A society cannibalizing itself: symphony musicians kicked to the curb, school closings hitting Black and brown communities in Philadelphia (23 schools) and Chicago (54 schools), the overthrow of democratic governance in Detroit, attacks on civil servants in nearly every state. I had promised an explanation of why these scenes may be symptoms of imperial decay. Here it is.
If you think the people running this economy don't care about you, you're right. If capitalism is typified by the accumulation of profit derived from the exploitation wage labor, then the working class has an ambivalent relationship to the system. On the one hand, it is exploitative, as well as unstable; on the other hand, being exploited as a wage laborer is how you pay the bills. Furthermore, capitalism's compulsion to accumulate and expand generates more wealth, albeit concentrated in few hands.
But what if this is not the only, or primary way, that capitalists generate profit? In The Predator State, James Galbraith tracks the emergence of a class of oligarchs predisposed to generating as much wealth as quickly as possible, while on the
"Predation, fraud, and violence" are in fact central to the functioning of capitalism today
look out for a higher paying executive position. At the same time, globalization weakened organizations that had typically served as a counterbalance to corporate greed -- unions first and foremost. Galbraith argues that, without countervailing forces, the new oligarchs have every reason to resort to simple looting - what he terms predation - rather than engage in the tedious business of capital accumulation by standard means.
In David Harvey's book, the New Imperialism, he describes a similar phenomenon but from a different angle. He argues that "predation, fraud, and violence" are in fact central to the functioning of capitalism today (144). The name he gives to this phenomenon is “accumulation by dispossession.”
Harvey, of course, is not the first to make this claim. He is actually just renaming Marx’s “primitive accumulation,” in order to emphasize the fact that those particular forms of accumulation are ongoing. In this regard, he follows the likes of Maria Mies, Arundhati Roy, Rosa Luxemburg, and Hannah Arendt. Harvey is quite fond of quoting Arendt, and she does provide a wonderful description of how this all works:
[The bourgeoisie realized] for the first time that the original sin of robbery, which centuries ago had made possible ‘the original accumulation of capital’ (Marx) and had started all further accumulation, had eventually to be repeated lest the motor of accumulation suddenly die down.’