American Politics

Geopolitics for the Left

Geopolitics for the Left

Getting out from under the “liberal international order”

China’s ascent to great power status mirror’s the US’s in many ways. Like the US in the Gilded Age, the basis for China’s entrance into the first rank of global powers is its staggering economic growth. Averaging just shy of 10 percent of GDP growth annually for forty years, in a country of 1.4 billion people, it is the most spectacular economic feat in the history of capitalism. And like the US in the Gilded Age, China has benefited from a favorable international environment. In the late 19th century the British empire smiled upon the consanguine rising power, enabling the US to attract enormous amounts of foreign capital to its project of continental capitalist development. In the case of China, the US’s strategy of “convergence” has meant openly supporting and facilitating the country’s integration into the circuits of international capitalism, especially through endorsing China’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 1999. Finally, the US’s willingness to import hundreds of billions of dollars a year of Chinese goods while exporting only a fraction of that to China, and to permit US firms to enter into joint ventures with potential Chinese competitors, have contributed hugely to China’s economic growth.

Other People’s Blood

Other People’s Blood

On Paul Volcker

Those who praise Volcker like to say he “broke the back” of inflation. Nancy Teeters, the lone dissenter on the Fed Board of Governors, had a different metaphor: “I told them, ‘You are pulling the financial fabric of this country so tight that it’s going to rip. You should understand that once you tear a piece of fabric, it’s very difficult, almost impossible, to put it back together again.” (Teeters, also the first woman on the Fed board, told journalist William Greider that “None of these guys has ever sewn anything in his life.”) Fabric or backbone: both images convey violence. In any case, a price index doesn’t have a spine or a seam; the broken bodies and rent garments of the early 1980s belonged to people. Reagan economic adviser Michael Mussa was nearer the truth when he said that “to establish its credibility, the Federal Reserve had to demonstrate its willingness to spill blood, lots of blood, other people’s blood.”

The Prison House of Language

The Prison House of Language

On Rachel Kushner and Sergio De La Pava

The women in the novel are subjected to sexual violence so regularly that it is treated as if it is just another part of their punitive program. For many of them, this sexual violence is not unique to their time in jail. Kushner wisely demonstrates throughout the novel that patriarchy and its parallel oppressive structures are not phenomena specific to incarceration; they groom these characters from birth to feel comfortable in the rigidly authoritative structures of prisons. “I had been a waitress at IHOP right after I graduated high school,” Romy says. “I was waitress 43, and the cooks would call, Forty-three! Your order is up! Which, as I only saw later, had been preparing me for here.” With wrenching flashbacks to Romy’s youth that bare the bruises of innocence forcibly taken, Kushner shows us Romy navigating and bucking authority throughout her life, in her predatory friendships, in her work as a stripper, and in her experiences with men. By the time she ends up in prison, like the rest of the women around her, she hardly has the capacity to question or resist authority.

Until the Next Crash

Until the Next Crash

The populist revolt is not against the crash, or even its immediate aftermath, but against the nature of the recovery.

This is the economic backdrop of the populist revolt. To the extent that it is driven by economics, it is a revolt not so much against the crash, or even its immediate aftermath—as Tooze seems to suggest—but against the nature of the recovery. This recovery, sustained by historically unprecedented “accommodative” monetary policies, is now nearly the longest on record. But it has proved to be yet another iteration of a now forty-year macroeconomic pattern for which centrist liberals bear much responsibility. It is the economy whose pre-crisis development they happily facilitated and which, during the 2008 crisis, they brought back to life, if moderately reformed. But since 2008, this same old asset-led global capitalism has slowly but steadily worn down the political establishment’s reserves of legitimacy.

Martin Luther King Jr. and the Meaning of Emancipation

Martin Luther King Jr. and the Meaning of Emancipation

He was a revolutionary, if one committed to nonviolence. But nonviolence does not exhaust his philosophy

As a theorist of inequality, King is our contemporary. But he was also a philosopher of equality, and thus of emancipation. At the core of his thought one finds the political subjectivity that the civil rights struggle was helping to engender. Important as his final year was, the radical outlines of this project are visible from 1955 to 1963, as King was drawn deeper into political activism and answered the call to engage in a political sequence that exceeded the boundaries of the existing situation.

The Los Angeles Teachers Go on Strike

The Los Angeles Teachers Go on Strike

The number of students in public school classrooms is irrefutably political.

The problem the union faces is that, on its own, it cannot create the type of system it wants. To ensure that a service like education be available at high quality to every family in the population, general standards must be established and monitored across the community. The district and its schools are the only tool suited to this task. Choice is invidious when the underlying options are so poorly distributed. Smaller classes, with student access to serviceable institutions such as libraries, nursing, and counseling, will require action from municipal and state authorities, from the Board of Education, through the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles County Office of Education, to the Governors office and the State Assembly. Fighting the effects of the trends the district has set in motion won’t suffice; the teachers must reverse those trends. Can they do it alone?

Carbonated

Carbonated

William T. Vollmann confronts climate change

Carbon Ideologies does not appear to aspire to readability. The primer’s level of technical detail simply doesn’t justify the hemorrhaging of readers it will unquestionably induce. It should have been published online, along with the notes. The section on Fukushima makes a certain amount of chronological sense (the disaster occurred in 2011, as Vollmann was embarking on the project), but from a conceptual and narrative point of view it is misplaced. For one thing, this leg of the project doesn’t fit neatly under the heading of a “carbon ideology.” The argument seems to be that, once we have come to terms with the damage we are doing to the atmosphere with our overuse of carbon fuels, we will move onto newfangled forms of energy that are equally destructive, albeit in different ways. But then why not include all this at the end, as a disconcerting epilogue?

Everybody Knows

Everybody Knows

“He’s the nicest person!!!”

If you went to an American high school with an average parental tax bracket in the “comfortable” range, there’s a good chance you know Bryant Grober. Bry: cute and popular, on the teams it was cool to be on, kind of a dick around his friends but perfectly cordial when you were lab partners. Somewhere in your yearbook, there’s a picture of him. It’s a close-up reproduced large, because the yearbook editors wanted everyone to appreciate Bry’s amazing eyes. Chris, with his equally amazing but soul-freezing eyes, might seem a more unheimlich figure. Both boys were rapists, not just the one who had the brio to announce it so insouciantly.

The Korean Peace Process

The Korean Peace Process

American foreign policy hasn’t done any real thinking in two years

Peace is possible, if just barely, on the Korean peninsula neither thanks to nor in spite of America’s leadership, but because America isn’t leading at all. The country’s ruling party has been thrown into such chaos by Trump’s election that it lacks a coherent geopolitical strategy, and the State Department is a nonfunctioning husk of its former self. What Kim Jong-un and South Korean president Moon Jae-in have done is recognize America’s geopolitical incoherence as an opportunity to act on their own behalf. The peace process is primarily of South Korean design, it was underway months before Trump flew to Singapore, and it illustrates the kinds of space that open up, and the kinds of diplomacy that become possible, as the US begrudgingly starts to cede its place at the head of the world’s table.

Engulfed

Engulfed

Apologizing loudly is expected to serve as a substitute for meaningful change.

It’s worth pausing at the sheer strangeness of this moment. In the weeks since Khashoggi’s murder, the speed and the intensity of the renunciations have been as striking as the renunciations themselves. The institutions that have benefited from Gulf money and funneled Gulf-friendly perspectives to the American public have been vocal in their outrage. This spectacle has to be seen as a form of institutional self-flagellation. But it’s hard not to read these gestures as shallow and perfunctory, performed with the knowledge that the news cycle will move on quickly, which in fact it has.