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As Trump Party Like is 1929. Nation Seeks Alternative to Suicidal Economic System.

Cooperatives Facing Challenges Against Titanic Capitalist System.

Conceptualizing Cooperatives as a Challenge to Capitalist Thinking

As capitalism lurches from crisis to crisis, and a world beyond capitalism becomes a possibility contemplated by increasing numbers of people, finding a path forward becomes an ever more urgent task.

That path is likely to contain a multitude of possibilities and experiments, not all of which will prove viable. Psychological barriers will surely be a major inhibition to overcome; possibly the biggest roadblock given the still ubiquitous idea of “there is no alternative” that has survived despite growing despair at the mounting inequality and precarious futures offered by capitalism. In short, a viable alternative to the capitalist structure of enterprises and society is urgently necessary.

Cooperatives represent a “counter-narrative” to the idea, inculcated in us from our youngest ages, that a small group of bosses are naturally entitled to exert leadership and thus are the only people with the capabilities of running an enterprise, argues Peter Ranis in his latest book, Cooperatives Confront Capitalism: Challenging the Neoliberal Economy. Putting to use his considerable knowledge of Argentine and Cuban cooperatives, and combining that with a challenging argument about the possibilities of worker cooperatives in the center of world capitalism, the United States, Professor Ranis argues that the cooperative form can indeed posit a challenge to capitalist hegemony.

In his opening chapter, in answering his own question “Why worker cooperatives?,” in the context of working people building a Gramscian “counter-hegemony,” he writes:

“This requires a working class movement that moves beyond wages, hours and working conditions and into the realm of owning and maintaining production that leads to controlling local economies that demonstrate working-class capacity for impacting on societal economies and, by extension, politics and the concomitant public policy. Cooperatives would, indeed, be the key ingredient to a proletarian hegemonic outcome. … What worker cooperatives provide is a counter-narrative to the one that assumes that only owners and managers can provide leadership and function effectively in the world of production.” [pages 15-16]

It is indisputably true that counterposing living examples of working people’s successful self-management is a prerequisite to breaking down current capitalist cultural hegemony. But, in contrast to more traditional ideas that state ownership should be the alternative, Professor Ranis argues that it is the cooperative form, because workers there assume all management functions, that can build an alternative. His argument, however, is not pollyannaish by any means — cooperatives face serious challenges at the hands of capitalist governments not to mention the direct hostility of capitalists themselves.

No easy path for Argentine cooperatives

For all the success of Argentina’s cooperatives in providing a better standard of living and vastly superior working conditions to their members, the road has been a hard one — and those cooperatives still constitute a minuscule portion of the Argentine economy. Moreover, not all those in Argentina who formed cooperatives necessarily wished to do so — converting the recovered factories into state-owned enterprises with worker control was often the original goal and in some cases that is still the hoped-for outcome. (Although at the moment, given the harsh neoliberal policies of the new government of Mauricio Macri, that is off the table for now.)

Cooperatives Confront Capitalism does not hold back from discussing the difficulties. These cooperatives formed when the former capitalist owners decided to close down production and/or had not paid the workers for long periods, sometimes months. Forced to take matters into their own hands, workers occupied their workplaces and physically defended themselves, with the help of the surrounding communities. Argentine law was not on their side — bankruptcy codes heavily favor creditors, assets are quickly sold and judges have too much arbitrary power. Nor is there a national law facilitating this process; a patchwork of provincial and municipal laws, with varying terms, prevail. New coops face difficulty obtaining loans and credit, and are often forced to pay for supplies in cash.

The route to survival for coops has been involvement with local communities, making donations, becoming involved in others’ struggles and fostering the idea that cooperatives can’t survive on their own but must be part of a struggle for socialism. Leaders are rotated, positions of day-to-day management have set terms and all major strategic decisions are made collectively in meetings of all members. Coop salaries are higher than salaries in capitalist enterprises and working conditions are far safer. This sense of solidarity is a principal — Professor Ranis quotes a leader at the FaSinPat ceramics plant (the former Zánon factory) in this way:

“When we have to support another struggle, we stop production because it is a social investment, a sowing that we reap in the future.” [page 66]

Thus struggle does not stop at the factory gates. Professor Ranis elaborates:

“The Zánon workers see their factory as being at the service of the community and not the market, and that attitude has been translated into countless acts of solidarity, for which they have been compensated by the community in five attempts by the provincial police to take over the factory. … They argue that an effective state must take responsibility for creating jobs while allowing workers to control production and extend its surplus to the whole community.” [page 68]

An easier path in Cuba?

Cooperatives have become a steadily growing experiment in Cuba. There, cooperatives have a firmer footing because they are being formed with government support. This, however, is mostly a top-down process, with most coops being formed at government insistence by converting state-owned enterprises. Cooperatives Confront Capitalism does not shy away from critiques of this process, noting the top-down decision-making, that although there is considerable input from below it remain consultative, and that bureaucratic barriers impede the formation of coops created from scratch.

The self-employed sector remains larger than the cooperative sector, and most Cuban workers continue to work in the state sector as the coops are concentrated in services. Professor Ranis also points out that inequality is returning to Cuba. Only some have relatives elsewhere who can send home remittances, and the re-sale of goods bought in the U.S. is highly profitable, and thus another source of inequality. The author argues that a movement from below is necessary to re-establish egalitarianism, especially as ration books are likely to be phased out for all but the poorest.

Nonetheless, he argues Cuban coops are a positive step forward and have a much better chance at success than do coops in Argentina or the United States. They are one of the best ways to democratize and de-centralize Cuban society, and also provides a path for fallow agricultural land to be put back into productive use. Neither private capital nor the state sector can meet workers’ needs; a worker-centered approach can defend against capitalist and state socialist forms, he writes.

Professor Ranis, in the middle of the book, makes a case for a great increase in the use of the cooperative form in the United States, where coops remain rare. Although most readers will likely find at least some of his prescriptions controversial, he does make them effectively. Arguing that capital that relocates should pay penalties for a “broken contract” with the local community, he calls for the use of eminent domain to block such moves. In what could be seen as a partial misstep, he argues that the controversial U.S. Supreme Court decision Kelo v. New London provides a legal precedent that can be used for worker and community benefit.

The argument for using eminent domain to take over enterprises that would otherwise be moved by their capitalist owners certainly is intriguing, and merits the exploration that Cooperatives Confront Capitalism provides. But an expansion of the Kelo decision runs the risk of becoming pyrrhic. The Supreme Court found constitutionally legal a plan by the city of New London, Connecticut, to tear down a neighborhood to build a speculative complex intended to attract shoppers and tourists; a move that backfired when the pharmaceutical company Pfizer did not in fact expand there but instead moved from the area.

The author paints the Kelo decision in a more positive light than merited by asserting that the city government had a well thought out plan that would have benefited the displaced community when in fact it was to benefit corporate interests. He also, without being specific, mentions a Brooklyn eminent-domain case as an example of positive development. I do not know what example the author had in mind, but the most prominent example of this activity in Brooklyn is the destruction of a neighborhood to build an unneeded basketball arena (there were already four in the metropolitan area) and luxury housing too expensive for the people of the surrounding area to afford. That is not the sort of “development” any community needs.

The creative use of eminent domain in the U.S.

Thus eminent domain risks being a tool for corporate plunder rather than the hoped-for tool to save jobs. Professor Ranis argues that the Kelo decision provides a legal cover for the taking of property for “the public good,” but doesn’t mention that the judge who wrote the decision, John Paul Stevens, was clearly uncomfortable and took the unusual step of advising state governments in how to circumvent the ruling. On the other hand, that such a decision went against the personal preferences of the ruling judges does admittedly boost the author’s argument that Kelo provides a possible route to expropriating runaway capitalists. In this reading, Kelo provides the legal basis for a government to take over an enterprise that would otherwise be moved and turn it into a cooperative, and should even become the “default option” to combat a closure.

Notwithstanding issues we might have with specific examples, the author does advance his case well:

“We need to use eminent domain for development purposes much as we use the legislative rights to tax and spend, zone for economic purposes, and regulate for consumer and environmental protections. … When workers occupy factories and enterprises they are not really taking something. They are trying to keep something that is already theirs, through their work, through their production of important goods and services, through allowing capital to be invested, and supplying the community with their taxes, their consumption expenditures and their everyday involvement in the civic life of their community.” [page 109]

Regardless of the route to their formation, government support and early subsidies are necessary for the coop sector to flourish. Such support is not currently the case; as an example, New York City provided $ 3 million in subsidies for 44 cooperatives while the New York state government gave $ 70 million to one capitalist aluminum factory to keep it from relocating. Without government help and access to low-interest credit, the odds of success are not high, given the capitalist headwinds that are inevitable, although the author notes that, for one example, Canadian coops survive at a higher rate than traditional enterprises.

But those that do make it provide a sterling example, superseding the “simplistic idea” that private property belongs only to the owner — “workers cannot be separated from the capital they produce.” [page 116] The book concludes with a call for “human development”:

“Cooperatives are basic to human development because their success depends on the emancipation of the whole worker rather than what the erstwhile capitalist wanted of them and determined for them.” [page 155]

However we might quibble with this or that specific passage, Professor Ranis has provided a well-reasoned argument for cooperatives as a form that shatters the tired, self-serving shibboleths of capitalism, when advanced in tandem with militant social movements at community and national levels. Demonstrating to ourselves that we can run the enterprises we work in is indispensable, and his book is thus a strong step forward.

Conceptualizing Cooperatives as a Challenge to Capitalist Thinking

We Need a New Kind of Anti-War Movement
It’s time to divest from U.S. militarism at home and abroad and reinvest in black, brown and working-class communities.

Editor’s note: This testimony was presented at the People's Tribunal on the Iraq War, which took place December 1-2 in Washington D.C. under the leadership of CodePink, Institute for Policy Studies, Washington Peace Center, and numerous other organizations.

There is a fundamental relationship between the oppression experienced by black people living in the U.S. and the oppression experienced by people around the world living under the U.S. empire. We are connected through legacies of white supremacy, imperialism and neoliberal policies that advance corporate power at the expense of our communities.

The Movement for Black Lives is an anti-war, internationalist movement. We demand an end to the wars being waged in Iraq and throughout the Middle East, across the continent of Africa, in our own neighborhoods here at home and around the world, a reinvestment in black communities domestically and reparations for the endless death and destruction that our people, and all working-class people, have experienced at the hands of the corporate war machine.

We recognize that the State’s decision to invest in mass incarceration and policing over programs that build the futures of black people—like free public education, affordable housing and a guaranteed federal jobs program—is directly tied to their same decision to invest in waging war and expanding U.S. military presence abroad. The U.S. government spends more resources criminalizing poor people, incarcerating poor people and paying corporations to destroy our communities and then paying them again to “build them back” than it does on actually creating policies and programs to advance our wellbeing. We demand an end to the profiteering off our suffering, our death and our destruction.

The war in Iraq has led to the destabilization first and foremost of the Iraqi people, but it has also contributed to the destabilization of communities across the globe, including black, brown and working-class people in the United States. Money that could be used to create jobs, build schools and equip communities with the resources they need to thrive is instead being used to wage terror against our people here and around the world, all while fattening the wallets of major U.S. corporations. Each day, the United States spends nearly $ 10 million in Iraq, totaling over $ 2 trillion since the start of the war, with no end in sight. In the years since 9/11 and the establishment of the U.S.-driven global war on terror, U.S. military spending has increased by 50 percent, with hundreds of billions going directly to private corporations. Each year, we spend nine times more on war than on education and 20 times more than on social security and unemployment programs. This choice means that instead of affordable education and job opportunities for young people, we are sending many of them off to war—or waging war against them with police violence here at home.

My partner Steve, like many in our generation, could not afford college. His historically black college, Florida A & M University, saw massive budgetary cuts under former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who was leading the war in Florida against public education, black people and the working class while his brother George waged war in Afghanistan and Iraq. FAMU has also experienced cuts federally under almost every recent presidential administration, including President Obama. These cuts were targeted directly at historically black colleges and universities precisely because they are black. As a result, his school lacked a strong financial aid program despite its status as a public university. His single mother couldn’t afford to support him either. Steve went into the military because he felt it was the only path forward. Going to war felt like a better gamble than a guaranteed life of poverty.

Steve’s story is not the exception, but the rule of Iraq-era veterans. This government’s decision not to invest in the lives of working-class people, but in massive bailouts for Wall Street, means that increasingly, the working class—not the governing class—is sent to war. More poor people have gone and been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan than in any wars prior. Working-class people should not have to kill to make corporations richer, just so they can pay for college and maybe get a good job.

Since 9/11, the war on terror has killed at least 1.3 million people in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq alone. In addition, the U.S. has expanded western colonial control over Africa in the name of fighting terrorism through the establishment of the U.S. military program, AFRICOM. The U.S. has killed thousands across the globe through drone policy and increased militarization of our communities domestically through surveillance, increased policing and mass incarceration. Companies like G4S have been contracted by the State to incarcerate black people in the U.S., uphold apartheid in Palestine, guard Iraqi oilfields and attack water protectors in favor of big oil in Standing Rock. We know our struggles are not exactly the same, but it should be very clear that we are fighting against the same systems.

Today, we live in a society that imagines itself at war with an unnamed enemy that will always be there, so much so that we would rather spend resources killing people than building the futures of young people. The U.S. war machine, just like the prison machine, runs on lies about who we are, what our problems are and what solutions should be put forward to address these problems. It has created a culture of violence that presumes black and brown people are innately criminal and terrorist, that people ought to kill one another all the time whether or not war is declared, and that death and incarceration are the only solutions to the problems we face. The war machine centers money-making over actual diplomacy. It turned Iraq into a fully privatized market, a playground for corporations to make money off of lies, invasion, death, occupation and “reconstruction” of Iraqi communities.

The post-9/11 war machine has boasted a culture in which corporations are openly profiting off of the destruction of black and poor people. It happened in Iraq, it happened in Afghanistan, it happens at home, it’s spreading and we need to stop it.

Throughout history, black and brown people have been the driving force pushing the U.S. toward the ideals it articulates but has never achieved. Today, we continue this legacy through courageously fighting to end the war against our people, repair harm and attain the political and economic power necessary to determine our own destiny. We do this because we know another way is possible. The black radical tradition calls on us to build a broad-based left agenda rooted in ending imperialism, white supremacy and capitalism. We will not win if our only call to unite is to end this war. We must be equally invested in building black, brown and working-class communities here. We need a clear call for reinvestment. This is an opportunity for our various movements to come together under a single agenda.

This is a fight against neoliberalism. This is a poor people’s movement against the uber-rich, regardless of political party, who see us as collateral in their scheme to make billions. Donald Trump has presented himself as the anti-war, anti-interventionist, populist president for and by the people. It is clear that the neoliberal war-making of the Democratic party is a total disaster, so instead we have a fascist who claims anti-interventionism. Trump has co-opted our language against intervention even as we see arms companies’ stocks rising since he became president.

The only way we can defeat this fascism is by building a strong anti-war position, one that sees the wars being waged against our comrades around the world as connected to the wars being waged against working-class people in the United States. We need to build a position that sees the expansion of policing and militarism against black people, immigrants of every race and working-class folks in the U.S. as connected to the expansion of U.S. military presence abroad.

The time for status quo is over. An anti-war movement that does not engage black people locally is not enough, and a black liberation movement that is not loud and clear in its call to end U.S. imperialism is also not enough. This is not to say our struggles are the same, but rather, we must recognize that we are struggling under the same systems and that we know we cannot break free from these systems if anyone around the world continues to suffer under them.

So what will you do if Black Lives Matter is a put on a terrorist watch list? What will you do if Trump follows through on his calls for mass deportations or for the establishment of the Muslim registry? What are we all doing about Standing Rock?

We live in the belly of the empire and because of this we bear a particular responsibility for what is happening around the world. There is no longer time to see our struggles in silos. We must work together to tear down U.S. empire. There is no excuse. Global liberation depends on it.

We Need a New Kind of Anti-War Movement

Social justice leaders from Vatican, world to converge in Modesto – and here’s why

Modesto becomes a world stage in February when a Vatican co-sponsored conference gathers more than 600 people from across the world to discuss social justice issues.

The U.S. regional World Meeting of Popular Movements will be held Feb. 16-19 at Central Catholic High School, an interfaith gathering where grass-roots community representatives will meet along with papal and international social justice group leaders.

Pope Francis is exploring an off-site presence, including the possibility of teleconferencing into parts of the convening, which is co-sponsored by the Vatican’s department for Integral Human Development, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, and PICO – the largest network of faith-based groups in the nation.

Among those from the Vatican planning to attend is Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the IHD. Turkson is among Francis’ senior leaders and president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

“This is a gathering which is being taken out to the regions and to the national levels,” Turkson said in a news release from PICO. “The gathering is about the dignity of all people, which we don’t receive from any government; it’s something we are born with. We encourage all grass-roots movements to join us in Modesto.”

The three Central Valley dioceses – Stockton, Sacramento and Fresno – are co-hosts, according to Sister Terry Davis, Diocese of Stockton director of communications. Catholic churches in the greater Modesto region are part of the Stockton Diocese.

The conference is closed to the public, but each diocese will be allowed to send delegates.

While there have been other such conferences – held in 2014 and 2016 in Rome and 2015 in Bolivia – the Modesto 2017 gathering marks the first in the United States, according to PICO, People Improving Communities through Organizing.

The conference aims to help grass-roots groups push for worker rights, housing and environmental justice, according to the PICO release. Sister Davis said the selection of Modesto is appropriate given Stockton Diocese Bishop Stephen Blaire’s experience working for and concern with social justice issues.

“Bishop Blaire has been very active in these kinds of issues and groups, really working to improve society for those who have so little,” Davis said. “Bishop Blaire is very committed; therefore, I think he became known” to those organizing the conference.

Ralph McCloud, director of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development at USCCB, said in an email interview that the planned key themes of land, housing and work are particularly important in the Valley.

“Because these themes are so prominent in the Central Valley, the organizers … wanted to locate the event in Modesto,” McCloud said. “The Catholic Church in the U.S. stands in solidarity with grass-roots organizations working to transform what the pope has called the ‘economy of exclusion’ to promote human dignity, justice and peace.”

Other “resonant issues in the U.S context, racism and migration,” also will be on the agenda, McCloud said.

Along with bishops and other religious leaders, McCloud said grass-roots community attendees will include immigrant rights activists, young people involved in Black Lives Matter, indigenous leaders, low-wage workers, formerly incarcerated individuals, small family farmers and members of worker cooperatives.

Local diocesan delegates are still being worked out, Davis said.

McCloud said Francis is expected to have a presence in some form, whether “through written testimony or reporting or through video or teleconference.”

The pope has “made it a point to ‘accompany’ these grass-roots organizers on their journey: to learn from them, to encourage them and to lend his moral authority to their cause,” McCloud said. “He has called them ‘social poets’ for the way in which they reimagine and reorganize their world to promote greater justice and human dignity for those who have been shut out or discarded by an economy that, in the Pope’s words, excludes and kills.”

Social justice leaders from Vatican, world to converge in Modesto – and here’s why

Definitive data on what poor people buy when they’re just given cash

It is increasingly common for governments to give poor people money. Rather than grant services or particular goods to those in poverty, such as food or housing, governments have found that it is more effective and efficient to simply hand out cash. In some cases, these cash transfers are conditional on doing something the government deems good, like sending your children to school or getting vaccinated. In other cases, they’re entirely unconditional.

For decades, policymakers have been concerned that poor people will waste free money by using it on cigarettes and alcohol. A report on the perception of stakeholders in Kenya about such programs found a “widespread belief that cash transfers would either be abused or misdirected in alcohol consumption and other non-essential forms of consumption.”

The opposite is true, according to a recently published research paper (paywall) by David Evans of the World Bank and Anna Popova of Stanford University.

Evans and Popova’s research is based on an examination of 19 studies that assess the impact of cash transfers on expenditures of tobacco and alcohol. Not one of the studies found that cash grants increase tobacco and alcohol consumption and many found that they lead to a reduction. The researchers also conducted a meta-analysis—a statistical technique for combining the results from across studies—and again found that, overall, receiving cash slightly reduced tobacco and alcohol consumption.

Why on earth would this be? Evans and Popova highlight several possibilities.

One, the cash transfers may change a poor household’s economic calculus. Before receiving the cash, any spending on education or health might have seemed futile, but afterwards, parents might decide that a serious investment in their children’s school was sensible. To make this happen, it might mean cutting back on booze and smoking.

Two, there’s what economists call the “The Flypaper Effect.” Behavioral economics research shows that when money is given for a specific purpose, people and organizations do tend to use it for that purpose, even when there is no one forcing them. In the case of cash transfers, households are generally told to use the money for family welfare.

Lastly, cash transfers are usually made to women. When women rule over household income, it’s more likely to be used on food and children’s health, studies find.

Regardless of why, the idea that poor people will use any cash they get for cigarettes and alcohol has been laid waste.

Definitive data on what poor people buy when they’re just given cash

Trump and the Pain of Blue-Collar Whites

Exclusive: The plight of working-class white Americans, as their jobs have disappeared and self-destructive behavior has shortened their lives, helps explain Donald Trump’s success, writes Jonathan Marshall.

By Jonathan Marshall

The shocking new report that U.S. life expectancy declined last year is not only a disturbing indicator of Americans’ troubled physical health — our expected lifespan now ranks only 31st in the world — but of our troubled political health as well.

Social scientists and a few number-crunching journalists have uncovered surprising geographic correlations between white voters’ propensity to support Donald Trump and rates of drug overdoses, suicide and morbid conditions like obesity, which are major contributors to the national decline in life expectancy. Some examples:

–A study published this December by sociologist Shannon Monnat at Penn State University, focusing on the industrial Midwest, Appalachia and New England, confirmed that Trump performed significantly better than Mitt Romney in counties with higher death rates from drugs, alcohol and suicide. In parts of the Midwest suffering from the worst death rates, Trump outperformed Romney by a remarkable 16.7 percent, more than double his edge in counties with lower mortality rates.

–Using county-level data from the University of Washington, The Economist found that rates of obesity, diabetes, heavy drinking, and lack of exercise were the single best predictor of the change in eligible voters who went Republican from 2012 to 2014, holding other factors like race, education, and income constant. According to its model, “if diabetes were just 7% less prevalent in Michigan, Mr. Trump would have gained 0.3 fewer percentage points there, enough to swing the state back to the Democrats. Similarly, if an additional 8% of people in Pennsylvania engaged in regular physical activity, and heavy drinking in Wisconsin were 5% lower, Mrs. Clinton would be set to enter the White House.”

–Similar factors also helped Trump against other Republican contenders. Analyzing the Super Tuesday primaries, the Washington Post’s Jeff Guo concluded that “Donald Trump performed the best in places where middle-aged whites are dying the fastest.” Guo called it “striking that Trump’s promise to ‘Make America Great Again’ has been most enthusiastically embraced by those who have seen their own life’s prospects diminish the most — not [only] in terms of material wealth, but in terms of literal chances of survival. . . . We still don’t know what exactly is causing middle-aged white death rates to rise, but it seems that Donald Trump has adeptly channeled this white suffering into political support.”

Penn State’s Monnat cites the example of Scioto County in Ohio, a blue-collar region described eloquently by Sam Quinones in his book Dreamland.

Following the loss of its factories in the 1980s and 1990s, the country became “the pill-mill capital of America, with more prescription pain relievers per capita than any other place in the country. Today in Scioto County, incomes are lower than in the 1980s, and poverty, disability, and unemployment rates are high. Scioto County’s drug, alcohol and suicide mortality rate more than doubled from 32.9 in 1999 to 74.8 in 2014, and Trump received 33 percent more of the county’s vote than Romney.”

Monnat concludes, “Ultimately, at the core of increasingly common ‘deaths of despair’ is a desire to escape – escape pain, stress, anxiety, shame, and hopelessness. These deaths represent only a tiny fraction of those suffering from substance abuse and mental health diseases and disorders, and the effects ripple beyond the individuals who die to include families, friends, first responders, service providers, and employers. Drug and alcohol disorders and suicides are occurring within a larger context of people and places desperate for change.”

Although the causal links to national politics are complex, the rising physical distress of many white Americans is closely linked to their rising economic distress. Together, those conditions have fostered widespread anxiety and deep populist anger that Trump successfully exploited to win a majority of electoral votes. Those conditions are certain to continue long past the 2016 election.

Drugging and Dying of White America

Life expectancy is perhaps the single most telling summary measure of a society’s well-being. Worldwide, the trend in most countries has long been upward, paralleled by improvements in education, income, nutrition, public health, and medicine. One prominent exception was the Russian Federation, where experts warned of a “peacetime demographic crisis” (as life expectancy plunged during the 1990s amid the “shock therapy” prescribed to transform the Soviet centralized economy to one dominated by neoliberal or “free market” capitalism).

Now it appears that serious ills afflict the United States as well. The National Center for Health Statistics reported last week that rising death rates for heart disease and stroke, diabetes, drug overdoses, and accidents lowered the life expectancy of Americans in 2015.

Princeton economist Anne Case said, “I think we should be very concerned. This is singular. This doesn’t happen.”

Case was co-author, with Nobel laureate economist Angus Deaton, of a widely cited study last year that noted for the first time a rise in mortality among middle-aged white Americans from 1999 to 2013. It was big enough to cause half a million more deaths than if trends from previous years had continued.

“This increase for whites was largely accounted for by increasing death rates from drug and alcohol poisonings, suicide, and chronic liver diseases and cirrhosis,” they observed. “This change reversed decades of progress in mortality and was unique to the United States; no other rich country saw a similar turnaround.” It was also unique to non-Hispanic whites; death rates fell for middle-aged black and Hispanic Americans.

The numbers are stark: Over the past decade, some 400,000 Americans committed suicide, a similar number died of drug overdoses, and a quarter million died from alcohol-related diseases. The researchers also cited a significant rise in reports among the living of chronic pain, psychological distress, alcohol use, and general difficulty with “activities of daily living.” More than a third of middle aged whites reported suffering from chronic pain, a major risk factor for suicide, alcoholism, and drug abuse.

New figures released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that deaths from opioids — including hydrocodone, heroin, and synthetic fentanyl — reached a record 33,000 last year, a fourfold increase over 1999.

“In a grim milestone,” the Washington Post reported, “more people died from heroin-related causes than from gun homicides in 2015. As recently as 2007, gun homicides outnumbered heroin deaths by more than 5 to 1.”

Debate Over Causes

Conservative social theorists, who used to blame joblessness and family breakups among African-Americans on a “culture of poverty,” now lament that similar moral and culture failings afflict many white families and their communities.

Charles Murray, whose critique of African-American intelligence in The Bell Curve earned him a racist reputation in some circles, turned his attention to working-class whites in his 2012 book Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. Citing rising rates of chronic joblessness, crime, divorce, and alienation from churches, Murray said discouraged whites had lost touch with the “founding virtues” of America — industriousness, honesty, marriage, and religion. He blamed lax cultural standards rather than economic insecurity or deindustrialization for their woes, many of which he considers preventable and self-inflicted.

National Review contributor J. D. Vance similarly sees “a sense of learned helplessness” behind the travails of many white inhabitants of Greater Appalachia, whom he describes in Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. “There is a lack of agency here,” he writes, “. . . and a willingness to blame everyone but yourself.”

In contrast, liberal analysts — like those at the Economic Policy Institute — have for at least two decades called attention to the loss of factory jobs and falling real wages for less educated white men in this country. Today, an astonishing one of every eight men in the prime ages from 25 to 54 has left the job market entirely, more than three times the fraction in the 1960s. The causes include rising employer demand for college-level skills, foreign competition, and the demise of unions, but the result has been to marginalize traditional blue-collar workers and frustrate their attempts to achieve the American dream.

Such economic trends don’t explain everything. Case and Deaton point out that death rates have not risen in other countries with similar wage trends. One reason may be that they have tighter safety nets, which soften the blow to individuals, families and communities.

Some reverse causality may also be at work, from health to bad economic and social outcomes. For example, pain, substance abuse and severe obesity contribute to increased rates of disability and workers dropping out of the labor force. Princeton economist Alan Krueger recently reported that 40 percent of prime-aged men who aren’t employed or looking for work say pain prevents them from working at a full-time job. Most of them take potent prescription pain medications on a daily basis. They also report less happiness, more sadness and more stress than unemployed men.

Another contributor to the pain-and-disability epidemic may be America’s never-ending wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East. “A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that half of all troops who return from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from chronic pain,” writes libertarian critic Cathy Reisenwitz.

Reisenwitz and other analysts blame a crackdown by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on painkiller prescriptions for increasing suffering among patients and leading many to turn to dangerous street drugs and alcohol for temporary relief. When vets and other pain sufferers do get addicted, she adds, the DEA makes it tough for them to get methadone to manage their withdrawal symptoms.

“The DEA’s efforts to keep chronic pain sufferers from accessing prescription painkillers and methadone is literally killing them,” she writes. “The best thing the Trump administration could do to end the overdose epidemic is to stop the war on painkillers.”

Connecting the Dots

The physical and psychological distress experienced by many white Americans has generated angry resentment toward government and particularly toward America’s first black president.

As J. D. Vance put it, “We know we’re not doing well. We see it every day: in the obituaries for teenage kids that conspicuously omit the cause of death (reading between the lines: overdose), in the deadbeats we watch our daughters waste their time with. Barack Obama strikes at the heart of our deepest insecurities. He is a good father while many of us aren’t. He wears suits to his job while we wear overalls, if we’re lucky enough to have a job at all. His wife tells us that we shouldn’t be feeding our children certain foods, and we hate her for it — not because we think she’s wrong but because we know she’s right.”

Significantly, political scientists Michael Tesler and Philip Klinker found that Trump’s assault on “political correctness” won him overwhelming support from Republican voters who score highest on surveys of resentment toward minority groups. Citing the recent works of academic popularizers such as political scientist Kathy Cramer (The Politics of Resentment) and sociologist Arlie Hochschild (Strangers in Their Own Land), Jeff Guo argues that many white voters resented minorities and immigrants for supposedly moving ahead of them in economic opportunity, social status, and access to government programs. Adopting white identity politics, they lashed out at the Democratic Party for enabling what they viewed as an unfair distribution of power, money, and respect.

As Guo put it, “what Trump has taken a sadistic advantage of is not so much raw anger, but rather its more basic predicate: the shame of being lesser-than.”

Trump didn’t offer any meaningful prescriptions for the suffering of angry white people, but he did go out of his way to acknowledge their pain. He portrayed America as a train wreck, not a land of opportunity. He didn’t just hammer away at the loss of well-paying factory jobs; he promised as well to stop “drugs pouring into our country and destroying our youth.” And he made it clear by words and gestures that white America would come first in his White House.

The policies his team favors — cutting taxes for the rich, gutting the Affordable Care Act, rolling back regulations against air and water pollution, freezing the minimum wage and favoring charter schools over public education — are unlikely to remedy the psychic and physical pain of many white Americans.

Soon their celebration of Trump’s victory will fade. Their sense of loss may be compounded by a sense of betrayal as Washington once again fails to mitigate their plight. Where they choose to project their anger next will have a major impact on American politics over the next four years.

Trump and the Pain of Blue-Collar Whites

Source: ONTD_Political

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