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(also posted at Firedoglake and Voices on the Square)

Every once in a while the "alternative Internet" features pieces which reveal in full clarity why we get so little out of the political system.  Two of these were published yesterday:

1) Gabriel Kolko's piece in Counterpunch ("The New Deal Illusion" -- 8/29/12) largely discusses the New Deal as a set of ideas germinating under Herbert Hoover and achieving some degree of fruition under FDR.  It would seem that none of this stuff was ultimately successful in ending the Great Depression.  Kolko says of Hoover:

The Depression was more than a match for him, and it proved more than a match for Roosevelt. Basically, it was the Second World War that got the U. S. out of the Great Depression completely.
Kolko criticizes the commonly-held, simplified version of history that credits the Democrats for the New Deal as follows:
The problem–among others– is that the general political community rarely reads their rather detailed academic monographs.  But the persistence of the notion that somehow the Democrats are somehow better than Republicans is also related to the fact that the GOP more often falls under the sway of yahoos, making the Democrats seem less objectionable.
Of course, one can object to Kolko's portrayal of history by noting that both the Great Depression and World War II were periods in which Democrats controlled the White House, and that we currently are in a period in which yahoos control the Republican Party.  But there's more at stake here than Kolko's efforts to put the Democrats in their places as members of a "conservative" party.  The overarching problem foregrounded by Kolko is one of the limits of social technology:
Until the war had begun. WPA or not, unemployment remained very high.  By 1939 the New Deal’s social technology was exhausted and there was only a confused debate between Democrats about the virtues–or lack of them–of laissez faire and competition versus the panoply of ideas behind “planning“ and control of competition.
World War II brought the sort of economic restructuring necessary to end the Great Depression, while at the same time extending the lifespan of the (global) capitalist system.  Of course the Republicans wouldn't have done any better had they been in power.  

Here I'd like to point out the interaction between politics and the capitalist system, using my interpretation of Kees van der Pijl's history of capitalism (in my second diary here at Kos).  I conceived of four stages of capitalism: a) agricultural capitalism, b) industrial capitalism, c) consumer capitalism, and d) neoliberalism.

In this interpretation, the Great Depression appears as an interim period between stages b) and c), when the contradictions of industrial capitalism had come to a head yet the heyday of consumer capitalism was yet to come.  Kolko's history points out that the politicians of our capitalist democracy appear to be "going along for the ride" when foregrounded as actors in the history of capitalism.  They protect the capitalist system and have some effect in mitigating its most serious crises, but that's all they do.

2) A further elucidation of the limitations of our politicians also appeared yesterday in Matt Stoller's piece in Naked Capitalism, "Why The Big Issues Are Missing From The 2012 Race" (8/29/12).  Stoller's argument is that politicians care about getting elected and re-elected, but not as a first priority.  The political class's first priority is retaining the perks it is granted for its performance of services for those with the money to pay for them.  Here's how he phrases it:

...most US politicians by and large would like to win elections, but they aren’t going to jeopardize a future revenue stream or even their membership in the club of the global elite to do so. This is true for all parts of the political ecosystem, from politicians to staffers to campaign operatives to pollsters to consultants. While losing a race isn’t fun, if you rock the boat and lose, you’re done.
This, then, explains the conservative nature of governance in this era.  The political class in America is as uniform as the sources of money which fund its collective life ambitions, from private careers to public careers to retirement.  When I mock the popular notion that Barack Obama is some kind of leftist, I am merely holding Obama up as an example of the uniformity of the system's political class.  There are antipublic conservatives and corporate conservatives, and what they agree upon is conservatism.  There's a website for it now, Obama the Conservative, which is mostly fair, and unfair mostly in its singling out of Barack Obama in a sea of political conservatism.  

Once again, now in the age of neoliberalism, the politicians of today's capitalist democracy can be seen as "going along for the ride" when foregrounded against the history of capitalism.  Since, however, the golden age of capitalism has come and gone, leaving behind a consumer society in decline, we appear to have a rocky road ahead.  A terminal crisis for the capitalist system will at some later point become once again a thinkable proposition.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (17+ / 0-)

    "Once the Lords of Capital are no longer the lords of anything, humanity gets another shot at rational development of the species and the planet." - Glen Ford

    by Cassiodorus on Thu Aug 30, 2012 at 06:01:02 AM PDT

  •  Excellent point - politician goal future revenue (8+ / 0-)

    they are focused on their future revenue stream even more than winning elections

    so even the leverage the people seem to have during the campaigns is over taken by self interest of the politicians

    Matt Taibbi in his piece on Romney points out that the laws in the 1980's allowed debt to take over companies and further drive them into the ground and reward investors and banks. The same strategy is being used to drive the whole country down as seen in many places like the collapse of the middle class and student debt of 1 trillion.

    can our culture which has allowed this to happen, and with the main stream media has served the investor class, can our culture reign in this extraction of resources?

  •  Yep, a rocky road... (6+ / 0-)

    headed straight off a cliff. But why resist, object or bother anyone with the truth when you can 'go along for the ride'?

    Another fine essay Cassi. Thank you sir.

  •  High roller investors are buying up land in (5+ / 0-)

    Africa in anticipation of the great food shortage.  Shortages of resources that prop up capitalism will result in new paradigms, population shifts, and survival systems.  Climate change will be the relentless driver of these changes.

    Romney went to France instead of serving in our military, got rich chop-shopping US businesses and eliminating US jobs, off-shored his money in the Cayman Islands, and now tells us to "Believe in America."

    by judyms9 on Thu Aug 30, 2012 at 06:16:46 AM PDT

  •  The New Deal Had More Effect on Stabilizing (4+ / 0-)

    the bubble depression cycle for decades later, I think, than it did on job creation in the 30's. I doubt it was politically possible for them to do the scale of hiring program that the war eventually proved necessary. The Court struck down programs left and right, and when FDR tried fixing the Court he lost a lot of popular support.

    It'd be interesting to see a good analysis of how much more the federal government could have done, Constitutionally under that Court, that was supported by enough people that the Dems could have held power long enough for the political benefits of turnaround to further empower them. I know that labor wanted more/bigger hiring programs but did enough of the nation as a whole?

    As for the ND economic regs, it only took us 2-3 years in the 80's to see what some of those regs had been protecting the country from for c. 50 years.

    And let's not forget that the 30's featured a controlled experiment to compare the 2 parties of that day with:

    We got to see 3 1/2 years of Republican governance, during which the stock slide grew to triple the fall of the October crash, and we reached the point of bank failures and full blown Depression. As Krugman has pointed out, there was significant rebound under the Dems till in 1937 they became more austere and debt conscious.

    How much popular pressure was behind that turn?

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Thu Aug 30, 2012 at 06:18:28 AM PDT

  •  Paul Ryan is a lying - how many on Rec list? (6+ / 0-)

    Several diaries on this topic will appear.

    Juan Cole today has his own take on it. Top 10 repeated Paul Ryan lies.

    My hunch is that a diary like this one is more important and won't make it to the rec list.

    This diary makes a point that I have known for a long time, but it drives the nail home that politicians are just part of the eco structure of our country which is about short term gains am maximization of self return at the expense of the commons.

    Both parties are playing the game.

    The big issue of lying in politics needs to be shouted from the mountain tops, but the corporate media are conduits of the lies.

    The game is rigged. DK is falling into the same trap by not putting the emphasis what is needed for both parties, not just for this election.  

  •  "The New Deal did not fix the depression" (6+ / 0-)

    We hear a lot from conservatives that "the New Deal did not fix the great depression".  Conservatives tell us that only WWII ended the great depression.

    I think there is a lot of truth to the claim that WWII ended the great depression, but this proves to me how conservative economic theories are all wrong.

    How was it that WWII ended the great depression?  WWII ended the great depression here in the US because suddenly the US government started a massive spending program (funded almost entirely by debt) to increase factory output and manufacturing.  The US government created millions of new jobs, and unemployment fell to nothing.  The effect of this spending program was to end entirely the great depression.

    I think this example shows perfectly how the conservative theory of cutting government spending to end a depression/recession is entirely wrong.  

    "The fool doth think he is wise: the wise man knows himself to be a fool" - W. Shakespeare

    by Hugh Jim Bissell on Thu Aug 30, 2012 at 07:18:28 AM PDT

    •  Exactly; it's as if WWII came by and handed us (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mightymouse, WB Reeves

      money and jobs.

      Nope, it forced us to spend massively, and it also destroyed the two notable economic competitors at the time: Japan and Europe.

      •  Forgot to add: (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        mightymouse, Don midwest, WB Reeves

        While the US government took on massive debt (like, 100+% of the US GNP) to fund that massive spending program that ended the great depression, the massive debt did not (as conservative like to claim) result in the ruination of our economy.  

        Rather, in the years immediately following WWII, different administrations, both democratic and republican, paid down the debt and pretty much eliminated US government debt entirely by the mid '50's.  There were economic slowdowns in the period immediately following WWII as factories stopped making millions of tanks and US soldiers returned from war to look for civilain jobs, but the US economy as a whole was remarkably robust through the entire period of 1940 through 1973, when the arab oil embargo resulted in a severe downturn.

        Thirty years of economic growth jump-started by a large government spending program, AND government debts paid off.  Conservatives ae very wrong about the role of government spending as economic stimulus.

        What about the conservative idea of cutting government spending to fix an economic depression?  Well, Hoover tried it after the crash of 1929.  Responding to economic theories that government debt was creating the depression, Hoover implemented massive cuts in government spending in 1929 and 1930.  the result was a worsening of economic conditions culminating in a banking crisis in 1932 with widespread closures and failures of many banks.    

        "The fool doth think he is wise: the wise man knows himself to be a fool" - W. Shakespeare

        by Hugh Jim Bissell on Thu Aug 30, 2012 at 07:47:07 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  This is blindingly obvious (0+ / 0-)

      yet you're right in pointing it out since it's consistently ignored. Government spending is government spending. The distinction between the New Deal and WWII is pure semantics. Typical of the Right wing belief in the potency of magical incantations. "Spending on job creation: bad. Spending on war industries: good." Or even "Creating jobs on credit: bad. Fighting wars on credit: good."

      Nothing human is alien to me.

      by WB Reeves on Thu Aug 30, 2012 at 12:46:59 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Unemployment fell under the New Deal (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Anyone who paid attention knows the New Deal did not end the Great Depression. Kolko seems engaged in strawmanship here.

    New Deal programs helped a lot of people who otherwise would have suffered more.

    An ambulance can only go so fast - Neil Young

    by mightymouse on Thu Aug 30, 2012 at 07:29:38 AM PDT

    •  Kolko's point -- (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Don midwest, mightymouse, shaharazade

      was that the New Deal was ultimately an idea of other people besides the Democrats, and one of these other people was Herbert Hoover.  And Hoover, an exceedingly bright man, appears to have been bright enough to AVOID being "along for the ride," but his ideological limitations allowed him to come up with a few New Deal infrastructure spending ideas, and not much more.

      Thus the real story of American history appears to be not the matter of "politicians did this or that," nor will it be "politicians will do this or that."  The real story is the trajectory of the capitalist system, from its beginnings through its boom periods and developmental crises, to its decline and ultimately to its terminal crisis some time in the future.

      That's the less I drew from the two articles I showcased today.

      "Once the Lords of Capital are no longer the lords of anything, humanity gets another shot at rational development of the species and the planet." - Glen Ford

      by Cassiodorus on Thu Aug 30, 2012 at 08:01:12 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  but does it matter whose idea it was? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Putting the idea into action is what counts. We have plenty of great ideas right now that don't get enacted. the current crop of pols bears the blame for that.

        Dems do deserve credit for the New Deal. A Democratic Congress passed it and a Democratic president signed all the bills and staffed the agencies. I think Kolko's argument (at least as presented here - I didn't read the orig. article) is weak.

        FDR was famous for trying things, regardless of where the idea came from. People say he wasn't a great intellectual, not an idea guy so much. That's fine. That's not necessarily his job.

        An ambulance can only go so fast - Neil Young

        by mightymouse on Thu Aug 30, 2012 at 08:50:45 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Not really. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Kolko's main argument:

          Anyone who looks at recent American history, the statements and policies of the Democrats and Republicans, will conclude that there is a much greater consensus between the parties than differences, and always has been. They frequently try to accentuate the differences, and sustaining political myths are often necessary to winning elections.  The New Deal is one such myth that the Democrats gain from.
          I look at it this way.  The Great Depression was of such magnitude that it frightened the political class into passing the weak tea that was the New Deal.  The Democrats were in power during those frightening times, and so benefited from the political class's having gained its nerve.  The myth that the Dems are the chosen ones persists to this day.

          "Once the Lords of Capital are no longer the lords of anything, humanity gets another shot at rational development of the species and the planet." - Glen Ford

          by Cassiodorus on Thu Aug 30, 2012 at 09:10:38 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Well, that was then and the case could be (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cassiodorus, Don midwest, shaharazade

    made.  Now is now and the case is done closed.

    "The Global War on Terror is a justification for U.S. Imperialism. It must be stopped."

    by BigAlinWashSt on Thu Aug 30, 2012 at 07:35:42 AM PDT

  •  This current debunking of FDR (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    by both parties who are at this point both neoliberal and extremist is absurd. I agree with Cassidorious about capitalism death spiral it's too big not fall and it's eating itself. FDR was a pol and a pol is a pol.

    People say Huey Long pushed FDR populist, people say alot of things in revisionist history. Lincoln also gets debunked the further right we drift.  What caused the Democrat's and FDR to counter the crash of the 1% greedheads and the viscous 1% economy was in a large part the populist movements that had been brewing for a long time. I don't really care what FDR's intentions were or what motivation caused the ND. At least it offered basic rights to workers and provided an economy that while still capitalistic was regulated.

    WW11 ended the depression but people tend to forget that fascism was globally on the rise and the war was in a large part the result of economic inequity. We also seem to overlook the fact  that our American elite class was  sympathetic to Hitler. They liked doing 'business with the German fascist regime.. Interesting to me that both the Bush family and the Kennedy's were thick as thieves with the Nazis.  

    In context of the times the Democrat's became the defacto left to the unsustainable house of cards of the rich. These days the Dems. are ideologically free market run amok cappies, and their is no counter to this vicious brand of global insanity.    

    My grandparents who were FDR Democrat's owned a small ranch in the San Fernando Valley.  The depression hit farmers first. They managed to keep their ranch and stay afloat in part from the local grange who they banked with and deffered their mortgage payments until the crisis was over. The also through their community pooled/bartered labor and resources food, housing.  

     I first learned about politics from this generation. Socialism may have been a dirty word to the elites but it was alive and well in the populace at large and especially those outside the cities. My grandma had FDR's four freedoms along with a picture of Paul Robeson hanging on her dining room walls. Commies didn't scare my grandparents but robber barons,banks and goon squads from the owners of the place did. My parents where a whole other kettle of fish and were dedicated capitalists.

    Nowadays we have no counter just vicious run amok neoliberal disaster capitalist's that are mutually and complicity destroying the ND or any deal that includes the 99% and allows them to govern with consent..  Labor is back to being powerless, unions crushed and even our laws old ones, that protected people and granted people self evident rights rights are being destroyed reinterpreted by this by-partisan global NWO. It isn't even about 'national interest' anymore just unmitigated global piracy, inhumanity and the destruction of our home the earth.

    FDR may have been a elitist oligarch but he had enough sense to know that if you go too far and people can't live decently they are going to take it in their own hands. This lot both Democratic and Republican have forgotten the fact that people can and do withdraw consent and the New Deal allowed them to stay in power. His cousin Teddy also had more sense, and busted some trusts during the robber baron era. I believe he was a cappie to and a Republican to boot.

    Thanks Cassidorous sorry to go on like this but bejeezus it's just madness this electoral season. I get so tired of dealing with every fucking issue from the point of view that says this crap is inevitable and this is the 'world as we find it. no it's the world that we the people have consented to out of misplaced fear.                  

  •  Zen makes some similar points in (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    A People's History of the U.S.

    A careful reading of that book reveals loads of insight. Zinn gives much more credit for the reforms to the uprising of the people during those early decades of the 20th century.

    Smart capitalists had to act if they didn't want full scale rebellion.

    "In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act". -George Orwell

    by ZhenRen on Thu Aug 30, 2012 at 02:14:50 PM PDT

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