Tuesday, March 5, 2013

by Scott Tucker

Even if we take class divisions for granted (as mainstream economists do), then the real picture of material inequality in the United States is staggering. And it has grown much worse in recent decades. Watch the short video below to get a clear picture of just how much wealth the upper 1 percent owns in the United States. By the way, even that 1 percent might be broken out into subcategories, since the upper tenth fraction of that upper 1 percent also has a steeper increase in total wealth.

Watch: The Staggering Extent of Wealth Inequality of America
At a recent meeting of the Socialist Party, I showed an old fashioned fold out printed graph of wealth distribution in the United States in the late 1970s. The middle class was already shrinking fast in those years. In the decades since, class divisions have only deepened at an ever faster rate. The working class has been pauperized, the middle class has been proletarianized, and the ruling class has polarized into a gold-plated gated community.

If we take capitalism for granted as the baseline of the economy (as the economist narrating the video below certainly does), then there is still a divorce between public perception of our class divisions and the brute reality.

Capitalism may be construed “ideally” as a pyramid with a wide working class base in the lower fifth (or twenty percent of total population), a solid middle three-fifths of middle class citizens (or sixty percent of the population), and an upper fifth of the rich (again, twenty percent of population). Each fifth of the population would narrow smoothly upwards to the next higher level of income. Only the very capstone of such a pyramid (the upper fifth of the upper fifth of the population, let us say) would include the richest of the rich.

But that ideal was far removed from the real picture of our economy even by the year 1975. Already the category of the “working poor” and of the unemployed was swelling out of proportion at the base, the middle class was shrinking in the central layers of the class pyramid, and the richest of the rich were skyrocketing into the stratosphere with rapidly accumulating capital. In other words, the “ideal” pyramid of class division looked more like a pancake of social distress at the base, a narrowing middle class tightening the belt in the middle, and a space needle of the ruling class projecting beyond the moon toward Mars.

Democratic socialists favor the extension of democracy into the realm of the economy. And we do not take the recurrent cycles of capitalist boom and bust for granted, accompanied by erosion of civil liberties at home and by imperial adventures abroad. When you watch the video, you will notice that socialism is implicitly removed from the realm of possibility. Only the reform of existing class divisions is marked as the outer limits of human hope.

Nevertheless, watch the video because it is a graphic explanation of the difference between public perception of capitalism, and the present reality of class divisions.

Scott Tucker

By Billy Wharton

Water politics may be the next big thing on the political landscape of the United States.  Questions over who has access to water, who profits from the distribution of water and who gets cut out of the water equation are emerging all over the country.  The universal notion of free accessible drinking water for all is rapidly becoming a thing of the past, trodden on by private water corporations, sold off by bankrupt municipalities and polluted by energy corporations grand claims of "energy independence."  Water politics are about more than just what comes out of the tap.  They are about who gets to use fresh water, what they get to do with it and, even as the article below explains, who gets to make it.  Water may be the most simple, most fundamental element of life for all beings, but it it is increasingly becoming entangled in the politics of 21st century capitalism.

To start, I would recommend a look at the principles of Water Democracy by Vandana Shiva.  They provide an excellent baseline from which to measure the current state of water politics.  Shiva's ideas come out of the anti-Globalization fightbacks of the 1990s and stand as an ideal of how we might remake the relationship between humanity and water with an eye toward regaining equilibrium by removing water from the status of a commodity.

The most recent attempt to by-pass the crisis of fresh water in capitalism relies on a combination of childhood naivete and advanced science. Why don't we just use the ocean water?  Science has provided an answer to this through the process of reverse osmosis.  Water is run through a series of filters which serve to desalinate (take out the salt) by removing microorganisms and sedimentation.  The result of the process is clean fresh drinking water.

An easy solution, right?  Like any attempt by humans to insert themselves into a natural process, there are unintended bad outcomes.  Once the ocean water is pumped into the desalination plant the natural composition of the water is transformed during each stage of processing, making it less and less organic. Of the 300 million gallons of sea water pulled into the plant each day, only 100 gallons makes it to the desalination process and then only half of that becomes fresh water.  The rest is left as a lifeless muck - remember the process kills the micro-organisms in the water - that is two times saltier than ocean water.  This waste water then has to be rehabilitated before it is discharged into the sea.

No easy solutions offered by desalination, but an awful lot of big capital is tied up in plant construction. Poseidon Resources, the operator of the new desalinization plant in San Diego has all the trappings of green capitalism.  They put forward claims of "environmental stewardship" while attempting to balance maximizing efficiency with enhanced compliance.  This pitch earned the privately held company a contract to finance the $922 million plant that is expected to generate between $3 and $4 billion a year in revenue from water contracts.  Going green means serious profits for Poseidon despite the complicated environmental impact desalination brings with it.

Not surprisingly, Poseidon has also begun to engage with national politics through its lobbying arm which has sought to influence green capitalist legislation in Washington.  One key bill was the 2005 Clean Water Investment and Infrastructure Security Act which sought to lift the cap on tax exempt bonds issued for private investments in water and sewage facilities.  Poseidon executives have also made initial contributions to the newly formed Reclaim America PAC which was established by Florida Republican Marco Rubio in 2012.  This is no shining progressive venture.  Poseidon is straight capitalist enterprise.

As the struggles over water intensify, it is important to be able to see the differences between efforts to capitalize on the profits offered by the environmental crisis and efforts to strike out for a new equilibrium between nature and humanity.  Such differences make work by activists such as Shiva critical since they provide a theoretical guide from which delineate between strategies that offer long term sustainability and those that provide short term fixes that may do more harm than good.  Scratch beneath the surface of the short term fixes and you are sure to find a profit motive.  Examine water democracy more closely and see a hope for the survival of our species and the planet that hosts us.

(Republished from http://counterheg.blogspot.com/)