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Other People’s Blood

 

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by Tim Barker 2019 (n+1)

If someone were to make a movie about neoliberalism, there would need to be a starring role for the character of Paul Volcker. As chair of the Federal Reserve from 1979 to 1987, Volcker was the most powerful central banker in the world. These were the years when the industrial workers’ movement was defeated in the United States and the United Kingdom, and third-world debt crises exploded. Both of these owe something to Volcker. On October 6, 1979, after an unscheduled meeting of the Fed’s Open Market Committee, Volcker announced that he would start limiting the growth of the nation’s money supply. This would be accomplished by limiting the growth of bank reserves, which the Fed influenced by buying and selling government securities to member banks. As money became more scarce, banks would raise interest rates, limiting the amount of liquidity available in the overall economy. Though the interest rates were a result of Fed policy, the money-supply target let Volcker avoid the politically explosive appearance of directly raising rates himself. The experiment — known as the Volcker shock — lasted until 1982, inducing what remains the worst unemployment since the Great Depression and finally ending the inflation that had troubled the world economy since the late 1960s. To catalog all the results of the Volcker shock — shuttered factories, broken unions, dizzying financialization — is to describe the whirlwind we are still reaping in 2019.

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The 1980 Elections: Reaffirming the Marxist Theory of the State

lom-3Line of March Vol. 1, No. 3, October-November 1980.


The great spectacular of bourgeois politics–the quadrennial ritual of the ballot box by which U.S. imperialism’s chief executive is designated–is at this moment approaching its grand finale.

For almost a year the attention of the masses has been directed toward the reassuringly familiar stage business of a presidential election, the very terminology of which (trial balloons, dark horses, hats in the ring, balanced tickets, running-mates, etc.) is strongly suggestive of its obligations to the work of circuses. Faithful to the scripts of yesteryear, the 1980 election is playing out its appointed hour upon the stage with a reenactment of those time-honored rites which serve to impart an image of stability and historical continuity to the rule of U.S. capital.

It is not mere poetic license which has led the bourgeoisie’s own commentators to describe this process as a pageant. That is the essence of this ballet which begins with the endless rounds of declared and undeclared candidacies, continues with the sweep of the nominating primaries played out against shifting backdrops which range from the snows of New Hampshire to the ghettoes of Chicago, reaches a crescendo with the three-ring circuses called political conventions, and concludes with the high drama of public counting of ballots on the nation’s television screens.

What is the purpose of this elaborate extravaganza? Marxists have long noted that insofar as its stated purpose is concerned–determining the question of political power in modern society–it is no more than a charade, a political sleight of hand in which the more things seem to change, the more do they remain the same. But Marxists do not deserve any special credit for making such an observation. One hardly has to be a Marxist to grasp the fact that bourgeois elections do not, in any way, impinge upon or alter questions of power. The general cynicism among the masses toward politics and politicians–a cynicism which runs far deeper than can be measured solely by noting the large numbers of people who do not bother to vote in elections–is itself proof that the futility and corruption of bourgeois politics has become a part of U.S. folklore.

But because bourgeois elections are a charade and do not alter the fundamental relations of power and property does not at all signify that they are without meaning or political significance. And those among the communists who content themselves with merely denouncing the bourgeoisie’s electoral process without undertaking to explain the actual political content of each election can hardly be said to be offering vanguard leadership to the working class.

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Why Your Rent Is So High and Your Pay Is So Low

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IN THE 1950s, the average New York City apartment rented for $60 a month — around $530 in today’s money. With the US median wage at $5,000 a year, New Yorkers spent 1/10 of their salaries on rent. After World War II, apartments were so cheap and available that Manhattanites would regularly move every September just to get the landlord to repaint their new home. In those days, an apartment was a place to live. Now it is as much an investment as shelter.

Imagine trying to find an apartment in Manhattan for $530 now. It is almost inconceivable. These days a depressing number of young New Yorkers spend over half their income on housing. Rent hikes have transformed a once-democratic city into a playground for the privileged. Hardly anyone can afford to move to New York on an entry-level wage. It sometimes seems that the only twentysomethings that come to New York today have parents who help pay the rent.

During the boom years after World War II, Americans’ real wages more than doubled. A 30-year-old earned twice as much by the time he or she hit 50. This broad-based prosperity transformed the nation. In 1939, 25 percent of Americans didn’t have running water, only 65 percent had indoor toilets, none had television. By 1970, almost all had cars and dishwashers. The luxuries of an earlier age had become necessities. Between 1945 and 1973, the United States and the world experienced the greatest economic growth in history, not replicated before or since. Economic historians call those postwar years the Golden Age.

This explosion of affluence did not extend to New York City landlords. Rent control kept rent increases lower than inflation. Apartment prices remained stagnant. In 1976, you could buy a classic four-bedroom Park Avenue apartment in a doorman building for $36,000. Owning a building back then didn’t make you rich. Instead it was a drain on capital. The fires that devastated huge swaths of New York in the 1970s were generally set by landlords who saw insurance fraud as the only way to profit from their properties. The average rent that decade was just $335. You could rent a two-bedroom apartment in Greenwich Village for $250 a month.

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