Neoliberalism, Austerity, and Authoritarianism


By Riad Azar

Source: New Politics

Ask anyone what neoliberalism means and they’ll tell you it’s an economic system that corresponds to a particular economic philosophy. But any real-world economic system has a corresponding political system to promote and sustain it. Milton Friedman, who has become known as the father of neoliberal thinking, claims in his text Capitalism and Freedom that “the role of the government … is t o do something that the market cannot do for itself, namely, to determine, arbitrate, and enforce the rules of the game.”* While neoliberalism’s advocates like to claim that the political system that corresponds to their economic preference is a democratic, minimal state, in practice, the neoliberal state has demonstrated quite the opposite tendency.

This essay will begin by sketching out the core tenets of neoliberal theory, tracing its history from the classical liberal tradition of the Enlightenment. I will then present some hypotheses on how relations between the neoliberal state and society operate, contrasting the state theories of Ralph Miliband and Nicos Poulantzas to create a framework that shows how the neoliberal state is a product and enforcer of anti-democratic practices. I will argue that the implementation of neoliberal economic policy, and the subsequent evolution of the neoliberal state, has historically been completed through anti-democratic methods. Further, in an effort to produce social relations that are more favorable to the accumulation of capital, austerity is employed as a tool to move further toward a market society, creating a larger, more interventionist state and promoting authoritarianism.

Neoliberalism in Theory

The term neoliberal is often convoluted, confused, and misinterpreted, especially in the American context where the center-left Democratic Party has traditionally held the title of liberal. The original liberals, or classical liberals as they are usually called, were those Enlightenment-era thinkers of Western European origin who desired to limit the authority of the feudal state and defended individual rights by restricting the power of the state, the crown, the nobility, and the church. The “neo” prefix serves as a romantic symbol, an attempt at establishing a (sometimes forced) common ground with historical figures like Adam Smith and the classical liberals, who challenged the tendencies of the monarchy to interfere in the economy for its own gain, producing inefficiency. Neoliberal economic thinkers are famously known for deriding government intervention in the economy, precisely because they trace their foundation to a period when markets were seen not just as a source of better economic outcomes, but as a weapon to challenge concentrated political power.

This revamping of liberalism appeared in the twentieth century at a time when its proponents believed they were facing a similar struggle against the expanded state apparatuses of Europe—communist, social-democratic, and fascist. Friedrich Hayek, whose text The Road to Serfdom, published in 1944, is arguably the most celebrated of the neoliberal canon, sought to show how government interference in the economy forms the basis of fascist and other totalitarian regimes, contrary to the then widely accepted notion that it was capitalist crisis that had produced fascism in Europe. For Hayek, the strong state, whether in the form of fascism, Soviet communism, or the creeping socialism of the British Labour Party, was to be eschewed.

If neoliberalism springs from a desire to combat the growing power and influence of the state, how is it that neoliberalism has produced not only a very robust state apparatus, but, as I will argue, an authoritarian one? The answer is that neoliberalism in practice has been quite different from its theory.

The Necessities of the State
in Neoliberal Theory

As David Harvey points out in A Brief History of Neoliberalism, the neoliberals’ economic ideals suffer from inevitable contradictions that require a state structure to regulate them. The first of these contradictions revolves around the role of law to ensure the individual’s superiority over the collective in the form of private ownership rights and intellectual property rights (patents and copyrights). A judicial system is necessary to designate and regulate the interaction between private actors on the market. While intimations of the regulatory state can be seen in this formulation, it is hardly anything controversial. Only the most extreme of laissez-faire economic thinkers would not acknowledge the requirement of a state structure that creates the space for and regulates contracts.

The second contradiction derives from the elites’ historical ambivalence regarding democracy and mass participation. If the people were free to make decisions about their lives democratically, surely the first thing they would do is interfere with the property rights of the elite, posing an existential threat to the neoliberal experiment. Whether these popular aspirations take the form of drives towards unionization, progressive taxation, or pushing for social policies that require the redistribution of resources, the minimal state cannot be so minimal that it is unable to respond to and crush the democratic demands of citizens. After all, as pointed out in the first contradiction, the neoliberal state exists in theory to guarantee the rights of the individual over the demands of a majority. Therefore, a system must be put in place that protects against the “wrong” decisions of a public that is supposed to buy, sell, act, and choose freely.

Two Levels of Authoritarianism

Any method that seeks to subvert the democratic demands of citizens, whether through force, coercion, or social engineering, is authoritarian. I argue here that the neoliberal state is authoritarian in two distinct but related forms. First, the historical imposition of neoliberalism on nation-states is the result of anti-democratic forces. Second, the maintenance of neoliberalism requires a market society achieved through a transformation in civil society. For this transformation to take place, welfare states must be slimmed down by austerity policies in order to turn over to the market potentially lucrative sectors of the social economy (in health care, education, social security, and so on). Public resources must become privatized; the public good must be produced by private initiative. Neoliberal economic policy can only function with a state that encourages its growth by actively shaping society in its own image, and austerity is the tool to push for that transformation. While the subversion of democracy is clearly authoritarian, the drive towards a market society and the social engineering necessary to maintain that society are further expressions of the de facto authoritarianism of neoliberalism and the neoliberal state.

Austerity traditionally has been defined as the economic policies surrounding deficit cutting. When public debt runs too high, according to the theory, the accounts must be balanced by cutting spending and raising taxes. It is important to look past the theory to see the results of austerity in practice and understand austerity as a social-historical force. To do this, one must define austerity from the perspective of its victims. Pablo Iglesias, leader of the Podemos party in Spain, in his February 17 appearance on the Democracy Now! show, did just that by arguing that austerity is when people are forced out of their homes, when social services do not work, when public schools lack resources, when countries do not have sovereignty and become the colonies of financial powers. He closes by saying that austerity is the end of democracy, because without democratic control of the economy, there is no democracy.

The State and Society

The nature of how the state affects society has been a contentious topic within left traditions. Most notably, the debate between Ralph Miliband and Nicos Poulantzas that took place in the pages of the New Left Review in the early 1970s refreshed the study of the state. Miliband, in his The State in Capitalist Society, stressed an instrumentalist position, arguing that the reproduction of capitalism in society is due to the socialization of the ruling class in the tradition of capitalist dogma. As a large proportion of those who dominate the state and control its levers come from an elite education (he was writing from the perspective of British politics in the mid-twentieth century), it’s no surprise that they believe their theories to be correct and just, while the state they run serves the interests of capital. The writings of Poulantzas, in particular Political Power and Social Classes, argued a structuralist position strongly influenced by the thought of Louis Althusser. He claimed that the relation between the ruling class and the state was an objective relation, meaning that the coincidence of bourgeois ideology with the ideology of the state was a matter of how the system itself is organized. Their two state theories, the former arguing that the state is an instrument of the ruling class and the latter arguing that the state is the objective result of the capitalist system, shed light on the differences in conceptualizing not only the capitalist state, but how the state relates to and is legitimized by society. Is the market society a result of policies implemented by individuals in power who are trained in a particular neoliberal tradition, or an objective outcome of capitalist social relations that are the superstructural product of a system?

What could arguably be the genius of neoliberalism is the way in which it takes these two approaches to state theory and blends them. On the one hand, for Miliband, the neoliberal state is the extension of ruling-class free-market ideology, propagated by government bureaucrats, military officials, and technocrats who can speak no other language than that of the privileged status of capital and who hold the belief that they are serving the greater good. On the other hand, as Poulantzas suggested, neoliberalism needs to ensure its own survival by bending civil society, political institutions, and democracy to its will.

A state that so blatantly puts the rights and needs of one small class of citizens over others cannot be installed without a struggle. And further analysis shows us that once neoliberal regimes come into power, a certain degree of social engineering and coercion are necessary in order to guarantee the submission of the population and ensure the smooth accumulation of capital. In what follows, I would like to lay out how neoliberal austerity regimes were installed, and also draw on hypotheses of how they are maintained. However, as each socio-political system is unique in its history, culture, norms, and traditions, the manifestation and maintenance of the neoliberal state differs depending on whether we are talking about core countries or peripheral ones, to use the terminology of World Systems Theory. The common denominator is the empowering of elites over the masses with the assistance of international forces through military action or financial coercion—a globalized dialectic of ruling classes.

Peripheral Neoliberal States

In the periphery, those countries that have been dominated by colonial and neocolonial developed countries, economic and political trends beginning in the 1970s show that neoliberalism has been installed by the use of force. The Latin American experience demonstrates how neoliberalism was established through military operations and coups d’état. In Chile, the democratically elected president Salvador Allende was overthrown and the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet proceeded to crush labor unions and popular movements, privatizing a chunk of the public sector. When Pinochet stepped down, initiating a transition to democracy, he left behind the constitution that he had signed and put in place after the coup. Demands to chip away at this “constitution of the dictatorship,” as it is referred to in Chile, are present in Chilean social movements, most recently the student movements seeking to reform the deeply unequal private higher education system. The reforms that were the bedrock of a reactionary counter-revolution in the country were brought about through force, violence, and physical coercion as seen in the torture and systematic repression of the regime’s opponents.

The maintenance of such a regime could only be guaranteed through the dissolution of civil society to ensure that all avenues of dissent were illegal. Political representation in the National Congress was impossible because it was dissolved as civil liberties were proscribed. Organizations of a civil society, including unions, political parties, and groups set up by the Catholic Church to tend to the needs of the families of the disappeared, were treated as opposition organizations and were forbidden. It is estimated that tens of thousands of Chileans were tortured, while up to 200,000 were exiled, shocking the population into submission through fear. The laws regulating dissent were so strict that when the plebiscite was held to transition to democracy, special arrangements needed to be made to allow political groups the ability to organize and campaign, an attempt to reinvigorate a minimal civic culture in the country.

While Chile was the first and one of the main examples of the growth of neoliberalism, it has been far from unique. Economic “shock therapy” has become central to U.S. foreign policy, from Argentina in 1976 to the reintegration of post-communist states into the global capitalist economy. A quick comparison between countries listed as “not-free” by Freedom House and those that employ free-market neoliberal policies stresses this point. From Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan in Central Asia, to the crisis-ridden state of Mexico, and the neoliberal reforms of dictators in the Middle East and North Africa, the notion that capitalism and democracy form a symbiotic relationship and support each other has been debunked. The dissolution of civil society goes hand in hand with the imposition of a neoliberal state through violence, in order to ensure that threats to the state’s activities remain unchallenged.

Core Neoliberal States

In core countries, meanwhile, austerity and authoritarianism follow a different pattern. There, neoliberal political systems have been created through financial coercion and are held hostage by financial interests due to the economic “necessities” created by bankruptcies and budget deficits. The test in this case is New York City, where the consequences of the depression of 1974-75 run deep. Kim Moody, in From Welfare State to Real Estate, traces the political and economic alliance that took advantage of social pressures from deindustrialization, white flight, and global economic crisis to implement the reforms that would give rise to a complete transformation of the city’s social fabric. His analysis shows how a united business elite was able to thwart the democratic interests of the city’s working classes by using the budget, the deficit, and financial coercion to rein in what they saw as an unsustainable welfare state. A crisis regime was put in place representing a business class unified in its desire to reshape the social democratic polity of New York City, using the city government to achieve this transformation. What began as a move by bankers to shut the city out of the bond market evolved by 1975 into the establishment of the Emergency Financial Control Board, which set its sights on imposing tuition on the City University of New York system, increasing the fares for mass transit, and limiting welfare payments. It’s a story that has become all too familiar in the twenty-first century and a tactic that is being replayed in other cities, states, and nations.

Given the history of uninterrupted constitutional rule in the United States, the installation of neoliberalism requires the engineering of society through the transformation of institutions. By giving the market the freedom to determine when wages will be lowered, when jobs will be shed, and when communities will be destroyed, while simultaneously dismantling social welfare programs to increase the market’s authority, a social crisis is produced that requires a police force to maintain order. This relationship has inspired the work of sociologist Loïc Wacquant for two decades. Combining a Marxist materialist approach to observe the socio-economic conditions that have influenced the growth of the American penal system with a Durkheimian symbolic perspective, which stresses how the prison serves as a symbol of disciplining power, his work Punishing the Poor argues that the expansion of correctional facilities should be seen as correlated with the rise of the neoliberal state. He notes how “welfare reform” corresponded with the expansion of the imprisoned population, signaling a shift in how contemporary neoliberal society treats the most vulnerable among us. This means that not only do prisons and jails serve as the place to physically keep those who have been convicted of criminal behavior, but they also serve as an alternative source of labor-power harvesting. The Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution explicitly allows penal labor, and while this has historically been organized by state-run corporations such as UNICOR, recent legislation allows the private sector to tap into the penal labor pool. Meant as an alternative to outsourcing, this practice is referred to as “smart-sourcing” (see

The consequences of neoliberal reform and the penal society in the United States are related in more ways than one. While prisons are filled with those who have been affected by the welfare-to-workfare policies and war-on-drugs-era sentencing laws of the 1980s and 1990s, prisons are also an example of the process of privatizing government institutions and insuring that those institutions create profit for private investors, making the neoliberal state an agent in this wealth redistribution. The process of regulatory capture, where special interests are able to control the agencies that are supposed to be regulating them in the public interest, illustrates this point. While the market dictates the scope of what is possible for state institutions that are beholden to government funding, the market also creates the conditions, during periods of financial crisis, that lead to the bankrupting of state institutions through austerity measures and the privatization of these public assets.

Europe has also been subjected to the establishment of neoliberalism through financial coercion; however, the European case presents us with an instance of unprecedented democratic subversion on behalf of international capital. This is not to say that the establishment of neoliberalism has been imposed from the outside with no domestic encouragement, but rather that Europe presents us with a particular case of an alliance between the bourgeoisie of individual European nation-states and their counterparts in international institutions such as the European Union (EU) and the European Central Bank (ECB). The rise of the political party Syriza in Greece and the election of Alexis Tsipras as prime minister, while nurturing a cautious hope, has also shown the extent to which the democratic aspirations of the citizens of Greece are sabotaged for the benefit of financial interests represented by the European Commission, the ECB, and the International Monetary Fund. The sovereignty of European countries is being attacked by advocates of neoliberalism under the guise of EU and ECB policy. In Italy, the technocratic government of Mario Monti was appointed without an election following the resignation of Silvio Berlusconi. Meanwhile in Ireland, the ECB held the democratically elected government in a stranglehold by attaching a series of austerity conditions to any bailout agreement. In practice, democratic demands must be made within the tight parameters that have been established by bankers, making a mockery of democracy itself.

The manifestation and maintenance of neoliberalism in Europe can be understood through the changing notions of citizenship in European countries. While at one time the citizenry was the sole constituency, a new group has evolved that claims dominance over the nation-state: creditors. According to the German political economist Wolfgang Streeck, in his work Buying Time: The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism, the growth of creditors has placed a strain on the state, allowing unelected and anti-democratic authorities to regulate how the state handles its relations with its citizens, and defining the nature of state-society relations. The introduction of this “constituency” of opposing interests into the political equation holds the polity of Europe within a loop. On the one hand, the government is supposed to be representative of the people, while on the other, international forces are recognized as citizens and therefore claim a voice in how the government conducts its business. While the neoliberal state was imposed through financial coercion, it is maintained through the creation of new political constituencies.


By blending the state theories of Miliband and Poulantzas, we are able to see the neoliberal state in a multidimensional form. It is not solely the result of the decisions of those in power, but also a complex system that constructs its own acquiescence. The neoliberal state is a qualitatively distinct form of the capitalist state. Its authoritarianism is present not only in its unquestioned defense of the interests of capital, but also in the way that it actively seeks to shape society to be more favorable to its goals. Peripheral countries have borne the burden of this violence as their position within the world system is secondary and practically dispensable. Core countries require a much more skilled intervention through the introduction of reforms and the transformation of institutions to solidify obedience in the form of the market society. Austerity, understood as a social-historical force, is the tool of the neoliberal state to subvert democracy and promote authoritarianism.


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Two for Tuesday



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To France from a Post-9/11 America: Lessons We Learned Too Late


By John W. Whitehead

Source: The Rutherford Institute

“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” ― Benjamin Franklin

“Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”—Hermann Goering, German military commander and Hitler’s designated successor

For those who remember when the first towers fell on 9/11, there is an unnerving feeling of déjà vu about the Paris attacks.

Once again, there is that same sense of shock. The same shocking images of carnage and grief dominating the news. The same disbelief that anyone could be so hateful, so monstrous, so evil as to do this to another human being. The same outpourings of support and unity from around the world. The same shared fear that this could easily have happened to us or our loved ones.

Now the drums of war are sounding. French fighter jets have carried out a series of “symbolic” air strikes on Syrian targets. France’s borders have been closed, Paris has been locked down and military personnel are patrolling its streets.

What remains to be seen is whether France, standing where the United States did 14 years ago, will follow in America’s footsteps as she grapples with the best way to shore up her defenses, where to draw the delicate line in balancing security with liberty, and what it means to secure justice for those whose lives were taken.

Here are some of the lessons we in the United States learned too late about allowing our freedoms to be eviscerated in exchange for the phantom promise of security.

Beware of mammoth legislation that expands the government’s powers at the citizenry’s expense. Rushed through Congress a mere 45 days after the 9/11 attacks, the USA Patriot Act drove a stake through the heart of the Bill of Rights, undermined civil liberties, expanded the government’s powers and opened the door to far-reaching surveillance by the government on American citizens.

Pre-emptive strikes will only lead to further blowback. Not content to wage war against Afghanistan, which served as the base for Osama bin Laden, the U.S. embarked on a pre-emptive war against Iraq in order to “stop any adversary challenging America’s military superiority and adopt a strike-first policy against terrorist threats ‘before they’re fully formed.’” We are still suffering the consequences of this failed policy, which has resulted in lives lost, taxpayer dollars wasted, the fomenting of hatred against the U.S. and the further radicalization of terrorist cells.

War is costly. There are many reasons to go to war, but those who have advocated that the U.S. remain at war, year after year, are the very entities that have profited most from these endless military occupations and exercises. Thus far, the U.S. taxpayer has been made to shell out more than $1.6 trillion on “military operations, the training of security forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, weapons maintenance, base support, reconstruction, embassy maintenance, foreign aid, and veterans’ medical care, as well as war-related intelligence operations not tracked by the Pentagon” since 2001. Other estimates that account for war-related spending, veterans’ benefits and various promissory notes place that figure closer to $4.4 trillion. That also does not include the more than 210,000 civilians killed so far, or the 7.6 million refugees displaced from their homes as a result of the endless drone strikes and violence.

Advocating torture makes you no better than terrorists. The horrors that took place at Abu Ghraib, the American-run prison in Iraq, continue to shock those with any decency. Photographs leaked to the media depicted “US military personnel humiliating, hurting and abusing Iraqi prisoners in a myriad of perverse ways. While American servicemen and women smiled and gave thumbs up, naked men were threatened by dogs, or were hooded, forced into sexual positions, placed standing with wires attached to their bodies, or left bleeding on prison floors.” Adding to the descent into moral depravity, the United States government legalized the use of torture, including waterboarding, in violation of international law and continues to sanction human rights violations in the pursuit of national security. The ramifications have been far-reaching, with local police now employing similar torture tactics at secret locations such as Homan Square in Chicago.

Allowing the government to spy on the citizenry will not reduce acts of terrorism, but it will result in a watched, submissive, surveillance society. A byproduct of this post 9/11-age in which we live, whether you’re walking through a store, driving your car, checking email, or talking to friends and family on the phone, you can be sure that some government agency, whether the NSA or some other entity, is listening in and tracking your behavior. This doesn’t even begin to touch on the corporate trackers such as Google that monitor your purchases, web browsing, Facebook posts and other activities taking place in the cyber sphere. We are all becoming data collected in government files. The chilling effect of this endless surveillance is a more anxious and submissive citizenry.

Don’t become so distracted by the news cycle that you lose sight of what the government is doing. The average American has a hard time keeping up with and remembering all of the “events,” manufactured or otherwise, which occur like clockwork and keep us distracted, deluded, amused, and insulated from the reality of the American police state. Whether these events are critical or unimportant, when we’re being bombarded with wall-to-wall news coverage and news cycles that change every few days, it’s difficult to stay focused on one thing—namely, holding the government accountable to abiding by the rule of law—and the powers-that-be understand this. In this way, regularly scheduled trivia and/or distractions that keep the citizenry tuned into the various breaking news headlines and entertainment spectacles also keep them tuned out to the government’s steady encroachments on their freedoms.

If you stop holding the government accountable to the rule of law, the only laws it abides by will be the ones used to clamp down on the citizenry. Having failed to hold government officials accountable to abiding by the rule of law, the American people have found themselves saddled with a government that skirts, flouts and violates the Constitution with little consequence. Overcriminalization, asset forfeiture schemes, police brutality, profit-driven prisons, warrantless surveillance, SWAT team raids, indefinite detentions, covert agencies, and secret courts are just a few of the egregious practices carried out by a government that operates beyond the reach of the law.

Do not turn your country into a battlefield, your citizens into enemy combatants, and your law enforcement officers into extensions of the military. A standing army—something that propelled the early colonists into revolution—strips the citizenry of any vestige of freedom. How can there be any semblance of freedom when there are tanks in the streets, military encampments in cities, Blackhawk helicopters and armed drones patrolling overhead? It was for this reason that those who established America vested control of the military in a civilian government, with a civilian commander-in-chief. They did not want a military government, ruled by force. Rather, they opted for a republic bound by the rule of law: the U.S. Constitution. Unfortunately, we in America now find ourselves struggling to retain some semblance of freedom in the face of police and law enforcement agencies that look and act like the military and have just as little regard for the Fourth Amendment, laws such as the NDAA that allow the military to arrest and indefinitely detain American citizens, and military drills that acclimate the American people to the sight of armored tanks in the streets, military encampments in cities, and combat aircraft patrolling overhead.

As long as you remain fearful and distrustful of each other, you will be incapable of standing united against any threats posed by a power-hungry government. Early on, U.S. officials solved the problem of how to implement their authoritarian policies without incurring a citizen uprising: fear. The powers-that-be want us to feel threatened by forces beyond our control (terrorists, shooters, bombers). They want us afraid and dependent on the government and its militarized armies for our safety and well-being. Most of all, they want us distrustful of each other, divided by our prejudices, and at each other’s throats.

If you trade your freedom for security, the terrorists win. We’ve walked a strange and harrowing road since September 11, 2001, littered with the debris of our once-vaunted liberties. We have gone from a nation that took great pride in being a model of a representative democracy to being a model of how to persuade a freedom-loving people to march in lockstep with a police state. And in so doing, we have proven Osama Bin Laden right. He warned that “freedom and human rights in America are doomed. The U.S. government will lead the American people in — and the West in general — into an unbearable hell and a choking life.”

To sum things up, the destruction that began with the 9/11 terror attacks has expanded into an all-out campaign of terror, trauma, acclimation and indoctrination aimed at getting Americans used to life in the American Police State. The bogeyman’s names and faces change over time, but the end result remains the same: our unquestioning acquiescence to anything the government wants to do in exchange for the phantom promise of safety and security has transitioned us to life in a society where government agents routinely practice violence on the citizens while, in conjunction with the Corporate State, spying on the most intimate details of our personal lives.

The lesson learned, as I document in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, is simply this: once you start down the road towards a police state, it will be very difficult to turn back.

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By John Chuckman

Source: RINF

Mass murder, as that which just occurred in Paris, is always distressing, but that does not mean we should stop thinking.

Isn’t it rather remarkable that President Hollande, immediately after the event, declared ISIS responsible? How did he know that? And if he was aware of a serious threat from ISIS, why did he not take serious measures in advance?

Within days of Friday 13, French forces assaulted an apartment with literally thousands of bullets being fired, killing a so-called mastermind, Abdelhamid Abaaoud. Just how are you instantly elevated to the rank of “mastermind”? And if security people were previously aware of his exalted status, why did they wait until after a disaster to go after him?

Well, the ugly underlying truth is that, willy-nilly, France for years has been a supporter of ISIS, even while claiming to be fighting it. How do I know that? Because France’s foreign policy has virtually no independence from America’s. It could be described as a subset of American foreign policy. Hollande marches around with his head held stiffly up after getting off the phone at the Élysée Palace, having received the day’s expectations from Washington. He has been a rather pathetic figure.

So long as it is doing work the United States wishes done, ISIS remains an American protectorate, and regardless of Hollande’s past rhetoric, he has acted according to that reality. But something may just have changed now.

It is important to note the disproportionate attention in the West to events in Paris. I say disproportionate because there are equally ugly things going on in a number of places in the Middle East, but we do not see the coverage given to Paris. We have bombs in Lebanon and Iraq. We have daily bombings and shootings in Syria. We have cluster bombs and other horrors being used by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. And of course, there are the ongoing horrors of Israel against Palestinians.

We have endless interviews with ordinary people in Paris, people who know nothing factual to help our understanding, about their reaction to the terror, but when was the last time you saw personal reactions broadcast from Gaza City or Damascus? It just does not happen, and it does raise the suspicion that the press’s concern with Paris is deliberately out of proportion. After all, Israel killed about twenty times as many people in Gaza not very long ago, and the toll was heavily weighted with children, many hundreds of them. Events in Paris clearly are being exploited for highly emotional leverage.

Leverage against what? Arabs in general and Muslims in particular, just part of the continuing saga of deliberately-channeled hate we have experienced since a group of what proved (after their arrest) to be Israeli spies were reported on top of a truck, snapping pictures and high-fiving each other as the planes hit the World Trade Center in 2001. What those spies were doing has never been explained to the public. I’m not saying Israel is responsible for 9/11, but clearly some Israeli government interests were extremely happy about events, and we have been bombarded ever since with hate propaganda about Muslims, serving as a kind of constant noise covering the crimes Israel does commit against Palestinians and other neighbors.

It is impossible to know whether the attack in Paris was actually the work of ISIS or a covert operation by the secret service of an ISIS supporter. The point is a bit like arguing over angels on a pinhead. When you are dealing with this kind of warfare – thugs and lunatics of every description lured into service and given deadly toys and lots of encouragement to use them – things can and do go wrong. But even when nothing goes wrong in the eyes of sponsors for an outfit like ISIS, terrible things are still happening. It’s just that they’re happening where the sponsors want them to happen and in places from which our press carefully excludes itself. Terrible things, for example, have been happening in the beautiful land of Syria for four or five years, violence equivalent to about two hundred Paris attacks, causing immense damage, the entire point of which is to topple a popularly-supported president and turn Syria into the kind of rump states we see now in Iraq.

A covert operation in the name of ISIS is at least as likely as an attack by ISIS. The United States, Israel, Turkey, and France are none of them strangers to violent covert activities, and, yes, there have been instances before when a country’s own citizens were murdered by its secret services to achieve a goal. The CIA pushed Italian secret services into undertaking a series of murderous attacks on their own people during the 1960s in order to shake up Italy’s “threatening” left-wing politics. It was part of something called Operation Gladio. Operation Northwoods, in the early 1960s, was a CIA-planned series of terrorist acts on American civilians to be blamed on Cuba, providing an excuse for another invasion. It was not carried out, but that was not owing to any qualms in the CIA about murdering their own, otherwise no plan would have ever existed. The CIA was involved in many other operations inside the United States, from experiments with drugs to ones with disease, using innocent people as its subject-victims.

There have been no differences worth mentioning between Hollande’s France and America concerning the Middle East. Whatever America wants, America gets, unlike the days when Jacques Chirac opposed the invasion of Iraq, or earlier, when de Gaulle removed France’s armed forces from integration within NATO or bravely faced immense hostility, including a coup attempt undertaken by French military with CIA cooperation, when he abandoned colonialism in Algeria.

If anything, Hollande has been as cloyingly obsequious towards America’s chief interest in the Middle East, Israel, as a group of Republican Party hopefuls at a Texas barbecue fund-raiser sniffing out campaign contributions. After the Charlie Hebdo attack, Hollande honored four Jewish victims of the thugs who attacked a neighborhood grocery store with France’s highest honor, the Legion of Honor. I don’t recall the mere fact of being murdered by thugs ever before being regarded as a heroic distinction. After all, in the United States more than twenty thousand a year suffer that fate without recognition.

Israel’s Netanyahu at the time of the Charlie Hebdo attack actually outdid himself in manic behavior. He barged into France against a specific request that he stay home and pushed himself, uninvited, to the front row of the big parade down the Champs-Élysées which was supposed to honor free speech. He wanted those cameras to be on him for voters back home watching.

Free speech, you might ask, from the leaders of Egypt, Turkey, the UAE, and Israel, who all marched in front?  Well, after the free-speech parody parade, the Madman of Tel Aviv raced around someone else’s country making calls and speeches for Jewish Frenchmen to leave “dangerous” France and migrate “home” to Israel. It would in fact be illegal in Israel for someone to speak that way in Israel to Israelis, but illegality has never bothered Netanyahu. Was he in any way corrected for this world-class asinine behavior? No, Hollande just kept marching around with his head stiffly up. I guess he was trying to prove just how free “free speech” is in France.

But speech really isn’t all that free in France, and the marching about free speech was a fraud. Not only is Charlie Hebdo, the publication in whose honor all the tramping around was done, not an outlet for free speech, being highly selective in choosing targets for its obscene attacks, but many of the people marching at the head of the parade were hardly representatives of the general principle.

France itself has outlawed many kinds of free speech. Speech and peaceful demonstrations which advocate a boycott of Israel are illegal in France. So a French citizen today cannot advocate peacefully against a repressive state which regularly abuses, arrests, and kills some of the millions it holds in a form of bondage. And Hollande’s France enforces this repressive law with at least as much vigor as Israel does with its own version, in a kind of “Look, me too,” spirit. France also has a law which is the exactly the equivalent of a law against anyone’s saying the earth is flat: a law against denying or questioning the Holocaust. France also is a country, quite disgracefully, which has banned the niqab.

Now, America’s policy in the Mideast is pretty straightforward: subsidize and protect its colony Israel and never criticize it even on the many occasions when it has committed genuine atrocities.  American campaign finance laws being what they, politics back home simply permits no other policy. The invasion of Iraq, which largely was intended to benefit Israel through the elimination of a major and implacable opponent, has like so many dark operations backfired. I call the invasion a dark operation because although the war was as public as could be, all of America’s, and Britain’s, supposed intelligence about Iraq was crudely manufactured and the reasons for undertaking an act which would kill a million people and cripple an entire country were complete lies.

America’s stupid invasion created new room for Iran to exert its influence in the region – hence, the endless noise in Israel and Saudi Arabia about Iran – and it led directly to the growth of armed rabble groups like ISIS. There were no terrorists of any description in Saddam’s Iraq, just as there were no terrorists in Gadhafi’s Libya, a place now so infested with them that even an American ambassador is not safe.

Some Americans assert that ISIS happened almost accidentally, popping out of the dessert when no one was looking, a bit like Athena from the head of Zeus, arising from the bitterness and discontents of a splintered society, but that view is fatuous. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens by accident in this part of the world. Israel’s spies keep informed of every shadowy movement, and America always listens closely to what they say.

It is silly to believe ISIS just crept up on America, suddenly a huge and powerful force, because ISIS was easy for any military to stop at its early stages, as when it was a couple of thousand men waving AK-47s from the backs of Japanese pick-up trucks tearing around Iraq. Those pick-up trucks and those AK-47s and the gasoline and the ammunition and the food and the pay required for a bunch of goons came from somewhere, and it wasn’t from Allah.

A corollary to America’s first principle about protecting Israel is that nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in Israel’s neighborhood that is not approved, at least tacitly, by the United States. So whether, in any given instance of supply and support for ISIS, it was Israel or Saudi Arabia or Turkey or America – all involved in this ugly business – is almost immaterial. It all had to happen with American approval. Quite simply, there would be hell to pay otherwise.

As usual in the region, Saudi Arabia’s role was to supply money, buying weapons from America and others and transshipping them to ISIS. Ever since 9/11, Saudi Arabia has been an almost pathetically loyal supporter of America, even to the extent now of often cooperating with Israel. That couldn’t happen before an event in which the majority of perpetrators proved to be Saudi citizens and which led to the discovery that large amounts of Saudi “go away” money had been paid to Osama bin Laden for years. But after 9/11, the Saudis feared for the continuation of their regime and now do what they are told.  They are assisted in performing the banking function by Qatar, another wealthy, absolute state aligned with the United States and opposing the rise of any possibly threatening new forces in its region.

Of course, it wasn’t just the discoveries of 9/11 that motivated Saudi Arabia. It intensely dislikes the growing influence of Iran, and Iran’s Shia Muslim identity is regarded by Sunni sects in Saudi Arabia in much the way 17th century Protestantism was viewed by an ultramontane Catholic state like Spain. The mass of genuine jihadists fighting in Syria – those who are not just mercenaries and adventurers or agents of Israel or Turkey or the Saudis – are mentally-unbalanced Sunni who believe they are fighting godlessness. The fact that Assad keeps a secular state with religious freedom for all just adds to their motivation.

ISIS first achievement was toppling an Iraqi government which had been excessively friendly to Iran in the view of Israel, and thereby the United States. Iraq’s army could have stopped them easily early on but was bribed to run away, leaving weapons such as tanks behind. Just two heavy tanks could have crushed all the loons in pick-up trucks. That’s why there was all the grotesque propaganda about beheadings and extreme cruelty to cover the fact of modern soldiers running from a mob. ISIS gathered weapons, territory, and a fierce reputation in an operation which saw President al-Maliki – a man disliked by the United States for his associations with Iran and his criticism of American atrocities – hurriedly leave office.

From that base, ISIS was able to gain sufficient foothold to begin financing itself through, for example, stolen crude sold at a discount or stolen antiquities. The effective splitting up of Iraq meant that its Kurdish population in the north could sell, as it does today, large volumes of oil to Israel, an unheard of arrangement in Iraq’s past. ISIS then crossed into Syria in some force to go after Assad. The reasons for this attack were several: Assad runs a secular state and defends religious minorities but mainly because the paymasters of ISIS wanted Assad destroyed and Syria reduced in the fashion of Iraq.

Few people in the press seem to have noted that ISIS never attacks Israel or Israeli interests. Neither does it attack the wheezingly-corrupt rulers of Saudi Arabia, the Islamic equivalent of ancient Rome’s Emperor Nero. Yet those are the very targets a group of genuine, independent warrior-fundamentalists would attack. But ISIS is not genuine, being supplied and bankrolled by people who do not want to see attacks on Israel or Saudi Arabia, including, notably, Israel and Saudi Arabia. ISIS also is assisted, and in some cases led, by foreign covert operators and special forces.

There does seem to be a good deal of news around the idea of France becoming serious in fighting ISIS, but I think we must be cautious about accepting it at face value. Putin is reported as telling ship commanders in the Mediterranean to cooperate and help cover the French aircraft carrier approaching. Hollande keeps calling for American cooperation too, as Putin has done for a very long time, but America’s position remains deliberately ambiguous. A new American announcement of cooperation with Turkey in creating a “safe zone” across the border with northern Syria is a development with unclear intentions. Is this to stop the Kurds Erdogan so despises fighting in the north of Syria from establishing themselves and controlling the border or is it a method for continued support of ISIS along the that border? Only time will tell.

I do think it at least possible Hollande may have come around to Putin’s view of ISIS, but America has not, and the situation only grows more fraught with dangerous possibilities. I’ve long believed that likely America, in its typically cynical fashion, planned to destroy ISIS, along with others like al-Nusra, once they had finished the dirty work of destroying Syria’s government and Balkanizing the country. In any event, Israel – and therefore, automatically, America – wants Assad destroyed, so it would be surprising to see America at this point join honestly with Putin and Hollande.

America has until now refused Russia any real support, including such basic stuff as sharing intelligence. It cooperates only in the most essential matters such avoiding attacks on each other’s planes. It also has made some very belligerent statements about what Russia has been doing, some from the America’s Secretary of Defense sounding a lot like threats. Just the American establishment’s bully-boy attitude about doing anything which resembles joining a Russian initiative does not bode well.

After all, Putin has been portrayed as a kind of Slavic Satan by American propaganda cranking stuff out overtime in support of Ukraine’s incompetent coup-government and with the aim of terrifying Eastern Europe into accepting more American weapons and troops near Russia’s border, this last having nothing to do with any Russian threat and everything to do with America’s aggressive desire to shift the balance of power. How do you turn on a dime and admit Putin is right about Syria and follow his lead?

And there are still the daily unpleasant telephone calls from Israel about Assad. How do you manoeuvre around that when most independent observers today recognize Assad as the best alternative to any other possible government. He has the army’s trust, and in the end it is the Syrian army which is going to destroy ISIS and the other psychopaths. Air strikes alone can never do that. The same great difficulty for Hollande leaves much ambiguity around what he truly means by “going to war against ISIS.”

It is an extremely complicated world in which we live with great powers putting vast resources towards destroying the lives of others, almost killing thousands on a whim, while pretending not to be doing so. We live in an era shaped by former CIA Director Allen Dulles, a quiet psychopath who never saw an opportunity for chaos he did not embrace.

The only way to end terror is to stop playing with the lives of tens of millions in the Middle East, as America has done for so long, and stop supporting the behaviors of a repressive state which has killed far greater numbers than the madmen of ISIS could dream of doing, demanding instead that that state make peace and live within its borders. But, at least at this stage, that is all the stuff of dreams.

Posted in black ops, CIA, Conspiracy, culture, divide and conquer, Economics, Empire, Geopolitics, History, society, State Crime, war, war on terror | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Buddhism and the Brain


Many of Buddhism’s core tenets significantly overlap with findings from modern neurology and neuroscience. So how did Buddhism come close to getting the brain right?

By David Weisman

Source: Seed Magazine

Over the last few decades many Buddhists and quite a few neuroscientists have examined Buddhism and neuroscience, with both groups reporting overlap. I’m sorry to say I have been privately dismissive. One hears this sort of thing all the time, from any religion, and I was sure in this case it would break down upon closer scrutiny. When a scientific discovery seems to support any religious teaching, you can expect members of that religion to become strict empiricists, telling themselves and the world that their belief is grounded in reality. They are always less happy to accept scientific data they feel contradicts their preconceived beliefs. No surprise here; no human likes to be wrong.

But science isn’t supposed to care about preconceived notions. Science, at least good science, tells us about the world as it is, not as some wish it to be. Sometimes what science finds is consistent with a particular religion’s wishes. But usually not.

Despite my doubts, neurology and neuroscience do not appear to profoundly contradict Buddhist thought. Neuroscience tells us the thing we take as our unified mind is an illusion, that our mind is not unified and can barely be said to “exist” at all. Our feeling of unity and control is a post-hoc confabulation and is easily fractured into separate parts. As revealed by scientific inquiry, what we call a mind (or a self, or a soul) is actually something that changes so much and is so uncertain that our pre-scientific language struggles to find meaning.

Buddhists say pretty much the same thing. They believe in an impermanent and illusory self made of shifting parts. They’ve even come up with language to address the problem between perception and belief. Their word for self is anatta, which is usually translated as ‘non self.’  One might try to refer to the self, but the word cleverly reminds one’s self that there is no such thing.

When considering a Buddhist contemplating his soul, one is immediately struck by a disconnect between religious teaching and perception. While meditating in the temple, the self is an illusion. But when the Buddhist goes shopping he feels like we all do: unified, in control, and unchanged from moment to moment. The way things feel becomes suspect. And that’s pretty close to what neurologists deal with every day, like the case of Mr. Logosh.

Mr. Logosh was 37 years old when he suffered a stroke. It was a month after knee surgery and we never found a real reason other than trivially high cholesterol and smoking. Sometimes medicine is like that: bad things happen, seemingly without sufficient reasons. In the ER I found him aphasic, able to understand perfectly but unable to get a single word out, and with no movement of the right face, arm, and leg. We gave him the only treatment available for stroke, tissue plasminogen activator, but there was no improvement. He went to the ICU unchanged. A follow up CT scan showed that the dead brain tissue had filled up with blood. As the body digested the dead brain tissue, later scans showed a large hole in the left hemisphere.

Although I despaired, I comforted myself by looking at the overlying cortex. Here the damage was minimal and many neurons still survived. Still, I mostly despaired. It is a tragedy for an 80-year-old to spend life’s remainder as an aphasic hemiplegic. The tragedy grows when a young man looks towards decades of mute immobility. But you can never tell with early brain injuries to the young. I was yoked to optimism. After all, I’d treated him.

The next day Mr. Logosh woke up and started talking. Not much at first, just ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ Then ‘water,’ ‘thanks,’ ‘sure,’ and ‘me.’ We eventually sent him to rehab, barely able to speak, still able to understand.

One year later he came back to the office with an odd request. He was applying to become a driver and needed my clearance, which was a formality. He walked with only a slight limp, his right foot a bit unsure of itself. His voice had a slight hitch, as though he were choosing his words carefully.

When we consider our language, it seems unified and indivisible. We hear a word, attach meaning to it, and use other words to reply. It’s effortless. It seems part of the same unified language sphere. How easily we are tricked! Mr. Logosh shows us that unity of language is an illusion. The seeming unity of language is really the work of different parts of the brain, which shift and change over time, and which fracture into receptive and expressive parts.

Consider how easily Buddhism accepts what happened to Mr. Logosh. Anatta is not a unified, unchanging self. It is more like a concert, constantly changing emotions, perceptions, and thoughts. Our minds are fragmented and impermanent. A change occurred in the band, so it follows that one expects a change in the music.

Both Buddhism and neuroscience converge on a similar point of view: The way it feels isn’t how it is. There is no permanent, constant soul in the background. Even our language about ourselves is to be distrusted (requiring the tortured negation of anatta). In the broadest strokes then, neuroscience and Buddhism agree.

How did Buddhism get so much right? I speak here as an outsider, but it seems to me that Buddhism started with a bit of empiricism. Perhaps the founders of Buddhism were pre-scientific, but they did use empirical data. They noted the natural world: the sun sets, the wind blows into a field, one insect eats another. There is constant change, shifting parts, and impermanence. They called this impermanence anicca, and it forms a central dogma of Buddhism.

This seems appropriate as far as the natural world is concerned. Buddhists don’t apply this notion to mathematical truths or moral certainties, but sometimes, cleverly, apply it to their own dogmas. Buddhism has had millennia to work out seeming contradictions, and it is only someone who was not indoctrinated who finds any of it strange. (Or at least any stranger than, say, believing God literally breathed a soul into the first human.)

Early on, Buddhism grasped the nature of worldly change and divided parts, and then applied it to the human mind. The key step was overcoming egocentrism and recognizing the connection between the world and humans. We are part of the natural world; its processes apply themselves equally to rocks, trees, insects, and humans. Perhaps building on its heritage, early Buddhism simply did not allow room for human exceptionalism.

I should note my refusal to accept that they simply got this much right by accident, which I find improbable. Why would accident bring them to such a counterintuitive belief? Truth from subjective religious rapture is also highly suspect. Firstly, those who enter religious raptures tend to see what they already know. Secondly, if the self is an illusion, then aren’t subjective insights from meditation illusory as well?

I don’t mean to dismiss or gloss over the areas where Buddhism and neuroscience diverge. Some Buddhist dogmas deviate from what we know about the brain. Buddhism posits an immaterial thing that survives the brain’s death and is reincarnated. After a person’s death, the consciousness reincarnates. If you buy into the idea of a constantly changing immaterial soul, this isn’t as tricky and insane as it seems to the non-indoctrinated. During life, consciousness changes as mental states replace one another, so each moment can be considered a reincarnation from the moment before. The waves lap, the sand shifts. If you’re good, they might one day lap upon a nicer beach, a higher plane of existence. If you’re not, well, someone’s waves need to supply the baseline awareness of insects, worms, and other creepy-crawlies.

The problem is that there’s no evidence for an immaterial thing that gets reincarnated after death. In fact, there’s even evidence against it. Reincarnation would require an entity (even the vague, impermanent one called anatta) to exist independently of brain function. But brain function has been so closely tied to every mental function (every bit of consciousness, perception, emotion, everything self and non-self about you) that there appears to be no remainder. Reincarnation is not a trivial part of most forms of Buddhism. For example, the Dalai Lama’s followers chose him because they believe him to be the living reincarnation of a long line of respected teachers.

Why have the dominant Western religious traditions gotten their permanent, independent souls so wrong? Taking note of change was not limited to Buddhism. The same sort of thinking pops up in Western thought as well. The pre-Socratic Heraclitus said, “Nothing endures but change.” But that observation didn’t really go anywhere. It wasn’t adopted by monotheistic religions or held up as a central natural truth. Instead, pure Platonic ideals won out, perhaps because they seemed more divine.

Western thought is hardly monolithic or simple, but monotheistic religions made a simple misstep when they didn’t apply naturalism to themselves and their notions of their souls. Time and again, their prominent scholars and philosophers rendered the human soul exceptional and otherworldly, falsely elevating our species above and beyond nature. We see the effects today. When Judeo-Christian belief conflicts with science, it nearly always concerns science removing humans from a putative pedestal, a central place in creation. Yet science has shown us that we reside on the fringes of our galaxy, which itself doesn’t seem to hold a particularly precious location in the universe. Our species came from common ape-like ancestors, many of which in all likelihood possessed brains capable of experiencing and manifesting some of our most precious “human” sentiments and traits. Our own brains produce the thing we call a mind, which is not a soul. Human exceptionalism increasingly seems a vain fantasy. In its modest rejection of that vanity, Buddhism exhibits less error and less original sin, this one of pride.

How well will any religion apply the lessons of neuroscience to the soul? Mr. Logosh, like every person who’s brain lesion changes their mind, challenges the Western religions. An immaterial soul cannot easily account for even a stroke associated with aphasia. Will monotheistic religions change their idea of the soul to accommodate data? Will they even try? It is doubtful. The rigid human exceptionalism is cemented firmly into dogma.

Will Buddhists allow neuroscience to render their idea of reincarnation obsolete? This is akin to asking if the Dalai Lama and his followers will decide he’s only the symbolic reincarnation of past teachers. This is also doubtful, but Buddhism’s first steps at least made it possible. Unrelated to neuroscience and neurology, in 1969 the Dalai Lama said his “office was an institution created to benefit others. It is possible that it will soon have outlived its usefulness.” Impermanence and shifting parts entail constant change, so perhaps it is no surprise that he’s lately said he may choose the next office holder before his death.

Buddhism’s success was to apply the world’s impermanence to humans and their souls. The results have carried this religion from ancient antiquity into modernity, an impressive distance. With no fear of impermanent beliefs or constant change, how far will they go?

Posted in consciousness, culture, Health, Philosophy, Psychology, Science, society, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Saturday Matinee: Blueberry (aka Renegade)


“Blueberry” (2004) is an acid western directed by Jan Kounen and based on the graphic novel by Jean Giraud (Moebius) and Jean-Michel Charlier. Unlike most acid westerns, the film has a conventional narrative style, following the journey of Mike Donovan (Vincent Cassel) who, after losing his first love to Blount (Michael Madsen), is adopted by a native tribe and becomes a U.S. Marshall. What makes it an acid western is the final showdown which is a spiritual battle that’s one of the most explicitly psychedelic sequences in a non-experimental narrative film. Blueberry is also notable for its surprisingly international cast, which includes Juliette Lewis, Temuera Morrison, Ernest Borgnine, Djimon Hounsou, Tchéky Karyo, Eddie Izzard and Colm Meaney.

Posted in Art, culture, Film, Saturday Matinee, Video | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Follow the Money: From Paris to ISIS to Paris

By James Corbett

Source: The Corbett Report

Let us for one moment accept the whole Paris attacks narrative hook, line and sinker.

That the French government could not possibly have foreseen an attack.

That a multi-site emergency exercise planned for the same day just happened to be simulating an armed group committing attacks around the city just hours before that very scenario unfolded.

That the “mastermind” of the attacks just happens to be the latest in a string of terrorist boogeymen who manage to escape capture time and time again.

OK, fine. The question that the French people should STILL be asking themselves, even if they believe all of that, is this: How does the Islamic State, a ragtag band of jihadis who are supposedly at war with the combined military might of the US, Turkey, the Saudis, the Russians, the Iraqis, the Iranians and many others (including, of course, the Syrians) manage to fund and coordinate spectacular international terror attacks, including not only the Paris attack, but also (apparently) bombings in Turkey and Lebanon, and the take down of Russian airliners? How is it that governments can flag and track the “suspicious” financial transactions of anyone withdrawing or transferring over $10,000 from their own bank account, but can’t seem to find a way to restrict cash flows, arms and munitions to a geographically isolated enemy who are dependent on oil sales for their financial survival?

Good question. Just don’t ask the US State Department spokesman those questions, because he doesn’t have the answers. When asked earlier this week by RT’s Gayane Chichakyan “whether the US has sanctioned any banks suspected of carrying out transactions for ISIL,” department spokesman Mark Toner responded with a resounding: “I’d have to look into that. I don’t have the answer in front of me.”

Apparently the question of how ISIS is financing its operations is of so little interest to the State Department that they haven’t bothered to look into it. So in the interest of helping them out with their homework, let’s connect a few dots, shall we?

Earlier this year it was revealed that French President François Hollande had authorized illegal shipments of arms to the Syrian terrorists in 2012. The deliveries–including cannons, machine guns, rocket launchers and anti-tank missiles–were in direct contravention of an EU embargo that was in place at the time.

In late 2012 it was revealed that one of the most prominent backers of the Syrian terrorists was the French government, who in addition to their illegal arms shipments were also delivering money directly to the terrorist opposition leaders.

Last year the French arms export industry enjoyed its best sales in 15 years, with revenues up 18%. The reason for the Merchant of Death bonanza? A spike in sales to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, two of the main funders and supporters of ISIS.

Of course, not all of the blame for the fostering, funding, arming, equipping and training of ISIS belongs to France. Much of it belongs to the United States, its Gulf allies, Turkey and Israel, as well as assorted other NATO members. But there is a line to be drawn from the arms and funds that France supplied to the “moderate” terrorists in Syria and the seeming international operational abilities of this seemingly unstoppable terrorist boogeyman group.

France is a nation in mourning. But perhaps the French people can reserve at least some of their outrage for the government which has used their own tax money to fund, supply and support the terrorists they are now at war with.



Related Video:

Posted in anti-war, black ops, Conspiracy, culture, divide and conquer, Empire, False Flag, Geopolitics, Health, propaganda, Psy-ops, Social Control, society, State Crime, war, war on terror | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A New Lost Generation: Student Loans, Wage Slavery, and Debt Peonage

Dr. Nicholas Partyka

Source: The Hampton Institute

In literature, the term “lost generation” refers to a cohort of authors whose work defines the post-First World War era. This group includes literary notables like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, among others. According to the dominant understanding, what made this group of expatriate writers, centered in Paris, ‘lost’ was not a sense of geographic dislocation, but rather one of spiritual or moral dislocation. Their experiences in or with the war led them to question, even to abandon, the systems of values that they had held prior to the war. This kind of sentiment, and experience, was not uncommon in society at large. This is likely part of why these authors’ work achieved such prominence in this period. Many people felt lost in this era, even before the onset of the Great Depression.

The project of liberalism had been brought into serious question by the First World War. According to liberals, as society embraces the philosophical tenets, the economic and political institutions, the social and economic practices, as well as political values of liberalism, greater social peace and stability would arise. This would occur both nationally, as society came more and more to resemble the liberal ideal, and internationally, as liberal states cooperated and traded rather than fought with each other. Up to the time of the First World War liberals retained their faith in the idea, rooted in the Enlightenment, of ‘Progress’. The reality of the war shattered these comforting illusions. Indeed, since the Napoleonic defeat, with some exceptions largely in their colonial possessions, liberal states had not gone to war with each other. This made it easy for some, based on an argument from Kant, to believe in an idea like the liberal, or democratic, peace.

Being ‘lost’ in this fashion was to experience a form of social disorientation resulting from a sense of, what Durkheim called, anomie. Having lost the easy faith in liberalism, many in this generation found themselves without the traditional moral framework, or social guidelines around which most people construct their lives, and their life trajectories. The fact that war occurred; that the introduction of modern industrial technology on an unprecedented scale caused such unfathomable carnage; that modern communications technology was advanced enough for the people on the home front to see, and to understand the reality of the war; the ever increasing heights of wealth and opulence enjoyed alongside crushing poverty; the continuing rapid pace of industrial and technological, as well as social change. All these contributed to the feeling of anomie, and even ennui, that made so many in this generation feel ‘lost’, or disoriented.

The term “lost generation” also has a usage in political-economy. There are some interesting similarities in the experience of being ‘lost’, of social disorientation, between the two different usages here. In political-economy, the notion of a ‘lost generation’ refers to a cohort of workers adversely impacted by a persistently weak labor market. A generation of workers can be lost to the impact of poor macro-economic conditions in several ways. From the point of view of society, this generations’ labor is lost, and the material progress of society delayed, in that it is never deployed in its most productive use, or at its full potential. This generation, and the next, can be lost in that their progress on the ladder of social mobility, assuming that such a thing existed, can be slowed by the practical limitations imposed by economic constraints. Most mainstream capitalist economists understand the notion of a “lost generation” as a cohort of workers whose lifetime earnings are likely to be less than they otherwise would have likely been, due to the poor performance of the macro-economy.

A lost generation is a serious matter, because it will have a significant, widespread, and multifaceted impact on society. A potential lost generation will impact not only the individual workers, but also their families and their communities. Workers who make less are not able to invest in important resources and opportunities for themselves, and for their families, especially their children. The diminished capacity of the majority of workers to invest in the personal development of themselves, and importantly, of their children, will have important consequences for the health of workers’ democracy. In a heavily stratified form of society, such as capitalism, the effects of a potential lost generation will be different in specific segments of the labor market, and income spectrum. Those higher up may be able to avoid to worst of the negative effects of the kind of poor economic climate that produces a lost generation. Those lower down may end up being crushed under the weight of the forces causing the disruption. Suicide, lack of adequate medical attention, lack of adequate housing, lack of sufficient food, all take the lives of people forced onto the margins of a commercial, capitalist society. Workers are also ‘lost’ in these latter ways during periods of economic turbulence and distress.

It is the specter of exactly such a lost generation of students and workers that haunts many economies in the Euro-Atlantic world, especially including the US. The dominance of neo-liberal austerity policies only further exacerbates this problem of a potential lost generation. As social programs are increasingly defunded, or even privatized, workers and the poor face increasing pressure to make ends meet, that is, to obtain basic subsistence goods. And when crisis is combined with austerity these pressures only multiply, causing many on the margins to crack under the pressure. The neo-liberal response to the crisis in the US, and even the job-less recovery, further increased these pressures on the most vulnerable, which has caused widespread social dislocation in many countries. Though every country has a unique experience, some of the main symptoms are the same; higher unemployment and underemployment, especially among youth; increases in the ranks of the long-term unemployed; increases in homelessness; increases in suicides; increases in premature deaths due to inadequate medical care, shelter, and nutrition; increases in drug and alcohol abuse. The social dislocation resulting from the fallout of the 2008 global financial crisis, and its aftermath, has so disrupted the pre-crisis status quo that many, especially young people, increasingly feel a kind of anomie, like that which animated the literary Lost Generation of the 1920s.
Austerity & Social Dislocation in Greece

To see what a lost generation can look like, and what its social consequences can be, Greece offers a striking case study. Since the 2008 global financial crisis, and the Euro crisis which followed, Greece has been at the center of the action. Indeed, it was exposure to Greek debt which was, and still is, the major fault-line of the Eurozone crisis. In order to save the Eurozone, creditor nations, and international financial institutions, have intervened on more than one occasion to provide Greece with “bailouts” and rescue loans to prevent a default on their debt; which many fear would trigger a collapse of the entire Eurozone. The unrelenting austerity measures imposed on Greece since 2010 have taken a massive toll on the Greek population. As the drama of the negations between the new SYRIZA-led Greek government and its creditors unfolds, it continues to be the Greek people, especially the most vulnerable, who bear the costs of neo-liberal prescribed austerity policies.

Right now, Greece is in the process of being the victim of what gangsters of another era would call a “shake-down”. That is ultimately what the negotiations with its creditors are. And, in light of how the creditors have acted toward Greece, this appearance has hardly been dispelled . Those to whom the Greeks owe money are insisting on full repayment, and have a clear policy agenda for how to get it, and have thus far steadfastly refused to engage in any discussion of a pro-growth policy programme. Greece is begin held-up by European financial elites by using access to credit and bond markets -indispensible tools for all modern governments- to coerce Greece into compliance. Being cut-off from these markets would make it harder for Greek businesses to do business with the rest of the world, it would also hamper the efforts of the Greek government to achieve its political and economic objectives. In order to pay back what they owe, creditors are and have been demanding the Greeks “privatize”, i.e. sell to the highest bidder, state assets, raise more tax revenue, and spend less on social programs. This is the general policy prescription the troika has consistently applied to Greece. The international creditors, just like Shakespeare’s famous Shylock, are in essence demanding their pound of flesh from Greece.

The affects of these policies has been utterly devastating on Greek society. By 2012, the enormous scale of the economic and social crisis brought on by neo-liberal austerity policies was abundantly clear. The main results of austerity for Greek workers and families have been; around 25% unemployment, and the rate for youth under twenty-four is double the overall rate; near 20% decline in wages across the board; about 30% of the population living below the poverty line, and have no access to affordable healthcare; the average family income in Greece has fallen back to its 2003 level; 40% of Greek children are growing up below the poverty line; 45% of Greek pensioners living below the poverty line; 58% of the unemployed live below the 2009 poverty line; a 25% increase in homelessness just between 2009 and 2011; a dramatic rise in personal bankruptcy filings. Meanwhile the tax increases, as well as wage and pension cuts, in addition to cuts to social services, demanded by the troika have resulted, according to one study, in the poorest households in Greece losing 86% of their pre-crisis income. The wealthiest by contrast have lost an estimated 20%, and this is at the upper end of estimates.

Steep declines in wages, deep cuts to social services, rises in unemployment, and tax increases, have all combined to put brutal pressure on 3 million Greeks living on or close to the edges of subsistence. The tumult created by the economic fallout of the austerity agenda imposed on Greece has resulted in a humanitarian crisis of immense scale. As Greece has been forced to spend less on hospitals, for example, the social effects have been dire . Greece has seen rises in infant mortality, a return of malaria, rising rates of HIV among drug users, limited access to important pharmaceuticals, and a dramatic spike in suicides and incidents of major depression. These are the results of Greece now spending less on healthcare than any pre- 2004 EU member state. With the severe wage and pension cuts, food insecurity has also exploded, as nearly three million Greeks do not have enough food to eat.

One of the major trends to emerge from this social catastrophe is the large-scale emigration of Greek youth. Given the unemployment picture, the continued recession, the deterioration or privatization of social welfare programs, many young Greeks see no option but to leave their home country to seek work abroad. This unfortunate trend is leading to what some call a “brain drain” effect as the most educated, the most talented young Greeks leave the country, thus depriving the nation of the type of talent necessary to lift it out of its economic malaise. This growing Greek austerity-fueled diaspora, lack of investment in social programs like health and education, increasing poverty and desperation, all combine to produce the conditions for a lost generation. After more than a half-decade of recession and austerity, the costs of the Eurozone crisis have been largely foisted upon the Greek people, and especially the most vulnerable among them.

The continued imposition of economic austerity policies on Greece will only produce more of what we have already seen, it will only deepen the social and humanitarian crisis in Greece. This brain-drain from a large-scale emigration of Greek youth would only compound Greece’s financial problems, as it shifts the composition of the population, skewing it much older. This youth diaspora issue is a problem that Cuba, for example, is now confronting, as the economic effects of the US blockade continue to fuel the emigration of young Cubans for employment opportunities. Austerity and recession are choking the life out of the Greek economy, and the Greek people, just as the US blockade is meant to do to Cuba. Austerity is a political choice, it is a policy programme, and it is thus that a lost generation is being imposed on Greeks by the creditors, by the troika.

The other major trend to emerge from the crisis is a flourishing of truly grass-roots solidarity movements and projects. Soup-kitchens, free schools, and clinics, among other social-welfare and relief-oriented initiatives, have proliferated in Greece as communities and activist groups- especially anarchists- organizes themselves to help provide for those being deprived, those being starved, so that European banks and other creditors can be repaid on the terms they demand. This amazing social solidarity response is an optimistic sign of a flourishing anti-austerity, anti-neoliberal, anti-capitalist resistance movement in Greece. Indeed, the many protest marches, strikes, and occupations of public spaces and buildings shows this movement is very healthy, and has widespread support. The repeated and deep wage and pension cuts, the draconian cuts to social programs, the continued recession, and the loss of labor rights and even collective bargaining rights have severely affected so many people in Greece that radical (from the point of view of mainstream capitalist political parties) SYRIZA party won snap-elections earlier this year.

Despite the July 5th referendum, Greece’s situation remained highly precarious. By returning a decisive victory for the anti-austerity “no” option, the Greeks not only displayed their pride and independence, but also gave some indication of the depth and breadth of the anti-austerity, and anti-troika sentiment in Greece. On the other hand, the results of the referendum have seemed to have embolden the creditors, and indeed, they appeared to dig in their heels even before the ballots were cast; that is, if one is to judge from the public pronouncements in the days preceding the referendum. The situation in Greece is dire, and deteriorating. As financial panic and bank runs became more intense, they compounded Greece’s already significant social woes. It appears that fears of a much worse social and economic crisis, should Greece exit the Eurozone and re-institute the Drachma, are what led Prime Minister Tsipras and his government to capitulate to the creditor’s demands. And also what led him to accept a new bailout agreement, with even more draconian austerity conditions than the agreement the Greeks ostensibly rejected in the July 5th referendum. The creditors decided they were prepared to financially strangle Greece, and allow its banks to collapse, if their terms were not accepted. In essence, the Greek government was forced to choose between being strangled and slowly suffocated, and in the end they chose the latter.
The Student-Loan Debt Crisis: The Making of a Lost Generation in the US ?

The main outlines of a potential lost generation are already becoming clear. A great many young workers today find themselves over-educated , over-qualified, un- or under-employed, living with roommates or back with parents, working jobs well beneath their educational level, and in debt for the education they hoped would lead them out of the lower ends of the labor market. One finds that this group has been delaying family formation, and delaying major purchases like houses, automobiles, and other “consumer durables”. This is often attributed to this group typically paying off their loans over a much longer period of time than previous cohorts, which is itself attributed to the poor economic situation of the cohort of graduates that came into the labor market in and around the time of the financial crisis and the onset of the Great Recession. The unemployment rate among youth, as well as among college graduates, and the large increase in the rates of default on student loans gives some measure of the troubled economic situation many recent graduates face. The rise in forbearances, and Income-Based Repayment ( IBR) enrollments, because they deflate the default rate, offers an important insight into the poor situation recent graduate face after they leave school.

Many factors contribute to creating this student loan crisis and a potential lost generation. The first factor to notice is the increasing democratization of college and the college culture beginning with the mid-20th century middle class. Following Thomas Piketty’s analysis, one should see the period after the World Wars and the Great Depression as a historically unique, and unprecedented epoch. In Piketty’s terms, this was the first epoch in which the rate of return to labor was higher than the rate of return to capital. That is, for Piketty, this was a period in which the fundamental law of capital, as had been observed for several centuries, was reversed. This happened, Piketty argued, because of the dramatic, indeed unprecedented, social, political, and economic changes made necessary or expedient by the upheavals of the 1914-1945 period. In order to win the wars and combat the depression, governments across the capitalist world made concession to the workers movements which had been gathering momentum since the late 19th century. These accommodations, and the government intervention needed to achieve them, resulted in the reversal of Piketty’s historical law of capital.

In practical terms, these policies left workers, especially those in the US with much more disposable income than ever before. The Baby Boom generation was thus able to go to college in record numbers, and achieve extraordinary social mobility because of a fortuitous confluence of historical circumstances. The parents of the Baby Boomers enjoyed the kinds of economic conditions that allowed them to afford the things which came to characterize the American middle class lifestyle; suburban houses, multiple automobiles, family summer vacations, college educations for children, retirement savings, et cetera. Because the Baby Boom generation was able to go to college, and as a result, attain professional success, and therewith social mobility, they quite naturally passed on these lived experiences as expectations for their children.

And for a generation or so this pattern worked. Young middle class-ish people graduated from high school, went to college, got jobs, moved out on their own, got married, bought houses, had children, and reinforced for those children the importance of going to college. Yet, as macro-economic change occurred, driven by neo-liberalism, and as the labor market came to contain more and more workers with college degrees, the pecuniary advantages attached to college degrees began to erode. Yet, as the economic advantages of a college education diminish, the dominant cultural narrative, at least for the “middle class” and those who aspire to it, is that the path to a good life runs through a good job with a high salary, and one gets this by having the right skills, and these one acquires in college. So, whether it is necessarily a good idea or not, millions of young Americans aspire to, apply to, and enroll in American colleges. Most do this in the hope of being able to get a job which will pay them enough to live a comfortable life.

Also contributing to this crisis is the rapidly rising costs of college. As more and more students were able to muster the financial means, largely due to continued access to “easy money”, that is an excess of cheap credit in the financial system, to register effective demand on the market college became a big business. As enrollments continued to grow, this business grew. There emerged an arms-race dynamic among colleges, which has only intensified, and spread over time. This arms race is based on the need for colleges to attract students, and involves spending money on buildings, facilities, amenities, technologies, events, and more to attract students. At the same time as this arms race drives up costs, so too do the ever inflating salaries of the typically expanding ranks of college administrators. Making the situation even worse is the fact that concurrently with the latter two sources of cost inflation, is the fact that state financial support for public education, on all levels, not just higher education, has deceased markedly over recent decades. Thus, as a result of neoliberal efforts to decrease taxes on the wealthy, the costs of education are being born more and more by students and families, driving many of them into debt, or deeper into debt, in search of the prospect of the social mobility they think a college education can provide.

The reality of the present situation is that the labor market that many post-crisis graduates have found themselves in is decidedly not favorable. The macro-economic shift in employment in the US predominantly to the service sector, and systemic forces inherent in capitalism that produce persistent pressures toward automation, have combined to create a labor market in which job growth is concentrated in the high and low end segments. Computer and internet technologies have facilitated a great deal of further redundancy of human labor in the production process for many manufactured goods. They have also rendered large amounts of human labor unnecessary in other sectors by automating via digitization, various customer service operations or routine business functions. Globalization has also helped hollow out the old middle class by moving out of the country the kinds of skilled and semi-skilled manufacturing jobs that did not require college education.

In 2011 the Occupy Wall-Street movement burst dramatically onto the scene in America. This movement gave voice to the first stirrings of large-scale anti-austerity sentiment in the US. Many graduates who entered the labor market at the time of the crisis and its immediate aftermath, had by 2011 experienced the effects of the economic crunch. This movement brought many of these people together through their shared experience of disillusionment, and social as well as economic dislocation. The recent emergence of the Corintian15, which very quickly became the Corinthian100, and the student-loan debt-strike movement, shows that this movement is not dead. Instead, this movement is gaining momentum as the economic situation for more and more young workers becomes more and more desperate. As the student loan crisis continues to build, and as austerity and neo-liberalism dominate the policy response, the resistance movement will only spread. Though capitalist elites, through municipal governments nation-wide, were able to suppress the initial incarnation of the Occupy Wall-Street movement, the basic social, political, and economic conditions that created it remain.

If the austerity-driven response continues, a lost generation is exactly what could emerge in the US. The impact of the most recent crisis is still being felt, and little in the way of recovery has trickled down to many of those displaced by the crisis, or the Great Recession which followed it. And there are other groups besides young graduates who face uncertain economic futures. Older workers pushed into early retirements despite smaller pensions and rising costs. Pensioners and the elderly, who are already largely marginalized in society, also suffer. Middle-aged workers displaced from their jobs during this past crisis have had a quite difficult time finding new employment, at least at the level of their previous job. This is exactly the broad base of suffering that unites many in Greece against neo-liberalism. The young, and recent graduates, are not the only ones to suffer, nor are they the ones who suffer the most, just as in Greece.

However, the current cohort of young Americans is the most well-educated in the nation’s history, indeed, college degrees are more abundant than ever. Every social group seems to be experiencing growth in the rate of college degrees; though disparities between racial groups persist, and indeed increase. The current narrative in the dominant culture about how to achieve “middle class” social mobility, is still to get and education, i.e. go to college. Throughout the post-war period, in order to facilitate economic growth, by way of personal development through education, the US government increasingly helped make money available to help more and more people attend college; this, of course, began to change with the rise of the ideological hegemony of neo-liberalism. There is thus a sinister bait and switch at play between the narrative about college and mobility, and the social reality of these. Students are encouraged to take out increasingly more in loans, so as to afford to go to college, in the hopes of getting a job that pays enough to live on. When graduates emerge from colleges, what they find is a labor market overflowing with college graduates all seeking employment in the fewer and fewer good jobs, for which they are all qualified, as well as for the growing number of low-paying jobs for which they are all over-qualified. Stultified by low wages, abusive scheduling, and a polarized labor market, this lost generation is already delaying family formation, and may in the future be marked by the kinds of increases in depression and suicide that we have already seen in Greece.

This post-crisis generation of graduates, which is still emerging into fuller maturity, has been set up to become a lost generation. They are likely, unless drastic policy changes occur, to endure economic lives in which they make less money on average over their working lives, have less secure employment, less secure access to healthcare for their families, less access to or lower quality of education for their children, less ability to afford to retire, and many other of the same forms of social and economic dislocation being experienced by workers in Greece. The social realty this post-crisis generation confronts can only serve to disillusion and disenchant, as it disenfranchises through poverty, austerity, and inequality. This post-crisis generation is well placed by socio-economic circumstance to experience the social, moral, economic, and political confusion and disorientation that characterizes a lost generation.

Bound to jobs that don’t engage the talents cultivated by education, and that impose abusive workplace practices, in order to pay back student loans, this post-crisis generation is being groomed to become a dependent, and hence docile one politically. Given the poor state of the labor market, the rising costs of a college education, and the diminishing return on a college education, student loans are taking longer and longer to pay off. In many cases this process can stretch out for decades, becoming in essence life-long debts; or, at least, debts that will require the bulk of one’s working life to discharge. These student loan obligations thus keep young workers feeling insecure, and beholden to their employers, if they’re lucky enough to have jobs.

From the point of view of elites, of entrenched powers, education has always been a double-edged sword. On the one hand, one wants the fruits of scientific, philosophical, and artistic discovery and achievement. For, indeed, these are the hallmarks of civilization, of progress, and of enlightenment. On the other hand, the more education is allowed to be received by more and more “lower” ranks of society, the more questions start being asked about the nature of the social order, and about potential changes. Education is a pandora’s box in this way. Once people acquire education, it can’t be repossessed, and there is little way to stop people from passing it on to others. For example, once a person learns to read, there is often little authorities can do to stop people from reading subversive material. The long history of underground, or samizdat, literature, especially of a political nature, in most Euro-Atlantic societies evidences this. Thus, while the increased access to education, especially higher education, for the Baby Boomers, and their children, is great for those individuals, from the point of view of elites, this educational democratization was lamentable. Indeed, the revolutionary 1960s and 1970s were to some degree enabled by high levels of access to higher education, but on affordable terms, that is, without high levels of debt. Even though this was the tail end, this was still an era of social investment in education.

With the rise of neo-liberalism beginning in the mid-1970s, came continuing waves social dis-investment in education on all levels. Along with rising costs, shifts in the tax burden and stagnant wages led many working-class and poor families to bear more and of more the costs of education, particularly higher education. This served to price some out of the market, however the decline in government support for education was replaced by the increased availability of loans. This is in some measure due to the re-rise to dominance of finance capital, and the need for monopoly capitalism to generate bubbles in order to spark growth. In any event, more and more working-class and poor individuals and families took on increasing amounts of debt in order to acquire college educations.

However, rather than achieving the same kind of easy mobility their parents did, this first generation under neo-liberalism was marked by the effects of stagflation and austerity, multiple recessions and stock market collapses, and the Savings & Loan Crisis. Thus, in the early 1990s, one sees this generation become “Gen X”, the cultural emblem of which became the un – or under-employed, aimless and cynical, “slacker”. Before the unbridled optimism and euphoria of the Dot Com Bubble set in, Gen X was a potential lost generation. The apathy, dislocation, disillusionment that characterize the artistic and cultural products of this generation showcase the sense of being lost, of lacking grounding and guidelines that mark the experience of lost generations. By the mid-1990s however, the economy began to pick up, eventually becoming the tech, or dot com, bubble, and many former slackers and “grunge” kids became successful professionals in a suddenly more hospitable labor market.

Between the mid-1990s and 2007-2008 the US economy was buoyed by a succession of asset prices bubbles, or episodes of speculative mania. These bubbles prevented a lost generation from emerging beyond the early 1990s. Moreover, the effects of neo-liberalism had a beneficial effect on working-class and poor households in the form of cheap goods, particularly textiles, from Asia. Cheaper basic goods, like food and clothing, imported from the Third World had a wealth effect on many American households. A rising stock market also contributed to this feeling as well, for those who owned stock, which was increasingly many. This continued to allow many working-class families to send their children to college, and with a booming economy many were able to get good jobs and achieve social mobility. However, a lingering specter of the potential lost generation of the early 1990s was the emergence in the late 1990s of the anti-globalization movement, announced forcefully by the 1999 anti-WTO protests in Seattle.

When the economy was rising, young workers could be bribed into being politically neutral through jobs that pay enough to afford “middle class” luxuries. Individuals become bound to their jobs in order to pay for the things that they own. The price of material comfort and convenience is thus obedience and passivity, it is the faux choice to be a consumer rather than a citizen. In a rising economy, debt, especially for education, can be seen as an investment in oneself, in one’s own future. Since an expanding labor market is likely to provide one with a salary that enables one to repay the loans in a reasonable period of time, this investment can often be a good one. When, however, the economy turns from boom to bust, debt serves as a set of financial shackles. Whether in boom or bust, capitalism requires that workers be bound to their jobs, i.e. be dependent on their employer and the wages he or she pays. Thus, either preparing the way for entrance into a gilded cage, or confining one to an only quasi-metaphorical chain-gang, student debt serves the interests of capital. Some, capitalism rewards with high salaries, their obedience and loyalty is bought and paid for, since the employees material position is dependent on the employers’ wages. Others capitalism condemns to various forms of forced labor in order to enforce obedience to its regime of surplus-extraction, and to stifle much revolutionary activity.
Slavery, Debt, & Peonage

Debt has been used by societies throughout history in order to coerce some people into performing coerced, that is, un-free, forms of labor for others. This is the history of class society, debt is the mechanism by which workers are incorporated into the apparatus of exploitation, that is, of forced labor. This is something which David Graeber is keen to point out throughout his book, “Debt: The First 5,000 Years”. The basic point of debt is to control the labor of others. Once one controls the labor of others, one can use it to one’s own advantage, to increase one’s own position. This fundamental tenet remains true today, debt is used as leverage to achieve control of others’ labor, and therewith their lives and their futures. Young people today, who want to go to college, are being forced to mortgage their future betting that their college degree will help them secure a job with a high, or perhaps just stable, income. Coming out of school in debt ensures that graduates must seek wage employment to repay their loans, that is they must remain politically neutral; or at least confine their activism to the bourgeois-approved, “democratic” methods of protest.

The reliance of class society on un-free labor can be seen even in its most liberal moments, for example, the various times when slavery has been “abolished”. The formal abolition of chattel slavery, or simply its disappearance, may seem to evidence a rising tide of liberalization, however, in most cases slavery is simply replaced by a new form un-free labor. Class society is a mechanism for extracting un-free labor from some for the benefit of others. So, for example, upon the abolition of slavery one very commonly sees the institution of various forms of serfdom, share-cropping, and tenancy relations between former slaves and former masters. In practice these systems perpetuate the social, political, and economic dominance of the former elites, as well as the subjugation and servility of the former slaves. One sees this process unfold time and time again. From the disappearance of slavery after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, to the abolition of slavery by British in early 19th century, or to the abolition of slavery by the Americans in the middle of the same century, the ostensible rise in social status by former slaves was undercut by the imposition of new forms of coerced labor.

Central to this process is debt, that is, the creation of debts, which once acquired will serve to bind former slaves or serfs to their former owners, and former occupations. Since salves come into the society with no possessions, or at least little to no savings, they quickly find the need to take on debt to get by, and thus become locked into a cycle of debt and dependence whereby their labor and lives are largely controlled by the obligation to repay the debt. Necessities like food must be bought, and once slavery was abolished former slaves were no longer provided with food, however meager and putrid it often was. Former owners readily offered employment to their former slaves, because they were already familiar with the routines of the particular labor process, not to mention already physically present. Cash advances on the wages employers were now required to pay legally free workers was a very common way of creating initial debts, which would routinely spiral into large debts; debts of a size that turned formerly free persons, even if only nominally so, into debt-peons, i.e. un-free, or bonded, laborers.

In America, the transition from slavery to share-cropping in the post-Civil War period is a very clear example of this process of creating debt-peons. After the war, and even after the so-called Reconstruction era, former slaves were returned to a condition not much different from that which they suffered under slavery.[1] This was done by imposing on former slaves a vicious cycle of debt, poverty and dependence, which economically and politically disenfranchised them. For example, see the ubiquitous “black codes” that arose during Reconstruction. These were as much about enforcing social norms, but also, and equally importantly, they regulated labor in the post-war South. [2] Since, due to the economic effects of the war and of emancipation, most southern farmers could not afford to re-employ their former slaves as wage-workers because they lacked sufficient capital; that is, even if the recently freed slaves were willing to go back to work, which many were not. Thus, sharecropping was the expedient that was resorted to most often. Through the law, and other legal devices, white southerners shifted all, or the proverbial lion’s share of the risk, onto what were, ostensibly, their new business partners. The black codes, also, through criminalization of vagrancy, always disproportionately enforced on blacks, forced many former slaves back into their old jobs.

This latter leaves out the effects of the rampant, naked, and direct white-supremacist violence perpetrated against the newly liberated African-American population. Thus it was, through debt and violence, that the newly freed African-Americans were bound to their former masters, and thus forced to continue to work at their former occupation, cotton farming. The historical experience of many coal miners, and other industrial workers, especially those having lived in company towns in America, also very clearly displays the process whereby workers’ debt are used to entrap workers, and force them into a condition very much like slavery. Most newly freed slaves ended up facing a choice, especially after the end of Reconstruction, between working their old jobs as sharecroppers, or being arrested for vagrancy and being sentenced to forced labor. In either case, the newly liberated slaves were forced back to work, often for their former masters.

The same process of creating debt-peons observed in the American South after the Civil War, in the main outlines, occurred earlier in the 19th century after the British abolished slavery. Outside of those in the actual slave trade itself, this policy change primarily affected the British sugar industry in the Caribbean.[3] Former slaves were very commonly re-employed as wage laborers on sugar plantations, typically for very low wages. After cheap African slaves could no longer be acquired, plantation owners began to import cheap laborers from other parts of the world, primarily East Asia and the Sub-Continent. These laborers were routinely entrapped after arrival in the Caribbean owing the company, or perhaps some type of agent or broker, for transport and provision, as well as the very common cash advance. Cash advances were very often quickly spent, either through consuming necessaries like food, through dissipation, or through being hoodwinked. In many cases cash advances would be handed over to family in the locality where the laborer was recruited. This process of controlling cheap foreign workers through debt, and draconian repayment conditions, can be seen clearly in Qatar, particularly with regard to the building programme related to the World Cup tournament it will host in 2022.

Wage labor is also a form of slave labor, though more similar to debt-peonage than chattel slavery. If a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, then slavery by any name is always odious, and the opposite of liberty. Wage laborers in liberal-democratic regimes may have more social and political privileges than serfs or slaves, but they are in no wise the free laborers economic theory posits them to be. Wage labor is just another form of un-free labor. Workers, i.e. former serfs and peasants, were coerced into adopting the forms and routines of industrial life because they were forcibly deprived of, eventually, all means of sustaining themselves without recourse to wage-paying employment. The social, economic, and political transition from feudalism and mercantilism, to commercial and industrial capitalism created an industrial proletariat, a working-class, where none existed previously. This was a violent, disruptive, and often chaotic experience for these people, who in this fashion bore the brunt of the costs of the process of creating liberal-democratic, capitalist regimes.

Just as it was thousands of years ago, debt works to keep poor people working for rich people, who can then accumulate great wealth as a result, which is the ultimate goal. David Graeber describes how debt functioned in ancient Sumer to bring poor farmers, and their produce, under the control of the temple-industrial complex. The fastest and easiest way to create debts would be, of course, to levy a tax, which could be paid in kind rather than in coin; the requirement to pay in coin was related, as Graeber shows to the desire of early states to equip and provision armies. Thus, debt, along with military force, allowed the palace-temple complexes to accumulate the provisions that sustained its inhabitants and the raw materials its artisans required. So it is still today, debt continues to work to bind the working-classes to occupations that further the accumulation of wealth by the elites, social, political, and economic, of a society.

Young people across the US, and around the developed world, have been sold a narrative, for more than one generation now, that led them to believe that higher education was the path to social mobility and economic prosperity. In order to roll the dice and take their chance, a great many working-class and poor families and individuals have take on more and more debt so as to pursue education, higher education in particular. Now, in a post-crisis, recessionary environment, what was years ago an investment, is now increasingly an economic albatross. Left largely to fend for themselves in a confusing, and unfavorable labor market, wherein they are often over-qualified for the kinds of jobs which are available, young people across the US, and indeed across the industrialized world, are at grave risk of becoming a lost generation by way of becoming, in essence, debt-peons as a result of their getting an education in attempt to better themselves.

This latter fate excludes those graduates who are lucky enough, through circumstance or planning, to be educated in highly in-demand and thus highly remunerated subject areas. If one, either by personal proclivity or cunning strategy, desires to be an investment banker, and one is good at it, then the rewards can be unfathomably large. If one can do well something the market highly rewards, then one can find their pursuit of an education in this subject profitable indeed. And if one is unfortunate enough to be interested in a subject, for which there is not great demand by capitalists, or the state, then one’s pursuit of an education will likely be unprofitable, and result in a condition essentially the same as debt-peonage. Of course, in capitalism, the structure of outcomes in the labor market in regards to pecuniary rewards is colored to a great extent by personal connections, nepotism, cronyism, “inside baseball”, “old-boys clubs”, et cetera. Social class matters very much in the real-world sorting process in the labor market after college. Who gets what position, and for how much salary, is in many ways a heavily rigged game, especially now, as more and more, years and years of un-paid, or lowly paid, internships stand between new graduates and entrance into the professions they desire.
Avoiding a Lost Generation

The macro-level indicators, and general economic and social statistics at present are not positive, and the initial outlines of a crisis in the US are only now beginning to emerge. We are very much still in the early stages of this unfolding crisis, and there are still many possible lines of development, depending on the actions of various actors, e.g. labor, capital, and the state. On one, perhaps extremely pessimistic view, this potential lost generation could end up being a multi-generational crisis, that has a wide array of effects that form, develop, and blossom over several decades. On a more optimistic view, this “crisis” might amount to no more than a lost decade. Sure the labor market might be bad now, but that could change the next time the economy picks up. The important point to keep in mind is that the shape and scope of the crisis to emerge can be changed by conscious and deliberate action. Though a lost generation is looming, it is by no means inevitable.

One promising line of resistance to a potential lost generation is the debt strike being organized by the Strike Debt! collective around the Corinthian100. These students, defrauded by the predatory practices of the Corinthian for-profit college network, banded together in protest to declare that they would not repay their loans, deeming them to be immorally acquired, and thus illegitimate. Despite a negotiated settlement in March of this year, some former Corinthian students judged, and not unreasonably so, the terms to be insufficient, given the scale and scope of Corinthian’s fraud, of which they were the victims. The rapidity with which the Corinthian15 became the Corinthian100 shows how wide the appeal of the original message was, and how deep is the feeling of betrayal an injustice felt by these students. The highly conscious predatory behavior engaged in by for-profit colleges like Corinthian makes the moral argument for a debt amnesty in this case particularly strong. The debt strike currently being organized may indeed by successful at provoking the state into taking precisely this action.

It is important to note that the amount of privately-held student debts is a small fraction of the total amount of outstanding student debt. Even an unconditional debt forgiveness for all Corinthian students, as well as for all other students at for-profit colleges, would not do very much to avert a lost generation. A debt strike could, however, do much to raise revolutionary consciousness among the strikers. Some who might otherwise never have been radicalized, or even exposed to radical ideas, can engage with them as a result of their personal experience. If the movement is successful in winning total debt forgiveness for Corinthian students, this will undoubtedly be a great boon to those who would be freed from those debts. This is no insignificant achievement. But, since most student debt is owned or backed by the government, and cancelling this debt as yet has no movement behind it, this post-crisis generation may very well end up knowing the experience of being lost.

One potential solution to the crisis would be some variety of Keynesian stimulus plan, or a 21st century New Deal. This would, quite naturally, require a great deal of state intervention in the economy. This latter is heresy to the current orthodoxy in economics, and moreover, there is a lack of political will to enact such a program. Yet, the logic remains as sound as it ever was, money spent on wages will have multiplier effects that work to increase output and employment. When workers get paid, they spend. This spending stimulates the economy by raising aggregate demand. Whether the private sector or public sector, wages are wages to workers, and the workers’ expenditure is the income of the retailers, and their suppliers. America does not lack for significant projects, whether infrastructure, social services, or others, worth spending money on which could improve the quality of public life, and provide the kinds of opportunity and mobility that we saw in the mid-twentieth century.

The bourgeois-democratic state itself can take, and has taken, steps to blunt some of the worst effects of the student loan crisis, and the burgeoning lost generation. In 2013 Congress acted to lower interest rates on student loans, after the rate had risen earlier in the year. While this was no doubt a boon to many, it remained the case that students pay much more to be able to afford to go to school than do the biggest banks to borrow from the federal government. It remained the case that the federal government is attempting to make money from student borrowers. Moreover, it remained the case that US students take on a higher debt burden than students in other countries. Recently, President Obama took action to help ease some of the problems associated with student loans, especially in the repayment of these loans. His action this year follows another step he took last year to help student borrowers by limiting the percentage of their income that creditors could demand as monthly payments. Needless to say, these measure are good for the people they help, to the extent they actually work to reduce the financial burden student borrowers face in the repayment phase of their loans.

However, such measures, by blunting the most severe effects of the student loan crisis, serve to forestall any larger economic or social crisis emerging out of the student loan crisis. These policies also work to forestall the worst, but also potentially most politically radicalizing, effects of the experience of being in a lost generation. Thus, the action of the bourgeois-democratic state is a double-edges sword. While the amelioration of financial hardship is good for those suffering under them, it is also bad in that it forestalls the development of the revolutionary consciousness that is necessary to provoke radical social change. Just as in Greece, as elsewhere today and in numerous historical examples, the hardships and sufferings imposed by economic crisis would generate much solidarity and revolutionary working-class consciousness, and activism. Though this kind of radicalization is still happening because of the student loan crisis, it is at a much slower pace.

In some discussions of the student loan debt crisis the word “bubble” is used to describe the crisis. And, indeed, in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis it was fashionable for a time to attempt to predict the next bubble, especially after two successive bubbles were largely ignored until they popped. The comparison to a speculative “bubble” is an inaccurate characterization of the student loan debt crisis in some respects. It is inaccurate in that the student loan crisis lacks some of the important features of traditional economic crises associated with the collapse of an artificially inflated asset price. Instead, the collapse of the student loan “bubble”, rather than causing an economic crisis akin to the collapse of the housing bubble, is likely to take the form of a lost generation.

The fallout of this crisis will be borne by young graduates and workers in the form of diminished lifetime earnings, chronic under-employment, delayed household formation, and increased dependence on employers and attendant political passivity. In this way, the comparison to speculative bubbles is correct, in that, just as has been the case with bubbles throughout history, it will be the smallest investors, the working-class people who buy into the market at the end of the boom period who bear the bulk of the costs of the collapse.

Despite record high levels of outstanding student debt, the crisis is not likely to cause widespread economic chaos as it erupts. First, historically, bubbles have typically arisen in the asset price of private, as opposed to public, goods. Because the US government and its immense financial resources backs the large majority of student loans, either by originating the loans in a federal agency or by guaranteeing payment to issuing private banks, there is unlikely to be a collapse in the asset price. Asset price bubbles collapse largely because investors lose faith in the future solvency of an enterprise, thus the backing of the government of the world’s largest economy removes this latter fear in the case of inventors in student loan debt.

Even a debt strike by the whole population of student borrowers in the US would not necessarily work to burst this alleged bubble. Moreover, as was seen in the 2008 financial crisis, even when bubbles do burst bourgeois-democratic regimes often bail-out the wealthiest owners of the formerly valuable asset. Second, given that student loan debt totals just about 7% of US GDP, even a collapse of this alleged bubble would be unlikely to cause a large-scale economic crisis like the one seen as a result of the 2007-2008 collapse. While still an important drag on the macro-economy, the student loan crisis is not likely to be the epicenter of a future economic earthquake.

Not mentioned at all yet in this discussion are those students who take on debt to attend college but do not graduate. This group faces the same poor labor that market graduates do, remain saddled with the financial burden of student debt like graduates, however, dropouts lack a degree, that is, the credential that largely governs access to the higher paying segments of the labor market. Though it remains true that college graduate tend to earn more over their lifetime than non-college graduates, college dropouts combine the worst of both worlds; the debt of college attendance, and the diminished economic prospects of non-graduates.


[1] For an excellent discussion of this see Zinn, Howard. “Slavery Without Submission, Emancipation without Freedom”. A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present. 1980. Harper Perennial, (2003): 171-210.

[2] See Brands, H.W. “The Conquest of the South”. American Colossus. Anchor Books (2010): 135-166.

[3] For an excellent description of this process see, Abbott, Elizabeth. Sugar: A Bittersweet History. Duckworth Overlook: 2010.

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