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Biden Between BlackRock and a Hard Place

The Biden Administration is intertwined with Wall Street but must deliver some election promises to workers. Michael Hudson joins Paul Jay on theAnalysis.news.

TRANSCRIPT

Paul Jay

Hi, I’m Paul Jay. Welcome to theAnalysis.news. Please don’t forget there’s a donate button on the top of our webpage. So if you’re watching on YouTube, you could maybe come on over to theAnalysis.news and hit donate. I think there’s a link on YouTube there too. And if you’re on YouTube, you can hit the subscribe button; that would be good. Most importantly, you could share this with a few people.

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All that said, I’ll be back in just a few seconds, and we’re going to talk about the economy and the [Joe] Biden administration. I will be back in a second with Michael Hudson.

In an interview I did a few months ago with Mark Blyth, he said Biden was caught between a BlackRock and a hard place. I thought that encapsulates pretty well where the Biden administration is with its economic policies. It’s beholden to, intertwined with BlackRock and the financial sector, but must deliver some of the promises it made to workers to get elected. There’s also a very real problem of digging out of the destruction of the Covid pandemic, which is far from over. Biden set some goals that could even be described loosely as progressive. But is he serious about delivering? And could he even if he is?

Now joining us is Michael Hudson. Michael is an economist, professor of economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. He’s also a former Wall Street analyst, political consultant, commentator and journalist. Thanks very much for joining me, Michael.

Michael Hudson

Good to be back, Paul.

Paul Jay

So, there are lots of fights going on here on many sides of this Biden economic plan supposed to be 3.5 trillion, another one for 1.5 trillion. The Republicans do predictably what they would always do in this situation, is try to stop a Democratic Party administration from accomplishing anything. Joe Manchin from West Virginia might as well be in the Republican Party. Except I suppose it does give the Democrats the chairs of important committees, assuming that does help in some way. And they’ve got this kind of dual problem as I described; even one of the senior BlackRock guys is now on Biden’s financial team.

Clearly, the financial sector has enormous sway. Although it’s an interesting mood of the financial sector, they’re not all that against some stimulus spending now, at least sections of it. Anyway, it’s a complicated picture, all of which right now is leading to the legislation being stalled. So what’s the big picture for you and then get into the micro?

Michael Hudson

Well, in a way, the big picture is in the tiny details. And the tiny details is in the pay-to-play politics that in order to run for office and get elected, you have to raise money, and if you have to raise money, what do you do? You go to the campaign donors. And what do you do? Well, the rule of thumb is that for every dollar that a campaign donor pays, they get 1000 times back. And the problem, obviously, with Biden’s program right now is look at the people who’ve been able to raise the most money.

Well, in West Virginia, since you mentioned Mr. Manchin, here’s a state with a population equal to Brooklyn, basically. And Manchin’s family owns the coal mines. And he said, well, there’s such a delicate balance between the two parties that you really need my vote. And you’re going to have to make me, representing the coal industry, the climate change law. 

So America’s climate change law put forth by Biden will be written by the coal industry, along with the oil industry, which, of course, is the other set of major donors. And alongside that, the other major contributor to the campaigns of Republicans and Democrats alike, but especially to [Kyrsten] Sinema’s campaign in Arizona and [Jim] Clyburn’s campaign in South Carolina, is the pharmaceutical industry. 

So in order to get the Democratic National Committee to designate you as a candidate, you have to outpoll all of your rivals and who can get the most money from the special corporate interests that you are committed to represent. So what you have in the situation in Congress and politics is very different from what you would have in law. If this were a court case to decide what policy they have, if a judge owned stock in a huge coal company, he would have to recuse himself from writing that. But in Democratic politics, the reason that Manchin wouldn’t recuse himself and the recipients of pharmaceutical money won’t recuse themselves is that’s why they get the money because they don’t have it.

Paul Jay

The thing is, if senators had to recuse themselves because of conflict of interest, you might have only three or four senators left to vote on anything.

Michael Hudson

That’s the problem right there. So the question is, do we live in a democracy, or do we live in an oligarchy? We live in an oligarchy where it’s sort of pay-to-play, and the largest campaign contributors get to designate who are going to write the laws in their own interest. So that’s what’s paralyzing Biden’s plan. The problem is if you have politicians elected by who can raise the most money from the special interests, how on earth can they get voters to vote for them? 

Well, the job of a politician is to deliver a given segment of voters to the campaign contributors so that they can win over other politicians who don’t get the money from these campaign contributors because they wouldn’t give them all of the special interest favours that politicians are able to get them. So corruption— this used to be considered corruption, but now it’s built into the system as part of the basic system. And that’s not how democracies are supposed to work.

Paul Jay

Hang on a sec. So, Biden, let’s assume Biden is serious about wanting to pass the 3.5 trillion plan. He seems to be, and he’s got obviously sections of the financial sector that think they’ll make a lot of money out of it, and they’re in support of it. Let’s assume they actually do understand there is a climate crisis. And again, if you read the statements of Larry Fink from BlackRock and some of the other people in the financial sector, many of them do get there is an urgency. Now whether they’re willing to really do anything about it is quite another question. But at any rate, I think they do want to pass this. So in the reality of this situation, what can Biden do about Joe Manchin in West Virginia to try to force him to go along with this? Is there anything Biden can do?

Michael Hudson

Well, first of all, you use the word urgency. Urgency for the financial sector and for corporate America, urgency is the next three months. The climate situation is not urgent. It won’t be urgent for the next administration. It won’t be urgent for the administration after that. Even if when the water level goes up 20 ft, it’ll never be urgent because the financial sector and corporate managers live in the short run. They’re only concerned with the next three months. And so they realized that, yes, indeed, it’s an urgent problem in 10 years or 20 years, and it’s going to make the Earth absolutely awful. But we care about how much we’re going to make in the next three months and the next year for our earnings report, for our stocks, and that’s what I’m paid to do. I’m paid to make the stock go up in the next three months, or else I don’t get as much of a bonus. And at the end of the year, if I don’t perform as well as other managers, then I’m fired.

So that’s the whole problem: short-termism and long-termism. So Biden’s program, it’s as if it’s a party platform. His three and a half trillion dollar program that remember began as a six and a half trillion dollar program and is way down. The party platform isn’t really what’s achievable. So now you bring in Manchin. 

Well, I think Bernie Sanders made a very good point the other day. He said, well, look what we have right now in the Senate is 48 senators in favour of it. Two against it. When you have 48 to 2, you don’t compromise 50/50. And yet, that’s what they want. They want 50/50. They want no climate controls. They don’t even want to close the loophole on carried interest, which is a huge financial giveaway to Wall Street. And they don’t even want, the senators who receive pharmaceutical funding won’t even let Medicare bargain over drug prices with the pharmaceutical companies. So obviously, there’s no way in which the corporate special interests are going to ally themselves with the Democratic voters. And what can Biden say? 

All he can say is, well, we can go to the people and say, well, I’m sorry, we have these two senators. We don’t have a big enough majority to win. But let’s say he gets an even bigger Senate majority. The question, then they’ll get seven senators, ten senators playing the role of five. The Democratic Party has a whole slew of senators just waiting in line between Sinema and Manchin to block really any kind of serious agenda that would serve the overall economy, help serve the world avoid global warming, but will not make money for the companies that are making money on the fact that they’re polluting the atmosphere.

Paul Jay

I agree with you. And let me say one of the things I think that proves you’re right is there is something Biden could do if he wants to weaken Manchin’s hand. And that’s something various people have been talking about. Bob [Robert] Pollin has actually priced this out, which is a real just transition for fossil fuel workers. Where you say to the coal miners of West Virginia, you won’t lose a penny if we fail— not if, when we phase out coal, you can maintain your income until you retire. Even if you go to other jobs, we’ll subsidize you. Pollin priced this out. And for every fossil fuel worker in the United States, if you made that promise for three years, it’s only $2 billion. So $4 billion for six years. I mean, you can give them a decade of subsidies. It’s not even the cost of one Ford-class aircraft carrier. [crosstalk 00:13:23] The thing is, if you do that, you’re actually saying you’re serious about facing out fossil fuel and coal, which it doesn’t seem they are.

Michael Hudson

I think that would be very smart because then he could go to West Virginia and say, look, here’s a chance for you to maintain your salaries in a time when all the coal employment is going down and down and West Virginia’s less and less coal than it used every year than it used to be. And you have one person blocking money for you, and also he’s blocking the family child support for you. Are you going to vote for your interest? Or are you going to vote for someone else?

Well, of course, the coal industry will give even more money to Manchin. And the question is, can money always trump someone from the squad actually going out and raising money? Well, here you have the Democratic National Committee that absolutely hates the squad. That is absolutely in the tightly tight fist of the special interests. Biden has made sure to take steps to make sure that there’s no way in which his program can possibly be accepted. He’s killed it at the beginning by appointing special lobbyists in charge of the Democratic National Committee. So he said, look, let me go to the people. I can have this wonderful program, but I’ve made sure that I’ve put the controllers in the Democratic National Committee so that nothing in my program will ever be done. That’s the trick in the full game.

Paul Jay

Yeah. I don’t think he wants to lose these programs. On the other hand, I think he’s not willing to do what it takes to win these programs.

Michael Hudson

Right.

Paul Jay

This idea of the transition for fossil fuel workers would also weaken Republicans in various red States. And I’m not saying it’s the only issue. There’s a lot of cultural, ideological things that are getting people to vote for Republicans and Trump, but it’s a big issue if you get real direct subsidies to fossil fuel workers. The problem is in the final analysis, Biden’s corporate Democrats really do believe in the fundamental status quo, even though they talk about this being a transformative moment.

Michael Hudson

Well, when you say status quo, status quo is really a dynamic, and the dynamic is moving, as you say, towards global warming. It’s polarizing. You mentioned the Covid crisis and the real estate problem, and the fact that the rent arrears and mortgage arrears are rising for many American homeowners. So the status quo means don’t do anything to stop the polarizing direction in which the economy is going in. 

To be a centrist or to be a moderate is to go along with the immoderate economy and the marketplace that is shaped by the leading corporations and the banks and the lobbyists, not by the voters. Now wouldn’t Biden know this? He’s worked in Washington for 30, 50 years. He certainly must know that if he puts the national committee chairman in place and says, get rid of the squad, that he’s actually not in favour of the squad that’s supporting his program, that’s what politicians do. They make it appear as if they’re trying to do the right thing while actually serving their interests. 

And I think giving you the credit for what you’re saying. I think Biden would love to actually be the transformative President that Obama never was. Maybe he’s thinking, here I am, who everybody looked down on as a gray personage under Obama. But maybe I’m able with my program, and this program would be transformative. This program would really set the country in a more progressive direction. He would love to do that, on the one hand. On the other hand, there’s this personality that doesn’t want to shake up the existing power structure. And the power structure is antithetical to his program. And how is he going to solve that?

Paul Jay

I actually think there’s a section of the power structure that’s for his program. I mean, the BlackRock guy. I forget his name; that’s on the senior advisor in his economic team. He’s a former senior BlackRock guy. There’s a section of the financial sector that does want a kind of Keynesian moment here, at least for a while, because they assume they’re going to make money out of the expansion that takes place. So it’s not like his hands are completely tied. 

On the other hand, he won’t do what it takes to go to war with the Right. I love how they call them moderate. The right-wing section of the Republican Party, who, in fact, traditionally, Biden has always had one foot in himself. That being said, there’s a moderating effect— again, the word moderating of these kinds of Manchin types that serves the interests of the elites. But I think there’s a problem here, too, which is I think there’s a kind of irrationality to capitalism, and it’s at a very irrational dysfunctional moment here.

The system itself actually would benefit by this Biden plan. I mean, the capitalist system itself. It will give some benefit to ordinary people for a while, probably short term. But it’s also better for ordinary people that you don’t go back into austerity, which the Republicans would probably invoke because the Republicans hate this lack of labour discipline. They can’t stand the idea. This whole thing empowered workers to actually decide what kind of jobs they want. They may start going into strikes again. Holy shit, we might see an increase in unionization.

And the Republicans hate this moment and, of course, not just the Republicans. This is also probably giving some pause to sections in the financial sector who actually really own most of the corporate world anyway. So I think they’re really at a, what’s the word, betwixt and between about what to do here.

Michael Hudson

Well, here’s the tension. You use the word dysfunction and in terms of the survival of the economic system, in terms of the economy avoiding austerity, yes, it’s dysfunctional, but that’s not irrational because the rationality of the financial sector and the special interest is short-term. So their rationality is what is dysfunctional. Their rationality of living in the short run and not caring about global warming because they’ll be retired by then and their rationality of saying, well, we’re making money by selling our Pharmaceuticals at monopoly prices, that’s how we make money. Well, that’s rational for them dysfunctional for the system. 

So this assumption that whatever the market produces is rational and functional is the bedrock of Western economies. And it’s wrong. And it negates the fact that you really need some government power strong enough to override the special interests. And that takes a very strong government, which is why the free market people have always opposed strong government and why their economic models don’t give any acknowledgement for government investment in infrastructure that Biden wants or any government activity that is able to override that of the rentier class, the financial class, the property-owning class and the corporate monopolists. That’s the problem we have.

Paul Jay

So, what should people do about it?

Michael Hudson

I don’t know what they can do about it because it may be that we’re a failed economy and a failed state. There’s nothing that people can do as long as they’re confronted with a dysfunctional system. This is exactly what happened in the Roman Empire. Aristotle said that many countries had nominal Democratic constitutions, but in practice, they were oligarchic. Well, in Rome, everybody could vote, but the votes of the—Rome divided the voting groups into different layers and the top layer with only a few people. We can think of it as West Virginia who had as many votes as the whole next 40% of the population. The votes are weighted by money. Well, we don’t weigh the votes by money in America, but we weigh the campaign contributions to determine who’s going to be able to run to get the votes in this country. 

So given the fact that our political system is oligarchic, not Democratic and being oligarchic, the special interests all sort of come to a deal saying, well, we in the oil industry don’t make money from your pharmaceutical people getting a rip-off, and you don’t get a benefit from our polluting of the atmosphere and mining. But let’s agree we’re never going to disagree with each other’s special interests because we have one common interest. And you just said it; it is to prevent labour from increasing its wages, to make sure that all of the increase in economic growth goes to the top 1%.

So the deal there is; this is the kind of deal that the Mexican government made a century ago with the ruling party. They won’t fight among themselves. They’ll always make a common front against labour or the peasantry, as it was in Mexico, and that’s the situation we have here. I don’t see how it can be changed without a change in the system. And we haven’t even mentioned the Supreme Court and all of the other non-elective things. We haven’t mentioned the Senate parliamentarian gets to decide what can be actually submitted to Congress. I mean, we have so many checks, not balances, but blockages and chokepoints instead of checks and balances. We have choke points that the existing vested interests use to stop anything that they feel is against their short-term interests.

Paul Jay

I think there’s got to be a sort of step-by-step here in terms of what needs to be done. And I do think we have to distinguish between the corporate Democrats, who I agree with how you have described them. But I still think that section of the elites, that section of finance, that section of capital do want to maintain the formal Democratic institutions that exist. 

I don’t consider that a real democracy, but it’s better than the alternative because there is a section of capital that’s really almost metaphysical in their beliefs. And the way Steve Bannon articulates this, Bannon is very close to Opus Dei and the right-wing of the Catholic Church. He works very closely with Christian nationalists, and I don’t think it should be underestimated how much they believe their rhetoric. And many, many, many people, especially in the military, are willing to die for this vision of essentially a Christian theocratic authoritarian America. 

So, step-by-step, I think we have to; while we don’t have illusions about corporate Democrats, we also shouldn’t have illusions about the danger of the far-right. And I think some on the Left are minimizing how serious the danger of that kind of fascism is in the United States because even if Wall Street thinks short-term, I don’t think these right-wingers are thinking short-term. They’re thinking long-term. And they have actually been working at this for decades. You could say from Barry Goldwater and then [Ronald] Reagan and then Trump— Bush administration, they’ve been actually trying to carve out this kind of right-wing authoritarian state. Even if there’s contradictions between them, like the Cheney’s are in contradiction with the Trump’s and so on, but I think that’s just a fight for leadership of the hard Right, not a fundamental fight over authoritarianism.

So I interviewed Adolph Reed recently, and he said, look, whatever you think about the Democrats, you got to hold your nose and get past 2022 and try to make sure the Republicans don’t regain either the House or the Senate. And then there has to be a real fight over who’s going to be the candidate in 2024. Does that make sense to you?

Michael Hudson

It makes sense. But most of the forecasts about 2024 are that the Republicans, no matter what happens, they’re set to increase their Senate control. And I think one of the aims of Sinema and Manchin they may simply change parties, go over to the Republicans, and the Republicans will be in control. And as you just pointed out, the Republican Right is thinking structurally. It’s not thinking marginally. It’s been preparing this for a long time, and this is a basic structural change that will come down like a hammer. You’re absolutely right. I don’t see any structural, long-term alternative being put forth by the Democrats. They’re social Democrats, and they’re trying to move marginally, and so you have a marginal mover and a structural mover. And just in terms of physics, the structural revolutionists are probably going to win. And it’s not going to be a very nice country. But I don’t see the Democrats acting actively to stop it. That’s the problem. The Democrats are, if anything, have enough of their special interest senators that are enablers of the Republican Party that I don’t see the Progressive Caucus is getting enough power to change things.

So I think the Progressive Caucus realizes this, and I think they’re absolutely right in their earlier statement. I don’t know this week what they’re saying, but they said, look, if we’re going to have to only pass Republican bills, we’re not going to do it. We’re just going to block it. Now they’re saying, okay, we’ve got to get something. And that’s what led Bernie and the squad to say, well, wait a minute. Do we have to give up 90% of what we want just because of two senators? And the answer of Biden was, ha, ha, ha, you stupid twits. It’s not two senators, it’s five senators, it’s ten senators, it’s 15 senators. No matter what, we have so many people behind Manchin and Sinema that we can just pull them out, and they’re going to block anything you’re going to do. And you can be sure that the DNC [Democratic National Comittee] is going to fight against AOC [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] and against the squad and trying to get more special interest groups. They’ll naturally merge into this Republican horror story that you quite correctly described.

Paul Jay

Well, I hope you’re wrong. But what’s that [Antonio] Gramsci quote about pessimism of the mind optimism of the heart? There’s got to be, I hope, a movement. And I say step-by-step in the sense that it is going to have to be an electoral and mass movement. There’s two points of potential change here. I can’t say I’m wildly optimistic. One is there has to be a real fight in the unions because I don’t see the ability to elect Progressives in the House and the Senate without a revitalization of the Union movement, you could see just the nurses and communication workers how close they came to backing Sanders and winning the nomination of the Democratic Party. If you had more unions, even though unionization is small, there’s nothing that compares to them in terms of financial resources and numbers of workers that are organized. 

On the other hand, I have a series of interviews coming out soon with Jane McAlevey. A lot of workers, you go ask them; they don’t even know the name of the Union they’re in. The unions’ leadership is so dormant, but a revitalization of the unions. 

And then number two, I think we need to try to identify some members of the elites who aren’t sociopaths. And I believe there are some. I do believe sociopaths rise to the top in capitalism. Especially in the financial sector. The short-term nihilistic, what’s good for me and my family practically like a Tony Soprano mentality. I think it’s very dominant, but it’s not the only; there are some people. I think we have to identify them. And there needs to be some kind of national way of organizing this kind of movement because right now, the Left and organizing are so siloed based on cities and then on issues.

Michael Hudson

Well, then you bring up the other fight that’s going on about the redistricting and the voting rights law. And again, you have leading Democrats opposing the voting rights law that Biden had tried it out, saying this would be the ideal. Suppose you do recognize the people in the way that you want. How are you going to get their votes counted with all of the gerrymandering that’s just gotten rid of some of the more progressive candidates?

Paul Jay

From what I’ve seen, if there was a real increase in the number of people that vote, you actually probably could overcome at least much of the gerrymandering. But you’d have to have a really massive increase. There would have to be a real serious campaign to register poor people who, to a large extent, have given up on elections.

Michael Hudson

Here’s the problem. The Democratic leaders and local leaders of the States which are in charge of redistricting are almost all actually Republicans. Look at the fight they had when they got rid of Dennis Kucinich’s representative section. They gerrymandered to get him out of Congress. They just had another election in Cleveland that also led to not the left-wing candidate being elected. You have the Democrats who are in charge of the districting locally as well as nationally, not favouring the groups that you want to favour and that I want to favour they’re favouring again, the special interest because that’s where their money comes from. And that’s where the Democratic Party’s Committee, through the National Committee, comes from.

Now, as I understand it from what’s being told, when AOC and the squad raise money, they have to give much of this to the Democratic Committee that’s backing their opponents in a lot of this. I don’t see why the squad and the Progressive Caucus doesn’t immediately fight against the party structure and say, look, we can get what we want. We can get this Biden program, the whole six and a half billion that Biden says that he still wants. But we’re going to have to change the party’s internal administrative structure. And I don’t see them taking that step with the nitty-gritty. And that’s the nitty-gritty stuff you have to take in order to get all of these other things because that’s the choke point within the Democratic Party right now.

Paul Jay

There were some reforms that the Sanders campaign won, about the number of super delegates and some other things like that. I don’t know how effectively that will really play out leading into 2024. But I know notice in the audience people saying, well, what about a third party. What’s your view about that?

Michael Hudson

If this were like Europe, I wish we had a third party, but to have a third party, you would need a parliamentary system like in Europe. Right now, there’s a duopoly between the Republicans and the Democrats, and a third party simply can’t get on the ticket because of all the technical laws that the Democrats and Republicans have put in place at the state level, the local level and the national level. So there’s no way.

Bernie Sanders thought about this for a decade, and he said he looked at it, and there was no way that he could see creating a third party that could even get onto the ballot because the Democrats have blocked off the ballot access and they’ve maintained the pay-to-play money in politics role. That sort of prevents something from happening here. If we had the ability of a parliamentary system like Europe, you’d have the Democratic Party falling to maybe 8% of the vote like the Social Democratic Party and parties in Europe. You’d have the Republican Party splitting with only part of the vote. You would have a real spectrum, a bell-shaped curve of parties like you have in Europe. And that would give an opening for exactly the kind of program that you and I are advocating. But we don’t have that here. And it would take a political revolution, or at least it would take a new Constitution to do it.

The problems are now inherent in the Constitution, as are implemented by the Supreme Court justices who are in place, and they’re going to be in place for quite a long time. So we have a constitutional problem, just like Rome had a constitutional problem. Where you couldn’t have any reform by Julius Caesar or the other reformers, that’s the problem we have today. We’re stuck, and we’re unable to act. And this is what is letting other countries pull ahead of us that don’t have this paralysis problem that America now has politically.

Paul Jay

[Ralph] Nader said that Sanders was right to run within the Democratic Party, that it just really didn’t work otherwise. So I’m left with people who have to fight the primary right-wing Democrats leading into 2022. Then they got to elect whoever the hell a Democrat is shit or not, even though most of them are shit in 2022 because I think the alternative of the fascistized; overt fascistization of the Republican Party.

I wrote an article Why People should Vote for Biden back during the election. I said vote for Biden without illusions. And I talked about how the corporate Democrats are part of a longer-term process of financialization and fascistization of America. They’re very much part of that. But there’s a malignant cancer on that process, and that’s the criminal Republican Party, not to say the Dems don’t have a lot of their own criminals. But it’s a very malignant particularized form of this cancer that leads to a very overt fascism. And people I think have to recognize living in the heart of the empire this is what it is. 

And so I think people have to primary Democrats. Then vote for Democrats one way or the other, except even a Manchin. I don’t know how you vote for a Manchin if you’re in West Virginia? But I don’t know what? The alternative might be worse. And then two, who the hell is going to be the candidate in 2024 and another big fight for progressive; for the Democratic Party and not worry about don’t split the party and facing another Trump.

Michael Hudson

Well, the way you frame the question, and I think it’s correct. Will the voters think, well, we’ve got to protect ourselves from another Donald Trump-type party, or will they say, gee, we elected the Democrats? They control the presidency, Congress and the Senate, and they couldn’t do anything. What’s the point of voting? Let’s just stay home and vote with our backsides. That’s part of the problem. The second thing is suppose that Bernie Sanders was the nominee in 2024. What could he do that he hasn’t been able to do this time around?

Bernie Sanders has been able— he’s really been the voice of the program. Biden’s nominal program is very compatible with what Bernie Sanders wants. And Bernie’s made that quite clear. The only thing that Biden has done that Sanders would not have done was appoint right-wing Republicans, special interest lobbyists in charge of the nominating committee of the Democratic National Committee to make sure that they’re going to back only candidates that are Republicans running as Democrats as special interests, financed by the special interests. And that failure, that locking in of the corrupt political process is what’s really blocked; what’s blocking things.

So even if you get Bernie, you’re going to have the Manchin’s, you’re going to have the bulk of Democrats say we’re leaving the Democratic Party and joining the Republicans because there’s really only one party, because that’s the only party that’s doing anything. And of course, it’s the only party doing anything; if they block everything the Democrats are doing, and then you have a Sinema saying, I will not vote for anything the Republicans vote for, and the Republicans insist in voting and blocking the Democrats. So I’m going to vote with the Democrats. I’m going to vote with the Republicans to vote against the Democrats because that’s being bipartisan. I mean, that’s the craziness that we’re in.

Paul Jay

Like I said, I’m not wildly optimistic. And even if you had a significant more number of Progressives elected in the House and maybe a few more in the Senate, and even if you got a Sanders presidency, that doesn’t change the elites and the nature of the elites and their ability to wage war against any politicians who aren’t on their agenda, there would have to be a transformative moment in the mass movement. People have to get organized. And I hope people do watch the series I have coming with Jane McAlevey about organizing in the unions.

I don’t know where this all ends up. If you ask me to game theory, it doesn’t come out well because that’s the end of any climate program for the world.

Michael Hudson

Yeah.

Paul Jay

You might as well give up on any rational climate policy. We got to take our best shot. And unfortunately, a third party; even though, of course, I’d love to see a real progressive third party; there’s no way it’s going to have any chance of any significance in the time frame we’re talking about, which is 2024 or even if you’re talking the window for dealing with climate, which is what, less than a decade.

So hopefully, there’ll be some breakthroughs in other parts of the world. But in the U.S., we better be realistic about what’s possible and mitigate the fascistization and mitigate the damage done by the corporate Democrats. We got to take our best shot. What else can we do?

Michael Hudson

Is there any way of getting a political corruption law in that you can’t vote for what your campaign contributors give you? Because that is corrupting politics as it would be if you were a judge in the court system.

Paul Jay

Yeah, well, you know the answer to that because the same people you’re asking to vote for that law are the people doing it. Anyway, I don’t want to leave this so completely pessimistic. People are going to say, okay, fine. It’s all shit. And we know that. What I’m saying, and I think other people are saying, is get organized wherever you are. Whatever organization you’re in, fight for policies that are both progressive in the short run. And whatever level of organization you’re in like if you’re in a Union, fight for a better contract. But link that with a fight for real democracy, both in terms of politics and economics and in terms of the political process, both state levels and otherwise, because just sitting home and getting angry and hearing us talk about how doomed everything is. That should hopefully only be something that helps motivate one to do more. Which means get into an organization and fight for that organization to take a progressive position on these things.

Michael Hudson

Right? You don’t want to be depressed. And even if it’s hopeless, it’ll make it feel better.

Paul Jay

Well, we’ll see if it’s hopeless. There have been transformative moments in human history where you figured it was all done, and then things happened. Look at some of the places there have been revolutions. Who would have thought such a thing was possible?

Michael Hudson

Whats transformed is the structure, not the individual within the structure. You can’t put your faith in princes. It’s got to be a structural change. And only the Republicans, as you point out, are planning these structural changes as they have for the legal system and the right-wing legal groups they have in the law and economics group in Chicago. That’s the whole problem. You do have to deal with structure. You sound like a Republican.

Paul Jay

No, it sounds like a socialist. Earlier, you said Biden is only a social Democrat. They’re not even really social democrats. An American social Democrat would have been an [Franklin D. Roosevelt] FDR, and he was willing to go to war. Are there any sections of the capitalist class left? That for the sake, even of capitalism, which is what FDR fought for, are willing to go to war as a social Democratic alternative rather than what much of Europe chose, which was fascism. 

And right now, it ain’t looking great. But I don’t think we should give up here because, to quote Daniel Ellsberg, we got to act like the captain of the Titanic. He can still be persuaded that he doesn’t have to set a speed record and he doesn’t have to sail at night, and that we can get to the owner of the Titanic and say, you don’t need to prove you’re the fastest. So I actually do think there has to be some effort to get to some sections of the elites because as much as I want a transformation of the workers’ movement and unions, I don’t see it happening fast enough.

Michael Hudson

Well, if you knew any such individuals, you’d certainly solve your fundraising problem.

Paul Jay

[Chuckles] Yeah, I’m not worried about that. I need to fundraise, but I don’t care about that. I’m more interested in do my kids have a place to grow up in?

Michael Hudson

Your site is a wonderful site, and it’s good you’re having these discussions because you have to describe what’s wrong. And even if it’s pessimistic, you have to say here’s where the bottleneck is, and you’re focusing on what the problem is and what the bottlenecks are. I want to say one thing about unionization. I talked a lot to University professors, and like at NYU [New York University], there was an argument the other day, and one of the— faculty arguments, one of the professors said, they’re treating us like we’re wage earners. And a Marxist professor said, but we are wage earners. Don’t you get it? There’s an interest we should get unionized. Well, that’s something that blue-collar workers do. So, it’s amazing how many people just do not think of themselves as having the broad interest that you and I have been talking about for so many years.

Paul Jay

All right. Let me just end with one thing, which I would suggest to everybody watching to read it’s by Friedrich Engels. And it’s called ‘The Early History of Christianity’. And it’s a piece that most people have never seen. He wrote it right near the end of his life. And it’s a lecture to the European Left to get over their sectarianism, and his messages was learn from the early Christians. And he says the early Christians were an anti-roman, Jewish movement rebellion. But they realized that you can’t fight the Romans just with Jews. You have to broaden out to all the slaves and to other oppressed classes. But you can’t ask them to be Jewish because it’s too complicated you need a Jewish mother. You have to go jump through rabbinical hoops. So they said, look, dunk your head in some water, say you believe and now join us in fighting the Romans. So it’s very nonsectarian. And then Engels is saying if the European Left doesn’t get over the sectarianism, they’re going to lose. And they did. And the same thing I think is true in so many countries, but particularly the U.S., the Left has to figure out how to build a broad front and get over so much of this competition. And a lot of it is driven by economics; whether it’s NGO-ish in funding or branding on the Internet, there’s so much fighting over secondary issues. And in my opinion, there’s not nearly enough effort to figure out how to build a common front.

Michael Hudson

Well, that metaphor with early Christianity is very appropriate because it is how Christianity grew until — how did the Romans detooth it? They made Christianity the state religion. And once they made the state religion, they backed St. Augustine against the reformers, and Augustine really founded the Inquisition. And Augustine began having them fight against all of the social reformer games and said, we’re not going to change the world. It’s okay for people to be rich. It’s okay for them to be users as long as they give the money to the poor, meaning us, the Church, to do everything. So when they were co-opted by being made to state religion, that’s what happened to the Left, to the Social Democrats, they were co-opted. They were made the official policy. And once they were the official policy, all of a sudden, what happened to them is what happened to the Christian Church after the fifth century.

Paul Jay

Well, Engels was not talking about learning from the Christians of the later, of Constantine and so on, when it came to religion. He’s talking about when Christianity had a revolutionary character. So let’s leave it there because otherwise, you’re going to come up with another thing that won’t work! Thanks a lot, Michael.

Michael Hudson

It’s good to be here. I like the discussion.

Paul Jay

Thank you for joining us on theAnalysis.news. Don’t forget the donate button. Subscribe to the email list subscribe on YouTube and all the buttons. Thanks for joining us.

eND

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9 Comments

  1. It’s a grim message to (correctly) identify the “Democratic” Party as a critical factor in the (wildly) successful project of fascistification of the US and then claim that it is still OK to vote for them since theirs is a “kindler, gentler” fascism.

  2. Paul,

    I wanted to add to my earlier comment, because the pragmatism I mentioned, the wealthy already understand, that their wealth allows them to move to an oasis, such as Europe. The hope for all of us in the near term comes from the mass movements you talked about, and your advice at the end is excellent, that whatever group you are part of, try to organize and advance your rights and wellbeing.

    So, if you are a teacher, try to improve the environment for teachers and students, but don’t stop there: try to expand the mandate of your group to find common ground with other issues, like better rights and protections for all workers. There is a tendency, if you’re part of a union today, to focus on your own needs, and not see it as being a call to create a better society for everyone. The Gig economy reinforces that individualism, where it’s each for themselves, and it takes a conscious effort to reach out.

    Further, trying to live sustainably yourself is a first step, but trying to organize and live sustainably as a community, city, etc, is much harder but just as important. Cooperation Jackson, is an example I learned about, where the black community is organizing grocery supplies or creating land trusts so people can have an affordable home: they are providing services the state has abandoned, because it is a poor community. The efforts to tackle for-profit utilities and provide clean water. such as Flint, Michigan, is another. The success of these smaller movements can provide a springboard for mass protests about climate action or police violence.

    I offer it is the combination of living justly, sustainably yourself and then amplifying that to include your workplace or union, where our hope lies. From there, as a world citizen, we can try to create a more responsive, social democratic gov’t and society.

  3. Hi Paul,

    Thanks for asking and answering some hard questions, and I hope the following can add to your discussion:

    Climate change, if I understand correctly, will increase natural disasters in terms of frequency and severity, year after year, decade after decade. The damage from forest fires, floods, tornados, drought, etc, is going to create your common cause and mass movement all by itself, because all sections of society will be hurt and want answers.

    Even if America were to become a far-right Christian theocracy due to social stress, would it be a state that could cope well with climate change, or other technological change? The US already ignores its infrastructure and is falling behind China, and it is likely the US would be divided into red-theocracy states and blue-liberal states: the infighting due to climate chaos, and the economic and social chaos that result, means America will be a shadow of its former self.

    You talked about a better future for your daughter, and a mix of pragmatism and hope can offer some answers:
    * Moving away from North America, to Europe (esp. Scandinavian countries) or someplace like New Zealand, may provide some respite from fascism in the US. Europe, which has experienced the horrors of WWII, may be one of the last havens for civil society, if the pressures of climate change cause nations to fail or become totalitarian.
    *Technology cannot be ruled out for helping provide ways to cope and reverse climate change. Ensuring that your family is well-off and has access to an oasis, whether a gated community or city-state, will make a difference. As distasteful as it is in some ways, being well-off will be a buffer to climate change or failing states, which the wealthy understand.
    *Capitalism will likely not survive long-term climate change, as the natural disasters and resulting economic and social chaos, will mean whole markets and supply chains are disrupted or destroyed. You can’t have much of financialized capitalism if mass markets or consumerism barely exist. Society will be forced to re-invent itself and reflect on what really matters.

  4. This analogy with early Christianity is so painful. Totally factually incorrect. The first big rift among the followers of Jesus was between Paul and James/Peter, around the question of mandatory circumcision, or put differently, does one need to convert to Judaism in order to become christian (and I’m reducing the issue here). Paul’s vision won, and very quickly, probably strongly helped by other historical events like (yet another) Jewish uprising, the early church became a gentile, pre-dominantly Greek speaking ROMAN church. That’s why all early primary church sources (like the 27 books of the NT) are believed to have been written in Greek. It wasn’t anti-Roman at all. Actually that’s already reflected in the evolution of the narration of the trial and execution of the Messiah in the earlier and later gospels, and the shift of blame between the Roman and Jewish characters.

    The fact that the religion was open for people of all strides was not that unique either. There seem not to be any indications that most polytheïstic relegions of that period weren’t. The hypothesis that Ehrman currently makes is that early christianity was unique because it claimed exclusivity, you can only be christian and nothing else, in contrast to the other sects.

    and than this:
    “(…) So they said, look, dunk your head in some water, say you believe and now join us in fighting the Romans. So it’s very nonsectarian.”

    What? Early christianity was a nonsectarian religion.?

    Let that sink in. Dear Mr. Jay, I truly love you, but this is even too addle for brainworms.

  5. What a wonderful conversation with Michael Hudson. I love your analysis. I am not optimistic , I simply can’t see it changing.

    My best to you,
    Lillian

    If you have a minute open my website and take a look at my work as a Palestinian supporter who is also a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany.

  6. The latest Catalyst Journal has an excellent historical review of how we wound up today with increasing rightwing radicalism emerging out of the vacuum of partisan paralysis as a defining political phenomenon today. (https://catalyst-journal.com/2021/09/behind-the-republican-party-crack-up ) (Spoiler alert: it says it’s down to historically weak political parties, “disintermediated” influence of money in politics, and the weakness of organized labor. No surprises in any of that.)

    But the more interesting and surprising symptom of all these effects is that the “disorganized” nature of business politics — resulting from the absence of any strong foe in organized labor to rally against — is what actually empowers radicalized minority factions of the business class to hijack the Republican Party with the patronage of the most reactionary subsections of the business elites — even when the results of this are potentially destabilizing to the interests of the larger big bourgeoisie.

  7. Small/large scale ranked choice voting. Perhaps timely, not sexy, and relevant. I am currently running for an elected position in my own union. We are using plurality elections to save money (I disagreed) and it is possible that someone could win by as little as 16% of cast ballots given the number of folks running. If it was technically possible/easy for us to use ranked choice in the very near future, we probably would. If anybody wins with 16%, I will endlessly mock plurality, and have an easy argument for ranked choice over primaries.
    DCCC would not be able to restrict unions, your local 4H or any smaller organization from using ranked choice, and giving folks some election experience with something other than “us or them” if it was just barely easier to work with. For smaller organizations, it could be as simple as providing a spreadsheet template. A few places in the U.S. are already using ranked choice -like NYC. I feel it’s worth getting a little excited about.

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