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To listen to a 3 panel discussion, including this writer, on the most recent Trump march to war with Iran, as of Monday, January 6.

GO TO:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1YV_WCEmTL0CKOsJmhFt2zyG2yUzAgF4h/view

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History repeats itself, as they say. But in the age of American empire, not just twice. Or even three times. But with disturbing regularity.

The past half century shows two things about how America goes to war:

First, it creates a provocation based on a lie. Second, it then makes its target adversary an ‘offer they can only refuse’, as the final justification for US military action once the adversary rejects the unacceptable offer.

Here’s how it has worked in the past half century–a playbook to war that Trump is now clearly following in the case of Iran with his recent ordered assassination of that country’s general and government diplomat.

As for the initial provocations based on a lie:

1. In 1964 there was the infamous ‘Tonkin Gulf’ incident that provided then president Johnson the cover to escalate US involvement in Vietnam. Later Pentagon documents made public revealed the alleged attacks on US ships off Vietnam by North Vietnamese patrol boats was a total fabrication. 58,000 US and 2 million Vietnamese deaths later, the evidence came out that it was all a hoax.

2. Then there was the 1991 Gulf War. The convenient provocation that turned out to be a lie once again was the Bush administration claim that Iraq was killing babies in incubators in Kuwait. That too turned out to be false, propagated by a family member of the Kuwaiti royal elite who stood before US cameras showing the broken incubators. The US media of course did not properly identify her, instead depicting her as a concerned woman protesting the deaths of premature babies. The US media flooded the American evening news to create final public support for the subsequent US invasion. After the invasion of Kuwait and Iraq forces it was revealed it was all a staged event. Also revealed afterward was how the Bush Sr. administration, through the US ambassador, had told Saddam Hussein, that the US would not intervene if Saddam invaded Kuwait in the first place.

3. In 2001 immediately after 9-11 events in the US the excuse for invading Afghanistan was that the Taliban government in power at the time had assisted Bin Laden in attacking New York and Washington. It later came out the Taliban had nothing to do with planning or launching the attacks of 9-11. And little was said in the weeks, after 9-11 and preceding the US invasion of Afghanistan, that 18 of the 20 or so terrorists who flew the planes into the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon were in fact Saudi Arabian Wahhabi sect terrorists aided and supported by the Saudi government. Saudis in the US at the time of 9-11 were quickly flown out of the US by a plane arranged by the George W. Bush administration. Who left on the US aided flight is still publicly unknown to this day. The US ‘unacceptable offer’ to the Taliban was the demand it turn over Bin Laden and all his supporters in Afghanistan–i.e. something impossible without the Taliban provoking its own internal civil war.

4, Then we have the 2003 decision by Bush Jr. invading Iraq. Now the cover lie was that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, having amassed ‘yellow cake’ uranium material with which to make a nuclear weapon. That too proved totally false after the fact. After the US invasion, nothing remotely representing weapons of mass destruction could be found anywhere despite intense US military efforts to discover such. But in the run-up to war in 2002-03 the lie provided the cover to start the war. And the US demand that Saddam allow US military personnel to roam free anywhere in Iraq–i.e. accept the invasion without resistance–constituted the ‘unacceptable offer’ that the US bet Saddam would reject.

All these lies as bases for provocation represent the standard approach by the US when it wants to go to war. The provocations are then followed by extending an unacceptable ‘offer they cannot accept’ to the targeted adversary. The unacceptable offer is the signal the US has already decided to go to war and is setting up a pretext to justify military action. By refusing the unacceptable offer, the adversary thus gives the US no alternative but to commence the military action.

In the case of the 2nd Gulf War the unacceptable offer was the US demand that US forces be allowed to enter Iraq, roam free unannounced wherever they wanted, and inspect all military bases and other government institutions without interference. In the first Gulf War, it was the similar demand that Saddam pull out all his forces from Kuwait,redeploy far from its borders, and permit US coalition inspectors into Iraq. In Vietnam, it was the Vietcong should disband and both it and North Vietnam should accept a permanent two-state solution, forever dividing North and South Vietnam.

In all cases the US way to war is to make an offer it knows will be refused so that it appears further negotiation or diplomatic efforts are fruitless. Thus only military action is left.

Trump’s Deja Vu Provocation

Trump’s recently ordered assassination of Iran’s senior military leader (who was also a senior Iranian diplomat, Soleimani, is being justified by the Trump administration based on claims that Soleimani and Iran were planning widespread terrorist actions that would have killed scores, if not hundreds, of Americans, if he weren’t assassinated. But no evidence of such a threat is being produced by Trump or his government to date. Evidence of the threat was noot even given to members of Congress, after the fact over this past weekend, as Trump post-hoc gave Congress an initial briefing on the action already taken. According to the War Powers Act, and well established precedent, Trump was required to consult Congress before the action, not after. And it has been leaked, though not picked up much by the US press, that that post-hoc briefing was considered seriously insufficient by many members of Congress in attendance.

Evidence lately is leaking out that Trump and his neocon foreign policy radical advisors have been planning the assassination at least since late December, and probably earlier. The Trump administration has been escalating its provocations since at least then. A mercenary US contractor was killed and the US compound in Baghdad was ‘attacked’ by protestors. That in itself was insufficient to launch the assassination provocation. For that, we now have the story of imminent threat to hundreds of Americans that Soleimani and Iran were planning.

In the case of Vietnam there at least was something tangible, in the false photos of the Tonkin Gulf incident. In the first Gulf War they flooded the US media with pictures of broken baby incubators. In 2003 we had then ambassador Colin Powell showing the United Nations his fake placards of installations in Baghdad where ‘yellow cake’ might be stored. Now with Trump all we get is to believe his claim widespread terrorist operations against the US were being planned. Claims from an administration already notorious for its lying, fake news, and fantasy tweets.

What’s Trump’s ‘Unacceptable Offer’?

Events in the days and weeks ahead (surely not months) will reveal what will be Trump’s ‘unacceptable offer’.

Following the assassination, Trump is now clearly waiting on Iran to take some kind of military action against US forces first. The US will use that attack by Iran as an excuse to reciprocate, which is what it apparently has decided to do in the first place back in late December. Since December Trump has been clearly engaged in escalating acts of provocation. The US is betting on Iran falling into the trap–a trap it can hardly avoid given its domestic politics and international commitments.

But in the current domestic US political climate, Trump cannot take military action first. He is prevented by the War Powers Act from doing so. He is also engaged in a domestic political fight over impeachment. A violation of the War Powers Act could potentially add another article of impeachment for violating the War Powers Act law. So he needs to provoke further military action by Iran. That will enable him to actually use the War Powers Act to reciprocate militarily against Iran, and remain still within the War Powers Act. For the Act permits the president to ‘protect US forces’ immediately and later come back to Congress for justification of the action. Trump will launch an attack on Iran should the latter attack US forces, and he’ll then argue his response was protected by the War Powers Act and not a violation of it.

Trump’s latest tweets identifying Iranian targets, including cultural targets, are also designed to threaten and infuriate Iran and get them to attack US forces first. Iran has already indicated it considers the assassination an ‘act of war’. Having said such, for it to do nothing would be politically unacceptable. Iran has publicly declared, however, its targets would be only US military. The likeliest military targets are in Iraq. Once Iran makes the next move, and where, and how, will define what Trump America’s ‘unacceptable offer’ as a prelude to war might well be.

The provocation (assassination of Soleimani) has been made. The US ‘unacceptable offer’ may not be long in coming.

Postscript On the Origins of War in the Period of Late American Empire

The past half century shows that America’s wars are more often than not precipitated by its presidents and their bureaucrat-intellectual advisors. The reasons are some combination of ideology, over-estimation of US power (and under-estimation of adversaries), and decisions by politicians to divert attention from domestic troubles, economic or political, to buttress their political standing or re-elections.

In the case of LBJ in the 1960s, it was clearly ideological in part. LBJ was obsessed with not losing Vietnam on his watch, as Truman ‘lost China’ on his, as he often said. Stop communism and the ‘domino theory’ was widely held by politicians and bureaucrats alike. LBJ was also surrounded by bureaucrat-intellectuals who believed US military power was omnipotent. How could jungle guerrillas in pajamas and sandals dare to resist US military might! Like the Japanese attack on the US in 1941, the thinking was to overwhelm them (guerrillas or USA) with a massive initial force and attack and they’d sue for peace and negotiate. The war would be short. But the USA in 1965 made the same miscalculation as did the militarists in Japan in 1941.

In 1991 the domestic political scene clearly played a role. The US had just experienced a deep financial crisis and a recession in 1990-91. The first Gulf War was a convenient distraction, and a way for then president George Bush Sr. to hopefully boost his re-election bid in 1992–by boosting the economy with war spending and by wearing the mantle of war victor.

In 2003 George W. Bush faced a similar economic and re-election dilemma. The recovery from the 2001 recession was weak. Military spending in Afghanistan was limited. There was no clear military victory. While US forces took over Kabul, the Taliban simply slipped away into the mountains to fight another day. The US economy began to weaken noticeably in 2002 once again. Bush and his neocon advisors had identified and targeted what they called an ‘Axis of Evil’ of countries that were not willing to abide by its rules of American global empire. The countries were: Libya, Iraq, Syria, and North Korea. Except for the latter, they were all easy military targets. Moreover, little evidence of ‘defeat’ of terrorists post 9-11 called for a necessary military action before the 2004 elections. Invading Iraq in 2003 would also boost the US economy in 2004. Bush Jr. would enter the 2004 race with a military-spending boosted economy and with military victory under his belt. Once again, distraction from domestic problems and/or boosting re-election were the main determinants–along with neocon-ultra conservative ideological rationalization for military action.

Something of a similar scenario exists today with Trump. Despite Trump hyperbole on the economy, deep weaknesses exist and threaten to emerge more full blown in an election year. Trump’s trade wars have produced little economic gain after two years. Domestic politics have left Trump with a pending impeachment hanging over his head, and unknown developments about his personal finances, deals made with foreign powers, and failures to deliver in foreign policy nearly everywhere.

Precipitating a war in his final year in office–should impeachment move forward and the economy move backward–is a card Trump the reckless, high risk taker, convinced of his own personal ego and superiority is very likely to play. He is clearly setting the stage for his big bet: will war with Iran boost his re-election plans and re-energize a weakening economy? Or will it lead to his political demise–as in the case of Johnson or Bush Sr.?

Which road will Trump take? (Which has he already decided to take?). Given the nature of his pre-war provocation in the recent assassination–and Iran’s apparent decision to take Trump’s bait–the odds are great that Trump is ‘rolling the dice’ and willing to engage in a risky military adventure. The ‘unacceptable offer’ when it comes will not be difficult to identify. It appears just a matter of time, and more likely sooner rather than later.

Trump’s imminent military adventure holds little in strategic gain for the USA, and great possible loss globally politically as well. But Trump has always been most concerned with his own personal interests, in this case his political re-election. He will, as he already has, sacrifice US long term interests. Trump is about Trump. And nothing else. Americans will not be made safer but less so. So too the world. And before it’s all over, political instability as we enter the current 2020s decade may well precipitate economic instability on a scale not yet seen.

Dr. Jack Rasmus
January 4, 2020

Dr. Rasmus is author of the just published, January 2020 book, ‘The Scourge of Neoliberalism: US Economic Policy from Reagan to Trump’, Clarity Press, available on his blog at discount at jackrasmus.com. He hosts the Alternative Visions radio show on the Progressive Radio Network and tweets at @drjackrasmus.

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Wars occur when ideologues and/or reckless leaders in position of power are willing to engage in high risk brinksmanship in foreign policy military adventures–often as a distraction from their growing domestic problems. Their megolomania often leads them to misread the potential response of their targeted adversary, setting off a process of unavoidable tit for tat escalation by both sides until war actually breaks out.

The historical examples are undeniable of the role of personality in the precipitation of War in the 20th-21st Century:

Germany’s Kaiser 1914 mobilization of allies in response to Serbian archduke’s assassination that set in motion quid pro quo escalations; Hitler’s assumption that Britain-France would do nothing in the case of Poland as they in Czechoslovakia; Japan Tojo’s belief that war with the USA would be short should the US navy’s pacific forces be decimated in Hawaii and driven from Philippines; South Korea president Syngman Rhee’s incursion into North Korea in 1950 that started the Korean war. LBJ’s Tonkin Gulf lie and subsequent military escalation in Vietnam to destroy the Vietcong, based on the assumption that North Vietnam forces would thereafter not join the conflict. Saddam Hussein’s miscalculation to invade Kuwait, based on (false) assurances from the US that the US would not respond. Osama bin Laden’s and Taliban’s assumption US would not mobilize and invade after 9-11. George W. Bush’s embracing of US neocons’ advice that military conquest of Iraq would mean the end of war there, not just the beginning. And now Trump’s provocation of war with Iran by assassinating its most senior military general. Miscalculations all, by reckless, high risk-taking political leaders, with little understanding of the dynamics that often lead up to war.

Three questions to consider in light of the recent US killing of Iran’s top general:

Does anyone doubt what would be the response of the USA if its top general and commander in Europe were assassinated by Iran–and Iran followed it up with a declaration that they did it and he deserved it?

Is it just coincidence that Trump’s ‘crossing the Rubicon latest escalation’ has nothing to do with the timing of impeachment proceedings in Congress? Or what appears to be an increasing probability of US economic recession in an election year.

Trump could not unilaterally go to war with Iran without US Congress approval beforehand, given the US War Powers Act. Were he to do so it would constitute yet another violation of the US Constitution. But he could provoke Iran to start one, attack US military forces, which under that same Act would allow him to respond militarily with as much force as he wanted. Is Trump trying to provoke Iran, in order to have it precipitate an equivalent response so that he, Trump, can bypass a Congressional vote to go to war he knows he won’t get?

Who’s Running the Trump Foreign Policy Show?

Trump has already fired or driven out all the military generals and advisers from his administration who might have cautioned him on his growing military brinksmanship. US foreign policy for months has now been the policy of US neocons now running his administration in State, Defense, and elsewhere. (And recall it was the Neocons back in 2002-03 that advised and drove Bush to attack Iraq).

In all the foregoing historical cases, wars are precipitated by radical ideologue and non-military intellectuals and bureaucrats who advise the high risk taking and brinksmanship action by political leaders willing to ‘roll the dice’ on military adventures. Politicians who are short sighted about the dynamics of how wars are started, and once started aren’t easily stopped (if at all). Politicians and intellectuals-advisers precipitate the conflict; but the conflict soon sets in motion forces of its own that are not controllable. The reckless, high risk politicians are then dragged along by the forces of war, controlled by it instead of controlling it.

Trump is dragging the US toward war, whether by choice (by creating a distraction from domestic troubles); or by advice (by intellectuals-advisers Neocons whose ideologies serve their fantasy imaginations of wielding power and advancing empire); or by the inevitable accident forthcoming once escalation passes a point of no return (as it always does if allowed to continue).

Know Them by the Company They Keep

Trump is now in infamous company: with the Kaiser, Tojo, Hitler, and all the others after who have always miscalculated and pushed their countries to the brink of war–and over.

All reckless, high risk taking, believers in their own egos, and over-estimators of their ability to judge their opponents, the course of events, and their outcomes.

The similarity in personalities–and the errors they typically make that lead to war and destruction–is not easily ignored.

You can know the person by the company they keep! And that goes for Trump

By Dr. Jack Rasmus
January 3, 2020

Dr. Rasmus is author of the just published book, ‘The Scourge of Neoliberalism: US Economic Policy from Reagan to Trump’, Clarity Press, January 2020, available on this blog, jackrasmus.com, at discount. He hosts the weekly radio show, Alternative Visions, and his twitter handle is @drjackrasmus.

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As the New Year begins, and the final year of Trump’s first term commences, readers may be interested in the following review of my just released book, ‘The Scourge of Neoliberalism: US Economic Policy from Reagan to Trump‘, Clarity Press, 2020, by David Baker.

The book takes a different perspective than most to date on the subject of Neoliberalism. One of its major themes is that Neoliberal policies, which had dominated US economic policy since the late 1970s decade, entered a crisis with the crash of 2008-09 and the weak global recovery that followed. The Obama administration could not fully restore the Neoliberal project in original form, and the material conditions responsible for Obama’s failure to restore Neoliberalism on its original trajectory, it is argued, gave rise to the ascendance of Trump in 2016. Trump should therefore be understood as representing a more aggressive attempt to restore US Neoliberalism, albeit in a new, more virulent ‘neoliberalism 2.0’ form.

After three years of Trump, the book assesses the Trump more aggressive restoration effort, its ‘successes’ and where it still has thus far failed to restore. Nearly 100 pages of the book’s analysis addresses the evolution of Trump policies in Neoliberalism’s four major dimensions of Neoliberalism: Industrial Policy, Fiscal Policy, Monetary Policy, and External-Trade-Currency Policy.

The book also critiques most prior accounts of Neoliberalism and their excessive estimation of the role of Ideas in lieu of the role of material forces in its rise, evolution, and now emerging crisis as its internal contradictions have multiplied since 2000. Most accounts to date fail to distinguish the Ideology of Neoliberalism from its actual, historical practice, it is argued.

The book thus places more causation on material factors and forces explaining the rise, evolution, and now emerging crisis of Neoliberal policies in the US. It predicts Trump’s 2.0 restoration will ultimately fail.

The next to last chapter describes the material-technological forces emerging and developing in the US and global capitalist economies that will bring about that failure, now in development and soon to emerge in the 2020s decade full blown.

And in the final chapter, the unstable relationship between Neoliberal economic policy and the US political system is addressed. It is argued that Neoliberalism has always been incompatible with even the limited form of capitalist democracy in the US and the ‘west’. And that incompatibility has been intensifying since 2000 in the US. As it has entered a crisis, it is now becoming more clear that democratic forms, norms, and institutions are now giving way–creating Constitutional Crises in the ‘heartland’ of Neoliberalism (USA and UK)–that will lead to a US political system crisis next decade as well as economic.

The following is David Baker’s early review of the book, which is available at discount on this blog via Paypal, and available on Amazon and other public outlets by mid-January 2020:

Dr. Jack Rasmus
January 1, 2020

The Scourge of Neoliberalism: US Economic Policy from Reagan to Trump, by Dr. Jack Rasmus, Clarity Press, January 2020 ; A REVIEW by David Baker, (forthcoming next issue of Z magazine)

At 272 pages, Dr, Jack Rasmus’s new book “The Scourge of Neoliberalism: US Economic Policy From Reagan to Trump” is a big little book. To understand its importance a comparison to another big little book by John Maynard Keynes entitled The Economic Consequences of the Peace, “Economic Consequences” is helpful.

Economic Consequences grew out of Keynes’s participation in the post-World War I peace negotiation as an English representative. When Keynes discovered the extraordinary punitive nature of the peace being imposed upon Germany he walked out in protest. His book explains why.

Economic Consequences begins with a careful, common sense explanation as to how the economies of Germany France and England had become interlocked and interdependent which we would now describe as a global economy in the making. So to punish one, in this case Germany, was to punish all. Likewise, the punitive economic sanctions imposed upon Germany were so severe that Keynes predicted that a political monster would arise in Germany. That political monster was ultimately embodied in the person of Adolf Hitler.

Although our present political monsters, Trump and the Republican Party, have not reached the level of Hitler, it was not a rhetorical flourish when Noam Chomsky called them worse than ISIS. The Scourge describes how our home-going grown political monsters came into being.

Rasmus excels at economic history. His brief account of American economic history since 1900 rings true. His baseline is that economic structures are not static but constantly changing to control an evolving economy as well as political changes.

He divides the American economy since 1900 into three periods; roughly Pre World War I, during and after World War II, and the Reagan era which kicked off neoliberalism. In the two World War eras, America faced a happy challenge: how to manage America’s growing economic might so it would become an unsurpassed superpower. The first restructuring, the Pre WWI restructuring was to make the US capitalists a co equal partner with Britain and European capital; the second, during and immediately after WWII, was to make the US a global economic superpower. The third era, was and is, an unhappy time for America’s policymakers because they are and were faced with real challenges and real decline; the goal was to defeat domestic challengers, such as unions, as well as global challengers, such as Japan and Germany, for decades to come.

The stage was set for the third era in the early 1970s. Unions were extremely powerful and had made unprecedented wage gains of up to 25% in the early as 1970’s . Meanwhile America could not compete with Japan and Europe due to its lagging and aging industrial infrastructure. So the policymakers faced a real dilemma: what to do? Their choice came to be called neoliberalism which is neither new or liberal but a marketing term exploited by an all too compliant intellectual class.

Neoliberalism is essentially a set of crude policies that maintains high short-term profits at the expense of long-term profits and prosperity for all. The policymakers did not want to plunge say 35% of GDP into research and development and infrastructure upgrades because that would cut into their profits. Instead they took the easy way out: they cut taxes for businesses and the wealthy; they destroyed unions; the offshored US manufacturing to low-wage countries; they repealed decades of important regulations; they destroyed real pension plans for the lower 90%; robbed Social Security; they onshored cheap high-tech help from foreign country; they unleashed rivers of capital across the globe; they let the banks gamble with esoteric financial instruments; they destroyed public education and crippled the young with more than $1.5 trillion in student loans; they poured at least $5 trillion of virtually free money into the banks and investors from the Fed and on and on and on.

The Democratic Party’s response to all this was appalling: one campaign promise after another was broken and the lower 90% were faced with an active enabler of neoliberal policies—— Bill Clinton—– or a passive enabler of neoliberal policies, Barack Obama.

Rasmus also excels at the economic consequences of these policies: stagnating incomes and standard of living for the lower 90%; grotesque income inequality; a rotting infrastructure; lack of access by the lower 90% to adequate housing, healthcare, transportation and education. America has become a second rate country with an angry precariat.

Rasmus is also gifted at demonstrating how this intricate web of policies create negative feedback systems and leads us into an economic and political dead end. Two important issues may help demonstrate how this is occurring. His discussion of war/defense spending is illuminating. At no time since 1900 was any country a military threat to the United States. That ended in 1812. And yet, beginning with Reagan and continuing through Obama/Trump war/defense spending has gone through the roof. Why? A variety of reasons.

First, war/defense spending is an easy money conduit for the Fortune 500 since by definition there is no foreign competition. Likewise, it is a major way of funding research and development without calling it that: who would be willing to pour tens of billions of tax dollars into IT to make, say, Bill Gates rich? So we label it defense spending. But third and finally there was a tacit acknowledgment that since America could not compete economically then it would continue to compete militarily. Rasmus excels at demonstrating how this is a complete policy dead-end.

This war/defense policy created the dilemma of double deficits. That is, how can America cut taxes and increase war/defense spending? Answer: the double deficit. The US agreed to allow its allies to import significantly more to the US than the US was exporting to them but to fund this chronic and growing trade deficit the allies agreed to buy by large quantities of US debt to close the gap in deficit spending. Likewise taxes for businesses and wealthy investors have been cut by $15 Trillion since 2001 which also pushed the domestic deficit through the roof. But this rising debt generated huge interest payments, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates in ten years will be about $1 trillion in interest payments alone per year. Meanwhile the lack of real research and development investment by the US led to low productivity growth which in turn led to the further compression of wages/income for the lower 90%. The US economy has become a zero-sum game where the gains of the upper percentiles are taken from the lower 90% and is part of the reason we have the grotesque inequality of income and wealth we have.

Then finally there is what I call the China Challenge which demonstrates the dead end of this policy choice. Several years ago, China announced its 2025 policy plan which would put China in the lead of new IT development such as G5, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. This is a real and significant threat to military leadership by the US because new IT developments have obvious and long-term military applications. This in turn prompted Trump’s trade war with China that ultimately collapsed.

As trade war talk intensified, the purchase of American debt by Asian countries slowed; equally important the Chinese stopped buying American agricultural products which was one of the core political constituencies of Trump: Midwest farmers, large and small, many of whom went bankrupt, started screaming at the Trump administration to back off from China. So Trump backed off despite his public announcements that he had won the trade war. The Chinese will steam ahead to become the world leader in IT while the US falls farther and farther behind which critically impairs even its grotesque military supremacy.

The Chinese Challenge is just one example of how Rasmus demonstrates the long-term failure of neoliberal policy. Another important policy dead end is the Greenspan “put”. The Greenspan put is to maintain low interest rates through the Federal Reserve. Those low interest rates allows multinationals to achieve high profits on their foreign manufacture subsidiaries. How? Low rates keep the value of the US dollar low and therefore the exchange rate value of the foreign currency of multinationals in the country of their operation high. This in turn allows the multinationals to “buy” more dollars and thus return more profits in US dollars to their main offices. It also allows US exporters to other countries to sell more, raise profits, and beat out competitors. But the low interest rate also allows financial institutions to gamble in financial instruments which has prompted one asset spike after another and the inevitable collapse of the same, such as Dot.com bust, the savings-and-loan collapse, the subprime meltdown. Each collapse becomes more severe than the prior but the regulated banks and the unregulated banks—-shadow banks—— continue to speculate in financial assets because of the billions of dollars in immediate profits.

Likewise, the low interest rates benefits major businesses by allowing stock buy backs, dividend payouts, mergers and acquisitions and offshoring of jobs. Little if anything goes into the real economy in the US to improve productivity and create full time jobs for Americans.

This makes financial markets more more unstable and requires the Federal Reserve to pump more and more money into the system——– trillions of dollars which should have gone into real jobs in the real economy in the US. Instead, they went into stock buybacks, mergers and acquisitions, dividend payouts, off shoring of manufacturing units, and the hoarding of hundreds of billions of dollars offshore by major multinationals. Apple alone is hoarding over $250 billion in various countries outside of the US.

And then the problem becomes that even a modest spike in interest rates causes a collapse in assets such as 35% decline in the stock market in 2018 which prompted a fight between the Fed and Trump which Trump “won” so the Fed lowered rates which only means the next collapse will be more severe than the last one as the scared bankers well understood who protested against Trump’s non negotiable demand to lower interest rates.

Rasmus has a wonderful way of describing the natural and structural changes that are coming to the economy. The key driver is energy production which has moved from water, to coal, to gas and oil, and is now moving toward solar and hydrogen production. At each stage of this transformation of energy production, the economy has to be retooled and refitted to meet the challenges of the transformation in question. This in turn stretches many businesses to the breaking point, i.e. bankruptcy.

The energy component is changing at the same time that IT development is pushing economic structures into a whole new dimension through artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, G5 Communications Systems, and biotechnology. The problem is that neoliberalism has no answer to these significant problems and has no means of dealing with for example what I’ve called the China Challenge. Bloated with debt the major multinationals cannot and will not make the necessary investments required to meet the challenges of these new developments and remain competitive. It is a bizarre situation where one of the most undemocratic countries in the world is leaping ahead of us toward the new challenges that we are facing while the US becomes a second and perhaps even third rate country.

But Rasmus pushes the future even farther and describes how our political institutions are becoming more and more distorted and less and less democratic. The means of making America oligarchic is through a multitude of devices such as the electoral college, the US Supreme Court, gerrymandering, voter suppression, and the rivers upon rivers of money that flow from the 1% throughout our political institutions utterly corrupting them.
Even a great book has flaws. Missing from The Scourge is a discussion of how the war on drugs originally launched by Reagan which continues to this day is a potent weapon of neoliberalism to permanently disenfranchise tens of millions of poor people of color from any meaningful participation in US society by labeling them felons. The obvious economic and political use of the drug wars is to criminalize a potentially political disruptive segment of our society and make sure that the US has no obligation to help them with decent jobs, housing, education or healthcare. See The New Jim Crow.

The New Jim Crow brings up a related issue re Neo Liberalism: over determination of policies, that is a policy has multiple uses. As with the drug wars, students loans now at $1.5 trillion have the same result of disabling a large potentially politically disruptive element of society that the “drug wars” have: student loans disable the young from political activism, forcing them to spend much of their adult lives just managing debt. Likewise, as David Stockman observed the unrelenting march toward the ocean of debt called the deficit is a weapon to destroy socially important programs such as social security and Medicare.

Rasmus’s relentless drumbeat that the future only holds endless job losses to automation is true but there is a deeper issue. Automation, artificial intelligence and other IT developments, could free up critical and needed human resources to meet the challenges of the future. Think about climate change. Think about the tens of millions of jobs that could be created that are not only necessary but fundamental to avoid the coming environmental collapse. Every building and every parking lot in the United States should have solar panels on them; all of the hundreds of oil refineries must be dismantled; all of the tens of thousands of miles of gas and oil lines must be removed. Please see Bill McKibben’s description of this job creation which he has called World War III to emphasize the huge job creation and necessary fiscal injections on the level of WWII which soared from 35% to 70% of GDP.

Rasmus is a powerful advocate for Medicare for all but should also consider that this also would demand huge human resources—-the training of thousands of healthcare workers in the US. Healthcare workers, like IT workers, are on shored by the thousands. We must train our own to take on the difficult task of caring for all throughout the country and not just in wealthy areas along the coasts. The lack of access to quality health care by the rural poor is criminal; it is not a “mistake” that many of Trump’s most ardent supporters are the rural poor.

Finally, I wish Rasmus would provide a glossary. Such terms as median versus average income and negative interest rates, continuously escape me despite the fact that I’ve read about them in context at least 10 times.
The Scourge a powerful, important book. We ignore it at our peril. The utter daily degradation which results in the stunted lives of hundreds of millions of Americans is at stake, who now lash out at each other about such nonsense as race and gender while Trump and his kind laugh and the world spins out of control into environmental hell. In many of his other writings Rasmus has given a clear road map out of the dead end of Neo-Liberalism; at the risk of repetition it would help to have that map articulated again.

David Baker
December 2019

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Listen to my recent radio interview discussion on the oft-reported 3.1% wage growth for US workers by the mainstream media. How Bankrate, Gallup, EPI, and other surveys contradict the official media mantra about how well US workers are doing.

TO LISTEN GO TO: http://television.data99.com.ar/video/paDBXVlP_X0

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A couple weeks ago on this blog I posted an article once again raising doubts about the official US Labor Dept. stats on jobs. The November jobs report showed an official 266,000 jobs created, while the respected business payroll company, ADP, showed a mere 66,000. I noted other reasons for the severe discrepancy.

For months this blog has been raising alternative estimates and sources on US jobs and US GDP numbers.

We’ve also been doing the same questioning the oft-cited official (and widespread mainstream press reported) 3.1% annual rise in US wages the past year. As has been explained previously, this 3.1% is a worthless statistic that gross over-estimates wage gains in the US.

To reiterate, the 3.1% wage increase reported figure is not adjusted for inflation, so it doesn’t reflect real wage change. Even underestimated official inflation data would reduce real wages to no more than 1.5% per the US PCE price index. Or even less if the official CPI index is used to adjust for inflation. In addition to reducing for inflation, the 3.1% is also an ‘average’, with actual wage increases highly skewed to the top 10% of the work force, so workers at the median or below are likely seeing no wage increases or even wage reductions and the top getting more than 1.5%. Moreover, as it has been pointed out, the 3.1% figure is for full time employed workers only, and ignores therefore the 50 million or so part time, temp, gig, contract and other workers in the estimate. Factor all that in and the real wage change for the vast majority of the US work force is flat at best and falling for many–not rising at 3.1%

Various independent business, bank and other wage surveys support this ‘unofficial’ view that wages have hardly risen at all–either under Trump or before under Obama. Or for decades now for that matter.

Here’s two more recent, independent surveys support that conclusion.

The latest Bankrate survey, released just this past week, showed that 51% of all workers (about 82 million) in the US DID NOT GET A WAGE INCREASE at all this past year. (And 22% of the remaining 49%, who did get a raise, got it by moving to another job and not from their employer actually hiking their pay. Moreover, the employer they changed to may have not actually raised their wage on their new job, even if the worker who changed jobs realized a high wage. But the Labor Dept. considers that a wage increase, even if in the real economy no wages were actually raised. So for the economy as a whole even that 22% is likely overestimated as well, even if the individual worker realized a wage hike).

The same Bankrate survey showed that last year nearly two-thirds (62% or 99 million) of US workers said got no wage increase whatsoever.

According to mainstream economists, standard economic theory says that a labor market as tight as today’s (3.7% unemployment) should result in a big demand for labor and therefore a big rise in wages. But it has not, which must mean either the 3.1% wage increase numbers are false; or the unemployment numbers (3.7%) are wrong and the labor market is not as ‘tight’ as they are saying; or that economists’ theory about the relationship of wages to employment is just bullshit. Or maybe all the above!

As this blog has argued in the past, it is likely the wage hikes are going to the top 10% of professionals, tech workers, managers & supervisors, etc. And the majority of jobs being created are actually added-on 2nd and 3rd part time, temp, contingent, contract jobs that the Labor Dept. stats aren’t reflecting accurately; that is, the official Labor Dept. stats are picking up those contingent jobs that are primary (first) jobs and not counting second or third jobs.

An interesting alternative source also throwing light on the questionable official labor stats is the report released last month by the Brookings Institute. Among the report’s other interesting results, it found that 44% of all US workers, age 18-64 (53 million) now hold low wage jobs with median annual earning of just $17,950. With the cutoff of age 64, that 53 million should be even higher, since the fastest growing segment of new entrants to the labor force are senior workers older than 64, going back to work because they can’t make ends meet in retirement any longer (given the collapse of savings, minimal pensions, and the rise of social security retirement to age 67–soon to go higher). So add at least another 5 million of senior returnees to the labor force to the Brookings’ estimate of 53 million making less than $18,000 a year in wage income.

The 58 million working part time/temp/gig jobs and earning barely $8/hr. likely constitute the majority of the 51% of all US who received no wage hike from their employers this past year (and 62% the year before) per the aforementioned Bankrate Survey.

This has been going on for decades, and not just in recent years: more and more part time/temp/contract/gig jobs are being created while wages are stagnating or even declining. What capitalists, employers, and politicians are saying to 90% of the work force is: “if you want a raise, get a second or third job. Work longer hours for more pay. Don’t expect to get a wage increase for the primary job you’re working. Only if you’re really critical for boosting our productivity and therefore profits, or are highly skilled and necessary for our new tech industry, or if you’re one of us managers–will we give you a wage increase. If not, work more and work harder!”

Talking about working harder, according to the Economic Policy Institute, Americans’ productivity went up 70% from 1979-2019, but wages rose by a mere 12%. That’s an ‘average’ annual wage gain of 12% over the last 40 years! Or about 0.3% of one percent per year. And again even that’s an average. Reduce it for inflation and it’s been a wage reduction for most that’s been going on for a generation and more!

In yet another survey, reported last week by Jonathan Rothwell of the New York Times, the IRS data on jobs increasingly contradicts the official US Labor Dept. data: The latter indicates self-employed (contract, gig, etc.) at only 10% of the labor force, and actually declining in per cent terms last year. Whereas the IRS data indicates 17% and rising in per cent terms. The difference suggested by Rothwell is that the Labor Dept. data shows part time and contract work only for those whose part time job is primary–i.e. is the majority of their work time. Second, third such jobs, cobbled together to try to make ends meet are not being reflected in the Labor Dept. data on contingent jobs (part time, temp, contractor, gig, etc.).

The Labor Dept. officially estimates only 5% of workers (8 million) now hold multiple jobs. That’s of course a joke that few really believe. Even a Gallup survey estimates 28% (45 million) now hold multiple jobs. In other words, like the Labor Dept.’s 3.1% wage increase official estimate, it’s jobs data is also inaccurate and suspect.

Yet another study just released questioning the official data, called ‘Our Great Jobs Demonstration Survey’, the results of which are available in the December 20, 2019 New York Times, showed that 36% of the work force are no longer employed in the traditional one-job with one-employer relationship that the Labor Dept. seems to be myopically focused on. That’s equal to about 57.6 million–and thus about equivalent to our 53-58 million estimate of workers earning $8 an hour or less who likely received no wage increase at all (unless the blue state in which they lived raised its minimum wage above the still federal minimum of only $7.2 an hour).

To summarize, accumulating evidence from various respected independent research and survey sources–including business research companies like Bankrate, ADP, and others–are providing mounting evidence that the official US government estimate of a 3.1% wage increase is a gross misrepresentation of reality which the mainstream press is more than happy to propagate to maintain the myth that the US economy is doing great for everyone. Ditto for the official jobs data that inaccurately reflects what’s going on with part time/temp/contract/gig work where the absence of wage increases are predominantly located.

And once the next recession around the corner hits with full impact, the wage and job numbers will no doubt be even worse. Not even the official obfuscation will be able to cover it up.

The majority of the American public knows from their everyday experience that the official government economic data trumpeted daily in the press and from the mouths of politicians does not reflect their actual experience. They know this isn’t the ‘greatest economy in US history’ (Trump’s tweet). Even the chairman of the executive committee of the US Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Wilson, admitted to the Wall St. Journal last week (December 13, 20109, p. R2): “We’re in a place where people’s lives have not been made better off”. To which he added “A good portion of the public has lost faith in the capitalist system”.

Got that right, Wilson.

Dr. Jack Rasmus is author of the just published book, ‘The Scourge of Neoliberalism: US Economic Policy from Reagan to Trump’, Clarity Press, January 2020, which is available at discount from his blog and website at http://jackrasmus.com

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In France a general strike has been underway now for days (all but ignored by the US press and media). The demands of the strikers are to prevent France’s president, Macron, from imposing what is in essence the ‘American Retirement System model’ on France’s workers. That ‘American Model’ itself has been a gross failure in the US–as more than half of all US workers now have no savings whatsoever; as 401k private pensions have replaced traditional defined benefit pension plans; as 401ks now provide barely $50k in total retirement resources for those at retirement age; and as Social Security monthly benefits barely average $1,200.

More cuts of pensions and social security benefits are forthcoming in 2021, moreover, as US budget deficits now exceed more than $1 trillion per year and as the US National Debt exceeds $23 trillion, projected to grow further by more than $1 trillion throughout the next decade.

As tens of millions of US retirees now face a growing crisis of incomes insufficient in retirement, more of them 65 and older are re-entering the labor force to try to make ends meet, making the 65 and over age group the fastest growing in the US labor force. The ‘American Model’ itself has failed terribly and continues to unravel still further next decade–as savings collapse and disappear, more defined benefit pension plans disappear, and as attacks on social security intensify after the 2020 election to pay for US deficits and debt.

LISTEN TO MY December 20, 2019 Alternative Visions radio show on the evolution and collapse of the US retirement system from 1980 to the present, and how France’s elites are trying to impose a similar failing American Model retirement system–and why French workers are protesting in the streets across the country in an epic struggle that may topple France’s president Macron.

GO TO: http://alternativevisions.podbean.com

SHOW ANNOUNCEMENT:

For the past week a general strike has been happening in France, the focus of which is to protest and prevent President Macron from introducing an ‘American Model’ of retirement system that would raise retirement age and reduce pension retirement benefits. What’s the ‘American Model’? Dr. Rasmus provides a historical overview of that model, created in the late 1940s based on the so-called ‘triple stool’ of retirement: social security, defined benefit pension plans (DBPs), and personal savings. Each was supposed to provide one-third of income of a reasonable retirement. Rasmus explains the evolution of social security, DBPs, and savings since Reagan and how all three have been steadily undermined, reduced, or destroyed since the 1980s—replaced by 401ks, cash balance plans, raised retirement years, and privatization of pensions. Today more than half of workers have no savings whatsoever, 401ks provide less than $50k on average for the rest of lifetimes, and social security averages less than $1,200 a month. Retirees are forced to work until they drop now, the fastest growing segment of the US labor force as they return to part time employment. Tens of millions are now facing a retirement crisis of unimaginable dimensions. (Next week: a guest, Alan Benjamin, an eyewitness to the strike in progress, will describe what’s actually going on in the French strike to prevent the ‘Americanization’ of the retirement system in France).

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