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.

How to Reclaim the Universities

By Jonathan Michael Feldman

October 25, 2015

Capitalism as the Colonizer of Universities

In a recent article for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Terry Eagleton, describes “The Slow Death of the Universities.”  He writes: “Yet the distance they established between themselves and society at large could prove enabling as well as disabling, allowing them to reflect on the values, goals, and interests of a social order too frenetically bound up in its own short-term practical pursuits to be capable of much self-criticism.”  He notes that “the institutions that produced Erasmus and John Milton, Einstein and Monty Python, capitulate to the hard-faced priorities of global capitalism.”  He notes a different pattern in Cambridge and Oxford Universities, however: “Oxbridge colleges are for the most part premodern institutions, they have a smallness of scale about them that can serve as a model of decentralized democracy, and this despite the odious privileges they continue to enjoy.”  The general problem is the rise of entrepreneurial universities in which money making rather than critical ideas are ascendant.

As one example, Eagleton writes that with the ascendancy of the entrepreneurial model, “there has thus been less incentive for academics to devote themselves to their teaching, and plenty of reason for them to produce for production’s sake, churning out supremely pointless articles, starting up superfluous journals online, dutifully applying for outside research grants regardless of whether they really need them, and passing the odd pleasant hour padding their CVs.”  Students are treated like “consumers” so that the content of education is diluted to suit popular tastes, i.e. the lowest common denominator.  In a key passage, Eagleton writes: “Subjects that do not attract lucrative research grants from private industry, or that are unlikely to pull in large numbers of students, are plunged into a state of chronic crisis.”

Beyond Left and Right

Despite the merits of this general critique, Eagleton does not offer much in the way of a solution.  One solution offered: “It is true that philosophers could always set up meaning-of-life clinics on street corners, or modern linguists station themselves at strategic public places where a spot of translation might be required.”  Thus, we have something of a contradiction, the Marxist deconstruction of the capitalist university is accompanied by a persistent clinging to this form.  Eagleton suggests that “an educated student is redefined as an employable one,” a problem to to be sure.  Yet, he might have done better by arguing that critical ideas and thinking need not exclude employability.

Why can’t left critics offer more in the way of solutions?  This rather sad state of affairs suggests that it is not enough to be critical, Marxist, or even unhappy with the status quo.  One can get a better idea of such limitations once it is realized that the very constraints on the university also extend to contemporary left social movements which also celebrate or have a tendency to promote what is popular and the least common denominator.

Eagleton fails to realize that the crisis of universities is not simply imposed externally by capitalism or internally by incorporating the capitalist norms and incentives.  Rather, it is also limited by the role played by Left academics themselves who deconstruct rather than reconstruct or fail to identify with the critical thinkers of the past who offer a baseline of analysis that analyzes both structures and contingency through either intelligible ideas or ideas that get at the root of problems.  These arguments were made clear long ago by C. Wright Mills in The Sociological Imagination or Russell Jacoby in The Last Intellectuals.  While there are of course exceptions to the patterns identified by both Mills and Jacoby, the larger reality is that the patterns they both identify are rather hegemonic within higher education.  The problem of universities and their failings and the need to think beyond their current design was analyzed long ago by Paul Goodman.

This being said, we should not have a romantic view of universities nor the academic left which addresses their “slow death.”  When I earlier pointed out that universities were agents of the imperial order, most academics on the left (in my country) barely noticed.  Given the passage of time since the writing of that book, I can hardly think that the death of the universities is anything new, although I certainly acknowledge that things have gotten worse in many respects.  The larger point I want to make, however, is that we have to drop the duality “business bad” and “university good,” or the idea that universities are simply being pillaged by the market.  Certainly, they are pillaged by the market and ethically raped as well.  Nevertheless, I believe the market is not the real culprit or entrepreneurship.  Rather, the larger problem is a form of capitalism which neither the university nor academia can resist–or more accurately–transcend.

This failure to transcend comes from the same place and it is best summarized by the failure to conceive of an alternative design to the plans devised by the status quoDeconstruction does not allow for reconstruction and so Eagleton’s essay is yet further evidence of this as he has hardly any comprehensive solution in mind. In this way, many Left academics are very much like their corporate academic brethren (even though they route for different intellectual teams).

The other commonality between these two groups is that neither has a vision in which they advance an operational mechanism for promoting economic democracy or a way to steer capital–and thus the universities it colonizes–in a democratic direction. There are again exceptions, but much of the group hegemonic in the academic left–particularly the humanities–lost interest in many of the key thinkers who provided a way of thinking beyond capitalism.  Even the embrace of Marx and Marxism generally was used in a rather undialectical fashion, a means simply to deconstruct the generally view of the university.  In contrast, one could re-imagine the universities not simply as victims of capitalism, but as agents of a different kind of economy, culture and society.   This kind of imagining is blocked by the contemporary visions of entrepreneurship, but entrepreneurship need not lead to this result.  For example, students, faculty and administrators could attract certain kinds of capitalists to patronize their universities.  They could rally support for certain political parties that prioritized university autonomy from the market as well.

Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Beyond the Deconstructionist Obituary

We are basically left with three options. These mirror the choices laid out by Albert O. Hirschman in his classic text, Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and StatesIn the “loyalty” option, one simply goes with the flow and tries to raise money and exercise whatever autonomy is left in an increasingly bureaucratic and market-steered system, in which the market is dominated by political or corporate bureaucrats. The advantage to this approach is that the autonomy that can be salvaged at least provides a platform for critical teaching and some research that is also critical (even if the space gradually erodes in many places).  The disadvantage to this Robinson Crusoe view of the world is that it is basically solipsistic, Social Darwinism.

In the “voice” option, one tries to challenge the universities by making them less responsive to short-term forces.  Recent student protests in South Africa and Germany suggest that the movement to resist tuition hikes or abolish free tuition shows some viability to the voice option. The advantage of this approach is that it at least addresses class inequalities in terms of access to universities.  Perhaps, this approach allows us to maintain more critical universities and salvage the liberatory spaces that still exist. The disadvantage in this approach is that it assumes that the paradigmatic basis for reconstructing or even defending what once was dominant in the universities can always comes internally.  In contrast, I have already suggested that the academic world in its Left variant is itself part of the problem, i.e. the university by itself and left to its own devices and academic products cannot necessarily reinvest itself, i.e. it may need an external shock.

In the “exit” option, teachers and students can create dual or parallel structures to existing universities.  The advantage of this approach is that other milieus become more important than the university as spaces of learning and these spaces can then put pressure on the university to respond to a more reconstructive or critical worldview.  For example, the bohemian spaces of the Left Bank of Paris in Jean-Paul Sartre’s day, or Greenwich Village in an earlier era, acted like such a space.  Today, such spaces can partially be promoted virtually even in conjunction with face-to-face organizing.  The real strategic problem in what this external lobbying would promote by way of ideas.  Clearly, the era of simple deconstruction is being eroded by a cynical capitalist bureaucratic logic, hyper-racism, and other systematic crises.

In sum, there are basically three ways out.  One way is to rally the progressive forces in capitalism like certain churches, socially responsible businesses, cooperatives and companies promoting sustainable technologies, or even some ethnic or women’s driven firms.  This rallying effect would direct these forces to patronize and pay for the university and substitute for the less responsible capitalists.  Likewise, political campaigns should promote politicians who provided funds to free the universities from corporate and military control.  This kind of campaign could build on an effort to demilitarize the military-serving universities, the state and corporations.  In contrast, universities could be agents of a converted defense economy and a Green New Deal.  Here we might deploy a progressive, corporatist approach.

Secondly, one can create a kind of global, media space that linked study and action circles to the Internet and other media forms.  The Global Teach-In is one model for how to do this, showing how multiple communities could be organized and supported by face-to-face education and political mobilization.

Finally, one can combine the two models by mobilizing social movements and alternative institutions like citizen-run banks, utilities and transportation systems.  This Left corporatism could then become a kind of patronize system and lobbying organization that advocated a certain kind of pedagogy, albeit within the framework of a university autonomous from hegemonic, capitalist control.  Some universities actually turn to other kinds of foundations or capitalists to get different results.  This model is hardly sufficient, but could be joined to the social movement model to provide for a university that no longer has to meet the fate which deconstructionists have already predicted for it.


Connecting the Dots Working Group: Workshop in Stockholm

Connecting the Dots Working Group Workshop

Connecting the Dots (CTD) är ett nytt Stockholmsbaserat gräsrotinitiativ och en arbetsgrupp med syfte att fungera som tankesmedja, organisatör och initiativtagare. Vi vill bjuda in er  till en workshop. Våra medlemmar är aktiva inom den breda vänstern och inom gröna, feministiska, antimilitaristiska och antirasistiska rörelser som aktivister, akademiker, konstnärer och organisatörer. Vår utgångspunkt är att koppla ihop problem och utmaningar inom områden så som militarism, miljöfrågor, migration, rasism, sexism och strukturella ojämlikheter av ekonomi och makt. Vår ambition är att kartlägga varje områdes historia för att kunna belysa de bakomliggande orsakerna till problemen och därmed synliggöra långsiktiga lösningar. Vi avser att ”connect the dots” mellan olika problem med målet att utveckla förslag på konkreta (re)konstruktioner av alternativ och även länka samman relevanta rörelser, grupper och personer.

DAY AND TIME: Stockholm, 29 November, 2015, 9:00-12:15

LOCATION: Announced to those to register (location changed)



Brief Overview by Jonathan M. Feldman

The goal of the Connect the Dots Working Group is to promote a discussion and solutions related to a host of problems now confronting Sweden in matters related to social inclusion, foreign policy and the need to create a sustainable and democratic economy.  By “Connecting the Dots” we mean a system that allows us to not only connect different kinds of issues, but also connect to the processes that allow us to comprehensively address different problems.  Sweden currently faces significant challenges in three key areas: (a) the need for improved ethnic integration related to systematic ethnic exclusion and the new challenges related to a growing number of refugees; (b) a growing conflict with Russia and militarized foreign policy leading to arms exports, a buildup up in military budgets and push to NATO; and (c) ongoing challenges to address problems in energy supply, ecological sustainability and full employment linked to quality jobs.

Not only are comprehensive solutions rarely advanced to address these problems, but they are also addressed “serially,” i.e. as separate issues.  In contrast, addressing any one of these key problems becomes exceeding difficult without showing their linkages.  For example, problem (a) requires new resources, but many resources are devoted to (b) a military economy and arms exports, such exports go to conflict zones that potentially generate refugees.  Problem (c) is focused on external threats, yet a distorted view of the Russian Federation’s intentions has put less emphasis on significant environmental threats.  Resources devoted to (b) military budgets and technology, comes at the potential expense of (c) mass transit and alternative energy investments necessary for addressing the employment and ecological crises.  The refugee crisis (a) is based on wars and climate change, yet (b) arms exports contribute to refugees and (c) underinvestment  in a green economy worsens climate change.  These general problems (a), (b) and (c) are like the “dots” which we must connect.  Connecting the dots is a kind of “horizontal integration,” i.e. a way to link up issues.

In contrast, the media and politicians are often separating these issues.  Therefore, we must put pressure on the media and politicians.  Two ways to do this are first to critically analyze and pressure the media and second to mobilize large numbers of persons in a public demonstration of support for both comprehensive policies and “connecting the dots.” The aim of our workshop will be to explain this general problematic and address various solutions to it.  We will do this by providing a set of general ideas about the problems and potential solutions and involve the attendees of the workshop to help us design the plans necessary for the solutions.  We are focused on four separate action areas related to politics, media and culture which are explained below.   The conference is not simply an “academic discussion session,” but an action planning meeting to design and plan action scenarios which the group attached to the workshop will carry out in the future.  The idea is to promote “vertical integration” by linking critical ideas to a mass audience, e.g. ideas related to not just anti-racism, but also extending power to marginalized groups; not just opposing weapons exports rhetorically but decreasing the incentive system behind them; not just advocating clean energy, but promoting socially or cooperatively controlled energy utilities.

Our general approach is that we need to develop new kinds of political interventions which can help address both comprehensive policies internal to each thematic area as well as help connect these policies.  Our primary focus will be on four key kinds of interventions.  These include: a) creating a media accountability organization and network; b) using the internet and other media to promote mass mobilizations of local citizens which involve local face-to-face meetings as well as an interactive media component; c) study-action circles which provide research on solutions and help organize directed actions; and d) various artistic interventions which can link political meetings and various spaces in the radio, museums, galleries, the universities and other spaces.

Please read more about the workshop here:  Connecting the Dots Workshop, 29 NOVEMBER 2015 C


For a critical analysis of the Swedish media, read the following articles about: SVT and Dagens Nyheter as well as this analysis.

How to Build Affordable Housing in Sweden: A Thought Experiment for the Left


By Jonathan M. Feldman

The argument that it is impossible to build low cost housing sounds plausible, using the tools of standard housing economics, but it leaves many questions unanswered.

First, the population of Stockholm and other key locations will inevitably expand. One study suggests its growth will eventually outpace even London.  This puts pressure on the housing market via a demand that generates value given a static supply or lower growing supply, but also triggers other forces.

Second, given that expansion and within existing planning schemes, mass transportation services will expand. There is a cycle linking demand, transportation and surplus generation.

Third, given this expansion the value of property will appreciate along the new transportation corridors. This means that a certain degree of rent or surplus will exist which can be captured by the land owners and real estate interests.

Fourth, in Stockholm and other locations, these owners include the state. In 2010, public institutions controlled 15 percent of all land. This means that the state controls a firm amount of the surplus. Here we see how an economic circuit becomes a political circuit of power.

Fifth, even in areas where private interests exists, the land can also be put under social control via “land banks,” i.e. cooperatives that regulate rental costs, given collective land ownership. They can establish charters in which the sale of even a home on land they control (as opposed to housing that the private owner still owns) is regulated by a fixed percentage on its resale costs, i.e. housing is a right and should not be conceived of as an un-regulated commodity. Its under-regulation being the “fetishism of commodities” defined by “property as theft.”

Sixth, the ability to gain access to the resulting surplus by: (a) pressuring the state or (b) using consumption power to control land is possible given that there are about 1,000,000 left oriented voters/consumers in Sweden (Green Party+Left Party+FI), i.e. control over the surplus is not a technocratic economic question, but a political question.  The voter/consumers are not only a potential voting bloc, but also a procurement and social action bloc.

Seventh, the voter/consumer block could organize a new building cooperative to construct housing according to their specifications, assuming they gain power to leverage the state. It is hard to imagine that a movement of 500,000 persons could not put these things into motion if they were: (a) well organized, (b) highly motivated. There are a variety of schemes for socializing housing construction of making affordable housing. There are also mechanisms for cooperative procurement. In theory Sweden has such construction companies (as Henry Milner has explained in Sweden: Social Democracy in Practice), but the apparent problem is either how these entities have evolved (subject to market forces) or the lack of political will to increase taxation or design schemes that link profit and affordability.  The ability to link social movements to control over land has been seen in various squatting movements and cooperative land banks.  These decentralized models may have advantage over a top-down bureaucratic model in which large government bureaucracies and the construction industry complex simply devoid the real estate spoils.  Also, we have a large movement of so-called rental to housing cooperative conversion, somewhat like conversion of rental units to condominiums.  Yet, this is just as much a potential gentrification type movement as it is a liberating one.

zzzEighth, costs could be lowered or covered by: (a) capturing the transport surplus in property value appreciation in private homes allowed to inflate to market values, (b) mixing these with rent regulated housing, as well as (c) private homes purchased with a resale value limited by a charter, with people still willing to invest as the total costs are subsidized by (a) and as some degree of the resulting profit is shared via a dividend in the housing company gaining access to (a) and other profits from other building projects, and (d) a direct subsidy from the government by making targeting cuts in military spending and placing a nuisance tax (or increased one) on arms exports to any country outside of Western Europe, water-motor scooters, non-electric fueled land scooters, boats worth more than 500,000 Euro, red meat, and fast food franchises selling unhealthy food and contributing to obesity.  The rental to cooperative conversions we have seen don’t necessarily lead to construction of homes that link cooperatives to rental dwellings subsidized in part by profit and taxes.

Essentially what we see is that some persons promote the idea that the market rules, but the market is a political construction which is part of a dialectic. The other side of that dialectic is: (a) the total lack of imagination of almost all political parties, (b) the failure to leverage their political power into economic power, (c) the absence of a prevalent radical planning discourse in the universities, (d) the hegemony of paradigms tied to deconstruction, free market economics, neoliberalism, and all intellectual opponents of a coherent theory of militarism, surplus value and waste and (e) the weakness of competing ideologies tied to economic reconstruction and mutual aid.

A key part of the problem is that the market and state are both taken to be simply “independent variables” in the equations of economists, rather than “dependent variables” subject to manipulation or control via organized political action. The fetishism which suggests that we have only “rental” or “private” housing or also that rental housing in and of itself is progressive (rather than socialization of property) also muddies the intellectual waters. It is true that eliminating rental housing or rent controls is hardly a solution, however. Sadly, theories of political economy can be just as guilty of the “sins of omission” as theories of free markets or market allocations or even “public choice.” The failures do not just include the right, but also much of the “left” (depending on how that term is defined).


Deconstructing Peter Woladarski’s Editorial on the SD Poster Controversy

Deconstructing Peter Woladarski’s Låt SD vråla för sig själva i svensk politik  in Dagens Nyheter, August 9, 2015: An Analysis of Nine Key Problems


Picture 1: SD poster campaign; Picture 2: August 4, 2015 protest against posters

By Jonathan Michael Feldman, Posted August 9, 2015 and August 10, 2015


At one point in time, some Swedes had a clear idea of the limits of decision-making by the professional managerial class in Sweden.  These persons questioned the hierarchical decision-making by planners who had few accountability constraints placed upon them.  At the very least in the case of planners, social movements represented one constraint upon these decision-makers.  Today, the elite consensus opinion in Sweden is that journalists, bureaucrats, authorities and the like have the right to plan for the public without a direct feedback system from social movements if laws and politicians have sanctioned the decisions.  At one point, some even argue that the masses in a social movement or even the collective actions of persons taking down posters sponsored by a Nazi-originating organization are less valid than these laws and politicians.  The problem with this point of view is that the majority is not always right, a lesson taught us by the tragedies of Nazi Germany, the U.S. wars in Vietnam and Iraq, and the continuing legacy of Swedish arms exports.  These were all more or less legal or backed by a top-down bureaucratic system.

In the following analysis, I reflect on how the editor of Sweden’s leading newspaper has analyzed and judged the protest movement against the Swedish Democrats’ poster campaign implicitly aimed at Roma people and judged by this movement as racist and demeaning.  I identify nine key problems.  These problems are rooted in the Woladarski’s assumptions about what a democracy is or should be, how consciousness is formed (in terms of the roles of SD, protests, the media, the educational system, and the like), and what is a question of  tactics, morality, rights, or politics.  I believe that Woladarski is wrong in his interpretations because of his fundamental reading of Swedish history, i.e. the Swedish system has worked and the test of time proves that it has worked.  This belief I believe is the elite consensus because of course the system works for these elites.  Yet, the system is now failing various Swedes who are concerned about economic equality, demilitarization, the environmental crisis, media accountability, and a number of other issues like who controls public space, how can citizens develop a more crticial understanding of reality and how can we make mass transportation systems work more safely, efficiently, and equitably.

The background for this analysis is partially found in a series of articles I have written about the Swedish system.  These were published in Counterpunch in 2010 and 2014 and more recently on this website.  The 2014 article was summarized in an article published in Ordfront.  My basic viewpoints build on the work of Pierre Bourdieu, the Frankfurt School, the historical legacy of Swedish arms exports and my own efforts to promote research and public education about linking immigrant background persons (or “New Swedes”) to qualified jobs.

Picture 1,  PMCPicture 2, PMCProblem I: Confusing a tactical problem for a moral problem

Woladarski writes:

TV4 fick reklamfilmen på sitt bord och tackade nej – detta strider mot radio- och tv-lagens demokratiparagraf, hävdade dåvarande vd:n Jan Scherman.

Det blev ett väldigt liv, både från SD:s anhängare och motståndare. TV4 hamnade i skottgluggen. Hur man än agerade gjorde man fel, slog de tvärsäkra fast.


It is not correct to in my opinion to argue that whatever TV4 did would be wrong. Rather, for some audiences there was a correct position which other audiences would become alienated by.  This is always the case, but when it comes to slavery, genocide, racism, etc. we need to take sides.  The point about the subway posters being racist is actually less important than the fact that a Nazi-originating organization puts out propaganda.  Debating SD rather than just maligning them is a tactical question, not a moral question. I happen to believe the Left has not sufficiently attacked the premises of SD’s arguments, e.g. immigrants are always costing the society, etc.  So, I believe some of their arguments should be engaged, but that is not a moral problem.

Problem II: Confusing a moral problem for a tactical problem

Woladarski writes:

SD, å sin sida, verkade inte alls besvikna. Man hade uppnått en kraftig pr-effekt utan att betala en enda reklamkrona. Och efter några enkla retuscheringar i filmen fick man TV4 att ompröva sitt beslut och sända en “censurerad” version.


The argument is that direct and vocal attacks on SD have helped promote SD. The premise is incorrect because any SD propaganda that is not well understood is a byproduct not of the Left’s or anti-racists’ tactics but rather the poor quality of the media and educational institutions that provide weak cultural capital to properly decode or understand racism. This is the problem on the side of the receiving audience. The other problem is that SD is effective because the established mass media have helped promote SD with their superficial coverage.  That is the problem on the supply side of the communications chain.  If the Left were to give SD a larger profile by complaining against them, this tactical problem is the result of a moral commitment.  Thus, whereas before Woladarski confuses a tactical problem with a moral issue, here he takes a moral problem and makes it a tactical issue.

Problem III: Misunderstanding the Logic of Cultural Capital and the Utility of Crises

Woladarski writes:

Partiet som kommunicerar genom att chocka, som ser ett egenvärde i att bryta tabun kring hur man debatterar anständigt, som betraktar all publicitet som bra publicitet – även om det sker på bekostnad av utsatta minoriteter.


The idea suggested is that SD’s strategy is to win through a shock effect.  Any scandal is thought to benefit SD or is a contributing factor to SD’s growth.  The problem with the logic above, however, is that this scandal also contributed to a rather large demonstration against SD.  So, the logic of crises and scandals can cut both ways. Furthermore, we still have to account for the critical capacities of audiences who are negatively and positively effected by such shocks, i.e. why are they so low?  We have the problem of the need for even larger protests against such SD tactics and we have the fact that there is still a large audience that is convinced by such shock tactics. The size of that audience is not simply based on what SD does but the critical capacities of the audience.

Problem IV:  A Failure to Understand the Universal Superficiality of the Discourse; Confusing a Problem of Ethics and Tactics with a Problem of Rights

Woladarski writes:

Sverigedemokraterna sitter i Stockholms landstingsfullmäktige. Det ska mycket till – förmodligen rena olagligheter – för att tjänstemännen på det politiskt styrda SL ska kunna säga nej till partiet, om inte all politisk annonsering ska stoppas. Men det är ytterst en fråga för politikerna.

Later on he continues:

SL bör tillåta politisk annonsering, men den kan inte vara så koncentrerad och dominerande. Det ska vara möjligt att slippa den. Budskapen måste vari­eras med annan reklam och späs ut. Inte heller bör det vara möjligt att i agi­tationen angripa enskilda eller grupper av människor.


Given the lack of cultural capital by the reading audience, Woladarski has hit on something which he does not really advocate and opposes, i.e. ban all political advertising.  The level of information in these posters across the board, among all parties, is rather superficial.  So, why is this superficially provided information that is superficially understood in “the public interest”? Why doesn’t the Swedish media have a more critical understanding of what this interest is?

The formal rights of politicians to make decisions is not terribly meaningful to someone who sees that these rights have been ineffective in stopping  anti-Semitism and racism or gender inequality for that matter.  These political decisions have sustained anti-Semitism, racism, discrimination, economic inequality and the like.  In other words, what appears for Woladarski as a matter of formal rights, is rather much a problem of ethics and tactics.  The ethics of interest are the immorality of the system of oppression and the politicians who sustain that system. The tactics correspond to what the oppressed do when the politicians fail, as they have failed (for a long time).

Problem V:  Failing to Understand the Hegemonic System and Ideological Power

Woladarski writes:

SL bör tillåta politisk annonsering, men den kan inte vara så koncentrerad och dominerande. Det ska vara möjligt att slippa den. Budskapen måste vari­eras med annan reklam och späs ut. Inte heller bör det vara möjligt att i agi­tationen angripa enskilda eller grupper av människor.


This is his strongest argument in my opinion.  Yet, one can raise the stakes higher, i.e. how do we escape the exposure to superficial information in advertisements, in the mass media, and the educational system, i.e. how do we contest that?

Problem VI:  Conflating Ethics and Power

Woladarski writes:

Varken juridik eller aktivism av det destruktiva slag vi sett i veckan kommer att skydda svensk samhällsdebatt mot de yxhugg som SDbidragit med.


Here we have an excellent example of how legal discourse, references to the judiciary’s preferences and the force of law substitute for a conversation on what is ethical and what tactically should be done about it.  The idea that such laws are heaven granted or respond to majorities as if might makes right is rather naïve in my opinion.

Problem VII:  Seeing the Masses as the Only Gatekeeper and Letting the Culture Elite Off the Hook

Woladarski writes:

Yttrandefriheten förutsätter också att sådana yttranden får framföras – och bemötas med argument. Den dagen en folksamling tar sig rättenatt med våld bestämma vad som ska få sägas i samhällsdebatten är vi illa ute. Mobbens logik leder dit populisterna önskar: mot kaos och rädsla.


Woladarski is correct that mobs of citizens should not decide what is accepted for public debate, but there is a limit to this.  The first problem is the following: What happens when citizens who are offended, objectified and alienated by hate speech react to that speech?  Are they simply a mob? No.  The second problem is the objective reality is that the cultural elite, a few persons (involving hundreds), are basically deciding the limits of public debate as part of their professional duties.  Is this any better than a “mob” deciding?  My answer: No.  In fact, social movements might be considered less elitist than professionals currying to elite opinion.  Granted social movements can be top-down or less than democratic, but in that respect they would mirror the framing systems and hierarchy of elite opinion and professionals (be they lawyers, educators, or journalists) tied to and supportive of the status quo.

Problem VIII:  Failing to Understand Nuremberg, Civil Disobedience and Higher Ethics

Woladarski writes:

Varken juridik eller aktivism av det destruktiva slag vi sett i veckan kommer att skydda svensk samhällsdebatt mot de yxhugg som SDbidragit med.


The author fails to explain which activism he feels is destructive.  Does he feel that the tearing down of posters produced by a political party with origins in the Swedish Nazi movement is actually destructive?  If he feels this way, it seems his logic is based on the fact that the law, judiciary and the like are what we must protect, so the attack on the posters is an attack on that law, judiciary and the like that we hold dear and value.  The problem, however, is that this law, judiciary and the like are a foundation in mainstream society which SD uses to propel itself in the democracy.  Does this mean that might makes right and we should trash all laws?  Not necessarily, but we also have obligations to engage in civil disobedience actions against Nazis because the Nazi era taught us that laws are not sacrosanct simply because majorities support them.  Is this a slippery slope, i.e. the Nazis and SD could start attacking things that are legal and useful?  Yes, it is potentially so, but not if one understands how Nazis are historically differentiated and represent a special curse on society.  Is SD a Nazi party?  No, they are a Nazi-originating party.  They are useful politically to Nazis and they suffer from “the original sin” of being founded by Nazis and the accumulating sin of continually making racist statements, i.e. Jews are not real Swedes, etc.  How anyone with a shred of moral integrity could ignore this is sadly obvious to me, i.e. law is placed above morality because the most important thing is to keep the system going, even when it is plain rotten.

Problem IX: Ignoring the Lessons of Swedish History and the Pernicious Repressive Tolerant Culture

Woladarski writes:

Det bästa botemedlet mot förgrovning och förvrängning är att hålla fast vid anständighet och en civiliserad samtalston. Mot rasism måste motstånd resas. Men det ska aldrig ske på rasisternas villkor. När SD vrider upp ljudvolymen maximalt bör de andra partierna svara genom att återställa ljudnivån. När SD ägnar sig åt att sprida rädsla och mytbilder borde övriga reagera med saklighet och humanism – utan att undvika de verkliga samhällsproblem som SD försöker exploatera.

Det är att knyta an till kärnan i vår politiska kultur, som författaren och journalisten Per T Ohlsson beskriver i standardverket “Svensk politik”: besinningen, förmågan att kompromissa och lösa problem, att inte dra iväg mot det extrema.

Det finns en stor, tyst majoritet svenskar som längtar efter en politisk debatt som premierar saklighet och nyanser framför det gälla och chockerande.

Detta är en tradition som växt fram under närmare 200 år. Den är svensk, i ordets sanna mening.


Anyone seriously studying the history of anti-Semitism and racism in Sweden can’t honestly believe that this Swedish system has worked terribly well.  The continuities between campaigns to keep Jews out by Uppsala students and the repressive tolerance of anti-Semitism in Malmö are clear to see for those who are not blind to them. In both cases, anti-Semitism is sustained by an educational system that does not convince anti-Semites to change their views about Jews.  The pathology of hatred has not been rooted out because the system has tolerated it.  The fact that civilized debate has allowed arms exports to thugs, dictators and poor countries year after year is also part of the historical record.

For further reading, read this extensive analysis of the poster controversy and the movement against it.  Also, read about how Swedish Television also plays a role in complicating a comprehensive solution to the right-wing backlash against immigrants and refugees.

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

Global Teach-In Blog, Post 1

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

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:

Why is manufacturing important?

Why are Manufactured Goods Important?

1) Manufactured goods are necessary for trade. According to the World Trade Organization, 80% of interregional trade is in goods, and only 20% is in services. For the U.S., the statistics are about the same. That means that we need goods to trade for foreign goods, or we rack up a large and growing trade deficit, which the United States has been doing for many decades now. This will eventually threaten the value of the dollar; if the dollar becomes very cheap, imports will become very expensive, and the U.S. won’t have the capacity to replace imports. In addition, the global trade system has become very unbalanced, with many nations basing their own growth on growth of exports to the U.S., even though they keep taking dollars instead of goods. This state of affairs can not go on forever; even Ben Bernanke, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, has said so.

2) Manufactured goods are crucial for the service industries. Even though about two-thirds of most economies are composed of service industries, these service industries are dependent on manufactured goods for their operation and for their own technological progress. For instance, the retail and warehousing industries, which comprise about 11 percent of American GNP (value-added), are in the business of selling manufactured goods. The airline industry, the telecommunications industry, and the software industry depend on airplanes, phones and broadcast equipment, and computers for both their existence and for their technological progress.

3) Each manufacturing job creates three other jobs. In the U.S., the Economic Policy Institute has found that each manufacturing job supports three other jobs in the wider economy, through something called “the multiplier effect.” That is, the wages from manufacturing employees are re-spent in other parts of the economy, because manufacturing adds so much value to the economy.

4) Economic growth depends on manufacturing. Manufacturing productivity, that is, the goods that are output from a specific amount of input, increases by about 3 percent each year in the U.S., year in and year out, because technological advances are always being made for factory machinery. By contrast, service industries either have very slow productivity growth or depend, directly or indirectly, on technological progress in machinery. In addition, since machines can make other machines, what is called exponential growth, as in quickly reproducing animal populations, can take place.

5) National power depends to a great extent on manufacturing power. Over the last 100 years, the “Great Powers”, or most powerful four or five countries, have controlled about 75 percent of global industrial machinery production.This is because industrial machinery is used both to generate national wealth and to produce military equipment. If all regions of the world had an independent capacity to produce manufactured goods, there would be little opportunity to intimidate and dominate countries. In fact, there would probably be fewer wars because global power would be balanced.

6) A world in which all regions had a strong manufacturing base would go far to eliminate poverty and war. Manufacturing creates middle class jobs that anchor a middle class economy. Unions thrive in manufacturing industries because it is easier for the employees to bargain. If all global regions have the power to create the wealth that comes with manufacturing, there will be less opportunity for wars to break out as a result of imbalances of power.



About Diego Rivera’s mural: The panel represented above is a portion of Rivera’s grand mural series at the Detroit Institute of Arts: “The Detroit Industry fresco cycle was conceived by Mexican muralist Diego Rivera (1886–1957) as a tribute to the city’s manufacturing base and labor force of the 1930s. Rivera completed the twenty-seven panel work in eleven months, from April 1932 to March 1933.” The section depicted shows not only social divisions but an industry tied to a then petroleum-based manufacturing technology. Today, Detroit and the industry attempt to diversify into greener cars with ongoing initiatives to bring more rail-based mass transit to this auto-centered city.