Oligarchies, Inequalities, and What’s Coming Down the Road

I’m going to get all wonky on you this time around.

 I’ve been noticing the waves of rhetoric sweeping over the inequality divide in this country and it strikes me that no one yet wants to admit that the folks at #occupyWallStreet were ahead of the curve. The recent spate of books and articles by Piketty, Krugman, the Princeton researchers on oligarchy, and the rest are actually later, and obviously more analytically rigorous, iterations of the #occupyWallStreet phenomenon: –reaction to the increasingly visible contradictions inherent in late stages of capitalism.

 As a “good” Marxian, I have always admired capitalism in its early stages as a far more efficient system for the allocation of resources and wealth at the time of its appearance than those of late feudalism. But without some controls, internal or external, capitalism inevitably becomes less efficient in the distribution of the value produced by its activity. That is, advanced capitalist economies begin to suffer more and wilder and unequal swings of productivity and profitability in local markets and reward an ever-shrinking pool of very large capitalists while maldistributing the surplus value of productivity among other sectors of the  population. One response by governments is to try to reconcile these contradictions by regulating the practices of the generators of the energy that drives capital markets. This is done to help preserve capitalism because, as both Marx and Roosevelt understood, once the contradictions become inevitably visible and permanently on display, non-capital-intensive portions of the society (workers) will demand direct redress, i.e., will take to the streets seeking it, even if that means a different system for the distribution of the means of production, more specifically, a change in the ownership of those means.

 Thus, #occupyWallStreet, which seemed inchoate because it was genuinely populist; that is, was a response to contradictions by the population most affected by those contradictions; Occupy was not an analysis of those contradictions nor could it produce a “program.” “It” only wanted relief from the cognitive, fiscal, and physical contradictions between capitalism’s promise and its performance in their lives.

These or similar conditions are present in all the major western capitalist countries and some (but not by any means all) of their Asian clones. However, revolutionary change is not imminent. Capitalism will, sooner or later (probably later), be replaced by something like “socialism” but not until capital succeeds in transforming the latent feudal economic cultures of the rest of the world into more efficient market arrangements. Once the world’s labor force acquires the skills to function under capitalism and the intellectual and experiential “capital” to appreciate its (labor’s) own role in that system, will the inevitable contradictions we are experiencing be felt widely enough to shove capitalism down the road toward the next stage of economic history.

I know this might seem unlikely, but just  imagine yourself the Earl of Something-or-other in 14th century Britain or the Count de Whosis in 13th century France and discussion in your court tries to turn on the inevitable end of feudalism and its replacement by a capital-intense exchange economy fueled by the productivity of paid industrial labor. My, My!


(For fun, one could reread Mark Twain’s,

A Connecticut Yankee in King

Arthur’s Court.)