In his address to the Communist League of 1850, Marx noted that, while the petty bourgeoisie and its democrats wish to bribe the workers, to increase alms and state employment as much as possible, the means to carry out the program are not universally agreed upon: they are “not expressed by all sections of [bourgeois democracy] at once, and in their totality they are the explicit goal of only a very few…” Since the onset of what more vulgar economists have called “post industry”, a natural result of neoliberalism, various schemes have cropped up on the fringes of social democracy and reform to answer the growing stress on the great unspoken contract between bourgeoisie and labor aristocracy since the war.
A sickly few still champion the Springsteen-esque “strong union, strong country” idea bandied about by aging liberals of the Thom Hartmann/Ed Schultz type. Broad majorities support restrictions on immigration, automation, and offshoring, demands inconvenient even to social democrats; demands which betray the modern unilateralism of the transnational bourgeoisie as opposed to the state-mediated, tit-for-tat, productivity-tracking partnership that attained between workers and bourgeois in the core from the war to the 80s.
Post-industry, late capitalism, neoliberalism, moribund imperialism, or whatever you wish to call it, has certainly backfired on the west. China, after a thirty-year-long slog, with perhaps another thirty before it, has gained on the western powers and is poised, one day, to overtake them (and playing by western rules no less). Since the end of history, several schemes have been devised for core economies to deal with the deleterious effects of neoliberalism―proposals for information-based education and job training, “entitlement reform”, raising the age of retirement, “renegotiating” trade deals, and on and on.
But a growing camp of the bourgeoisie, resigned to the realities of neoliberalism and automation, have voiced support for a Universal Basic Income (UBI) guaranteed to all adult citizens by the state. These include titans like Richard Branson, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and many others. The workers of the core countries have long been structural consumers, without whom capital could not realize profits. It is one of the few reasons the bourgeoisie accepts western standards of living for its workers. They are acutely aware that it isn’t enough to plunder the global south, but some of that plunder must circulate among the populations adjacent capital, so that realization may continue apace.
The idea of a UBI is growing more popular for the parasite-states. Finland is nearing the end of its pilot program that, if successful, will go national. The kanadian province of Ontario has also launched a pilot for UBI, as has the city of Stockton California. Sympathetic politicians from around the world await the results of these experiments. Once thought a left-liberal pipe dream, UBI is increasingly appealing to right wing austerity types who see it as a cut-and-dry replacement for the welfare state. A win-win: parasitism, economic growth, no need to deal with unemployment and retraining, with none of the doll lines, bureaucracy and depression-era national pension and healthcare infrastructure. Hell, if they had their way, the right might even be able to transform pension programs into retirement accounts, generating massive new infusions for finance capital.
But nothing happens in a vacuum, of course, and even parasites carry on their own type of class conflict. Luddite anti-automation sentiment, anti-immigrant hysteria and violence, anti-globalization agitation and white supremacist militancy all mark the organic reaction of the greater labor aristocracy to a decline, or perceived decline, in their status. Trump represented all of these rolled into one (or at least postured as if he did). But how could liberals, in the age of Trump, capture that sweet, sweet trade union consciousness and labor aristocratic vitriol but still remain true to their tokenizing heritage?
Enter the “own your own immigrant” scheme. On February 13th, POLITICO, in an article I didn’t realize wasn’t satire until half way through, asked their readers a poignant question: “What if you could get your own immigrant?” In what may have been a brief moment of lucidity, POLITICO staff apparently realized how dystopian that title was and changed it. This of course did nothing to change the horrific content of the piece, sadly.
Big corporations exploit immigrants and concentrate them in cities and agricultural premises, they complain, and u.$. Workers are forced to compete with immigrant techs in silicon valley. But what if you could, through a startup company, get away with paying a person on a conditional visa below minimum wage (a windfall for “them”, the article assures us) to work for you? Or, fucking get this, to work at a firm on a contract basis and you, as the contract holder, would receive the difference in wages between what the company paid and what the immigrant worker was allowed to collect (that is, below minimum wage). Obviously satire, I told myself, no one is this evil. But it gets weirder.
The human being whose life you would control will live in your home, which the authors (Eric Posner and Glen Weyl, for anyone who might be planning to shove these pieces of shit in a locker any time soon) assure is antithetical to hatred of immigrants. “It is hard to demonize the person who lives in your basement,” they argue. Besides the fact that this is legit just 18th century indentured servitude, after reading this article it became natural to imagine chattel slavery being pitched as though it were a startup. “This isn’t a stratified and parasitic arrangement wherein the life of another is directly metabolized into my substance. It’s actually a spiritual project of contractual cohabitation with the underwealthed.”
Just listen to the absolutely detached startup newspeak they close with. “Immigration,” they say, “is just one of any number of social problems that can be solved with what we call ‘radical markets.’ By exploiting the logic of the market in an area that is normally bureaucratized, we can advance equality as well as economic growth.”
Now, of course, the lieutenants of liberal democracy do not all have the same ideas, as we noted before, and “in their totality they are the explicit goal of a very few,” but this dystopian indenture is not that far off from what we have now. Migrant agricultural workers are granted H2A’s to work in the u.$., under conditions of super exploitation, in order to feed the u.$. And much of the world. Undocumented immigrants work for even less in even worse conditions that include threats of physical violence and sexual assault. Even the H1B visa program robs, through brain drain, the cost of educating migrants whose specific skills are useful to the u.$. Economy. Outside the u.$., workers toil 12 and 14 and 18 hour days to produce the electronics, textiles and other consumer goods destined almost exclusively for the imperial core. Even at their most clueless and misguided, the liberals, searching for their parasitic solutions to the problems of their own gouty affluence, cannot devise a more hellish arrangement than the one obtaining now between first and third world.