Tag Archives: economics

Class warfare in The Dark Night Rises.

21 Jul

*spoilers*

I went to go see the new Batman film last night and while it’s an entertaining movie, there was a strong undercurrent of class warfare all throughout that drove me nuts.

I read a really great description of Batman from a reddit user dopplerdog:

Batman is a romantic figure. He is the embodiment of the Nietzchean will to power, anUbermensch. He fights for law and order, a bourgeois order which respects hierarchy and property. In his world there are people who work within the prevailing order, and criminals who are outside it. His role is to enforce his idea of justice on those outside his notion of bourgeois order. He doesn’t wish to subvert the order, but rather to save it from itself, because it has become corrupt.

It is fascist because it is a reactionary fantasy to “correct” unilaterally and by force the problems afflicting liberal democracy, by going beyond the limits set by the system. The aim in this fantasy is to restore a mythical order in which hierarchy and property are respected.

One of the first big action sequences we see is Bane and his thugs shooting up a stock exchange. The rich traders are there being polished and snobby, then shoe shiner, janitor, and Bane dressed like a delivery driver pull out guns and start shooting up the place. The thugs weren’t disguised as other traders, no, they were disguised as working class average Joes. The police show up and there is a dialogue exchange between an trader and two cops. I can’t remember word for word, so I will paraphrase:

Trader: “You have to get in there! This is a robbery! He has full access to whatever whatever!”

Cop: “I’m not running in there, it’s not my money. My money’s in my mattress.”

Trader: “Well if you don’t stop him that money might be worth a lot less than the stuffing in your mattress!”

I find it wonderfully ironic that Bane is holding the traders hostage because this is exactly the reverse of what is going on in our society. Back in 2008, when the economy collapsed, our large financial and commercial institutions held everyone hostage. The message was simple: Either you bail us out for our irresponsible behavior or we take the entire world economy down with us.

“Too big to fail” was the euphemism used for blackmail on a global scale. Four years later and nothing has changed. No one has been arrested, the corrupt and broken system remains in tact, and anyone who speaks out against it is denounced as promoting “class warfare.”

The character of Bane uses populist, anti-capitalist rhetoric throughout the film. He claims that he is starting a revolution for the people, giving the city back to the people. He laments the corruption in society and the injustice of a system used by those in power to keep themselves in power. Bane brings up several real issues affecting society today, but by having Bane be the one to voice them, Nolan is single-handily dismissing the issues and painting those who raise them as terrorists. Way to try and frame the discussion so there is no discussion at all.

Cat Woman, who is much more morally ambiguous, also uses populist rhetoric from time to time. She tells Bruce Wayne that there is a storm coming, that soon all the rich people will be thrown out into the cold harsh world and will know what it’s like to be one of everyone else. This actually takes place in a montage that shows rich people being rounded up, their homes looted, and criminals being released from prison.

The whole thing just reminded me of the period immediately after the French Revolution known as “The Terror.” I was further reminded of this when Nolan shows the rich being sentenced to death in sham trials before a “people’s court.” I couldn’t help but laugh when one of the rich decries the lack of due process. In Nolan’s mind the rich and powerful stand as beacons of justice and human rights. In real life things are exactly the opposite.   The “right” to due process has become yet another casualty of war. Eric Holder, the attorney general made it clear that “due process doesn’t necessarily mean judicial due process.”

Throughout the chaos Bane establishes a military dictatorship of sorts, declaring martial law and rounding up those still on the streets for execution. His rule is anything but a populist revolution. He is simply using the rhetoric of such to try and win people to his side, not that he cares either way because he’s planning on blowing up the city regardless.

Queue patriotic shots of police officers being heroic and marching down the villains, people coming out of their townhouses while those in power talk about prosperity and order, and the entire thing is a reactionary circle jerk with Batman as Jesus Christ.

 

If only money mattered

25 May

Natural selection is the engine that drives evolution, but it is not restricted to just living organisms. In nature, natural selection’s goal is the production of more offspring. The more babies an organism can have, the more successful it is. It’s beautiful and simple.

Yet this engine can be used to drive other things besides making robins redder or deer run faster. Natural selection is at work in capitalism as well. Here the goal is to make more money instead of more babies. Businesses that do well, or make more money, prosper while businesses that don’t make money flounder and die. The whole process works to make businesses more efficient. It cuts off the fat and makes everything leaner.

Yet in a system where only money matters, what about entities whose goal is something other than making money? Museums, libraries, parks, etc. I guess these would fall under “public goods”, or services that can’t be measured in dollars and cents. In order to survive in a system where only revenue counts, these entities would have to be given protection, usually in the form of subsidies and tax exemption. Though I feel there are some who would have a problem with this, like the developer who wants to plow down a park to build another mall.

I guess what I’m trying to say is there are things that are very important to me that don’t make money. I and other patrons of these entities are too few in number when compared to the masses to financially support these institutions. Normally, under the rules of natural selection, that means they should wither and die. What is to be done? Is it right to tax other people to support things that I cherish?

In the US we have a constitutional republic. People vote, but it is not a pure democracy. Our founding fathers knew the dangers of a pure democracy, that it would lead to mob rule, and instituted a republic where, although the majority would rule, the rights of the minority were respected. Can the same thing be applied economically? Should it be applied?

What would an unregulated system where only money mattered look like? I think it’d be a world where museums, libraries, and theaters would die off. Maybe not entirely, but there would be drastically fewer of them than we have now. Educational programs of all kinds would wither and die, unable to compete with “American Idol” or “Dancing with the stars”. Everything would be dumbed down to the lowest common denominator, for that’s where the most money is.

Big Business, workers, and regulation

26 Oct

There is one god in capitalism, profit. This god is extremely powerful because it is fueled by a constant driving force, human greed. In some political circles, “regulation” is a four letter word, an inherently evil concept put in place to inhibit people from making money.

In pure free market capitalism the needs of the people are outweighed by what is most profitable. All concerns about safety and ethics are secondary to the power of the dollar. This is where regulation comes in. At the heart of government regulation is not some sinister plot to keep people from making more money, but to protect people from abuses by business to their health and security.

Sure it might be more profitable for a business to dump pollutants into a near by river instead of paying to properly dispose of them, but doing so would hurt the people living near that business.  One could counter “well, a business that does that would hurt its profit because the people in that area wouldn’t buy from them.” While this is a nice theoretical mechanism to protect people, reality shows that this is not the case. If big businesses actually cared about polluting the environment, we wouldn’t need the Environmental Protection Agency. Yet big businesses continue in harmful practices in the pursuit of profit, and so the EPA is a very busy agency.

Regulation doesn’t just protect the environment people live in from business, it protects people’s livelihoods and the economy. Everyone is painfully aware of the recent and devastating recession. People love to go on and on about the bail out, and how horrible it is. While I also hate the bailout and wished the banks and companies were just allowed to fail, the real villain here is deregulation.

Take the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act for example. This act, pushed through by 3 republicans in 1999, repealed the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933. The Glass-Steagall Act put up a wall that kept investment banks separate from commercial banks, separate from insurance firms, etc. Without this protective legislation, banks from one field took over institutions from another, like Citibank taking over Travelers Group Insurance to create a super hybrid company, Citigroup. These institutions then spread their tentacles into every financial nook and cranny in the quest for more and more profit, and in the process became “too big to fail”. If they went down, they would take down everyone else with them.

The Glass-Steagall regulation was designed to keep catastrophes like this from happening. Also, take the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000. This act made it possible for companies to engage in extremely risky practices like “credit default swaps” and “collateralize debt obligations”, free from the watchful eye of regulators. Companies could now make their balance sheets look good, even though they were engaging in very dangerous deals.

Unfortunately, we all now know the consequences of this type of deregulation. Without the safeguards in place, nothing was stopping businesses from making a buck, regardless of the risk and potential danger to society. In the end, wall street imploded and millions of people on main street who had nothing to do with this payed the price with their jobs and investments.

The last thing I wanted to touch on was workers. Keep in mind that profit is god. Reducing the price to operate a business means you make more profit. One of the most costly expenditures for a business is personnel. For a factory, the ideal worker is a robot. A robot can preform a task much faster than a human worker, it can often do it better, and best of all, they don’t get tired and you don’t have you pay them wages.

Robots, however, have a high one time price when you buy them, and then you have to maintain them. (Altogether this is still more cost effective than hiring workers) The next best thing to robots are slaves. Slaves also have a maintenance cost, but they work for free until they die. Unfortunately for big businesses, government regulation prohibits slavery.

Given these two realities, the next best thing a big business can do to minimize overhead is to try and make their workers as near to slaves as possible. The more you can work them, and the less you have to pay them the better. Whatever you do, don’t let them organize unions and try to improve their conditions.

There was an old theory by Ferdinand Lassalle in the 19th century called “Subsistence theory of wages“. The idea was to pay workers the bare minimum they need to survive. This way they wouldn’t breed uncontrollably, and the labor force along with wages would be kept in check. This theory has long been debunked, and labor unions have made a real difference in passing regulations to improve people’s lives, however, many of the sinister motives behind this theory remain.

To many big companies the worker is a commodity. In the US we have labor laws that regulate businesses when it comes to wages, working environment, etc. These regulations protect the people working in a company from abuses, and attempts to insure that they can afford to live. This in turn raises the overhead cost for businesses employing American workers. In turn, businesses outsource their jobs overseas to countries where there are fewer or no regulations to protect employees.

Here they can pay workers subsistence wages and work them to exhaustion. Businesses can afford to run sweatshop conditions in these countries given the high population of the work force and thus high demand for employment. (There is a website here where you can put in your zipcode and see what local companies are outsourcing jobs from your town overseas)

Without these regulations protecting American workers there would be sweatshops in the US. Corporate interests in the America actively work to try and weaken protective regulation and unions in an effort to make the American worker more like sweatshop workers. I honestly don’t know how we’re going to be able to protect the American worker and his/her job when so many people are willing to do the same work overseas for a fraction of the price, while at the same time being bared from unionizing for better living conditions.

Other big businesses have found even more ways to make money off of their workers through “dead peasant” insurance policies. Companies like Dow Chemical, Procter & Gamble, Wal-Mart, Walt Disney take out life insurance plans on their employees, only to cash in on them when their employee dies. Most of the time the employee doesn’t even know their company has this policy out on them. These company owned insurance policies make up 20% of all life insurance sold each year.

Just some thoughts.

I don’t get libertarians….

28 May

I have several friends who call themselves libertarians, one who keeps sending me anti-Obama stuff. Now, the way I understand it, libertarians are conservative on economic issues, but liberal on social issues. That’s cool, but what gets me is all the libertarians I know tend to vote for republicans all the time.

Now usually values trumps economics. This is why a lot of poor people vote republican. Yes the republicans are usually extremely rich business people who don’t like anything that even smells of worker’s rights, but they’re also religious. Many of the poor people are very religious too, they see the “values” connection and vote for a block of people that usually screw them over. This is what happened with Bush twice. The poor religious people loved him and voted for him both times because he was a “compassionate conservative”.

Now if values trumps economics, you’d think that libertarians would vote for democrats the majority of the time, yet still be angry over the economic policies. Instead it seems like they vote their wallets and then forget about the social ramifications of electing conservatives.

Now I can understand how someone would want government to just stay our of just about everything, but I feel there are some situations in which government should step in. When it comes to social issues, I feel the government should only step in to prevent discrimination and disenfranchisement of a group of people. This includes keeping the government neutral, i.e. separation of church and state. The government shouldn’t be regulating what you can do in the privacy of your own home.

Economics is tricky though. This is where I would disagree with libertarians. The problem with money is that people use it to unbalance the political playing field along with everything else. To many economic conservatives, regulation is a four letter word. Yet when you take regulation away, you get shit like what the economy is suffering though now.

Thunderf00t mentions regulation in the below video around 3:20. The main point of the video is something else entirely, but he makes some good points about how regulation is needed because the free market has no natural mechanism to protect the people when the needs of the people are out-weighed by what is profitable.

Now do I like the idea of a welfare state? No. I don’t want my money going to support someone like octomom. I also don’t want my money being used by people who could normally be working. I am fine with my money going to help the sick and elderly, and to temporarily help someone pay their grocery or heating bill while they are honestly trying to find work. I’m fine with welfare to that extent. But to take government out of it entirely would lead to the same sick social darwinism of the late 19th/early 20th centuries.