The Pitchforks are Coming

For a general discussion of topics relating broadly to power and political economy (e.g., capital-as-power, Marxism, neo-classical economics, institutionalism).

Moderator: sanha926

The Pitchforks are Coming

Postby sanha926 » Fri Jun 27, 2014 8:59 am

Nick Hanauer has just written a fascinating plea to his fellow dominant capitalists on the Politico website. His message is simple: growing income and wealth disparity in the US is going to lead to a mass revolt. In other words, "the pitchforks are coming".

In their work on systemic fear, Nitzan and Bichler suggest that the ruling class usually fails to realize when it is losing its grip on power. Individual capitalists like Hanauer (and Buffet, etc.) might buck this trend -- but there is little to suggest that dominant capital as a whole is doing anything to heed these warnings.

To pose it in Olsonian language, is there anything short of catastrophe (war, ecological collapse) that you think might compel dominant capitalists as a group to overcome this collective action problem? Is there any possibility for a transition to a more democratic, equitable and ecologically sustainable form of capitalism? Hanauer's proposals for a minimum wage and basic medical coverage for workers sound perfectly legitimate. But how feasible are they in political terms and will they be enough?

Some lighthearted questions for you to consider on a sunny Friday afternoon.
User avatar
Posts: 103
Joined: Mon Nov 24, 2008 6:20 pm

Re: The Pitchforks are Coming

Postby josephbaines1 » Fri Jun 27, 2014 10:54 am

Thanks for posting that very interesting article. However, I don't think we should underestimate the degree to which major corporations and key organs of government are preparing for mass unrest. See this fascinating piece on the Pentagon's preparations for societal breakdown and their 'war-games' that simulate civil disorder: ... -breakdown

Moreover, it's worth noting that the World Cup is also, in some respects, a huge government-corporate experiment on controlling potentially restive populations. Interestingly, the crowd control strategies that Israel has honed in the occupied territories are currently being operationalized in Brazil: ... 1000935527. I fear that mass surveillance and increasingly sophisticated forms of population control are more preferable to most segments of dominant capital, than redistribution and welfare.
Posts: 16
Joined: Mon Nov 25, 2013 3:35 pm

Re: The Pitchforks are Coming

Postby uma » Wed Jul 02, 2014 3:55 am

josephbaines1 wrote:Moreover, it's worth noting that the World Cup is also, in some respects, a huge government-corporate experiment on controlling potentially restive populations.

This is not a new development. During the 2006 WC in Germany there was an art exhibition with critical positions about the event, focussing, among other things, on the "crowd control" topic. There was also a conference about this, and the Policing Crowds project seems to continue (website somewhat broken). Note that according to this crowd control becomes an increasingly privatized (i.e. capitalized) activity.

As to mass unrest: I think it is important to distinguish resistance within the context of capitalism, i.e. which does not fundamentally question it, and a breakdown of capital as a mode of power either due to a revolution or under its own weight. Resistance within capitalism may be overcome by "policing measures", the breakdown not, by definition. One must note that security business is itself a business. Collapse of capitalism implies collapse of business as the oranizational logic of the regime. Simply put: Who pays security if the financial system, or at least all other business which finances security, collapses?

People working in security experience the same degradation of labor conditions as elsewhere. What would make them defend capitalism if it is really near collapse? The breakdown of the alleged "socialist" regimes in 1989 took place, in part, because the regime had lost its faith to such an extend that all the "security" people just didn't go against the uprising. In Eastern Germany, it was reported, there were 1 million under arms for the defence of the regime (out of a population of 17 mn) -- yet, none of them left their barracks.

Of course, a collapse of capitalism, without any idea of what would cold positively replace it, will likely lead to a highly violent social situation, perhaps much like the "failed states" we already see ("failed state of capital"). "Autonomy of barbarie" -- texts by Castoriadis are still relevant in this context (e.g. "What democracy?" 1990) if one reads his economic reasoning with a CasP eye.
Posts: 12
Joined: Thu Dec 11, 2008 6:59 am

Re: The Pitchforks are Coming

Postby DT Cochrane » Thu Jul 10, 2014 2:35 pm

Thanks for sharing, Ulf. It's nice to see you on the boards.

It is interesting to contrast the solution of Hanauer with that of philanthro-capitalists like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet. Hanauer wishes to see redistribution occur via government policies. Gates prefers to remain in control of the redistribution via charitable works through his foundation. Gates vision is essentially a neo-medieval one, where the well-being of the unwashed masses is the caretaking responsibility of the wealthy, powerful, but benevolent elite. As such, his foundation is going into some of the globe's most dire situations and offering aid, together with a bit of lip service to entrepreneurship and "teaching a man to fish." Hanauer, on the other hand, retains a stridently Keynesian capitalist mindset, and believes redistribution will provoke and renew middle class consumption. Although I certainly advocate the reforms he suggests, I blanch at the idea that increased consumption is a good thing, given how that consumption gobbles up non-renewable resources and generates a great deal of waste, both of which are having their own redistributionary effects. Let's not forget that the North American middle class are in the global 1%, in part because the effects of their consumption are borne globally, while they monopolize the benefits. We cannot justly talk about redistribution without including not just sustainability, but global environmental rehabilitation.

Ulf is absolutely right that we need to distinguish resistance within capitalism and resistance to capitalism. Unfortunately, because capital is a misunderstood entity, many who espouse an opposition to capitalism do not in fact properly oppose it. Capitalism requires first private property and second capitalization, which allows property to become valued, vendible and ownership to become divisible. The 'state of capital' includes an inherent acceptance of capitalization as a means of pricing the future. We could tear down every dominant corporation. But, as long as private property and capitalization endure, capitalism remains and dominant entities will re-emerge.

I also think we should take seriously the vested interests efforts to survey the masses, which doesn't just take the form of drones, and DARPA research, but also the compilation of social media data, consumer surveys, market research, etc. This is and will be used as means of social control. However, I also think we need to temper this with a realization that vested interests are never as capable of completely containing society as they may like or believe they can. Consider Gaza. It is probably the most heavily surveyed and policed piece of land in the world. Yet, as meagre as they are, weapons continue to flow into the territory and resistance remains. Of course, Gaza is currently being ground to dust by the IDF. But, the on-going presence of resistance should give us pause to recognize that it can exist even in the most strenuously controlled situations.
User avatar
DT Cochrane
Posts: 66
Joined: Thu Nov 21, 2013 6:49 am

Return to Political Economy

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest