Revolutionary Movements in Advanced Capitalism: From the New Left to the Occupy Movement

Given the historical lack of revolution in capitalist democracies, it is natural to ask: what are the social conditions that would bring about such a revolution? This question is not only useful in trying to predict future revolutions but also in understanding civil disorder in typically stable countries.  By comparing post-2007 United States with the revolutionary wave of 1968, I will present that revolutionary movements in the industrialized world are determined by the strength of a revolutionary situation, created through student unrest, labor discontent and a weakening of the state’s claim to moral legitimacy while the revolutionary outcome is determined by the organizational strength of dissident groups and the level of police hostility. More simply, mass discontent becomes revolutionary when radical groups find a way to organize in spite of state opposition.

It will be useful to define a few terms before proceeding. An advanced capitalist society can be understood as a state with a high standard of living afforded by a market economy with private property and possesses a democratic form of government. Because of the inherent power of a modern military and the presence of free elections, a revolution in such a society would likely be brought about through non-violent means and with heavily reliance on electoral efforts. The Bulldozer Revolution in Serbia and Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela show that neither violence nor antidemocratic leadership is inherent to a successful revolution. It is therefore important to distinguish between revolutionary and reformist efforts. James DeFronzo provides the definition of a revolutionary movement as, “a social movement in which participants are organized to alter drastically or replace totally existing social, economic, or political institutions (DeFronzo, 10).”  Looking at the political climate of the mid to late sixties, this definition implies that the various movements designed to bring about racial and gender equality along with anti-war policies were largely reformist. It also means that the anti-austerity efforts today are reformist rather than revolutionary. However, these reformist efforts are crucial in creating a revolutionary situation by tapping into social unrest and challenging the legitimacy of the state.

The most successful revolutions took place either in largely agrarian societies or in societies with autocratic rulers. Countries like the United States and France meet neither of those conditions. This makes understanding the class composition of modern revolution all the more important. Western Europe[1968], Poland[1989] and Serbia[2000] give reason to believe that students and the working-class play a crucial leadership role in any peasantless revolution.

The level of youth discontent is a crucial factor in determining the shape of revolutionary movements. Students and the young are not intrinsically more revolutionary than general society but instead inherently have more opportunities to act out on discontent. This was true during 1968 where, “the great majority of American students were not alienated or sympathetic to radical causes”, while “surveys of French youth and students after the May 1968 events, indicated that the great majority were opposed to a “radical transformation of society”(Lipset, 61).”   They however proved crucial to the propagating the revolutionary waves during 1968. Students have fewer commitments than the average adult and thus can devote themselves to more radical action without concern for financially supporting a family. Universities also provide an easy environment for like-minded individuals to organize and experiment with ideas. Thus, students are more likely to act out on feelings of discontent. In regards to US protests of 1968, extensive polling from Gallup found little difference between age groups in their support for the Vietnam War (Lipset 39). This is important to know because if student opinions vary too far from the general population then it’s unlikely student actions will transform into a larger movement.

A revolutionary movement will not just depend on youth action but also worker involvement. Mai 1968 proved to be one of the closest instances of revolution occurring in an advanced capitalist society. France showed to the world, “the unsuspected fragility of the seemingly mighty modern industrial state. Ten Days of student rebellion followed by ten days of a general strike, and Gaulism was falling apart (Singer, 193).” In order to defuse the crisis President Charles de Gaulle was forced to call for parliamentary elections to take place in June and to concede to large wage increases for the unions. The elections however proved disastrous for the left with its disorganization and splintered nature leading to a loss in parliamentary seats.

The story was different in the US though. American unions were notoriously socially conservative, which is also one reason the new left gained so much traction among American youth. It was typical for unions in the US to be divided over the concerns of African-Americans, students and the poor. One poignant example is the 1970 Hard Hat Riot where AFL-CIO affiliated construction workers rioted and attacked a number of students who were protesting in the wake of the Kent State shootings. The conservative tendency of the American working class is one major reason why the protests at Columbia University and elsewhere did not have a similar impact on society as those in Paris.

Ultimately what prevented widespread revolution in the capitalist democracies of 1968 was lack of a cross-class cooperation. In France, political squabbling and division among the unions and professional leftists inhibited the Mai movement from achieving electoral success. The French revolutionary situation essentially vanished when, “the government finally came up with a package satisfying all labor demands…only a handful of younger workers gave a second thought to abandoning the students (Kurlansky, 235)”.  Similarly there was no revolution and only continued unrest in the US for, “young activists were turning towards revolution, but the larger public was only turning against the war (Epstein, 41).” For the US, 1968 radicalized the student movement but would prove the downfall to students organizing afterwards. The clearest example is the splintering of SDS[Students for a Democratic Society]. The rise in militancy among both student and black radicals essentially ended any momentum in public acceptance for these radicals.

The conditions for workers differ greatly today than they did 45 years ago. Organized labor in the US today has a much smaller role in the economy than during the Vietnam era and is especially weak when compared to the French unions that shook the world in 1968. However, the grievances of workers run much deeper today. In addition to the occupy movement that caught the attention of those on the East and West coasts, there were several large-scale labor confrontations that gripped the Midwest in 2011. The largest of these confrontations occurred in Wisconsin and Ohio. In both states, a newly freshman Republican governor pushed and signed legislation stripping public unions of collective bargaining rights. This led to protests and mobilization on a scale not seen in many years. In Wisconsin, protesters were able to force several recall elections while Ohioans were able to repeal the aforementioned legislation through a 2011 referendum. Similar to the French parliamentary elections of 1968, mass frustration was unable to be converted into political gain with both Wisconsin and Ohio state governments being completely controlled by the Republican Party in 2013. Although union membership continues to sharply decline, there has been resurgence in labor confrontations in the US due to worsening conditions in recent years.

I have discussed how the relationship between students and workers in affects the revolutionary process, but it does not address the motivating factors of dissent. There are several differences in structural factors between the contemporary United States and that of France, Western Germany and the United States in 1968. These structures are meaningful to explore because individual preferences for revolution have been found to be significantly related to several demographic characteristics: employment status, personal income, gender, religiosity and marital status (MacCulloch, 105). Currently, the US suffers from high levels of inequality both in absolute terms and relatively when compared to other nations and historical data. It is therefore important to note, “greater income inequality has marked and statistically robust effects on increasing the chance that an individual will support revolt (MacCulloch, 94).” Furthermore, the 2008 recession has hit hardest those younger than 25 as well as several industries[e.g. construction, manufacturing, government] with higher than average labor organization. The current economic situation varies vastly from that of the revolutionary wave of 1968.

However, economic factors played a minimum role in 1968. Western Europe experienced a modest recession starting from late 1966 to mid 1968. Only in West Germany did the state of the economy have any visible effect on the political environment:

For the West German public, which had not lived through a major recession for almost two decades, this was a considerable shock, and many unduly anxious observers began to draw parallels with the gloomy days of the Great Depression (Giersch, 145).

West Germany was incidentally one of the countries most affected by student protests of 1968. The United States would suffer a mild recession later from 1969-1970(NBER) and would not see an end to mass protests until 1972. There is therefore little evidence to say that economic conditions created the revolutionary situation in 1968. At best, it was one of many contributing factors that created a more structurally dissatisfied population. Instead, the revolutionary wave of 1968 was brought by the declining moral legitimacy of the cold-war world order.

The intensification of the War in Vietnam was major factor in the unrest of 1968. 1968 represented in Vietnam both a peak of US troop involvement[536,100] and US casualties[16,899](NARA). Part of the precipitous fall in support for the Vietnam War can be attributed to a string of defeats for the US during the first half of 1968. The Tet offensive completely shocked the US while the American military was forced to retreat from both Kham Duc and Khe Sahn. These battles exacted heavy casualties on all sides while publicly demonstrating the unwinnable nature of the Vietnam War. This intensification not only affected public opinion in the US but motivated protests across the world. For example in France, “[the Tet offensive] was directly responsible for the creation of the March 22 Movement, which was to be the driving force of the student revolt(Singer, 28).” Unsurprisingly, opposition to the war was a primary motivator for much of the organized action in the US including the unrest at Columbia University and the 1968 Democratic Convention.

In addition to anti-war sentiments, the movements around civil rights and women’s liberation were building on the deeper discontent around the lack of racial and gender equality. Race relations were tense with the assassination of Martin Luther King leading to riots in several cities. Also resulting from King’s death, the attempted Poor People’s Campaign fell flat on its face after sustaining a tent city in DC for six weeks. These political movements added greatly to the general discontent of 1968.

Because of the pivotal role that the Vietnam War played in the revolutionary wave of 1968, the natural question is what role does the War on Terror play today? At its peak the war on terror was nowhere as large or costly in either blood or treasure for the US as the Vietnam War. Additionally unlike Vietnam, the costs and continuation of the war on terror are much more nebulous. Although the war continues in Afghanistan and missions are carried out regularly against militants living between the Gulf of Aden and the Indus River there is little public attention paid. Because of the detached nature of the current war, the public does not have much opportunity to question legal and moral problems of the drone wars and the de facto suspension of due process for terror suspects. Therefore, it is safe to conclude opposition to US foreign policy is unlikely to create a revolutionary situation and at best be a mere contributing factor.

The organizations and strategies that revolutionaries use to mobilize mass discontent into action are crucial to gaining revolutionary momentum. However equally important is how these organizations and strategies interact with law enforcement. The question for radical groups then is what is the goal of engaging with the police: to provoke brutality and gain the sympathy of the public or organize without state obstruction? In the beginning the latter need to create police permissiveness appears far more important. In 1968, many of the escalations functioned only to marginalize the radicals. The confrontations at Columbia and the Hard Hat Riot two years later vividly illustrated the propensity of the working class and larger public to become “enraged at the privileged student radicals, who seemed so ungrateful for their opportunities(Unger, 113).” Meanwhile in France, many participants regretted the escalation with the police in the Latin Quarter believing the government, “allowed the demonstrators to rampage all over Paris so as to frighten the middle classes with an invasion of the “scum”(Singer, 179).” The revolutionary purpose of escalation is to delegitimize the state while avoiding alienating the public.

This dilemma remains an important challenge for contemporary groups and helps explain Occupy Wall Street. The occupy movement that sprung up in 2011 largely failed at morphing into a larger movement because of its failure to organize in the face of police. Extensively documenting the near simultaneous evictions across the country and police responses to the occupy movement Jeff Madrick remarked:

Taken together, the coordinated and disproportionate actions of the NYPD, the FBI, and Homeland Security represent a campaign of suppression without which OWS might well have evolved into something more formidable, even in the cold of New York City’s winter (Madrick)

The occupation of public spaces proved to be a tactic effective at gaining public attention. It is also a tactic, which puts the whole organization at the mercy of law enforcement. The police had the option to end the movement whenever they deemed convenient. However, the language and frustrations expressed by OWS will likely help form the next experiments in radical organization.

What does all this leave us to conclude of the revolutionary potential of the US today? The 2008 financial crises fundamentally changed the structure of the US labor market. This has put huge costs on those groups, students and workers, most pivotal in creating a revolutionary situation in an industrialized democracy. Furthermore, sources of dissatisfaction continue to increase in the US including rising inequality, wage stagnation, mass incarceration, war fatigue and environmental degradation. The beginnings of political mobilization occurred in 2011 with both the occupy movement and labor fights occurring. On at least the surface level, there is more solidarity and cooperation between student and worker groups today. However, “some reasonable alternatives must be presented to the discontented if they are to gamble their fate on some attempt at change (Regan, 297)”. Thus far, the aged labor unions, postmodern universities and Wall Street protesters have not provided sufficient alternatives to motivate people to move away from the current power structures. Perhaps it will emerge from the human rights movement or be inspired by a Rawlsian vision of the economy. Ultimately, where these alternatives will rise is anyone’s guess. However, it is fair to say that revolutionary potential today is just as great if not greater than the situation that brought the revolutionary wave of 1968.

The revolutionary wave of 1968 was largely prompted internationally by student rebellion and shaped nationally by worker involvement. The beginnings of revolutionary movement have begun to form in the wake of the Great Recession. If this develops into a revolutionary movement let alone a revolution has yet to be seen. I have argued that revolutionary movements in the industrialized world are determined by the strength of a revolutionary situation, created through student unrest, labor discontent and a weakening of the state’s claim to moral legitimacy while the revolutionary outcome is determined by the organizational strength of dissident groups and the level of police hostility. Mass discontent becomes revolutionary when radical groups find a way to organize in spite of state opposition. Only tomorrow knows what the next revolutionary wave will look like and what will change with it.

Works Cited

1. DeFronzo, James. Revolutions and Revolutionary Movements. Fourth ed. Boulder: Westview Press, 1991.

2. Epstein, Barbara. Political Protest and Cultural Revolution: Nonviolent Direct Action in the 1970s and 1980s. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.

3. Giersch, Herbert, Karl Paqué, and Holger Schmieding. The Fading Miracle: Four Decades of Market Economy in Germany. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

4. Kurlansky, Mark. 1968: The Year that Rocked the World. New York: Ballantine, 2004.

5. Lipset, Seymour Martin. Rebellion in the University. Boston: Little, Brown, 1972.

6. MacCulloch, Robert. “Income Inequality And The Taste For Revolution.” The Journal of Law

and Economics 48, no. 1 (2005): 93-123.

7. Madrick, Jeff “The Fall and Rise of Occupy Wall Street.” Haper’s Magazine, March 2013.

8. Moore, Geoffrey H., 1983, Ballinger Publishing Co., Cambridge, and  MA.. “US Business

Cycle Expansions and Contractions .” The National Bureau of Economic Research.

9. National Archives and Records Administration. “Statistical information about casualties of the Vietnam War.” National Archives and Records Administration.

10. Regan, Patrick M., Daniel Just, and Aida Paskeviciute. “REVOLUTION: IMMUNITY FOR INDUSTRIAL DEMOCRACIES?.”Journal Of Political & Military Sociology 35, no. 2 (Winter 2007): 281-298.

11. Singer, Daniel. Prelude to Revolution; France in May 1968. 2nd ed. New York: Hill and Wang, 1970.

12. Unger, Irwin, and Debi Unger. The Movement: A History of the American New Left, 1959-1972. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1974.

Posted in Political Phillosphy | Leave a comment

Patriot Act Vote Record

Compiled below is the list of every current member of Congress who voted to extend the USA PATRIOT Act. It comprises of 61 Senators and 220 Representatives coming from 45 states and includes 67 Democrats and 214 Republicans. Given this Act(especially Title II which was renewed in 2011) was used to justify massively violating the American public’s right to privacy and right against unreasonable searches, this should be considered a grave breach in the oath to uphold and defend the constitution. I encourage all 281 legislators to resign in disgrace.

If you don’t know your Rep or how to contact him/her, here is a tool to help:  Also, congrats to Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii Montana, and Vermont for not being on this list. Additionally, I will be adding some of the requests to this page soon.

Jeff Sessions R AL-0
Richard C. Shelby R AL-0
Jo Bonner R AL-1
Martha Roby R AL-2
Mike D. Rogers R AL-3
Robert B. Aderholt R AL-4
Mo Brooks R AL-5
Spencer Bachus R AL-6
Terri Sewell D AL-7

John Boozman R AR-0
Mark Pryor D AR-0
Rick Crawford R AR-1
Tim Griffin R AR-2
Steve Womack R AR-3
Mike Ross D AR-4

John McCain R AZ-0
Trent Franks R AZ-2
Ben Quayle R AZ-3

Barbara Boxer D CA-0
Dianne Feinstein D CA-0
Dan Lungren R CA-3
Jeffrey Denham R CA-19
Jim Costa D CA-20
Kevin McCarthy R CA-22
Elton Gallegly R CA-24
Adam B. Schiff D CA-29
Ed Royce R CA-40
Gary G. Miller R CA-42
Ken Calvert R CA-44
Darrell Issa R CA-49
Brian P. Bilbray R CA-50
Duncan D. Hunter R CA-52
Susan A. Davis D CA-53

Michael Bennet D CO-0
Cory Gardner R CO-4
Doug Lamborn R CO-5
Mike Coffman R CO-6

Thomas R. Carper D DE-0
John Carney D DE-1

Bill Nelson D FL-0
Jeff Miller R FL-1
Steve Southerland R FL-2
Corrine Brown D FL-3
Ander Crenshaw R FL-4
Richard Nugent R FL-5
John L. Mica R FL-7
Daniel Webster R FL-8
Gus Bilirakis R FL-9
C. W. Bill Young R FL-10
Dennis Ross R FL-12
Tom Rooney R FL-16
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen R FL-18
Ted Deutch D FL-19
Debbie Wasserman Schultz D FL-20
Mario Diaz-Balart R FL-21
Sandra Adams R FL-24
David Rivera R FL-25

Saxby Chambliss R GA-0
Johnny Isakson R GA-0
Jack Kingston R GA-1
Sanford D. Bishop Jr. D GA-2
Lynn Westmoreland R GA-3
Tom Price R GA-6
Austin Scott R GA-8
Phil Gingrey R GA-11
John Barrow D GA-12
David Scott D GA-13

Charles E. Grassley R IA-0
Leonard L. Boswell D IA-3
Tom Latham R IA-4
Steve King R IA-5

Michael D. Crapo R ID-0
Jim Risch R ID-0
Mike Simpson R ID-2

Mark Steven Kirk R IL-0
Daniel Lipinski D IL-3
Mike Quigley D IL-5
Peter Roskam R IL-6
Robert Dold R IL-10
Adam Kinzinger R IL-11
Randy Hultgren R IL-14
Aaron Schock R IL-18
John Shimkus R IL-19

Daniel Coats R IN-0
Joe Donnelly D IN-0
Marlin Stutzman R IN-3
Larry Bucshon R IN-8
Todd Young R IN-9

Jerry Moran R KS-0
Lynn Jenkins R KS-2
Kevin Yoder R KS-3

Mitch McConnell R KY-0
Edward Whitfield R KY-1
Brett Guthrie R KY-2
Geoff Davis R KY-4
Harold Rogers R KY-5

Mary L. Landrieu D LA-0
David Vitter R LA-0
Steve Scalise R LA-1
Jeff Landry R LA-3
John Fleming R LA-4
Rodney Alexander R LA-5
Bill Cassidy R LA-6

Niki Tsongas D MA-5
Bill Keating D MA-9

Benjamin L. Cardin D MD-0
Barbara A. Mikulski D MD-0
C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger D MD-2
Steny H. Hoyer D MD-5

Susan Collins R ME-0

Carl Levin D MI-0
Debbie Stabenow D MI-0
Dan Benishek R MI-1
Bill Huizenga R MI-2
Dave Camp R MI-4
Fred Upton R MI-6
Tim Walberg R MI-7
Mike Rogers R MI-8
Gary Peters D MI-9
Candice S. Miller R MI-10
Sander M. Levin D MI-12

Amy Klobuchar D MN-0
John Kline R MN-2
Erik Paulsen R MN-3
Michele Bachmann R MN-6
Collin C. Peterson D MN-7

Roy Blunt R MO-0
Claire McCaskill D MO-0
Vicky Hartzler R MO-4
Sam Graves R MO-6
Jo Ann Emerson R MO-8
Blaine Luetkemeyer R MO-9

Thad Cochran R MS-0
Roger Wicker R MS-0
Alan Nunnelee R MS-1
Gregg Harper R MS-3
Steven Palazzo R MS-4

North Carolina
Richard M. Burr R NC-0
Kay Hagan D NC-0
G. K. Butterfield D NC-1
Renee Ellmers R NC-2
Virginia Foxx R NC-5
Howard Coble R NC-6
Mike McIntyre D NC-7
Patrick T. McHenry R NC-10

North Dakota
John Hoeven R ND-0
Rick Berg R ND-1

Mike Johanns R NE-0
Jeff Fortenberry R NE-1
Lee Terry R NE-2
Adrian Smith R NE-3

New Hampshire
Kelly Ayotte R NH-0
Jeanne Shaheen D NH-0

New Jersey
Robert E. Andrews D NJ-1
Frank A. LoBiondo R NJ-2
Jon Runyan R NJ-3
Christopher H. Smith R NJ-4
Scott Garrett R NJ-5
Leonard Lance R NJ-7
Bill Pascrell Jr. D NJ-8
Steven R. Rothman D NJ-9
Rodney Frelinghuysen R NJ-11

New Mexico
Steve Pearce R NM-2

Harry Reid D NV-0
Joe Heck R NV-3

New York
Kirsten E. Gillibrand D NY-0
Timothy H. Bishop D NY-1
Steve Israel D NY-2
Peter T. King R NY-3
Mike Grimm R NY-13
Nita M. Lowey D NY-18
Nan Hayworth R NY-19
Ann Marie Buerkle R NY-25
Brian Higgins D NY-27
Tom Reed R NY-29

Rob Portman R OH-0
Steven J. Chabot R OH-1
Michael R. Turner R OH-3
Jim Jordan R OH-4
Robert E. Latta R OH-5
Bill Johnson R OH-6
Steve Austria R OH-7
Pat Tiberi R OH-12
Steven C. LaTourette R OH-14
Steve Stivers R OH-15
Jim Renacci R OH-16
Bob Gibbs R OH-18

Tom Coburn R OK-0
James M. Inhofe R OK-0
Frank D. Lucas R OK-3
Tom Cole R OK-4
James Lankford R OK-5

Greg Walden R OR-2

Bob Casey D PA-0
Patrick J. Toomey R PA-0
Mike Kelly R PA-3
Jason Altmire D PA-4
Glenn Thompson R PA-5
Jim Gerlach R PA-6
Pat Meehan R PA-7
Bill Shuster R PA-9
Tom Marino R PA-10
Lou Barletta R PA-11
Allyson Y. Schwartz D PA-13
Charlie Dent R PA-15
Joe Pitts R PA-16
Tim Murphy R PA-18
Todd R. Platts R PA-19

Rhode Island
Jack Reed D RI-0
Sheldon Whitehouse D RI-0
Jim Langevin D RI-2

South Carolina
Lindsey Graham R SC-0
Tim Scott R SC-0
Joe Wilson R SC-2
Trey Gowdy R SC-4
Mick Mulvaney R SC-5

South Dakota
Tim Johnson D SD-0
John Thune R SD-0
Kristi Noem R SD-1

Lamar Alexander R TN-0
Bob Corker R TN-0
Chuck Fleischmann R TN-3
Scott DesJarlais R TN-4
Jim Cooper D TN-5
Diane Black R TN-6
Marsha Blackburn R TN-7
Stephen Fincher R TN-8

John Cornyn R TX-0
Louie Gohmert R TX-1
Ted Poe R TX-2
Sam Johnson R TX-3
Ralph M. Hall R TX-4
Jeb Hensarling R TX-5
Joe L. Barton R TX-6
John Culberson R TX-7
Kevin Brady R TX-8
Michael McCaul R TX-10
K. Michael Conaway R TX-11
Kay Granger R TX-12
William M. Thornberry R TX-13
Rubén Hinojosa D TX-15
Bill Flores R TX-17
Randy Neugebauer R TX-19
Lamar Smith R TX-21
Pete Olson R TX-22
Francisco Canseco R TX-23
Kenny Marchant R TX-24
Michael C. Burgess R TX-26
Blake Farenthold R TX-27
Henry Cuellar D TX-28
Eddie Bernice Johnson D TX-30
John Carter R TX-31
Pete Sessions R TX-32

Orrin G. Hatch R UT-0
Jim Matheson D UT-2

Mark Warner D VA-0
Robert J. Wittman R VA-1
Scott Rigell R VA-2
J. Randy Forbes R VA-4
Robert Hurt R VA-5
Robert W. Goodlatte R VA-6
Eric Cantor R VA-7
Frank R. Wolf R VA-10

Cathy McMorris Rodgers R WA-5
Dave Reichert R WA-8
Adam Smith D WA-9

Ron Johnson R WI-0
Paul D. Ryan R WI-1
Ron Kind D WI-3
F. James Sensenbrenner R WI-5
Tom Petri R WI-6
Sean Duffy R WI-7
Reid Ribble R WI-8

West Virginia
Joe Manchin III D WV-0
John D. Rockefeller IV D WV-0
David McKinley R WV-1
Shelley Moore Capito R WV-2
Nick J. Rahall II D WV-3

John Barrasso R WY-0
Michael B. Enzi R WY-0
Cynthia M. Lummis R WY-1

edit: fixed all formatting & excel errors

Posted in Uncategorized | 27 Comments

Right to Work: freedom of association or union busting?

A historical background: Before the 1935 Wagner Act, laws pertaining to unions were haphazard and specific to particular states or industries. Under the act, unions could form closed shops. This meant that employers could only employ members of the company’s official union. However, in 1947 the Taft-Hartley Act was passed and amended the standard process for forming a union. Close shop unions were outlawed, leaving only agency and open shop unions. This is where right to work laws come into play.  Agency shop is where employees do not have to be a member of the union but can still be required to pay an agency fee for the benefits the union brings to all employees. Right to work laws seek to ban this practice and only allow open shop unions. Open Shop is where workers can completely dissociate themselves from the official union.

The political consequences: You will likely hear that agency shops are an unreasonable infringement on a worker’s freedom of association. Is this true though? The purpose of requiring agency fees from all employees is to allow unions to have funds with which to function and bargain on behalf of all employees. The contracts that are collectively bargained for by unions apply to all workers. This creates what is known in economics as a free rider problem.  When given the option of paying for group benefits or receiving the same benefits without pay, many members will free ride and not contribute to the group. Hence why groups that function solely on volunteer contributions often face chronic underfunding and chronic underperformance. Right to work laws therefore primarily serve to weaken the ability of a union to collectively bargain. The question now is: is it economically beneficial for the state to ensure a workers ability to not pay for the collective bargaining benefits she receives?

An economic analysis: At first glance, the median hourly wage was 10.3% higher, but unemployment was .6% higher in the 28 states that did not have right to work laws in 20111.  However, right to work(RTW) states are much more rural and more Republican so a direct comparison doesn’t mean much. RTW states had an average unionization rate of 7.2% compared to the 16.1% rate of non-RTW states2. That’s a 124% increase, so the real question is: do unions positively impact the economy?  We know that, “[unions’] decline can account for over one quarter of the rise in inequality over the past 30 years3”. Benefits of unions include increased health care4, fewer workplace accidents5 and higher median wages6. The theoretical cost is increased unemployment, but empirical evidence shows no significant correlation or effect chart, 7.

Conclusion: The purpose of right to work laws is to weaken unions, and by lowering unionization rates these laws negatively affect the economy. The state has no legitimate reason in preventing a union from collecting agency fees from workers who are represented by the union’s collective bargaining efforts. Thus, when right to work laws come up for debate it is the duty of responsible citizens to reject such a craven assault on all workers.


Chart 1:

6.                                                                                                                               7.

Posted in Economics | Leave a comment

Libertarians, Liberals and Leftists: Oh my

As someone who has often used the term “left-libertarian” to describe myself, I’ve always found the American Libertarian tendency to ally with Republicans frustrating.  I think the left and libertarians could accomplish a lot together.  Mike Gravel has always made much more sense to me than Ron Paul.  Many reasons exist as to why I feel a partnership between libertarians and the left would be much more beneficial to both groups than the status quo.  Namely, I think there are very compatible views on the bill of rights, the military, corruption and being socially liberal to build an alliance upon.

There is a very strong liberal/civil-libertarian faction in the Democratic Party.  They’re the Mark Udall’s who oppose the Carl Levin’s of the party.  They vote against military aggression, against drug prohibition and tend to protect the civil liberties of their constituents (habeas corpus, protest, privacy etc).  Let’s look at the NDAA 2012 as an example: above is the vote on the Udall Amendment which would have stripped the language of Section 1021 from the law (  Two thirds of the Democratic block voted aye.  Only Senator Kirk of Illinois and Senator Rand of Kentucky voted with the 35 Democrats (one a moderate, the other Ron Paul’s son).  Now let’s examine the 17 Democrats who voted nay.  Seven came from states that traditionally vote Republican and a full 10 voted who voted nay came from a state with a senator of each party( Because of overlap, 11 out of the 17 belong in at least one of those groups).  Section 1021 would have never had made it onto the President’s desk without near universal support coming from Republicans.  This point can easily be made about the Iraq War, the Patriot Act and many other policies.  Far too often does the neoconservative agenda get pushed into law because a minority of hawkish Democrats decides to vote across the aisle.

Let’s look at how Paul supporters have been treated throughout the Republican nomination process.  Due to Paul’s rather outspoken stances on reducing military spending, ending drug probation and restoring habeas corpus he has been perpetually demagogued.  The neo-McCarthyites who demonized the liberals, opposing these things under Bush, are now launching a full out assault on the libertarians of the Republican Party.  This seems like a rather abusive relationship.  Forget all the propaganda you hear about being “politically correct”.  This is a fiction propagated by the religious right.  When push comes to shove, there is much more toleration of dissent and diversity of thought in the Democratic Party than there is in the Republican Party.

What about the discrepancies in economic policy?  I feel as if this is largely exaggerated.  Let’s look at the issue of “crony capitalism”.  Both the left and libertarians viscerally oppose the collusion of corporate and state power.  The same can be said about occupy and the tea party.  The difference comes down to methods.  The left tends to address this problem by restricting corporate power- the libertarians, by restricting state power.  However, can we not achieve some mutually beneficial synthesis of these two methods?  I think we can.  At the very least, it would be more effective than trying to negotiate with Romney or any of the other corporate apologists.  Allow me to use energy diversification as an example.  Many Libertarians are rightfully upset over the friendliness between green businesses and the Democratic Party.  They distrust the subsidies because it reeks of collusion.  Yet we spend more on subsidies for oil than we do for green energy.  Green energy would be on a better footing if all energy subsidies were removed.  Democrats have long tried to end oil subsidies.  That seems like-dare-I-say a compromise?  Something that benefits all parties?  Sweet ideologues above, forbid it!  We could then pursue more effective methods of energy diversification through infrastructure and public goods.  This is assuming you think the provision of roads and trains within the duty of the government.  However, the point is the same regardless.  Even when it comes to economic policy there is a lot of room for mutually beneficial cooperation (an interesting example of such:  I would be happy to provide more examples but I’ll refrain for now.  Lastly, there is the obvious point that both groups are socially liberal.

For the past generation the American left has had a difficult time being liberal(in the original sense of the word).  Sadly, we have far too often stumbled and buckled under the pressure and temptations of authoritarianism.  Libertarians have had encountered much difficulty being taken seriously by Republicans and actually effecting their platform.  Although I no longer consider myself a left-libertarian (i’ll explain in a later post), I still believe a little bit more libertarianism in the Democratic Party would benefit everybody.

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Canadaland vs Jesusland!

After the 2004 election, many Americans joked that the states that voted for John Kerry should just form a union with Canada.  Although the Jesusland maps were meant to be a joke, what would a divided US look like?  First, Let us divide the US in half like this:

It does not perfectly coincide with state by partisanship but it does line up rather well.  It also considers geographical boundaries.  For example, Idaho and Montana were included to keep the hypothetical the United States of Canada continuous.  Let us call the Red part of this map the American Confederacy of the Heartland.  I know the names are absurd, but that is the point.  I am not seriously advocating for the breakup of the United States but I would like to demonstrate that the Northern half of the United States is much wealthier, healthier and educated than the southern half.  Here is the breakdown:

The North The Heartland The North + Canada
Population(millions): 170 139 209
Life Expectancy: 79.23 77.83 79.50
GDP per capita a: $52,858 $42,965 $49,144
%  25+ with bachelor: 29.5% 25.8% 28.8%
% 25-34 with associate: 43.5% 38.4% 44.5%

Meaning that those in the northern half of the US would expect to live 1.4 years longer, make $8,072 more(in GDP terms) and have 3.7% more of its populace holding a 4 year degree or higher.  In percentages: 18.4% wealthier, 1.8% healthier and 14.3% more college educated.


World Rankings: USA Canada The North The Heartland North + Canada
Population: 3rd 35th 4th 10th 4th
Life Expectancy: 38th 12th 26th 41st 18th
GDP per capita: 6th 12th 5th 11th 5th
% 25-34 with associate: 12th 2nd 8th 19th 8th

So there it is; a stark contrast in the standard of living between two Americas.  I will allow you to create your own narrative to explain the disparity.  My only comment is that public policy really does matter.  Originally, my intent was to calculate the HDI for two separate Americas.  This is an oft used economic metric calculated as the geometric average of life expectancy, GDP per capita and mean years of school.  Unfortunately, the US does not provide the equivalent data for education on the state level.  As a part two I plan on comparing the USA and Canada .

a.  In International Dollars according to IMF 2011 data.

Methodology: In case you are wondering where these numbers came from: population data comes from the 2011 estimate from the US. Census1.  GDP per capita figures are simply the GSP2 for 2010 divided by the state population.  Education figures come from the College Board 20113.  Life Expectancy by state is once again an easily accessible public figure and comes from the American Human Development Project4.  Then with an excel chart, these numbers were incredibly easy to crunch(It’s just weighted averages).  Speaking of the American Human Development Project; let’s see what the differences are in HDI for the US states4.  The weighted average for  HDI is 5.42 for the American half Canadaland and 4.78 for the Heartland.   That is a 13.5% difference.  Thus, their findings are consistent with my own.


1. (chart)


3 .

4. (chart)

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Important Economic data:

Obscure yet good blogs:

Informative Videos:

Short Videos:


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The Death of a Swing State

I had originally written this shortly after the 2010 census results were published.  I find it particularly relevant because it talks about the Florida Path.  The fact major political consultants are talking about an idea I wrote about a year ago feels validating.

I have included maps at the bottom to illustrate my point. The 2010 census resulted in six votes being shifted in Republican favor.  I was curious as if this would mean more presidents that are Republican for the foreseeable future.  Paradoxically, it will be increasingly difficult for the GOP to win presidential bids for the next twelve years.  This is because Ohio has shifted from a key swing state to simply a swing state while Florida is now a super swing state.  Without Florida, the 33 most conservative states must vote for the GOP nominee.  Democrats only need to win the 17 most liberal states, DC and Florida to clench any nomination (1).  This is not to say the Democrats do not have their own vital state.  Without PA, the chance of a Democratic win without Florida seems excessively dim.  You do not achieve the same battleground status where the other swing states become important unless Florida goes to the GOP and PA to the Democrats (Or the unlikely reverse).  If this happens then NV, NM, CO, IA, OH, VA, and NH must be fought over tooth and nail(2).  I personally cannot see any plausible situation where Missouri would vote for a candidate more liberal than Florida, thus it is not included in the list of swing states.  The opposite for Minnesota.  Even though there are now more Republican safe votes, Florida and PA must go to the Republicans while only one of those two states must go to Democrats.  Therefore, the change for the next 12 years is that, Florida and Pennsylvania have now superseded the role of swing states and are now our two critical states.  Without a realignment of parties, winning Republican white houses now appear to be a herculean task.



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