Deconstructing The New York Times on “The Bernie Sanders Revolution”

March 13, 2016, Revised March 14, 2016.

By Jonathan Michael Feldman

A New York Times editorial published on March 12, 2016 faults Sanders for claiming that a political revolution is either desirable or operational.  They write: “revolutions are typically bottom-up, not top-down events.” They also note: “there are not enough elected office holders in Congress or in statehouses to carry out his revolution through new laws or policies.”  This limitation represents “the big difference between running an inspiring campaign and actually governing.”  The formula here is that revolution is a function of governors and not the pressure that a social movement inspired by a leader can bring on elected officials.  Yet, the history of the United States shows how various social movements can successfully challenge legislators and make changes in policy.  The Civil Rights movement is a case in point, having charismatic leaders who led massive social movements to effect change.

The counter-argument to this claim is twofold.  First, Sanders is just running a presidential campaign and not necessarily directing a social movement.  Is this claim accurate?  Sanders has thousands of followers, a detailed mailing and fund-raising list, organizing staff, discrete policy messages about a number of social issues and problems, etc.  His campaign has all the ingredients for a social movement and is in fact based on various social movement actors. For example, when activists mobilize to shut down Trump rallies such episodes represent a social movement action and some portion of these activists are supporters of Sanders.

The second counter-argument is that activities like the Civil Rights movement took place when the Democratic Party had a lot of power in statehouses and the U.S. Congress and now the situation is different.  This counter-claim is supported by the Times when they write: “should Mr. Sanders win the nomination and the White House, he would very likely inherit a Democratic Party whose numbers in Congress have sharply dwindled and whose proportions in state legislatures–the farm team for potential national office holders–have likewise declined.”  Now, in contrast, “the oldest members of both the House and the Senate are Democrats; the youngest in both chambers are Republicans.”

This second argument is weak for many reasons.  One reason is that large parts of the Democratic Party, before the ascent of Richard Nixon’s Southern strategy, were tied to a politics of segregation and racism.  Another reason is that the very young Republicans now in government positions are partially there because of a social movement linked to the T-Party.  As The Wall Street Journal explained recently in an article entitled,  “Grass-Roots Anger Transforms Republican Party in Congress and Presidential Campaign,”  local movements are challenging political leaders:  “insurgent uprisings rocking the Republican Party in Congress and the presidential campaign are creating heartburn among establishment party figures, who worry an unguided fury will keep the GOP from reclaiming the White House next fall. But that same turmoil is eliciting cheers from many in the party’s grass roots, who, far from fearing the turbulence, think it serves their burning desire to force changes in the government.”  The very youth of the Republican Party cannot be detached from social movement action: “This ground-up rebellion is shaking a party long dominated by seniority that habitually elevates the next person in line. This is particularly true in the presidential primary. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the son and brother of the last two GOP presidents and the early favorite among the party’s establishment voters, has failed to generate enthusiasm among the grass roots.”

Of course, one might argue that the T-Party phenomena is limited to right-wing grassroots action, with little implications for the Left or the Sanders movement. This is hardly true when it is the Sanders campaign that is most attracting younger voters.  In Michigan, Sanders won 81% of the youth vote, with Clinton getting only 19%.  If we turn to the United Kingdom, we see Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign for leadership of the Labour Party, his success and related movement support, has led to a dramatic expansion in the number of Labour Party supporters.  As The Guardian explained in one news story: “Corbyn’s campaign has also been helped by a surge in new members and supporters who paid £3 to take part in the vote, leading to a near-tripling of those eligible to about 550,000 people. Throughout the campaign, he addressed packed rallies and halls, where he had to give speeches outside the buildings to crowds gathered in the street.”  Likewise, Sanders has led numerous rallies, mobilizing in one sense thousands of supporters throughout the United States.  While Corbyn runs to the Left of Sanders, the similarities between the campaigns should not be underestimated.

Another argument by the Times is that “Sanders’s own political career illustrates what can happen when a revolutionary has no ground troops.”   In his 25 years in Congress, they argue “he hasn’t gotten many big things done.”  Being “an uncompromising political independent, his outsider status has largely prevented him from attracting the support that would be needed among Democrats to turn into law his liberal ideals on health care, on college education and on fighting poverty and climate change.”

In this particular paragraph of the editorial, there are again numerous problems.  First, Sanders now has more “ground troops,” in contrast to his 25 years in Congress. Second, the idea that “getting things done” is always virtuous is belied by the trajectory of President George W. Bush who–by getting things done in Iraq–helped waste and destroy thousands of lives and trillions of dollars and also helped give rise to ISIS.  In contrast, if Bush got fewer things done, the United States would have been stronger militarily, economically, and politically.  Third, the idea again is that mobilizing young and progressive people is somehow bad for getting young and progressive people in Congress.  This line of thought is clearly illogical and shows how the editorial seems to be grasping at straws.  It almost seems like an intellectual form of desperation to make points that invert realities. As Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker explained: “With Sanders winning young voters overwhelmingly, his campaign may eventually be seen as an incubator for the Party’s future politicians.”

Towards the end of the editorial, the Times suggests that President Obama, like Sanders, created an electoral apparatus outside of “traditional party structure,” but failed when he could not reverse the growing tide of Republican Party support. Yet, Obama did not mobilize the millions of Americans on the Obama campaign’s mailing lists but rather killed “the Obama movement” as soon as the election was over.  Obama did not create ways to organize the social movement or consumption power of millions of voters.  He did not support mass rallies and marches against Republican retrenchment.  He did not put empowering trade unions at the forefront of his first months in office, but took up other concerns.  He did not back some kind of community action programs which would have used government money to empower local organizing campaigns or try to raise money for such campaigns by organizing a series of speeches that supported local organizing efforts.  He did none of this while the T-Party was busy generating a mass movement to help take over Congress.

At the end of the editorial, the Times praises the Occupy and Black Lives Matter movements and sees them as a potential base for future Democratic Party support.  Yet, the former movement could not offer a comprehensive program linked to a legislative agenda  making it a weaker vehicle for social change. In fact, the Sanders campaign builds on some of the themes of that movement and so to set the two in opposition is somewhat misleading. So too is the attempt to suggest that Sanders has little to do with the Black Lives Matter movement.  Sanders slowly has taken up many themes addressed by that movement including police repression, the prison-industrial complex, and the very need to create social movements to combat racism and poverty.

It is true that there is a need for a social movement support system that operated in concert with but independently from the Sanders campaign, giving it a more critical direction.  Such a system could  complement the routines of electoral politics with other forms of economic, media and political action.  Electoral politics in itself as Sanders acknowledges will not change much.  But so too will traditional social movement activity not change much unless it develops new strategies and designs.  The counterfactual argument that working within the system through pragmatic deals changes much is belied by Obama’s trajectory and the relative success of the T-Party and Corbyn revolution.

Do Not be a “Fifth Column”

By Jonathan Michael Feldman

April 28, 2016

FAHLSTROMThe Logic of Subversion:  Capitalism, Fascism, and Democracy

Some parts of the Left or apparent Left have used the term “Fifth Column” to describe their activities.  The term is used on a Facebook page to describe one such group.  While social media may not have a large impact on mainstream society, it does inform the thinking of various activist networks (for better or worse).  Therefore, some analysis of this term and the larger phenomena seems warranted.

At the outset it is worth considering the following propositions. The first proposition is that the choice today is between “socialism or barbarism.”  These choices might be exemplified between the choice between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.  The second proposition is that capitalism is one step away from fascism.  This choice is exemplified by the support which capitalists gave fascists, with companies like IBM a key reference point.  The third proposition is that capitalism was promoted by revolutions that advanced the power of the “bourgeoisie” and democratic spaces, rights, and capacities.  Which of these propositions makes sense?

The first proposition seems true enough, except if Sanders looses the election then the choice will not be between socialism and barbarism (like it or not).  Thus, thinkers like Noam Chomsky suggest voting for Clinton in this scenario.  One reason might be that a divided Left in pre-Nazi Germany led to the ascent of fascism. Of course, the Left may have better choices in Sanders, but opponents of Sanders and supporters have severely constrained their options given the way his campaign has been organized or those opposed to him have failed to organize.

The second proposition has elements of truth, but the main problem is that capitalism may be one step away from socialism or economic democracy.  This is because capitalism contains within it the seeds of its own dissolution. The spaces exist in cooperatives, networks of consumers, and other ways in which networks come together and organize public goods or cooperative or public energy companies and the like.

The third proposition has value in that it represents the dual character of the contemporary moment, creating possibilities for progress and regression.  The strategic problem, however, is the need to exploit the spaces suggested by the second proposition.  This exploitation is not based on the language of espionage, secrecy and hidden subversion but rather the language of mass engagement, participation, and mobilizations tied to organizing.

Why Does the Left Adopt Slogans Used by Fascists?

The origins of the term “Fifth Column” are tied to a description of fascist supporters who were thought to undermine Republican Spain (the anti-fascists). Therefore, I don’t think progressives should use this term to describe their own activities. The idea that the Left is some clandestine group on the margins is also a very bad starting point. Notice how the campaign of Bernie Sanders does not take on this idea of self-inflicted marginality, clandestine cult and the like. Part of these sentiments may be linked to Third Worldism and the inspiration some on the Left take from insurrections there. This inspiration is very much based on a misinterpretation of reality. Frantz Fanon described media influences in a way in which “majorities” and not “minorities” were won over. Therefore, it is not sufficient to argue that Sanders is a tool of the “non-revolutionary” pseudo Left or other such reductionism to counter my main point.  I would hardly describe Sanders in this way because he is opening up spaces for social change and–if the Left had its act together–could be pushed further to the Left.  Fanon was decidely favoring the Algerian Revolution, which did not turn out so well given that Algeria is hardly emblematic for supporting cooperatives and progressive social experiments today. Today Algeria is authoritarian, so we must think also about what Fanon did not say.

I think the real Fifth Column today are the far right groups which are trying to undermine the aspects of democracy which are left in advanced capitalist states by floating and promoting racist and marginalizing ideas (in the United States and Europe). In other regions of the world, fundamentalists play a similar role. The idea of military or espionage like subversion as the key tool of social change lends itself to Bolshevik and Leninist type analysis which has long been criticized by critical Liberals and anarchists alike as well as Social Democrats. Leninist itself has been criticized by those on the Left like C. L. R. James, Arthur Rosenberg or Noam Chomsky. Parts of the Marxist left are unaware as well of the capacities for mass social change within the rules or spaces of the established system in part because they use bad theories, deploy bad designs and are bad (uncreative) organizers. The cult of being different and subversive tends to be reinforced by the self-marginalizing identity politics sponsored intellectually by branches of Neoliberalism and the liberal elites as a way to allow critical persons to let off steam without changing much.

An Alternative to Fifth Columnism

An elegant statement of an alternative view of politics comes from C. L. R. James in his essay, “Every Cook Can Govern.”  Here he describes how spaces for democratic engagement can be a natural extension of the capacities that each human being has to be responsible, to think, and to contribute to society.  Similar ideas appear in the work of Seymour Melman discussing cooperative economics or Gar Alperovitz explaining a variety of democratic openings in the contemporary United States.  Similarly Lewis Mumford also addressed how various spaces for democracy compete with undemocratic spaces throughout contemporary society in advanced capitalist states like the United States. He makes this argument in the book, In the Name of Sanity.  There, Mumford argues that democracy “is necessarily most visible in relatively small communities and groups, whose members meet frequently face to face, interact frequently, and are known to each other as persons.” In contrast to the idea that technocratic rationality and concentrated power forecloses most options under capitalism, Mumford writes: “even when paying tribute to the most oppressive authoritarian regimes, there yet remained within the workshop or the farmyard some degree of autonomy, selectivity, creativity.”

Political repression may convince some persons that the best path to system change is to take on the appearance of a secret agent or underground spy.  Yet, counter-revolutions are most easily opposed by active, public, mass engagement.  This opposition can be seen in the relative success of non-violent movements, although the fight against British colonizers or Nazis were not pacifist fights.

Will the 2016 Election Really Save the Middle Class?: The Real Cause of Income Inequality

February 7, 2016

By Jon Rynn

Bernie Sanders has stirred the passion of many voters by concentrating on the problem of growing income inequality. Inequality, he points out, leads to stagnating and declining income for most people. The higher income for the top 1% completely distorts the political system. With more power for Wall Street and billionaires, politicians who depend on the rich and powerful for campaign funds pass more bad policies, leading to even worse income inequality, in a vicious cycle.

Thomas Piketty’s book about inequality showed that income and wealth inequality have been getting much worse over the last half-century. There seems to be a “positive feedback” process occurring, that is, the most powerful people accumulate more and more income-producing assets, and this greater wealth allows them to gather yet more wealth. “Positive feedback” is the process that occurs in nature and in engineering that leads to quickly escalating gains, such as when a microphone feeds back and starts screeching. Growing income inequality is our economy screeching.

Manufacturing, on the other hand, is the economic sector that turns off the “positive feedback” of income inequality in the economy. Manufacturing does this in a couple of ways. First, manufacturing generates so much wealth that a middle class can develop, as happened in the 19th century. Before that time, what little surplus wealth was generated was grabbed by the ruling elite, and almost everybody else engaged in the toil of farming. But the surplus that manufacturing creates can also be taken by the ruling elite, leaving everyone else in the same boat as before. However, the second reason manufacturing leads to a middle class is that manufacturing requires high skill levels — which is why Germany now, and the United States before, have had comfortable middle class families working in factories. When people have high skills — assuming they can organize, as in unions — then they have power, and with power comes better income and better income equality.

So a country that has manufacturing has more wealth, and more economic and therefore political power for a large part of its population, what is known as the middle class. But if the manufacturing sectors starts to decline, then so does the wealth-generating power of the country, as well as the power of the middle class. And thus we find that the United States is declining in power and in its middle class. By not focusing on the role of manufacturing in the economy, both Sanders and Piketty miss an opportunity to explain the phenomenon of income inequality that they are describing — and they have trouble proscribing effective solutions as well.

Income equality, and manufacturing, both peaked around 1968 in the United States. Manufacturing has almost always been the quintessential middle class sector because manufacturing employs about the same percentage of the workforce as the income it receives. In 1968, 25% of the workforce was engaged in manufacturing, and 25% of the country’s income went to manufacturing. On average, in 1968 people in manufacturing received the average income of the economy. No other sector can boast this “middle class-ness”.

For finance, insurance, and real estate (abbreviated as FIRE), in 2009 these industries employed only 5.7% of the work force, but received a whopping 21.5% of national income.   Therefore the average person in FIRE made almost four times the average of a working American (these figures come from data from the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis).

On the other hand, if you total up the hotel, restaurant, health, and retail sectors, you will find that in 2009 these lower-income service sectors employed 30% of all workers, but received in income about 20% of the nation’s income. Thus, on average, a worker in a low income sector received about 2/3rds of the average income. And this is an average — if you take out the doctors and other highly paid professionals from these sectors, the rest of the workforce has even lower income.

From 1968 to 2009 the manufacturing sector declined from one quarter of the economy — every fourth working person — to about one in every 11 people, a decline of about 16% of the total employment pool.   Where did those people go? Most of them went into the lower income service workforce, which grew from 12.8% to 20.5% of the workforce (and many others stopped working altogether). So, on average, the people that moved from manufacturing to low income services lost 1/3rd of their income, if not more since most were not the highly paid professionals in those sectors. In mainly white communities, these are some of the people interested in Trump and suffering from high death rates. In mainly African-American communities, the loss of manufacturing is the economic crisis that has been decimating African-American communities for decades.

While many communities were being devastated by factory shutdowns, about half the income drop of manufacturing (from 25% to 11%), was scooped up by FIRE (from 14.2% in 1968 to 21.5% in 2009). Most of the rest of the income was claimed by what are called professional, technical, and scientific services (from 2.4 to 7.6), where on average people are also highly paid. This professional sector accounts for about one quarter of the loss of manufacturing employment (moving from 2.1% of the workforce to 5.6%). Because of this shift from manufacturing to professional income, many in the Democratic Party focused on professional voters instead of working class voters.

Thus, there has been a movement of people from middle class manufacturing jobs to lower middle class and lower class service jobs, even within the higher average service sectors, while at the same time income moved to smaller, non-manufacturing sectors, particularly FIRE, and particularly to the “ruling elite” within FIRE.

The decline of manufacturing in the United States is usually framed like this: “Because of globalization and automation, manufacturing is never coming back.” I will address the nature of globalization and whether ‘manufacturing is never coming back’ in subsequent posts, but automation is not the reason manufacturing in the U.S. is declining.

Manufacturing is automation. That is, manufacturing is the process of people using machinery to create goods, including other machinery which can then be used for making more machinery and goods. When people use the word “automation,” they are generally referring to using some kind of computer technology within the machinery used for production. Computer technology is another form of machinery, and is in turn made by people and machines. But more importantly, there is no sharp break in capability that computer technology has brought to manufacturing. For the entire 20th Century, the productivity increase of manufacturing, that is, the value of goods that a particular value of machinery could produce, has been going up by about 3%, at a pretty steady rate, and computer technology has not significantly increased those gains. The German middle class has been doing very well, even with computer technology, because the German government intervenes in the economy in order to support manufacturing. Although the share of manufacturing in Germany has been going down over the last 40 years, it is still at around 20% and forms the basis for their prosperity. Moreover, a recent assessment by Bernard S. Bernanke at the Brookings Institution found that “in 2014, Germany’s trade surplus was about $250 billion (in dollar terms), or almost 7 percent of the country’s GDP,” continuing “an upward trend that’s been going on at least since 2000.” Manufacturing has therefore continued to contribute wealth to German society which conceivably can be partially taxed or redistributed to lower income earners.

Throughout history, and even at points in American history (for example, Alexander Hamilton and Abraham Lincoln), the government has made manufacturing the focus of national policy. There is nothing inevitable about the decline of manufacturing, in the U.S. or anywhere else.

The rise of FIRE and the decline of manufacturing are linked, because the increased profits resulting from the imported manufactured goods that used to be made in the United States now go to the top 1% or so, where much of FIRE resides. That is, when goods are made in China, and sold in the US, the profits eventually wind up in FIRE and with billionaires, instead of going into the pockets of middle class manufacturing workers in the US. With those greater profits, FIRE and the billionaires indulge in the positive feedback processes of accumulating greater and greater economic and then political power, leading to growing inequality.

By the late 1990s, this financial power led to a further positive feedback loop, as the government deregulated the financial industry, allowing for the emergence of the “too big to fail” banks, leading to our financial oligarchy of five or so huge banks and a bunch of hedge funds and their billionaires. Thus, Sanders correctly calls for breaking up the banks, to roll back this “positive feedback” process. Trump, too, has used what used to be called “economic nationalism” to call for tariffs (or taxes) on imported goods to encourage manufacturing, and both Sanders and Trump are against the TransPacific Partnership, whose passage would continue a long tradition of destroying the manufacturing sector. However, both politicians do not explicitly get to the bottom of the problem: we need to rebuild the manufacturing sector, which will simultaneously decrease the power of FIRE and increase the power of the middle class.

Of course, Bernie Sanders would fight for policies that are much more progressive than Donald Trump. But I fear that unless we start to attack the root of the problem, and in particular unless progressives make rebuilding manufacturing a central plank of their platform, there will be more and even worse Donald Trumps to come.

Even calling for the rebuilding of manufacturing is much easier than laying out policies to do it. I think that the US has passed a point of no return, and the government must step in and directly encourage a manufacturing renaissance by rebuilding the American infrastructure. That is the topic of the next post (you can see a more detailed look at this and other issues in my book chapter, “A green energy manufacturing stimulus strategy,” available at, and also look at plan details at

Jon Rynn is the author of Manufacturing Green Prosperity: The power to Rebuild the American Middle Class, parts of which are available for reading at

Learning About The Past. Thinking About The Future

June 14, 2012

“The logic of planetary responsibility is aimed, at least in principle, at confronting the globally generated problems point-blank—at their own level. It stems from the assumption that lasting and truly effective solutions to planetwide problems can be found and made to work only through the renegotiation and reforming of the web of global interdependencies and interactions. Instead of aiming to control local damage and local benefits derived from the capricious and haphazard drifts of global economic forces, it would pursue results in a new kind of global setting, one in which economic initiatives enacted anywhere on the planet are no longer whimsical and guided by momentary gains alone, with no attention paid to the side effects and ‘collateral casualties’ and no importance attached to the social dimensions of the cost-and-effect balances. In short, the logic is aimed, to quote Habermas, at the development of ‘politics that can catch up with global markets.’”

Zygmunt Bauman, Does Ethics Have a Chance in a World of Consumers?, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008: 29.

Continue reading

Swedish Arms Exports


Inga ThorssonWill the narrow framing of the debate over the potential renewal agreement between Sweden and Saudi Arabia lead to a defeat for those opposed to arms exports?  To avoid defeat of those opposed to renewal and to broaden the campaign against a militarized Swedish economy, we need to combine peace and economics, or better, disarmament and economics with an alternative foreign policy.  These two articles published in Swedish show how we can combine both MORALITY and PROFIT or MONEY MAKING when it comes to the problems of Swedish military-serving firms, military production and alternatives to arms exports: (a) Ny Teknik  and (b) Broderskap.   The basic idea is to create a civilian economic alternative to such firms such that jobs, profits and tax revenue can be preserved to a certain degree through government action and corporate planning.  Having morality without some economic alternative will often lead to wishful thinking that does not change anything when it comes to Swedish arms exports to dictators. You must provide an economic alternative. Cutting arms exports without alternatives can cost jobs, taxes and profits.  Even if arms exports to dictators are immoral (which they are), this  argument about economic costs is very powerful and often wins out. It has to be met with both a moral and economic alternative.  We can’t rely just on a moral deconstruction.  The need to confront self-evident on March 6, 2015 when an editorial published in Dagens Nyheter and signed by thirty-one Swedish business leaders argued that the Saudi agreement was necessary for maintaining business confidence in Sweden as a reliable trading partner.

For those who doubt that economic arguments often have won out over moral arguments connected to solidarity and disarmament, read this article: (c) SIPRI. The article shows also the historical legacy of the economic and moral arguments in Sweden regarding the military economy.  This sad legacy of Swedish militarism has gone on for decades. One reason is the decoupling of morality and economics. When the Left decouples these two, it plays into the hands of militarists. In contrast Inga Thorsson, the Swedish parliamentarian and peace activist pictured above, tried to create an alternative discourse which now is subject to “social amnesia,” the social historian Russell Jacoby’s phrase to depict the burying of radical or comprehensive worldviews from the past.  It is not just the Right but much of the Left as well that is guilty of social amnesia.

We should also keep in mind that the problem of the Swedish military economy is not just limited to Saudi Arabia.  In fact, the problem involves Swedish ties to many other dictatorships like Thailand and the passing of Swedish weapons to third parties.  Thus, a recent report on Swedish radio explains, “Two-hundred-fifty Swedish tanks of the type BMP-1 are secretly being shipped to Iraq…It is illegal in Sweden to export weapons to Iraq, but the tanks are being sold via a company in the Czech Republic.”  Why does this happen?  It happens because Swedish regulatory agencies assume that weapons are controlled by laws and regulations and Sweden does not take any serious political responsibility for weapons that leave its territory, even though Sweden is responsible for such weapons and technologies. This problem is not new and has repeatedly taken place as a report in The New York Times explained in the 1980s. We must reconsider the American sociologist C. Wright Mills who wrote: “The individual human being “is a social and an historical actor who must be understood, if at all, in close and intricate interplay with social and historical structures” (C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination, 2003: 158).  It is the structure of the Swedish military economy, its defense addiction, that lies behind the ties to Saudi Arabia, the supplies to Thailand (the off again and on again dictatorship), and the Czech Republic.

Jonathan M. Feldman, Global Teach-In, March 6, 2015

What do we mean by new wealth?

Perpetual growth under present circumstances threatens the ecosystem. The current system of energy usage is unsustainable. Zero growth in a depression threatens to create a permanent class of unemployed and underemployed persons, however. Debts and imports can rob wealth, but simply cutting deficits without generating wealth and growth will further erode living standards and democratic control. Scarcity leads to infringements on democracy and worsens poverty. The growth of waste–tied to war, rising administrative overheads in bureaucracies, consumption of less than socially useful luxury products, and use of energy-intensive transportation systems–will promote the kinds of growth that threatens the ecosystem and the economy. Oil imports can reduce security, increase debt and further the kinds of waste that undermines the economic foundations of a national economy.

What do we mean by “growth” in a regime where new wealth is created? A new definition of growth is needed, based on the expansion of wealth-generating activities tied to sustainable energy systems, locally anchored jobs, the development of innovations promoting human needs and energy-reducing investments like mass transportation. Technology that provides clean energy locally and to developing nations, reduces energy consumption in homes and buildings, facilitates home care for older citizens and reduces surplus packaging adds sustainable value when economic activity is expanded.

Therefore, we must grow the number of wind mills, mass transit systems, engineering activities that reduce or design out waste, and other means to reduce carbon footprints while simultaneously expanding jobs. Locally anchored production is necessary so that jobs don’t get offshored through global sourcing, unless there are real benefits to the majority of working people from doing so.

We also need to package or organize wealth in new ways. Mandating alternative energy is a critical and necessary step in the right direction, building incentives and markets for sustainable energy. Yet, sometimes the alternative energy is supplied by foreign firms, so the resulting jobs dividend is diminished. Wind cooperatives, municipal utilities and new financing systems are needed to encourage this local jobs dividend. The generation of green economic capital will extend green political capital. Building up a local complex of flexible domestic suppliers will facilate growth and change.

We need to understand the limits to “green jobs” proposals that don’t address: (a) how jobs will be locally anchored, (b) the quality of the job, (c) the need to build job ladders that promote qualified jobs, (d) the advantages to unionized jobs, and (e) whether a green job proposed is backed by socially responsible financial institutions. The very scarcity environment encouraged by austerity politics and wealth erosion has often lead to the scapegoating of trade unions. The attack on public investment and cheerleading for the privatization of everything is based on a political vacuum which only citizens’ active political mobilization can challenge. Deindustrialization, financial bailouts and war promote austerity by eroding wealth. Reindustrialization, alternative financial institutions and “ecological conversion” promote sustainable wealth. This “ecological conversion” involves the design of the economy, housing and living arrangements leading to decreased energy usage, commuting times and emissions.

The concentration of political, economic and media power sustain the present economic system and probability of negative outcomes. Yet, social and organizational innovations can provide alternatives and reduce the probability of these outcomes, depending on whether, how much and how people organize. Neither wishful thinking, nor sitting on the sidelines is appropriate in these times. The potential for trade wars, fights between localities, and even greater mass unemployment mean that we must put ourselves on the pathway towards comprehensive solutions. Piecemeal change is no longer the “pragmatic” option.

Inequitable tax systems, the permanent war economy, and power concentrated in companies lacking any sense of civic duty or social responsibility will deplete both the economy and the institutional foundations of democracy. Our ability to challenge big government and corporate actors that engage in this depletion is enhanced by our capacity to organize our own media, political and economic power. Voting, consumption, procurement, and audience power, can be integrated and extended through new institutions and networks that provide economic, ecological and democratic alternatives.

For further reading: Barry Commoner, The Poverty of Power, New York: Random House, 1976; Seymour Melman, Profits without Production, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983; Manish Bapna and Vinod Thomas, “Three ideas that are good for both economy and environment,” The Guardian, January 6, 2012.

*-Note: This editorial does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the global teach-in as a whole.

Why Not Falling Off the Fiscal Cliff Requires Conversion

By Jonathan Michael Feldman

Don’t Just Cut the Defense Budget With Laissez-Faire Economic Policy

Progressive and left leading economists have proposed military budget cutbacks,  increased taxes and closing loop holes as ways to reduce the deficit.  The problem with the first proposal is that it often is not accompanied by proposals to create civilian alternatives for defense firms.  Does the left seriously think that the defense firms will “say uncle” and allow their budgets to be cut without a serious fight?  And if they are forced to “say uncle,” does the left believe that laissez-faire solutions will work and that defense firms can manage the transition as easily on their own as they could without some kind of planning effort involving the government?

Defense firms are part of an alliance with the Congress, parts of the government, and their suppliers, i.e. the military-industrial complex, that also involves universities, members of Congress, and other key actors, like “defense intellectuals” in various think tanks.  This large scale constituency is well positioned to fight cutbacks. Moreover, there are many defense-dependent regions and local communities which would be hurt by military budget cuts in the absence of civilian alternatives to lost jobs and economic activity.

Why Cutting the Military Budget without Civilian Planning is Insufficient

Consider a few problems.  First, many companies are highly defense dependent and require assistance or prodding to go into civilian markets.  For example, companies like Lockheed-Martin and Nortrop-Grumman are about 80 percent or more defense dependent.  These companies have engineers and managers who are usually oriented to serving the military markets and military designs rather than meeting civilian requirements.

Second, defense firms and communities are now mobilizing politically to oppose cuts, i.e. there is the threat of a political backlash.  This backlash was part of Romney’s political campaign (corresponding to real interests in fighting military cuts).  Although Romney was not successful in convincing the majority of Virginia’s voters, despite using the argument about military cutbacks hitting that state.  Consider this report from a few months ago: “Lockheed Martin’s vice president for legislative affairs, Greg Walters, recently announced that if the $500 billion in automatic cuts to defense spending mandated by last year’s ‘supercommittee’ budget deal go through as planned, it may have to issue layoff notices to the ‘vast majority’ of its 123,000 employees.”  Perhaps that is just corporate propaganda, but it certainly contains more than a grain of truth. It’s not a secret that the U.S. spends hundreds of billions of dollars on the military and that this creates thousands of jobs.

Third, if cutbacks are made without civilian alternatives for firms and military-dependent communities, hundreds of thousands of jobs could be lost.  For example, one claim (which might be exaggerated) is that Florida could lose as many as 80,000 jobs.  Some news reports addressed the possibility that thousands of the Pentagon’s civilian employees could lose their jobs.  One report in September cited an estimate that claimed that defense cuts in Tennessee could lead to a “$809 million cut in the state’s gross domestic product.”  Let’s assume that civilian investment creates more jobs than a defense investment.  What if the civilian investment projected does not materialize to match the defense investment?  We need to consider the opportunity cost represented by lost capacity at closed plants, i.e. the failure to make useful things like wind mills, mass transit, and other new technologies at defense firms that simply junk, mothball or sell off industrial and engineering capacities.

As a result of these considerations, we need to develop civilian alternatives for defense-serving firms and communities.  This can occur by providing civilian budget investments and R&D contracts for defense firms to bid on so that they have the possibility of making new products and services.  Conversion involves advance notification, teaming with civilian counterparts, lowering overheads, relocation assistance, income subsidies for key workers, green procurement budgets, and training in diversification processes, as well as some supplemental teaming with civilian capacities.

What are the benefits of military-to-civilian conversion?

There are several benefits of a plan to support conversion and diversification of defense firms (the two concepts are similar, but not identical).

First, peace groups, environmentalists and lobbyists for defense cuts can win allies in trade unions and some companies (probably lower-tier firms because the big ones want to argue at this point that conversion is not even possible).

Second, defense firms can be turned into wealth generators rather than tax absorbers.  By making useful products they can generate incomes and profits that can be taxed, rather than absorb tax revenue by making weapons. These tax revenues could better fight the budget deficit than mothballed and closed down plants. Want evidence?  Just look at Detroit’s fiscal difficulties created by deindustrialization.  Consider the jobs that would have been lost if an industrial policy did not save GM and Chrysler.  Could this industrial policy have been more ecologically-minded and fought for a greener alternative to what was produced? Yes!  But no one took up that fight in any serious way.  A forthcoming report considers a plan to support a more ecological industrial policy for Michigan.  The US imports a lot of its mass transit products.  Here is a place where defense firms (properly teamed with civilian firms expert in mass transit) could convert to more useful activity.

Third, defense firms have a large share of the domestically-anchored manufacturing and advanced engineering capacity that still exists in the United States. Losing this capacity is a huge opportunity cost.  Converting the capacity is a net gain for producing green products and services.  Even states like Michigan known for civilian manufacturing have a significant share of defense production. That defense capacity helps stabilize the state’s industrial base whether we like it or not. If you don’t like it, then support conversion of defense firms not laissez-faire economic ideas.

Fourth, if defense firms are successful in converting, they could create domestically-anchored high quality jobs, contribute to the U.S. export machine, and thereby support higher living standards and lower the trade deficit.  The alternative, low growth and depression, eventually will promote a right-wing backlash or a steady state consensus which does not make the proactive investments in a green infrastructure and technology necessary to stave off ecocide.

Why are the Counter-Arguments Weak?

There are  many objections that can be raised to economic conversion planning to support civilian activity in defense firms backed by civilian government investments.

First, won’t money invested in defense firms for conversion contribute to the deficit?  Yes, they might in the short-run, but if the U.S. loses further its advanced engineering and manufacturing capacity, then it will soon head the way of Greece, a country largely unable to quickly generate domestically-anchored wealth.

Second, won’t defense firms fail in conversion and diversification.  Yes, if they do it the wrong way.  No, if they do it the right way (then they will have a fighting chance to succeed).  The research on how to do it the right way is extensive.  The problem is that many scholars and policy makers refuse to read the documentation (see this link and Appendix 1 below for citations).  This research shows that some firms succeed and others fail at conversion, but we know the reasons for success and failure.  Yet, we have not adopted and fought for the success formula.

Third, can’t defense firms simply export more weapons rather than convert?  Well the global recession limits the customer base found in many countries.  Japan and China might militarize further, but won’t they do it with more domestic (as opposed to U.S.) components?   Besides furthering weapons sales contributes to the cycle of violence, limited trade, and is ethically problematic.  We have to fight for conversion to limit global arms exports.  If the U.S. arms nations, contributes to their military waste, then this could crowd out civilian sales coming from  defense firms converting to civilian markets and based in the U.S.

Finally, why should this one sector be helped over and above other sectors?  The answer is simple. Defense firms are strategic assets and different from other firms and warrant special treatment because of their manufacturing capacity, engineering capacity and presence as often domestic anchors at the regional and national scales.  The high degree of specialization and often inflexibility of these firms is yet another reason why these are strategic industries.

Support the economic conversion of defense firms by writing your Congressperson, mayor, local elected official and newspaper.  Send them this link.  Get them informed!  Don’t reward laissez-faire, do nothing solutions that will further weaken the U.S. economy and the suffering of depressed living standards and the loss of production capacity to produce needed green products and services!  Make this part of your NGO or social movement’s agenda.

Appendix 1: Defense Firms Can Diversify if They Do It Right

Recent claims made in Forbes that defense firms won’t diversity are misleading. The right question is: What does the United States need to do to enhance its economic and strategic security? More soft power, more alternative energy and mass transportation, more wealth producing activities that relate to these through green manufacturing, etc. Less hard power and military hardware and less cycle of violence military campaigns in the Middle East.  What did the Forbes article fail to consider?

First, ironically Defense News showed on April 14, 2012 the empirical data that debunks the premise in “Companies Turn Toward Diversification,” mentioned General Dynamics and their acquisition of Vangent.

Second, the long term political horizon does not look good for defense budgets in the sense that both the T-Party and the Occupy Wall Street movements have argued for military budget cuts. Of course, a new crisis is possible that would trigger more defense spending, but the U.S. military budget seems to be increasingly paid by unsustainable Japanese and Chinese debt. How long can debt-driven defense spending go on without a major economic crisis triggering military budget cuts?

Third, it is partly irrelevant that “skills are fungible, behaviors aren’t.” When defense firms or military-serving divisions have been forced to change behavior with the correct managerial group, then they have sometimes done so. The idea that diversification was “unblemished by success” is totally wrong, factual incorrect and the counterexamples have simply been ignored, see for example my write up about how Boeing Vertol learned to make subway cars (cited below). Of course, the incentives for making helicopters was greater than subways, but that is not a behavior issue, that is a question of market signals. For why those might change, see above.

Fourth, not all defense investors hate diversification, as the Defense News article points out. Most firms would choose survival over suicide. Some diversifications have been very successful, whether or not defense analysts want to be honest about it. For example, McDonnell Douglas had a very successful spin-off that I documented (see article discussing Vitek, cited below).

Why are the successes few? The post-Cold War propaganda campaign against diversification was largely successful. It continues today.  The political question of “what to produce” is a taboo for the right, ignored by postmodern abstractions. The government failed to develop a comprehensive civilian industrial policy. Yet, when even marginal interventions were made, under the right formula, diversification succeeded. It really is the reader’s responsibility to identify the formula (and the shareholders for that matter).


Feldman J M, 1999, “Civilian diversification, learning, and institutional change: growth through knowledge and power,” Environment and Planning A 31(10), pp. 1805 – 1824. (On McDonnell Douglas).

Jonathan M. Feldman (author), Gerald I. Susman and Sean O’Keefe, eds. Chapter 18, The Defense Industry in the Post-Cold War Era: Corporate Strategy and Public Policy Perspectives, “The Conversion of Defense Engineers’ Skills: Explaining Success and Failure Through Customer-Based Learning, Teaming and Managerial Integration,” pp. 281-318. Oxford: Elsevier Science, 1998. (on Boeing Vertol).

The author is a principal convenor of the Global Teach-In:

Congress coddles military while neglecting Sandy victims and violence prevention

By Brian D’Agostino

What I find remarkable about the recent “fiscal cliff” debate in the United States, which is now morphing into the “debt ceiling” debate, is the absence of America’s bloated and obsolete war economy from the discussion, even as vitally needed programs are on the chopping block.  For two months, right wing Republicans in the House of Representatives held up $60 billion in emergency aid to victims of Hurricane Sandy, insisting that it be paid for by cuts to other essential programs.  Nor has there been any discussion in Congress — three weeks and counting since the Newtown Connecticut school massacre — of funding for mental health and wellness programs for all who need them, which could prevent future tragedies.  As the International Psychohistorical Association (IPA) noted in its statement “How to End Violence in America” (download here), such programs would cost a tiny fraction of the hundreds of billions of dollars that America spends every year on unnecessary weapons systems, military bases, and prisons.

In my new book The Middle Class Fights Back, I outline visionary but practical policy alternatives to the austerity agenda and callous inaction of a Washington elite beholden to right wing ideologues, corporate CEOs, and predatory investors.  One of these initiatives is a Green New Deal that can put millions to work while speeding up the transition to renewable energy, thus mitigating future catastrophes like Hurricane Sandy.  Such massive public investment can be paid for by carbon taxes, greatly increased taxes on the rich (under Republican President Eisenhower the highest marginal rate was 91%), and diverting resources from the war economy.  A second initiative is an innovative option for corporations to issue stock to their workers in lieu of the corporate income tax, which would make corporations that empower their workers more competitive than those who cling to the past.  For more information on the book, visit my website at

A Deconstruction of Hanne Kjöller’s article, ”Upplopp: Husby som ett Rorschachtest,” Dagens Nyheter, May 24, 2013. Accessible at:

By Jonathan M. Feldman, Stockholm University, May 24, 2013.

Kjöller Argument 1:

Upploppen blir ett Rorschachtest, en bläckplump där allt från Sverigedemokrater till anarkister tycker sig kunna läsa in just det som bekräftar den egna verklighetsbilden…

Analysis of Argument 1:

The claim is that people from the far right to the far left will interpret the riots as a way to promote their own ideological viewpoint.  However, I will show that this is exactly what the author of this article has done and that her article is disingenuous, i.e. misleading and confusing.  The ideology that the author uses is one in which the larger problems are displaced in the process of selectively trying to dismiss facts gathered by others.  The journalist in question has not really investigated structural causes of the riots and tries to dismiss them by looking at strawman arguments that raise more questions than they answer, i.e. she picks apart the examples, without looking for more accurate counter-examples or supplemental data.  So, it is as if someone used bad data to show the earth were round as opposed to flat.  So, it is as if the author leaves us with the impression that the earth could be or is flat.

Kjöller Argument 2:

Varför startade kravallerna? Organisationen Megafonen beskriver på sin hemsida händelserna på måndagsnatten i termer av att ”200 Husbybor visade missnöje mot att polisen sköt en 69-årig man till döds i en lägenhet i förra veckan”.

Så kan det förstås vara. Men det kan också vara som en ung anonym man från området sa till Aftonbladets webb-tv, att de flesta struntar ”fett” i 69-åringen och att många i stället såg ett tillfälle att fly tristessen.

Analysis of Argument 2:

The apparent claim of the author is that the organization Megafonen is wrong that the shooting of a 69 year old is the trigger for riots in which 200 persons showing their dissatisfaction.  Instead, what is held up as better evidence is an “anonymous man” who says most don’t care.  This critique is disingenuous, illogical or inconclusive based on three factors.

First, we don’t know why the anonymous source of a single individual is supposed to be more critical or informed than an organization (Megafonen) with hundreds of supporters and sympathizers.

Second, if you are going to debunk Megafonen with this source, why not try to identify alternatives to Megafonen or someone else making the claim that supports the anonymous source and follow up with questions. After all, if the vast majority of people believe this, it should not be hard to find supporting evidence. Yet, that supporting evidence might be irrelevant (see below).

Third, it does not take a majority to engage in a riot because a minority of persons can launch a riot.  Therefore, if the minority was upset by the shooting why is the majority even relevant to explain the actions of the minority?  How do such violent minorities get created by other than processes shaped by majorities, elites or other power wielders?

Kjöller Argument 3:

Uppgifter om att polisen använt ord som neger, svartskalle och apor sprids med samma hastighet som moderna vandringssägner av råttan-i-pizzan-typ. Jag tänker absolut inte gå i god för att polisen inte fällt några rasistiska invektiv. Men att anonyma stenkastare påstår det räcker inte för att jag ska hävda det som en sanning.

Analysis of Argument 3:

The author argues that the claim that the police used the word “nigger” has to be balanced by the fact that an “anonymous stone thrower” making this claim is not sufficient for establishing the truth.  This critique is also disingenuous, illogical or inconclusive.

First, a report in The Local  on May 20th ( reads as follows: “A local youth leader, who along with a small group of teens was out on the street on Sunday, told local newspaper editor Rouzbeh Djalaie that he was called a nigger when he asked the police if they needed any help. The teens were called ‘monkeys’.”  So, The Local has a source that is not unknown to them and is not identified as a stone thrower.  Why didn’t Hanne Kjöller discuss this source?  Identifying a weak piece of information in association with the racist claim is a clever way to debunk the claim without explicitly doing so.  She leaves the impression that there was no racist incident, without directly doing this because she has not looked for other sources that might back the claim or any pattern of police behavior associated with the claim.

Second, now Kjöller thinks that an anonymous source is a bad thing to use, because why else would she use the word “anonymous stone thrower.”  If the invalidation of the source is simply attributed to being a “stone thrower,” why then use the adjective (or prefix) “anonymous” in the same sentence?  However, above Kjöller uses an anonymous source to debunk or raise questions about Megafonen. This inconsistency suggests that when it suits the author’s purposes to use an anonymous source she will do so.  And when it does not suit her purposes she will not do so.

Third, the author has found an ingenuous way to debunk claims of racism without supporting racist claims.   Of course Kjöller wrote that she does not think it is acceptable to call someone a racist epithet.  But, by not doing further research she can devalue claims of research by identifying a source she does not like and thereby devalues the source and by association the argument.  This kind of collage of arguments is a standard propaganda technique, i.e. “sins of omission.”

Kjöller Argument 4:

Johanna Langhorst är en av de journalister som vet hur allt gått till. På Expressens kultursida förklarar hon kravallerna med dödsskjutningen: ”Först när bilarna brann i Husby svarade polisen, med höjda batonger. Slagen haglade över Husbyborna, urskillningslöst. Fältassistenter, journalister och ungdomsvärdar, alla som råkade hamna i vägen fick stryk.”

Slag som haglar. Urskillningslöst. Verkligen? Är det inte konstigt i så fall att de enda skador som mig veterligen rapporterats handlar om poliser. På vilket sjukhus ligger alla de Husbybor som fallit offer för polisens urskillningslösa våld?

Analysis of Argument 4:

Kjöller criticizes Johanna Langhorst as “one of the journalists who knows how everything has happened.”  Langhorst criticizes how field assistants, journalists and youth workers were beaten by police.  Then, Kjöller says suggests that not all the violence is caused by police officers or that it is “strange” that this is what is reported.  The implication is that there was violence not committed by police officers that the left ignores.  Here again Kjöller is disingenuous, using yet another propaganda trick.  Let us deconstruct this.

First, Kjöller does not express any disgust with how journalists or others were attacked, appearing to legitimate it through a sin of omission, e.g. what any normal person would express is disgust but this is not something that disgusts her.

Second, what appears to disgust Kjöller is something else that might have happened (here we have to guess, perhaps violence by rioters or  something unidentified), yet we don’t even know what the something else is.  As things stand, we know that the police killed someone and none of the rioters have killed anyone.  This fact is left out of Kjöller’s analysis of how violence is depicted in the media.

Third, assuming that there is something left out that Kjöller thinks need to be balanced, how does this devalue the fact that beating journalists and others is a bad thing?  What Kjöller does is use the propaganda trick of talking about A (violence by police) does not mean B (violence by others).  When someone says A, they have not said B and B is important.  Yet, anything you say in A need not exclude B except when B is relevant to A.

Let’s consider a counter argument. In a “sin of omission” B is relevant to A.  You should have mentioned B if you mention A in such instances. But, in Kjöller’s case the police violence in itself should be regarded as sufficient for her attention (which she also does not follow up with by looking at any other data).  Here, B does not relate to A in any material way, but is simply based on a speculative association.

Kjöller Argument 5:

Under rubriken ”Högern gör sig dum om Husby” på Aftonbladets ledarsida serverar socialdemokraten Anders Lindberg sin superstringenta analys…Vidare förklarar Lindberg frustrationen med att ”vårdcentralen, Posten, barnmorskan och ungdomsgården dragits in”. Men som så ofta är Lindberg dåligt påläst. I Husby finns fortfarande en vårdcentral, däremot inte Posten (precis som den knappt finns någon annanstans heller), barnmorskan finns en tunnelbanestation eller 15 minuters promenad bort. På ungdomsgårdsfronten erbjuder Husby tre alternativ…

Analysis of Argument 5:

Kjöller argues that Anders Lindberg from the newspaper Aftonbladet is wrong about how social services have been cut back in Husby.   She identifies what she perceives to be factual inaccuracies about social service cuts.   Her argument raises several problems.

First, it begs larger questions.  Kjöller might be correct about the limits to Lindberg’s analysis in terms of details.  However, her article claims that the left is misconstruing Husby to serve ideological ends. Therefore, the larger question has to be not whether specific social services have been cut to Husby but rather three other scenarios.  Scenario A:  Have total services to Husby been cut, independent of the anecdotal cases described by Aftonbladet? We learn nothing about this. Scenario B: Did Husby lack a totality of services even if they have increased or decreased in recent years, i.e. has Husby a services deficit?  We learn nothing about this either.  Scenario C: Are there other things that Husby lacks that other neighborhoods have?  This larger question really is not addressed by what Kjöller cuts out of the Aftonbladet piece.  Anyone walking through Husby will see that such neighborhoods lack the diversity of resources found in other neighborhoods because in the Million Housing Program shopping, residences and work were largely separated into separate zones.  The ambitions of linking these three functions were admirable, but the zonal segregation is idiotic as any urban theorist with knowledge of Jane Jacobs’ book, The Life and Death of Great American Cities, will tell you.  The ideal neighborhood combines living and shopping and sometimes working areas and has great functional diversity.  Of course, Husby has cultural diversity, but the larger left critique (among urban scholars as opposed to journalists) is whether such neighborhoods have a diversity of resources, not the number of post offices (which are lacking throughout Stockholm because of some idiotic policy and narrow conception of what a  Post Office should be).  Husby contains high unemployment, a population with weak access to qualified jobs, and an architectural milieu which is homogenous, boring and ugly, i.e. alienating.   Certain left geographers in Sweden have made it part of their career development to conceal this fact, but it is self evident to many a disinterested observer.  So, when we could have an interesting critique of the left, we get a banal one about counting post offices etc.  In any case, Kjöller is able to avoid all this by coming up with what she thinks is a more accurate accounting than Aftonbladet about social service examples.  This very much reminds me of the television debates about the riots. The Social Democrats say that the Alliance has cut support systems and are to blame. The Alliance says they have improved things over and above the Social Democrats.  Here, the political parties telling the truth about each other is used to displace a larger truth, i.e. neither major political bloc did anything profoundly useful.

Kjöller does say that Norrland should have had riots rather than Husby if social service cuts were to blame.  This is an interesting kind of disinformation.  First, Norrland is not a ghetto area defined by: multiethnic enclaves; lack of a kind of social infrastructure and support system; institutional racism from the outside defined by police harassment, racist epithets, and other factors; and spatial density.  Spatial density can make it easier to form certain kinds of networks whether they be social movements opposing cutbacks, rioters or gangs.  It is hard to have a riot in a spatially dispersed area.

Second, Kjöller engages in a reductionist strawman argument.  Of course, any social scientist understands that a riot does not have a single cause, but has multiple causes (some long term and others short term).  In fact, riots may result from a combination of causes, e.g. racism + unemployment + weak parental structures and social codes + alienation + social service cuts + lack of supporting cultural amenities, etc.  So, arguing that one of these factors in itself does not explain a riot is disingenuous because we need to address the multitude of factors, particularly as they express themselves in unique or differentiated geographic spaces.  So, it could be that the single factor is part of a larger explanation involving multi-factor models of causation.

Kjöller Argument 6:

Våldet sägs på Megafonens hemsida vara ”det enda sättet att uttrycka frustration när andra demokratiska vägar är stängda”. Vadå stängda? Det är väl inte svårare att engagera sig politiskt i Husby än i Bromma? Talesmannen Rami al-Khamisi är själv ett exempel på motsatsen. På nätet hittar jag en två år gammal intervju med den då 23-årige al-Khamisi. Där framgår att han varit aktiv inom ett projekt finansierat av Europarådet där han tillsammans med ungdomar från 25 europeiska länder arbetat med frågor kring delaktighet. Han har också deltagit i ett samarbete med Stockholms stad, Svenska Bostäder och Hyresgästföreningen. I artikeln berättas om ett annalkande möte med självaste kungahuset.

Analysis or Argument 6:

Kjöller says that Megafonen is wrong to argue that riots reflect the closure of other democratic outlets.  She says that it is not more difficult to engage one’s self in Husby than in Bromma.  She points to Rami al-Khamisi as an example of an engaged individual. She points to him being engaged in a project with youth from 25 European countries participating in the question of participation. He has worked with the City of Stockholm, a real estate firm, the renters’ association and has been at the royal palace.

Here we have the example of the anomalous case standing for the whole and the “if you don’t love our country leave it” logic.  Let’s turn first to the anomalous case. I can only welcome that Rami al-Khamisi is politically engaged.  But, is he typical?  Does he have skills that others lack for engagement?  What do we learn about his “cultural capital” (or intellectual and psychological if not cultural capacities to engage in such projects) that might be differentiated from others in Husby?  We learn nothing from Kjöller’s analysis about this because she never asked him, “how might you differ from others in Husby and what can we conclude from this?”  No, he is just used as a prop to suggest that all can be like him if they want to.  We know that knowledge is differentiated, while the right to participate is open to all.  Yet, if only a very small minority has the knowledge of how to participate, then the larger question is how to broaden this knowledge.  This is something that is really not part of mainstream discourse.

What do I mean by “if you don’t love our country leave it” logic?  If someone does not like their country, sometimes people say, “then find another.”  The structure of these arguments is that it assumes that the country you would move to (or moved from) is better than the present one. The problem here is that we forget that  there can be a kind of convergent mediocrity or dystopian aspect to certain countries.

Being a resident in Bromma, I can tell you that it is exceedingly difficult to get things done.  One has to engage in persistent and extended pressure on authorities to get them to be responsive.  They often claim that they don’t have jurisdiction because it is SL or someone else to blame.  Ironically, when residents around Alvik in Bromma organized against the use of green spaces for housing projects several years ago, one of the newspapers condemned this protest movement as anti-democratic, i.e. the media doesn’t really like participation as much as they claim.

Leaving that aside, participation can be a weak measure of democracy as the book, Participation: The New Tyranny?, edited by Bill Cooke and Uma Kothari explains.  In contrast, if we use Carole Pateman’s book, Participation and Democratic Theory, as a measure of participation, then we have to consider democratic decision making in workplaces not participation in NGO projects as a hallmark of strong democracy or participation.  She discusses “worker self-management” and cooperatives.  Yet, that is not what politicians and journalists mean. Rather, they mean participating in local structures which the political scientist Bo Rothstein has argued (in Just Institutions Matter) have been alienated from resources, i.e. they have responsibility but lack power (resources).  A better way to put it is that such local authorities are  partially a cul-de-sac for participation.  Persons in Bromma have other ways to secure resources (via their wages, professional networks, jobs, etc.) that many people in Husby don’t have access to so participation in local government in Bromma is less relevant.  People in Husby might depend on the state more and have more demands on it than in Husby because of differentiated class resources.  If you are unemployed, you can’t have meaningful worker self-management.

Still another metric of participation can be found in the book The Case for Participatory Democracy, edited by C. George Benello and Dimitrios Roussopoulos.  This book discusses “community development corporations” and “liberatory technology.”  In contrast to the analysis found in the books by Pateman, Benello and Roussopoulos, the typical Swedish politician’s idea of development consists in spending money by Swedish construction firms or others such that most of the jobs, learning space, and income flows of such projects do not really involve the affected community, i.e. it is typical top-down planning.  Participatory planning might be that elected citizen review boards help monitor and control the police, to avoid police abuse and provide better services.  Instead, local government authorities are not always democratic or even elected.

Consider that in the historical development of neighboring Kista Science Park (now Kista Science City), planners did not socialize jobs, but socialized housing. They had to largely depend on market forces to create the jobs and employers and hence decoupled decisions about work from residence. As a result, very few people who work in Kista Science Park actually live in neighboring areas.  The organization of work is left to the market, social capital networks, job ladders, and the reproductive system of secondary schools, etc.  This system has not favored Husby residents to get into such job paths.  In contrast, there are cooperative models in Cleveland in the U.S. and Mondragon in Spain which create cooperative, durable work and integration systems for the residents.  The so-called “Cleveland Model” is partially based on the Mondragon system.  In Cleveland, even former convicts from the prison system find meaningful jobs.   Compare the standard model used in Sweden for development, i.e. training into low-waged jobs, using construction firms in the construction industrial complex, moving government agencies into a community, etc.

In sum, meaningful participation does not mean showing up and participating in local government structures for several reasons.  First, in order to have democracy you require skills in democracy and a certain degree of knowledge.  Groups like Megafonen have tried to fill this democracy deficit, but they face lots of obstacles.  There is no Highlander School in Husby or similar areas, the school that activists like Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks used in the U.S. to get skills to engage in reform and participatory efforts.  The pedagogy of democratic empowerment is exceedingly weak, even at the level of the university system, i.e. how to systematically accumulate power in ways other than voting, elections, etc. that mainstream political science glorifies.  Even discussions about social movements as empowerment vehicles misses the larger point that many are co-opted by patronage systems or are simply badly designed

Second, the ability to influence democracy depends upon and is positively correlated with having greater economic, political and media capital.  None of the top-down development initiatives for Husby or other suburban multi-ethnic areas really promotes this in a systemic fashion.  There are no radio stations which residents control to mobilize themselves and get their message across. There are no banks that residents control that marshal their consumption power.  The educational system does not teach students how to fight the system or even reform it. The consensus is that everything is the way it should be because there are local bureaucracies to influence.  The media never addresses these questions in any meaningful way. In fact, it blocks such arguments or sees that they are never given the light of day.

Kjöller Argument 7:

Slutligen bara. Påståendet att medierna struntat i Husby innan det började brinna. I mediearkivet Presstext ger en sökning mellan den 1 maj 2010 och den 1 maj 2013 sammanlagt 1.176 träffar. Bagarmossen, som har lika många invånare, renderade 367.

Analysis of Argument 7:

Kjöller says that the claim that the media ignored Husby before it started to burn is wrong because between May 1, 2010 and May 1, 2013 there were 1,176 hits in a media database of news articles. The locality Bargarmossen, which has a similar number of inhabitants, has only 367 hits in a media archive search.

It is hard to take this argument seriously, but I will try. Kjöller fails to understand the difference between quantitative and qualitative media coverage.  The fact is that any comprehensive urban analysis of Husby or similar areas would be hard to come by, except perhaps in somewhat obscure texts by ethnic studies researchers.  Even here, the main emphasis is often on how inhabitants are victims, not how they could possibly become liberated from such victimization status.

The discourse on comprehensive and democratic economic development is exceptionally weak in Sweden and barely exists.  It’s not like the Swedish media goes on field studies of systemic urban development and social inclusion projects at the international level to see how areas could avoid riots taking place. At best, they travel to Canada and talk about their social inclusion success, although the Canadian model is not always the best example given the immigration of elite Asian immigrants and the failure to problematize the type of jobs immigrants might receive.  At worst, they think they are enlightened by making reference to British and French police tactics to fight rioters, e.g. the use of fire hoses.  So, the quantity of news articles is a useless strawman argument—totally  irrelevant.  You can ignore an area by reporting on it in a superficial manner. The measures Kjöller uses for evaluating whether an area has been properly studied or reported on (the number of hits) is exceptionally weak.

Yes, she is right that Husby has not been ignored by the media.  What she fails to consider, by debunking this strawman argument, is that superficiality of media coverage hardly helps and probably has lulled the elites into thinking that they have been responsive when they have not.  The riots clearly indicate a failure and by blaming individual rioters, you don’t get very far.  The rioters are responsible for something but they are also a byproduct of a failed system.  What is worse is that there is evidence that alternative models for such areas were discussed and these alternatives were ignored and never got a place on the political or mainstream media agenda, e.g.  This is the relevant metric of media coverage, i.e. a measure of a lack of substantive coverage despite masses of newspaper articles.

The Politics of Scarcity: New Code Words for Swedish Politics

 By Jonathan Michael Feldman, November 25, 2015, Modified November 26, 2015.

Party Leaders Valorize the Politics of Scarcity

POLITICS OF SCARCITYOn Swedish television (SVT) yesterday we saw a series of party leaders speak. One key point was when the Green Party Leader Gustav Fridolin said that Europe must do its duty by taking in more refugees (their fair share), Sweden is ovewhelmed and so Sweden must do less.  In response, the Left Party leader Jonas Sjöstedt said that we should not assume the rest of Europe will do its duty and other countries may use Sweden as an excuse to do less. The other key point was when the Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said, we can’t let the flow of refugees retard the welfare state after which the leader of SD, Jimmy Åkesson, said essentially: “we have been saying that for a long time.”

Basically none of the parties has a very good idea about how to overcome the politics of scarcity. This politics is defined by resource scarcities which appear to pit one important social objective against another. A moral crisis (the refugees who face potential death) is met with moral arguments (that it should not be so) or economic arguments about what is not possible.  We do not see very creative budget proposals (or few alternative proposals tied to even fewer fiscal and economic policy and integration reforms). The reigning policy is to do less and do better by doing less.  Each party appears to be more or less logical when they say the current system cannot sustain the immigrant integration infrastructure at present. Yet, almost no one has any comprehensive alternative budget proposals except perhaps Pavlos Cavelier Bizas.  He has argued that the money used to buy Christmas presents could be used to pay for absorbing and integrating refugeesThe basic idea is that Swedes spend more money on Christmas shopping than in receiving refugees. Given the current state of ideas, this proposal was one of the most important suggestions that any public figure has made.  It responded to the real moral crisis and presented an alternative to Europe’s repeat of its earlier moral failures in the 1930s and 1940s.  Part of this failure was a rejection of Jewish refugees by communities hostile to refugees.  This could be seen in the Evian Conference.

 Consumption Morality

IMG_9034aOf course, it was a proposal that met resistance, particularly by economists of a certain variety.  Sven-Olov Daunfeldt, a professor of economics and director of research at HUI Research, thinks that it can be problematic to set these numbers against each other.  He was quoted in Metro as follows: “I can understand that the link made in these times, but you have to think a few steps further.” Daunfeldt believes that Swedish wealth is influenced by the level of consumption.  He argued: “Should private consumption will decrease drastically in Sweden, we would of course have a reduced growth and even less resources to finance public activities. So, again we have an argument against the politics of scarcity met by an argument supporting scarcity politics.

It goes without saying that money spent for food, housing and support services for immigrants is a form of consumption, albeit by the state.  Of course, private consumption of Christmas presents generates tax revenues to support public consumption. Even so public consumption for refugees using private vendors will put some wealth into the hands of private suppliers and thereby potentially generates profit which can be taxed.

Beyond the Politics of Scarcity

POS2Yet, one could resolve part of the trade off between public spending and private contributions to public spending in several ways. First, we could create a special humanitarian tax on Christmas presents.  In effect, when you buy a present for a family member or friend you can also buy a present for a refugee, i.e. their survival.  Swedish banks are making billions of crowns in profit and they too could be taxed.  It is fair to say that it is within the spirit of Christmas to have such a tax.

Second, we could link refugees to one another in providing barter and services by organizing a skills bank and exchange system among the refugees. In one proposal, local government wants local people and community organisations to be able to register the support and skills they can offer a new skills bank, which will collect information and contact details.” In contrast, I argue that refugees could sell services to the state and individuals to generate a capital pool, e.g. lecturing, cleaning, removing graffiti where local governments fail to do so, and so on.  The skills bank can be modeled on the historical practice of the Owenite movement.  Robert Owen and the Owenite movement would prove to be one of the most important embodiments of the notion that collectives of workers could organize cooperatively outside the framework of existing managerial relations. Owen called for the establishment of new federations of mixed agricultural and industrial villages.   Different models for primitive accumulation to create a new economy arose.

In 1827 “a new bazaar was in being, which acted as a centre for the exchange of products made by unemployed members of London trades…who were put to work on materials bought out of trade union funds” (Thompson, 1968: 788, 791). This bazaar illustrates that the extension of “self-reliance,” or the embryonic version of a workers cooperative complex, is based on trade, i.e. exchange within a given state’s boundaries: “Thus the Equitable Labour Exchanges, founded in London and Birmingham in 1832-3, with their labour notes and exchange of small products, were not conjured out of the air by paranoiac prophets. If we list the products which were brought for exchange to the Co-operative Congress in Liverpool in October 1832 we can also see the people. From Sheffield, cutlery and coffee-pots: from Leicester, stockins and Lace: from Huddersfield, waistcoat pieces and shawls: from Rochdale, flannels” (Thompson, 1968: 791).  The rules of a society formed in 1832 in Ripponden illustrate that extension of an alternative economy can be based on the exchange of each worker’s capacities, i.e. labour power, human capital: “by the increase of capital the working classes may better their condition, if they only unite and set their shoulder to the work…we all live by the produce of the land, and exchange labour for labour, which is the object aimed at by all Co-operative Societies” (quoted in Thompson, 1968: 793-794).

Most fascinating about the Owenite movement was that it evolved not out of theoretical propositions but actual working class practice: “the germ of most of Owen’s ideas can be seen in practices which anticipate or occur independently of his writings.” For example, as early as 1796, an attempt was made to create a British Fraternal Society which would employ “its out-of-work members” and would exchange the products of shoemakers, silk weavers, tailors etc. with each other. There are “also a number of instances of pre-Owenite trade unions when on strike, employing their own members and marketing the product” (Thompson, 1968: 790).

Third, we could discuss the trade off between increased military spending and refugee absorption.  Here the absorption of refugees are important security moves.  The question is why?  On the one hand, we have the following argument made by “terrorist experts”: “The problem of terrorist recruitment in Sweden was only worsened by the flow of refugees from Iraq in the aftermath of the 2003 U.S. invasion. Although most refugees were civilians, uninterested in violence, among those who fled to Sweden were jihadi operatives and even leaders of al Qaeda in Iraq, the group that would later spawn the Islamic State. Refugees who had arrived to Sweden before the 2003 invasion would later become leaders within al Qaeda in Iraq…Some of the Iraqi refugees who arrived in Sweden and who had connections to militant groups have since resurfaced in the Syrian civil war as midlevel commanders within the Islamic State and other jihadi factions, such as the Muhajireen Brigade.”  In sum, more refugees potentially brings more terrorists according to some applying this logic.

In contrast, we can also see a different kind of logic (although security checks and detailed registration of refugees are necessary to avoid a worse case scenario which would fuel a right-wing backlash against all immigration).  According to a report by Laurent Dubrule on November 20, 2015, “all the Paris attackers identified so far were EU nationals,” citing a report in the International Business Times.  In fact, French officials suggest that the “the fake passport may have been ‘planted’ by Daesh members, to take advantage of the European refugee crisis.” Moreover, “despite the fact that the Paris attacks, indicate that terrorist threat in the EU can also be reduced with better social cohesion policies, EU policy makers focus entirely on the security issue, and how to improve border controls.”

Some security analysts imply that the fake passport was designed to reduce the flow of refugees.  A reduced flow would mean that would be refugees would instead be under the control of ISIS.  As   noted in Vox: “ISIS despises Syrian refugees: It sees them as traitors to the caliphate. By leaving, they turn their back on the caliphate. ISIS depicts its territory as a paradise, and fleeing refugees expose that as a lie. But if refugees do make it out, ISIS wants them to be treated badly — the more the West treats them with suspicion and fear, the more it supports ISIS’s narrative of a West that is hostile to Muslims and bolsters ISIS’s efforts to recruit from migrant communities in Europe. The fewer refugees the West lets in, and the chillier their welcome on arrival, the better for ISIS.”

Therefore, by reducing refugees Sweden increases the power of ISIS.  In contrast, greater security would come by diverting funds from increased military budgets into support for absorption of refugees. In 2014, for example, the Social Democratic party joinined the Moderates and the respectable Right to approve the purchase of 60 new military fighter (JAS) planes produced by Saab Aerospace.  One new JAS Gripen fighter plane costs about $43 million according to one estimate.  If one multiplies this number by 60 you can get the size of a capital fund which the Social Democratic-respectable Right consensus committed to the new military fighter spending budget.  This amount is somewhere on the order of $2.58 billion U.S. dollars. These funds, absorbing public monies (unlike Christmas presents) could have been used to help promote refugee absorption. Military budget cuts can still be used to finance refugee absorption (the Russian threat  is belied by many facts ignored by the media, e.g. Russia’s extensive trade with NATO nations or countries militarily allied with the U.S. or NATO itself).  Even though some rightwing politicians are convinced that they can use the JAS planes to fight ISIS, it is patently clear that fighter planes could not protect Paris from ISIS attacks. We also know that bombing civilian areas will promote terrorist recruitment efforts.


For various reasons, it is very hard for academics, journalists, policy makers and politicians to combat the politics of scarcity.  Academics are often either obsessed with either the logic of the status quo or structural explanations that leave little to the imagination.  Journalists do little but create a sounding board for what politicians say and think, with the occasional resort to the first group (yielding of course often very little).  When it comes to policy makers, they often lack critical academic knowledge.  As for the politicians, they are somewhat hostage to the media framing system.

Have I engaged in a circular argument?   I said the media gives a platform to the politicians, but the politicians are limited by the media.  How do I resolve this apparent contradiction?  Let us look at one example. It makes clear the the military part of the state—by inflating military crises—creates a media space that traps all politicians into a militaristic agenda.  During the last submarine crisis, the Swedish media invested over a week in free advertising to the idea that Sweden was suffering from an apparent threat from a foreign power, probably Russia.  This advertising campaign helped lead to increased fear and public support for military budget increases and was followed by a parliamentary vote to support such increases.  Any politician suggesting that Russia was not a serious threat (even from the Left Party) might suffer a credibility gap.  Parties vocally challenging the idea of a Russian threat might lose a lot of votes and influence by taking on an issue at odds with this major advertising campaign.  So, giving politicians a platform to speak and say what they choose to say is not necessarily the same as the freedom of politicians to say what they are thinking.  Of course, having a series of critical intellectuals point out the absurdity of the advertising campaign might have helped.  In contrast, during this campaign we basically got a few media votes in opposition, e.g. a few occasions when Göran Greider spoke against the absurdity of the military advertising campaign.  His words, while wise and needed, simply helped legitimate the whole absurd exercise.

The solution to these problems requires a few strategic interventions.  I quickly point out only three.  First, the Left has to support the creation of a media accountability organization.  The need is readily transparent. If academics and intellectuals have alternative budget proposals and plans that are not aired in the media, it is almost as if they do not exist.  Having such ideas without the power to project them is somewhat of a useless exercise as C. Wright Mills argued in The Sociological Imagination.

Second, we need a more comprehensive discussion of budgetary tradeoffs.  We need to organize public fora to discuss budgets, participatory budget discussions as have been seen in Porto Alegre in Brazil.  It is possible to organize such fora in Sweden simply by linking public meetings in a few cities via the Internet.  Yet, the Left often prefers a politics and ideology that is obsessed with structures or academic deconstruction.  Thus, we see the politics of scarcity repeat itself over and over.

Third, we need social movements to move their money out of institutions that do not support social inclusion, democracy and empowerment and into alternative economic institutions.


Magnus Ranstorp, Linus Gustafsson, and Peder Hyllengren, “From Welfare State to the Caliphate,” Foreign Policy, February 23, 2015.

E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class. New York: Vintage Books, 1996.