Beltway Fantasies – Part 1

Corporate control of the media undermines democracy by displacing reasoned consideration of opposing points of view to the margins of public discourse.  In place of considered arguments, the corporate media simply repeats and amplifies the fallacious and self-serving fantasies of the corporate elites and their representatives in Washington.  As a result we base our economic and social policies on Beltway fantasies that succeed in garnering (bare) majority support but that bear almost no relation to reality or good sense.  These fantasies promote the short-term corporate bottom line at our considerable expense, threaten the viability of our ecosystem and make a mockery of the ideals of democracy for which our fore-bearers organized, fought and often died.  This article, written by the members of the Spilling Ink writers’ collective, is the first in a series of articles written to throw some needed cold water on beltway fantasies.  Comments or suggestions are welcome at http://www.SpillingInk.net.

Fantasy #1:  Regulation is bad – it burdens business, kills jobs, and hurts the economy. (Chris Schell)

Non-existent, poorly designed, weakly administered, under funded and intentionally ignored regulations have killed more jobs, bankrupted more businesses and done more damage to the economy than any over-regulation has ever done.  And that’s just the business and financial regulations.  Most Superfund sites (scenes of environmental destruction) were caused by regulation lapses of one kind or another.  The gulf oil spill – lack of regulation.  And the number of lives saved by regulation of cars, highways, medicines, hospitals, nursing homes, food supply, workplace safety?   Countless.  Someone is always willing to make money by endangering other peoples lives and homes.

Lack of financial regulation, deregulation, or unenforced regulation (through greed or ideological blindness) has been at the root of nearly every major economic disaster of my lifetime.  The Savings and Loan scandal, the buying and dismantling of businesses to raid workers pension funds, the recent housing and financial collapse all resulted in what can only be termed obscene wealth being reaped by bankers, Wall Street financiers and corporate CEOs.  All of these scandals resulted in devastation for working Americans.  This is true class warfare.   Alan Greenspan could have stopped this last collapse but he believed in the free market.  He believed regulation was not needed because Wall Street would not be so blind and greedy to risk economic destruction for short-term greed.  He really nailed that one didn’t he?

Today microsecond trading which makes huge profits for a few while adding value to absolutely nothing could easily be taxed or regulated out of existence but the SEC does nothing.  Today grain and oil prices spike without regard to supply because the Bush administration removed limits on the futures commodity market.  These limits could easily be replaced but Republican appointees on the Federal Trade Commission do not believe it is necessary.  People around the world are starving because of our ideological blindness, including in the Middle East, contributing to the current turmoil there.

Deregulation has consequences.

Fantasy #2. All tax cuts are good all the time. (David Kristjanson-Gural)

This belief follows from the following claims:

i)               that government run services are inefficient and should be replaced by privately run services which are efficient;

ii)             that providing money and assistance to people in need causes them harm because it undermines their initiative and causes them to become more dependent;

iii)            that tax cuts provide an incentive to businesses to increase production and create jobs;

iv)            that wealth and income distribution results from fairly rewarding individual effort so redistributing income through taxation is unjustified.

In fact:

i)               Many government run services are highly efficient and many privately run services are inefficient.  Monopolies, in particular, maximize profits by restricting supply and charging high prices and they lack competitive incentives to innovate.   Adam Smith advocated the regulation or elimination of monopolies because they impose “an absurd tax” in the form of monopoly prices.  Most mature industries – drugs, agriculture, insurance, banking to name a few – are dominated by monopoly.

ii)             Providing money and assistance to people in need most often allows them to regain self-reliance and contribute to their families and communities.  Incidents of welfare fraud or recidivism are very low.  Crime and health costs are higher when we fail to provide assistance to people in need.

iii)            Tax cuts are not associated with greater business investment.  Business investment is governed primarily by the expected future rate of return, which depends highly on the business cycle and consumer confidence.  Cutting taxes simply allows corporations and wealthy individuals to free ride on the social investments taxpayers finance including education, infrastructure, and research and development without which corporations would be less profitable.

iv)            Wealth and income distribution is not the result of individual effort and innovation but largely results from ownership and control of productive or financial assets.  These assets “produce wealth” only because they allow owners to lay claim to the value created by the workers they employ.  Furthermore, social investments in education, research and development, common property in the form of raw materials, the legal and political system – all publicly financed – form a collective basis for the privately acquired wealth.  Taxing income and wealth is a means of ensuring individuals pay their fair share of the social investment.

The belief that cutting taxes is good rests on self-serving beliefs concerning fairness and the role of government.  Many working class people, whose pay has been squeezed by private corporations for 30 years, have been hoodwinked into believing these false claims because taxes are one thing they can affect.  Instead of focusing on cutting taxes, it is time to focus on raising wages, breaking up monopolies and calling into question the legitimacy of corporate profits.

Fantasy #3.  Government should be run like a business.  (Joe Detelj)

This bit of corporate propaganda is actually based on a false equivalency.

A business is chartered for the express purpose of generating profits for the owners. A business offers products and charges what the market will bear in order to maximize these profits.  Any activity that generates revenue, no matter the social costs, is an institutional imperative.

Governments impose taxes in order to generate revenue for investments in infrastructure, human capital and public safety.  Governments are elected to promote the general welfare and are to function with the consent of the governed.  This arrangement was designed to provide a system of checks and balances.

Inadequate revenue is a prescription for bankruptcy for both entities.  The irony of the false equivalency is that were it to be implemented, taxes would be levied on the governments most lucrative market, our wealthiest citizens and businesses and increased substantially.  We would have ideological consistency – government run like a business – but I imagine, public policy that would drive the advocates of business-government equivalency insane with rage.

Fantasy #4: The Tea Party and the Founding Fathers have similar beliefs. (Chris Schell)

Most of the Founders were personally tolerant of others’ religious beliefs. A few were atheists; several were Deists, cafeteria Christians in today’s negative terminology. Most believed in religious tolerance because they had seen the result of religious hatred.   The Founding Fathers were freethinkers, scientists and lawyers – the educated elite of their day. They were at the forefront of scientific discovery and invention and of legal and political thought. Elite, educated, thoughtful, progressive, devoted to knowledge, tolerant.  They were also willing to negotiate and compromise for the sake of political progress. Does this sound like the Tea Party?

Naturally the Founders did not always live up to their ideals. They tolerated racism and bigotry for political success or financial advantage.  They thought land ownership was a requirement for political participation and that wealth should provide a path to political power. They particularly were interested in the rights of white males.  Some – but not all – of these belief dovetail nicely with those of the Tea Party.

But even if you disagree with these judgments, do you really think that Washington, Hamilton, Paine, Adams, Jefferson or Franklin would have any respect for Glen Beck?

Fantasy #5: Republicans Support our Troops. (Charles Sackrey)

Starting in 2003, George W. Bush and the Republicans used a witches’ brew of fraudulent evidence to justify sending over 1,000,000 military personnel to war in Iraq.  Of these, 4,440 died, and 30,000 were wounded.  About one third of the survivors have suffered mental illnesses since their return.  These facts alone dispel the myth that the Republicans support our troops: they sent them to war and to their fate on false pretenses.  (It always needs mentioning that, along with U.S. military losses, at least 125,000 Iraqis have so far died and 2.5 million have been displaced.)

Once the U.S. troops came home, the Republicans’ assault on some of them continued.  In 2005 Salon.com, and in 2007 the Washington Post, brought national attention to complaints from war-wounded patients at D.C.’s Walter Reed Army Hospital about treatment there.  The complaints were about understaffing, and about rats, roaches, black mold, cheap mattresses, and a lack of heat and hot water in some rooms. Investigations led to the sacking of the hospital’s head and to its overhaul.  Thus, during much of the Iraq War, the hospital was in a steady decline.

More recent examples are easy to come by.  In their war on spending, Congressional Republicans are now trying to eliminate $75 million from the budget of the Veterans Administration to be allocated to housing vouchers for at least some of the 76,000 veterans who are now homeless. And, Congresswoman Michele Bachman, a Tea Party fan from Minnesota, has proposed lopping $4.5 billion from the overall VA’s budget.

While they try to limit housing vouchers for Iraq veterans, the Republicans are working just as hard to retain the Bush tax cuts which each year provide about $40 billion of extra income to the nation’s richest 1%.

What do the veterans think?  Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) recently evaluated the Congress on the basis of support for the interests of U.S. war veterans. These grades were awarded strictly on performance rather than on party affiliation.

Here are the results:

The IAVA gave out 154 D and F grades. 142 of those went to Republicans and 12 to Democrats — meaning that 92 percent of the D and F grades went to members of the GOP.

Of the 94 congressmen that received A or A+ grades, 91 are Democrats and three are Republicans.

Fantasy #6: Cold Winters in the Eastern USA prove Global Warming is a myth. – Karl Patten

Snowstorms or colder weather do not prove much about global warming.  These events are simply weather experienced in a specific location at a specific time.  Climate, however, refers to the prevailing weather conditions – such as average temperature, precipitation, wind, humidity, and atmospheric pressure – observed over decades.

Climate data show that global warming is already having profound effects on precipitation patterns, intensifying rain or snowfall in places accustomed to such precipitation while decreasing precipitation in areas or times of the year that typically receive little.  These impacts are likely to become even more pronounced in the decades ahead if heat-trapping emissions continue unabated.  (See Union of Concerned Scientists – www.ucsusa.org/blueprint)

Fantasy #7:  Evolution is just a theory.  (Joe Detelj)

Actually this is true.  Evolution shares elegant company with the theory of gravity, electro magnetism, relativity and photosynthesis.  Just to name a few.

A Change of Life

Yeah, it’s mostly truckers, I guess, though

I don’t always know – how could I? – but don’t

Buy that bullshit that they’re all the same.

Sure, some are “slam-bam, thanks ma’am,” but not

All, and maybe even those guys are driving

Tight to the hour, their bosses holding damn

Stop-watches on them.  They may look raw and mean

On the road, but they’re slaves like the rest of us.

 

Anyway, this sure beats working the check-out.

There, your feet about ready to drop off by

The end of the day, your head full of numbers,

Bargains, coupons, all the dopey housewives.

With a bum salary, no benefits, forget about

A union.  I decided the market’s for idiots.

 

Took this up a couple of years ago.  We live

Just off the interstate in a nice house,

And one day I thought, “why not go into

Business for myself instead of busting ass

For the rich ones?” So I drove down to

The terminal, let it be known I was free

Form 10 to 5, Mondays through Fridays.

Sounds almost official doesn’t it? No time

Before a guy or two showed up, a little shy

At first, but I made them easy.  Soon after

Too many came, bumping into each other, and I

Had to figure a way of making things clear,

So I bought this American flag in a yard sale,

And when I put it in the window it meant

That I was “free,” get it?  I took it down

When I had a customer and they caught on real

Fast, sped on to Ontario or Ohio, somewhere.

 

All those dumb years I didn’t understand

That I was sitting on a fortune.  That’s changed,

Of course, I’m not really rich, but I can buy

Pretty much whatever I want and share some

Of my money around, and I think I truly am

Free.  At least, I’m my own boss these days.

 

From Irreplaceable You and Other Poems

By Karl Patten

 

Commentary:

 

I seldom write in the voice of a woman, but sometimes it’s tempting and necessary, as in “A Change of Life.”  I well know the basic elements here.  Each week we shopped at a supermarket and one of the check-out people was an attractive woman in her thirties, and by the highway we used was a house which frequently had a truck parked outside.  I put these two simple facts together to create the poem.  No doubt I had back in my mind those Godard films of the sixties in which Parisian housewives became prostitutes.

 

Once I heard the woman’s voice in my head this was an easy poem to write, for she could merely tell her story, which allowed me to speak for the oppressed working class, both the check-out woman and the truckers.  The detail that surprised me here was the flag bought at a yard sale; I had not anticipated this when I began the poem, and it delighted me (this was only a few years after Bush’s hysterical patriotism).

Witness

Submitted by Charles Sackrey

I was raised in Texas as a Southern Baptist and, of course, I came to know about how a person’s actions might “give witness” to some element in that brand of Christianity. The word became ingrained in my mind and, despite long ago falling from grace into atheism, it remained for me an urgent piece of loaded language. Now, when I see or read about some commanding witness on behalf of what I believe, such as those described below, it always helps me to keep on keeping on.

Some witnesses are so powerful that they take the breath away and ripple and resonate through the body politic from then on. On April 28, 1967 in Houston, Muhammad Ali refused to be drafted to fight in Vietnam on the grounds that, as he put it, “I ain’t got nothing against those Viet Congs.” And, “No Viet Cong ever called me a nigger.” He was found guilty, fined $10,000 dollars and stripped of his heavyweight title by the boxing commissions in every state. It’s hard to overestimate the lasting and profound effect of his action on many of us millions of Americans who shared his antipathy to that vile and misbegotten war. When that beautiful, proud black man from Kentucky stood his ground in Houston he strengthened our own commitments, however frail and small in comparison, against the U.S. war machine.

Between 1977-1982, for a year with a friend, then alone after that, I published a small left-wing quarterly magazine that mixed fiction, poetry, and commentary. As I put together the 1980 winter issue, I came across the account (the source of which I have lost) of an action by an English boy of 14, Henry Eaton. Henry was arrested in 1794 for publicly resisting the government’s repressive measures in response to the clamor for democratic rights stirred up by the French Revolution. For his crime of advocating democracy, fourteen year old Henry Eaton was brought before the prime minister himself, William Pitt, the Younger. As he stood in the front of Pitt, and I quote:

Henry Eaton did enter into a political harangue in which he used very harsh language against Mr. Pitt, upbraiding him with having taxed the people [rather than the rich and powerful] to an enormous extent.

Thank you, Henry Eaton, cheeky boy of fourteen years, for being in my memory and urging me onward when I hesitate to take action simply because I am afraid. And, pardon me when I have so often held back and watched the others do my work for me.

Recently, while I was watching the movie, “North Country,” I decided to write this article. The movie tells the story of Lois Jenson, a Minnesota woman who in 1975 went to work at a huge taconite mine. She was one of the very few women who worked there, and they all faced unceasing, degrading, and often violent harassment from most of the male miners. With colossal courage, she challenged the men, at the mine and in the court. In doing that, she became a pariah in a community which refused to admit the sordid treatment of the women in the mine. Lois Jenson ultimately prevailed, and the story of what she did and its effects are detailed in Clara Bingham and Laura Leedy Gansler, in their book, Class Action: The Story of Lois Jenson and the Landmark Case That Changed Sexual Harassment Law (2003). If you have any stirrings inside for the democratic rights of women, or for anyone else, you probably can’t watch this movie without feeling a persistent itch to do something about it.

The importance of giving witness is that such actions are always noticed by others — whether what you do shakes the whole world or just a few people who pass by and read the sign you’re holding. Of course your enemies will turn away in disgust, or will respond with harsh words and sometimes evens harsher actions. Yet, your hand in the air will undoubtedly energize your allies because it will confirm their own convictions and actions. More important, taking a stand will likely have its greatest impact on those still on the side of the fray, knowing that things need to be done but yet can’t see themselves as the ones doing them.

Each of us, on our way to political action, has to start somewhere, and that beginning is always fraught with doubt, embarrassment, and the fear of offending friends, family, strangers, co-workers, and the boss. But, all this bad stuff doesn’t win the day because taking that first step – joining a phone bank, writing a letter to the editor, making a sign for a rally, marching in one — always feels so damned good. And, that is why the second step is already on the way.

If we are going to salvage a democratic culture from what we have now, we need a great and growing mass of witnesses spreading the word about democracy with their bold actions, encouraging, enlivening and urging each other forward. The truth is that there isn’t any other way to get it done.

Welfare Capitalism

(submitted by Joe Detelj)

By all accounts we are bearing witness to a financial collapse of epic proportions. It is serious enough that our political appointees have offered a trillion dollar prescription to the Bush administration, no questions asked. The properly credentialed experts residing in our economic institutions warn that we have yet to suffer the effects of this in the “real” economy. The job losses announced to date will continue unabated well into the future. A double digit spike in home foreclosures clearly portends hard times and an economy whose fundamentals are far from sound.

In my opinion this situation needs to be viewed from a set of assumptions that are not necessarily those of the corporate media, Fox business news, or their sponsors. I assume that wealth is created from manufacturing and agriculture: Energy from the sun, mixed with air, water, soil, and mystery plus raw materials worked into the stuff we use to feed, clothe, house, and amuse ourselves generates the surplus that allows us to live in towns and cities, attend university, go to the opera, movies, or church such  as our inclinations warrant. The service economy is a myth, a Ponzi scheme whose effect we are now experiencing. How can we live by taking in each others laundry while the material substance of our lives is made in places the average person could never find on a map?

It is in this context that I find it difficult to control my passions in light of the Senate’s reaction to an auto industry loan. The opposition is largely centered in the right to work Southern states that are home to the foreign auto plants held up as  industry standards.  We are to suppose that the market share these plants would inherit in the event of a collapse of the domestic auto industry plays no part in the civic virtue exhibited by our kin south of the Mason-Dixon line. We have been issued the talking points that as guardians of the taxpayers money  these good fellows can not in good conscience help a failing industry unless the recipients  restructure. They could not support failure. If a restructuring takes place then limited help would be acceptable, with conditions similar but different from those imposed on Germany after WW1.  At last compassion reigns.

But let us be clear what is meant by restructuring, and that is that the union must be broken. If you listen to the latest rhetoric it does not obscure this  requirement which was originally inferred. Were we to scrutinize our civic guardians of virtue with a modicum of oversight comparable to that which they believe they are practicing, we would find circumstances that should give pause. Every foreign plant located in the US has been the recipient of huge subsidies. These factories have been given the facilities where they are located as an economic development stimulus. They are housed in State provided land , buildings, water, sewer, and a host of municipal services. They pay discounted utility bills not available to the rest of the citizenry. They all require rail service that has been routed and rerouted for their convenience, all at taxpayer expense. Their State and local taxes have been deferred, reduced or eliminated. Of particular relevance, is their absence of “legacy costs”.   

These plants being of more recent origin have a work force who have not reached retirement age, consequently their pensions are not factored into the published wage rates. Of greater significance is the fact that these factories are assembly plants. They assemble components imported from their European and Far Eastern parent companies: Multinationals that are not hindered by “legacy” costs since universal, single payer health care and a social safety net is provided as an entitlement of citizenship. It is not a cost of production incurred by the industry. The mystic market workings of a fair and impartial “invisible hand” guiding economic behavior is rubbish. The nonsense that we need only leave the market sort itself out is a veil of tears meant to obscure the ideological and financial self interests of the very persons who have created this disaster and laid us to rest on a bed of nails.  It has occurred to me that much is made of the wages that auto workers receive. They produce cars and trucks fundamental to our economy. They produce wealth. The industry is in a collapse and the workers, the least culpable cause of this situation are being blamed. The financial industry is  in a collapse of immensely greater proportions and we hear hardly a murmur of the need for reorganization cast at our friendly banker, broker, auditor, SEC/Federal Reserve director, Treasury Secretary, or President. I have not been able to find any call for a reduction of their compensation and benefits. They have destroyed wealth and have avoided scrutiny. The major difference is the color of their collar.    

Leadership at every segment of society has failed. A rearrangement of the deck chairs on the Titanic appears to be the order of the day. A clearer vision of remedial action that does not blame the victim needs  to be the first prerequisite for a proper correction to happen. People are hurting and are experiencing a great deal of uncertainty. In the grand scheme of things, they are not the engineers who brought this upon themselves.

Giving Voice to Radical Democracy

A speech given by David Kristjanson-Gural at the annual Norman Thomas dinner, November 22nd, 2008 in Lewisburg, PA.

It is good to be here.  I find this evening one of the most heartening of the year and I thank Charles Sackrey for his tireless efforts and each of you for coming tonight.  I’d like to address the topic of how we embody the principles of social democracy in our daily lives by describing my work teaching political economy; the impact it has on my students and also on my experience as a worker at Bucknell.  I want to conclude by extending an invitation to you all to join a new project to further the work I am about to describe.

I am in the fortunate position of being paid to do political work in the service of social democracy.  I recognize that we are discouraged from thinking of our work as Bucknell professors as political work but teaching political economy can’t help but be, well, political.  It is true that I don’t try to persuade my students to change their political beliefs.  In what sense then is the work that I do political?

In my work I get to encourage students to think critically about how our economic system is organized.  I use Marx’s concept of class, the idea that in any society work must be organized in such a way as to both reproduce the workers and to provide a surplus, a fund from which to pay for a whole host of activities not directly associated with maintaining the workers themselves but which are needed to maintain an support the class system.  In the U.S. for example manufacturing workers produce on average 4 or 5 times more value during the working day than they receive in wages.  That value is collected by boards of directors and used to pay for a whole array of expenses associated with keeping companies afloat – rent, interest, taxes management salaries, advertising, pr, lobbying and dividends are just a few examples.  Marx identified a basic class conflict within capitalism – workers are excluded from participating in the decisions concerning how work is organized and how the surplus they produce is utilized.  He called this exclusion “alienation” and he argued that workers must be included in these decisions in order to be free.  He also noted that depriving workers of participating in decisions concerning the surplus they have produced is a form of social theft – a type of “taxation without representation”.

Class conflict over the surplus affects us all very personally because the more surplus each worker produces, the better the chances each company has of survival.  Think of it this way, if you produce the value of your daily wage in two hours, the remainder of the workday is devoted to creating surplus for the company.  The longer the work day, or work year, the more surplus the company has at its disposal.  Alternatively, if you are made to work harder or otherwise more productively, you earn your daily wage in less time and more time again is available to produce surplus. Working harder, working longer, does any of this sound familiar? Salaried workers, middle class professionals, are not immune from this struggle and I will return in a moment to consider the implications of class struggle at Bucknell.

A great number of insights follow from this basic starting point, insights that directly confront many of my students’ basic presuppositions about capitalism.  Isn’t the heart of liberal arts education exactly this: to provide alternative perspectives from which to make sense of our social experience and to challenge students to examine critically those viewpoints in order to make up their own minds what to believe?

So here is the sense in which I believe the work to be political.  When I examine our society as a class system I find that some of the most important uses to which our social surplus is put is to mystify us – to get us to stop thinking or to ensure we think in very limited and circumscribed ways because our critical examination of capitalism is frankly dangerous.  To maintain the legitimacy of this system we first of all need to be convinced that we are being treated fairly or, failing that, that there is a sensible justification for the unfairness.  We need to be convinced not to question a whole host of propositions “that competition leads to better performance; that market exchanges are voluntary and benefit all; that increased consumption leads to greater happiness; that cooperation is inefficient; that if rewards go primarily to the wealthy ultimately we will all benefit. I could go on.

From a class perspective it is clear then that the work of teaching political economy is primarily directed to interrupting these important cultural conditions of our economy: we are interrupting the production of an ideology that is vital for the reproduction of capitalism.

This is the sense in which the work we do is political.  We are not as conservative critics would have you believe, trying to brainwash students, to get them over to our side by feeding them biased information and bullying them into towing a line.  To the contrary we are trying to unbrainwash them, to get them thinking, questioning.  This is an act of great service to all students no matter where they eventually come down.  In providing this service I see, each year, a handful of students who come to accept the ideas underpinning social democratic vision; another larger group who have a great deal more respect for these ideas than they had when I met them but who remain skeptical or unconvinced; a group who offer reasoned opposition to these ideas and a few who are simply and unfortunately impervious to reason.

But I am encouraged because I am not alone in this effort.  My own efforts may be modest, but put together with the work of others in this room, and in colleges and universities across the country I know what we what we do matters.  Together we affect the way a small but significant proportion of the population view capitalism and we inform their actions.  We do this both in the classroom and by producing a body of writing that serves to develop, elaborate and defend the ideas underpinning a social democratic vision.  So teaching political economy fulfils an important political objective, but not by violating the principles of liberal arts education, rather by embracing them.  It is an important political work and it needs to be strengthened and broadened and carried out into the community and into the new public spaces created by emerging technology.

Before I say more about how I think we can do that I want to say a word about living the values of social democracy at Bucknell itself.  On the one hand, Bucknell is committed to a democratic model and as a professor I have the opportunity to participate in a range of decisions affecting our work.  However, from a class perspective Bucknell is similar to any other capitalist company, as professors we produce more value each day than we receive in the form of wages.  This value is appropriated by the board of trustees in the form of tuition and allocated to a series of activities necessary to reproduce Bucknell as a viable institution.  The support workers we work with have very little say in how their work is organized or how the surplus we produce is distributed.  These conditions, alienation from work and from each other, and class conflict over the degree of exploitation we face form an unspoken backdrop to our otherwise laudable aims.

As professors, we are exploited, since we are largely excluded from participation in the decisions concerning the uses to which the surplus which we have created is put.  At the same time we consider ourselves middle class professionals, we have considerable control over our work, we do participate on committees that help to shape policies.  Left out of the formation of our cultural identity as Bucknell professors however is any mention of this Marxian concept of class.  Missing this concept our discussions of our workloads become arguments among ourselves about whether each of us is doing enough, sometimes about whether the rewards offered for various types of work give us the proper incentive to serve our students, sometimes that the bar for tenure is too low or too high.  Sometimes we complain that the University’s revenues could be better spent, on academics as opposed to buildings or sports facilities or administrative salaries.  We do not however, consider extent to which conflict over the collective surplus we produce has led us, often at the behest of the concept of professionalism, simply to overwork.  We don’t consider the possibility that the work we have done entitles us to a say over where the University’s revenues are spent.  Class is not in our vocabulary and, to this extent, we are dumb on matters that affect us personally, persistently and profoundly.

To really embrace the vision of social democracy how would things be different?  Imagine a board of trustees at Bucknell comprised of professors, support staff, administrators, and students.  Problems and conflicts would abound.  We would, however, be engaged in social democracy, we would engage in broader discussions concerning how work is organized and shared, how much is expected and how it is rewarded.

I think you can see why it is difficult to promote the values of social democracy at Bucknell as a worker.  Even raising the problem of overwork and exploitation is difficult because it contradicts the dominant way we constitute our identities as “middle class professions” rather than as workers.  But overwork is endemic and it can be disabling.  It disables us as parents and spouses, as members of our community, as daughters and sons to our aging parents, as citizens.  At a deeper level, when we and those we work along side are excluded from decisions concerning our work and how to use the surplus we have collectively created we are absolved from responsibility for the consequences of our actions.  Our humanity is devalued and we become alienated from our work, ourselves and each other.

I want us to begin to have discussions about class at Bucknell, at other workplaces and here in the broader community.  Discussions about what it would mean fully to embrace the ideals of radical democracy, not at a limited sanitized scale but in every aspect of our lives.  I am not insisting on one version of democracy, I am certainly not trying to brainwash anyone, I do want to insist we engage with it, interrogate it, think together about how and where and when and why and yes ,whether, we can and should take it on.

Until recently it has been hard to have these conversations in part because of the continuous upward pressure on our time.   But we have also not had access to effective means of communication.  New technology is allowing us unprecedented access to public spaces, spaces we need to meet, deliberate and organize. We have also been confronting a dominant story that individual self-interest and unregulated markets will lead to the greatest social good.  That dominant story is now mortally wounded and its demise makes room for new narratives, narratives that insist on the importance of our connection, our cooperation and our collective activity to reverse the harm that these decades of conservative thinking have wrought.  A crisis is a moment of danger, but also a moment of opportunity. I am inviting all of you to seize that opportunity by participating in a ongoing dialogue and debate, a conversation we have begun tonight about how we can promote the ideals of social democracy in our daily lives.

A group of us has begun meeting weekly with the goal of disseminating views that promote radical democratic change.  Our work will be published at http://www.SpillingInk.net and you will be able to respond, react, rejoice or denounce the ideas and proposals there.  We are also thinking together about how most effectively to disseminate these views to traditional existing media, the local papers and popular journals and perhaps to extend our reach into other forms of media.

I think some of the most damaging effects of our current system have to do with the unrecognized effects of class conflict and that to begin to move to more sustainable, more humane territory we need to address them.  To do this all need to do is to come together, to think together and out loud about what else is possible and how we can make it come to be.  And then begin to act.  I recognize that we are not used to feeling empowered but we cannot now afford to remain complacent – the stakes are simply too high.  I believe that if we try we will prevail.

I have spoken long enough but let me end with this image from, of all places, the pages of Henry V. With apologies to the bard:

This story shall we spread to everyone;
And the birth of Norman Thomas shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of sisters and of brothers;
For she to-day that sheds her ink with me
Shall be my sister; be she ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle her condition;
And gentle folk in Lewisburg now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their lives as cheap whiles any speaks
That gave voice with us upon the day of Normans’ birth.

I hope you will consider joining us.