I’m not an economist. I’m a social worker, which means I interact with a lot of systems. I know a little about a lot of systems, and a lot about a few. Economics is one of the ones I don’t know much about.
But it doesn’t take a specialist to know that we just had a recession more painful to so many more than at any time since the Great Depression. You don’t have to be an economics professor to know that, despite statistics citing employment growth since the depths of the recession, the jobs a lot of our fellow and sister workers now have are more unstable and pay less than what they had before the Great Recession.
This is another circumstance that points to the growing crisis of capitalism. One of the mainstays of the growth of multinational (imperialist) capital in the 20th century was its ability to reward the working class in advanced industrial countries well enough to keep them as placid collaborators in their own gilded prisons.
They no longer can. Those jobs didn’t just go overseas. Those jobs are gone. People making cars in China aren’t getting what UAW members made during the 50’s and 60’s.
The charade that the Trump sector of the bourgeoisie is playing pretends that those jobs could come back. Trump and his coterie will fail at restoring that kind of prosperity to American workers. This is not just because they will make more money if they keep the jobs overseas, but because they can’t. Conditions have changed. It’s not the America, or the world, that made auto plants in Detroit, or steel mills in Pittsburgh, the cornucopia they once were.
This is one direction the crisis of capitalism is headed to. They are increasingly unable to buy us off. It’s the inherent nature of capitalism to concentrate money and power among fewer hands. It doesn’t matter if some of the rich might be nice people who want to do kind things. The system will operate the way it’s designed to.
They used to be able to rely on the military to keep the profits rolling in. All those bombs and tanks, the food and fuel and other logistical necessities that keep them going, all of that is expendable. You don’t even have to do the hard work of developing markets. Wars burn up vast quantities of goods by their very nature. Re-building after a war used to be pretty good business, too. The Marshall Plan was as much a boon for the American economy as it was for war-torn Europe.
But a war here and there isn’t getting it any more. America has been at war in the Middle East since 2001. We’ve spent $5 trillion on war since 9/11. That doesn’t count the indirect costs, such as providing medical care and other benefits for veterans. If you add that in, the cost of war since 2001 is much higher. If this money were spent on infrastructure and education, it would provide a permanent benefit rather than going up in smoke. Endless war is still not enough to prop up the economy to be like it was in the post-World War II years.
We are not more secure as a result, either. The Middle East is more destabilized than it was prior to the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. The rise of ISIS is only one evidence of this. Our drone wars and other activities are creating new enemies all the time.
What will the oligarchs do to keep their profits and powerful positions? They will have to come up with new military expenses. They will have to develop new markets (gets harder all the time, with the globalization of the economy having progressed as far as it has.) They will have to tap natural resources in ways that costs less money (which means risk to the ecology; environmental safeguards cost money.) They will have to invest in financial “products”, like the sup-prime mortgage bubble that had such an effect on the 2008 crash, or relax regulations on old ones.
These things work, until they don’t. Bubbles burst. Wars wind down (even the endless war in the Middle East saw Obama withdraw troops from Iraq.) Markets are saturated. And then another crash occurs, and it takes us all down with it, not just the people who have gained the most from it.
These boom-and-bust cycles will always exist so long as our dominant economic paradigm is capitalism. It’s inherent in the system. The crisis of capitalism is a structural feature. I’m just saying I see the current crisis building up in these examples I’m sharing.
When they can keep us happy with good jobs and plentiful, affordable goods, it makes their job a lot easier. If we’re making enough that we can put some by for a rainy day, then it makes the boom-and-bust cycle easier for most of us. (Not for the more vulnerable among us, such as black youth and rural whites, and women in general.)
But we’re not getting that kind of money this time around. The recovery from the last recession has not been the tide that floats all boats, as the old saying goes. Even a minor recession will hit the working class very hard this time because the margin is so slim already between making it and not making it. This is why we need an economic system that puts people ahead of profits. There is enough wealth in this system to keep everyone out of poverty, hunger, homelessness, and sickness, if it weren’t all going to the 1%.