Archive

Author Archive

Zombie capitalism

from David Ruccio

walking-dead-1666584_1920-e1539267621878

Capitalism’s crises are clearly becoming deeper and more severe. After the crash of 2007-08, the United States (and much of the rest of the world) was subjected to the Second Great Depression, the worst economic downturn since the depression of the 1930s. Now, in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic, business activity has ground to a halt and unemployment has soared to levels reminiscent of the first Great Depression.

Not surprisingly, both Main Street and Wall Street firms have once again turned to the U.S. government to be bailed out through a series of programs that dwarf anything the world has seen before.

Read more…

Divergent recoveries—pandemic edition

July 21, 2020 1 comment

from David Ruccio

The existing alphabet soup of possible recoveries—V, U, W, and so on (which I discussed back in April)—is clearly inadequate to describe what has been taking place in the United States in recent months.

That’s because there’s no single path of recovery for everyone. For some, the recovery from the pandemic crisis has been just fine, while for many others there has been no recovery at all. Instead, things are going from bad to worse. In other words, there’s a growing gap between the haves and have-nots—or, as Peter Atwater has put it, “there have been two vastly divergent experiences.”

That’s why Atwater invented the idea of a K-shaped recovery.

I think he’s right, although I don’t divide the world up in quite the same way.

The stem of the K illustrates the quick and deep crash that almost everyone experienced as the pandemic spread and large parts of the U.S. economy were shut down. Then, as time went on, with massive federal bailouts and businesses reopening, the arm and leg of the K have moved in very different directions. Read more…

178 new cases per million people in the United States compared to 27.6 cases for the world as a whole.

July 13, 2020 3 comments

from David Ruccio

initial claims12 Read more…

The condition of the black working-class in the United States – 9 charts

from David Ruccio

Before he was killed, George Floyd worked as a truck, a bouncer, and a security guard. Ahmaud Arbery worked at his father’s car wash and landscaping business, and previously held a job at McDonald’s. Breonna Taylor was a certified Emergency Medical Technician who had two jobs at hospitals in Logettyimages-1216644292uisville, Kentucky. Eric Garner worked as a mechanic and then in New York City’s horticulture department for several years before health problems, including asthma, sleep apnea, and complications from diabetes, forced him to quit. Trayvon Martin was the son of a program coordinator for the Miami Dade Housing Authority and a truck driver; he washed cars, babysat, and cut grass to earn his own money.

All of them, and most of the other African Americans who have been killed in recent years (by the police or other Americans), were members of the black working-class in the United States. Read more…

45.7 million USA unemployment claims

June 19, 2020 4 comments

from David Ruccio

Initial claims9

They came for him in the morning, before coffee break. — Stewart O’Nan, The Odds

This morning, the U.S. Department of Labor (pdf) reported that, during the week ending last Saturday, another 1.5 million American workers filed initial claims for unemployment compensation. That’s on top of the 44.2 million workers who were laid off during the preceding twelve weeks.

Read more…

Freedom—pandemic edition

June 18, 2020 2 comments

from David Ruccio

“Formal” freedom is the freedom of choice WITHIN the coordinates of the existing power relations, while “actual” freedom designates the site of an intervention which undermines these very coordinates.

— Slavoj Žižek, On Belief                           

The novel coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated how shallow and restricted the notion of formal freedom is in the United States.

After years of pretending that private healthcare and health insurance expanded the freedom of individual choice, even with the changes introduced by Obamacare, the existing health system has failed to protect most Americans from the ravages of the disease. Right now, with over 2 million confirmed cases and over 100 thousand deaths, the United States has over one quarter of the world’s cases and fatalities. And the numbers continue to rise in many states, with the forced reopening of businesses. Read more…

Cars and drivers—in the age of inequality

June 11, 2020 1 comment

from David Ruccio

How many of you read Car and Driver magazine?

Not many of you, I presume. But maybe you should. At least the June 2020 issue.

It’s certainly a sign of our obscenely unequal times that a magazine better known for its reviews of foreign supercars and domestic muscle cars and for an editorial policy that courts controversy only when it attacks SUVs (in favor of minivans and cars) highlights the story of Oliver, Jason M. Vaughn’s family’s 260,000-mile Subaru in a piece subtitled “The Fear of Failure.”

Turning the key has become an act of faith. As the engine grumbles to life on this fine southwest Colorado morning, the yellow check-engine light comes on, as it has every day for the past four years, and the same questions swirl in my mind. Is this the day that tiny head-gasket leak turns into a gusher? Is this the day the catalytic converter chokes closed for good? Is this the day that one speck of sand too many works its way into that cracked CV-joint boot, causing it to seize up at some bend in the road and send me spinning into a ravine, not to be discovered until spring?. . .

I intimately know everything wrong with this car. I feel the squishy brakes and the engine straining to get up a hill, and I hear the ominous grinding sounds coming from under the right-front wheel well. But I can’t afford to do anything to ward off those looming disasters.

That’s because Vaughn’s family is like many American households, who don’t have any emergency savings and therefore can’t cover a surprise $400 expense without borrowing money or selling something. Or they can’t come up with the money at all. Read more…

Rigged unemployment numbers—pandemic edition

from David Ruccio

There are lies, there are outrageous lies, and there are statistics.

— Robert Giffen, Economic Journal (1892)

Are U.S. unemployment numbers rigged? Sure, they are!

They’re not rigged in the way Paul Krugman implied last Friday (“This being the Trump era, you can’t completely discount the possibility that they’ve gotten to the BLS”). Or in the way former General Electric CEO Jack Welch suggested back in 2012 (when he asserted that the Obama White House had manipulated the job figures for political gains). Or in the way Donald Trump used to say the unemployment rate was “phony” (“The number is probably 28, 29, as high as 35 [percent]. In fact, I even heard recently 42 percent.”) until, of course, he became president and declared the rising jobs numbers a “blowout” (even though he and his economic advisers used some questionable math) and, most recently, the falling unemployment rate a “great day” (for George Floyd, whom Trump said was “looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that’s happening for our country,” and “for everybody”).

No, the jobs numbers are not manipulated in those ways. They’re rigged—in my view, much more seriously—in terms of the ways the various categories are defined and measured and the manner in which the data are collected. And, of course, the ways values are imputed to the rising and falling numbers. Read more…

Where has all the surplus gone?

from David Ruccio

CEOs

Where did all the capitalist surplus in the United States go last year?

Well, as in recent years, a large portion was paid to the Chief Executive Officers of the nation’s largest corporations, the ones that make up the S&P 500. Read more…

“A riot is the language of the unheard”

from David Ruccio

 

More than 50 years ago (on 14 April 1967), Martin Luther King Jr. delivered one of his famous speeches, on “The Other America,” at Stanford University.* King patiently explained to the audience of students and faculty members that, while in his view “riots are socially destructive and self-defeating,” they are “in the final analysis. . .the language of the unheard.” Read more…

Corporate university—pandemic edition

from David Ruccio

Will colleges and universities reopen in the fall? That’s the question on the minds of many these day—administrators, faculty, staff, students, and their families, not to mention the communities in which they live.

All institutions of higher education (in the United States and in much of the rest of the world) had a difficult spring, having to close their campuses for in-person instruction (as well as many other activities, from athletics to study-abroad programs) in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic and resort to online classes. There wasn’t much advance notice or planning and, notwithstanding the heroic efforts of faculty and staff and the unequal means of students who found themselves back at home, the results were at best uneven and less than satisfactory.

Now, the question is, what will they do in the fall, while the pandemic continues to accumulate millions of cases and hundreds of thousands of deaths around the world? Read more…

Who’s been laid off?

May 21, 2020 1 comment

David Ruccio

wages

If we needed any more confirmation of who’s been laid off during the current crisis, all we need to do is examine the change in average hourly wages in the United States.

In the past month (so, April 2020), the year-over-year increase in hourly wages jumped to 7.9 percent. That’s more than three times the average increase since 2008 (2.5 percent) and more than two and half times the increase since Donald Trump took office (3 percent). Read more…

Reserve army—pandemic edition

from David Ruccio

labor share

You know things are bad—and going to get worse—when a mainstream newspaper like the Washington Post invokes the Mohr:

What Karl Marx once called “the reserve army of the unemployed” will probably keep wage growth in check as the recovery inches forward.

Read more…

From almshouses to nursing homes—pandemic edition

from David Ruccio

I’ve often read that people who wash their hands in innocence do so in blood-stained basins. And their hands bear the traces.
— Bertolt Brecht, Mother Courage

3070The first time care for elderly and chronically ill Americans was radically transformed was during the first Great Depression, as almshouses were overwhelmed and public support grew to replace old-style charitable “indoor relief” with new-style government-funded “outdoor relief,” based on cash payments to people to support themselves in the community. According to Sidney D. Watson (pdf), “The Social Security Act of 1935 embodied this new approach to American social welfare, creating cash benefit programs to provide the elderly and needy with the money to support themselves at home rather than in institutions.”*

Later, the Social Security Amendments of 1950, 1956, 1960, and 1965 (which created Medicaid), a combination of federal and state payments fueled the growth of nursing homes by expanding eligibility and authorizing states to make vendor payments directly to for-profit care institutions. The existing nursing home industry fought to get Medicaid funding and, through its lobbying efforts, to keep and expand based on Medicaid funding.** It then used those funds to warehouse the elderly and infirm, in the care of workers who earn low wages, most of whom are women of color, a large portion of whom are immigrant workers.

Now, those same nursing homes, like the almshouses of the 1930s, have been overwhelmed by a “tidal wave of human need”—but for a very different reason: they have become one of the key sites of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Read more…

Generation screwed—and screwed again

May 11, 2020 1 comment

from David Ruccio

You know your generation’s screwed when even Monopoly is mocking you.

Back in 2016, I argued that Millennials were in fact generation screwed.

For example, in 2010 (when some of them were 20 to 24 years of age), their unemployment rate was 17.2 percent, much higher than the already high national average of 9.9 percent.*

Partly because of the difficulty they had finding jobs, but also because they have been saddled with high student and healthcare debt, the typical Millennial family lost ground between 2010 and 2016, falling further behind the typical wealth lifecycle than any other birth cohort. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis (pdf), a typical 32-year-old family respondent in 2016 (born in 1984) was 34 percent ($12,000) below the 32-year-old benchmark established by earlier generations. Read more…

Are we all in this together?

from David Ruccio

It must be confessed that though the plague was chiefly among the poor, yet were the poor the most venturous and fearless of it, and went about their employment with a sort of brutal courage; I must call it so, for it was founded neither on religion nor prudence; scarce did they use any caution, but ran into any business which they could get employment in, though it was the most hazardous. Such was that of tending the sick, watching houses shut up, carrying infected persons to the pest-house, and, which was still worse, carrying the dead away to their graves.

— Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year

I’m almost sick of hearing the refrain, “We’re all in this together.”

I say almost, because I do think there’s a utopian moment in that phrase in the midst of the current pandemic. It speaks of solidarity, of being in common, of paying attention to and honoring healthcare workers and others who are currently laboring in “essential” activities while the rest of us are instructed to stay at home. In that sense, it betokens—or at least aspires to—a thinking about and caring for others. Read more…

Gleaners and us—pandemic edition

from David Ruccio

We already had high food insecurity in this country and now we are putting another layer of need on top of it. — Kevin M. Fitzpatrick

One of the many irrational characteristics of capitalism is that billions of tons of food go to waste while hundreds of millions of people struggle with hunger on a daily basis. And like all the other senseless attributes of the way the economy is currently organized, the mismatch between the enormous quantity of food that is available for human consumption but is not consumed and the vast number of people who are food insecure has been highlighted and heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic—especially in the United States.

Even before the pandemic, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reported that approximately 30 percent of food produced for human consumption around the world is either lost (from post-harvest to distribution) or wasted (at retail and consumption levels) each year—while an estimated 821 million people (just below 11 percent of the world’s population) were undernourished (pdf).* And in the United States? According to the National Resources Defense Council (pdf), the degree of food waste was even higher—between 39 and 43 percent of the total U.S. food supply. At the same time, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (pdf), more than 37 million Americans (13.9 percent of households) suffered food insecurity—and less than one-third of the food that was thrown out would be enough to feed this population completely. Read more…

Your job or your life

from David Ruccio

WFH1 WFH2

source

When social solidarity is essential, it’s common to hear pious sermons against class warfare. Unfortunately, there is a class war. And its victims, so many of them front-line workers, didn’t start it. — E. J. Dionne Jr.

New research confirms what we’ve all been seeing for the past couple of months: the lowest paid, most precarious workers are the ones who are being forced to face the choice between their jobs and their lives.

And, looking forward, as those in charge push to reopen the economy, the most vulnerable workers are the ones who will most find themselves caught up in the ultimate dilemma of capitalist employment during the COVID-19 pandemic: stay at home without the ability to earn a paycheck or go back to work and increase the chance of getting the dreaded disease. Read more…

“Nothing will fundamentally change”

April 28, 2020 13 comments

from David Ruccio

Three and a half weeks ago, Bernie Sanders became the last challenger to drop out of the race, thus clearing the way for Joe Biden to become the Democratic nominee on the November presidential ballot.

Since then, the novel coronavirus has engulfed the country (and, of course, the world), the U.S. economy has mostly come to a standstill, and tens of million American workers have joined the ranks of the unemployed, while “essential” workers are forced to commute to and labor in perilous conditions and jobless families have found it necessary to walk or take to their cars to wait in line by the thousands outside food banks.

Biden therefore has to find a way of presenting a progressive alternative to Trump by articulating some clear ideas, and perhaps eventually a detailed plan, to confront the most dramatic economic and social crises to face the United States since the first Great Depression. Read more…

Billionaire wealth in the USA

April 25, 2020 7 comments

from David Ruccio

billionaires copy 3

A new report from the Institute for Policy Studies, “Billionaire Bonanza 2020: Wealth Windfalls, Tumbling Taxes, and Pandemic Profiteers,” reveals that the wealth of U.S. billionaires is indeed staying at home.

Read more…