Thursday, September 29, 2016

Simon Wren-Lewis: A General Theory of Austerity

John Case
Harpers Ferry, WV

The Winners and Losers Radio Show
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Men Without Work [feedly]

Men Without Work

Over the weekend, the FT published my review of Nicholas Eberstadt's important new book Men Without Work.  The core message is captured in the graph below.










Job destruction caused by technology is not a futuristic concern.  It is something we have been living with for two generations.  A simple linear trend suggests that by mid-century about a quarter of men between 25 and 54 will not be working at any moment.

I think this is likely a substantial underestimate unless something is done for a number of reasons.  First everything we hear and see regarding technology suggests the rate of job destruction will pick up.  Think of the elimination of drivers, and of those who work behind cash registers.  Second, the gains in average education and health of the workforce over the last 50 years are unlikely to be repeated.  Third, to the extent that non-work is contagious, it is likely to grow exponentially rather than at a linear rate.  Fourth, declining marriage rates are likely to raise rates of labor force withdrawal given that non-work is much more common for unmarried than married men.

On the basis of these factors, I expect that more than one-third of all men between 25 and 54 will be out work at mid-century.  Very likely more than half of men will experience a year of non-work at least one year out of every five.  This would be in the range of the rate of non-work for high school drop-outs and exceeds the rate of non-work for African Americans today.

Will we be able to support these people and a growing retired share of the population?  What will this mean for the American family?  For prevailing ethics of self-reliance?  For alienation and support for toxic populism? These are vital questions.  Even more vital is the question of what is to be done. These questions should preoccupy social science researchers.  They are vital to our future.

 -- via my feedly newsfeed

Trade, trickle down, and the Fed: Revisiting three points from the big debate [feedly]

Trade, trickle down, and the Fed: Revisiting three points from the big debate

Before the first presidential debate fades into the next news cycle, there are three economic points that bear revisiting:

We need a new paradigm for trade policy. The outsider campaigns of Trump and Sanders, along with the realities of many people and communities hurt by globalization, have elevated international trade as a major issue in this election. Trump advertises an unrealistic nostalgia, a return to a time when trade flows were a fraction of their current size. His word salad on the issue the other night underscores the fact that there is no coherent plan to get back there even if we wanted to. Clinton correctly points out that "we are 5 percent of the world's population; we have to trade with the other 95 percent." She aspires to reshape, not restrain, globalization.

What's needed is a framework for the type of "smart, fair trade deals" that Clinton says should be the norm. Yes, that framework should include enforceable disciplines against other countries' currency management, something both candidates support. But much more is needed.

Trade expert Lori Wallach and I just published our proposals in this space, which include both process reforms and new negotiating objectives.  Our ideas, if adopted, would increase the transparency of trade negotiations, reduce corporate influence over the eventual agreements, discontinue protectionist practices and provisions that put sovereign laws and taxpayer dollars at risk, and strengthen environmental, health, and labor standards both here and abroad.

Trickle-down economics still doesn't work. Trump bragged that his "tax cut is the biggest since Ronald Reagan" and asserted that "[i]t will create tremendous numbers of new jobs." To say the least, the empirical record belies that assertion, as I and others have oftennoted.  The graph below shows that, on the individual side of the tax code, there is no historical correlation between the United States' top marginal tax rate and employment growth, a far different relationship than you'd expect to see if claims like Trump's were correct.

On the corporate side of the code, tax expert Bill Gale and his colleagues summarize that "there is virtually no evidence that broad-based [corporate] tax cuts have had a positive effect on [economic] growth…That has been amply demonstrated at the national level, where tax cuts have eroded revenue without discernable effect on economic activity."

One of the most striking and recent real-world rebuttals to the narrative Trump continues to push comes from Kansas, where one of his top advisors made similarly rosy predictions about a massive tax cut that "have proved strikingly inaccurate."

As I've said before, if facts could kill trickle-down propaganda, it would have died long ago. The one thing I can say is that, while it does seem to be the case that such tax plans may buy some votes from their beneficiaries, the rest of the electorate doesn't buy it, and there are fortunately a lot more people in the latter group.

Federal Reserve policy matters and deserves discussion during election season. As Irecently wrote, Trump's comments about the Fed's decision-making were completely wrong.  But the fact that the Fed came up in the debate was a positive; "there's no reason such an important public institution – one with such a large impact on people's lives – should be off limits in political debates."  It was also great to see some discussion of the Fed during the Democratic primary, when both Bernie Sanders and Clinton indicated support for making the nation's largest bank more representative of the general population.

There's much beyond these points that matters to the economy, of course, and last night's debate didn't even mention several issues that affect millions of people and which the next president absolutely must address: poverty, health care, and immigration, to name a few.  But if we can get our trade policy right, debunk trickle-down tax nonsense once and for all, and inject progressive monetary policy discussions into the political debate, we'll be introducing a lot more substance than I dared to hope for in an election season that's been a touch devoid of such matters.

 -- via my feedly newsfeed

How Shimon Peres brought inflation down in 1985 [feedly]

How Shimon Peres brought inflation down in 1985

I saw Shimon Peres, who passed away yesterday, only once and it was at a conference on inflation stabilization in Jerusalem in 1990. He had led the national unity government during 1984-86 which had successfully brought down the country's triple-digit inflation. The conference organizer, the great Michael Bruno, had asked him to give an after-dinner speech.

When Peres took office, the budget deficit stood at more than 15% of GDP. Everyone at the conference wanted to know how he had managed to bring it down so quickly.

Peres said it was actually quite easy. He called a cabinet meeting -- Labour and Likud had an equal number of cabinet seats -- and announced that the meeting would not end until the requisite expenditure cuts had been agreed upon.

The meeting went on and on, with each minister zealously guarding his turf. But as Peres explained, eventually people got tired. Some ministers began to nod off. That was Peres' chance. "The minister of education seems to have fallen asleep. Off with his budget. Look, the minister of tourism has also nodded off -- off with his budget too..."

The story probably underestimates Peres' abilities as a negotiator, and the effort he had to spend to get his cabinet to agree to the cuts. But it is a funny one.

 -- via my feedly newsfeed

Eastern Panhandle Independent Community (EPIC) Radio:Labor's West Virginia Heartbeat...

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Fwd: The Chamber is challenging the rights of 12.5 million workers

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Economic Policy Institute <>
Date: Wed, Sep 28, 2016 at 11:19 AM
Subject: The Chamber is challenging the rights of 12.5 million workers

This week, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on a bill which would derail President Obama's new overtime rule. But this attack on workers' rights is not limited to Congress.

This month, 21 states and the Chamber of Commerce filed lawsuits against the U.S. Department of Labor challenging the rights of 12.5 million workers' to receive overtime pay and earn a fair living.
It is no surprise that the Chamber of Commerce wants to block overtime pay protections for America's working families. After all, the Chamber opposes the minimum wage, it fought passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act, it tries to prevent passage of sick leave laws, it opposes every major health and safety standard, and it works to make the air we breathe and the nation's waters dirtier.

Donate to the Economic Policy Institute today to oppose these meritless lawsuits and stand up for the rights of working people.
If you've saved your payment information with ActBlue Express, your donation will go through immediately:

Express Donate: $15

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While the Chamber's opposition to overtime pay is no surprise, the state challenges from Texas, Nevada, and elsewhere appear to be purely politically motivated. EPI's Lawrence Mishel, was quoted in  The Dallas Morning News as sarcastically saying of the lawsuits:
"The salary standard also had been raised in the past by 'other communists like George W. Bush and Gerald Ford. It's remarkable that somehow they think it's an overreach, but it's not an overreach when an employer asks a $25,000-a-year employee to work 20 hours of overtime for free?'"
Overtime reform is a key accomplishment in our work to raise the wages of all workers. Please, stand with us today to oppose the Chamber of Commerce and 21 states' meritless lawsuits.
Donate to EPI to protect overtime reform and oppose the Chamber's attempts to undermine workers' rights.
Thank you,
Liz Rose
Director of Communications, EPI
Donate to EPI today
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John Case
Harpers Ferry, WV

The Winners and Losers Radio Show
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Eastern Panhandle Independent Community (EPIC) Radio:Are You Crazy? Really?

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Eastern Panhandle Independent Community (EPIC) Radio: Occupy -- Shepherdstown WV

Eastern Panhandle Independent Community (EPIC) Radio: Occupy -- Shepherdstown WV: OCCUPY West Virginia 7:30 TODAY! Call In Line: 304-885-0708 Streaming Live Discussion of Presidential Debate -- which I did not even ...

Monday, September 26, 2016

Mylan's EpiPen profit was 60% higher than what the CEO told Congress [feedly]

Mylan's EpiPen profit was 60% higher than what the CEO told Congress
// L.A. Times - Business

Lawmakers were skeptical last week when Mylan's chief executive said that the company made only $100 in profit for a two-pack of EpiPens. During a House hearing, she repeatedly referred to a poster board showing how little of the $608 list price trickled back to the company.

The incredulity was...


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Puerto Rico Economic Growth Package Should Include Work-Promoting Earned Income Tax Credit [feedly]

Puerto Rico Economic Growth Package Should Include Work-Promoting Earned Income Tax Credit
// Center on Budget: Comprehensive News Feed

As a congressional task force studies proposals to boost economic growth in Puerto Rico, tax relief for low-income working families — delivered through an Earned Income Tax Credit — should be a key component of such a package.


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Jared Bernstein: Anatomy of a hawkish dove [feedly]

Anatomy of a hawkish dove

Jared Bernstein

Eric Rosengren, the President of the Boston Federal Reserve Bank, was one of three dissenting votes in the Fed's decision last week not to raise the benchmark interest rate they control. Since Rosengren has a pretty dovish record—he's not one to see spiraling inflation around every corner, when the data say otherwise—his dissent was surprising and interesting.

Perhaps for that reason, he took the somewhat unusual step of explaining his vote in a noteposted on the Boston Fed's website. I've pasted in excerpts of his explanation (in italics), followed by my own annotations. I didn't want to pass up this opportunity to argue with a thoughtful guy about a big decision.

ER: Since the most recent increase in the target for the federal funds rate last December, the economy has made further progress toward achieving the Federal Reserve's dual mandate (maximum sustainable employment and stable prices). The labor market continued to improve as the U.S. economy added over 1.4 million jobs so far this year. Given these improvements in labor markets, wages have risen gradually – wage growth is now above the roughly 2 percent level that it seemed stubbornly "stuck" at, earlier. The growth rate of core PCE inflation has risen modestly, to 1.6 percent.

JB: All true, but let me add some color. First, ER leaves out a very important point here: the Fed's "stable price" target is 2 percent, and they've missed that on the downside every single month for four years running. Moreover, the metric he cites has come in at 1.6 percent every month this year except one when it was 1.7 percent. In other words, no sign at all of acceleration, even as the job market has tightened and, as ER correctly notes, wage growth has picked up a bit.

But Fed officials must worry not just about actual inflation, but inflationary expectations, right? Well, according to the Cleveland Fed, "[Our] latest estimate of 10-year expected inflation is 1.72 percent. In other words, the public currently expects the inflation rate to be less than 2 percent on average over the next decade."

As far as employment's concerned, ER's right again that jobs are up about 1.4 million so far this year, an annualized growth rate of 1.5 percent. But last year at this time they were up 1.7 million, an annual growth rate of 1.9 percent. Again, no acceleration.

In other words, hard to see what there is in the data ER cites that would explain his dissent.

ER: This progress has occurred despite significant headwinds from abroad, including a slowdown in China's economy, a surprising "Brexit" vote, and continued problems in some European banking organizations.

JB: True dat. We've got a highly resilient economy (though our exposure to Brexit was never much, and while it's still early–the UK is still in the EU–predictions of a Brexit slump for the UK have not come to pass).

But the relevant question here is: how does slower growth abroad feed into monetary policy? With low interest rates everywhere else, even a small rise in Fed's rate can pull in capital from abroad seeking safe-haven in dollar-denominated investments. This further strengthens the dollar, which in turn pushes back on inflation (more target missing) and boosts the trade deficit. The key point is that an unwarranted rate hike can serve as a conduit through which weaknesses abroad can enter the U.S. economy.

ER: The economic progress since the last tightening in December might, by itself, be sufficient to justify a further increase in the rate target. However, it is in considering the implications of current policy for the sustainability of the expansion that the case for raising rates has now become even more compelling.

JB: OK, this is the first thing he says that completely loses me: "We raised rates a little and things look basically fine, so hey, let's keep going." I get that this is just a short note which leaves out a lot of ER's thinking, but that's just not analysis. Surely, in the age of Yellen and a data-driven Fed, what's "sufficient to justify a further increase" must be some evidence of pressure building, of overheating. This is especially germane when you consider that the recovery is just now beginning to reach middle- and low-income families who've heretofore been left behind. (FTR, last time I visited the Boston Fed, I learned about somegreat projects that Rosengren and his staff were running in less advantaged communities, so this inequality problem is well known to him.)

ER: Federal Reserve staff forecasts, like those of the bulk of private forecasters, see the labor market tightening considerably over the next three years – and this is the case even assuming more rate increases than are currently anticipated by market participants and reflected in market rates. By 2019, I expect the unemployment rate to have declined below 4.5 percent. While I have a long track record of advocating for policy that supports robust labor market conditions, that is below the rate that I believe is sustainable in the long run.

JB: It's been widely observed that the vast majority of forecasts, especially for GDP and interest rates, have been too optimistic is recent years (see figure here for an example of what I'm talking about). But put that aside, as it's a good bet that the labor market continues to tighten (especially if the Fed keeps their feet off the brakes!).

Where ER goes seriously wrong here, at least IMHO (and he's got a big staff a big brains behind him, so I'm willing to be corrected), is in his confidence that he can identify the "natural rate" of unemployment: the lowest unemployment rate consistent with stable prices.

As I show here, citing work by President Obama's CEA, these days the confidence interval, or margin-of-error, around natural rate estimates run from around zero to about 6 percent.Earlier work from top macro-statisticians identified a similar problem, and that work was done before the decline in correlation between unemployment and inflation (the model from which the natural rate calculation derives), which further widens the confidence interval.

ER's claim about his advocacy record is true and admirable, but I'd strongly urge more humility here about economists' ability to accurately predict the impact of falling unemployment on inflation. No question, there's evidence that this relationship is alive and well, but given the uncertainty, the responsible analytic position right now is to be far more data driven than model driven. Such caution is especially warranted given the asymmetric risk scenario recently outlined by Fed governor Lael Brainard (the risks of weaker demand are greater than those of accelerating price growth).

ER: Unemployment this low may well have the desirable effect of bringing more workers into the labor force – but, unfortunately, only temporarily. Historical experience suggests it also risks overheating the economy, the effects of which include heightened pressure on inflation and potentially increasing financial-market imbalances.

JB: No, it doesn't, at least not always ("historical experience suggests…"). I was paying close attention back in the 1990s, when many economists believed the "natural rate" was 6 percent. Chairman Greenspan, to his credit, thought otherwise, and as the rate fell to 5 and then 4 percent, he convinced the committee to hold their fire. The benefits of the 1990s expansion finally began to show up big-time in the real wages and incomes of low- and middle-income families, and here's the kicker: inflation did not, I repeat, did not, accelerate anything like the models predicted it would.

Granted, key to these dynamics was Greenspan's recognition that the 1990s acceleration in productivity growth could pay for non-inflationary wage gains (i.e., stable unit labor costs). Today, productivity growth is worryingly slow. But it's also the case that recent research shows little evidence of wage growth bleeding into price growth, so again, uncertainty, in tandem with the data on actual and expected inflation, should yield caution.

Finally, ER writes:

My goal is to achieve a long and durable recovery – a sustainable expansion. For the reasons articulated above, I believe a significant overshoot of the full employment level could shorten, rather than lengthen, the duration of this recovery.

JB: I'm totally with you, dude, and for all my critiques, you may be right and I may be wrong. Also, a small brake-tap (a 25 basis point rate hike) is not likely to do a lot of harm to the macroeconomy, though its impact is amplified among the least advantaged (e.g., black unemployment takes a disproportionate hit).

Still, the unfortunate, though interesting, truth is that we are at a point wherein our understanding of critical, basic macroeconomic relationships—the unemployment/inflation tradeoff, the natural rate of unemployment, wage/price dynamics, the neutral rate of interest, the best target for monetary policy—is uniquely weak. Combine that reality with the benefits of growth are just now reaching lower and middle-income households, and, along with the facts I muster above, you get my argument for erring on the side of caution.

 -- via my feedly newsfeed

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Congressman John Lewis on the Opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture [feedly]

Congressman John Lewis on the Opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture

Congressman John Lewis sent the below message to the White House email list -- if you didn't get the message, you can sign up here for updates.

Watch President Obama speak at the dedication of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

I've been waiting to see this day for 15 years -- and in some ways, my whole life.

I've loved history ever since I was a little boy. Growing up in the oppressive shadow of Jim Crow, my teachers would ask me to cut out photographs I found in magazines and newspapers of Rosa Parks, George Washington Carver, and other marchers for justice. I read about Booker T. Washington, reveled in the sounds of the Jubilee Singers, and prayed for a King to reach the mountaintop.

To me, history is the foundation of a powerful legacy, and it is important to tell the stories of the millions of black men and women, boys and girls, who labored and sacrificed, and continue the struggle, to build this great nation.

When I learned of the decades-long effort to establish a national museum dedicated to preserving that too often untold story, I readily joined the effort. Every session of Congress for 15 years, I introduced a bill to create this national museum.

While the journey has been long, today the history of African Americans will finally take its place on the National Mall next to the monuments to Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson -- exactly where it belongs. 

It is important that The National Museum of African American History and Culture tells the unvarnished truth of America's history -- a story that speaks to the soul of our nation, but one few Americans know.

It's a reminder that 400 years of history can't be buried; its lessons must be learned. By bringing the uncomfortable parts of our past out of the shadows, we can better understand what divides us and seek to heal those problems through our unity.

If we look at the glass-topped casket that displayed the brutalized body of Emmett Till and hear his story, we may better understand the exasperation and anger Americans feel today over the deaths of Trayvon Martin or Tamir Rice.

If we see that an everyday leather wallet is what's left of Harry T. Moore --  a man who fought for the right to vote and died in a bombing meant to silence his activism on Christmas Day in 1951 - perhaps we will see why so many are fighting to protect any encroachment on that most sacred right today.

And as we look at the exhibit dedicated to an African American who now leads the free world from a White House built by black slaves, we can better understand the unshakeable optimism that has defined his belief that -- with dedicated work and a little good trouble -- we can help create a society that is more fair and more just, which benefits all Americans.

This museum casts a light on some of the most inspiring -- and uniquely American -- heroes who were denied equal rights but often laid down their lives to defend this nation in every generation.  Often they profited least from the struggle they were willing to die for because they believed that the promises of true democracy should belong to us all, equally and without question.

I hope you will join me and President Obama for the opening ceremony of the National Museum of African American History and Culture today.

When you hear about the heroes memorialized in its halls, you may discover the depths of the invincible American spirit. As we learn and confront this history together, we can begin to build one inclusive, and truly democratic family -- the American family.

Rep. John Lewis

 -- via my feedly newsfeed

Trump’s Agenda: A Recipe for Civil Unrest [feedly]

Trump's Agenda: A Recipe for Civil Unrest

AP Photo/ Evan Vucci

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to the Pastors Leadership Conference at New Spirit Revival Center, Wednesday, September 21, 2016, in Cleveland, Ohio. 

Donald Trump finally got around to demonizing African Americans. The only surprise is how long he took to get there. Early in the campaign season, he raged about Muslims and demanded they be barred from entering the country. He labeled Mexican immigrants "rapists." He has insisted that a wall, built by the United States, paid for by Mexico, must rise along the southern border. But he held off on making broad, baseless generalizations about black people.

African Americans listened carefully to Trump's rhetoric about Muslims and Mexicans: His horrendous poll numbers among blacks reflect a widespread understanding that nothing good can come of a Trump presidency. "We got the message and he wasn't even talking about us," U.S. Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, a District of Columbia Democrat, told a National Association of Black Journalists convention audience in August, referring to Trump's comments about other minority groups. "But he was and we knew it."

Now that d├ętente is over. With a shooting in Tulsa and riots in Charlotte as backdrops, Trump has spewed misinformation about African Americans, and, especially, low-income people in inner cities, who according to Trump, have  "no jobs," "no education" and "get shot walking down the street." "Our African-American communities are absolutely in the worst shape they've ever been in before. Ever. Ever. Ever," he told a predominately white North Carolina audience this week. Those comments earned Trump a "Pants on Fire" rating from PolitiFact.

Trump's remarks not only reveal the billionaire's bigotry, but also presage a grim future for African Americans should he win in November. Trump's America will be known for its hyper-militarized police forces, an intensification of stop-and-frisk policies, and expanded racial and religious profiling. His prescriptions are a recipe for continued civil unrest.

Where Hillary Clinton has outlined an ambitious agenda for job creation, small business revitalization, re-entry programs, and affordable housing policies for cities, Trump's proposals double down on the very policies that contributed to the historic tensions in places like Ferguson.

The Ferguson riots unsheathed the havoc that a militarized police force can rain down on civilians. Although President Obama restricted the distribution of military grade hardware to police departments nationwide last year, administration officials recently agreed torevisit the ban, presumably with a view toward modifying or lifting it.

Trump would go further—ending restrictions on the Defense Department program that sends grenade launchers, helmets, armored vehicles, and other surplus military equipment to police forces, some of whom lack the proper training to know when and how to deploy such materiel against civilians, assuming it's even proper to deploy it at all.

At a Cleveland town hall, also this week, ostensibly aimed at African American voters, Trump called for a nationwide stop-and-frisk policy similar to the program instituted by his good friend, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. He failed to point out that in 2013, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that the New York policy, which disproportionally affected African Americans and Latinos, was an unconstitutional violation of Fourth Amendment prohibitions against unreasonable search and seizure and of the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause. During a campaign stop in Philadelphia, where stop-and-frisk continues despite a federal consent decree, he called the practice "a very positive thing." He later qualified his statement, saying that he meant to apply the practice only to Chicago, where more than 500 people have been murdered this year.

Moreover, Trump either did not know or did not care that the decisions to have police departments employ stop-and-frisk rest with local governments—not the feds. And following the recent bombings in New Jersey and New York, Trump once again endorsed ethnic and religious profiling, giving voice to the very attitude that makes stop-and-frisk so onerous in minority communities.

Of late, Trumps drops into carefully screened black churches to voice a bogus concern for the African American community and to preach a disingenuous gospel of inclusion. It is in his talks to white audiences that Trump lays out his real agenda for black America, which isn't even really about solving black America's problems. Rather, he tells white audiences how he "alone" can confront the issues that face African Americans, ones that the Democratic Party has failed to address. In August, Trump made an appeal to black voters in speech before another predominately white audience, this time in Michigan. "To those hurting, I say the following: What do you have to lose by trying something new like Trump?" he asked. "My administration will go to work for you as no one ever has."

Americans believe that they may lose quite a bit, according to a new Lincoln Leadership Institute/Survey Monkey poll of 1,051 registered voters released Friday. Conducted on behalf of a group of former GOP administration officials and advisors advocating a return to the party's "foundational values," the poll asked voters "to assign a percentage chance from 0 to 100 of certain events" unfolding during a Trump administration. Voters thoughtthat there would be a 65 percent chance of race riots in major U.S. cities "at some point" if Trump gets elected. Trump supporters believe that there is a 36 percent chance of civil unrest; Clinton supporters, a 63 percent chance. Both men and women were apprehensive, with women seeing a 71 percent chance of riots and, men, 65 percent.

The post-Ferguson violence in black communities is a reaction to a long and historic list of grievances beginning with the misapplication of police power. Trump's African American agenda doesn't really respond to these realities at all. It is a nightmarish fusion of tactics that fail to get to the root causes of the deaths of unarmed civilians at the hands of police officers or the killings of police officers by individuals bent on avenging those deaths.  In the waning days of the 2016 presidential campaign, one possible future president cultivates a national ethos worthy of the Jim Crow era while the other appeals to the better angels of our nature—but strains to be heard above the din. 

VISIT WEBSITE -- via my feedly newsfeed

Marx & Engels writings on Civil War still provocative 155 years later [feedly]

Marx & Engels writings on Civil War still provocative 155 years later

With a presidential candidate on the Republican side who is the darling of neo-Confederates, old style KKK-types, and alt-right white nationalists, there's no time like the present to review the United States' troubled history with racism. International Publishers' new and completely updated edition of The Civil War in the United States by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels is an opportunity to do just that.

What makes this collection of writings by these two giants particularly interesting, however, is not just the commentary they offer on the Civil War. As Professor Andrew Zimmerman, who edited this edition, says in his introduction, "Readers will not find a Marxist interpretation" of the war in this book. Instead, what it showcases is Marx and Engels in the process of applying their methodology of historical materialism to an event of world-historic importance as it unfolded.

The book thus carries a relevance beyond the interest it might arouse among Civil War buffs or historians; it represents a milestone in the development of Marxism as a method of social and political analysis.

International first offered this title nearly 80 years ago, edited and introduced at the time by Herbert Morais (under the pseudonym Richard Enmale). In this edition, Zimmerman has expanded the selection of texts to include new writings by the primary authors, but also added relevant material from figures such as Union Army officer Joseph Weydemeyer, a comrade of Marx and Engels, as well as African-American scholar W.E.B. DuBois.

Zimmerman's introduction to the book and his commentary for each individual chapter provide a background that is rich in detail and tailored to a contemporary audience. Marx and Engels' newspaper articles and private correspondence are situated within the historical and political debates of their day, but their place in the ongoing development of Marxist political economy is also chronicled. As Zimmerman points out, Capital Volume 1 would appear just a couple of years after the Civil War, so the selections in this book are examples of Marxism in its own process of development.

A fundamental conclusion that Marx and Engels return to throughout is the undeniable reality that the Civil War was, fundamentally, a social revolution against the institution of slavery. Efforts by some at the time (and subsequently by revisionist historians) to paint the conflict as being fought solely over tariffs or "states' rights" trade disputes are exposed as one-sided and usually self-serving interpretations. The economic nature of the conflict was certainly key, but it was economics in the form of slavery which informed every aspect of not only the Civil War, but of U.S. and global industrial development.

As Marx observes in one excerpt, "Direct slavery is just as much the pivot of bourgeois industry as machinery... Without slavery you have no cotton; without cotton you have no modern industry. It is slavery that gave the colonies their value; it is the colonies that created world trade, and it is world trade that is the precondition of large-scale industry." Slavery, then, was "an economic category of the greatest importance."

The American Civil War, for Marx and Engels, was a class conflict - not just a military one. Following on the insights of DuBois and others, Zimmerman rescues Marx and Engels' arguments from the mechanistic "Marxist" interpretations of the war which have characterized it as simply the victory of a bourgeois revolution and the freeing of capitalism from its slave fetters. In Zimmerman's words, the war was, according to Marx and Engels, "a workers' revolution carried out within a bourgeois republic that was finally undermined by that bourgeois republic." That undermining of course, was the counterrevolution against Reconstruction.

Zimmerman does not shy away from the shortcomings of Marx and Engels in his introductions or his selection of texts, however. He is blunt in his critique of their propensity to underestimate and not properly recognize the central role played by slaves and former slaves in fighting for their own emancipation. Though Marx and Engels are consistently anti-slavery and unreservedly on side with the fight for freedom, black workers and slaves play only secondary roles in most of their discussions of labor's struggle against slavery. The addition of DuBois's 1933 essay, "Karl Marx and the Negro," as an appendix serves as an important remedy.

Marx and Engels' analysis of Abraham Lincoln's halting but steady evolution from reluctant anti-slavery warrior to a new kind of democratic leader destined to "lead his country through the matchless struggle for the rescue of an enchained race and the reconstruction of a social world," makes up another important component of the book. It holds lessons for how activists today must strategically evaluate political figures and leaders.

Finally, the lessons Marx and Engels drew from the Civil War are reflected in their writings on the role of racism in England's colonial domination of Ireland and on the class struggle nature of revolution which was displayed in the Paris Commune. The latter "Civil War in France" was described by Marx with the same language that had colored his earlier descriptions of the fight against the Confederacy. The Commune, he said, was yet another example of "the war of the enslaved against their enslavers."

This book stands as an example of how the two masters of critical political economy grappled with the rapid development of capitalism and the upheaval of social revolution in the mid-19th century. The insights of the selected writings on offer are matched by the succinct but illuminating introductory texts by Zimmerman. The volume holds importance for not just students of Marxism or the Civil War, but for political activists and academics broadly.

The Civil War in the United States

 by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

Introduction by Andrew Zimmerman.

219 pp. $14.00, ISBN: 978-07178-0753-6.

Available in paperback from International Publishers.

Editor's Note: International Publishers is hosting a book talk with Andrew Zimmerman to discuss this new edition on Thursday September 22 at 7pm at Brooklyn Commons, 388 Atlantic Ave. in Brooklyn, NY.

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