Hierarchy’s Next Evolution

About two weeks ago, Senator Chuck Schumer told CNBC’s John Harwood that should the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement be brought up in Congress during the post-election lame duck session “it may well get its 51 votes in the Senate even if some Democrats change their views. But it’s an iffy question for the House to get a majority in the House.” I don’t think there’s really any uncertainly at all and that it isn’t too presuming to predict that if the TPP passes the Senate that its advocates will be able to rig up a slim majority in the House and get the double legislative stamp of approval. Most representatives will find it practically impossible to vote down the TPP when they are confronted with the arguments for its ratification and seriously have to engage with them. Take this one from Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, for example: “If we see the TPP rejected, it would be a gigantic self-inflicted wound—a setback to our interests in the region… it would be an act that will hurt American workers, slow our economy, hinder our ability to advance the full range of U.S. objectives [in East Asia].”

Or how about this one from President Barack Obama: “So the question is: Do we want that trade to be driven by American rules and American values? Or do we want the rules of the road written without us? Because failing to pass TPP would mean that U.S. exporters get squeezed out of Asia and some of the millions of American workers whose jobs are supported by exports to this region could find their jobs at risk. So this is about our prospects here at home, and a test of our leadership around the globe.”

Then there’s this from a piece from The Hill about Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and the TPP: “Still, Ryan noted the benefits of trade, especially for his home state where dairy and cheese exports fuel the economy. He argued that other nations are forging trade deals that are hurting U.S. exporters. “That means we have to engage in the world,” he said. “We need to open those markets up and prevent them from being closed.” Maintaining exports? Preventing markets from becoming closed? Now you definitely have the House of Representatives’ full attention. Those are the highest priorities of the U.S. government and so, when the importance of this agreement is framed in those terms, there’s no way the TPP will be nixed.

We will also see the TPP grudgingly accepted by workers because the argument that the health of the nation’s economy is on the line will hit home. They know that the U.S. working class is damned if the TPP passes and damned if it doesn’t, for either way there will be job losses. It comes down to this: would you rather those losses to come in the form of off-shoring or a major economic depression? Anyone would quickly pick the first choice but this doesn’t mean that afterwards people won’t be keeping the heat on the growing number of companies that will decide to set up shop overseas once the TPP opens up East Asia. The TPP will continue to be rightly condemned by its critics for all the offshoring it will enable and hopefully while they’re on the topic of things that are eliminating jobs they should expand their critique further and rip into the bigger culprit in that category.

That more sinister job killer has been the machine automation that has already been taking place for decades more so than anything trade-related done in Washington D.C. as Harold Meyerson points out:

“But an even more fundamental factor in the declining share of working Americans is the technological automation that has eliminated millions of jobs and is poised to eliminate millions more. The mechanization of work has already taken a toll in the nation’s ports (where cranes have reduced the longshore workforce to roughly 10 percent of its size 60 years ago), factories (where machines and computers have substituted for millions of workers), construction sites (where the prefabrication of parts has reduced the number of construction workers ) and offices (whatever became of secretaries?)”

But what has been the impetus for this automation? It is just the latest step in the quest of capitalists to make ornery, insolent workers obsolete through technological innovation. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in his book System of Economical Contradictions, quotes an “English Manufacturer” who wrote “The insubordination of our workforce has given us the idea of dispensing with them. We have made and stimulated every imaginable effort of the mind to replace the service of men by tools more docile, and we have achieved our object. Machinery has delivered capital from the oppression of labour.”

Capitalism—like all hierarchical systems—has within it the seeds of its own destruction by inspiring resistance in those whom it oppresses (along with its other structural flaw of bosses not paying their employees enough to sustain the demands of capitalism). Awake to this resistance, the ruling classes are constantly engaged in formulating the next form of authoritarianism that will replace capitalism just as capitalism had to replace feudalism. One evolution has presented itself before with the appearance of the Bolsheviks’ state capitalism—a logical progression given capitalism’s tendency towards monopoly; why not consolidate to the point of joining its partner, the state?–and with the advent of the Fourth industrial revolution the successor to capitalism will now have to soon assume another shape because, as Proudhon replied to the “English Manufacturer”, “What a misfortune that machinery cannot also deliver capital from the oppression of consumers!”