Lefty Resource Library

Posting articles as I go

Tag: privilege

Philosophy and economics serving status quo power

Utilitarianism challenged the aristocracy. Philosophy conveniently intervened to devalue this challenge, and enabled the development of modern econ, including justifications for the common thinking that redistribution to the poor is wrong but redistributing to the rich is right:

“what really upset the applecart was the specification, “each one to count for one.”  The problem, you see, was that the principle gave the same weight to the pains and pleasures of peasants as it gave to those of aristocrats … there were so many peasants and so few aristocrats!

“seemed ineluctably to lead us to an endorsement of a far-reaching redistribution of income

“Philosophy came to the rescue, this time by discovering the problem of Other Minds … Capitalism was saved, and economists could go back to elaborating elegant mathematical structures confident that in so doing they would not be burning the house down

“Apologists for capitalism, which is to say professional economists, showing a positive genius for propaganda, call this state of affairs “efficient.”  I mean, who on earth could be against efficiency, especially in America?  So the present distribution of wealth and income is efficient, so long as taking a dollar away from a billionaire and giving it to a poor man makes the billionaire even the slightest bit less happy.  Unless, of course, the transfer has the all-round happy effect of somehow increasing the total output of the society so that the billionaire can be given his dollar back [or, more likely, a million dollars back] while also leaving enough to give the poor man an extra crust of bread, which will, ex hypothesi, move him a tad up his indifference curve.  [They give Nobel Prizes for this stuff.  I think astrologers should complain.]”

Implications for other ways in which theory is used to distance the privileged from oppression.


Creating racial categories to divide and conquer

Exploitated white and black workers were rising up together in the US in the 17thC. The government reacted by outlawing slavery of white people but not black people. This was a strategy used to quash uprising and placate the underclasses in a way that would allow exploitation to continue efficiently because “The great thing about the divide-and-conquer of creating white-skin privilege is that you don’t have to give people thusly bought off anything more” – having power relative to some others is enough.

Similar ‘divide and rule’ approaches were used throughout the colonial project:

As the aristocrats and their successors traveled around the world through the colonial age, Europeans all over would find or define a group within the colonial territory and elevate it above the other groups, give it some privileges, though never enough to challenge the intruding rulers. In exchange for this slightly elevated status, the rulers would make those people do the colonial dirty work, and usually keep them slightly more well off than their fellows. Over time, these slightly elevated people often tried to keep their European masters in power even after the people realized how evil colonialism was, maintaining the system both to keep above their fellows and out of fear of retaliation for the dirty work they’d done.

God made the whites to serve kings, and everyone else to serve whites. 

View at Medium.com

White privilege: a comic


‘Who is dependent on welfare?’

Ananya Roy testing apart ideas about welfare an an amazing video.

‘post welfare generation’ – grew up at a time when the welfare system was systematically dismantled. A time when ‘welfare, rather than poverty, had become the problem to be solved’

Reagan literally invented the concept of the welfare queen

The middle class ‘enjoy a host of hidden government subsidies that bolster opportunity and mobility, but they do not think such subsidies should be available to the poor

‘…the rich have state help, the poor have self help

‘…fretting the welfare dependency of the poor while failing to realise that they are dependent on welfare

‘I live in public housing, because the tax deduction I enjoy on my mortgage is a more substantial handout than any money spent by the US government on what has come to be stereotyped and vilified as public housing’

Corporations are the real welfare queens e.g. wal-mart pays its workers so little that the government has to give them welfare i.e. its business model hinges on leaching from the government.

Poverty is not only economic, but also a poverty of power. Part of this is to be defined as dependent.

Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) – some philosophical implications and historical oppressive applications

Article could be questionable in its understand of econ. Nevertheless interesting, especially for implications and applications to power and oppression. Very interesting anyway, particularly as it may apply to history, class, colonialism and revolution or at least deep reform. Tempting to quote the entire article, but will try to restrain myself.

(Interview with one of the founders of MMT, in which he is sceptical of the kind of philosophical thinking MMT inspires: http://hir.harvard.edu/debt-deficits-and-modern-monetary-theory Outlines some of the basics of MMT).

Provides a caveat for its own position: ‘For those seeking a grand, unifying sociopolitical economic theory, MMT will disappoint. But as an analytic tool, MMT clarifies who holds genuine power—sovereignty—within society, and how they organize the money system to serve their interests. Unsurprisingly, this is often a story of tremendous cruelty and exploitation.’

‘the revelation that the rules of money are not immutable laws of nature but are instead created and constantly modified by people opens up possibilities beyond the scope of our current political imagination. The questions become: What sort of society do we want? Do we have the physical resources to support that society? And finally, how the hell do we muster the political will to get there?

‘First, we must understand the source of modern ­money’s value—and contend with the violence of its origins. Imagine you have just invaded an island. The populace leads a leisurely life of hunting and subsistence farming, and natural abundance ensures nobody needs to work too hard. But beneath the fertile soil are precious minerals that will make you very rich—provided you can get the people of the island to do the backbreaking work of mining for you.

‘Guns will work for this purpose, but slavery has fallen out of social acceptability. What if, instead of each day forcing workers into your mines at gunpoint, you created your own money system? You could print your face on a bunch of plastic tokens and pay miners with them, while imposing a mandatory token tax at the end of each month. To avoid imprisonment or death, they will have to make sure they work enough to have tokens at the end of the month. Now you need to take out your gun only once a month, when you go door to door demanding your token. The natives remain ostensibly “free.” But the mining still gets done.

‘A sovereign (you, in this scenario) becomes a money creator not by figuring out how to carve their faces into a coin, but by having the strength to enforce taxes denominated in their own coins. As the economist Hyman Minksy famously said, “Anyone can create money—the problem is getting it accepted.”

‘Your tokens would be totally worthless without your threat of violence, but with it, they become an overriding factor in your subjects’ lives. Subjects must refocus their society around earning and holding tokens. Some people will work in your mines; others will perhaps sell goods and services to those with jobs. You, in the meantime, will have transformed an entire economy for your profit, with only the periodic use of force.

‘Forcing people to pay their taxes in a money that is otherwise worthless creates demand for money and gives it its value. This idea, called chartalism, is one of the core building blocks of Modern Monetary Theory. “Modern money” is fiat money, state-issued currency not backed by precious metals or any other commodity.

‘Variations of the modern-money narrative are found repeatedly throughout history. The levying of monetary ­taxes to create waged labor was “a nearly universal experience throughout Africa” in the colonial era, explains economist Randall Wray. Hut taxes, coupled with extreme violence and racial segregation, forced unwilling migrant laborers into the gold and diamond mines of South Africa. Bernard Magubane, an anthropologist, described the purpose of these taxes as being to “increase the economic pressure on the African peasants” to force them into waged work.

‘Christine Desan, whose research overturns the mythical “barter” story of introductory economics textbooks that claims money was invented only after trading became complex. According to Desan, “money is created when a stakeholder uses his or her singular location at the hub of a community to mark the disparate contributions of individuals in a common way”

‘Desan’s explanation of money’s origins reminds me of the points system used in the student co-ops I lived in during college. We enjoyed a home-cooked meal each night, and the houses only rarely succumbed to squalor—­despite their inhabitants’ tendency for heavy loads of ­c­ourses and drugs—because the points system imposed work on us. Points could be earned by doing household chores (the more time-consuming the task, the more points you earned), and every member of our co-op owed the house 30 points per week. Point balances were kept on a paper chart or online spreadsheet (no one’s face was minted on any point tokens), and if your point deficit exceeded a certain threshold, you risked getting kicked out.

‘It’s not a huge leap to imagine a co-op choosing to run a deficit by issuing more points than it collects and permitting them to be traded. This would allow individuals to save points to exchange on private markets for tutoring, homegrown, or whatever else co-opers have the means and inclination to produce. A local farm might even be willing to sell food for points, provided they could use the points to employ co-opers during the harvest. Like colonially imposed money, points would have value as long as co-opers needed them to fulfill their obligation to the house, and the house had punitive means at its disposal to enforce it.

‘The point, like the token, is an arbitrary unit that has value because of an imposed debt burden. But the resemblance suggests that the logic of modern money can also be put in the service of collective, as opposed to exploitative, political aims.

‘Sovereigns create money as a tool to obtain the labor and other resources they need to fulfill their political goals. The sovereign steers the ship, at least initially, not some money god. If sovereignty lies with the people, money can be used to serve the common good. If people lack formal political power, more democratic layers of sovereignty may be possible in the shadow of the official sovereign, provided the means of production exists within a community.

‘Money scarcity is basically a political decision, as with Congress’s imposition of an arbitrary limit, the “debt ceiling,” on the amount of money that the federal government “borrows.” It’s largely motivated by those who would like to keep wealth concentrated in the hands of a few (who can personally benefit from the metaphorical printing press via government spending or direct access to the Fed).

‘This is not to say there are no other constraints on public spending. Inflation is a real constraint. If the government spends dollars into existence faster than the private demand for holding money, prices will rise. Savings will lose value, while debt burdens become less onerous. If workers wages fail to keep pace with other prices, they will suffer.

‘Luckily, the sovereign has tools other than arbitrary debt limits for managing demand for money: taxes. Raising taxes makes money more scarce and in demand. But if the private sector loses too much spending power because the government taxes too much (or spends too little), commerce freezes up.

‘How do we know when to tax, who to tax, and how? This is as much a question of political values as macroeconomics, but MMT helps us weigh our choices. The prescriptive side of MMT typically focuses on achieving the dual goals of maintaining full employment and price stability (incidentally the same two goals the Fed is supposed to uphold). Rather than focusing on economic “growth” as a good in and of itself, MMT directly seeks the promised outcome of such growth: that everyone who wants a job can find one, and that goods and services remain affordable in relationship to income.

‘Conventional economics considers full employment to be inflationary, because when labor markets are tight, workers can demand a bigger share of the wealth they create. A “reserve army of the unemployed” keeps labor cheap. The unemployed serve as a “buffer stock” to anchor prices, or as Randall Wray puts it, to “fight inflation through their desperation as they try to bid jobs away from the employed by offering to work at miserable wages.”

‘MMT, however, argues that prices can be anchored not through the misery of the unemployed but through  the government offering a job to anyone unemployed who wants to work. 

‘Many MMT advocates see the job guarantee as a transitional program to keep workers productive and skilled until the private sector finds a place for them. But a job that serves the public good, provides ample leisure time, and supports a low-consumption lifestyle is itself appealing. For those that value strong community and a healthy environment, the job guarantee could be a chance to opt out of the “work hard, consume hard” lifestyle to do much needed public service, while keeping the private sector open for those with heavier ambitions and appetites.

‘MMT encourages us to conceive of money as a claim on the resources of society, a promise that entitles one to a bit of whatever resources are for sale. The money system is then an imperfect sort of scoreboard for keeping track of claims on resources. Money only matters to the extent that it can be redeemed for “real” wealth.

‘Government deficits, the money supply, and GDP are abstractions that obscure the issues of power and distribution of wealth that are the consequence of a given political system. These abstractions make no sense as ends in themselves. A public deficit just means that a sovereign has spent money into the economy that it hasn’t taxed back. It doesn’t say whether that money was spent on bombs or schools or pure graft. A country can have a high GDP because a small subset of the population sells tons of luxury goods and financial instruments to each other while everyone else starves. Ultimately, what matters is the quality and distribution of resources.

‘Those at the very tip of our economic pyramid understand that fiat money is unlimited, but most everyone below believes it to be scarce. We live under austerity and debt. But it doesn’t have to be this way. The idea that we don’t have the “money” to supply essential public goods to everyone is a pernicious myth that can only be maintained so long as we remain ignorant of how money actually functions. But this myth is merely justification for power structures that are ultimately backed by guns and the vastly unequal distribution of our finite planet’s resources. Knowledge is no substitute for political power. It is merely somewhere to start.’


‘The provincialism of privilege’

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Privilege simplifies things that in truth are complex.

‘People who take a strict binary view of culture (“culture of privilege = awesome; culture of poverty = fail”) are afflicted by the provincialism of privilege and thus vastly underestimate the dynamism of the greater world. They extoll “middle-class values” to the ignorance and exclusion of all others. To understand, you must imagine what it means to confront algebra in the morning and “Shorty, can I see your bike?” in the afternoon.It’s very nice to talk about “middle-class values” when that describes your small, limited world. But when your grandmother lives in one hood and your coworkers live another, you generally need something more than “middle-class values.” You need to be bilingual.’


Obama and ‘personal responsibility’

‘How does a black writer approach The Man when The Man is not just us, but the Champion of our ambitions [Obama]? More, how do you approach the offices that have so often brutalized black people when those offices are occupied by the Champion? How do you acknowledge the president’s many gifts, his actual accomplishments, while still and all outlining the depressing limits of his own imagination?

‘The president is correct that there is a long history of black leaders addressing “personal responsibility.” But as a diagnosis for what has historically gone wrong in black communities, the tradition is erroneous. 

‘When W.E.B. Du Bois, in 1897, claimed that the “first and greatest” step toward addressing “the Negro Problem,” lay in correcting the “immorality, crime and laziness among the Negroes themselves” he was wrong. No amount of morality could have prevented the overthrow of Wilmington by white supremacists—the only coup in American history—a year later. When Booker T. Washington urged blacks to use “every iota of influence that we possess” to “get rid of the criminal and loafing element of our people,” he was wrong. When Marcus Garvey claimed that “the greatest stumbling block in the way of progress in the race has invariably come from within the race itself,” he was dead wrong. When Malcolm X claimed that “the white man is too intelligent to let someone else come and gain control of the economy of his community,” and asserted that black people “will let anybody come in and take control of the economy of your community,” he was wrong. He knew the game was rigged. He did not know how much.

‘I can’t think of a single credible historian of our 500-year tenure here who has concluded that our problem was a lack of “personal responsibility.” The analysis is as old as it is flawed, and that is because it isn’t analysis at all but something altogether different. No black people boo when the president talks about personal responsibility. On the contrary, it’s often the highlight of his speeches on race. If you’ve ever lived in a black community, you might understand why. I can assemble all kinds of stats, graphs, and histories to explain black America’s ills to you. But none of that can salve the wound of leaving for work at 7 a.m., seeing young men on the stoop blowing trees, and coming home and seeing the same niggers—because this is what we say to ourselves—sitting in the same place. It is frustrating to feel yourself at war with these white folks—because that too is what we say—and see people standing on your corner who you believe to have given up the fight.

‘When Barack Obama steps into a room and attacks people for presumably using poverty or bigotry as an excuse to not parent, he is channeling a feeling deep in the heart of all black people, a frustration, a rage at ourselves for letting this happen, for allowing our community to descend into the basement of America, and dwell there seemingly forever. 

‘My mother’s admonishings had their place. God forbid I ever embarrass her. God forbid I be like my grandfather, like the fathers of my friends and girlfriends and wife. God forbid I ever stand in front of these white folks and embarrass my ancestors, my people, my dead. And God forbid I ever confuse that creed, which I took from my mother, which I pass on to my son, with a wise and intelligent analysis of my community. My religion can never be science. This is the difference between navigating the world and explaining it [emphasis mine].’


White feminism

‘Every single time women of colour talk about “white feminism” or “white feminists” within the context of discussions about the way that the mainstream feminist movement privileges whiteness, we deal with an onslaught of defensive white women insisting that they personally are not like that, and would you please say “some white women” and not make generalizations?

‘What those women fail to realize is that by making that request, they are exemplifying Mikki Kendall’s #solidarityisforwhitewomen battle cry; by once again insisting that a conversation created to facilitate discussion about the issues of WoC, be centered around the feelings of white women.

‘”White feminism” is the feminism that doesn’t understand western privilege, or cultural context. It is the feminism that doesn’t consider race as a factor in the struggle for equality.

‘White feminism is a set of beliefs that allows for the exclusion of issues that specifically affect women of colour. It is “one size-fits all” feminism, where middle class white women are the mould that others must fit. It is a method of practicing feminism, not an indictment of every individual white feminist, everywhere, always.

‘When I talk about “white feminism,” I’m talking about the feminism thatmisappropriates womanist thinkers like Audre Lorde to declare that keeping white women’s racism in check is “bashing.” I’m talking about the feminism that cheekily denounces “twitter feminism” as useless, without considering that twitter is the main medium through which less economically privileged women (usually women of colour) can put their feminism into practice and gain access to and engage with like-minded women. I’m talking about the feminism that publishes an articleadvocating for forced sterilization, completely disregarding the way in which forced sterilization was used as a tool of genocide against black and native women. I’m talking about the feminism that thought holding a writer’s retreat at a former slave plantation was a swell idea. I’m talking about the feminism that throws women of colour under the bus in thequest for body diversity and acceptance. I’m talking about the feminism that thinks barging into a Maasai community and “breaking barriers” is feminist, disregarding the work that actual Maasai women are doing to help achieve equality on their own terms, and obliviously parading its class privilege along the way. I’m talking about the feminism that insists that “Muslim women need saving” and refuses to acknowledge that cultural differences mean different, culturally specific approaches to feminism and equality. I’m talking about the feminism that thinks not “leaning in” is the only thing standing between women and economic success. I’m talking about the feminism that defends The Onion when it calls a little black girl a “cunt”. I’m talking about the feminism that celebrates Tina Fey, Lily Allen and Lena Dunham, but tears down Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé and Rihanna. I’m talking about the feminism that pats itself on the back, but doesn’t apologize after supporting a known abuser of WoC feminists who confesses to his transgressions. I’m talking about the feminism that did all these things in the space of one year.

‘I’m talking about the feminism that disregards the fact that whiteness is a privilege that is not afforded to all women.’


Privilege v. Difference and effects on the entire lives of the disadvantaged; social structures


Basically, one African-American woman’s experiences of racism and privilege impacting every level of life, encapsulated in the following:

‘I do not know how much my mother spent on her camel colored cape or knee-high boots but I know that whatever she paid it returned in hard-to-measure dividends. How do you put a price on the double-take of a clerk at the welfare office who decides you might not be like those other trifling women in the waiting room and provides an extra bit of information about completing a form that you would not have known to ask about? What is the retail value of a school principal who defers a bit more to your child because your mother’s presentation of self signals that she might unleash the bureaucratic savvy of middle class parents to advocate for her child? I don’t know the price of these critical engagements with organizations and gatekeepers relative to our poverty when I was growing up. But, I am living proof of its investment yield’

Also about poor peoples’ ‘poor decisions’:

‘You have no idea what you would do if you were poor until you are poor. And not intermittently poor or formerly not-poor, but born poor, expected to be poor and treated by bureaucracies, gatekeepers and well-meaning respectability authorities as inherently poor. Then, and only then, will you understand the relative value of a ridiculous status symbol to someone who intuits that they cannot afford to not have it’

Basically, privilege 101 – article clearly outlining some of the basic workings of privilege

‘It seems we can live with a world of obscene disparities, as long as we imagine our lives, careers and successes are all our own work. If others struggle, that’s their fault, their own mistakes, or lack of skills or work ethic.’

”’across generations, the latest evidence points to more persistence” among the nations and individuals who have it. People who discount inherited advantage need to consider this finding: ”Our analysis suggests that 10 generations or more have to lapse before the wealth of an individual in North America is completely independent of the wealth of their ancestors.”’