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  Yes, to get back to some sane, healthy economic strategy we have to confront the Wall Street/Robert Rubins of the world, the corruption of the electoral system and a whole set of adversaries. But, I would put at the top of the list the false framing of the choices before us as a nation, and as a planet. And a thank you, not intended, to Wal-Mart for providing the opportunity to make this point.

  Yesterday, in New York City, the City Council held a hearing about whether the door should be opened to Wal-Mart to open up a store here. There is great opposition to caving into Wal-Mart from labor, community organizations and a whole slew of elected leaders, and a rally preceded the hearing.

  Our billionaire mayor had this to say about the hearing and the rally:

"You should let the marketplace decide," he said. "Anybody who has tried to manage the marketplace, it has not turned out very well. I think the Soviet Union is as good an example as you’d ever need of that."[emphasis added]

  "The marketplace" versus "The Soviet Union". That is the choice the mayor believes is before the city. Now, it would be easy to dismiss this foolishness as the musings of a billionaire who has been viewed as regularly out of touch with the concerns of regular people here (and, while I have been a consistent critic of the mayor on economic issues, it's also important to not create a black-and-white caricature of one man--he's been great on health issues, anti-gun legislation and he took a very courageous stand, while other politicians ran for cover, in support of the building of the mosque/cultural center in downtown Manhattan).

  But, I think it's worth pausing to understand that his "marketplace" versus "the Soviet Union" set of choices is, in some way, the biggest challenge we face: how do we change the conversation from two opposite poles of a false set of choices? Meaning, the choices put forth by the mayor: giving our future over to "the marketplace" or, alternatively, embracing a future with a Soviet Union-style lifestyle.

  I don't want this thought to get too bogged down with the "Soviet Union" reference because it's just goofy, and not befitting of the mayor's intelligence (I doubt he wants to be seen occupying the same intellectual space as Sarah Palin, who recently asserted that...I can't think of this without bursting out in laughter...the Sputnik space program sowed the seeds of the collapse of the Soviet Union because of the debt incurred pursuing Sputnik). And I think it is sad that the mayor, who defends religious freedom for people who practice Islam, undermines his moral authority by dredging up "the Soviet Union", which is still a powerful, if waning, emotional weapon to stain your opponent as dangerous or deranged or not serious or, the most obvious, a threat to the American way of life.

  In reality, trying to pose two ludicrous, opposing poles ("the marketplace" versus "The Soviet Union") is a conscious or unconscious attempt to muddle the real debate: "the marketplace" versus "not-the-marketplace". A slightly more honest juxtaposition would have been: either you hand over your economic prospects to "the marketplace", which guarantees "freedom" and "progress", or risk economic Armaggedon by relying solely on "not the marketplace".

  So, let's check this out first by looking at Wal-Mart. The people who oppose Wal-Mart do so because:
Wal-Mart has at least 80 class-action lawsuits in dozens of states pending against it.

Wal-Mart abuses women, and is the defendant in the biggest sex discrimination case in history.

Wal-Mart is a habitual tax-dodger.

Wal-Mart's heirs buy expensive paintings but won't give their workers decent health care.

Wal-Mart sued a disabled women, demanding she give back money she won in a settlement.

Wal-Mart exploits children in Mexico.

 And, as for the "marketplace", Wal-Mart actually profits hugely by a phony market--brace yourself--a market that is the opposite of a "free market". China artificially suppresses wages by anywhere from 47 to 85 percent of what they should be. That labor system--not the currency difference that people obsess about--is the reason that Wal-Mart saves 10-20 percent on its global procurement, according to the Harvard Business School. In fact, Wal-Mart fought tooth-and-nail againstsome very modest improvements in labor laws. And China is getting too expensive for a lot of corporations.

  What the mayor really is saying here is not that "the marketplace", which is a somewhat vague and faceless concept to most people, should decide instead of "not the marketplace" ("The Soviet Union"). The message is really: we, the people who control the levers of the economy decide, and the citizens, you lowly people, have no say--none--in the conditions we set. Even if that means women face discrimination, people don't have health care, and workers earn slave wages.

  But, the story is much bigger than Wal-Mart.

  If we are honest, the mayor's rhetorical view has been triumphant over the past 30 years. Truthfully, a lot of people have bought this rhetoric because it has been hammered into our brains for decades. We have suffered an economic Stockholm Syndrome: the purveyors of "the marketplace" have held us hostage and, yet, too often, we've identified with them, made them heroes and bought into their foolishness.

  It is not wise to rant that we come to this point because of FOX News--because the stupidity of "the marketplace rules" is seen across the traditional media world, from "conservative" to "liberal" outlets.

  And it is not wise to rant that we come to this point because of the Tea Party and Republicans--because this view is central to the dominant philosophy of the Democratic Party (yes, partly because of the corruption of the electoral finance system). For every economic ill, the economic response is now, from many voices, more tax cuts, make business more "competitive" and "government is too big". Unleash the marketplace! That'll solve it all!

  What do THE FACTS say?

  "The marketplace" gave us:

  The Saving and Loan scandal--which cost the people tens of billions of dollars.

  The most recent financial implosion--which cost hundreds of billions of dollars in lost retirement funds, home equity and, more important, earnings of the millions of unemployed people you can't get back those lost wages...ever.

  A steadily declining wage base--and, indeed, the very debt burdens carried by so many of our neighbors because they just can't make ends meet on pay checks handed out by "the marketplace".

 "The marketplace" has poured an unimaginable pile of wealth into a few hands--this is not a new phenomena but stretches back decades when the CEO-owner class, like an organized crime syndicate, figured out how to cut deals amongst themselves to pocket wages, pensions and stock options through a self-dealing circle of boards of directors and consultants who spun a fairy tale of "market competition" to justify what was, and is, legalized robbery.

  And what of the record of the "not-the-marketplace":

  "Not-the-marketplace" has meant Social Security--the greatest anti-poverty program in our nation's history that has kept tens of millions of seniors fro, literally, starvation.

  "Not-the-marketplace" gave us health and safety laws that make it possible to work in places that aren't sweatshops--and though that system is far too shaky and porous, think of what it would be like without that system.

  "Not-the-marketplace" gave us food safety laws so that you don't die from food you eat--and, yes, that system is creaky too.

  "Not-the-marketplace" meant, at one time, a sharing of the wealth of the nation through a progressive tax system that once meant the rich paid a fair share of taxes.

  "Not-the-marketplace" meant we had unions who helped give people some dignity, respect and power at work--which resulted in the greatest expansion of the sharing of prosperity in human history.

   No one thinks that "the marketplace" has no role. But, people who want companies to behave based on community standards, or people who think that we actually should live up to the Constitutional promise to "promote the general welfare", or people who view the current state of our country's economic picture as a disaster--those folks do not think "the marketplace" is a God and are fighting hard to end the moral disgrace that "the marketplace" has saddled on the nation.

Originally posted to Tasini on Fri Feb 04, 2011 at 08:56 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Bloomberg cannot transcend (6+ / 0-)

    his class outlook.

    Good post, Tasini.

    There is much space between an unregulate dmarket place and a command economy in state "socailism" as the Soviet Union had.  Bloomberg knows that.  he is just being a demogougue in defense of the ruling class.    

    Trumka: "Absolutely Insane" to Extend Tax Cuts for Millionaires

    by TomP on Fri Feb 04, 2011 at 08:59:19 AM PST

  •  Those who oppose Wal-Mart (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DennisMorrison, Tom Taaffe

    often do so out of their own self-interest.

    In particular, owners of small stores which charge higher prices and can't compete against Wal-Mart are a significant part of opposition.  On the other hand, consumers benefit from lower prices Wal-Mart brings.

  •  How about letting democracy decide, Mayor (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Bob B, An Affirming Flame, Tom Taaffe

    You must compete by working more for less. Mush!

    by Paleo on Fri Feb 04, 2011 at 09:12:37 AM PST

    •  You mean... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      VClib

      Allow Wal-Mart to set up shop and if enough consumers vote with their feet to shop their Wal-Mart will  be succesful and open more stores, while if the people vote not to shop there it will slink back to Arkansas in defeat?

      •  No (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Azazello

        That's not democracy.  Democracy is elected officials, or the people by way of a ballot question, making the decision.

        You must compete by working more for less. Mush!

        by Paleo on Fri Feb 04, 2011 at 09:32:28 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  No; that is a form of it (0+ / 0-)

          but not the only one.  

          •  Elections are only a "form" of democracy? (0+ / 0-)

            They are, by definition, a democracy.  But you'd equate it, maybe, with what store you buy a product at.

            You must compete by working more for less. Mush!

            by Paleo on Fri Feb 04, 2011 at 11:13:01 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Athens, to take one example (0+ / 0-)

              had democracy without elections.

              Unions, to take another, very different example, are proposing to have democratic expression through card check.

              Neither involve elections, both are democratic.

              •  But purchasing power is unequal. (2+ / 0-)

                Your point that democracy != elections is a valid one and a truth I wish were more widely recognized around DailyKos.

                Your calling purchasing goods at Walmart a democratic process, however, is not valid.  There are three problems with it:

                1. Your argument is cover for who really decides, i.e. Walmart.  That's typical for defenders of Capitalism, because Capitalists make all the really critical decisions in a Capitalist-dominated society.
                1. Purchasers are not equal.

                The card checkers and Athenians citizens are engaged in deciding issues directly, and that's true democracy.  Also, the principle of one person, one vote applies in both those circumstances, remembering we were talking about Athenian citizens, a classification wrongly restricted in that city-state.

                Purchasers in a marketplace do not have equal input, however.  Those with more money have more "say" in your example than others.  The egalitarian aspect of democracy is lost.

                1. The principle of "most affected decide" is violated.  Purchasers are affected by whether Walmart is present or not, but they are hardly the only or even the most affected.  Competitors and their employees are impacted, along with taxpayers who will have to support additional infrastructure, residents of the neighborhood where the store might be located, and potential Walmart employees.  A truly democratic process would engage these people in the decision as well.  You would give all the decision-making power primarily to Walmart, then secondarily to the purchasers who might save $15 or $20 a week shopping at the store.  Competitors and their employees might lose their income entirely.

                The Athenian democracy, organized by neighborhood, followed this principle.  Even the card check process accomplishes that with the understanding that the owners do not take part in the process (LOL about how little that has to do with reality), but the owners are involved as negotiators with any union the employees might choose.

                Direct democracy is always preferable, but purchasing goods in a marketplace is not a democratic act.  What you're arguing is "let the market decide," which really means, let the Capitalists decide.

                No thanks.

    •  Thats "His Majesty The Mayor" to you, plebe (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Tasini
  •  "market rules' (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Tasini, goinsouth, Azazello, Joieau

    is the most dishonest and invasively destructive notion in the world. All markets are regulated, all markets benefit or suffer depending on how they are constructed by law, policy and behavior.

    Even the most unregulated market - the illegal drug markets - are shaped and formed by the laws regarding drugs.  

    This logic has poisoned the well of every public service we have, it has destroyed living wage jobs for over thirty years. Ever since Jimmy Carter embraced neoliberalism and the logic of the global markets. He did it because 'free trade' was supposed to create 'world peace'. How'd that idea work out for us, Jimmy?

    For anyone interested in joining me in a positive discussion about how to address rampant joblessness and the death of living wage work. Please check out my diary today: Ten Things Government Can Do To Create Jobs. Apologies for the shameless pimping. But those of us who are angry about the economy need to stop waiting for our 'leaders' to come up with good ideas. We need to do it ourselves.

    And then come up with a plan to force our way onto the political agenda.

  •  They've been hammering this false dichotomy, (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Tasini, goinsouth, Tom Taaffe, Joieau

    the Free-Market or the Gulag, for decades. If you go back and read Uncle Miltie's drivel from 1962 you'll see that that's basically his whole argument. Any attempt to regulate the "free" market will lead to Soviet-style dictatorship.

    •  its called 'red baiting' (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Azazello

      65 years of anti-communist propaganda in our educational system and through our media has done the trick. We've crippled our own ability to think our way out of this economic disaster.

      Our blinkered minds shut down the minute an idea gets tagged as 'socialist' or 'communist' or - god help me - 'liberal'.  And as we follow the herd to the right, that behavior grows worse and worse, until even the right-wing, corporate economic policies of President Obama's get tagged in such a manner.

      Its time we stop playing into corporate fascism and take a stand for humanity.

    •  yup (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Azazello

      a long time this crazy rhetoric.
      I don't seek to convince the people who buy wal-mart' "low prices" nonsense--they are hard-wired to CNBC.

      Instead, it's the majority we need to speak to.

      Follow me on Twitter @jonathantasini

      Visit Working Life.

      by Tasini on Fri Feb 04, 2011 at 09:47:10 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  SOomeone played this game with me just last week (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Azazello

    Comparing N to S Korea.Communism vs capitalism.
    As if the only options were letting big corp and criminal banksters run amok and do whatever they want, or something out of George Orwell. I also seem to remember some blather along the same lines in the latest Nat Review. Which seems in its post-WFB  decline to have descended to the lofty intellectual plane of Glenn Beck.

  •  Yup... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Tom Taaffe

    Yup.  

    If we don't allow a WalMart here in NYC, the entire city will become a Soviet satellite overnight!  

  •  Scandinavia is best place in world... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Tom Taaffe

    Think about the places in the world with the lowest unemployment and highest quality of life?

    Yup, Denmark, Norway...

    Those places have hit a "sweet spot" between communism and the so-called free market.

  •  Two axes to consider here. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    An Affirming Flame

    The defenders of Capitalism love to conflate these two axes in the way you've just described.

    There are, however, two separate and equally important axes, not one.  One deals primarily with the ownership of the means of production.  Is it privately owned or not?  If it is privately owned, you'll get Capitalism in all its glory eventually no matter how hard you try to regulate and control it.

    The other axis concerns the nature of politics.  Is there a powerful central State or not?

    To risk over-simplifying, with a powerful central State and private ownership of the means of production, you get the U. S. at present with the recognition that State power is used to enhance the power of Capitalists.  With a weaker central State and private ownership, you'd get Randian paradise.

    With a powerful central State, including State ownership of the means of production, you get Stalin and the U. S. S. R.

    With a weak or no central State and collective ownership of the means of production, you get Anarchism (or libertarian communism) like what was established in Catalonia in 1936 Spain.

    If you're an egalitarian and anti-authoritarian, you fall in the camp of Bakunin, Kropotkin, Durruti, Chomsky and Zinn.

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