CRF Blog

The New Class War

by Bill Hayes

In The New Class War for American Affairs, Michael Lind offers a new way of understanding the populism arising around the world.

The Cold War has been followed by the class war. A transatlantic class war has broken out simultaneously in many countries between elites based in the corporate, financial, and professional sectors and working-class populists. Already this transnational class conflict has produced Brexit and the election of Donald Trump to the American presidency. Other shocks are likely in store.

None of the dominant political ideologies of the West can explain the new class war, because all of them pretend that persisting social classes no longer exist in the West. Neoliberalism — the hegemonic ideology of the transatlantic elite — pretends that class has disappeared in societies that are purely meritocratic, with the exception of barriers to individual upward mobility that still exist because of racism, misogyny, and homophobia. Unable to acknowledge the existence of social class, much less to candidly discuss class conflicts, neoliberals can only attribute populism to bigotry or irrationality.

Like neoliberalism, mainstream conservatism denies the existence of classes in the West. Along with neoliberals and libertarians, conservatives assume that the economic elite is not a semi-hereditary class but merely an ever-changing, kaleidoscopic aggregate of talented and hard-working individuals. Meritocratic capitalism is threatened from within by a “new class” consisting of progressive intellectuals — professors, journalists, and nonprofit activists — who are said to be vastly more powerful than CEOs and investment bankers.

Marxism at least takes classes and class conflict seriously. But classical Marxism, with its secularized, providential theory of history and its view of industrial workers as the cosmopolitan agents of global revolution, has always been deluded.

Fortunately, there exists a body of thought that can explain the current upheavals in the West and the world very well. It is James Burnham’s theory of the managerial revolution, supplemented by the economic sociology of John Kenneth Galbraith. Burnham’s thought has recently enjoyed a revival among thinkers of the center and center-right, including Matthew Continetti, Daniel McCarthy, and Julius Krein. Unfortunately, Galbraith’s sociology, along with his economics, remains out of fashion.

In their politics, Burnham and Galbraith could hardly have been more different, despite their shared friendship with William F. Buckley Jr. The patrician Burnham was a leader in the international Trotskyist movement before becoming zealously anticommunist and helping to found the post–World War II conservative movement. Galbraith, in contrast, was a passionate liberal throughout his life.

Yet both believed that a new ruling elite had displaced the old bourgeois and aristocratic estates. Burnham, following Adolf Berle and Gardiner Means’s The Modern Corporation and Private Property (1932), coined the term “the managerial elite” in his worldwide bestseller The Managerial Revolution (1941). Later, in The New Industrial State (1967), Galbraith called the same group the “technostructure.” In his memoir A Life in Our Times (1981), Galbraith wrote: “James Burnham, partly because he was a stalwart right-winger well out of the political mainstream and partly because he was not a certified academician, never got full credit for his contribution. In early editions of The New Industrial State I was among those in default.”

In his essay “Second Thoughts on James Burnham,” George Orwell provided a succinct summary of Burnham’s thesis:

“Capitalism is disappearing, but Socialism is not replacing it. What is now arising is a new kind of planned, centralized society which will be neither capitalist nor, in any accepted sense of the word, democratic. The rulers of this new society will be the people who effectively control the means of production: that is, business executives, technicians, bureaucrats and soldiers, lumped together by Burnham, under the name of “managers.” These people will eliminate the old capitalist class, crush the working class, and so organize society that all power and economic privilege remain in their own hands…. The new “managerial” societies will not consist of a patchwork of small, independent states, but of great super-states grouped round the main industrial centers in Europe, Asia and America. These super-states will fight among themselves for possession of the remaining uncaptured portions of the earth, but will probably be unable to conquer one another completely. Internally, each society will be hierarchical, with an aristocracy of talent at the top and a mass of semi-slaves at the bottom.”

The thesis of this essay is that the theory of the managerial elite explains the present transatlantic social and political crisis. Following World War II, the democracies of the United States and Europe, along with Japan — determined to avoid a return to depression and committed to undercutting communist anti-capitalist propaganda — adopted variants of cross-class settlements, brokered by national governments between national managerial elites and national labor. Following the Cold War, the global business revolution shattered these social compacts. Through the empowerment of multinational corporations and the creation of transnational supply chains, managerial elites disempowered national labor and national governments and transferred political power from national legislatures to executive agencies, transnational bureaucracies, and treaty organizations. Freed from older constraints, the managerial minorities of Western nations have predictably run amok, using their near-monopoly of power and influence in all sectors — private, public, and nonprofit — to enact policies that advantage their members to the detriment of their fellow citizens. Derided and disempowered, large elements of the native working classes in Western democracies have turned to charismatic tribunes of anti-system populism in electoral rebellions against the selfishness and arrogance of managerial elites.

This essay will conclude with speculation about the possibility of new cross-class settlements among dominant managerial minorities and subordinate working-class majorities in developed nations. These new settlements, if they emerge, will have two characteristics. Like the older settlements, they will be negotiated at the nation-state level, not at the transnational level. And just as the older social settlements were influenced by the world wars and the Cold War, so future cross-class settlements among managers and workers will be influenced by whether the geopolitical context is one of great-power peace or great-power rivalry. [more]

For a related free classroom lesson, see “Putin’s Illiberal Democracy.” Available from  CRF’s Bill of Rights in Action Archive, it is currently only in PDF and you will have to register (if you haven’t already), which is free.

10 demographic trends shaping the U.S. and the world in 2017

by Bill Hayes

Pew Research Center reports on 10 demographic trends shaping the U.S. and the world in 2017.

  1. Millennials are the United States’ largest living generation. In 2016, there were an estimated 79.8 million Millennials (ages 18 to 35 in that year) compared with 74.1 million Baby Boomers (ages 52 to 70). The Millennial population is expected to continue growing until 2036 as a result of immigration.

By some measures, Millennials have very different lives than earlier generations did when they were young. They’re slow to adopt many of the traditional markers of adulthood. For the first time in more than 130 years, young adults are more likely to be living in their parents’ home than in any other living arrangement. In fact, a larger share of them are living with their parents than with a romantic partner – marking a significant historical shift. More broadly, young adult geographic mobility is at its lowest level in 50 years, even though today’s young adults are less likely than previous generations of young adults to be married, to own a home or to be parents, all of which are traditional obstacles to moving.[more]

List of the Day: 35 Books Everyone Should Read At Least Once In Their Lifetime

by Bill Hayes

In 35 Books Everyone Should Read At Least Once In Their Lifetime, Business Insider list 35 must-reads, some of which I disagree with (but that’s the point of the list).

“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams

In the first book of the series, Arthur Dent is warned by his friend Ford Prefect — a secret researcher for the interstellar travel guide “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” — that Earth is about to be demolished.

The pair escapes on an alien spaceship, and the book follows their bizarre adventures around the universe along with quotes from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide” like: “A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have.”

“Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley

“Brave New World” is about a government that is conditioning and drugging people to convince them they’re happy.

Set in dystopian London in 2540 AD, the book explores themes of commodification, psychological manipulation, developments in reproductive technology, and the power of knowledge. [more]

Interview of the Day: Cathy O’Neil

by Bill Hayes

The Los Angeles Times interviews Cathy O’Neil, author of Weapons of Math Destruction.

When did you first realize that big data could be used to perpetuate inequality?

I found out that the work I was doing on tailored advertising was a mechanism for for-profit colleges to find vulnerable, single black mothers. Find their pain points and promise them a better life if they signed up for online courses, which in the meantime loaded them up with debt and gave them a useless education. I was like, “That’s not helping anyone; that’s making their struggles worse, and it’s happening on my watch because I am the one building the technology for this to work very efficiently.” [more]

Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured

by Bill Hayes

The New York Times Book Review reviews Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured by Kathryn Harrison.

It remains, after nearly 600 years, a story to break your heart. In the 1420s, in a village in northeastern France, an illiterate teenage peasant girl has a series of visions telling her that God wants her to lead a French army to lift the English siege of Orléans and help crown the dauphin, Charles, king in the cathedral at Reims. Putting on men’s clothing and winning over everyone by force of character and belief, she gets her army and triumphantly achieves all that the voices have foretold. Pious, outspoken, stubborn and recklessly courageous, she breaks every rule of gender, class and organized religion, and the people flock to her. Then comes her fall. Sidelined at court, she waits too long to launch an unsuccessful attack on English-occupied Paris, during which she is wounded, and then in a skirmish at Compiègne she is captured. Abandoned by the king, she is cruelly imprisoned, tried as a heretic and witch, then burned at the stake. The light of revelation ends in the agony of fire, and the legend of Joan of Arc is born. [more]

CRF has a free Bill of Rights in Action online lesson titled “ ‘Go Boldly!’: Joan of Arc and the Hundred Years War.”  Available from  CRF’s Bill of Rights in Action Archive, it is currently only in PDF and you will have to register (if you haven’t already), which is free.

Backgrounder on Venezuela in Crisis

by Bill Hayes

Backgrounders from the Council on Foreign Relations are primers on pressing world issues. They usually include histories, summaries, images, graphs, video, and links to additional resources.

A recent Backgrounder was on Venezuela in Crisis.

Venezuela is in the midst of an unprecedented economic and political crisis marked by severe food and medicine shortages, soaring crime rates, and an increasingly authoritarian executive. Critics of President Nicolas Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, say Venezuela’s economic woes are the fruit of years of economic mismanagement; Maduro’s supporters blame falling oil prices and the country’s “corrupt” business elites.

In January 2016, opposition lawmakers took a majority in the legislature—the National Assembly—for the first time in nearly two decades. However, the Maduro government has taken steps since to consolidate his power, including usurping some of the legislature’s powers. Maduro’s actions have been met with massive protests and international condemnation. [more]

Can You Turn a Terrorist Back Into a Citizen?

by Bill Hayes

In Can You Turn a Terrorist Back Into a Citizen?, Wired magazine looks at a Minneapolis program that aims to reform homegrown ISIS recruits.

[Abdullahi] Yusuf and five of his friends, all young Somali Americans from Minneapolis who’d schemed to fight in Syria, eventually pleaded guilty to trying to join the Islamic State. Yusuf and one of his codefendants, Abdirizak Warsame, went even further, agreeing to testify and help convict Daud and two other members of the group whom the government characterized as the conspiracy’s leaders. (Two additional members actually made it to Syria and were killed fighting for ISIS.) No matter their level of contrition or cooperation, however, the six men who took plea bargains each faced up to 15 years in prison — a standard sentence for an American found guilty of aiding the Islamic State.

But Michael J. Davis, the federal judge who presided over the Minneapolis terrorism cases, was troubled. Some of the defendants appeared to be malleable youths who’d been ensnared by sly recruiting tactics. Yusuf, for example, was first lured into the group during pickup basketball at a mosque. After the games, the men would spend hours watching a YouTube channel called Enter the Truth. The videos, all slick Islamic State productions, focused on the suffering of Syrian children and the moral corruption of the West. Soon enough, Yusuf was wondering whether he should join the group in going to Syria.

As he fielded guilty pleas throughout 2015, Davis thought about how he might offer leniency to the conspiracy’s least culpable members. He could do so only if he knew for sure that the men would never again be tempted by jihadism. To that end, Davis began to research whether there are effective therapies for reforming extremists. He hoped to find a credible way to transform Yusuf and his friends back into the ordinary young men they’d once been. This could spare the youths years behind bars — an act of compassion that would undermine the Islamic State narrative that the West despises its Muslim citizens.

Davis discovered that numerous nations, from Denmark to Indonesia, have developed methods for nudging young men and women back from the extremist brink — a process known as deradicalization. The judge became intent on starting the first laboratory for deradicalization in the US; he just needed to find an expert he could trust, someone with a proven track record of liberating young minds from violent extremism. One name kept coming up — that of 30-year-old researcher Daniel Koehler. [more]

Project 1917

by Bill Hayes

Project 1917, set up by the journalist and author Mikhail Zygar, “is a series of events that took place a hundred years ago as described by those involved. It is composed only of diaries, letters, memoirs, newspapers and other documents.” In short, it is composed of primary documents focused primarily on the Russian Revolution.

A Piece of the Action

by Bill Hayes

In A Piece of the Action for the Los Angeles Review of Books, Ron Hogan reviews three recent books on the digital economy: Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy by Jonathan Taplin, The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future by Kevin Kelly, and The Upstarts: How Uber, Airbnb, and the Killer Companies of the New Silicon Valley Are Changing the World by Brad Stone.

Jonathan Taplin, director emeritus of USC’s Annenberg Innovation Lab, offers a much bleaker outlook in Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy. Taplin delves into the “anarcho-capitalist” mindset of men like PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, who is as famous for bankrolling the destruction of Gawker Media as he is for declaring he “no longer believe[s] that freedom and democracy are compatible.” What Taplin sees in that mindset is the makings of “an oligarchy in which only the brightest and richest get to determine our future,” an ultra-libertarian world where economic might makes right.

Taplin is particularly concerned with the ways near-monopolies on digital distribution hurt the creative classes, from musicians whose incomes drop as we choose to stream our music rather than buy albums to authors who watch helplessly as Amazon undercuts their royalties by offering used books alongside new editions. [more]

21st-century censorship

by Bill Hayes

In 21st-century censorship for the Columbia Journalism Review, Philip Bennett and Moises Naim report on how governments around the world are imposing new forms of censorship.

Traditional censorship was basically an exercise of cut and paste. Government agents inspected the content of newspapers, magazines, books, movies, or news broadcasts, often prior to release, and suppressed or altered them so that only information judged acceptable would reach the public. For dictatorships, censorship meant that an uncooperative media outlet could be shut down or that unruly editors and journalists exiled, jailed, or murdered.

Starting in the early 1990s, when journalism went online, censorship followed. Filtering, blocking and hacking replaced scissors and black ink. Some governments barred access to Web pages they didn’t like, redirected users to sites that looked independent but which in fact they controlled, and influenced the conversation in chat rooms and discussion groups via the participation of trained functionaries. They directed anonymous hackers to vandalize the sites and blogs, and disrupt the internet presence of critics, defacing, or freezing their Facebook pages or Twitter accounts.

Tech-savvy activists quickly found ways to protect themselves and evade digital censorship. For a while it looked like agile, hyperconnected, and decentralized networks of activists, journalists, and critics had the upper hand in a battle against centralized, hierarchal, and unwieldy government bureaucracies. But governments caught up. Many went from spectators in the digital revolution to sophisticated early adopters of advanced technologies that allowed them to monitor content, activists, and journalists, and direct the flow of information.

No place shows the contradictions of this contest on as grand a scale as China. The country with the most internet users and the fastest-growing connected population is also the world’s most ambitious censor. Of the three billion internet users in the world, 22 percent live in China (nearly 10 percent live in the US). The government maintains the “Great Firewall” to block unacceptable content, including foreign news sites. An estimated two million censors police the internet and the activities of users. Yet the BBC reports that a 2014 poll found that 76 percent of Chinese questioned said they felt free from government surveillance. This was the highest rate of the 17 countries polled.

The internet has allowed Chinese authorities to deploy censorship strategies that are subtle and harder for the public to see. In Hong Kong, where China is obligated by treaty to respect a free press, Beijing has used an array of measures to limit independent journalism, including selective violence against editors and the arrest of reporters. But it has also arranged the firing of critical reporters and columnists and the withdrawal of advertising by state and private sources, including multinationals, and launched cyberattacks on websites. The Hong Kong Journalists Association described 2014 as “the darkest for press freedom in several decades.” [more]

Our Automated Future

by Bill Hayes

In Our Automated Future for the New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert reviews these books: Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future by Martin Ford, Humans Need Not Apply: A Guide to Wealth and Work in the Age of Artificial Intelligence by Jerry Kaplan, and The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik Brynjolfsson.

The “threat of a jobless future” is, of course, an old one, almost as old as technology. The first, rudimentary knitting machine, known as a “stocking frame,” was invented in the late sixteenth century by a clergyman named William Lee. Seeking a patent for his invention, Lee demonstrated the machine for Elizabeth I. Concerned about throwing hand-knitters out of work, she refused to grant one. In the early nineteenth century, a more sophisticated version of the stocking frame became the focus of the Luddites’ rage; in towns like Liversedge and Middleton, in northern England, textile mills were looted. Parliament responded by declaring “frame breaking” a capital offense, and the machines kept coming. Each new technology displaced a new cast of workers: first knitters, then farmers, then machinists. The world as we know it today is a product of these successive waves of displacement, and of the social and artistic movements they inspired: Romanticism, socialism, progressivism, Communism.

Meanwhile, the global economy kept growing, in large part because of the new machines. As one occupation vanished, another came into being. Employment migrated from farms and mills to factories and offices to cubicles and call centers.

Economic history suggests that this basic pattern will continue, and that the jobs eliminated by Watson and his ilk will be balanced by those created in enterprises yet to be imagined — but not without a good deal of suffering. If nearly half the occupations in the U.S. are “potentially automatable,” and if this could play out within “a decade or two,” then we are looking at economic disruption on an unparalleled scale. Picture the entire Industrial Revolution compressed into the life span of a beagle.

And that’s assuming history repeats itself. What if it doesn’t? What if the jobs of the future are also potentially automatable? [more]

For a related free classroom lesson, see “Unemployment and the Future of Jobs in America.” It is available from  CRF’s Bill of Rights in Action Archive. It is currently only in PDF and you will have to register (if you haven’t already), which is free.

20 Things You Didn’t Know About … Rain

by Bill Hayes

Discover magazine looks at 20 Things You Didn’t Know About … Rain.

2. [A] 2015 study in Nature Geoscience concluded Earth’s early rain was made of iron. More than 4.5 billion years ago, bits of space rock vaporized upon impact with our still-forming planet, rose up in plumes of rock and iron, and then fell back down as rain.

3. Water-based rain dates back to at least the late Archaean Eon: Researchers have found fossilized raindrop imprints in 2.7 billion-year-old volcanic tuff in South Africa. [more]

Edward Luce’s 6 favorite political books

by David De La Torre

In The Week, author Edward Luce lists his 6 favorite books that predicted the future of politics.

The Paranoid Style in American Politics by Richard Hofstadter …. Much like Hoffer’s book, The Paranoid Style will never lose its contemporary feel. From the Know-Nothings to McCarthyism, America’s political DNA has caused periodic eruptions of fear-based politics. They crest and fall every generation or so. But Hofstadter’s classic will always be there. [more]

How Does Populism Turn Authoritarian?

by Bill Hayes

In How Does Populism Turn Authoritarian? for the New York Times, Max Fisher and Amanda Taub use Venezuela as a case study in how populism can turn a democracy into an authoritarian state.

When Hugo Chávez took power in Venezuela nearly 20 years ago, the leftist populism he championed was supposed to save democracy. Instead, it has led to democracy’s implosion in the country, marked this past week by an attack on the independence of its Legislature.

Venezuela’s fate stands as a warning: Populism is a path that, at its outset, can look and feel democratic. But, followed to its logical conclusion, it can lead to democratic backsliding or even outright authoritarianism.

Populism does not always end in authoritarianism. Venezuela’s collapse has been aided by other factors, including plummeting oil prices, and democratic institutions can check populism’s darker tendencies.

The country is feeling the fundamental tensions between populism and democracy that are playing out worldwide. Those tensions, if left unchecked, can grow until one of those two systems prevails. But although countries must choose which system to follow, the choice is rarely made consciously, and its consequences may not be clear until it is too late. [more]

For a related free classroom lesson, see “Putin’s Illiberal Democracy.” It is available from  CRF’s Bill of Rights in Action Archive. It is currently only in PDF and you will have to register (if you haven’t already), which is free.

Why a total solar eclipse is such a big deal

Older