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Squeeze: Why Medicare for All Disrupts the Precarious Power of Capital

The first votes for the 2020 election follies have yet to be cast, and Capital is already spending vast sums of money to halt the one program they most fear right now — Medicare For All.

There’s a simple reason for this, and that reason has two aspects. The reason is that Capital (writ large) has been in a profitability crisis for decades, which is what neoliberalism was developed to “correct.” Of the total social wealth, Capital had a smaller (though still more than the working class) share of that wealth when Baby Boomers like me came up. The working class had a larger share than they do now. We lived under a Keynesian economic regime that ultimately “had to be” swept aside in the face of this profitability crisis.

One aspect of this development is pecuniary — Capital wants more, and will fail if it doesn’t get more. It’s a peculiarity of capitalism — this is where Mr. Marx was one hundred percent correct — that Capital has to reproduce itself through “compound growth,” so if Capital doesn’t make more stuff, exploit more workers, and ruin more environments, Capital will collapse.

It has always been a parasitic relation; but the problem we are encountering now is that the host for the parasite is being weakened to a point where there is less and less for the parasite . . . which will parasite away until the host dies, whereupon the parasite dies with it. In India now they are selling bottled “fresh air.” When air is being commodified, we are approaching some scary benchmarks.

The other aspect of this development is power. Capital has been successful so far at convincing workers (in the US, at least) that the relation that is Capital can be a win-win for both capitalist and worker; but capitalists know full well that their relationship to workers in structurally antagonistic. Any scenario that strengthens the working class, as a class, inevitably weakens capitalists as a class.

More for one is less for another. A single-payer health care system would strengthen the “bargaining position” of workers vis-à-vis capitalists. This translates into greater political power for workers. A lot, because it gives the working class something to defend and at the same time affords the working class more resources with which to fight.

This is not to deep-dive M4A, but to make a tactical point about Capital. It is powerful, but it depends on that compound growth rate, which has not been achievable through production for some time now, so Capital has fallen back on debt extraction to gather and retain inconceivable amounts of money as pure power . . . which itself is a self-limiting strategy, because money is vulnerable to devaluations which eventually occur when productive capital falters and speculative capital metastasizes.

Right now, for example, Capital is dependent on huge sums of “fictional value” in the form of speculative financial instruments — the same kind that brought us 2007–8. The only thing that keeps that fictional value (money backed by nothing) valuable is a scam called “quantitative easing,” itself a solution that prints more money against a diminishing basket of commodities for the government to buy trash assets and inject “liquidity” — a recipe for eventual devaluation, unless capitalists themselves are forced to bear the brunt of the next crash (coming soon to a theater near you). Kind of a lose-lose for Capital.

What we can fail to see, when assessing the terrible power of Capital, is that this powerful body, so to speak, is walking around with an anyeurism on the verge of bursting.

Let’s switch metaphors here: I have a large and powerful truck (not really), and I have one gallon of gas left in it. Right now, I can dominate the highway. I can rip along at ninety miles an hour, engine growling as I pass lesser mortals, my great mass intimidating all around me. This will be true of my truck and me when I have three-quarters of a gallon of gas, and when I have half a gallon, and even when I have a quarter of a gallon. I look powerful and can act powerful, but that power is dependent!

This is Capital. It’s gonna have to pull in and refuel, or it’s curtains! Why is this a vulnerability? Because we — and the lands we live on — are the fuel.

Every little extra cost to capital, every expenditure to sell its lies and counter our truths, every interruption (Capital is a temporal phenomenon), every blockade, every legal challenge, every cent spent on additional security, every refusal to buy (re-use, re-pair, re-cycle, re-purpose), every refusal of credit/debt, every disruption, every protest, every election, every strike, every work slowdown, every little bit of sabotage (not endorsing, mind you, for that would be a crime [gasp]), every disruption, every alternative micro-system . . . these are all like the muscles on an anaconda.

The profitability crisis is still there even though the fictional value machine grinds on for the time being. It needs more money like the anaconda’s prey needs oxygen. Each of these muscles contract, then contract again, like peristaltic waves, and further crush down on the prey’s lungs.

Each one, now . . . squeeze.

Stan Goff

Stan Goff

Stan Goff is a writer and activist whose first career was in Army Special Operations. He lives in rural Southeast Michigan with his partner Sherry and writes what he calls "gonzo social criticism," which includes books like Hideous Dream, Full Spectrum Disorder, Borderline, Mammon's Ecology, Smitten Gate, and Tough Gynes. A practicing, if heterodox, Catholic, he draws on that tradition as well as feminism, Marxism, Black nationalism, and deep ecology as interpretive frameworks. He is committed to nonviolence.
Stan Goff

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