Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Communism 2.0 and #OWS v1.1

Rolling Stone magazine publishes a piece by Jesse Myerson called Five Economic Reforms Millennials Should Be Fighting For. His ideas are:
  1. Guaranteed Work for Everybody: a big federal jobs program that pays a living wage (or maybe a private sector job program). This wouldn't be lousy telemarketing jobs but fulfilling stuff like ... painting murals or cleaning up the environment ... or maybe farming.
  2. Social Security for All: A universal basic income for a world where robots do everything anyway.
  3. Take Back The Land: Slap a land-value tax on your landlord. He just lazily rakes in his income because the government allows him to own that land. The cads.
  4. Make Everything Owned by Everybody: Have the government buy up assets like buildings and equipment that generate value. It'd pay dividends to all permanent US Residents (today: tomorrow I'm sure illegal aliens would get a share--amirite?!?)
  5. A Public Bank in Every State: Wall Street sucks. How about a public bank that gives loans to like farmers, students, and businesses. It won't do shenanigans like CDOs and sub-prime mortgages, right!?
Communism 2.0
The lefty-rag Business Insider actually reads the article and comes to this conclusion: it's not as radical as it sounds.
Not all of the ideas in Myerson's piece are good approaches to these problems. And since Myerson describes his "political aspirations" as communist, he obviously has some bad ideas that aren't contained in the piece. But the ideas in the piece aren't crazy and should be evaluated on their merits.
He breaks them down and decides that while they may be good or bad (he thinks: mostly bad), they are not the blood-in-the-streets (buy real estate!) that Meyerson, apparently an avowed communist and former #OWS big-wig, makes them sound like. To be sure, they're pretty left--but they sound like pitchforks and torches (Take Back The Land) when it's really ... just a tax.

This is what Communism 2.0 looks like--and it's interesting. It isn't interesting because the ideas are especially interesting--we kinda already have a 'living wage' in the form of SSI and public banks (we have one in North Dakota) are just not going to get rid of Wall Street no matter what Myerson thinks.

No, Communism 2.0 is interesting because of the form its sales pitch takes.

The Communism 2.0 Sales Pitch
The right sees (with some historical precedent) communists as hiding in plain sight by, simply, disavowing their real goals and seeking positions of power (such as the president's cabinet) after which they will, apparently, "death flower" and reveal their true-selves, pitching the country into a totalitarian nightmare. The exact operational mechanism for this take-over, as with all conspiracy theories, is never well specified (in the 90's, UN troops were favored).

Indeed, with the Cold War (an actual, powerful, hostile power) there was a need for secrecy--and with the CIA and the KGB playing a real, actual, Game of Thrones there were plots and plans of various calibers and various levels of secrecy.

Today, though, there is no evidence that ideological communism (or even socialism) is being promoted by America's enemies. Putin may want to humiliate Obama and weaken American interests--but he can better do that by bold moves rather than trying to get people close to Obama to whisper sweet communist nothings into POTUS's ear.

And if someone wanted to take over America, controlling the lame-duck unpopular outgoing president would be about the stupidest way to do it.

Instead, the roughly-same memes, have been rebranded for the young. That's what the Rolling Stone is: Communism 2.0 or, if you prefer, Occupy Wall Street v1.1.

#Occupy Wall Street version 1.1
Occupy Wall Street was, on the face of it, a failure. It actually got traction. It got eyeballs. It got sympathy--that's right--even in the stone-gray walls of the buildings it was "occupying." In short, it achieved lift-off but it was unable to make it to altitude. What we see above this is a refinement of that trajectory.

The sales pitch is to the young. It marginally touches on the long-term unemployed (who, most likely, would really like a guaranteed wage)--but the combination of these things is NOT designed to appeal to a construction worker who was let go 18 months ago and has not been able to sign back on. Specifically? Let's translate:
  1. Guaranteed Work for Everybody: Your degree in Art History? You could ... uh ... get a job at a government museum! Imagine that--it's not just for working at Starbucks after all (the 'tell' is the mural painting--it's not like America desperately needs murals painted and, let's be real, how many millennials are honestly aching to work on a farm?).
  2. Social Security for All: You can get paid to play Xbox. Older people who have to raise kids or pay rent know that a "citizens wage" life would suck--this is because they are living it. But if you are unmarried and live at home (no kids)? Then a citizen's wage is the Gravy Train. Who wouldn't vote for that!?
  3. Take Back The Land: You tried moving out of your parent's house and discovered what rents cost. Fuck those land-lord guys.
  4. Make Everything Owned by Everybody: Indeed, you have no assets and don't think you'll ever get assets? In that case? If the government buys up the building you'll never, ever own? What do you care?
  5. A Public Bank in Every State: This is a good one. You hate Wall Street--not because you understand Wall Street per se--but because Wall Street is hateable. Did you not sit through 3 freakin' hours of The Wolf of Wall Street? You did. It was awful. So smack those guys with a Public Bank! That'll show them (it will do nothing of the kind, actually--but it's a good part of the sales pitch).
What's The End Game?
It's a trick question--there is no end-game. Why? Because this group of policies targeted at millennials is never going to actually accomplish anything. I'm sure what Meyerson would say he wants is either an Elizabeth Warren (jail the bankers) or a Bill Deblasio (Tale of Two Cities) at the table during in the 2016 elections (either to win or to 'push the agenda').

Even if your policy plan and ideology is a mess, if your target market is composed of likely voters (older, richer, more educated, whiter) you can still get your crazy candidates elected (some of them anyway, notably, not the witches). If your core constituency is composed of lazy slackers who want to be paid a citizen wage to play Xbox? Good luck.

I don't think that Meyerson is really all that interested in constructing a real movement here though, and the reason is the language he uses. While it's true that provocative language drives page views (Rolling Stone knows what it is doing) I think it's a tell that the underlying emotional driver is anger.

Anger is the emotion we feel when we do not think we are getting what we ought to get. For the target market it's something like I'm-not-getting-a-cushy-job-for-my-super-expensive-degree (which I was promised by society I would get). For Meyerson I'd guess it's not getting a seat at the table with Wall Street guys he met with during #OWS--but I can't be sure (my tinfoil hat blocks my mind-reading rays).

The point is that using provocative language might get the target market fired up--but it's not the kind of presentation that inserts real movement into the dialog. Why not? Because millennials are not the core Democratic collation voting bloc. We can see which policies move the dial:
  • Women's issues (voting bloc: young women--especially women of color)
  • Minimum wage (voting bloc: blue collar workers, esp. people of color)
  • Immigration reform (voting bloc: immigrants)
  • Health care (voting bloc: Hispanics, blue-collar workers, the unemployed--especially long term)
  • Unemployment benefits (voting bloc: long-term unemployed)
Notably absent:
  1. Raising land-lord taxes
  2. Breaking up the banks
  3. Buying back "the means of production." 
  4. etc.
In short, this is appealing to a voting bloc that might get behind Myerson but isn't going to back a serious candidate on ideological grounds.


  1. Interesting and related to another topic - "the future of work". Check out the following, would love your thoughts. As a consultant who helps many companies "do more with less (people)", I increasingly wonder where the future workforce is going to find employment.

    1. Google has decided it doesn't like my Open ID for some reason. Anyway--great question. I actually have a post that touches on this that I'm working on!

    2. Your answer is up (well, my answer to your topic).
      --The Omnivore