Category Archives: derivatives

The Banality of Evil Creeps into those Who Believe They Are Good

I was at a city hall meeting in Beaverton, Oregon, the other day when a few questions I had for the presenters dropped jaws. We’ll get to that later, the jaw-dropping effect I and those of my ilk have when we end up in the controlled boardrooms and chambers of the controllers – bureaucrats, public-private clubs like Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, and both political operatives and those who liken themselves as the great planners of the world moving communities and housing and public commons around a giant chessboard to make things better for and more efficient in spite of us.

Look, I am now a social worker who once was a print journalist who once was a part-time college instructor (freeway flyer adjunct teaching double the load of a tenured faculty) facilitating literature, writing, rhetoric classes, and others. The power of those “planners” and “institutional leadership wonks” and those Deanlets and Admin Class and HR pros and VPs and Provosts to swat down a radical but effective teacher/faculty/instructor/lecturer isn’t (or wasn’t then) so surprising. I was one of hundreds of thousands of faculty, adjunct,  hit with 11th Hour appointments, Just-in-Time gigs and called one-week-into-the-semester with offers to teach temporarily. Then, the next logical step of precarity was when a dean or department head or someone higher got wind of a disgruntled student, or helicopter (now drone) parent who didn’t like me teaching Sapphire or Chalmers Johnson or Earth Liberation Front or Ward Churchill in critical thinking classes, it was common to get only one or many times no classes the following semester. De facto fired. They fought and fought against unemployment benefits.

Here’s one paragraph that got me sanctioned while teaching in Spokane, at both Gonzaga and the community college:

As for those in the World Trade Center… Well, really, let’s get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break. They formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America’s global financial empire—the “mighty engine of profit” to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved—and they did so both willingly and knowingly. Recourse to “ignorance”—a derivative, after all, of the word “ignore”—counts as less than an excuse among this relatively well-educated elite. To the extent that any of them were unaware of the costs and consequences to others of what they were involved in—and in many cases excelling at—it was because of their absolute refusal to see. More likely, it was because they were too busy braying, incessantly and self-importantly, into their cell phones, arranging power lunches and stock transactions, each of which translated, conveniently out of sight, mind and smelling distance, into the starved and rotting flesh of infants. If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I’d really be interested in hearing about it.

We are talking 17 years ago, Ward Churchill. The Little Eichmann reference goes back to the 1960s, and the root of it goes to Hannah Ardent looking at the trial of Adolf Eichmann, more or a less a middle man who helped get Jews into trains and eventually onto concentration camps and then marched into gas chambers. The banality of evil was her term from a 1963 book. So this Eichmann relied on propaganda against Jews and radicals and other undesirables rather than thinking for himself. Careerism at its ugliest, doing the bureaucratic work to advance a career and then at the Trial, displayed this “Common” personality that did not belie a psychopathic tendency. Of course, Ardent got raked over the coals for this observation and for her book, Eichmann in Jerusalem.

When I use the term, Little Eichmann, I broadly hinge it to the persons that live that more or less sacred American Mad Men lifestyle, with 401k’s, trips to Hawaii, cabins at the lake, who sometimes are the poverty pimps in the social services, but who indeed make daily decisions that negatively and drastically affect the lives of millions of people. In the case of tanned Vail skiers who work for Raytheon developing guidance systems and sophisticated satellite tethers and surveillance systems, who vote democrat and do triathlons, that Little Eichmann archetype also comes to mind. Evil, well, that is a tougher analysis  – mal, well, that succinctly means bad. I see evil or bad or maladaptive and malicious on a spectrum, like autism spectrum disorders.

Back to Beaverton City Hall: As I said, last week I was at this meeting about a “safe parking” policy, a pilot program for this city hooked to the Portland Metro area, where Intel is sited, and in one of the fastest growing counties in Oregon. Safe parking is all a jumbo in its implications: but for the city of Beaverton the program’s intent is to get three spaces, parking slots from each entity participating, for homeless people to set up their vehicles from which to live and dine and recreate. Old Taurus sedans, beat-up Dodge vans, maybe a 20-foot 1985 RV covered in black mold or Pacific Northwest moss. The City will put in $30,000 for a non-profit to manage these 15 or 20 spaces, and the city will put in a porta-potty and a small storage pod (in the fourth space) for belongings on each property.

This is how Portland’s tri-city locale plans to “solve” the homeless problem: live in your vehicles, with all manner of physical ailments (number one for Americans, bad backs) and all manner of mental health issues and all manner of work schedules. Cars, the new normal for housing in the world’s number one super power.

This is the band-aid on the sucking chest wound. This is a bizarre thing in a state with Nike as its brand, that Phil Knight throwing millions into a Republican gubernatorial candidate for governor’s coffers. Of course, the necessity of getting churches and large non-profits with a few empty parking spaces for houseless persons is based on more of the Little Eichmann syndrome – the city fathers and mothers, the business community, the cops, and all those elites and NIMBYs (not in my backyard) voted to make it illegal to sleep in your vehicle along the public right away, or, along streets and alleys. That’s the rub, the law was passed, and now it’s $300 fine, more upon second offense, and then, 30 days in jail for repeat offense: for sleeping off a 12-hour shift at Amazon warehouse or 14-hour shift as forklift operator for Safeway distribution center.

So these overpaid uniformed bureaucrats with SWAT armament and armored vehicles and $50 an hour overtime gigs and retirement accounts will be knocking on the fogged-over windows of our sisters/ brothers, aunties/uncles, cousins, moms/dads, grandparents, daughters/sons living the Life of Riley in their two-door Honda Accords.

Hmm, more than 12 million empty homes in the richest country in the world. Millions of other buildings empty. Plots of land by the gazillion. And, we have several million homeless, and tens of millions one layoff, one heart-attack, one arrest away from homelessness.

The first question was why we aren’t working on shutting down the illegal and inhumane law that even allows the police to harass people living in their cars? The next question was why parking spaces for cars? Certainly, all that overstock inventory in all those Pacific Northwest travel trailer and camper lots would be a source of a better living space moved to those vaunted few (20) parking spaces: or what about all those used trailers up for sale on Craig’s List? You think Nike Boy could help get his brethren to pony up a few million for trailers? What worse way to treat diabetic houseless people with cramped quarters? What fine way to treat a PTSD survivor with six windows in a Chevy with eight by four living space for two humans, a dog, and all their belongings and food.

The people at this meeting, well, I know most are empathetic, but even those have minds colonized by the cotton-ball-on-the-head wound solution thinking. All this energy, all the Power Points, all the meeting after meeting, all the solicitation and begging for 20 parking spaces and they hope for a shower source, too, as well as an internet link (for job hunting, etc.)  and maybe a place to cook a meal.

While housing vacancy has long been a problem in America, especially in economically distressed places, vacancies surged in the wake of the economic crisis of 2008. The number of unoccupied homes jumped by 26 percent—from 9.5 to 12 million between 2005 and 2010. Many people (and many urbanists) see vacancy and abandoned housing as problems of distressed cities, but small towns and rural communities have vacancy rates that are roughly double that of metropolitan areas, according to the study.

This is the insanity of these Little Eichmanns: The number of cities that have made homelessness a crime! Then, getting a few churches to open up parking slots for a few people to “try and get resources and wrap around services to end their homelessness.” Here are the facts — the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty states there are over 200 cities that have created these Little Eichmann (my terminology) municipal bans on camping or sleeping outside, increasing by more than 50 percent since 2011. Theses bans include various human survival and daily activities of living processes, from camping and sitting in particular outdoor places, to loitering and begging in public to sleeping in vehicles.

I am living hand to mouth, so to speak. I make $17 an hour with two master’s degrees and a shit load of experience and depth of both character and solutions-driven energy. This is the way of the world, brother, age 61, and living the dream in Hops-Blazers-Nike City, in the state of no return Nike/Oregon Ducks. Man oh man, those gridlock days commuting to and from work. Man, all those people outside my apartment building living in their vehicles (I live in Vancouver) and all those people who have to rotate where they live, while calling Ford minivan home, moving their stuff every week, so the Clark County Sheriff Department doesn’t ticket, bust and worse, impound.

I have gotten a few teeth – dentures — for some of these people. Finding funding to have a pretty rancid and nasty old guy in Portland measure, model and mold for a fitting. That’s, of course, if the people have their teeth already pulled out.

Abscesses and limps and back braces and walkers and nephritic livers and dying flesh and scabies and, hell, just plain old BO. Yet, these folk are working the FedEx conveyor belts, packaging those Harry and David apples, folding and stacking all those Black Friday flyers.

Living the high life. And, yet, these Little Eichmanns would attempt to say, or ask, “Why do they all have smart phones . . . they smoke and vape and some of them drink? Wasteful, no wonder they are homeless.”

So that line of thinking comes and goes, from the deplorables of the Trump species to the so-self vaunted elite. They drink after a hard day’s work, these houseless people. Yet, all those put-together Portlanders with two-income heads of household, double Prius driveways, all that REI gear ready for ski season, well, I bicycle those ‘hoods and see the recycle bins on trash day, filled to the brim with IPA bottles, affordable local wine bottles, and bottles from those enticing brews in the spirit world.

So self-medicating with $250K dual incomes, fancy home, hipster lifestyles, but they’d begrudge houseless amputees who have to work the cash register at a Plaid Pantry on 12 hour shifts?

I have been recriminated for not having tenure, for not being an editor, for not retired with a pension, for not having that Oprah Pick in bookstores, for not having a steady career, for working long-ass hours as a social worker. The recrimination is magnificent and goes around all corners of this flagging empire. Pre-Trump, Pre-Obama, Pre-Clinton, Pre-Bush. Oh, man, that Ray-gun:

He had a villain, who was not a real welfare cheat or emblamtic of people needing welfare assistance to live back then in a troubling world of Gilded Age haves and haves not. That was January 1976, when Reagan announced that this Welfare Queen was using ”80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security, veterans benefits for four nonexistent, deceased veteran husbands, as well as welfare. Her tax-free cash income alone has been running $150,000 a year.”

Four decades later, we have the same dude in office, the aberration of neoliberalism and collective amnesia and incessant ignorance in what I deem now as Homo Consumopithecus and Homo Retailapithecus. Reagan had that crowd eating out of his hands as he used his B-Grade Thespian licks to stress the numbers – “one hundred and fifty thousand dollars.”

Poverty rose to the top of the public agenda in the 1960s, in part spurred by the publication of Michael Harrington’s The Other America: Poverty in the United States. Harrington’s 1962 book made a claim that shocked the nation at a time when it was experiencing a period of unprecedented affluence: based on the best available evidence, between 40 million and 50 million Americans—20 to 25 percent of the nation’s population—still lived in poverty, suffering from “inadequate housing, medicine, food, and opportunity.”

Shedding light on the lives of the poor from New York to Appalachia to the Deep South, Harrington’s book asked how it was possible that so much poverty existed in a land of such prosperity. It challenged the country to ask what it was prepared to do about it.

So, somehow, all those people reminding me that my job history has been all based on my passions, my avocations, my dreams, that I should be proud being able to work at poverty level incomes as a small town newspaper reporter, or that I was able to teach so many people in gang reduction programs, at universities and colleges, in alternative schools, in prisons and elsewhere, at poverty wages; or that I was able to get poems published here and stories published there and that I have a short story collection coming out in 2019 at zero profit, or that I am doing God’s work as a homeless veterans counselor, again, at those Trump-loving, Bezos-embracing poverty wages.

Oh, man, oh man, all those countries I visited and worked in, all those people whose lives I changed, and here I am, one motorcycle accident away from the poor house, except there is no poor house.

Daily, I see the results of military sexual trauma, of incessant physical abuse as active duty military, infinite anxiety and cognitive disorders, a truck load of amputated feet and legs, and unending COPD, congestive heart failure, and overall bodies of a 70-year-old hampering 30-year-old men and women veterans.

They get this old radical environmentalist, vegan, in-your-face teacher, and a huge case of heart and passion, and I challenge them to think hard about how they have been duped, but for the most part, none of the ex-soldiers have even heard of the (two-star) Major General who wrote the small tome, War is a Racket:

WAR is a racket. It always has been.

It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

In the World War I a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War. That many admitted their huge blood gains in their income tax returns. How many other war millionaires falsified their tax returns no one knows.

How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dug-out? How many of them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun bullets? How many of them parried a bayonet thrust of an enemy?

How many of them were wounded or killed in battle?

Out of war nations acquire additional territory, if they are victorious.

They just take it. This newly acquired territory promptly is exploited by the few — the selfsame few who wrung dollars out of blood in the war. The general public shoulders the bill.

And what is this bill?

This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations.

For a great many years, as a soldier, I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not until I retired to civil life did I fully realize it. Now that I see the international war clouds gathering, as they are today, I must face it and speak out.

More fitting now than ever, General Butler’s words. Structural violence is also the war of the billionaires and millionaires against the rest of us, marks and suckers born every nanosecond in their eyes. Disaster Capitalism is violence. Parasitic investing is war. Hostile takeovers are was. Hedge funds poisoning retirement funds and billions wasted/stolen to manage (sic) this dirty money are war. Forced arbitration is war. PayDay loans are war. Wells Fargo stealing homes is war. Lead in New Jersey cities’ pipes is war. Hog  excrement/toxins/blood/aborted fetuses pound scum sprayed onto land near poor communities is war. Fence lining polluting industries against poor and minority populations is war.

So is making it illegal to sit on a curb, hold a sign asking for a handout;  so is the fact there are millions of empty buildings collecting black mold and tax deferments. War is offshore accounts, and war is a society plugged into forced, perceived and planned obsolescence.

Some of us are battle weary, and others trudge on, soldiers against the machine, against the fascism of the market place, the fascism of the tools of the propagandists.

Some of us ask the tricky questions at meetings and conferences and confabs: When are you big wigs, honchos, going to give up a few hours a week pay for others to get in on the pay? When are you going to open up that old truck depot for homeless to build tiny homes?

When are you going to have the balls to get the heads of Boeing, Nike, Adidas, Intel, the lot of them, to come to our fogged-up station wagon windows in your safe parking zones to show them how some of their mainline workers and tangential workers who support their billions in profits really live?

How many millionaires are chain migrating from California or Texas, coming into the Portland arena who might have the heart to help fund 15 or 30 acres out there in Beavercreek (Clackamas, Oregon) to set up intentional communities for both veterans and non veterans, inter-generational population, with permaculture, therapy dog training, you name it, around a prayer circle, a sweat lodge, and community garden and commercial kitchen to sell those herbs and veggies to those two-income wonders who scoff at my bottle of cheap Vodka while they fly around and bike around on their wine tours and whiskey bar rounds? Micro homes and tiny homes.

My old man was in the Air Force for 12 years, which got the family to the Azores, Albuquerque, Maryland, and then he got an officer commission in the Army, for 20 years, which got the family to Germany, UK, Paris, Spain and other locales, and I know hands down he’d be spinning and turning in his grave if he was alive and here to witness not only the mistreatment of schmucks out of the military with horrendous ailments, but also the mistreatment of college students with $80K loans to be nurses or social workers. He’d be his own energy source spinning in his grave at Fort Huachuca if he was around, after being shot in Korea and twice in Vietnam, to witness social security on the chopping block, real wages at 1970 levels, old people begging on the streets, library hours waning, public education being privatized and dumb downed, and millions of acres of public sold to the “I don’t need no stinkin’ badge” big energy thugs.

I might be embarrassed if he was around, me at age 61, wasted three college degrees, living the dream of apartment life, no 401k or state retirement balloon payment on the horizon, no real estate or stocks and bonds stashed away, nothing, after all of this toil to actually have given to society, in all my communist, atheistic glory.

But there is no shame in that, in my bones, working my ass off until the last breath, and on my t-shirt, I’d have a stick figure, with a stack of free bus tickets, journalism awards, and housing vouchers all piled around me with the (thanks National Rifle Association) meme stenciled on my back:

You can have my social worker and teaching credentials and press passes when you pry them from my cold dead hands!

Larry Summers Trips Out

In a recent Financial Times article, Harvard economics professor and former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers describes his excellent adventure driving from Chicago to Portland. As Summers writes, it “was a trip different to any I had ever taken,” full of revelations for someone who usually only travels long distances by plane.

Summers and his wife took two weeks to drive on two-lane roads across prairies and mountains, from Dubuque to Cody to Bozeman and beyond, “marveling at how much of this vast country is uninhabited.” They were sometimes far from any gas stations and even farther from phone chargers. Occasionally they had no mobile phone service at all!

Okay, so not exactly a Jack Kerouac odyssey, but well outside the Summers Comfort Zones of Cambridge, the Vineyard, Georgetown, Manhattan, et al.

Braving flyover country, separated from his usual tribe of “business leaders and cosmopolitan elites who are more worried about the concerns of their conference mates in Davos than those of their fellow citizens,” Summers marveled that local people in bars and restaurants where he stopped did not seem concerned with the ongoing saga of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation process.

And Summers noted with some puzzlement that “People in most of the places we visited have tended to vote Republican in recent decades.”

By far the most surprising revelation of the Summers travelogue was how surprised he seemed to be by what he was seeing.

Because, Larry, Larry, Larry, you’re the reason! Those were your economic policies during the Clinton years that shaped the country many of us have long known, but where you’re just now arriving. You were a senior Treasury official during that entire era and top dog, Secretary of the Treasury, from 1999 to 2001.

You advocated repealing key provisions of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act that regulated banks for more than sixty years. And you helped frustrate efforts to regulate the derivatives that many analysts blame for the 2008 financial crisis. Foreshadowing Trumpian environmentalism, you argued that the U.S. should not honor the Kyoto Protocol or take the lead in greenhouse gas reductions.

You signed off on NAFTA! Even Ross Perot knew that was a bad idea, sending millions of jobs overseas and creating many of those “romantic ghost towns” and “abandoned cafes, gas stations and hotels” across the nation you are now so astonished to behold. From such ruins an opioid epidemic has arisen, with its suicidal rituals of despair. Did you happen to catch any whiff of that?

How complicit were you? Did you also advise Bill to end “welfare as we know it,” destroying the safety net for millions of our poorest citizens? Did you sign off on Bill’s “three-strikes” crime laws that mandated life sentences for repeat offenders, even non-violent offenders, creating the mass incarceration for which the USA is justly infamous?

You and Clinton were nominal Democrats, but you bent over backwards to placate Newt Gingrich so Bill could get re-elected (only to be impeached). What’s the point of voting for Democrats like you? Of course, we didn’t vote for you.

You returned to government in the Obama years to direct the National Economic Council response to the 2008 economic meltdown that you had helped to create. You bailed out the big banks but not their client victims. That may have pleased your friends in Davos and the Hamptons, Larry, but it didn’t help many people in Dubuque or Bozeman. You’re probably lucky that no one on your journey knew who the hell you were or they might have spoiled your lunch.

Do you really wonder why so many denizens of devastated communities voted Republican in recent decades?

Of course, political choice for the 99 percent consists of Tweedledumb or Tweedledumber. Why would anyone outside the Bos-Wash corridor bother with Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation process? The fix was in for his Supreme Court appointment from the git go, regardless of what evidence anyone, especially any offended female, might produce to undermine his fitness for the job.

Government of the people, by the people, for the people is a catchy, empty phrase for most of those who live between the coasts or on them, outside the privileged enclaves you frequent, Larry. The incessant media chatter is so much white (and token black) noise. Blah blah. Nothing to do with day-to-day reality.

And those Depression-era public works you admired – the libraries and courthouses, the bridges and national parks – are stately reminders that federal government largesse in communities big and small has vanished in recent decades. “Infrastructure” is just another content-free political buzzword. Like “public schools.” Our permanent war economy leaves less and less for the common good. We are really waging war on ourselves.

So, well, anyway, Larry, despite some of your dubious conclusions about your amazing journey into America’s dark heartland, it’s probably good that you finally caught a glimpse of reality on the ground, where many of your actions have had devastating consequences and most of your fellow citizens actually live.

But Larry, Larry, Larry, what took you so long?

A Million Dollars Isn’t Worth, In Value, What It Used To Be

One of the primary economic paradoxes that has always perked the curiosity of both bourgeois and Marxist political economists alike can be neatly encapsulated in a notorious quip uttered by the famous New York Yankee’s catcher and manager, Yogi Berra, who, once upon a time, famously pronounced: “a nickel isn’t worth a dime, anymore”.

In this simple Yogism lies one of the primary post-modern financial mechanisms by which neoliberal bourgeois-capitalists have sucked value out of the workforce/population, under the cover of western economic opulence, into their own coffers to the bewilderment and detriment of the workforce/population, which slowly sinks ever-deeper into debt misery.  Behind Berra’s quip rests a capitalist sleight of hand, which pivots on the hidden properties of post-modern value-determinations, embodied in fiat-money and wealth. Namely, what Berra’s quip points to is a transfer, or fluctuation, of “worth” over time and space, between a nickel and a dime, despite the fact that the relation between a nickel and a dime remains at face-value technically unchanged and timeless. Berra’s quip points to the declining value of money in society, meaning the declining purchasing power of money, year in and year out, over the passing decades. And this, in a nutshell, is the essence of the rising financial inequality festering across post-industrial, post-modern, bourgeois-state-capitalism.

Unpacking this conundrum is no small feat as this sleight of hand lies at the center of the extraction and accumulation of capitalist profits.  First and foremost, to begin with, this capitalist sleight of hand; i.e., financial mechanism, was initially made possible by western capitalist economies when these western capitalist economies abandoned the gold-standard roughly in the early 1970s. This unfastening of wealth from gold detached value from any manner of universal measurement and/or points of reference which in the past could always be boiled down to the value of gold. Meaning, gold kept the relation between value and money (wealth), static, stable, and most importantly, honest. And, with the abandonment of the gold-standard, the relation between value and money (wealth) became increasingly arbitrary, ambiguous, and devoid of any solid referential basis. Namely, price, value, and wage, that is, value and money (wealth), went post-modern via the abandonment of the gold-standard.

Value and money (wealth) was unfastened and increasingly made subject to the arbitrary whims of bourgeois capitalists. That is, value, price and wage; i.e., value and money (wealth) became increasingly subject to the influence of power and power-relations, which is to say value and money (wealth) increasingly became subject to a new, post-modern, economic base, a base founded on force, influence and state-finance-corporate-networks. When gold was abandoned, the vacuum it left was filled by force, influence, and network-power, whereupon the relation between value and money (wealth) became increasingly a matter of influence, force and power. That is, a matter of networks and power-blocs, capable of determining, stabilizing, and managing the relation between value and money (wealth), according to their own perceived arbitrary standards and artificial determinations. This includes also the artificial, arbitrary, determination of value, price and wage through capitalist networks and power-blocs.

Consequently, the abandonment of the gold-standard opened western capitalist economies to new economic maneuvers, schemes, manipulations, and financial mechanisms, designed to increase capitalist profits for those select few who have the means and the power to do so. The result is, and continues to be, a vast globalized transfer of value from the globalized workforce/population to a small, globalized state-finance-corporate-aristocracy. Specifically, a capitalist aristocracy, which incessantly orchestrates this value-transfer via hidden value/price machinations, which have significantly destabilized the relation between value and money (wealth), while keeping the superficial structure of value and money (wealth) intact and unchanged. Yogi Berra’s witticism apprehends this capitalist trick very well. And, in addition, it is quite apropos that the initiator of post-industrial, post-modern, political-economics, via the abandonment of the gold-standard, should be a man aptly referred to as “Tricky Dick”, which was the informal, derisive, nickname for President Richard Nixon.

When Nixon removed the US economy off the gold-standard, a decision which was eventually adopted by all western economies, it ultimately set forth a post-modern gold rush, namely, a gold-rush grounded in financial manipulations and arbitrary values that would catapult and transform the banking and financial sectors into the premier economic vanguards of neoliberal capitalism, itself. The reason being, the capitalist-system, having gone off the gold standard, and now based on fiat-money, both digital and otherwise, was essentially empowered and privy to create money, seemingly out of nothing, namely, out of thin-air, so as to stimulate incessant capitalist growth and capitalist development.

However, contrary to Marxists, who state that no banking or financial institution whatsoever can create value out of thin-air, this is not really the case when it comes to the abandonment of the gold-standard and fiat money, despite some Marxists and bourgeois economists claiming the opposite. Granted, the creation of money by the central banks, including various financial institutions, appears like the creation of value out of thin-air, but this is not the case in the sense that what actually happens is that the illusion of instant money-creation; i.e., the instant creation of new fiat-money is, in fact, designed to dilute the total sum of value circulating across all sectors of the capitalist-system. The creation of new instant-money merely dilutes value across a larger monetary (wealth and capital) terrain and numerical sum wherefore a million dollars is no longer worth in value what it used to be. This means that there is less value being represented in every dollar with every financial injection of newly minted fiat-money.

Therefore, as Yogi Berra aptly stated “a nickel isn’t worth a dime, anymore”, and the reason is that any increase in fiat-money dilutes value over a larger sum of money (wealth), digital or otherwise, to such a radical extent that, according to Negri and Hardt, capitalists are “no longer able to measure value adequately. [Moreover, due to this dilution process] value can no longer be measured in terms of …labor-time”,1 meaning, that all modern labor theories of value, Marxist or bourgeois, are no longer applicable in the determination of value, price and wage, as “money [has been] unmoored in [this] phase of [complete] financial control”.2

In addition, these injections of instantaneous fiat-money into the economy tend to have the added consequence of resulting in the speed-up of circulation, production, consumption and distribution, both for capitalists and the general-population. The setting of interest rates by banking and financial institutions are supposedly designed to control inflation, but, in fact, they merely hide and veil the dilution of value across a wider economic terrain and a greater numerical sum of money and wealth. That is, interest rates conceal the dilution of value and help ease the transition into greater levels of value-dilution, including the fact that there is less purchasing power embodied in every dollar. Furthermore, the dilution of value, concealed in interest rate manipulations by the central banks and various financial institutions, permit the state-finance-corporate-aristocracy to absorb greater levels of capitalist profits through the cloak of natural inflation, and through the arbitrary manipulation of price, value and wage.

This process enables the state-finance-corporate-aristocracy to suck more value out of the general-population than it allocates unto them via the creation of new instant-money. That is, despite the general-population having access to, and having, more money and wealth than it previously had, the value laid-out across this money and this wealth, is significantly less than previous, due to the instantaneous manifestation of fiat-money, which has significantly increased the numerical sum of money and wealth, thus diluting value over a larger terrain of money and wealth.

To recap:

(1) value is diluted in and across the capitalist economy when money is instantaneously created by the central banks and/or various financial institutions. Meaning, that a million dollars is worth less in value than it previously was; and, moreover, this means that the attainment of a million dollars is easier for the general-population because there is more money circulating in and across the economy, which stimulates the general-population to work harder and buy more. Simultaneously, this also means that one billion dollars is in reach, which decades ago was virtually inconceivable. Notwithstanding, there is less value embodied in the sum of money and wealth, due to value having been diluted over a larger capitalist terrain.

(2) Injections of instant money in and across the economy also means that a person needs more of money (wealth) to acquire commodities due to the fact that commodity-prices, subject to inflation, tend to increase over an extended period of time and space. Notwithstanding, interest rate manipulations ease inflation and any sharp rise in prices, while permitting capitalists certain leeway to increase capitalist profits through the imposition of arbitrary mark-ups, which are validated on the premise of inflation and ever-increasing costs of production. However, these price mark-ups, which are, in fact, arbitrary and artificial fabrications by power-blocs and corporate-networks, always exceed inflation and the new production-costs, allowing for the cultivation of greater capitalist profits and value out of the workforce and the general-population.

The whole financial mechanistic process of the dilution of value is designed to trick the general-population, through a capitalist sleight of hand, by giving the general-population access to greater sums of money (wealth), while simultaneously radically decreasing the value embodied in these greater sums of money and wealth, which means that the general-population has access to less and less value, despite having access to more and more money. The value of the money and wealth, which the general-population has access to, is now worth significantly less than it was prior to the injection of new instantaneous fiat-money by banking and financial institutions. Ultimately, this means the general-population, in reality, has less purchasing power and is worth less with every increase in the numerical sum of money, the reason being the fact that value is diluted over a greater sum of money and wealth.

To sustain its current level of value and purchasing power in its own possession, the workforce/population has to work harder and longer with every new instantaneous creation of fiat-money by the central banks. If it is unable to do this, which on most counts this is the case, then the level of value and purchasing power in the possession of the workforce/population goes down and is transferred to the state-finance-corporate-aristocracy.

For example, in the United-States, the money supply grew “from 6.407 trillion in January 2005, to 18.136 trillion in January 2009”3, which had a profound effect on the relation between value and money (wealth), during this time-frame, as this fiat-money creation out of thin air diluted the amount of value embodied in every dollar. The result was increasing financial inequality between the state-finance-corporate-aristocracy and the workforce/population, including the creation of an ever-widening chasm between value and money (wealth), despite keeping the value-structure of money intact. Moreover, this has also enabled the state-finance-corporate-aristocracy to raise the amount of money (wealth) needed for the general-population to purchase commodities via arbitrary value, price and wage-determinations, founded on nothing but power; i.e., the power to set price, value and wage, according to what an entity can get away with.

According to Negri and Hardt, in the age of post-industrial, post-modern capitalism, “how do [one] measure the value of knowledge, or information, or a relationship of care or trust, or the basic results of education or health services?”4 The answer is derivatives. For Hardt and Negri, “derivatives are part of finance’s response to the problem of measure”5 in the sense that “derivatives and derivative markets…operate…[to] establish commensurability, making an extraordinary wide range of existing and future assets measurable against one another”5. In effect, derivatives bundle together a variety of radically different commodities into a singular finance-commodity, which is then subjected to an arbitrary price and traded unto the global market. Through this economic process, derivatives provide an arbitrary marker for unknown values embodied in highly immeasurable objects, commodities, services etc., which are both conceptual and material in nature.

As Hardt and Negri state, “derivatives …make all manner of capitals across disparate spheres of place, sector and characteristic commensurate with one another”.5 However, what Hardt and Negri fail to see is that derivatives are highly arbitrary and artificial determinations, more or less, artificially fabricated values and prices, founded on the premise of power, that is, the power embodied in the specific ruling capitalist networks and power-blocs, which govern and dominate specific spheres of production such as finance. Derivatives are fictional manifestations and commodities, whose value and price-determinations have nothing to do with economic reality and everything to do with what a set of capitalist power-blocs can get away with, price-wise, within and across the marketplace.

As Marx might say, they are founded on “the whim of the rich and the capitalist”6, namely, power. That is, the power of a specific, capitalist-network to set the parameters and the sum of value and price across an industry, pertaining to a particular commodity, whether this is a mental commodities derivative, or a physical commodities derivative, while being able to maintain this value sum and price sum for an extended period of time and space, until this arbitrary value and price becomes, legitimately, an industry and global market norm. Therefore, contrary to Hardt and Negri, it is not derivatives, which establish commensurability between radically different commodities, it is power; i.e., the exercise of power through the medium of derivatives, which ultimately establishes artificial value and price, despite these values and prices being completely arbitrary and artificial constructs. Behind derivatives and derivative markets lie corporate, capitalist power-blocs, and capitalist networks, which pull the strings of power, according to the arbitrary whims of their mercenary impulses, which increasingly command maximum extraction and accumulation of surplus value. That is, maximum profit by any means necessary.

Likewise, the value embodied in derivatives, or a million dollars, decreases with every augmentation in the money (wealth) supply. The decrease in value is the result of dilution due to a larger sum of money and wealth now in circulation. Moreover, as the general-population requires more and more wealth to acquire commodities, as it did between 2005 and 2009, it begins to rely increasingly on credit, credit which eventually increases household debt for the general-population. And, between 2005 and 2009, this is exactly what happened for most of the general-population.

Consequently, through a combination of the dilution of value embodied in money (wealth) and the appropriation of greater sums of profit and value from the general-population, via inflation and exaggerated price mark-ups, global financial inequality has drastically increased between 2005 and 2009, resulting in a greater debt-load across the general-population coupled with greater profits and a greater value-transfer for the most well-off.  In effect, value flowed to the 1% during this period, which saw their incomes, purchasing power, and their wealth significantly increase, while the 99%, saw their incomes, their purchasing power and their wealth stagnate or significantly decrease. The reason was the fact that the 1% was able to keep up with the new, artificially fabricated rate of dilution in value, across a broader capital terrain, while the 99% could not keep up with the new, artificially fabricated, rate of dilution in value.

Furthermore, in an ironic twist of fate, through the dilution of value over a greater sum of money and wealth via the instant creation of fiat-money, the general-population has been led to believe it is acquiring more value and is witness to the increasing elimination of financial inequality, due to the fact that it has more wealth and access to wealth in its hands than ever before. However, this is an illusion in the sense that the general-population, although capable of accessing more wealth and is seemingly in possession of more wealth, nonetheless, has the same or less amount of value in its possession, due to the fact that this value is stretched out over a larger sum of wealth and money, coupled with larger amounts of debt.

This process of diluted value, by the central banks and other financial institutions, is nothing but a capitalist scheme by which to get the general-population spending more, namely, by tricking the general-population into believing it is wealthier, which is not factually the case. In fact, by spending more, the general-population invariably lowers the amount of value in its possession and increasingly transfers this precious value to the upper-echelons of the capitalist-pyramid; i.e., the 1%, that is, the state-finance-corporate-aristocracy, through debt, through interest payments and through exaggerated commodity-prices. Namely, through an incessant, financial process of continuous value extraction out of the workforce/population and into the pockets and hands of the state-finance-corporate-aristocracy; i.e., a small set of micro-fascist, oligarchical networks.

Additionally, this leaves the general-population increasingly indebted to the financial institutions of the state-finance-corporate-aristocracy, which invariably increases financial inequality between the general-population; i.e., the 99%, and the state-finance-corporate-aristocracy; i.e., the 1%, at an ever-increasing rate, with every artificial dilution of value. This globalized transfer of value, under the guise of the increasing opulence of the general-population through mass consumerism and financial schemes, essentially picks up steam with the elimination of the gold-standard in the early 1970s, which permitted the state-finance-corporate-aristocracy to increasingly misrepresent the relation of value and money (wealth), through price, value and wage machination, which technically allowed the general-population to superficially have more, but, in fact, to possess increasingly less in terms of value. That is, the manipulation of the amount of value embodied in every dollar, which has been steadily and progressively decreasing with each new magical financial injection of fiat-money (wealth) into the economy, has permitted the perpetuation of this capitalist ruse.

Wherefore, the general-population, technically, possesses more things and commodities, but yet, in fact, increasingly owns less of the total sum of value across the globe, which is embodied in these things and commodities. Of course, the reverse is true for the state-finance-corporate-aristocracy, whereupon value is increasingly being sucked out of the workforce/population across the globe and siphoned into the coffers of the 1%. The result is an ever-increasing share in the total sum of value for the state-financial-corporate-aristocracy, which invariably comes at the expense of the global workforce/population. According to Hardt and Negri, this “monetary instability of finance and speculation, [manifested due to the arbitrariness of derivatives and fiat-money, simultaneously] corresponds to the precarity of labor”.7

In sum, this is a process of generalized global impoverishment, which is concealed behind the mask of capitalist opulence and magnified by capitalist mass consumerism, capitalist instant credit and convoluted capitalist financial mechanisms. Indeed, the overwhelming result of these capitalist schemes is the increasing imprisonment of the general-population into increasing debt. Because every dollar of wealth the general-population possesses, even if it makes more money and possesses more wealth than previous generations, has had its value stretched-out over a greater sum of wealth and money. Meaning, the value embodied in this wealth is less than, or equal to, the value possessed by previous generations, who on the surface seemingly possessed less wealth; i.e., value, than the contemporary workforce/population, but, in fact, own more things and commodities outright.

This is the post-modern capitalist sleight of hand, ushered-in with the abandonment of the gold-standard, wherefore the total sum of value in the world is having to be increasingly spread-out over more money (wealth) than any prior time in human history. Debt is the prime indicator that there is less and less value embodied in wealth and that a million dollars isn’t worth in value what it used to be. Today, the general-population may, theoretically, own their own houses on paper, but their mortgages tell a different story in the sense that, in actuality, the banks own these houses whereupon the general-population is ensnared in rent-to-own schemes where they are dishing out more value than they are getting back. In effect, when they actually own their houses outright after paying-off their mortgages, they will have paid far more in price and in value than the actual worth and value embodied in their homes. Today, houses have less value embodied in them, and moreover, due to inflationary real-estate schemes and outlandish property mark-ups, the general-population may only own, in actuality, the front-door on their dwellings while the banks own the rest. It is in this regard that the general-population is sinking ever deeper into debt-slavery and is increasingly falling under the thumb of the state-finance-corporate-aristocracy.

Indeed, Yogi Berra was right, more so than he, himself, realized at the time, when he uttered that magic phrase: “a nickel isn’t worth a dime, anymore”.  However, the frightening prospect is that this dilution process is not over, due to the fact, as Hardt and Negri state, increasingly in our “contemporary [post-industrial] phase, the creation of money is determined primarily by financial instruments, …instruments [which] generate money in the manner of lending banks, that is, by lending more money than they have”.8 And, because of this excess of monetary and wealth creation, which increasingly dilutes value evermore towards nil, soon a dime will be worth less than a nickel is today, and a nickel less than a penny is today, and a penny less than nothing.

Conveniently, all the while the state-finance-corporate-aristocracy, through sleight of hand, will strengthen its stranglehold on humanity and reduce the human condition to corporate-techno-capitalist-feudalism. That is, a plethora of corporate fiefdoms populated by a litany of post-industrial, post-modern, debt-serfs, crushed beneath the overwhelming weight of interest payments, insurmountable debt, and the ever-increasing threat of full automation. As Karl Marx eloquently surmised, in Das Capital (Volume One):

The production of surplus value, or the making of profits, is the absolute law of this [type of capitalist] mode of …[value] extraction…[wherefore] every accumulation becomes the means for new accumulation…[and] the concentration of capital, …[where] capital [eventually] grows to a huge mass in a single hand in one place, because it has been lost by many in [every] other place. [The result is] the accumulation of wealth at one pole [and] the accumulation of misery, …slavery, ignorance, brutalization and …degradation at the opposite pole.9

Indeed, this drawn-out, socio-economic process of value-dilution and value-transfer is gradually engineering capitalist society, through sleight of hand, into one giant, monetary-based, capitalist pyramid. That is, a corporate-techno-capitalist-feudalism where the 1% reap greater and greater portions of global values, while the 99% are increasingly forced into debt servitude. Namely, into a vast, globalized horde of post-industrial, post-modern, debt-serfs, who must accept any sort of degrading work possible, both in order to escape the ravages of unemployment and sate the appetites of their state-finance-corporate overlords, demanding higher profits, less these newly-minted debt-serfs be rendered utterly destitute and excluded.

  1. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Assembly, (London, England: Oxford University Press, 2017) p. 164.
  2. Ibid, p. 186.
  3. See: Money Creation.
  4. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Assembly, (London, England: Oxford University Press, 2017) p. 165.
  5. Ibid, p. 165.
  6. Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Ed. Martin Milligan (Mineola, New York: Dover Publications Inc., 2007) 21.
  7. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Assembly, (London, England: Oxford University Press, 2017) p. 186.
  8. Ibid, p. 191.
  9. Karl Marx, Capital (Volume One), Trans. Ben Fowkes (London Eng.: Penguin, 1990) pp. 769-799.

Resistance in the 21st Century and the Futility of Reforming the Fundamentally Vicious

Out of necessity, organized resistance to the Trump administration’s authoritarian and hyper-violent policy agenda is growing rapidly, both domestically and internationally. Within this context, it is important for those of us who engage in individual and collective acts of resistance – based on our varying proximities to power structures – to consider what and how we resist by taking into account larger structural considerations.

A Brief History of Resistance in the United States

The political, economic and cultural foundations of the United States have consistently proven over time to have a unique ability to legally pacify, repress, vanquish, enslave, murder and inflict suffering on a massive scale. Due to this, there have been an abundance of collective efforts by marginalized and subjugated groups since the the birth of the nation to transform the core political, legal, economic and cultural institutions of the U.S. to be less barbarous and more equitable, inclusive and participatory.

According to political scientist Uday Chandra, “to resist is, in ordinary parlance, to oppose or fight off what is pernicious or threatening to one’s existence.” Resistance strategies can range from full on rebellion with the intent to reform or overthrow and existing social order, to simple forms of contestation and concessionary seeking acts of disobedience against institutions of power. Based on the beguiling nature of the nation’s origin story myths of universal freedom, equality and democracy or out of a desperate need to end long-term suffering, resistance in the U.S. has evolved to entail marginalized or subjugated individuals or groups actively seeking redress through government intervention. This by and large involves taking a defensive position in the pursuit of legal accommodations, which automatically renders emancipatory and revolutionary visions and objectives imperceptible, or to be strived for incrementally or a later time.

Historically, these efforts have most often leveraged the collective power of social movements as a means to expand recognition rights (protections) and representation (access) by and within institutions of power to ameliorate social, political, legal, cultural and economic conditions.

As such, resistance in the U.S. largely became associated with methods and outcomes that use the “master’s tools” to attain protections from the master’s cruelty by having access to the “the master’s house.” Otherwise known as “working within the system.” Chandra refers to these forms of resistance “as the negotiation rather than negation of social power.”

Most of these efforts have failed, while some resulted in mixed improvements in the quality of life for some, including small segments of populations that are persistently targeted. An example of this is middle-class Black and Brown Americans, who are insidiously held up as proof that the U.S. has become a post-racial society, a fictional narrative that couldn’t be further from the truth. Ultimately, progress that was made to substantively constrain or disrupt the hegemony of the nation’s core intersecting structures of heteropatriarchy, settler colonialism, white supremacy and capitalism have largely resulted in temporary “parchment barrier” policies. By design, the founders’ governing contract – the U.S. Constitution – and the infrastructural power that operationalizes it are designed to self-correct and bring the founders’ social order back in line when it is diverted from its intended aims.

The Nature of Power in the 21st Century

In the 21st century the ideology and directives of financialization rules over our lives, our societies and our planet. This autocratic system dictates a highly disciplined neoliberal landscape where state power structures and advanced technologies facilitate and protect the activities and interests of finance capitalism over all else. Financialization occurs via securitization, which, simply described, is a process where financial institutions bundle together (illiquid) financial assets – primarily debt instruments – and transform them into (liquid) tradable securities that can be expeditiously bought and sold in secondary financial markets. Within this insulated global network, high-frequency trading of digital securities – including “fictitious” trading, hedging and speculating in derivative markets – generates “phantom wealth”; whereby the exchange of capital, money and currency is detached from material or labor value. In the twenty-first century, debt is the new global currency and is a primary source of (intangible) wealth accumulation.

According to economist Gerald Epstein, financialization is centered on “speculative and excessively liquid financial flows that create debt-laden balance sheets, overly short-term perspectives, volatility and mispricing of important asset prices, including exchange rates, and subsequent misallocation of resources and unstable economic growth.” More to the point, the global financial system is based on a massive “spiral of debt.” Under the domain of financialization, investor activity requires the flow of various forms of credit that can be transformed into securitized assets and rapidly converted into cash (liquidity) without losing value. As Bloomberg Business put it, the three things that matter most in debt (bond) markets are “liquidity, liquidity and liquidity.” According to financial industry attorney Jake Zamansky, “without liquidity, markets plummet, as they did in late 2008 and early 2009. Liquidity is all important to investors. It’s oxygen to markets.” Thus, the only way for there to be “economic growth” is to inject more and more debt into the machine. This is what happened in the 2008 financial crisis (or “liquidity crisis”) and by most predictions, this same outcome is inevitable sooner than later, yet even more intensely since global debt has risen by $35 million since 2008. Essentially, any economic system that is based on debt will crumble.

Within this global landscape, national borders are largely inconsequential and financial markets are globally integrated, swift, complex and untamable. Financial exchanges are facilitated by global automated computers, which slice, bundle and flip securities at a pace and scale that exceeds the capacity of human capability. As anthropologist Patrick Wolfe put it in 1997:

…how are we to conceive of a system that lacks exteriority? This question grows ever more insistent in a decentered era that we might term virtual imperialism, when radically de-territorialized forms of capital flash around the globe at fiber-optic speed, seeking out low wages, tax and tariff advantages, currency disparities, and innumerable other opportunities that presuppose the very nation-state boundaries that their exploitation transcends.

Since many dimensions of this state-finance nexus reaches deeply into the daily lives of billions of people across the globe in novel ways, daily patterns, choices and potential for resistance are apparent to, and an extension of, the global financial market. Sites and sources of resistance and compliance to this social order are conveyed through all digital activates and devices, connected to the sophisticated surveillance technologies of artificial intelligence as part of the ever expanding “Internet of Things.” More disturbingly, all of these integrated “date mining” activities are increasingly feeding financial speculation and derivative (bet) markets.

As an intangible sphere of wealth accumulation designed to facilitate both competition and cooperation between professional investors, this financialized ecosystem is virtually ungovernable. Even if state actors were motivated to stop, or effectively regulate this machine, they cannot for a number of reasons. First, the machine is structurally entwined with the interests of the most powerful and violent nation-states, particularly the United States. Second, any meaningful disruptions of the machine will crash the global economy. The state’s role to both deceptively and openly collude with finance were at play after the 2008 “liquidity crisis.” The federal government started by deregulating finance and thereafter protected risky financial activity, then bailed out the largest investment banks and devised the superficial parchment barrier that is the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

At the behest of this comprehensive and unaccountable web of power, the role of the state – particularly the U.S. – is more authoritarian than ever. Domestically, militarized austerity and sophisticated surveillance and penetrating security apparatuses is at its disposal and are part of everyday life for most Americans; even more so when resistance is deemed too disruptive to financial markets. As part of this, within the last several decades, finance capital and neoliberal states have learned from and adapted to dissent and resistance. Once tried and true tactics and strategies in the pursuit of state protections can now be effectively ignored, dismissed, tolerated, coopted and preempted. This reality, along with the diffuse power of global finance and its proxy authoritarian states render the pursuit of basic human needs and rights ineffective. Combined, these dynamics have extensively neutralized how resistance movements have historically leveraged power. Instead, the social order of neoliberal financialization predicts and integrates resistance into its risk speculations, which according to critical scholar Max Haiven is, “factored into financial flows in advance as ‘risk’: the present calculus of future probabilities.” Haiven goes on to explain:

With this hyper-commodification of risk, finance has become a vast, interconnected, pulsating organ fed by billions of local readings of “liquidity” and “resistance” which are constantly coursing through the system, being decomposed and rebundled in patterns… [and] the final result is this: finance as we now have it, as a system that “reads” the world by calculating the “risk” of “resistance” to “liquidity” and allocating resources accordingly, already incorporates “resistance” into its “systemic imagination.

From UAW members in Ford plants resisting pension cuts, the Great Sioux Nation protecting its water from the fossil fuel industry, Indigenous revolutionary movements in Bolivia and Venezuela to a U.S. presidential candidate campaigning as a social democrat; finance capital “imagines” these (and many other) possibilities and their disruptive potentials so as to incorporate associated risks into its internal equilibrium. These calculations can then determine preemptive or subsequent interventions and disciplining actions. Thus, as Max Haiven points out, financial speculation is a means of “reading” and “indexing” resistance. Finance is also preventing future resistance through the application of economic performativity, which explains the ways that financial instruments can calculate and construct financial actualities that will shape and ensure the futures on which investors speculate. Impact investing and education reform (here and here) are two critical financial instruments that serve this purpose as social engineering mechanisms meant to reduce risk of resistance to maximize liquidity in futures markets.

As part of this, based on the logic of derivative speculation, “risk management” creates a paradigm of neoliberal biopolitics that sorts groups of people according to an economic pyramid that demarcates their market – and therefore their social – value. Those who are doing the sorting are the exalted risk-takers who “hedge” their subject position into wealth, power and prestige. In varied degrees everyone else is viewed as flexible workers and debt instruments to be exploited for the purposes of securitization, speculation and predictable cash flows. For those at the lower end (largely Black, Brown and Indigenous people), whose subject positions are assigned to perpetual austerity and criminalization; their value is derived from being subjugated and rigidly controlled sources of predictable cash flows, often through the funneling of government funds to wealthy financiers. A significant portion of these financialized instruments of social control focus on strengthening the carceral state (schools, jails, prisons, counterinsurgency policing, immigration detention centers, parole and probation offices, advanced surveillance technologies, etc); as well as predatory “anti-poverty” schemes such as social impact bonds, which are essentially derivatives or swaps (bets).

State-finance authoritarianism and repression through militarized austerity along with deeply penetrating surveillance and security apparatuses work in tandem with many forms of disciplining. School choice, charter schools, policed schools, standardized curriculum, punitive tests that sort students, determine funding as well as the fate of schools and teachers are forms of disciplining attached to the financialization of education. Finance also disciplines political, economic and social actors more directly. For example, if federal and state governments in the U.S. are compelled to reverse existing policies that serve neoliberal financialization and instead reinstitute Keynesian economic policies, or dare to move towards social democracy; financial markets would quickly interpret and respond to these moves by devaluing the U.S. dollar and bond prices while divesting from equity shares in “risky” ventures. This type of financial disciplining can easily lead to larger destabilization within the “house of cards” that is the financialized economy. While its existence is destructive, its disruption can also have catastrophic effects. Therefore, forms of viable “resistance” do not even need to be successful for the state and markets to preemptively intervene and discipline. The mechanisms for disciplining and maintaining social order are also ready-made and built into the structures of the founders’ U.S. cultural political economy. The hegemony of market ideology is often enough. If not, the U.S. Constitution’s function of safeguarding capitalist accumulation and private property rights, the undemocratic electoral college, the stacked federalist system of government, the corporate two-party system and its delegate scheme as well as the ability of capital to influence or direct social, cultural and political affairs (including “news”) also effectively quells substantive resistance. Additionally, as Max Haiven describes:

…firms are increasingly pressured to increase exploitation and surveillance of workers, and attack union and workers rights, in order to improve their credit rating and share price. And local, regional and national governments are, in an age of austerity, compelled to destroy public power (invested in public space, welfare programs, civil services, public employment, and collective projects) in response to financial pressures and massive deficits (caused, in effect, by decades of corporate tax cuts and the massive transfer of public wealth into private hands.

Financial disciplining also applies to the daily life of families and individuals, where forms and levels of resistance to finance capital is moderated by employment, income, housing, transportation and food insecurity; individual debt; education expenditures; concerns about healthcare and saving for elderly years. Fears of disrupting any sites where these needs and concerns exist have an understandable chilling effect.

In sum, as subjects of this global empire, seeking relief or justice (as a legal concept) within state institutions and civil society is largely futile. In the 21st century, civil, political and economic rights (as functions of state protections) are more than ever at odds with the long-standing and intersecting interests of capitalism and white supremacy. Governments either function as proxies for finance capitalism or face being subjugated by it. This ensures that nation states are more unresponsive than ever to the needs and demands of those who reside within their borders, borders that are non-existent for elite financial investors and increasingly punitive for dispossessed groups. In this landscape, banks and other global financial institutions are setting and enforcing the rules that govern social relations in societies across the globe, including relations between states and their citizens. States have effectively become subjects of bond markets and Central Banks. These are the layers of power that operate above states and control what states can or cannot do. Essentially, the plutocrats of this global financial empire have no national loyalties, they possess no conscience, their domain knows no borders, their institutions have no center and their wealth has no real material value.

Reevaluating Resistance within the State-Finance Nexus

For emancipatory resistance movements in the 21st century to have a chance of being successful in the U.S., it is essential to first recognize the inherent structural barriers that have persistently restricted substantive or lasting social change. Therefore, it is time to reconsider resistance strategies that seek redress from an inherently violent state and to refocus our efforts away from working within a political and legal system that is “rigged” to preserve systems of domination. We must acknowledge the futility of seeking to transform the state (or its public spheres) into something that it was never intended to be – nor ever could be – based on it being the protector of the founders’ despotic cultural political economy, which is now even more intensely embodied by the state-finance empire of the 21st century.

In the absence of large-scale cohesive objectives that are revolutionary in nature and international in scope, at best resistance in the U.S. will continue to be reduced to ineffectual outlets and rituals of rage and have little real strategic value beyond groups experiencing a fleeting sense of solidarity and belonging. Tragically, this became the fate of organized labor in the U.S., but only after it largely evolved to reflect and embrace the structures of domination that it should have been resisting.

For those of us who are compelled to resist the various dimensions of the state-finance empire, we must first recognize its inherent ties to the foundational structures of the United States so as to abandon the ideologies that preserve them. This begins by repudiating the mythical origin story of the United States and the glorification of its duplicitous Constitution. Moreover, resistance must be more than a pragmatic undertaking that chases illusive state protections from a nation state that is despotically constituted. In essence, the foundational cultural political economy of the U.S. and its current globalized manifestation cannot be reformed and instead must be dismantled.

Still, it is important to honor the history of resistance against subjugation and struggles for state protections and emancipation in the U.S., for they are rich and vibrant, and often speak to Frederick Douglass’ 1857 declaration, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and never will.” Yet, the lesson attached to the Scorpion and the Frog fable is instructive in terms of fanciful strivings to transform the United States into a robustly democratic and equitable nation:

A scorpion asks a frog to carry him over a river. The frog voices her fear of being stung. The scorpion convinces the frog based on their shared interest to survive and get to the other side. The frog agrees. Midway across the river the scorpion stings the frog. When the frog asks the scorpion why, the scorpion replies… it’s my nature.

The underlying moral of the story is salient to what can be learned when the true history and character of the United States is unveiled: no change can be made in the character and behavior of the fundamentally vicious. Time and time again the foundational structures and institutions of the U.S. have proven to be just that, and much more.

Some say that to accept these understandings can lead to hopelessness, despair and apathy. Yet, to continue to believe in deceptive narratives that preserve fundamentally vicious constructs supports their intent: the suppression of creative forms of resistance guided by emancipatory imageries that forge lasting solidarities and the establishment of holistic and equitable approaches to organizing society. To be clear, the current structures of domination are on their own unsustainable and will in time collapse with dire consequences for all life on the planet then, and in the process of getting there. It is imperative for resistance strategies here and now to be guided by this understanding, with a focus on expediting the inevitable collapse, yet with significant ecological and humanistic infrastructure at the ready. Moreover, resistance here and now require us to focus our efforts on developing sites of resistance and alternative institutions that are grounded in environmental sustainability and emancipatory cultures, primarily led by those who are persistently subjugated by the current systems of domination.

These strategies therefore require revolutionary objectives that envision societies without national borders which divide and dehumanize and are rooted in the principles of participatory parity, collectivism, status equality and the equitable distribution of wealth. This vision is anchored by a fundamentally different construct of the public sphere, one that is constituted by a cultural political economy that is the antithesis of white supremacy capitalism, settler colonialism and heteropatriarchy.