Sunday, July 31, 2011

Should Gov't "Live Within Its Means"?

One ubiquitous political sound bite in the U.S. nowadays is that the government should "live within its means," and it is frequently compared to a U.S. household.

Comparing the federal government to a household is misguided.

A household obtains revenue for the purpose of procuring its needs for existence and that also, largely, determines what a household spends.  Furthermore, the budgeting of any individual household does not directly affect the finances of its neighbors.

A state is not a household.

Not only does a state appropriate and expend wealth, but these and other actions determine the value of its currency and assets as well as the level of demand, both domestically and globally.  I have written previously about how the existence of the state is primarily as a tool of cultivating regional boundaries for the uneven development of prices and wages.  Such unevenness is necessary for capitalist profitability.

The primary purpose of U.S. government spending the past few decades has not been to fund government programs.  It has been to inject demand into a global economy faced with a crisis of overproduction.  Whether this is a wise strategy or not, U.S. deficit spending has almost single-handedly kept the entire global economy afloat.  When the U.S. tried to reverse course in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it precipitated a massive Third World debt crisis that threatened to undermine the entire world economy.  So Keynesian deficit spending was resumed.  Likewise, Clinton's austerity measures in the 1990s ended with an East Asian financial crisis that started to snowball out of control and necessitated a bailout by the U.S.  (Furthermore, all the effort to balance the budget amounted to nothing in the long run...)

One can argue that the situation of the past few decades, in which the U.S., for the most part, (and someone at all times) played the role of deficit-spender, is neither ideal nor effective nor sustainable.  And I would tend to agree, myself.  On the other hand, those who propose to drastically reduce government spending in order to balance the budget must not take such a myopic view of the economy and realize that such a decision could be accompanied by dramatic consequences, including deepening economic crisis.  At the very least, be prepared!

Inside Job

I managed to not see Inside Job (the 2010 documentary) until a couple nights ago.  Well, I guess I'm only a year behind, and for me that's pretty good.  Naturally, I want to write about my reaction to the film.

The film did a fairly good job at demonstrating the lack of separation between private and public, business and government.  Although this is in keeping with Marx's contention that the state is merely a tool of the capitalist class and not an independent entity, Inside Job suggested that this state of affairs is a sort of perversion rather than the norm.  In fact, just restricting one's attention to the United States, there has never been a time when business interests were independent from the state.  The country was founded by elite land owners, and has been run by people with business connections ever since.  That is the inherent nature of a state, not a perversion of it.

The film also showed how these business interests cut across the boundaries of individual presidencies.  It does not matter who is in office, Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative.  That is more of a symbolic matter.  Behind the illusion of different personalities and disparate ideologies, there lies the same corporate elite making all of the decisions.

The primary argument of the documentary is that the root cause of the financial crisis can be traced back to the period of deregulation of the financial sector inaugurated by Reagan.

First, I think it is important to note that deregulation began under Carter's presidency, not Reagan.  Volcker, who they noted was a VP for Chase Manhattan bank (but failed to mention was the chairman of the Federal Reserve from 1979 into the 80s, and thus responsible for many of policies they decried), was appointed by Carter.  Once again, individual presidencies do not matter.  It was the VP of a major bank who was really calling the shots.

Second, it is also necessary to remember that financial deregulation was a response to global economic stagnation which set in at the end of the 1960s.  It's not like the economy was doing great before hand.  Yes, Keynesian strategies prevented any major recessions from occurring, but they did not resolve underlying stagnation (thus, "stagflation") or contribute to any growth.  Therefore, financial deregulation cannot be held as a root cause; it itself is a symptom of a broader crisis of overproduction.

This is all in keeping with a general pattern regarding periods of economic stagnation.  Such periods are always characterized by a shift in focus from productive activities (which no longer yield good returns) to high finance.  And the shift toward financialization is always the nail in the coffin, the thing that leads to ultimate collapse before global economic and political structures are eventually reorganized.  It is representative of the attempts of the wealthy elite to try to get as much out of the system as they can before it finally implodes.

Several of the interviewees in Inside Job made a good point:  the wealth that was created from the 1980s onward was imaginary:  it was not rooted in material or creative processes; it was spun out of thin air (out of debt, actually).  This is in keeping with my point in the last paragraph (that dependence on high finance is a last-ditch effort that is chosen when material/creative processes are declining in profitability), but it also illustrates a more general Marxist principle.  Marx insisted that economic processes could not be understood apart from material productive relationships.  When one forgets that profits, investment, monetary transactions, etc. only occur in relation to production - particularly the manufacturing sector - then one imbues statistics and economic indicators with a power they do not have.  For, if material productive processes are faltering, it does not matter how much stock prices are rising or asset values increasing, or income growing.  Because wealth can temporarily be spun out of thin air, but only temporarily.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Why Afghanistan?

On Thursday's Daily Show, the guest was Peter Tomsen, a former U.S. Special Envoy and expert on Afghanistan.  Now, there are probably many Daily Show interviews, and many other such interviews from other sources, that I could use to make the point I am about to argue, but I just happened to "feel like it" this time.  So there was nothing particularly special about this interview.

The general point I want to raise is:  such a distorted view of the world has been constructed and promulgated, that even the "experts" are often clueless and misguided.  Never trust an expert.  Or at least, never trust an expert just because they are an expert.  Do your own research so that you can evaluate claims with reference to your own knowledge base.

The Peter Tomsen interview demonstrated the ineptitude of experts quite well.  For example, he suggests that there has been so much interest in Afghanistan because it is located on a plateau, which gives its occupier strategic military advantage.  Even Jon could see the ridiculousness of this proposition, it seemed from his jokes.  It is, in fact, quite an outmoded understanding of geopolitical strategy.

The salience of things like geographical features, or even oil, is not what it used to be.  What matters now is having neocolonial control over other governments so that they willingly "open" their markets to foreign investment and create projects that enable or require the involvement of multinational corporations.  (In Afghanistan, for example, whether intended or unintended consequence, the infrastructural devastation cause by all of the wars has actually allowed some corporations to profit enormously from reconstruction efforts.)  I have argued before that "Islamic extremists," such as the Taliban, are only threatening to the United States when they refuse to cooperate with the U.S. and its corporate interests.  Otherwise, the U.S. is all to happy to openly or covertly support Islamist groups.  It is clear, then, what the true strategic interest is.

Probably the most laughable and blatantly false thing that Tomsen said was that the Pakistani government has control over the ISI.  Expert on what now?

Race and Double Standards

The other night I was out with a group of people that I did not know that well. I am not sure how the topic of race came up (it seemed out of the blue).

One woman said, "If you just say what race a person is, people call you a racist." She pointed to bartender, saying, "hispanic,' and then, "I'm racist!"

She continued. "You can only say your own race - that's okay - but not anyone else's."

Some other comments followed this, including one man who, in the midst of insisting that stereotyping should be more acceptable, argued: "Some things are just fact. See, I could say, 'Black people generally come from Africa,' and then someone would say, 'Oh you're racist.'"

First, in response to the man who likes to stereotype I would say, you just demonstrated the problem with stereotyping. The example is far from cut-and-dry. For example, if you are talking about African Americans, most generally have some European ancestory; a significant number, in fact, have more European ancestory than African. So what does it mean, then, to say "Black people come from Africa.." ? The statement assumes racial purity, and more neatly separates "black" from "white" (genetically, geographically... ) than is truly the case. It also ignores an entire chunk of African American, nay, American history pertaining to slave mistresses, interracial marriage, the "one drop rule," "passing," etc. etc.

But really I would like to focus on the woman. Her first claim that to simply recognize race constitutes "racism" in our society is a misconception shared by many others. To the contrary, "color blindness" is a strategy often employed to maintain racial inequality by making it an "off limits" topic and therefore rendering it impossible to address. Obviously people in this society are going to be conscious of race because it has social significance. Racial consciousness is not a bad thing. One of my favorite definitions of "racism" is something along the lines of: racism is to knowingly benefit from a system of inequality and do nothing to change that system.

What is a problem is when consciousness of race takes the form of stereotypes. And I just touched on this above.

The woman's second point is even more contentious. I have often heard white people complain about double standards in terms of what one is allowed to say. The "N" word is one notorious example. I think that was what the woman was eventually getting at.

Ohhh the irony of white people complaining about double standards. They have enjoyed better jobs, better pay, better access to public services, the ability to take out loans and buy houses in whatever neighborhood they want... and they are upset about not being able to say the "N" word?

... Or the fact that they can't be the ones to decide who does and doesn't get to say it? The thought of black people having control over one tiny area of life - over one little word (a word that was used to abuse them, no less) - drives these people nuts!

In the midst of continued educational achievement gaps, income gaps, residential segregation, differential treatment by the justice system... white people are complaining about the "unfairness" of not being able to say a word that black people can say?

As they say, if that's all you have to complain about...

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Russian Revolution Was Not Engineered

Admid all the distortions and misinformation regarding the Russian Revolution/Communism, there is one to which I would like to give brief attention.

It is commonly held that the Revolution was initiated and engineered by the Marxist intellectual elite: essentially a coup instigated by militant academics. It was Lenin's return to Russia (aided by the Germans, who were purposely trying to destabilize the country [this claim is true]) that enabled the Revolution.

In fact, Lenin was only opportunistic. A small subset of revolutionaries, led by Lenin, were able to coopt, by force, what was actually a much larger movement. There had been repeated peasant uprisings and other such turmoil for a while before the Revolution of 1917, and Lenin did not have much, if anything, to do with any of these acts of resistance.

It is severely misguided to assume that without Lenin, or even without the Bolshevik party as a whole, the Revolution would not have taken place. The revutionary forces minus the Bolsheviks were so strong that it is hard to imagine that peace could be kept. Granted, I do not believe that, without the Bolsheviks, there would have been a communist utopia. Probably some sort of milktoast social-democratic variety of capitalism would have prevailed. And then there would have been some other justification for the Cold War (assuming Russia would still have been imperialist), other than the pseduo-ideological one.

The point, however, is that the Russian Revolution is reflective of real anger and real determination to affect change, felt by a significant portion of the population. People were fed up!

This came to mind as I was reading Langston Hughes' biography, in which he describes the way his eastern European classmates (a large demographic in his high school) reacted to the developments abroad. They fiercly supported the Revolution and celebrated when the communists and socialists made advances.

The Revolution was not only a power struggle between the Old Guard and an Intellectual Elite. It was, in the beginning, a movement of the people.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The History of U.S. Cities

I happen to have a personal interest in U.S. urban history, so I decided to write this post on a whim.

I really love U.S. cities, and among a number of reasons is the fact that, given the period of their existence, it is possible to see the progressive unfolding of (in many cases) about two centuries worth of history sedimented in its spatial organization, architecture, and demographic patterns. And this history also happens to be the history of capitalism. There is no greater visual historical map of capitalism than the typical U.S. city.

Many cities in the eastern half of the U.S. were founded during the birthing period of capitalism (18th to early 19th century). The settlement patterns at this point were, in general, much the same as they had always been for a good part of human history. Namely, that they were determined by the location of waterways, which supported the primary form of human and commodity transport. Nascent U.S. cities tended to be small, both in land area and population, as the country as a whole was sparsely populated (it was still a frontier country). Downtown cores sat adjacent to seas and rivers, with industrial zones extending along the waterways. Generally, the wealthy elite either resided in central downtown areas (usually a main street), or owned large plantations in the vicinity and frequented the downtown for its services. The working class populated the rest of the downtown and the industrial zones. The outskirts of town were rural/agricultural.

Transportation Transformation
The first depression of capitalism in the 1840s was largely overcome through investment in the railroad industry. The rapid construction of railroad lines in the U.S. was a boon for British investors, and also facilitated a wave of European immigration (cheap labor). The growth of U.S. cities in the mid to late 19th century proceeded according to the following patterns:

1. Expansion of industrial zones and working class neighborhoods along railroad lines.
2. Influx of European immigrants and, in northern cities, free blacks; consequent population growth
3. Movement of white middle and upper classes away from the downtown core, facilitated by the construction of streetcare lines.
4. Deterioration and overcrowding in the downtown area.

Second Stage of Capitalism and First Wave of Urban Revitalization
Capitalism experienced its second major depression, on a larger scale than the first, in the later 19th century. However, with some reorganization on a global scale (entailing more imperialism), the era that followed was a Belle Opaque for the industrial centers, with transformed energy sources in the form of automated engines and electricity. The automobile industry accelerated growth in many cities. In keeping with these changes, the early 20th century saw a number of developments:

1. Urban renewal projects (following the "City Beautiful" movement)
2. Building boom, modernist architecture (including skyscrapers in some cities)
3. Further movement of upper classes spurred by automobiles, development of suburbs
4. Solidification of segregation, often enforced through neighborhood restrictions based on race/ethnicity

Late Capitalism and Suburbanization
After the depression of the 1930s, capitalism entered its third and current stage. The transition to this phase was marked not so much by technological changes (although automation of the entire production process via assembly line techniques and the like was an important factor), but moreso by organizational changes, including but not limited to the rise of transnational corporations, increasing vertical and horizontal integration, and the movement of manufacturing plants into the suburbs and overseas (to take advantage of lower costs).

During the economic upswing of this period, which lasted from the end of WW2 until about 1970, these organizational changes were accompanied by escalating racial tensions. Accordingly, many U.S. cities at this time experienced:

1. Race riots
2. Civil rights organizing
3. White flight
4. Manufacturing/population shift to the suburbs
5. The beginnings of urban decline

Racial tensions were fueled in part by population increases following WW2, northern migration of African Americans, and the movement of wealth and resources out of the cities (for example, manufacturing plants and offices were an important source of tax revenue) with the concomitant containment of blacks within. To make matters worse, black people were often prevented from owning their own property and were subject to exploitative rents and food prices charged by the suburban-dwelling property owners. However, riots only accelerated the process of white flight and further strained the dwindling resources of many cities.

Economic Stagnation and Urban Decay
By the 1970s, many U.S. cities were bereft of resources and political power, serving essentially as "garbage bins" for the nation's most impoverished people, and abandoned and neglected by everyone else. At this time, the global economy had entered into the period of stagnation which continues to characterize the economy today. Adding insult to injury, the conditions within cities began to deteriorate even further. For the next two decades, city dwellers faced problems of urban blight, a crack epidemic (and consequent imprisonment of a large portion of the young African American male population), and various "revitalization" projects that seemed to uproot, disturb, and harm local communities more than they "revitalized" anything.

When a large bubble was manufactured within the U.S. economy by the mid 90s, young professionals and new (often internet/tech-related) companies began to move back into cities to take advantage of the lower rents and property values. Furthermore, rapidly declining crime rates made these locations more attractive. The combination of temporary (and limited) economic growth along with the new migrations back into the city led to gentrification in circumscrbed neighborhoods, and in some cases, revitalization of entire cities (Washington, D.C. being a prime example).
However, this has been a heterogenous process and it is too early to tell what the lasting effects will be, particularly as the global economy still has not emerged from its longstanding period of stagnation. Stagnation generally ends with a transformation of the foundations of the economy, which in turns shapes the dynamics of city life. It is even possible that the old distinctions - urban/rural/suburban - may not be salient anymore as the spatial organization of economic processes undergoes yet another metamorphosis.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

U.S. Wealth Gap Increasing Amid Recession

Today at work I ran across an article on about the widening gap between rich and poor in the United States.  I am not going to link to it because now, 6 or however many hours later, I am unable to find the article.

Of course the fact that the income gap continues to widen does not surprise me at all.  What I found amusing about the article (though still not surprising I suppose) was the amazement the author expressed that this could be occurring even in the middle of a big recession.

Even in a stagnant economy, there are still going to people who are able to figure out how to milk what they can out of the system.  In fact, since the whole global political-economic structure supports the elite few at the expense of everyone else, many of the wealthiest people in the world are going to be protected from the effects of economic recession before the less well-to-do.

And as long as there are some people making massive profits, there will be masses growing poorer.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Scandinavian Islamophobia

It goes without saying that the terrorist attack in Norway was horrific.  Somehow the fact that all of those children were involved makes it that much more difficult to stomach.

It also serves as a reminder of something that many people in the United States remain oblivious to:  there is a lot of immigration to Europe from the Middle East/North Africa, and there are a lot of Europeans who are hostile to these people.  There is a lot of nationalism and a lot of Islamophobia.

Back when there was all that controversy surrounding the Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed, many people in the U.S. could not comprehend the reaction of some Muslims.  But thanks to racism, we had a ready-made framework with which to make sense of these events:  namely that Muslims (or Arabs more generally) are irrational and prone to violence.

The reaction was incomprehensible to people in the U.S. because they did not realize the depth of the tensions that existed within Europe.  They did not realize how many Muslims had to live in fear and degradation.  These events in Norway, however, lend some credibility to those fears.  There are people in Europe who hate Muslims so much that they are willing to do something so extreme and erratic as kill dozens of innocent children.

Now, that is not to say, of course, that all Europeans are that Islamophobic (that goes without saying), nor that Europe is the only place in which one can find Islamophobia.  The U.S. gives Europe a run for its money in that regard.

But I do think it is important to remember how wide and how deep Islamophobia extends.  It is absolutely necessary to understanding events taking place in the Middle East and around the world, as well as some of the actions taken by some people of Islamic faith.

When we hear about people proclaiming Holy War against the U.S. or the industrial north, or whatever given entity, we must consider:  who proclaimed war first?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Colonial Legacies in East Africa

East Africa has been getting some attention in the news the past week. First, there was the establishment of South Sudanese independence. Then there has also been the severe regional drought. If there is a pattern to my blog posts about global current events, it is the my constant irritation by the way in which colonialism is bracketed in the reporting of these issues. The East African stories are no exception! In fact, two seemingly unrelated stories like drought and ethnic/religious conflict are actually connected by colonialism - the tie that binds everything.

I have already mentioned, briefly, that the global poverty that exists today is a result of colonialism (when Europeans forcefully rearranged the relations of production in such a way that the colonized oriented all productivity toward the satisfaction of European demand, rather than to meet local needs.... a situation which persists today). Many people in the U.S. (and I would venture to guess in western Europe as well?) believe that poverty is caused primarily by environmental factors, and a situation like the current East African drought only serves to strengthen those convictions.

Yet, when Europeans reorganized production in the colonies, not only did they prevent the colonized from directing production toward their own local needs, it also hindered their ability to adapt to climactic fluctuations and respond to environmental hardships. East Africa, at the time of colonization, was a primarily pastoral region, whose economy focused on the very mobile practice of cattle herding. This has been very common among people who live in dry zones, as pastoralism is particularly well suited to such a climate. The communities in East Africa were nomadic and, in the case of drought, were easily able to move to new locales. They could adapt!

Colonization and the subsequent erection of nation-states with very static boundaries has been ruinous to the lives of many East Africans. For instance, in the current drought, those who try to move to better areas (and generally these are people who are more advantaged than the rest of the population) find that they have to cross national borders and, in the world of nation-states, are now considered "refugees":   the only people in the world whose human rights cannot be protected.

Drought is only a problem because people no longer have the ability to move at will. Drought is not just an environmental issue. It is a social and political issue.

In some of my posts on MENA and colonalism, I wrote about how religious, ethnic, and sectarian differences were created and/or exaggerated by the colonial powers in order to disunite the population and diffuse the strength of forces of resistance. Such is the case in Egypt and Sudan as well. In this region, England's tactic was to create religious segregation, and hence tension, between Christians and Muslims to prevent them from acting as a single force. In Sudan, a distinct barrier was created between the predominantly non-Muslim (Christian and other religions) south and the Muslim north in order to isolate the two different groups (as well as allow Christians more exclusive access to the indigenous religious groups for ease of conversion).

That worked out nicely, didn't it?

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Gay Gene

This Sunday on Meet the Press, host David Gregory asked U.S. Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty whether or not he thought it was a choice to be gay. Pawlenty essentially copped out by saying that he would leave it up to scientists to determine the answer to that question (even while asserting his committment to "traditional marriage").

This demonstrates, once again, the unassailable strength of scientific authority. It is simply unparalleled in the contemporary world. Even with the most contentious issues - evolution and global warming - debate centers largely around the question of whether the science is "good" or "unbiased." If anything is up for debate, it is only because human bias can occasionally taint the purity of scientic truth, not because the authority of scientists themselves should be subject to the same type of scrutiny that we apply to other sources of authority. In fact, those on the "pro-" side of the evolution and global warming debates often assert boldly that you can't question science! Science is science! Furthermore, it is very clear that, even while religious authority is rejected or critiqued/satarized by many, including the religious themselves, and those with political, economic, and social power are trusted even less, not even religious fundamentalists dare question the basis of scientific authority. Pawlenty's invocation of science as a "safe" response to Gregory's question demonstrates this quite well.

My series of posts on evolution focused on debunking this faith in science. However, Pawlenty's claim that only science can establish the true nature of homosexuality brings up another interesting domain in which to examine science as a social activity - deriving from and shaping the society in which it is embedded.

The terms "homosexuality" and "heterosexuality" did not exist until the end of the 19th century and were not in widespread use until the 20th. In their earliest incarnation they were medical terms, and did enter the popular lexicon until later. Herein lies one basic flaw in Palwenty's reasoning: we are not waiting for science to determine the nature of homosexualtiy; science created the concept of homosexuality and has been defining it (and redefining it) since its inception.

In this light, it is interesting to see how the terms of the debate have shifted. At the beginning, homosexuality was defined within the medical establishment as a biological, pathological condition - like a disorder or a disease. The dissidents argued, in contrast, that it was a lifestyle choice and not a pathology. It was not until religious institutions and the concept of "sin" became involved that the positions completely reversed themselves. Now religious fundamentalists argue that sexual orientation is a choice, while "born this way" has become a rallying cry of the gay rights movement.

By allowing the "opposition" to decide the terms of the debate (essentially defining their positions in reaction to the heterosexist establishment, rather than on their own terms), these particular gay rights activists (who are certainly not representative of the entire movement) are placing themselves in a vulnerable and disadvantageous position. For example, there is the grave risk that if scientists were somehow to find a "gay gene," this would once again turn homosexuality into a form of deviance, on the order, say, of autism. Who will be able to argue against those that say being gay is "unnatural," when they are armed with the evidence that homosexuality is caused by a genetic mutation?

Scientists may find a "gay gene," but only because they can always find what they want to find. Am I arguing, then, that homosexuality has no biological basis? Is that why the concept did not emerge until the last century? Absolutely not. Rather, the concept itself is only one particular way of understanding, organizing and representing a far more complex reality (a reality that cannot be boiled down to the criteria used to define the differences and between homo- and heterosexualtiy).

First, sexual attraction is not as much a black-and-white matter as the homo-hetero duality suggests. No one is attracted to all men. No one is attracted to all women. We are attracted to particular people - maybe all of the same gender, maybe a mixture. Take two "straight" women, and one could be attracted only to very effeminate, androgynous men, while the other prefers the burly, masculine type. Furthermore, if you asked either of these women to rank order everyone that exists (hypothetically, of course) in terms of their willingness to be intimate with them, at some point women would start appearing ahead of some men.  (Who wouldn't prefer to snuggle with Natalie Portman over Ted Kaczynski?)  What does it mean, then, to say that you are "attracted to men"?? The variations of attraction are perhaps infinite. The basis of attraction may be biological (though it is surely social as well), but it is not a discrete, binary trait that can be controlled by a single or isolated set of genes.

Second, the ways in which people relate to one another are incredibly diverse. There is more than one kind of intimate relationship, and intimacy is more than just physical attraction or sexual impulses. Many gay people will contend that being gay is not just about who they are sleeping with: it is about emotional and intellectual connections; it is also an identity and a culture. Thus, the notion of "sexual orientation," as it encounters the richness and complexity of the human experience of intimacy, reduces it to its sexual dimension. It creates the categories of "homosexual" and "heterosexual" in order to induce homogeneity within the boundaries of each. (And to completely neglect those who cross or straddle boundaries - bisexuals, I'm looking at you!)

It is clear, then, that scientists, in pursuit of a "gay gene" (and proposing ridiculous evolutionary justifcations of homosexuality - gay people exist only to help care for their sibling's kids), are actively working to uphold a heterosexist social order. The entire experience of human intimacy is reduced to a simple binary, wherein one end is marked as a "default." Gay people then continue to be defined as a coherent, monolithic group; according to their difference from the norm; according to their sexual behavior; as a fundamentally different "type" or "essence" from the "straight" person. And then they continue to be treated differently.

"Leaving it up to science" means ceding more power to the white, middle-class, straight, male establishment. Which probably is precisely what Pawlenty would want.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Absorbing the Resistance

One way in which the socio-economic hierarchy (and the large-scale impoverishment of much of the human population that it entails) has managed to perpetuate itself throughout the development of capitalism must be credited to the way in which various actors interested in maintaining (or exaggerating) the status quo have strategically redirected and absorbed the resistance movements that have cropped up in the past couple centuries, making sure that none presented any series challenge to the system. Potential resistance elements are used to clean up and contain the damage caused by capitalism (the band-aid approach), such that they are essentially working to support the system, further its viability, rather than change it.

I could perhaps expand this discussion beyond capitalism, looking at resistance and the political-economic order prior to the development of capitalism. However, partly due to the limitations of my own knowledge, I stick to the capitalist era.

The Welfare State
The first rumblings of resistance (in the 18th and early 19th centuries) came primarily from within the ranks of the newly formed working class. The workers were being paid next to nothing, their working conditions were abysmal. The revolts that accompanied the emergence of capitalism had the potential of disrupting the whole project, of putting an end to it before it even began. If it were not for the engineering of the welfare state, this would likely have been the case.

The welfare state looks, on the surface, like a simple compromise between the workers and the capitalists. Particularly so if you, like the workers, view the state within the framework of social contract ideology, rather than seeing it as a tool of the capitalist class. In fact, the birth of the welfare state is more the solidification of a relationship between the capitalist class and the state which has more or less held, albeit with increasing complexity, since that time, wherein the state is used as a means to diffuse risk (for example, in the welfare state, by subsidizing the cost of labor, pacifying the workers, etc.).

The Technocrats
As these workers' struggles continued in waves, before essentially petering out after the Depression of the 1930s, another group of potential defectors was emerging (throughout the 19th century before reaching an apex in the early 20th, coinciding with the second phase of capitalism). These were educated, science-minded, socialist-leaning professionals. Socialist, but not Marxist. They believed strongly in the welfare state, and sought to expand its functions to include technical administration of population and territory for the purpose of increasing productivity, efficiency, health, and happiness. Their "socialist utopia" was one in which bureaucratic experts managed and ordered all aspects of human life, mitigating the harmful effects of capitalist industrialization (pollution, disease, poverty, crime). Their primary goal was to root out sources of pathology: to decrease pollution, to eradicate disease, to remove and/or rehabilitate the "criminal elements" in society.  However, they never addressed the real causes of any of these "pathological" elements.

The technocrats were easy to take care of. Since they, too, held faith in the state's ability to solve social problems, they were effortlessly absorbed into the state. Government agencies were created so that they could apply their expertise in public health, urban planning, criminology, environmental science, social work, pyschology, sociology, etc. As part of, or in alliance with, the state, they tinkered away, implementing haphazard projects at worst, taking some of the sting out of the harshest aspects of capitalism at best, but all the while they were supporting the forms of domination (the state, industrialization, science, bureaucracy) responsible for the ills of the current world order. Like the welfare state, governmental bureaucracy and its technocrats are still part of the political-economic infrastructure.

Foundations and Nonprofits
Following WW2, with the third major phase of capitalist development, another group has risen to the fore. These are people who would be technocrats - they are practically interchangable - yet they choose to work "outside" of the state. In part, they view independence from larger governing structures as a way to maintain the authenticity and progressive ethos of their movement. The rise of nonprofits (a very large profileration in the post-WW2 era) has also been a means by which the burden of bureaucratic governance and responsibility for mopping up the messes of capitalism has been transferred away from the state and consequently been "privatized."

The function of foundations - essentially large corporate tax shelters that also, to a much smaller degree, serve as a source of funding for nonprofits - ensures that the nonprofit organizations with the most resources will pursue projects in compliance with corporate interests. Hence, nonprofits may nominally be "independent," but the reality is that they are dependent upon states and corporations for funding, both of whom then control the agendas of these organizations.

The common thread among all these resistance movements is that they have all sought solutions within the state, all tried to work within power structures rather than trying to fundamentally challenge them. They have expended a large amount of resources and energy making minor adjustments to, but leaving basically intact, the structures of domination by which they are oppressed. A lot of human effort that could have been used for systemic change, wasted on small "tweaks."