The Fed Meets and Congress Investigates January 6

In June 2022, the news in the United States was dominated by two stories. One was the decision of the Federal Reserve System to raise its target for the federal funds rate by 0.75%. The new rate range is between 1.50% and 1.75%. The second story broke the same week: The congressional hearings into the events of January 6, 2021. On that date, a right-wing mob, supported and inspired by President Donald Trump, broke into the U.S. Capitol. It was an attempt to force Congress to reverse the 2020 presidential election results. Is there a connection between these two? Yes, even if it isn’t a direct one.

Let’s begin with the Federal Reserve story. For most people, Federal Reserve operations are a mystery. The federal funds rate is the interest rate charged on overnight loans that U.S. commercial banks make to one another. The law, as well as financial prudence, require commercial banks to maintain a certain minimum of ready money to cover their deposit liabilities. Many are surprised to learn that under the fractional reserve system, commercial banks maintain only enough cash on hand to redeem a small portion of the money the public has on deposit. If all depositors were to try to withdraw all their money at the same time, every bank would fail. The reason? Most of the money on deposit does not represent actual cash in the form of legal tender — bills and coins — but is imaginary money created by the banks themselves through their loans and discounts. To prevent collapse, a minimal cash amount backs up deposit liabilities.

Commercial banks are for-profit enterprises. To maximize profits, cash on hand is kept to a minimum as it earns no interest. To put it in more scientific terms: The cash commercial banks must keep on hand to redeem deposits does not entitle the bank’s shareholders to a portion of the unpaid labor — surplus value — performed by the working class.

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COVID’s Long Economic Shadow

The COVID-19 global pandemic has been with us now for more than two years. In recent weeks, with winter in the Northern Hemisphere, the pandemic has once again gained momentum. The new variant called omicron is hyper-contagious. Hospitals and their ICU units are again filling up. The vaccines still provide good protection against serious illness and death. It remains very important to receive all the doses, two shots plus a booster for most vaccines — if possible. This time however the capitalists are determined to avoid business closures.

It appears the new omicron variant causes less serious illness and death. This may reflect that in imperialist countries a large part of the population has been at least partially vaccinated. In the Global South far fewer have been vaccinated, and many have already been infected by COVID and survived, gaining natural immunity. The same is true for those in imperialist countries who refused the vaccine. Or it might be the genetic code of omicron makes it inherently less pathogenic than earlier less contagious variants.

In response to the milder nature of omicron, the CDC has slashed isolation guidelines from 10 to five days. “If a 5-day quarantine is not feasible, it is imperative that an exposed person wear a well-fitting mask at all times when around others for 10 days after exposure.” In other words, if the bosses consider it not profitable for the workers to isolate for even five days, they can go to work sick.

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Afghanistan – Past, Present and Future, a Marxist Analysis

On Aug. 30, the last U.S. and other NATO troops after a 20-year shooting war against the Afghani people withdrew from Afghanistan in defeat. On Aug. 15, even before the last U.S.-NATO troops had left, the Taliban entered Kabul as the “president” of Afghanistan, U.S. puppet Ashraf Ghani, fled the country.

It wasn’t only Ghani who fled. What was on paper the extremely formidable apparatus of the Afghan state including a heavily armed standing army of 300,000 soldiers and a massive police force melted over 11 days into thin air. As Taliban fighters drove into Kabul, there were no police on the streets. The only security was the armed Taliban. As these astonishing events unfolded, the U.S. military seized and maintained control of the Kabul airport as panic-stricken supporters of the U.S. occupation, and other Afghans who have no desire to live under the rule of the Taliban fled to the airport. In one incident, Afghans fleeing the Taliban desperately held on to a U.S. plane. Showing the real attitude of U.S. imperialism to those who do its bidding, the plane took off anyway with the Afghans dropping to their deaths.

Many more Afghans celebrated both the end of decades of disastrous war and the fact that another empire — the most powerful of them all — had been defeated by the people of Afghanistan. At least momentarily, Afghanistan is more united than at any time in its history. President Biden claimed a few weeks earlier — pointing to the 300,000-strong Afghan army compared to the 75,000-strong Taliban — that the U.S. withdrawal would not end like the U.S. war against Vietnam had on April 30, 1975.

In fact, the speed of the collapse of the U.S. puppet government dwarfed anything that had happened in Vietnam. In Vietnam, the puppet government had held on for about two years after the last U.S. troops withdrew. In Afghanistan, the puppet government vanished several weeks before the last U.S. troops could be flown out — to the astonishment of the U.S. government, the world, and even it seems the Taliban itself.

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The Current Industrial Cycle (Pt 3)

A deepening political crisis

On Aug. 23, African-American Jacob Blake was shot in the back by police seven times in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Blake is expected to survive but is paralyzed from the waist down. This latest police outrage triggered a wave of demonstrations by the Black Lives Matter movement in Kenosha and elsewhere. Two days later, a Trump supporter and police wannabe named Kyle Rittenhouse shot to death two Black Lives Matter protesters with a rifle he was carrying. Rittenhouse, who lives in Illinois, is a member of a fascist militia group that came to Kenosha for the announced purpose of defending the property of business owners from Black Lives Matter protesters.

The cops were seen thanking the fascists and offering them water. After Rittenhouse killed the two protesters, he walked up to the cops with his hands up. However, the guardians of “law and order” refused to arrest him. He was finally arrested and charged with murder only after he returned to Illinois. U.S. President Donald Trump then weighed in. Trump defended the young fascist killer claiming that Rittenhouse faced certain death if he had not acted to defend himself. Trump also attacked the alleged violence of “left-wing” — Black Lives Matter — protesters but defended the violence of Rittenhouse and other murderous right-wing counter-protesters.

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The Current Industrial Cycle (Pt 1)

COVID-19 devastates the U.S.

It has now become clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the U.S. harder than any other large nation — and most smaller ones. The U.S. ruling class and Trump administration have been particularly enraged by China’s ability to largely check the pandemic. China has had far fewer cases, hospitalizations, and deaths despite its far larger population. Though the U.S. has only about 4 percent of the population it has 25 percent of the world’s COVID-19 cases.

Both Trump and the U.S. ruling class as a whole, including Democratic presumptive nominee Joseph Biden, have stepped up their anti-China propaganda — often combined with old-fashioned red-baiting — on numerous fronts. In Trump’s case, the anti-China attacks have an openly racist character. He regularly refers to COVID-19 as the “Chinese flu” or the even more racist “Kung flu.” This is typical Trump.

Less commented on is the record of Vietnam. Vietnam acted early and effectively in controlling the pandemic, first reported in its northern neighbor late last year. According to the website Exemplars of Global Health, “Although Vietnam reported its first case of COVID-19 on January 23, 2020, it reported only a little more than 300 cases and zero deaths over the following four months.”

Exemplars reports that Vietnam’s “early success has been attributed to several key factors, including a well-developed public health system, a strong central government, and a proactive containment strategy based on comprehensive testing, tracing, and quarantining.” Not mentioned is the fact that none of the factors that have enabled Vietnam to deal so successfully with the COVID pandemic would have been possible without Vietnam’s successful struggle half a century ago against the attempt by U.S. imperialism to destroy it in the name of “fighting communist aggression.” The Southeast Asian country is still struggling with the effects of the infamous “Agent Orange” defoliation program and other effects of the brutal “American war,” as it is called in Vietnam.

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The Crisis (Pt 11)

Is capitalism approaching its limits?

In the first years of the 20th century, Rosa Luxemburg expressed great alarm when she discovered that Marx’s formulas of expanded reproduction in Volume II of “Capital” suggested that capitalism can in principle go on forever. These formulas appeared to contradict Marx’s famous Preface in “A Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy.” There Marx wrote: “No social order ever perishes before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have developed [my emphasis — SW] and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself.”

If, however, capitalism can engage in expanded reproduction without limit, how can capitalism ever develop all the productive forces “for which it has room”? Didn’t Marx himself mathematically demonstrate that capitalism can develop the productive forces without limit? However, a closer look reveals this apparent contradiction to be an illusion.

In the Volume II formula, the productive forces expanded only quantitatively but not qualitatively. There is no growth in labor productivity or what Marx called the organic composition of capital — the ratio of constant capital, which does not produce surplus value but merely transfers its value to the commodities it helps produce, and variable capital, the sold labor power of the workers, which replaces its value and produces additional surplus value.

It is also assumed that the correct proportions of production, including the correct proportions between Department I, which produces the means of production, and Department II, which produces the means of consumption, are maintained without explaining how they are maintained. And — almost always overlooked — among the correct proportions between the various branches of production that must be maintained is that between the production of money material and all other branches of commodity production.

In reality, the concrete history of capitalism has been marked by growth in labor productivity. The rate at which productivity grows is largely regulated by the competition between the industrial capitalists and the workers. To maximize their profits, the industrial capitalists as the buyers of labor power try to pay the workers the lowest possible wage. The workers as the sellers of labor attempt to get the highest possible wage right up to the mathematical limit where surplus value — and therefore its monetary form, profit — disappears altogether.

If Marx’s formulas show expanded capitalist reproduction running forever, it must be assumed that the quantity of auxiliary materials and the ores out of which money material is produced, and the supply of labor power that produces the means of subsistence for the workers, must be available in infinite quantities. If this is true — which it obviously is not — then the population, including the fraction of the population that consists of workers, can grow to the mathematical limit of infinity and capitalism can indeed go on forever. Otherwise, it can’t.

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The Crisis (Pt 9)

After police murder of George Floyd, demonstrations and uprisings sweep U.S.

On June 1, a combined force of military police, park police, and Secret Service brutally cleared an area around the White House of peaceful demonstrators who had been protesting the May 25 murder by Minneapolis police officers of African-American George Floyd. To clear the crowd, these military-police forces used a low-flying helicopter, tear gas, and stun grenades. This was so that President Donald Trump could appear in front of a nearby church Bible in hand.

Trump, who had earlier been sheltering in a special bunker beneath the White House, threatened to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807, which would permit him to order the military to suppress the massive wave of demonstrations and uprisings that have been sweeping the U.S. since the police murder of Floyd. Trump’s threat to use the military, if carried out, would be a major step towards a military-Bonapartist dictatorship.

Trump’s threats led to a wave of complaints by mostly Democratic politicians and warnings of some retired generals, including Trump’s former Secretary of “Defense” General James “Maddog” Mattis, not to use the military against peaceful demonstrators. Republican leaders, with a few exceptions, either supported Trump or maintained an icy silence.

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The Crisis (Pt 8)

The dollar system, gold and the U.S. empire

The current international monetary system is a system of “fiat currency” centered on the U.S. dollar. It is bound up with the financial, political, and military system unofficially called the U.S. empire. To maintain the empire, the U.S. spends about 10 times more on its annual “defense” budget than any other country. Therefore, when it comes to raw military power, especially firepower and the ability to project it around the globe, the U.S. is a military power second to none. Unlike in the pre-1945 world, no other imperialist power can even think of challenging the U.S. militarily.

The U.S. empire in its modern form — in contrast to the North American U.S. proper and the relatively small but growing colonial empire that the U.S. had been building since the Spanish-American War of 1898 — dates to the lopsided victory of the U.S. over Nazi Germany (1) and Imperial Japan in 1945. Thereafter, and this was confirmed in the Suez Crisis of 1956, [link to posts which discuss this] no other imperialist power can undertake a major military operation without U.S. approval.

This emerging situation enabled the U.S. at the Bretton Woods Conference — held in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, in 1944 — to establish the U.S. dollar as the world currency and the U.S. Federal Reserve System as the world central bank. The dollar remains the world currency even though the U.S. dollar since 1971 has not been convertible into gold.

Originally, the U.S. built up a huge gold hoard by running balance of trade surpluses that were the result of the superior productivity of its industrial, extractive and agricultural enterprises. The size of the U.S. gold hoard was further increased in the 1930s when with a new European war looming, European capitalists moved much of their gold to the U.S. in exchange for U.S. dollars. Some European governments moved their gold reserves to the U.S. for safekeeping as well.

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The Crisis (Pt 7)

An unprecedented crisis

The current economic crisis has many unprecedented features. Most importantly, it was triggered by a pandemic and the resulting business shutdowns and stay-at-home orders. This led to a sharp decline in the sale of commodities. The result has been a collapse of industrial production, world trade, and employment over a period of a few weeks that is unparalleled in the history of capitalism. Because nothing like this had ever happened before, it is extremely difficult to predict what will happen next.

For example, we don’t know the future course of the pandemic as capitalist governments move, even as the pandemic continues, to lift the shutdowns of nonessential businesses and stay-at-home orders. Will these moves to “reopen the economy for business” cause the pandemic to accelerate? Or will the pandemic decline in the Northern Hemisphere, where the largest capitalist economies are located, as summer conditions set in? Many virus-caused diseases decline in the summer months and accelerate in the fall and winter. Will COVID-19 follow a similar pattern?

Even if we assume the pandemic peters out over the (Northern Hemisphere) summer and doesn’t come back this fall/winter, an extremely optimistic and experts say unwarranted assumption, will the U.S. and world economy revive rapidly in a so-called V-shaped recovery? Or will the recovery be slow and torturous, with Depression levels of unemployment lingering on for years? Or will it be something in between?

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The Crisis (Pt 6)

U.S. unemployment hits Depression levels

In April, the U.S. Labor Department U-3 measure of unemployment hit 14.7 percent. The U-3 rate had been used over the last year or so to claim that unemployment was the lowest since 1969. In fact, it is designed to greatly underestimate the real level of unemployment. Even some Federal Reserve Board officials admit that the real rate of unemployment is over 20 percent and fast approaching the all-time quasi-official estimate of 24.9 percent that occurred at the very bottom of the Depression in March 1933. Nobody denies that the number of unemployed in the U.S. is in the tens of millions — around 50 million if you believe AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

However, it is claimed by Trump and most economists that the current unemployment crisis is the result of the deliberate shutting down of the economy made necessary by the COVID-19 pandemic. What is occurring, according to this logic, is not the long-feared Depression II but the “Great Suppression.” Though unemployment generally declined after March 1933 — except for the sharp but short-lived Roosevelt recession of 1937-38 — “full employment” did not return until the U.S. had entered World War II in 1941. This time, it is claimed by Trump and many economists, in contrast to 1933 there is no underlying economic crisis. Therefore, “full employment” will return much more quickly. The pandemic will have run its course within months, as Trump claims, or at most within several years, as claimed by more cautious economists.

Therefore, the argument goes, while still a terrible situation it is not quite Depression II. Though unemployment may be as bad as during the Depression, it won’t last nearly as long. Anyway, Depression-level unemployment is the necessary price we have to pay to stave off the much greater evil of millions of deaths in the U.S. alone from COVID-19. Not surprisingly, Donald Trump, who had been planning on running on “prosperity and full employment” as shown by the Labor Department’s U-3 unemployment rate, is leading the charge to “open America for business.”

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