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Tag: marxism

Supply Chains and the Human Condition

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by Anna Tsing (2009) PDF

This article theorizes supply chain capitalism as a model for understanding both the continent-crossing scale and the constitutive diversity of contemporary global capitalism. In contrast with theories of growing capitalist homogeneity, the analysis points to the structural role of difference in the mobilization of capital, labor, and resources. Here labor mobilization in supply chains is the focus, as it depends on the performance of gender, ethnicity, nationality, religion, and citizenship status. The article uses the concept of figuration to show how difference is mobilized within supply chains, and to point to the importance of tropes of management, consumption, and entrepreneurship in workers’ understandings of supply chain labor. These tropes make supply chains possible by bringing together self-exploitation and superexploitation. Diversity is thus structurally central to global capitalism, and not decoration on a common core.

Source: Rethinking Marxism, 21(2), 148–176, 2009

See also:  The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins Anna Tsing, 2015

Capital Abandon: Some Words On and Oft Inspired by Jacques Camatte

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by Howard Slater, January 2020 (metamute)

While for many on the Left, the theory of ultra-left communist Jacques Camatte has long been condemned for its ‘nostalgia’ and ‘primitivism’, our current moment of climate crisis and a ‘generalised madness’ brought on by capitalism’s psyche harvesting reveals these works to have a powerful relevance. In this overarching account of Camatte’s project, Howard Slater, citing previously untranslated texts, draws out the former’s interest in unlocking the repressed communal dimensions of the human being as a marker of revolutionary praxis

‘What is important for us is to create new

emotional relationships for a redeployment of life

Jacques Camatte

The work of Jacques Camatte is still relatively little known in the English-speaking world and as a consequence rarely discussed by Marxologists. His work is more familiar to that mix of disgruntled anarchists and non-Leninist communists who had passed through the Situationist School: anarchists tempted by the revelatory rigour of Marx, and Marxists tempted by the communitarian and non-party dimension of anarchism. In more recent years Camatte’s work has found itself utilised and commented on by two divergent schools: the accelerationist and communising tendencies. This is perhaps testament to the resonant eclecticism of Camatte’s work, his deep familiarisation with the work of Marx and yet his ‘shocking’ rejection of one of its main tenets: class struggle.

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The Temporalities of Capitalism (Sewell, 2008)

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by William H. Sewell, Jr

Socio-Economic Review, Volume 6, Issue 3, July 2008, Pages 517- 537 (PDF)

See also: Logics of History: Social Theory and Social Transformation 2005

The temporalities of capitalism are in certain respects unique. The temporalities of social life in general are ‘eventful’, i.e. irreversible, contingent, uneven, discontinuous and transformational. Although capitalist social processes are in certain respects super-eventful, the extreme abstraction that is a signature of capitalist development enables core processes of capitalism to escape from the irreversibility of time and to sustain a recurrent logic at their core. This means that the temporality of capitalism is composite and contradictory, simultaneously still and hyper-eventful. Recognizing this contradiction at the core of capitalism poses important conceptual and methodological challenges for those who study it.

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No Bases, No Superstructures: Against Legal Economism

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Nate Holdren and Rob Hunter on rethinking the “base/superstructure” model.

via Legal Form

[Several recent posts on Legal Form have tackled the “base/superstructure” model sketched in Marx’s A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, posing questions about its analytical usefulness, correct interpretation, and ongoing relevance. For these earlier posts, authored by Anandha Krishna Raj, Nate Holdren, and Matthew Dimick respectively, see herehere, and here. The present post responds to and builds upon these earlier posts.]

Three Different Accounts of the Relationship Between State and Civil Society

Capitalist society subordinates human flourishing and freedom to the accumulation of value. This proposition is central to Marx’s critique of political economy. Historically, critics of Marx have taken this view to mean that he is a fundamentally economic thinker, portraying his critique as merely economic, and thus necessarily inadequate or distorted. This criticism has motivated a number of attempts to theorize the relationship between economic relations and other social relations. Such attempts are premised on the recognition that the sum of economic relations is not simply the prime mover of every other social relation. Law, the state, culture and subculture, religion, gender, sexuality, and more all have specificities forged through concrete histories of struggle, just like (and in close connection with) economic relations.

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The Author as Producer (Walter Benjamin, 1934)

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Address at the Institute for the Study of Fascism, Paris, April 27, 1934

The task is to win over the intellectuals to the working class by making them aware of the identity of their spiritual enterprises and of their conditions as producers. –

Ramon Fernandez

You recall how Plato treats the poets in his projected State. In the interest of the community, he does not allow them to live there. He had a high idea of the power of poetry. But he considered it destructive, superfluous – in a perfect community, needless to say. Since then, the question of the poet’s right to exist has not often been stated with the same insistence; but it is today. Certainly it has rarely been posed in this form. But you are all more or less familiar with it as the question of the poet’s autonomy: his freedom to write whatever he may please. You are not inclined to accord him this autonomy. You believe that the current social situation forces the poet to choose whom his activity will serve. The bourgeois writer of popular stories does not acknowledge this alternative. So you show him that even without admitting it, he works in the interests of a particular class. An advanced type of writer acknowledges this alternative. His decision is determined on the basis of the class struggle when he places himself on the side of the proletariat. But then his autonomy is done for. He directs his energies toward what is useful for the proletariat in the class struggle. We say that he espouses a tendency. [1]

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The Origins of Fossil Capital: From Water to Steam in the British Cotton Industry (Malm, 2013)

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By Andreas Malm, Historical Materialism 21.1 (2013) 15–68 [PDF]

The process commonly referred to as business-as-usual has given rise to dangerous climate change, but its social history remains strangely unexplored. A key moment in its onset was the transition to steam power as a source of rotary motion in commodity production, in Britain and, first of all, in its cotton industry. This article tries to approach the dynamics of the fossil economy by examining the causes of the transition from water to steam in the British cotton industry in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Common perceptions of the shift as driven by scarcity are refuted, and it is shown that the choice of steam was motivated by a rather different concern: power over labour. Turning away from standard interpretations of the role of energy in the industrial revolution, this article opens a dialogue with Marx on matters of carbon and outlines a theory of fossil capital, better suited for understanding the drivers of business-as-usual as it continues to this day.

 

Revolutionary Strategy in a Warming World (Malm, 2016)

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How can climate justice activists stop capitalism’s drive to catastrophe? The author of Fossil Capital considers lessons from past revolutions and proposes an action program for today.

Andreas Malm teaches human ecology at Lund University, Sweden. He is the author of Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming, and The Progress of This Storm: Nature and Society in a Warming World.


Reprinted from Socialist Register 2017: Rethinking Revolution (Merlin Press and Monthly Review Press, 2016). 


REVOLUTION IN A WARMING WORLD
Lessons from the Russian to the Syrian Revolutions

by Andreas Malm

It doesn’t take much imagination to associate climate change with revolution. If the planetary order upon which all societies are built starts breaking down, how can they possibly remain stable? Various more or less horrifying scenarios of upheaval have long been extrapolated from soaring temperatures. In his novel The Drowned World from 1962, today often considered the first prophetic work of climate fiction, J. G. Ballard conjured up melting icecaps, an English capital submerged under tropical marshes and populations fleeing the unbearable heat towards polar redoubts. The UN directorate seeking to manage the migration flows assumed that ‘within the new perimeters described by the Arctic and Antarctic Circles life would continue much as before, with the same social and domestic relationships, by and large the same ambitions and satisfactions’ — but that assumption ‘was obviously fallacious.’[1]  A drowned world would be nothing like the one hitherto known.

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The Bourgeois(ie) as Concept and Reality (Wallerstein, 1988)

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In the mythology of the modern world, the quintessential protagonist is the bourgeois. Hero for some, villain for others, the inspiration or lure for most, he has been the shaper of the present and the destroyer of the past. In English, we tend to avoid the term ‘bourgeois’, preferring in general the locution ‘middle class’ (or classes). It is a small irony that despite the vaunted individualism of Anglo-Saxon thought, there is no convenient singular form for ‘middle class(es)’. We are told by the linguists that the term appeared for the first time in Latin form, burgensis, in 1007 and is recorded in French as burgeis as of 1100. It originally designated the inhabitant of a bourg, an urban area, but an inhabitant who was ‘free’. Free, however, from what? Free from the obligations that were the social cement and the economic nexus of a feudal system. The bourgeois was not a peasant or serf, but he was also not a noble. . . [READ PDF]

For more Immanuel Wallerstein, see:

Proletariat into a Class: The Process of Class Formation from Karl Kautsky’s The Class Struggle to Recent Controversies (1977)

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by ADAM PRZEWORSKI 

Politics & Society 7, no. 4 (1977): pp. 343-401

Workers and the petite bourgeois are the only producers of all that is consumed. The surplus produced by workers is directly and indirectly (through the state) transferred as revenue to all other categories. In this sense even the poorest of the lumpenproletariat lives off the workers: given capitalist relations of production there are objective bases to the antagonism of workers to the “welfare class”… Yet at the same time all categories other than the capitalists and the petite bourgeoisie are separated from the ownership of the means of production and forced to sell their labor power for a wage, unless they can subsist on so-called welfare. Moreover, in Marx’s analysis the labor of commercial employees, while not creating surplus value, enables the merchant capitalist to appropriate surplus value without paying the employees the full equivalent of their labor. In this sense, both the reproductive and the service categories, while living off the surplus produced by workers, are separated from the means of production, forced to sell their labor power, and in a particular sense exploited by the capitalist… Concrete analysis is incompatible with the view of classes as economically determined, spontaneously emerging subjects that simply march on to transform history. Classes are formed as effects of struggles; as classes struggle, they transform the conditions under which classes are formed.

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The Meaning of Working Through the Past (Adorno, 1959)

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by Theodor Adorno (1959, Critical Models)

The question “What does working through the past mean?” requires explication. It follows from a formulation, a modish slogan that has become highly suspect during the last years. In this usage “working through the past” does not mean seriously working upon the past, that is, through a lucid consciousness breaking its power to fascinate. On the contrary, its intention is to close the books on the past and, if possible, even remove it from memory. The attitude that everything should be forgotten and forgiven, which would be proper for those who suffered injustice, is practiced by those party supporters who committed the injustice. I wrote once in a scholarly dispute: in the house of the hangman one should not speak of the noose, otherwise one might seem to harbor resentment. However, the tendency toward the unconscious and not so unconscious defensiveness against guilt is so absurdly associated with the thought of working through the past that there is sufficient reason to reflect upon a domain from which even now there emanates such a horror that one hesitates to call it by name. 

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Critical Theory as Radical Crisis Theory: Kurz, Krisis, and Exit! on Value Theory, the Crisis, and the Breakdown of Capitalism

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Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen & Dominique Routhier (2019)

The essay introduces the work of Robert Kurz and the somewhat marginalized species of value critique that he is associated with: Wertkritik. On the basis of a critical historiographical account of the New Marx Reading,it argues that the theoretical and political differences between Wertkritik and other value-critical currents cannot be glossed over or dismissed as mere territorial strife but must instead be understood as an expression of a more fundamental disagreement about the nature of capitalism and the role of critique,the distinctive feature of course being the insistence on a proper theory of crisis. The essay presents Kurzs particular version of Wertkritik but argues against his abandonment of the notion of class struggle and proposes to supplement Kurzs analysis with Théorie Communistes more historically grounded analysis of the present period of capital.

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RETHINKING MARXISM, 2019 Vol. 31, No. 2, 173–193

Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture (Jameson, 1979)

by FREDRIC JAMESON

The theory of mass culture-or mass audience culture, commercial culture, “popular” culture, the culture industry, as it is variously known-has always tended to define its object against so-called high culture without reflecting on the objective status of this opposition. As so often, positions in this field reduce themselves to two mirror-images, and are essentially staged in terms of value. Thus the familiar motif of elitism argues for the priority of mass culture on the grounds of the sheer numbers of people exposed to it; the pursuit of high or hermetic culture is then stigmatized as a status hobby of small groups of intellectuals. As its anti-intellectual thrust suggests, this essentially negative position has little theoretical content but clearly responds to a deeply rooted conviction in American radicalism and articulates a widely based sense that high culture is an establishment phenomenon, irredeemably tainted by its association with institutions, in particular with the university. The value invoked is therefore a social one: it would be preferable to deal with tv programs, The Godfather, or Jaws, rather than with Wallace Stevens or Henry James, because the former clearly speak a cultural language meaningful to far wider strata of the population than what is socially represented by intellectuals. Radicals are however also intellectuals, so that this position has suspicious overtones of the guilt trip; meanwhile it overlooks the anti-social and critical, negative (although generally not revolutionary) stance of much of the most important forms of modem art; finally, it offers no method for reading even those cultural objects it valorizes and has had little of interest to say about their content.

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A Party of Autonomy?

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by Steve Wright (2005)

In loving memory of Ivan Conabere (1963-2002)—‘Uno di noi’

Autonomia operaia is a party, from the phenomenal, organisational and structural point of view—Judge Pietro Calogero (La Repubblica 1979: 120).

If only!—Mario Dalmaviva, Luciano Ferrari Bravo, Toni Negri, Oreste Scalzone, Emilio Vesce, Lauso Zagato (1979: 23).

This chapter seeks to explore, in a critical manner, the debate over the party-form played out within and around the groups of Autonomia Operaia during the late seventies, when that area of revolutionary politics was briefly the dominant force within the Italian far left. Having assumed a leading role during the initial stages of 1977’s ‘strange movement of strange students’ (Lerner, Manconi & Sinibaldi 1978), Italian autonomists finally found a mass audience for their debate around the meaning and purpose of political organisation. This was to be a many-sided discussion while it lasted, conducted not only between the various ‘micro-fractions’ (Scalzone 1978) that together claimed the label of Autonomia organizzata, but also with a range of critics ‘outside and on its borders’ (Martignoni & Morandini 1977).

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Anxiety and Politics (Franz Neumann, 1957)

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Franz Neumann (1957)

Anxiety is, or ought to be, a central problem of the sciences. Anxiety impairs the freedom of decision, indeed it may make such freedom impossible—only a fearless man (or woman, ed.) can decide freely. The discussion of the problem of anxiety should be open to all the disciplines, not reserved to any one of them, for the great concern of science is the analysis and application of the concept of human freedom. My task today is to discuss the problem of anxiety in politics, a task which is confronted with many obstacles. In contrast to the traditional disciplines, the science of politics has no method of its own—it has, in the last analysis, only a focus, namely the dialectical relation between domination and freedom. In other words the science of politics revolves solely around a problem and uses all kinds of methods to attack this problem. However, with this approach the political scientist runs the danger of dilettantism, a danger which he can avoid only by being conscious of his limitations and by giving hearing to authorities from other disciplines. Thus this contribution will often consist merely in a synthesis of the results of research or perhaps in a felicitous hypothesis. [READ PDF]

The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism

 

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Women and Revolution  (1981) deals with contemporary feminist political theory and practice. It is a debate concerning the importance of patriarchy and sexism in industrialized societies – are sexual differences and kin relations as critical to social outcome as economic relations? What is the dynamic between class and sex? Is one or the other dominant? How do they interact? What are the implications for social change? The principle essay to which the others respond – either criticizing it, extending, or attempting to improve it – is The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism by Heidi Hartmann. Hartmann argues that class and patriarchy are equally important and that neither a narrow feminism nor an economistic Marxism will suffice to help us understand or change modern society – instead we need a theory that can integrate the two analyses. The twelve contributors to this discussion are: Iris Young, Christine Riddiough, Gloria Joseph, Sandra Harding, Azizah ai-Hibri, Carol Ehrlich, Lise Vogel, Emily Hicks, Carol Brown, K.aties Stewart, Ann Ferguson & Nancy Folbre, Zillah Eisenstein.

The Political Economy of Women’s Liberation (1969)

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by Margaret Benston (Monthly Review, 1969)

The “woman question” is generally ignored in analyses of the class structure of society. This is so because, on the one hand, classes are generally defined by their relation to the means of production and, on the other hand, women are not supposed to have any unique relation to the means of production. The category seems instead to cut across all classes; one speaks of working-class women, middle-class women, etc. The status of women is clearly inferior to that of men, but analysis of this condition usually falls into discussing socialization, psychology, interpersonal relations, or the role of marriage as a social institution. Are these, however, the primary factors? In arguing that the roots of the secondary status of women are in fact economic, it can be shown that women as a group do indeed have a definite relation to the means of production and that this is different from that of men. The personal and psychological factors then follow from this special relation to production, and a change  in the latter will be a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for changing the former. If this special relation of women to production is accepted, the analysis of the situation of women fits naturally into a class analysis of society . . . [READ PDF]

The realism of our time

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An interview with Kim Stanley Robinson by Helena Feder / RP 2.01 (February 2018)

Kim Stanley Robinson is the author of more than twenty works of fiction, including the celebrated Mars trilogy (Red MarsGreen Mars and Blue Mars), Forty Signs of Rain, The Years of Rice and Salt2312 and, his latest novel, New York 2140. A former student of Fredric Jameson, Robinson’s work is consistently anti-capitalist. His novels evince not only his deep interest in global economy and ecology, but also a belief that fiction may venture into spheres where theory fears to tread. For Robinson, science fiction is uniquely placed to do this, rooted both in what is and what could be. In the best tradition of the genre (H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. Le Guin), it can consider critically both the politics and possibilities of technology, and the social, ideological and ecological systems that give rise to it. Science fiction has, in this sense, a particular responsibility not only to imagine the future but to imagine how we might change its direction. In Robinson’s New York 2140, a series of connected characters, centred around the MetLife tower in a future inter-tidal world, a financially and physically liquid city, come together to do just this. Sea levels have risen in two catastrophic ‘pulses’ of ten and forty feet, transforming planetary and human geography. In the midst of this ecological and refugee crisis, lower Manhattan becomes ‘a veritable hotbed of theory and practice, like it always used to say it was, but this time for real.’

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The Authoritarian State (Horkheimer, 1942)

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The historical predictions on the fate of bourgeois society have been confirmed. In the system of the free market economy, which pushed men to labor-saving discoveries and finally subsumed them in a global mathematical formula, its specific offspring, machines, have become means of destruction not merely in the literal sense: they have made not work but the workers superfluous. The bourgeoisie has been decimated, and the majority of members have lost their independence; where they have not been thrown into the ranks of the proletariat, or more commonly into the masses of unemployed, they have become dependents of the big concerns or the state. The El Dorado of bourgeois existence, the sphere of circulation, is being liquidated. Its work is being carried out in part by the trusts which, without the help of banks, finance themselves, eliminate the commercial intermediaries and take control of the stockholders organizations. Part of the business sphere is handled by the state. As the caput mortuum of the transformation process of the bourgeoisie there remain only the highest levels of the industrial and state bureaucracy. “One way or another, with or without the trusts, the official representative of capitalist society, the state, must finally take over the management of production… All social functions of the capitalists are now discharged by salaried civil servants… And the modern state is once again only the organization which bourgeois society creates for itself to maintain the general external conditions for the capitalist means of production against encroachments either by the workers or by individual capitalists… The more productive forces the state takes over as its own property, the more it becomes a collective capitalist, the more citizens of the state it exploits. The workers remain wage laborers, proletarians. The relationship to capital is not abolished but becomes far more acute.” In the transition from monopoly to state capitalism, the last stage offered by bourgeois society is “the appropriation of the large productive and commercial organisms, first by joint-stock companies, later by trusts and then by the state.” State capitalism is the authoritarian state of the present. . . [READ PDF / Deutsch]


see also: The Philosophy of History and the Authoritarian State (1971) by Hans-Jürgen Krahl

The Market, the State, and the End of History (Agnoli, 2000)

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by J. Agnoli (2000)

The world market society, our present reality, is labelled globalization. Apart from its ideological status in social conflict – that is, the attempt of capital to make European labour accept unconditionally high unemployment and low wages – the term globalization presents something quite different; namely, the complete commercialization and commodification of social life. In other words, the so-called laws of the market, operating at a global scale, penetrate and condition everything from industrial production to cultural production. Bourgeois society rests upon the operation of these laws and it is these laws that transform bourgeois society into a world-wide ensemble of commodities. Clearly this the best of all worlds . . . [PDF]

 

The Center Has Fallen and There’s No Going Back

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PHIL NEEL in conversation with Paul Mattick

This month brings the publication of Phil Neel’s Hinterland, the first in the Field Notes series of books published by Reaktion Books in association with the Brooklyn Rail, to provide in-depth analyses of today’s global turmoil as it unfolds. I could not think of a better book to begin with than Neel’s insider’s analysis of the U.S. working class outside the big-city centers to which most media attention is paid. I’ve taken advantage of this occasion to ask Phil Neel to discuss some of the fundamental ideas of his book.

Paul Mattick (Rail): Near the end of the book, you make the fundamental observation, that “the character of production sculpts the character of class” in any historical period. How is the current form of production reshaping class relations, and why does understanding this require a focus on what you call the “hinterland”?

Phil Neel: This is a good place to start, because I want to be unambiguous that this question is really what the book is about, in the end. It’s a book of communist geography. There’s this new generation of thinkers who are trying to apply a rigorous Marxist method in ways that are neither frustratingly esoteric nor mind-numbingly dumb, and even while we all have our obvious disagreements, I think it’s a great thing. And the reason it’s possible is because so many of these questions that maybe thirty years ago were of purely academic interest are again becoming a lived experience. This itself is evidence of the basic thesis you mention above: the book represents a class position, not the product of some personal ingenuity. It’s something that I’ve articulated in a first-person narrative, but the basic ideas are wrought from collective experience. I think it should be read as a kind of collaborative text, formulated out of a whole horde of experiences and stories, of which my own are only a part. Stories don’t come out of nowhere, though, and when you trace things back, there is this basic scaffolding that shapes the really important things in life, and that scaffolding is economic.

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