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<nettime> Regime Change in the USA?
Brian Holmes on Wed, 7 Oct 2009 17:44:21 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Regime Change in the USA?

I dunno if people are following the events in California very closely, 
but in my view, the recent faculty-staff-student walkout there is a 
presage of many things to come. It offers a foretaste of what you might 
call regime change in the USA. The September 24 walkout across the 
entire University of California system follows a large number of similar 
movements in Europe, as well as the occupation of a building at the New 
School in NYC last December. At stake in the California case is the 
accelerated erosion of what used to be the most opulent welfare state in 
the country. I wrote a blog post with lots of links and details:


What's happening is a basic shift in the day-to-day operations of 
government, due to the fiscal crisis of the states. In a Wall Street 
Journal article dated September 3, the Republican governor of Indiana, 
Mitch Daniels, writes this: "State government finances are a wreck. The 
drop in tax receipts is the worst in a half century. Fewer than 10 
states ended the last fiscal year with significant reserves, and 
three-fourths have deficits exceeding 10% of their budgets. Only an 
emergency infusion of printed federal funny money is keeping most state 
boats afloat right now."

Daniels predicts a competitive downsizing of state governments to 
attract businesses fleeing comparatively high-tax states like 
California. For him it's a positive future, because like a good 
Republican corporate businessmen he has been "trimming the fat" since 
his arrival in office. What he doesn't talk about is the social 
explosion that is going to occur when the formerly "fat classes" get 
trimmed. We all know that the kinds of compensation formerly extended to 
minorities and economically disadvantaged people evaporated long ago, 
but what is at stake now are service cuts for the (aspiring) middle 
classes. The UC walkout is a harbinger of the upcoming season of protest 
and dissent in the land of the (collapsing) almighty dollar.

Actually, what the regulation school economists call a change in the 
"regime of accumulation" happened long ago, beginning in the late 
seventies. After the two oil shocks of '73 and '79, corporations 
successfully reorganized their production methods, adopting "lean and 
mean" postures, outsourcing most of their industrial labor and 
automating the rest, while at the same time opening up vast new foreign 
markets and shifting parts of their capital to the financial sphere. 
European corporations followed suit in the 1990s, stung by the sharp 
recession in the early part of that decade. In parallel to these changes 
in the production regime, the neoliberalism of Thatcher and Reagan began 
the transformation of the "mode of regulation," or the set of 
governmental and cultural norms that stabilize and regularize the social 
conditions generated by the new pattern of capital accumulation. The 
final consequence of the neoliberal attempt at instilling a transformed 
mode of social regulation is what Europeans, and especially the French, 
have long been calling "precarization": which means the descent of large 
fractions of the former middle classes into an uncertain, "precarious" 
status, whose unpleasant realities are now rushing to the forefront of 
everyone's minds with the surging unemployment brought on by the 
financial crisis. "Stabilization," for the new corporados, apparently 
means crushing en entire sector of the population underfoot -- and 
keeping them there.

The big question is, will it hold? Will huge numbers of people accept 
the loss of their assets and their comfortable lifestyle, and teach 
their children to be the disciplined, ferociously competitive 
workaholics that the corporate employers demand for a very restricted 
number of future jobs? My guess is that the fiscal crisis of the states 
(and maybe of the Federal government too, if the dollar continues to 
decline precipitously as it has for the past seven months) will provoke 
a social and political crisis right here in America. It may not look 
exactly like the one in Greece last winter, but for the first time in a 
long long time there will be overt social conflict here too, as there 
has been off and on in Europe for the last two decades.

As long as the globalization of industry and the financialization of a 
dollar-denominated world economy could bring foreign wealth to a new 
home on American soil -- or at least, on the balance sheets of American 
checkbooks and credit cards -- the neoliberal "raw deal" initiated by 
Reagonomics way back in the 1980s did not require a radical change in 
the class structure of the USA. Those days are over. The downsizing of 
the University of California system that lifted millions into the middle 
classes is the surest sign of it so far.

The "financial autumn" that historian Fernand Braudel famously 
associated with the process of hegemonic decline has closed its euphoric 
phase, and is now making its negative effects felt along with the first 
breaths of serious climate chaos. We will see whether the consequence is 
a "regime change" in the conventional sense, and the attempt to 
establish some more egalitarian and ecologically viable socio-economic 
order, or whether the corporate class and their "governators" will just 
be allowed to put the screws on the population. I am not certain that 
the latter outcome is a destiny. Everyone with a brain knows that 
Franklin Roosevelt did not exactly start out as a radical. Along with 
the UC walkout, the direct-action campaigns calling for single-payer 
medical insurance -- http://tinyurl.com/healthcare-now-arrests -- are an 
advance indication that the progressive side of the country will not 
leave grassroots/astroturf mobilization to the Republican extremists. 
Obama may soon have to decide if he wants to be a new-style FDR, or a 
contemporary Herbert Hoover.

best, BH

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