Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Asiatic Mode of Production in the News

This is going to be a little arcane, but it is important.

National Public Radio is doing some very interesting reporting from China. Two of their top people were in China when the earthquake struck.

One of them, Melissa Block, filed a fascinating report the other day.

Looking back, it seems a bizarre coincidence that when I first visited Dujiangyan in April, there was a water-releasing ceremony — a happy occasion.
It was an over-the-top spectacle with thousands of actors and dancers dressed as ancient warriors and princesses. The annual event honors a visionary engineer named Li Bing.

In the third century B.C., Li designed Dujiangyan's legendary irrigation system, which is now a major tourist attraction.

The earthquake damaged the water system, though it is reported to be safe.

About 2,300 years ago, Li figured out a way to control the unpredictable, destructive Min River. He built a massive dike and irrigation system, channeling through a mountain and splitting the river in two.

His engineering masterpiece put an end to constant flooding, drought and famine in Sichuan province.
Here's why Li is still celebrated in grand style, after more than two millennia: People here will tell you that the Dujiangyan irrigation system transformed Sichuan into a powerhouse.
Without it, people say, Sichuan would never have flourished into the breadbasket it is now — it's known as "the land of plenty."

And great poets and writers arose from Sichuan. The Taoist religion sprang into being on a mountain overlooking the Min.
A neglected and suppressed (by Stalin) aspect of Marx's theory was what he termed the "Asiatic mode of production."

Here's what wikipedia says about the AMOP
...initially used to explain pre-slave and pre-feudal large earthwork constructions in China, India, the Euphrates and Nile river valleys (and named on this basis of the primary evidence coming from greater "Asia"). The Asiatic mode of production is said to be the initial form of class society, where a small group extracts social surplus through violence aimed at settled or unsettled band communities within a domain. Exploited labour is extracted as forced corvee labour during a slack period of the year (allowing for monumental construction such as the pyramids, ziggurats, ancient Indian communal baths or the Chinese Great Wall). Exploited labour is also extracted in the form of goods directly seized from the exploited communities. The primary property form of this mode is the direct religious possession of communities (villages, bands, hamlets) and all those within them. The ruling class of this society is generally a semi-theocratic aristocracy which claims to be the incarnation of gods on earth. The forces of production associated with this society include basic agricultural techniques, massive construction and storage of goods for social benefit (granaries).
Karl Wittfogel, member of the Frankfurt school, developed Marx's ideas further in his book Oriental Despotism and found some striking parallels with the Soviet Union and Maoist China.

There was a certain affinity between the theory of the Asiatic Mode of Production and the theory of bureaucratic collectivism developed by Joseph Carter, Max Shachtman, and others to explain the economic and social system of Stalin's Russia. The Soviet Union was not a superior (to capitalism) form of society. State ownership of the means of production was not the defining characteristic of socialism. If the state owned the means of production, these leftists argued, the question is who controls the state. Only through genuine democracy, including independent unions, can the people "own" the state. Democracy is the essence of socialism. They saw bureaucratic collectivism as a new form of class society with new forms of exploitation.

Returning to Block's story. She discusses the widespread opposition to the dam-building mania of the Chinese elite.
Ai's group, CURA, has been active in opposing the huge hydropower projects built all over southwestern China to feed the country's ever-rising demand for energy. More and more, he says, even before the earthquake, the Chinese people had been saying no to dams, with vocal public protests.

"Here's the contradiction: The country needs power for development," Ai says. "You open a map of China and you see that almost all of its rivers have been dammed. There are almost no rivers that flow naturally.

"Of course, a certain number of dams make sense," he says. "But all in all, too many dams have been built. So these days the voice of opposition to dams is strong."

The Chinese people don't benefit from building dams, Ai says. They're the ones uprooted from their homes by the millions. It's the developers who profit, he says, including a company run by the son of former Premier Li Peng.

"They're behind most of the hydropower projects in southwestern China," Ai says. "They are the ones who benefit the most.

"Most of the money is going to the developers and to local governments," he says. "Officials at all levels — starting with the village — are making money off this. Some of it is mismanagement, and some of it is just corruption."

Ai says the earthquake makes it even more urgent to reassess the wisdom of building so many dams.
And he adds one final thought to the mix, in this new appraisal of dams, and rivers, and who controls them.
Right after the earthquake, Ai says, the Chinese army was trying to reach people to rescue them, but the roads were blocked. If there weren't so many dams, more soldiers could have gone by boat. But the dams were in the way.

Jewish voters and Obama

Jeff Weintraub comments on Matt Yglesias post about the myth of Obama's Jewish problem.

they prefer either Democratic candidate over McCain by very large margins:

Clinton: 66%
McCain: 27%

Obama: 61%
McCain: 32%

=> OK, let's add a small qualification. The 61% figure estimated here does not match the proportions of the Jewish vote that have gone for the Democratic candidate in the most recent Presidential elections.
Jeff goes on to argue that the 61% is a "floor" not a "ceiling" for Obama. There's good reason to think he's right.

Kerry is estimated to have received in the mid-70s of the Jewish vote. But that was in November 2004. How was Kerry doing earlier in 2004? An American Jewish Committee poll in December 2007 showed Kerry with the support of 59 percent of the Jewish vote. By mid-September that had increased to 69 percent.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Rasmussen poll shows Slattery within striking distance

The first poll I've seen on the Kansas Senate race shows challenger Jim Slattery within striking distance. Rasmussen has just released the results of a telephone poll sowing Roberts with 52% and Slattery with 40%, This is a very respectable showing. Slattery has just started campaigning and is still putting the major part of his efforts into fund-raising.

Here's a little of the Rasmussen report

Election 2008: Kansas Senate
Kansas Senate: Roberts 52% Slattery 40%

Before March, the Unites States Senate election in Kansas was a shoe-in for Republican incumbent Pat Roberts. At that point there was no viable Democratic candidate in the race and the state has not elected a Democratic senator since 1932. However, the decision by Democratic Congressmen Jim Slattery to run for office has made the race potentially more interesting.

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Kansas voters found Roberts leading Slattery 52% to 40%.

The incumbent leads Slattery by twenty-one points among male voters, but just six percent among women.

The Democratic challenger leads Roberts by three points among unaffiliated voters. Roberts earns the vote from 82% of Republicans while Slattery attracts 75% of Democrats.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

John Edwards for VP?

Eric Lee is not only making the case that Barak Obama should pick John Edwards as VP, he is organizing a grass roots campaign to send that message to the Obama campaign.

Here's what Eric writes

It's the morning after the Indiana and North Carolina primaries. It now seems pretty clear to everyone that Barack Obama is going to be the Democratic nominee for President. The question now is -- what can we do to ensure that he defeats John McCain in November. And not only defeats McCain, but defeats him decisively.

We need more than a Democratic victory in November -- we need a landslide. We need huge Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. We can only achieve that if we have the kind of unbeatable team at the top that unites the party and the nation.

It's obvious that Hillary Clinton is not going to be Obama's running mate. Obama has to choose from among many outstanding Democrats, including some who ran against him in the early primaries, to find a great Vice Presidential choice. But one man stands head and shoulders above all the others as the obvious choice: John Edwards.

John Edwards set the agenda for all the candidates in the early stages of the primary battles. He came up with the first and best comprehensive health care plan. He raised the issue of poverty as no leading politician has done for 40 years. His charisma, his abilities and his appeal to those voters Obama must win in November are beyond dispute.

An Obama-Edwards ticket in November is the Democratic party's best chance of winning a resounding victory. If you agree, please sign the form above. We'll make sure that Obama gets this message loud and clear from the many Democrats who we're sure agree with us.
If you agree, visit the Edwards for VP site and sign-on. BTW, Eric promises to have Obama-Edwards campaign materials available soon.

Most lists of potential VPs for Obama seem to be to excessively centrist and rather bland. Despite the importance of Ohio, no-one seems to mention Senator Sherrod Brown, a very forceful critic of the myths of fair trade (he's even written a book on the subject) or Governor Ted Strickland.

If Eric is right and Hillary out of the equation, it seems to me that Obama's advisors will present him with three options. First, a woman to win over Hillary's female supporters. Second, a balance-the-ticket moderate who will satisfy the media and the punditcrats. Third, as Eric argues pick a running mate who will give an economic populist punch to the ticket. This is the way to build an enduring, progressive Democratic majority.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Gallup poll shows support for re-dstribution

A new Gallup poll shows strong public support for re-distributing incomes,
April 25, 2008

Many Americans OK With Increasing Taxes on Rich
Most say upper-income households pay too little in taxes

by Frank Newport

PRINCETON, NJ -- Slightly over half of Americans believe the government should redistribute wealth by heavy taxes on the rich.

The percentage holding this view, similar to that found in Gallup polling last year, is up from 1998 and in particular is higher than was found in a Roper poll conducted for Fortune Magazine back in 1939. Although the methods and sampling of polling done in the 1930s may differ significantly from those of today, the rough comparison suggests that Americans appear to have become even more "redistributionist" in their views than they were at the tail end of the Depression.Other recent Gallup Poll questions underscore the finding that Americans are generally open to the idea of some type of effort to distribute wealth more evenly.

Asked if the distribution of money and wealth in this country is fair or if they need to be distributed more evenly, about two-thirds of Americans agree with the latter response. This is up slightly from last year and, by two points, is the highest "more evenly distributed" response to this question that Gallup has found over the eight times it has been asked since 1984.

The reference to public opinio in 1939 is intresting. From the 1930s until the mid-1970s, there was a long-term trend for the working- and middle-classes to share in prosperity. Income and wealth became more even distributed. Since the 1980s, there has been an opposite trend towards greater inequality. More and more the benefits of economic growth are going only to the very rich, while the vast majority are stuck on a treadmill or losing ground. The increase in two-earner households and the over-utilization of credit have masked this reality. But apparently, the mask is off.

Changing tax policy is one component of reversing this trend. But there are some other essential parts. Making it easier for workers to form unions and reversing the disastrous trade policies are two other essential tools towards creating economic justice.