Shenid Bhayroo, a South African citizen, earned his Ph.D. from LSU in October, 2008 for his dissertation is “The Ownership of Online News: A Political Economy Analysis of http://www.Foxnews.Com and http://www.News.Yahoo.Com.”
In addition, he is an activist for justice in his field of work and in broader society. He also blogs at http://shenidbhayroo.wordpress.com
Friday night the Nation Magazine co-hosted a panel discusison on the economic crisis at the New York Society for Ethical Culture. The panel, chaired by the Nation’s D.C. editor Chris Hayes, included; Joseph Stiglitz, Barbara Ehrenreich, Bill Fletcher, Jr, and Jeff Madrick. The session consisted of a five-minute presentation by each of the panelists, who then answered audience questions submitted on index cards. I am sure there are many such discussions all over the country, but I thought it useful to provide quick highlights of each of the presentations.
Joseph Stiglitz provided a brief explanation of the causes of the financial crisis in the U.S.: loose monetary policies, insufficient demand, and a transfer of money from spenders to non-spenders. The current crisis he argued is linked to the economic crisis of 1997/1998, which was mismanaged by the IMF and the World Bank.
Jeff Madrick attributed the cause of the crisis to the large-scale wage stagnation and wage decline in the United States. The U.S., he observes, is a low-wage society, and low wages result in more borrowing, which then creates more debt. Madrick noted that the Obama plan was not being implemented quick enough, that there was no need for tax cuts, and that housing was not adequately addressed. Interestingly, all the speakers were hesitant to criticize the Obama plan, stating that it is still early days and that Obama’s plan is a huge improvement on the previous regime’s handling of the economy.
Barbara Ehrenreich began by noting that 2008 – the year of the current crisis of U.S. capitalism was also the 160th anniversary of the Communist Manifesto. American capitalism she began, has “left us with less than we had 100 years ago.” Our destiny has been determined by the “religion of market fundamentalism,” but the solution was not simply a matter of changing the means of ownership.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. focused on the recent history of popular resistance to wage decline (1970s) and the decline in living standards (1990s). Unfortunately, this resistance did not lead to large-scale struggle. In fact, Fletcher argued, organized labor has shown a “strategic “myopia” in its response to the financial crisis and the decline in living standards of its members.
The panel then answered questions from the audience with topics ranging from the U.S. auto industry bailout, to housing and credit rescue, to banking regulations, and middle class tax cuts. Cruiously absent from the questions and responses was mention of a working class – even progressives seem to talk about the U.S. class system as only consisting of the rich or wealthy class and the middle class. The panel responded from one of two broad positions: 1) how to improve the current capitalist market in order to make it more equitable and efficient or, 2) how the progressive left can use the current crisis in capitalism to create a new participatory democracy involving solidarity between the labor movement, the women’s movement, and other mass and civil society groups.
The global crisis of capitalism certainly presents an oppotunity for the creation of a coalition of the progresive left in the U.S. As Ehrenreich and Fletcher concede, the moment for “reimagining socialism” is is now, but there exists no plan on how to proceed.