'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Cowboy Capitalism in Arizona 

As described in an enlightening article by Joel Olson:
Arizona's economy was founded on the Five C's: copper, cotton, cattle, citrus, and climate (tourism). These C's were controlled by big mining and agricultural interests and real estate developers. Corruption was commonplace as they manipulated the political system for their benefit. A group of these capitalists, called the Phoenix 40, controlled state politics until the 1970s, when the political establishment opened up some. But even after their rule, the state capitol has always been a place to lie, bribe, and scam your way to what you want. If the names Don Bowles, Evan Mecham, AZ scam, Fife Symington, or the Keating 5 (which included Senator John McCain) mean anything to you, then you know that corruption is as plentiful as the parking here. And I haven't even mentioned Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio or State Senator Russell Pearce, the tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum of racist nativism.

SB 1070 and Giffords's shooting, in other words, are but the latest of a storied history of corrupt cowboy capitalism.

Such tomfoolery is part of the class struggle in the Grand Canyon State. Three classes matter in Arizona: elites, the white middle class, and the working class. The elites come mainly from the agriculture/mining, tourism, and construction/real estate sectors (with an emerging tech sector). They are the masters of the corruption I described. But in a system of majority rule, elites need a junior partner to dominate. This is where the white middle class steps in.

The white middle class is the engine of suburban development here. The new housing developments, strip malls, and big box stores that pop up almost daily (until the recession, at least) are built for and fueled by this class. Many in this class run small businesses related to the main sectors of the economy, such as ranching, construction, landscaping, and pool maintenance. Many are retirees who used to manage businesses in other states. This small business atmosphere contributes to the libertarian, Barry Goldwater-style political culture of the state.

For years, this relationship has been mutually beneficial. While legal segregation never took deep root in this state (most of Arizona's explosive growth took place after Brown v. Board of Education was decided in 1954), unofficial practices have kept many neighborhoods and schools comfortably white for decades, and the best jobs have been traditionally denied to Chicanos and Natives. (With a Black population of just three percent, the racially "out" groups in this state have historically been Chicanos, Mexicans, and indigenous peoples.) Politicians have successfully tied these practices to the laissez-faire economic policies of the elites, giving whites the sense that their success is due strictly to their own work ethic rather than being facilitated by white privilege. As a result, many white middle and working class Arizonans identify with the success—and conservative politics—of the elites.

This collusion has created an anything-goes capitalism mixed with a suburban consciousness. Call my state the Wild West or suburban hell—they're both accurate to a large degree.

But the partnership has been fraying in the last two decades. Pressures to diversify corporations, universities, and governments have led elites to support various multicultural initiatives, which middle class whites resent. (Arizona voters in November voted to outlaw affirmative action by a wide margin.) The state's Latino population has outpaced white growth, and the state is now nearly one-third Latino. Areas that were once comfortably white now have Spanish-language business signs. More and more schoolchildren have brown faces—even in the good schools.

Please consider reading the article in its entirety, as Nelson places the current struggles over the anti-immigration bill, SB 1070, the collective bargaining rights of labor unions, the dismantling of essential public services, and the Tucson killings within the context of the unraveling of the conservative coalition between white elites and their brethren on the lower rungs of the class ladder. He provides what is the best argument to date, one grounded in class analysis, and therefore, class resistance (as opposed to the liberal alternative of speech regulation and suppression), for connecting the political activities of Palin and the Tea Party to Loughner:

Of course Loughner is probably crazy, but his mental health—and even his ideology—are not the point. What matters is that the conflict over this frayed class alliance—and all the political vitriol it has generated by Tea Partiers and others—pointed his illness toward Gabrielle Giffords.

It bears repeating: the conflict over this frayed class alliance. Giffords was part of the elite that implemented the conservative social and economic policies described by Nelson, even if she was not in complete agreement with them. She therefore became a target for the resentment of someone like Loughner, who was all too willing to misogynistically select her as opposed to numerous other male alternatives. Nelson highlights the prospect that, in addition to Tea Party and Minutemen threats and violence directed towards people of color, we may now be entering a period of fratricidal conflict among whites, one in which the combatants are identifiable by their class status. No one has been so provocative in this regard as Sarah Palin, and it may partially explain why so many elite conservatives, like Charles Krauthammer, for example, were alarmed by her selection as John McCain's vice presidential candidate in 2008. A sociological project that focused upon quantifying the subjects of her hostility in her public statements might generate some interesting results in this regard.

Nelson also implicitly repudiates the liberal strategy of treating the Tucson killings as merely the consequence of toxic political speech. In the remainder of his article, he identifies the interrelated struggles associated with workers' rights and immigrants' rights as the best hope for overcoming cowboy capitalism in Arizona, and the violence and repression associated with it. Both constitute political movements in which the Democrats, and many liberals, are noticeably absent. While protesting people like Palin, Limbaugh, Beck and others for what they say may feel good in the short term, it is insufficient, by itself, to generate the momentum necessary to escape the escalating violence related to the sub-proletarianization of America.

Labels: , , , , ,

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?