Thursday, October 8, 2015


Harry Targ

Indiana Economic Life
The centerpiece of Indiana public policy since 2004 has been corporate and individual tax cuts and reduced budgets for education, health care, and other public services. Indiana has been a trend-setter for the nation as to privatization of the public sector: including transferring educational funds from public to charter schools; establishing a voucher system to encourage parents to send their children to private schools; selling off public roads; privatizing public services; and recruiting controversial corporations such as Duke Power to support research at the state’s flagship research universities. The manufacturing base of the state has shifted from higher paying, and unionized, industrial labor (automobiles, steel, and durable goods) to lower paying non-union assembly work such as at the Amazon distribution center.

The positive narrative about Indiana economic growth presented by the current Governor Mike Pence varies greatly from recently published data. For example, between 2013 and 2014, despite enticements to business, Indiana grew at a 0.4 pace while the nation at large experienced 2.2 percent growth. Indiana’s economy historically has been based on manufacturing and has experienced declines since the 1980s and then some increases in recent years touted by the Governor. However, the newer manufacturing is mostly in low-wage non-unionized sectors.   For example, the Indiana Institute for Working Families reported on data from a study of work and poverty in Marion County, which includes the state’s largest city, Indianapolis.  Four of five of the largest growing industries in the county pay wages at or below family sustainability ($798 per week for a family of three) and individual and household wages declined significantly between 2008 and 2012 (Derek Thomas, “Inequality in Indy - A Rising Problem With Ready Solutions,” August 13, 2014, (

Further, Thomas quoted a U.S. Conference of Mayors’ report on wages and income:  “wage inequality grew twice as rapidly in the Indianapolis metro area as in the rest of the nation since the recession.” This is so because new jobs created paid less on average than the jobs that were lost since the recession started.

Thomas pointed out that the mayors’ report had several concrete proposals that could address declining real wages and stimulate job growth. These included “raising the minimum wage, strengthening the Earned Income Tax Credit, public programs to retrain displaced workers,” universal pre-kindergarten, and programs to rebuild the state’s crumbling infrastructure. They may have added that declining real wages also relates to attacks on unions in both the private and public sectors and the dramatic reduction in public sector employment.

Thomas added that Indianapolis (and Indiana) should take these data seriously because in Marion County “poverty is still rising, the minimum wage is less than half of what it takes for a single-mother with an infant to be economically self-sufficient; 47 percent of workers do not have access to a paid sick day from work, and a full 32 percent are at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines ($29,685 for a family of three).” 

More recently, November 10, 2014, the Indiana Association of United Ways issued a 250 page report on the state called the “Study of Financial Hardship.” The study, parallel to similar studies in five other states and prepared by a research team at Rutgers University, refers to Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed or (ALICE). ALICE refers to households with incomes that are above the poverty rate but below “the basic cost of living.” The startling data revealed that:

-a third of Hoosier households cannot afford adequate housing, food, health care, child care, and transportation.

-more precisely 14 percent of households are below the poverty line and 23 percent above poverty but below the threshold out of ALICE, or earning enough to provide for the basic cost of living.

-570,000 households are within the ALICE status and 353,000 below the poverty line.

-over 21 percent of households in every Indiana county are above poverty but below the capacity to provide for basic sustenance.

Referring to those within the ALICE category of wage earners who struggle to survive but earn less than what it takes to meet basic needs, Kathy Ertel, Board Chairperson of Indiana Association of United Ways said: “ALICE is our child care worker, our retail clerk, the CAN who cares for our grandparents, and our delivery driver” (Roger L. Frick, “Groundbreaking Study Reveals 37% of Hoosier Households Struggle With the Basics,” Indiana Association of United Ways, November 10, 2014, (

Assessing the current state of the Indiana economy depends upon where one is located in terms of economic, political, or professional position. Those Indiana men, women, and children who come from the 37 percent of households who earn less, at, or slightly above the poverty line probably have a negative view of their futures. For them, the tax breaks for the rich and the austerity policies for the poor are not positive. 

Indiana Politics
Perhaps the starkest fact to note in reference to the growing economic insecurity in the state of Indiana over time is that in 1970 forty percent of Hoosier workers were in unions, then the state with the third highest union density. Today only 11 percent of workers are in trade unions. The most recent legislative defeats Indiana workers have suffered include passage of a Right to Work law and repeal of the state version of prevailing wage. The Daniels/Pence administrations have used charter schools and vouchers to destroy teachers unions. In addition, in his first day in office in January, 2004, newly elected Governor Mitch Daniels signed an executive order disallowing state employees the right to form unions on their behalf. 

In 2005 the Indiana state government (legislature and governor) passed the first and most extreme voter identification law. Voters were required to secure voter identification photos. Michael Macdonald a University of Florida political scientist estimated that requiring voter IDs reduces voter participation by 4-5 percent, hitting the poor and elderly the hardest. In addition, Indiana law ends voter registration in the state one month before election day (the polar opposite of same day registration). And, polls close at 6 p.m. election day, among the earliest closing times in the country. Finally, requests for absentee ballots require written excuses. 

Republican control of the executive and both legislative branches led to redistricting which further empowered Republicans and weakened not only Democrats but the young and old and the African American community. Nine solidly Republican congressional districts were drawn in 2000.  As to the state legislature, by 2014 of 125 state legislative seats up for election, 69 were uncontested. Most shockingly, 2014 Indiana voter turnout was 28 percent, the lowest state turnout in the country. Indiana government has been controlled by Republicans (the governorship since 2004, and both legislative branches since 2010). 

Traditionally when Democrats were in the Governor’s mansion and/or controlled a branch of the legislature, they too tended to support neoliberal economic policies, but less draconian, and had been more moderate on social policy questions. In recent years, many legislators and the two most recent governors have been friends of or received support from the American Legislative Exchange Council (or ALEC) funded by the Koch brothers. 

With ALEC money, some active Tea Party organizations, the growth of rightwing Republican power, and centrist Democrats, Indiana government has been able to initiate some of the most regressive policies in reference to voting rights, education, taxing, and deregulation in the country. And as the data above suggests, the political economy of Indiana has increased the suffering of the vast majority of working families in the state. Other data suggests that the quality of health care, education, the environment, and transportation have declined as well.

The political picture is made more complicated by the fact that Indiana is really “three states.” The Northwest corridor, including Gary and Hammond, are cities which have experienced extreme deindustrialization, white flight, and vastly increasing poverty. The politically active from the area look to greater Chicago for their political inspiration and organizational involvement. Democratic parties are strong in these areas but voter participation is very low. 

Central Indiana includes a broad swath of territory with small cities and towns and the largest city in the state, Indianapolis. Much of the area is Republican, many counties have significant numbers of families in poverty, and some smaller cities have pockets of relative wealth. Democrats hold some city offices but the area is predominantly Republican.

The southern part of the state, south of Indianapolis, in terms of income, political culture, and history resembles its southern neighbor Kentucky, more than the northern parts of the state. The state of Indiana was the northern home of the twentieth century version of the Ku Klux Klan. In the 1920s, the KKK controlled Indiana state government. That reality, the institutionalized presence of overt racism, must be remembered as an aspect of Hoosier history that may still affect state politics.

Part 3 will address resistance and the development of social movement responses to the changing national and state political economy.


Harry Targ

Economic History

The United States burst forward as the superpower after World War II. At that time, 1945, the United States had ¾ of the world’s industrial capacity and 2/3 of its invested capital. The problem for the United States in 1945 was not the dynamism of its economy coming out of the war but whether it could be sustained. What each presidential administration did from the 1940s until the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 was to support a political and economic system that coupled promotion of super-sized corporations and banks, the globalization of capital, and the provision of a modest safety net for workers and wages that allowed the increase of mass consumption of the goods and services produced by the 200 corporations that accounted for 1/3 of all that was produced on the face of the earth. 

But beginning in the late 1960s, however, the “golden age” of the US economy evaporated. Corporations sought to reverse declining profit rates. Public services were seen as too expensive. Worker rights were challenging profit rates. And as a result of the threat to more and more profits for big corporations and banks, the economy began its shift from investment in manufacturing (with attendant higher paying jobs) to financial speculation. The whole world shifted from prosperity for some to a system of accumulating debt, challenging the rights of workers to form unions, and reducing low cost access to education, health care, and transportation. The US economy, which had led to an income distribution in which there was a broadening middle sector from the 1940s to the 1960s, began its steady transformation to a two-tiered economy based on a tiny percentage of the super-rich and a broadening marginalization of almost everyone else. And during every period from the Golden Age until now inequalities in wealth and income between whites and people of color and men and women continued or grew. 


In the United States, the long tradition of economic populism and socialist movements, inspired by post-civil war reconstruction, came to fruition in the 1930s when millions of heretofore manufacturing workers successfully organized an industrial labor movement (the Congress of Industrial Organizations or CIO) that demanded a New Deal for them and for the millions more who were unemployed, living on the streets, and traveling across the country to desperately find work in the agricultural fields of California. The New Deal, for all its limitations, brought jobs, Social Security, worker rights, support for the arts, and a codification of peoples’ culture. Perhaps most importantly a vision emerged across the land that the nation was (or should be) a community. This vision was based on the fundamental proposition that human development only occurs when people live, work, and respect each other. Unions were about workers but the idea of union was also about human community. And the struggles for workers’ rights in many locales were paralleled by the movement for racial justice. And after the World War the vision of economic and social justice was greatly expanded and inspired by the Southern civil rights movement. Dr. Martin Luther King became the metaphorical embodiment of the fusion of economic and racial justice and the pursuit of peace.

But, in reaction to a half century of peoples’ struggles for justice, a counter-offensive was launched by market fundamentalists to reverse the gains achieved by workers and people of color. The Goldwater candidacy for president in 1964 was not an aberration but rather a launch pad for a movement to reverse the modestly progressive economic and social policies adopted by the Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson, and even the Nixon administration. The old Social Darwinian vision of each against all in the social and economic world, the magic of the marketplace, the belief that government is not the solution but rather it is the problem became common currency in political discourse. The hero of this historic force was Ronald Reagan, elected president in 1980. Many liberals in both parties, with ties to banks and corporations, articulated a softer message, paid homage to the problems of the needy, and were more sympathetic to some women’s, African American, and gay/lesbian rights. But they also supported the dramatic reversal of economic policy embedded in the so-called “Reagan Revolution.” 

The radical right supporters of Reagan built their campaigns around so-called social issues. And the centrists of both the Republican and Democratic Party pursued an economic transformation designed to preserve and enhance profits while sometimes opposing the most egregious recommendations of the radical right. While centrists and the radical right differed on many issues they shared a common commitment to reverse the economic gains workers, people of color, and women had achieved in the prior years.

From the late 1970s until today, both political parties pursued “neoliberal” international and domestic policies. Neoliberal policies included; down-sizing government  (except for the military), privatizing public institutions, deregulating economic activity, opposing workers’ rights to form trade unions, revising tax laws to reward the rich and shift the burden of public spending to the economically marginalized, and developing policies that enticed greater investment and financial speculation at the expense of ordinary citizens. These policies have been supported by international financial institutions, banks, and governments all across the globe. In the United States every presidential administration from Reagan through Obama has backed these policies. Both parties, most politicians, leading advocacy groups, corporate and financial cabals such as those organized by the Koch Brothers, and the handful of media conglomerates who control at least half of what we read, watch, and listen to, all have worked to fully institutionalize the neoliberal agenda at home as well as overseas. And importantly, the neoliberal agenda has been most enforced at the level of state government. 

Part 2 will examine the political economy of neoliberalism in one state, Indiana.

Sunday, October 4, 2015


Harry Targ

Political upheaval in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia is reshaping migration trends in Europe. The number of illegal border-crossing detections in the EU started to surge in 2011, as thousands of Tunisians started to arrive at the Italian island of Lampedusa following the onset of the Arab Spring. Sub-Saharan Africans who had previously migrated to Libya followed in 2011–2012, fleeing unrest in the post-Qaddafi era. The most recent surge in detections along the EU's maritime borders has been attributed to the growing numbers of Syrian, Afghan, and Eritrean migrants and refugees. Jeanne Park, “Europe’s Migration Crisis,” CFR Backgrounder,  September 23, 2015,

The Council on Foreign Relations Backgrounder recognizes the massive crisis of migration brought on by upheavals all across the Global South. It identifies the massive migrations from Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and the Horn of Africa. But, interestingly enough the title suggests that the focus of concern is not as much about the pain and suffering of the people forced to migrate as the problem migration presents to the countries of the European Union.

A dispassionate analysis of the causes of this twenty-first century wave of migration should inevitably lead to what may be referred to as “horrific moments in United States foreign policy.” These horrific moments, since the late 1940s, are central to understanding the pain and suffering of millions of people around the world. Horrific refers to human tragedies of such magnitude that they leave millions killed, injured, displaced, or unable to sustain life because of forces external to their ideas and actions. Moments refers to key policy decisions that reasonable persons can view as instrumental to the development of these human tragedies. United States foreign policy suggests that the United States has made policy decisions that have been inextricably connected to the human tragedies of the last sixty years.

Five such horrific moments in United States foreign policy need to be recognized for their consequences for humankind. First, in 1950 the United States embarked on global military operations in response to conflicts on the Korean peninsula. Korean political life was in disarray after World War II and the United States and the former Soviet Union stepped into the fray to “temporarily’ occupy the North and South. But the growing conflict between Koreans was not started by the two powers but was the result of internal political struggle among the Korean people. The point here is that after North Korean troops invaded South Korea, the United States, officially supported by the then pro-US United Nations, launched a large-scale military response. And, in violation of the UN resolution, the United States took the war to the North. 

The end result of the expanded Korean War was that it set the precedent for United States sending troops anywhere in the world. The war justified dramatic increases in military spending. And it made military spending a permanent fixture of US economic and political life. Most importantly, it destroyed the Korean peninsula, particularly the economic infrastructure in the North; led to millions of Koreans killed, wounded, and displaced; and 37,000 US soldiers killed. The Korean War was the first instance of many in which the United States and the Soviet Union would be fighting the Cold War in the Global South.

Second, the Korean War established the principle that the US would engage in major wars elsewhere as circumstances were seen as necessary. The next war was in Vietnam. The war began in 1950 and the “moment” continued until 1975.  The long agonizing experience involved repeating decisions escalating war: from funding the French colonial overseers of Vietnam; to creating and training a new government in South Vietnam; to sending thousands of specially trained counter-insurgency fighters; to transferring over 500,000 US soldiers to Vietnam; to massive bombing; the dropping of napalm; the killing of 3-4 million Vietnamese people; and unleashing genocidal violence in neighboring Cambodia.

Third, following multiple military and covert operations, the Reagan Administration embarked on a war against Central American peoples leading to about 200,000 deaths, injuries, and thousands set afoot seeking economic and military survival through desperate migrations to the north. Nicaragua was targeted for attack because the President’s neoconservative policy advisors regarded that country as a surrogate of the dreaded Soviet Union. US money and military advisors were allotted to help a dictatorship try to defeat a peasant guerrilla movement in El Salvador. The United States funded Guatemalan militarists who were engaging in a genocidal policy against the indigenous people of that country. Honduras was armed and became the military base for the wars of Central America. 

In the twenty-first century the Bush administration waged war against Afghanistan and Iraq.  The Taliban, who came to power in the 1990s after a long civil war in Afghanistan which began in 1979, created relative stability but were alleged to be partners to the crimes of 9/11. President Bush ordered the Afghanistan government to release Osama Bin Laden to US authorities or face war. When they refused the US attacked that country and thus created permanent instability. The war on Afghanistan is now America’s longest war. And Afghanistan is poorer, more devastated, and less stable than in October, 2001, when the war started.

The lies about why the United States had to make war on Iraq are common knowledge. Even if morality and international law are not brought to the analysis, everything the United States did and is still doing in Iraq has been wrong. After nearly a decade of war, The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) emerged with powerful military force and some popular support and is challenging the Iraqi government, the Kurds, the Turkish government, the Syrian government, and any other outside forces.

If the regional instability brought on by the Afghan and Iraq wars were not enough, the Obama administration, with NATO collaboration, led a massive bombing assault that destroyed the relatively stable Libyan regime setting in motion, internal violence, instability, and emigration.

Several lessons can be drawn from these “horrific moments in United States foreign policy.” The pursuit of United States hegemony has generated violence all across the globe. This violence has destabilized stable political regimes, led to mass slaughter of the peoples of these countries, created opposition forces which now are targeting American citizens and institutions in the affected areas. In addition, the United States and other arms merchants have increased the flow of armaments to Asia, the Persian Gulf the Middle East, and Latin America. The overwhelming casualties of war since the end of World War II have been citizens of the Global South, people of color. In addition, these horrific moments have cost Americans billions of dollars and probably almost one million deaths and injuries sustained by United States soldiers. 

Finally, referring to the migration problem that the Council of Foreign Relations Backgrounder referred to above, much of it is due to the horrific moments in United States foreign policy. The Korean and Vietnam Wars legitimized war strategies and military interventionism to achieve US global goals. These strategies continued in Central America, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya creating a worldwide and desperate population of people fleeing war, ethnic hatreds, and poverty.

Sunday, September 20, 2015


Harry R. Targ

The idea of an “ideology” is a complicated one. For some, ideologies are mere rationalizations of interests and preferences. For others, ideologies are bundles of false, maybe dumb ideas. They can come from religion, popular culture, political parties, or simple principles that are used to explain the universe. 

Perhaps the most useful concept of “ideology” is one that refers to a body of interconnected ideas or a system of thought about how the world works. These ideas often explain the meaning of life, how and why society is organized the way it is, and also how it ought to be organized. However, ideas do not come from the ether. They come from class position and concrete interests, background, social status, and education by family, schools, peer groups, and popular culture. 

What is important about ideologies goes beyond which ones are more accurate than others but how ideological clashes might help explain political conflict. As the long and painful presidential election season unfolds, it is useful to analyze the three competing ideologies that dominate current debate. Each has its adherents. Each represents interests. Each explains how the world works in a different way. And each has a different vision of a better future.

The dominant ideology in the United States today, indeed much of the industrial capitalist world, is “neoliberalism.” Neoliberalism has a long history with roots in the founding of classical capitalist economic theory. “Neo” refers to the contemporary manifestation of the classic tradition. Neoliberalism assumes that humankind is comprised of value-maximizing individuals existing in a competitive, sometimes alien social world. Society is a constellation of competing economic actors, in our own day mostly huge corporations and banks. The ideology claims that corporations and banks engage in economic activity in a market place. Through competition some grow and contribute to society and others are unable to compete. It is through market competition of economic actors that individuals sustain themselves and improve their material conditions.

According to neoliberalism, the fundamental institutions and processes in society are markets that promote competition. Political institutions are constructed to protect and enhance market competition. Political institutions must be limited in power, neoliberalism suggests, such that they do not interfere with the workings of the market. Since the 1970s, proponents of neoliberal ideology have advocated downsizing government (except the military), privatizing public institutions, deregulating how markets work, and liberating the citizenry from controls, constraints, and safety nets. Neoliberal policies are usually called austerity policies.

In the end, society is comprised of atomized individuals and corporate economic actors who pursue their own gain and out of this pursuit, the collective good will emerge. Neoliberal ideology is shared by mainstream Democrats and Republicans, professional economists, most of the media, educational institutions, and popular culture.

A new ideology that has emerged from the recent presidential debate might be called the “virtues of wealth” ideology. This perspective suggests that individuals exist in competitive societies and markets reign supreme. And while this is an historical inevitability and as a practical matter a pretty good way to organize society, sometimes the accumulation of wealth fosters greed, avarice, and stupidity. The political system falls prey to the influence of those with large wealth who seek to buy elections, bribe politicians, and in other ways influence the political process by misusing their resources. The ideology about the virtues of wealth suggests that the corruption of accumulated wealth sometimes leads to the rise of incompetence in public policy. Unless there are appropriately wise guardians, accumulated wealth can lead to bad government. During times of extreme misuse of power, new guardians of the public must emerge to correct the errors of government and the economy. 

The best candidates to reconstruct the state come from those who are independently wealthy and who do not have to rely on a donor class to win elections. They are the disinterested wealthy. And in fact they have the freedom by virtue of their wealth to challenge economic and political elites who rule because they secured financial support from others and gained wealth from participating in government. The virtues of wealth ideology allow its believers to challenge the economic ruling class and political elites in such a way as to appeal to the majority who have no wealth or power and who clearly recognize that they are being lied to by the ruling elite. Finally, deeply embedded in this ideology also is a sense of how wealth proves talent and virtue. Conversely those without wealth and privilege by definition lack virtue. In this way, the virtue of wealth ideology is profoundly racist.   During the current two-year presidential race Donald Trump has emerged as the preeminent expression and promoter of the ideology of the virtuous wealthy.

A third ideology, twenty-first century socialism, emphasizes that the interconnection of global problems--from environmental devastation, to class exploitation and growing economic inequality, to racism, sexism, and homophobia, to authoritarianism, and internal and international violence--are intimately connected to the development of the capitalist system. Twenty-first century socialism sees the concentration and centralization of economic power as the driving force in creating a world order dominated by finance capital, a few hundred multinational corporations, and imperial states. 

The ideology of twenty-first century socialism, while recognizing the historic rise to power of global capitalism also recognizes that capitalism generates growing resistance and creates demands for change. The magnitude of resistance varies from epoch to epoch, but it is clear that the totality of what is called history is comprised of the drive to hegemony contradicted by resistance to it. Those who resist engage in education, organization, and agitation to create human unity. 

According to this third ideology, societies are constituted by communities and the presupposition that being human means being part of communities of activity. The belief in community is fundamentally opposed to the neoliberal conceptualization that the basic units of societies, atomized individuals, can only survive by acting independently of others. The vision of twenty-first century socialism is based on the proposition that work should be organized cooperatively and the wealth produced by society should be shared equitably by everyone who helps produce it. Class exploitation, racism, sexism, and homophobia are antithetical to the core of this ideology.

The twenty-first century socialist ideology assumes that building human solidarity, working together to create grassroots forms of production and distribution, and struggling for the political empowerment of the people offer the possibility for further human development. Paradoxically more people in the United States and around the world share the ideology of twenty-first century socialism than the other two but currently appear to be the weakest politically of the three ideologies. How to realize the vision embedded in this ideology is the human project of our time.