The Zombie Stomp

ASR 53 (2010)

The economists are nearly unanimous in proclaiming that the U.S. recession has ended, and the economy is now expanding. Ordinary people disagree, but that’s because we look at the question entirely the wrong way. We ask how well the economy is meeting our needs, when we should be asking how well it’s doing at enriching our bosses. That, after all, is the fundamental purpose of a capitalist economy.

And from that vantage point, the infusion of trillions of dollars of society’s hard-built wealth has successfully revived the zombies. The Dow Jones average has been promenading around 10,000 for months, indicating that the stock market has recovered most of its losses even as home foreclosures continue at record rates. True,  the number of people without jobs continues to rise – as does the length of time it takes laid-off workers to find new jobs even at lower pay (or give up, thereby reducing the official unemployment rate), which is now at record levels – but the pace of plant closings and lay-offs has slowed as the bosses run short on wage slaves to fire.

About eight and a half million U.S. workers have lost their jobs since the recession officially started a year ago (though, of course, millions of jobs were disappearing long before that), and many more jobs have disappeared as people retired, often a half-step ahead of the ax. Other jobs have been transformed from full-time wage slavery to part-time immiseration. Temporary and contract work is once again on the upswing.

Labor productivity is skyrocketing, as workers are pressed to do the work that previously required two or three people. Productivity rose by more than 9 percent in the third quarter of 2009 (it was even higher in manufacturing), enabling the bosses to get more production per hour of labor than ever before in recorded history. The economists see this as a good thing, and even when they start hiring again the bosses are hardly likely to tolerate a resumption of the earlier, already-too-hectic, pace of work.

Wages are down for most workers, and health and retirement benefits are in tatters; but executive bonuses are once again raining down from the sky. Even companies in bankruptcy – like the Tribune media conglomerate discussed last issue – are paying out tens of millions of dollars in bonuses to their executives, explaining that unlike us humble wage slaves who can be kept at our jobs through fear of starvation and homelessness, these overpaid parasites require ever-fatter paychecks to motivate them to do their (largely useless) jobs.

The capitalists are doing just fine, thank you very much. (And they should be thanking you, given the trillions of dollars shoveled into their greedy maws to keep them afloat.) The banks that we were told were “too big to fail” a couple years ago are now much, much bigger. Massive infusions of social wealth, not just in the United States but around the world, have enabled these capitalists to escape the consequences of their reckless speculation; instead of being consigned to the graves they so richly deserve, the bosses continue roaming the world looking for ever more victims to feed their insatiable demand for capital. This is indeed a zombie economy, fueled by the dead labor and destroyed dreams of our fellow workers around the world.

The ravages of the financial collapse will be felt for decades to come. The full cost of the bail-out may never be known, but one thing is certain. Tens of millions of human lives could have been saved from poverty-related deaths (malaria, malnutrition, AIDS, and the like) for less than a tenth of what the U.S. government alone spent on bailing out the banks and financiers. The money spent propping up an ownership system that enables a tiny handful to plunder our planet and squander our lives could instead have been used to eradicate world hunger, and to provide decent housing and health care for the world’s population.

It seems like the capitalists may succeed in patching this zombie economy back together for a few years longer. But can we afford the enormous expense of sustaining an economic system that depends on sucking the life blood from the planet, and from the workers who produce our society’s vast wealth?

The parasites who live off our labor see the means of our survival as costs to be shunted aside, our lives and planet as resources to be plundered. They measure our future in fiscal quarters, and their moral compass is the rate of return on investment. Perhaps we could afford to support this zombie system in an earlier age, though millions of our fellow workers died in the glorious cause of raising the profit rate. But today, in the midst of the deepest economic crisis our world has faced since the Great Depression, the capitalist system is a luxury we can no longer afford.

There has been too much chatter about reforming financial markets and the like. It’s time to organize in our communities and at our jobs, to seize our workplaces, to build job control, to win shorter hours, to dump the bosses off our backs. It’s time to rid ourselves of this rotten system, and instead devote our resources to meeting human needs, and the needs of our planet.

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