix Primaries, Let Elites Decide.” Washington Post, February 18.)

Where are the Geographers?

It seems to me that Political Science, and parties, are bad at geography, which shouldn’t be surprising. They seem to use it more for justification than for valid analysis.

winnipeg growth is suburban

Despite the fact that Winnipeg’s “Active Core” is affordable and not densely-settled, 77% of Winnipeg’s population growth from 2006-2016 was in areas that require car transportation.

 

Note: The euphemism ‘preserving property values’ is doing some crazy-heavy lifting in Taylor’s litany of distinctive suburban interests above. This formulation needs to be separately deconstructed for its misleading neoclassical bias. When urban people vote for urban amenities like human-scale transit, infrastructure, quality public space, and greenspace, it’s not an altruistic irrationality induced by their lack of ownership. When urban people vote for public urban amenities, they are increasing both their own private welfare and others’ private property values (such as real estate value around high-speed transit stops), even at delayed cost to renters’ financial interests–so much so that urban property values are usually much higher in population centers than in their exclusionary, individualist suburban incarnation. Those are non-excludable goods, son. Recognize. They secretly feed the predation we lovingly call capitalism. This is a heterodox hint that economies are social– There is society, Maggie; and while capitalist law works to make value monopolized and scarce, everyone contributes to wealth.

What the economistic framework means by suggesting that suburbanites’ inferior property values are more salient to their politics is that these property values are exclusive, private smallholding goods, and so fit into neoclassical economic theory/mythology.

Why urban property values are high is because people require and want the non-exclusive public amenities on and about them, an obvious fact that a neoclassical economic framework struggles to apprehend. Economists should be troubled to explain why renters vote for public amenities that increase landlords’ property values–But at that point, all of a sudden, we’re in terra nullis outside of the orthodox econ explanatory schema: we’re apprehending capitalism as an imposed, coercively-reinforced framework permitting the exploitation and expropriation of life. So instead we remain quiet and befuddled.

But suburbanites don’t uniquely vote to increase property values. In Political Science and political party theory, suburbanites vote to maximize the inferior goods they share across their little, expensive kingdoms: car spaces, and, with political parties on their side, new public services, including light and airy new public schools. If you recognize inequality, it becomes clear that, not unlike socially-subsidized ranchers, suburbanites (are encouraged by developers to) view urban dwellers as rivals for the public investment that bolsters property value in human communities. The urbanites’ public-goods “head start” thus tends to be repressed and gutted by political parties. Especially in North America, cities without geographic advantages tend to be underdeveloped, endowed with insufficient, skeletal public goods and services, following the slaver-society model, and the built environment is in a constant state of expansionary neglect and rot.

When political parties pander to the developer-orchestrated suburban game of outrunning and outgunning urban development and property values, as they long have, they are privileging wasteful behaviour, in both post-war commercial-White Power and post-1980 commercial-multicultural incarnations. Polity players are redistributing wealth geographically to incentivize not uncertain “Baby Bird” voter imprinting, but to prop a predatory, inegalitarian theory pretending that non-commercial nonelite welfare does not contribute to value, and thus, environmental degradation, de-democratization, and social inequality are moral, fair and just.

Extrapolation from Gordon 2016

Gordon, Robert J. 2016. The Rise and Fall of American Growth. Princeton.

Note: GPT, General Purpose Technology, is the fundamental technology upon which a society is built. For example, Gordon cites both electricity and oil extraction and processing as the GPTs of the 20th century US. GPTs pave paths of technological and social-organizational dependency in which specific trajectories of subsidiary technologies are developed.

1) Kalecki thesis: capitalists fundamentally seek control, in order to secure capital, fungible social power.

a) When they have managed to constrain workers’ human-capacity development, particularly their organizing capacity, capitalist control means deploying workers as expendable, dehumanized machines. In aggregate, this takes away from developing the forces of production.

i) Conservative ideology helps reproduce the capitalist Human Waste economy, as per the slavery, servitude model.

b) Upon a Depression separating capitalist exploitation from labour, social-liberal (pro-worker) policy and institutions and war nationalism combined to promote the collective infrastructure required for rigorous subsidiary tech improvements in the US. This extremely-heightened activity, based on the war-social democracy convergence, formed the basis of the exceptional US Trente Glorieuses growth (Gordon 2016).

Social democracy sustains the worker capacitation required to maintain this tech innovation pressure. But without war nationalism, economic growth from tech innovation is moderated; affronted by worker capacitation, elites petulantly go on strike (See 1970s inflation). Conservatized liberalism dismantles social democratic developmentalist infrastructure in favor of control-prioritizing war nationalism only. Without social democracy, subsidiary tech innovation is constrained and the GPT is petrified; economic growth declines.

c) Because it does not mute working-class feedback, a philosophical-materialist, socialist-backbone society has superior capacity to collectively decide on the GPT (General Purpose Technology) governing subsidiary innovations in tech and organization. Examples of superior GPT intervention capacity: Scandinavian social democracies, Germany, China.

i) Societies that delegate GPT decisions strictly to the market, the global capitalist class, relinquish and have no capacity to guide GPT change. They serve as stupid, senseless global bulwarks against GPT shift, prioritizing predictability, ROI, and rentier capitalism (producing increasingly-absolute ownership rights). Anglo-American capitalism is an island aristocracy-designed machine for constraining and muting (torturing into a ventriloquist’s dummy, per Scarry 1985) a domestic working class in favor of maintaining a global-elite-coordinating GPT regime. Imperialism, colonialism, and the military necessarily grow out of and support this primary solution to exclusionary value accumulation (which is why capitalist marketeers once claimed that capitalism would dispense with this violent outgrowth–They misrepresented the successive outgrowth as an optional tactic in poor taste). In order to secure global elite cooperation with their leadership while disrupting societies globally, these Anglo-American model societies prioritize control over, and effective criminalization of their domestic working class, capacitating them and offering them to global elites strictly as consumers and working-class-targeting police/managers and imperial soldiers. Management, militarization, and finance are the governing economic institutions of these capitalist “core” or “metropole” societies.

Prioritizing control over, and effective criminalization of the domestic pool of workers and their families and communities (smallholders), such a global capitalist-subordinated, militarized nationalist society cannot sustain worker capacitation and does not have the capacity to collectively decide on or intervene in the GPT orientation.

Hence, the Anglo-American societies, for example, are bound to contribute increasingly to climate crisis, surveillance and carceralism, and disruptive imperialism, and dismantle or forgo public infrastructure and assets, policy and technology supporting environmental repair, and public education, libraries, and substantive democratic capacity building.

Maintaining a GPT in defiance of broad, shared human development and welfare ratchets up pressure. The belligerence sustains the aging GPT, by shifting around the mounting structural pressure building against GPT-maintenance, which further requires capitalist hoarding and militarization. Anti-social democratic regional economies most tied to the aging GPT, such as the oil states of Texas, Alberta, and Saudi Arabia, will produce the most militant, and methodically inhumane and destructive opposition to GPT shift.

See also: Erica Benner (Really-existing Nationalisms, 2018) for informed identification of Marx’s arguments (particularly in The German Ideology, also The Jewish Question, and the Grundrisse) around human development, sovereignty, including in relation to economic catch-up, and idealist philosophy and nationalist ideology traditions (as these are embedded in liberal-conservative approaches to uneven development).

 

References

Benner, Erica. 2018. Really-existing Nationalisms. Verso.

Foster, John Bellamy. 2013. “Marx, Kalecki, and Socialist Strategy.” Monthly Review, April 1.

Gordon, Robert J. 2016. The Rise and Fall of American Growth. Princeton.

Kalecki, Michal. 1971. Selected Essays on the Dynamics of the Capitalist Economy 1933-1970. Cambridge University Press.

Robinson, Joan. 1976. “Michal Kalecki, a Neglected Prophet.” The New York Review of Books, March 4.

 

Weston Price: Science at the turn of the 20th century

We have just-so stories in academia about how the dawn of the Trente Glorieuses was the era of eugenics in the West. We don’t tell–hide?–the stories about the era’s scientists, like Weston Price, who were studying people around the globe not to reinforce a story of natural human pseudo-speciation, but instead to find that humans everywhere responded similarly to similar environmental constraints. Our problem is that we are studious political illiterates. We construct political illiteracy as a hallmark of erudition.

Hoarding Pathology

“As the elite descend on Davos, Switzerland, for (Jan 21 2019) World Economic Forum, two stark stats:

• Wealth held by the world’s billionaires has grown from $3.4 trillion in 2009, right after the meltdown, to $8.9 trillion in 2017. (UBS and PwC Billionaires Insights via Bloomberg)

• The 3.8 billion people who make up the world’s poorest half saw their wealth decline by 11% last year. (Oxfam, which works to alleviate poverty, via AP)”

Marx on Capitalist Geography Trade Dynamics

“The crisis breaks out first of all in the country which has the balance of payments against it. (The balance of payments is to be distinguished from the balance of trade; the balance of payments is only the immediate situation of the balance of trade, which has to be liquidated at once, or within a definite interval.)

This country will in normal circumstances be England or the United States, i.e., either the country which gives the greatest credit and receives the least in return, or the country which receives the greatest credit, and gives the least in return.

The crisis strikes here and liquidates the immediate balance of payments. This then gives the signal ‘balance of payments’ to another nation and the same phenomena are repeated there, such as efflux of bullion, etc.

The pressure of the country in which the crisis first broke out (leaving aside the impact of the state of the English or the American money market, of credit, and of the total amount of commodities present on the world market as a whole) accelerates the approach of the due date for the balance of payments of other countries, hence a general crisis.

Whereas the due dates for the balance of payments and the balance of trade are normally separated for different nations, they are now forced together so that they occur at the same time, just as, within the country in crisis, all payments now have to be made simultaneously”

–Marx, Capital V. III (removed by Engels’ editing)

Immigration & Citizenship in the US: Theoretical Framework

Theoretical Framework

My explanation for immigration politics and policy in the US has two main social theory components: Social reproduction theory and citizenship theory.

David Abraham’s excellent citizenship theoretical framework is required for explaining immigration politics in today’s US, particularly the ideas and legal institutions constructing strong private property right and weak citizenship, as they distribute social reproduction costs and conflict upon class, racialized, and regional non-elites.

As citizenship is historicized and theorized in Abraham, racialization plays a central role in the US. Du Bois, W.E.B. 1935. “Black reconstruction in America, 1860-1880.” See footnote 48, p. 14, in the Abraham 1996 article. By demonstrating the costly impact of anti-citizenship legal and political reform on African-Americans, highlighting Du Bois‘ social scientific approach to citizenship politics shows how racialization connects citizenship rights attenuation in the US with political-economic social reproduction in the US.

Racialization reproduces appropriation (slavery). Historically, the Southern slaver elite were able to expand their slaver institutional structure throughout the rural US with the New Deal, when agriculture workers and domestic workers were exempted from citizenship rights in order to secure Southern elites’ cooperation (Quadagno, Jill. 1994. The color of welfare: How racism undermined the war on poverty).

Social reproduction theory can explain the push-and-pull material impetus to migration in capitalism, and its limits requiring symbolic domination supplement, with implications for the class, regional, and political distribution of immigration/immigrant politics and policy.

While I think his other articles can be used, particularly to state that the US has traded off expanding citizenship for weaker citizenship rights, this early article, Abraham (1996), shows how in the US, as a capitalist settler society, freedom is allocated by market power, while it is nonetheless marketed as available through a venerable, mysticizing concept, universal private property, as well as through the abstraction and celebration of physical mobility, where for elites, mobility is interest-driven cosmopolitanism, but for non-elites, mobility tends to be glorified expulsion from home, agential but not sovereign agency.

In Bourdieuian theory, which is concerned with social reproduction, such Anglo-American settler societies would thus be seen as societies of vast and pervasive symbolic domination (Distinction 1979, La Reproduction 1989, Social Structures of the Economy 2005, Manet 2017).

With the exception of post-war periods, in which citizenship rights were carved out, Americans have always been required to black-box (ignore, romanticize, or mystify) capitalism to presume, as political-economic elites have marketed since Cato the Elder in the 2nd c. BC, that citizenship rights, positive freedom, are irrelevant to non-elite liberty. Black-boxing capitalism, Americans can sink into the familiar, if degraded lullaby of Ownership Society marketing (The Ownership Society is a contemporary version of universal private property idea.), aided by a sleeping pill: freedom’s idealistic reduction to physical mobility, as proposed by that original conservativizer of liberalism, Thomas Hobbes (Leviathan, 1651).

Bourdieu’s social reproduction of capitalism theory, particularly the concepts of symbolic violence and habitus, connects to and supports the citizenship framework. According to Bourdieu, feeling “at home” results from a correspondence between our socialized habitus and the rules of the “social game” we must play. In contrast to elites’ sovereign decisions to traverse the world in pursuit of their own interests, the relocations forced (by war, by economic scarcity, by political instability) on non-elites tend to make our habituses ill-fit for our new social environments. We are displaced from home. This theory points out, contra settler country symbolic domination (mandatory romanticization of mobility, idealizing it by abstracting all mobility as if it were elite cosmopolitan mobility), that migration is a distinctive and unequal experience, based on class. The settler-society misrecognition of mobility’s relation to liberty, particularly the notion that migration is to the unambiguous advantage of migrants (equated, in exception-centering idealist philosophy, with the interests of cosmopolitan elites), influences immigration and citizenship politics and policy.

Marxist-feminist and World-ecology social reproduction theory allows for the establishment of the political-economy material incentives background to the politics of immigration.

There is mismatch between cost of living in capitalist countries, wages v. profits, and population reproduction (Kollontai 1915). This incentivizes immigration, and by extension, wars that “loosen” populations from their homes and force them to migrate to the core countries.

As the US hinterlands have been increasingly used, with financialization, as pollution sinks and sources of rents, business owners (such as construction firm owners and their organizations) organize to further expand slavers’ labor institutions, shifting more weight in the US to the rentier appropriation base of the capitalist economy. The relation between the “island” of capitalist exploitation upon the “sea” of appropriation of nature and human work is theorized in Moore, Jason. 2015. Capitalism in the Web of Life, a contemporary work of social reproduction theory.

The Abraham 1996 and 2000 articles are necessary for understanding the profound political rift over immigration in the US, where the US’s liberal polity protects a cosmopolitan business class’ negative rights to protection from states and people. In effect, when liberal polities’ law and institutions privilege private property right and negative rights—as the US does absolutely—they are recognizing the full citizenship not of the population within their borders, but of the global capitalist class, whose control over property and people permit that global class to exclusively realize negative rights.  That drastically deprioritizes and reduces remnant “citizenship rights” for the human residents, “citizens,” and migrants within Anglo-American liberal countries’ borders, particularly as these are not business interests, to ad hoc legislative protections, as articulated expressly and repeatedly by US jurists and in constitutional law.

While there is no formal reason why legislatures cannot pass ad hoc protections for migrants in liberal countries, these are not protected in constitutional law and not protected effectively in institutions. Legislation depends upon relative capacity for political mobilization. But the constraint is the fundamental state protection for capitalists, heavily incentivizing the inclusion of capitalists in any political coalition addressing Anglo-American legislation.

The exact same is true for territorial “citizens” of liberal regimes. Because there’s no reliable state protection of positive rights that allow the realization of substantive values (beyond raw power, as anteriorly constructed through the market), there’s not much, durable difference between “citizens” and migrants in liberal law and institutions. In liberal countries, the difference is between global capitalists/corporations on the one hand, and non-owners on the other. (So for example, on behalf of global capital, the US and Canada can support coups against democratically-elected leaders in countries, like Venezuela, that are perhaps liberal, but do not have property right & negative rights absolutism as Anglo-American liberal countries do.)

In Anglo-American liberal regimes, positive rights for territorial populations can only be secured in ad hoc-fashion, temporarily through political organization, which induces coalition politics around state-protected, market-empowered actors from the business class. For example, in Canada, hard-won positive language and cultural rights, as well as hard-won, institutionalized health care legislation (legislated but also institutionalized) maintain a wobbly exception to absolute private property and negative rights (Causing jurists “anxiety”). In the early 20th century, economic failure, wars, and internationalist working class political organization produced legislated, institutionalized (and into the late 1960s, even some constitutional theory) ad hoc positive rights incursions on absolute private property  & negative rights in the US, but these were revoked from the 1970s on.

Today, we’re seeing different factions of capital leading two coalitions trying to realize or maintain rights at the legislative level. One is signaling support for citizenship recognition and rights for the territorial population, but the signal is weak—a wall, imprisonment for immigrants and migrants. The coalition is heavily constrained by its business-class leadership. The other, an Open Border coalition, contains a superficially-broader range of interests and power, but is also heavily constrained by its capitalist leadership’s state-protected advantages. The Open Borders coalition tries to ensure that positive rights for territorial life residents (formal “citizens”) do not replace the existing framework of private property and negative rights, as that framework rejects Enlightenment values (such as human dignity) and thereupon equally forbids the positive rights of life-residents, immigrants, and migrants. Where the right-“populist” coalition must be satisfied by symbolic gestures toward territorial “citizenship” far off any positive-rights target, the left-populist coalition is equally confined, safely within the conservative tradition, to rivalristic negative-rights policing.

Because these are not an internationalist political mobilization, neither political coalition is substantively challenging the Anglo-American liberal proscription of substantive universal citizenship, protected in law and institutions, for humans living within (however long) or crossing through the territory. The fundamental dedication of Anglo-American liberalism, to protect global capital from states and humans, in the conservatizing era remains unchallenged, not only in theory, law, and institutions, but in politics and ideology as well.

To move beyond Anglo-American states as the states of global capitalists requires political organization led by internationalist workers. But even that massive, coordinated effort can only effect ad-hoc legislation and temporary institutionalization. If Anglo-American states are ever to protect “human” rights, including positive rights for workers, their constitutional structures will have to be dismantled and built differently. That can only be done through global class war.

When other working classes blame “Americans” for what happens in the US, it may be a cute invocation of Loyalism, for example. It’s also profoundly reactionary, and it signals loud and clear that those nationalistic, unsolidaristic working classes are similarly yoked by capitalist leadership, and in no position to engage emancipatory internationalism.

 

Bibliography

Abraham, David. 1996. “Liberty without Equality: The Property-rights Connection in a Negative Citizenship Regime,” 21 Law & Social Inquiry 1: 1-65.

Abraham, David. 2000. “The Good of Banality?: The Emergence of Cost-benefit Analysis and Proportionality in the Treatment of Aliens in the US and Germany.” Citizenship Studies 4(3): 237-253.

Abraham, David. 2002. “Citizenship solidarity and Rights Individualism: On the Decline of National Citizenship in the U.S., Germany, and Israel.” Working Paper 53, Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, University of California, San Diego.

Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction 1979, La Reproduction 1989, Social Structures of the Economy 2005, Manet: A Symbolic Revolution 2017.

Du Bois, W.E.B. 1935. Black reconstruction in America, 1860-1880.

Gill, Stephen and A. Claire Cutler, eds. 2015. New Constitutionalism and World Order. Cambridge University Press.

Gill, Stephen and Isabella Bakker. 2006. “New Constitutionalism and the Social Reproduction of Caring Institutions.” Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 27: 35-57.

Hobbes, Thomas. 1651. Leviathan.

Jefferson, Thomas.

Kollontai, Alexandra. 1915. “Preface” to the book, Society and Motherhood.

Losurdo, Domenico. 2011. Liberalism: A Counter-history. Verso.

Moore, Jason. 2015. Capitalism in the Web of Life.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. 1762. The Social Contract or Principles of Political Right.

Quadagno, Jill. 1994. The color of welfare: How racism undermined the war on poverty.

Wilson, David L. 2017. “Marx on Immigration,” Monthly Review.

Recognized Work: Exploitation v Expropriation

Project: The function of symbolic representations of work and creativity in the politics of securing space for exploitation v. space for expropriation

Colonial claims on territory have long been bolstered by discourses recognizing and withholding recognition of human work upon the landscape. As these discourses have operated and been codified in moral economy and law, they have in turn reconstructed some people as fully human and others as inhuman.

Neoliberal symbolic constructions of “creativity” (creative class, creative metropole zones) function to create shared norms around what we can recognize as human making and what we collectively misrecognize as inhuman work that may be discounted, disrupted, dismantled, polluted: either “natural landscapes” or zones of unmaking.

The perspective we take when we engage in collective projects valorizing “creativity” should be examined for the ways in which it reflects going capitalist interests, and reconstructs “ruined,” expendable, expropriable, pollution-sink spaces and people bereft of “creativity.”

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.