Bulletin — Democracy in America: The Latest Farce

Today in Bulletin: A heartwarming tale about Nazis, Republicans, and election laws … Plus: Completing Marx’s complete works … America will lose, China will win … And: Socialism or barbarism, millennials edition.

Arthur Jones (L) joins other neo-Nazi protestors at a demonstration organized by the National Socialist Movement outside the grand opening ceremonies for the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center, April 19, 2009 in Skokie, Illinois. Scott Olson / Getty

Bulletin is a chronicle of socialist comment and analysis from Jacobin’s Seth Ackerman.

Democracy in America: The Latest Farce

Here’s an instructive story about America’s Kafkaesque election laws — this time from Illinois, where an avowed Nazi running against the “two-party, Jew-party, queer-party system” has won a Congressional GOP primary thanks to his status as the only candidate on the ballot.

Politico reports that the Illinois GOP’s inability to stop far-right kook Arthur Jones “has been an enormous embarrassment to the party — and to state party Chairman Tim Schneider — for months.” (Even in a Trumpified GOP, it seems, railing against the “Jew-party system” is a bridge too far. But then, what else would you expect from the Jew-party system?)

The party’s latest snafu was its failure to get a Republican on the ballot to run as an independent against Jones before the state’s filing deadline passed. Politico explains why:

Getting on the Illinois ballot as a third-party candidate is no small task. In the 3rd Congressional District, a candidate would have needed 14,600 valid signatures, a laborious and expensive endeavor and even then, there’s a slim chance of success against Lipinski.

“There were several individuals interested in running as independent candidates, but unfortunately they made the decision not to run after considering the incredibly large petition signature requirements in a relatively small geographic area and the amount of resources that would be required to mount a campaign in a district heavily favored for Democrats,” Illinois Republican Party spokesman Aaron DeGroot said.

— Natasha Korecki in Politico: “‘I snookered them’: Illinois Nazi candidate creates GOP dumpster fire”

This saga has all the charm of an O. Henry story. State election laws impose onerous requirements to get on the ballot, but they conveniently exempt parties that received some minimum number of votes at the last election — i.e., the Democratic and Republican parties.

Although the laws’ real purpose is to perpetuate the two parties’ control, their theoretical rationale comes from Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s opinion in the 1971 election law case Jenness v. Fortson: “There is surely an important state interest in requiring some preliminary showing of a significant modicum of support before printing the name of the political organization’s candidate on the ballot.” (Which brings to mind Stewart’s more famous dictum: that you know obscenity when you see it.)

Tellingly, we now find that given the procedures Illinois law routinely imposes on third parties (but almost never on the two official parties), even the state’s Republican party couldn’t prove it had “a significant modicum of support” — in a district where Trump won 40 percent of the vote two years ago.

As I noted in “A Blueprint for a New Party,” in 2006 the Council of Europe, the intergovernmental human rights body, condemned the Republic of Belarus for its rule requiring would-be parliamentary candidates to gather signatures numbering more than 1 percent of a district’s voters, which is the upper limit the Council sets on candidate signature requirements. And in Illinois? Running as an independent In the Land of Lincoln requires 14,600 signatures, or 3.5 percent of registered voters.

“America Will Lose, and China Will Win”: Asia After US Hegemony

For almost a decade now, the world’s two most powerful countries have been competing over which of them will dominate the world’s most important and dynamic region. America has been trying to remain East Asia’s primary power, and China has been trying to replace it. Their contest is playing out over trade deals and infrastructure plans, in the diplomacy of multilateral meetings, and above all through military gamesmanship in regional hotspots like the South China Sea, the East China Sea and the Korean Peninsula. But all these are really just symptoms of their underlying rivalry.

How the contest will proceed – whether peacefully or violently, quickly or slowly – is still uncertain, but the most likely outcome is now becoming clear. America will lose, and China will win. America will cease to play a major strategic role in Asia, and China will take its place as the dominant power.

— Hugh White, Australia’s former deputy defense secretary and a professor of strategic studies at Australia National University, writing in the Quarterly Essay

Completing the Complete Works of Karl Marx: 100 Years Down, 15 Years to Go

A look at the Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe publishing project at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences, featuring its director, Gerald Hubmann.

“The image of Marx that we had was too narrow and too ideological. He was looked at with political interests and political aspects in mind. But Marx saw himself above all as a researcher and a scientist,” he said.

Mr Hubmann pointed to Marx’s famous failure to complete his most substantial work, Das Kapital, as indicative of the misunderstanding. “If Marx had been a pure ideologue, or if he had only had political goals in mind, he would have had no problem finishing Das Kapital — as indeed others later did for him,” he said. “But this was not what Marx was about. Marx simply had not completed his research and could not come up with a conclusion.”

— Tobias Buck in the Financial Times

Executive Pay: Who Will Monitor the Monitors?

As everyone knows, much of today’s income inequality is due to swollen salaries for corporate CEOs and other executives. But why do corporate shareholders continually acquiesce to outsize executive pay packages? After all, it’s the shareholders’ money. And those executives are, ultimately, their employees.

There’s a sprawling body of research and commentary that seeks to unravel this mystery. Many economists, like Thomas Piketty, see it as a “principal-agent” problem. According to them, shareholders are too dispersed and unorganized to monitor and discipline these “supermanagers,” who are thereby left free to put their hands in the corporate till, eliciting only the occasional half-hearted protest from the owners.

This explanation never seemed right to me. After all, we’re living in the era of “shareholder value” corporate governance, when CEOs, notoriously, feel compelled to steer their companies around the stock market’s every whim. Even business titans like Jamie Dimon and Warren Buffett can now be found complaining that CEOs are forced to focus too much on pleasing the shareholders.

So, why doesn’t that dynamic extend to those executives’ own pay packages?

Former Daily Telegraph finance editor Neil Collins offers a more compelling explanation: capitalist class solidarity. No, he doesn’t use that term. But that’s the essence of the answer he offered in a recent column in the Financial Times. As Collins points out, the shareholders in question are overwhelmingly institutional investors — that is, money managers who themselves work for corporations and draw their own outsized pay packages, financed with other people’s money. Why would they want to risk derailing the gravy train they’re riding?

The season of revolting shareholders is in full swing. They are mostly revolting about the amounts being dished out routinely to the top executives of quoted companies, but considering the scale of those rewards, it might seem curious that more shareholders do not care enough to vote against these magnificent, intricate pay packages.

The answer is that those running large fund management businesses are not going to drain the swamp while they are wallowing in it.

— Neil Collins in the Financial Times: “Why shareholders are reluctant to vote against soaring pay”

After detailing a recent series of obscene pay packages for money-management executives — a 70 percent raise for Jupiter Fund Management CEO Maarten Slendebroek, a 60 percent raise for the co-CEOs of Janus Henderson; both companies have seen dismal performance recently — Collins concludes: “You can see why the managers with holdings in companies which award their executives life-changing packages are so reluctant to rock the gravy train.”

Economists’ models, which make no room for this kind of thing, are missing the point.

When the Financial Times Says It, You Know It’s Gotten Serious

The US may well be heading towards a choice between fascism driven by rural whites or socialism driven by urban millennials.

Financial Times global business columnist Rana Foroohar: “US and China must find ways to control their elites”