I haven’t actually finished working on this piece yet but I thought I’d publish an early draft whilst I continue to refine it. You might also find it useful to watch the clip that inspired this piece. I’ll also preface this by saying I’m not by any stretch a fan of Tucker Carlson’s, his deeply xenophobic rhetoric couched in “conservative” concern is of really no interest to me at all. What does interest me is a particular point he made during a recent interview he had on the Ben Shapiro Show, which whilst covered his new book, highlighted a particular contradiction in modern day capitalism.
A common thought process even among ostensibly left-wing commentators is the emancipatory potential of capitalism, even as it continues to undergo periodic crises in its neverending drive for expansion and profit. One particular factor that’s implications are perhaps just starting to be grasped is the increasing trend towards depressed living standards in advanced capitalist economies. During the interview, Carlson discussed a protracted period of growth in post-war America, which saw the growth of an expanded middle class, fueled by unprecedented optimism, wealth and abundance. Whilst markets appeared to still be undergoing incredible growth at the dawn of the 21st century, the underlying mechanisms for generating that growth masked how much of it was being fueled by credit and speculation.
In 2008 the credit crisis brought the global economy to its knees, the common narrative, that excessive risk-taking in the trading of financial instruments lead to the near collapse of the entire global financial system leaves out the fact that this was a direct consequence of decades of political and economic decisions which caused the production of value to move from manufacturing to a belief in capital accumulation through the manipulation of debt and finance. Prior to the subsequent refinancing of numerous banks and the wholesale purchase of banks like RBS following the crisis, there was a period of huge cuts in interests rates, massive losses in savings and high rates of unemployment.
Despite a marked recovery since then, various economists noticed that wages have largely lagged behind inflation, which has lead to the ideal society that Carlson speaks of in the interview receding from the scope of a large portion of the populace. Home ownership is at it’s lowest point in over 20 years, whilst in 2017 the homelessness rate in the United States rose for the first time since the great recession. Meanwhile, many of the jobs that have arisen in the aftermath of the recession are primarily concentrated in the low-wage, ‘flexible’ sector with fewer of the guarantees such as healthcare, retirement funds or paid leave.
Where I would diverge from Carlson’s analysis is that I believe this process is not accidental or something that can be put down as the simple abnegation of responsibility by capitalist enterprises. Instead, it’s entirely intrinsic to a system built around production for profit and sustained by continual growth in a market that once again nears its limits.
It’s a reflection of the fact that reducing the cost of labour, whilst improving its productivity has always been the primary focus in the continued need to extract surplus value alongside the investment of capital in an effort to boost efficiency. Carlson subsequent assumptions rest on the work of the reactionary political scientist Charles Murray whose book Coming Apart detailed the destabilizing effect of a rising intellectual elite. A fairly common justification for the salaries of high net worth individuals. However, as pointed out by CNBC, it’s not new inventions, start-ups or innovation that’s creating this separation but instead a rise in equity holdings. This was also remarked on by Thomas Piketty in his, by now seminal book, Capitalism in the 21st Century which details upwards trends in the concentration of wealth, leading to a theory wealth now largely being based on a return from capital rather than labour.
Tucker’s proposed ban of automated trucks to save jobs obscures this relationship, as whilst productive forces are important, it’s not just technological developments in this area that leads to the kinds of inequalities he attempts to address. These are merely symptoms, instead, I would argue the primary cause is the very mode of production that he has built much of his career defending and believing that mere regulation and partial state intervention can resolve the issues posed is, to some extent more utopian than the alternative systems he decries.