July 30th: on the Koch Empire and the Gig-Economy’s Libertarian Threat to Democracy and Society

Context is key. The Bernie Sanders campaign organized the simultaneous meetings of thousands of speech-watching parties last night and did this with sixty paid staff members, half of them field organizers. The Clinton campaign employs around 340 staff members, sixty of them field organizers. And yet the Koch brothers’ big money coalition, lead by Americans for Prosperity, has 1000 paid staffers. It’s not hard to appreciate the disparity of canvassing power for good when it’s faced with a full time work force of 1000 persons to your 400 persons – and 400 is optimistic when we recognize that 340 of those members are working for a neoliberalist who protects the banks that gamble with our savings, our homes, our global food supplies…

But the Koch empire is doing more than canvassing – they are executing Obama’s undemocratic reelection strategy (and Romney tried to use this technology as well) of acquiring consumer data, online and off, and monitoring what sites are visited and what links are retweet to determine personal party affiliations. If your party affiliation is not to their liking you will be inundated with a swarm of negative advertisements that are designed to make you apathetic and not turn out to vote for your candidate. The ads will follow you everywhere you visit on the net because of cookies-based advertising that allows, in essence, a middle man to effectively sell blank advertising space on every website you visit to the same advertiser – we see the same ads everywhere now and you’ll see poisonous political ads everywhere if you don’t agree with the oligarchs. If they’re lucky they’ll depress you enough to stay off the net, whereupon you’ll be disconnected from the few non-corporate media sources that exist. This is of course voter suppression and is excruciatingly undemocratic. Obama seems comfortable with his use of these undemocratic tactics in 2012.

Pessimism ought rationally to reign, but the People might still be able to assert their voices even when their vote is suppressed – look to North Carolina. A federal court in North Carolina is weighing the legality of a voter restriction bill that was put up to a vote, conveniently, right after the Supreme Court gutted that part of the Voting Rights Act that required several Southern states with a history of suppressing the black vote to get approval from the federal government before enacting new voting laws. The plaintiffs have evidence that studies were commissioned to find which voter protections were used by black communities the most and argue that it is no coincidence that these particular protections were then weakened – suppressing the black vote and keeping political power in white (bloody) hands.

The defendants make the fallacious argument that because black turnout was better after the restrictive laws than after, that the new restrictions aren’t unjust. This conflates the intent of the law with the success of the law – just because the intent of the law is to suppress black votes doesn’t mean it will be successful in suppressing votes. The lessening of voter protections made voting more difficult for many people, particularly poor folks, and that is in itself unacceptable and why the new restrictions should be stricken down, that they overcame this unjust difficulty is not an argument in favor of keeping such restrictions in place. That we have witnessed the overcoming of substantial barriers to voting, particularly ones that are more treacherous and material than the mere psychological harm of advertising warfare, is (depressingly) reassuring. Another of the myriad class privileges of being white – your rights are not as fiercely attacked as non-whites.

In his recently released book Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates rephrases the theory that “whiteness” is a construct used to justify class divisions and thereby injustice and violence perpetuated on the non-white class. This is undoubtedly true, but the evil empire of the Koch brothers doesn’t discriminate when it comes to funding attacks on the non-wealthy, they want you powerless if you’re white, black, Hispanic, Asian, American… A major success of the Koch Empire has been ALEC, American Legislative Exchange Council, a meeting of politicians of all levels of government with libertarian ideologues and lobbyists. Lobbyists propose and write drafts of laws as they would like to see them, and our representatives take them to their state houses, their congress, and make minor changes to obscure the source of the law or even make no changes at all before passing them, in a true failure of democracy and the success of what Chris Hedges calls Corporate Totalitarianism.

ALEC has targeted the public sector for annihilation, seeking first to wipe out the workforce of the public sector by bludgeoning unions, trumpeting the false flag of “a right to work” which truly amounts to the cutting of funding of People’s organizations that fight for workers’ wages and benefits. Yesterday, Michigan’s Supreme Court upheld the Republican legislature’s passage of a right to work bill that allows non-union members, who benefit from union actions and collective bargaining, to opt out of paying the fees that enable the unions to perform these very actions. As the propaganda against unions becomes more vociferous, workers will become more and more inclined to act against their own interests, and to act in accord with their employer’s subtle but certain warnings not to join their local union. Economists (i.e. Krugman, Stiglitz, Reich, Wolff) and political scientists (Hacker, Pierson, Nichols and McChesney) agree that our government only responds to organized and unified group forces. The Koch Empire is undoubtedly organized, and they are organizing to wipe out the very organizations that represent workers.
The necessity of unions should make us skeptical of the benefits of the coming gig-economy, most visible in Uber, Lyft and AirB&B. Libertarians (i.e. members of the Koch Empire) are salivating over the prospect of a currently unregulated “capitalism” remaining unregulated. They say that this is a perfect case of the Invisible Hand, where buyers will come to sellers and everyone will benefit by seeking their own interests. This is bullshit. It assumes that this is a one-to-one economy where the seller sets the prices of their goods and services. But in the gig economy this is not so – Uber determines the rates and thus determines the pay that workers receive, and in determining their pay they in effect decide how much the driver needs to work. When we think of it this way it is clear that drivers are employees and thus are in need of protections and benefits that are owed to such employees.

But because moneyed interests have bought our representatives and control our politics, the gig economy, with its lack of job security, benefits, and a living wage, backed by Wall Street investors and libertarian fossil fuel czars, is here to stay, to the detriment and ultimate ruin of unionized groups — taxi drivers, hospitality workers – and all service workers as wages are driven down. This model of parasitic capitalism will spread throughout industry, culminating in a class of workers with few benefits and rights, all manufacturing jobs having been shipped overseas by neoliberal trade deals like Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership, while the wealth of the economy will be held by a few CEOs who have bought everything they could want and so spend their money perpetually buying powerful friends in Washington and the statehouses, having invested in the Koch brothers and Jeb Bush’s dreams of privatized education that brainwashed a generation of Americans into extoling their values of every-man-for-himself libertarianism/free market fascism/Corporate totalitarianism.

Things are very bad.

We need to boycott the New gig-economy and not use Uber, Lyft, AirB&B etc.

(Do support the “old” gig economy by hiring and paying gigging [jazz] musicians though!)

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