Author: James Livingston

We are Live!

Politics/Letters Live is, well… live! This is where we’ll experiment with new formats and new voices, with podcasts, interviews, and plainly weird shit between the “official” editions of the quarterly magazine.  Who knows?  Maybe next year the podcast is old hat, and Chapo Trap House brays from the dustbin of history. We feature three new voices.  Mark Bray, the author of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook(Melville House), talks with Bruce Robbins and me about the extreme politics of our time. Tune in to part two of our interview when it goes online on Saturday. Natalie Frazier, who was only last year a film student at Northwestern,...

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Jumping the Ship: The Revenge of the Shallow State

Do Stephen Bannon and the CEOs who abandoned the sinking ship of Trump have something in common, aside from the timing of their well-publicized exits? I think so—notwithstanding Bannon’s anti-corporate (thus genuinely populist) rhetoric, the secret ingredient in Trump’s recipe for political success. Read David Gelles today on “The Moral Voice of Corporate America,” and you might begin to think so, too. In view of the diversity of their constituents—their shareholders, customers, and local politicians of different parties—the author wonders how CEOs found their progressive voice, especially since 2015, when they took on the Indiana state legislature’s ban on same sex or transgender public restrooms. He also wonders why. I got some answers for him, and some follow-up questions as well. To begin with, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision (558 U.S. 1 [2010]) revoked a major premise of all precedent on corporate personhood and freedom of speech—which was precisely that any corporation’s shareholders were wildly diverse in their political opinions, and so could not be adequately represented in the unitary, anodyne voice of its board or its CEO. Corporate politics can now be more easily personified and articulated because, after Citizens United, CEOs aren’t constrained by legally mandated attention to the variegated political concerns of their shareholders. Accordingly, the “social responsibility” of corporations comes to mean bottom-line attention to a broader constituency—the consumers of their products—and this new...

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Freddie DeBoer asks me if I think socialism is an alternative to capitalism, or is merely an ameliorative bandage that repairs the devastation wrought by capitalism. He also insists on a “coherent definition” of socialism, presumably to sort out the real deal from the pretenders, like Sanders. As Sanders fans, Bhaskar Sunkara and Connor Kilpatrick agree from a distance, suggesting that socialism must represent a break from capitalism. Timothy Burke and Carl Dyke claim that trying to define socialism is a fool’s errand because it distracts us from the political and intellectual tasks at hand. Let me respond by announcing what capitalism is not. It’s not reducible to markets, to private property, to profit motives. These have been with us since at least the 5th century B.C. As Max Weber noted, greed isn’t specific to capitalism; in fact, he showed, capitalism couldn’t develop unless its proponents limited the scope of the commodity form, by limiting the time available for the exploitation of labor. And as Karl Marx pointed out, the convergence of modern corporations and modern credit in the late 19th century produced what he called a “socialized” mode of production—indeed it “abolished private property within the bounds of capitalist production itself.” (see vol 3 of Capital, chs 27-32) That’s so 19th century, Michael Berube would say. And he’s right, the 20th century isn’t teeming with big thinkers who...

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Chapo Trap House Take 2

I was chastened by complaints about my first report on Chapo Trap House, Episode 123, featuring Clio Chang on the politics of a UBI. So I just listened to it twice more, and took copious notes as if I were an undergraduate all over again.   I regret calling the cast a bunch of “smug, silly assholes.” They deserve better—like, say, “ignorant and yet arrogant little shits who don’t understand anything about the topic at hand.” Fans of the show made two complaints about my original report. First, I indulged in name-calling (bozos, clowns, assholes, etc.). I have already addressed that complaint. Second, and much more important, they claimed I missed the nuance in the conversation, the distinction between a left and a right-wing rendition of a UBI. But, having witnessed this circle jerk three times, I can confidently state that there is not an ounce of nuance here. These people are in the room to congratulate themselves for not being fooled by the “seductive” qualities of a UBI. They’re here to assure us that they won’t get fooled again, and neither should you.   Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Sure, the first 10 minutes (est.) of the podcast is regulated by ridicule of Mark Zuckerberg, who left Alaska thinking that its oil dividend resembled a UBI. The nervous laughter in this segment comes from three bits,...

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