Friday, May 30, 2008

borders in a post-border economy

The 2008 United States presidential elections have a certain air of queerness about them. I do not invoke that adjective as if I am somehow entitled to it as a student at one of the queerest (in the other sense of that word) college communities in the world.

As with any subject that is given almost 24-hours-a-day news coverage, the best way to gain a fruitful and yielding perspective on an important topic is actually to engage in a sort of foreplay in willful ignorance. Without bandying about with more words I think the aim of this post is to try and gain a perspective not so much on the various candidates that compose this electoral cycle but the forces that give them their poise. I think that what makes this election cycle important is not so much the candidates themselves (they are, with the exception of Barack Obama, expendable). What these candidates symbolize is a sea change within the architecture of the American economic and political apparatus. The forces that are lining up behind each candidate choose their side not because they believe any specific candidate will be particularly generous towards them. Instead this election is dictated by the 'bunker' mentality that has grown pervasive in the American consciousness. A cursory look at the supporters of Jon McCain, for example, will yield a list of people who do not look upon McCain as a friend but more as an enemy of an enemy.

There are roughly three groups of people and lobbyists who have the most to gain and to lose in this election. They are (roughly): The Military-Industrial complex, commerce, and the internet. It does not take much thought to see just how much these groups overlap, but I think that they are useful insofar as they provide a decent enough benchmark of just what a particular candidate stands for (especially considering how similar the policies and proposals of Obama and Clinton are). Additionally, I think that the criterion for a candidate's victory in the general election will be decided upon just how unified two of these groups will be around any one particular candidate.

To give an example in hindsight, George bush had the unified support of the military-industrial complex and commerce behind him in both the 2000 and 2004 elections. I do not think that the internet had yet come to realize its own potential in that election, which is why the 2008 election is so different: many groups that were considered essential to a coalition (religious groups, steel workers unions, etc.) are being cast by the wayside or have been supplanted by these three massive interest groupings that will determine the outcome of the election in 2008.

Commerce has dominated any election in the relevant past; I think that the reason behind this was the gradual privatization and greater integration of the nation's media into the greater structures of corporate America. Because of the (until recent) monopoly that American corporations enjoyed on the dissemination of news and opinions, it was relatively easy for them to tilt the outcomes of any given election, especially elections on a nation-wide scale. in the 1996, 2000, and 2004 elections, the interests of commerce were closely aligned with those of the military-industrial complex. This however has changed in recent months, and I myself trace the cause of this to the Fed's recent creation of a lending vehicle which allows large-scale commercial banks to borrow large amounts of cash with shaky assets as collateral. This is not a root cause in itself; instead it is the outcome of the vast monopolization of available capital and monetary assets by the United States' military apparatus. Realizing that the pools of credit have all dried up, American commercial interests have slowly come to oppose the political clout that military contractors hold (in a few words, when the Fed prints money, most of it goes to the military contractors. this is not good for Commerce as inflation has already devalued this cash as it reaches their coffers).

Why do I think that commerce will side with Barack Obama?
Clinton is out of the primary (or will be presently). There has been a lot of cooing, from even the strangest corners of Corporate America, over the presumptive democratic nominee, Barack Obama. Where McCain has a demonstrably small brain for commercial manners, Obama seems to have taken a tempered, if a bit populist approach to the American economy, which most commercial interests like. The big losers inside of the "Commerce" bracket if Obama wins? Pharma (though not as much as it would have been with Clinton, which is why I think she will not be elected), News corporations (which makes the link above all the more ironic), and most of all manufacturing Unions. Service industry laborers are rabidly supporting Obama chiefly because he stands to be the catalyst for the last great shift in the American economy: namely an elimination of manufacturing-sector labor and a shift towards a mainly service-industry economy (this can be a good or a bad thing depending on how you look at it).

The Military-Industrial Complex
Not much needs to be said here about this one except that it is in a bit of a hard position during this election. On the one hand it has nothing to worry about from any candidate because none seek to dislodge it from its central position within the American economy (this would require someone absolutely crazy like Ron Paul). They of course are throwing their support behind Jon McCain but I think in the end they are seeing the boundaries of their ability to influence world affairs and what McCain promises does not seem to bode well in the minds of many military movers and shakers (war with Iran).

Who will they go for?
McCain, assuredly. However the military-industrial complex, contrary to its almost pervasive influence on the American economy, has very little voice for itself. On the one hand it is beholden to the interests of the Pentagon (which will be a force to reckoned with itself once the new president takes power) and also has its own system of rigid morals that prevent it from acting in the devious ways that Commerce and Unions have done in the past. Their support for McCain will in the end backfire for both McCain and the military-industrial complex, and at least the latter seems to recognize this possibility (which is why their support is so muted).

Finally this brings us to the Internet, the position I am most able to expound upon (I hope the writing above was a little more than drivel and was able to benefit those with a passing interest in this blog).

The Internet
Firstly, why am I choosing to represent the Internet on the same level as Commerce and the Military-Industrial Complex? Simply put, I think the Internet has come to represent free enterprise in the American economy--and given the threatened position in which free enterprise now sits (dried-up money supply, difficulty getting credit, etc.), this bloc of voters and campaigners has the most to gain and lose during the 2008 election cycle. I think that the Internet has come to replace the Media as America's 'fourth estate'. This is mainly due to the commercialization of traditional mediums of news. But also it is due to the simple fact that people who before could not find their voice in traditional media, commerce, or even the military see the internet as a truly functional staging ground for a public offensive against the current state of affairs (both political and economic). The Internet has enabled even the least savvy user to gain a perspective on the United States and the world that is forbidden to someone working in Government or in the Military who is beholden to national interests. Barack Obama, in his commitments to negotiate with enemy states like Iran and North Korea, is creating a thinly-veiled promise to surrender the United States' sovereignty to the wider international currents of diplomacy and commerce.

Years ago this would have been a bad thing, but with the internet the vast majority of influential people in the world are peeking beyond their own national borders. Instead of seeing a murky world that is on the whole antagonistic, they see a world that would stand to be benefited from as well as beneficial to the United States' admission of its previous faults and engagement with the international community as a whole. Obama will sign into the Kyoto protocols and meet with Iran.

The biggest remaining question, however, is who stands to win out from an Obama presidency?

This question will not be answered until 2012. Barack Obama is something of an unknown, but if I were to put the problem in an abbreviated fashion, I think that the problem that Obama will create will be a world of rampant corporatism with little oversight from any governing body (we saw this with the credit crisis). If Obama can successfully bring international corporations under heel, we may see the dawn of a new era of global prosperity, with the Internet (and its beholden interests) at the helm of a new global economy and political apparatus. If he fails we will see something akin to late 19th-century American fiefdom-economics. Needless to say, the next 8 years are going to be interesting.

No comments: