Matt Bruenig hopes to launch the next Leftist policy du jour with his new paper proposing a sovereign wealth fund. But unlike Medicare For All or a Federal Job Guarantee, the American Solidarity Fund would be beholden to, rather than fundamentally challenge, the current economic paradigm.
Regardless of your impression of his contentious online presence, Matt Bruenig has managed to carve out a space for himself as the voice of pragmatism and empiricism on the U.S. Left. That sort of irreverence for accepted tenets appears from the start of his new paper, “Social Wealth Fund For America,” with an excoriation of the starry eyed nostalgia for the so-called Golden Years of Capitalism. This kind of frank evaluation is something I try to practice myself. I would guess that straightforward approach is a large part of Bruenig’s appeal and why so many were interested in what his paper on a sovereign wealth fund had to say.
The beginning of the most fraught debate on government regulation in 2017 happened 14 years earlier when a young law school professor named Tim Wu wrote that net neutrality would “preserv[e] a Darwinian competition among every conceivable use of the Internet so that the [sic] only the best survive.” Not exactly a rallying cry against the free market, and while the issue was hotly debated among legal academics, its first attempt to become law in the United States failed miserably. Net neutrality would not be manifested in the law until 2010 with the passage of boletín 4915 in Chile.
Federal Communications Commission Chair Julius Genachowski, with a Democratic executive branch, decided to follow Chile’s lead despite the threat of Congress pushing back and enacted the FCC Open Internet Order on December 21st, 2010. This order was not net neutrality, at least in the eyes of the policy’s advocates, but it enraged the Republican Party. And on April Fool’s Day, Joshua D. Wright published a post titled “Welcome To Net Neutrality” on a blog called “Truth on the Market.”
I am going to apologize ahead of time because this post will lack the normal snarky jokes and clever quips because I am neither in the mood nor have the time since there is a lot to cover. Also to save on space I won’t be addressing issues that are important but better addressed by others elsewhere like who is considered a “terrorist” by the mainstream media nor will I be debunking the mind-blowingly dumb claims like that suppressors wouldn’t help someone maximize their killing spree. As briefly but thoroughly as possible I want to establish two things: first, that the current gun control laws are useless bourgeois nonsense and that most of the proposals for gun control are also useless bourgeois nonsense, and second, legal changes both immediately achievable and long term that will end the public health crisis that is periodic mass murder by use of firearms in the United States.
So probably everyone reading this is familiar with the Second Amendment and its “right to bear arms.” That right in practice is a gradient – the “core” of the right is the possession of handguns (since they are the most common weapon for self-defense) and furthest from the “core” of the right are theoretically things like machine guns and grenade launchers (we will get to that theoretically in a second). This was outlined in a series of cases, most importantly a case called McDonald v. City of Chicago. What the petty feckless racists who have turned “Chicago” into a Nazi rallying cry tend to forget is Chicago tried very hard to fight its problem with violence through a law that effectively banned the possession of handguns. That law was struck down by the Supreme Court in an opinion by Justice Alito. Justice Alito held that:
Under our precedents, if a Bill of Rights guarantee is fundamental from an American perspective, then, unless stare decisis counsels otherwise, that guarantee is fully binding on the States and thus limits (but by no means eliminates) their ability to devise solutions to social problems that suit local needs and values.
So cities and states cannot ban handguns. What can they do and what has been done? New York passed a law called the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act (SAFE Act) and it was put to the test in a case called New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n v. Cuomo. This law defined a semiautomatic firearm as a prohibited “assault weapon” if it contained any one of these “military-style” features: a telescoping stock, a conspicuously protruding pistol grip, a thumbhole stock, a bayonet mount, a flash suppressor, a barrel shroud, and a grenade launcher. “This statutory definition encompasses,” the court noted, “and thereby bans, the semiautomatic weapon used by the mass-shooter at Sandy Hook.” And the court upheld the law’s constitutionality, stating that while semiautomatics are popular that they’re not on the same level as handguns were in McDonald. The court held that when it came to the particulars of the right to bear arms that the legislature was better equipped than the judiciary, and they noted just how much evidence there was that semiautomatic firearms should be strictly regulated.
Semiautomatics create more wounds, more serious wounds, and more victims on average. They’re disproportionately used in violent crime and especially mass shootings. And they’re the weapon most used to kill police officers.
But now we will start to see where liberal gun control falls apart. Because this was not a ban on semiautomatics, but rather semiautomatics with certain “military-style” features. As one of my DSA comrades noted, that kind of regulation is more about aesthetic than killing capacity:
One of the most commonly mocked gun laws is the National Firearm Act, and in particular the 1968 amendments. The law classifies certain types of firearms for special regulation: machine guns, short-barreled rifles, short-barreled shotguns, silencers, and destructive devices. Weapons dealers and enthusiasts figure out ways to avoid their weapons falling into these classifications, often by having something defined as a pistol. Now when you think pistol you’re probably imagining this:
And now here’s what the horrifyingly creative weapons dealers think of as a pistol:
Why don’t gun regulations work? We could explore all the intricacies here, maybe offer some amendments to the NFA to change the definitions of the different kinds of firearms, fight like hell against the NRA, get a watered down version passed which dealers and manufacturers would get around in a year at most. It is not a capacity for innovation in general, which capitalism actually isn’t that good at, but rather a capacity for profit-seeking innovation.
Guns are essentially video games for adult, mostly white men. It is an enormous subculture that exists not to promote mass shootings – that is just a side effect – but to promote patriarchal fantasies of power and colonialist domination. Like how the government blow back against Grand Theft Auto led to video games of an unimaginable level of depravity and violence, so has the market-friendly regulations against firearms just encouraged these men to seek out even deadlier weapons. Not because they’re planning on killing people, but because they like to fantasize about it. At least, until they take the next logical step. As long as capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy exist in this relatively uncontested union, mass shootings will only get worse.
But that does not mean we should just shrug our shoulders at every tragedy until some fantastical revolution saves us.
So if liberal gun control does not work for failing to confront capital and patriarchal fantasy, what can be done? Here are five proposals outside the norm of gun control regulation:
1. Nationalize Weapons Manufacturing
This one seems a bit counter-intuitive, but I believe it actually has the most potential to eliminate spontaneous mass shootings. Because a nationalized weapons manufacturing opens up so many possibilities. It could whittle down all firearms production to the bare necessity to engage in self-defense against a lethal threat. There are obvious problems here, mainly with foreign weapons flooding in to fill the vacuum. But it is worth noting that U.S. weapons currently flood the world so if there is one place to strategically attempt to plug up, it is here. This solution is obviously a pretty fantastical one in the current political environment, and it is on this list less as a serious suggestion for a campaign and more to start conversation about what can and should be nationalized and socialized in this country, how many problems could be solved if the profit motive was eliminated.
2. Shut Down Weapons Dealers
The term “dealer” under the law refers to both distributors and vendors, and both groups are complicit in mass shootings. One of the things found at the scene of the recent shooting was a modified bump stock, one of the ways that gun enthusiasts simulate automatic fire. Dealers pass around these custom parts and undermine any attempt at regulating the killing capacity of firearms.
Laws should be passed to hold dealers accountable. But until then another remedy may be available: wrongful death lawsuits. Certain family members of those killed in mass shootings have standing for wrongful death lawsuits – in fact, it happens somewhat regularly. But those lawsuits are generally against the government or the shooter’s estate (since the shooter is usually deceased). What if the dealers of guns were sued? It would require a good test case with a clear proximate cause of a dealer’s decision to sell a certain particularly lethal part or weapon to a mass shooting (and before someone jumps in with the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” the law recognizes any event can have multiple proximate causes, so yes guns and people kill people). It would require family members ready to fight organizations as vicious as the NRA, but luckily fed up family members are not too hard to find.
And for the Leftists who have been at the ready to attack me because you’ve convinced yourself any kind of gun control would attack the working class, don’t kid yourself. It is true that some kinds of gun control only harm the working class, like ridiculous licensing fees, and that some are straight up racist, like using the no fly list as the basis for restrictions. But the recent shooter being a multi-millionaire isn’t some anomaly. This is a game for high rollers, not for people looking to arm themselves for self-defense. Parts as small and innocuous as the Echo AR-II Trigger (another way people get around the automatic fire ban) cost $479. And as long as we are letting the market alone decide who gets the best guns, the Left by nature of its class composition is bound to get outgunned.
3. Resurrect the Federal Trade Commission’s attempted child advertisement ban
The next three solutions focus on the aspect of mass shootings too often ignored: that they begin and end with patriarchy. Patriarchy is an insidious system of power, “so deep as to be invisible” as Shulamith Firestone wrote. Part of why it is so deep is that it is instilled in all of us from the cradle to the grave. And a particularly disturbing iteration of that in modern society is video advertisements, both from TV and now online. This broad survey of the literature shows concerns that advertisements may, among other harms, be instilling aggressive and violent behavior in children.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 1978 announced that per their statutory mandate they were creating a rule to heavily restrict advertisement targeting children, particularly children too young to understand “the selling purpose” and advertisements promoting sugary foods. Needless to say, the capitalists flipped out. Particularly three industries mounted a campaign to stop the FTC: advertising, food, and toys. They tried all sorts of procedural tricks to take out FTC Chair Pertschuk (e.g. Association of Nat’l Advertisers, Inc. v. FTC), but they were only able to stop it by tearing apart the agency itself.
For decades this travesty went relatively unremarked upon. But a documentary called Fed Up identified its connection to the obesity crisis and child advertisement is up for debate again. A powerful coalition could be formed between all the different affected and concerned parties from the harmful effects of advertisements targeting children.
4. End All Funding By The U.S. Military Of Propaganda
One of the most disturbing parts of the glorification of violence and weapons in mass digital culture is how much of it can be traced back to the U.S. Military. The U.S. Military not only provided the jets, aircraft carriers, and other weapons of war for movies, they in turn helped shape the imperialist narratives behind them. They provide their trademarks and such for these creepy toys. And they fund summer indoctrination camps for the future mass shooterpatriotic youngster.
The Military has long resisted being told what to do by anyone, government or otherwise, so I doubt any kind of redirection here would be effective. Instead, the solution is a bit more straightforward: cut the Military budget. And while we push for that, support grassroots efforts like Stop Recruiting Kids that are fighting back.
5. Create The Violence Against Women Law That We Deserve
The Violence Against Women Act is one of the most criticized and studied pieces of modern law, from its civil remedy to survivors of violence that was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2000 to its tenuous relationship with tribal sovereignty. The Act was originally composed of five sections: (1) the Safe Streets for Women Act, which increased criminal penalties for rape; (2) the Safe Homes for Women Act, which required states give “full faith and credit” to protective orders granted in other states; (3) the Civil Rights Provision, which allowed survivors of gendered violence to sue their attackers for money damages; (4) Violence Against Women Act Improvements, which addressed campus sexual assault; and (5) Equal Justice for Women in the Courts Act, which trained state court judges and personnel in how to deal with sexual violence. As Claire DeMatteis who worked on the bill as Joe Biden’s consul noted, the law was preceded by dozen of hearings which were some of the first times that the violence women have faced and their stories have been recorded and solicited by the U.S. government.
But the Violence Against Women Act, for all its accomplishments, is not enough. Some feminists now question whether incarceration can play a part in our liberation. While the civil rights remedy was struck down in VAWA, it was a popular enough idea to inspire restitution struggles at local levels. There are many gaps created by the changing times: what should the legal remedies be for wrongful conduct like revenge porn? Harassment on Twitter?
A proposal for a new Violence Against Women Act deserves its own in-depth analysis. But the point here is that violence against women continues to be a largely unsolved problem, and that could be a crucial element in undermining the patriarchal roots of mass shootings. We must not simply give into fear and lash out, but rather approach the problem systematically as Crown Heights program Save Our Streets has done effectively.
Societies that value their workers tend to enshrine protections for their workers’ health into law. One of the most common protection, but foreign even in an ideological sense to the United States, is paid or even subsidized vacation. In the Soviet Union, all workers received 2 weeks of paid vacation and workers in the more dangerous industries received 4 weeks of paid vacation. Cuba gives its state employees a month of paid vacation and guarantees a week of paid vacation to private sector employees. In Bolivia you receive 15 days of vacation your first 5 years of work, 20 days your second five years, and 30 days if you have worked more than 10 years. The wealthier social democracies of Europe give even more expansive vacation to their citizens, the most infamous example being Italy as documented in Michael Moore’s most recent movie. In many of these countries, the vacation is not seen as a luxury, but rather as preventative medicine, and medical professionals are often present at the various resorts and spas to guide the visiting workers in how to relieve the various mental and physical stresses that have built up from their labor. And despite being dominated by the influence of for-profit companies, most medical journals agree that there are enormous health benefits to regularly taking vacation.
The Rebellious Lawyering Conference (RebLaw) began yesterday at Yale Law School, bringing together law students, lawyers, and community organizers to discuss a plethora of social justice issues. The author attended two of the sessions, which were amazing and yielded interesting legal perspectives and strategies worth elaborating on (and of course there were many simultaneous sessions which you can check out here). And tomorrow I’ll give a similar summary of the sessions I attend today.
Things are looking worse and worse for the liberal advocates of legalism and reform as direct action continues to win over and over and over again while doing things through the proper channels continues to fail. The latest blow is the resignation of Federal Reserve Board Governor Daniel K. Tarullo. Mr. Tarullo’s term was supposed to continue until 2022 but, for undisclosed reasons, he has left prior to that expiration. Know for his rigorous (or haphazard, at least according to the bankers) stress tests that he conducted against the banks to test how they would weather various economic emergencies, Mr. Tarullo was the closest thing to a public advocate on the Fed. Admittedly not a high bar, but nevertheless with his departure things will likely get worse for the working class.
Liberals have been having a collective meltdown since the US presidential election made it that much more difficult for them to hide from their political ideas of formal equality and respectability imploding. The resistance, pardon the pun, has taken the form they love the most: collective, media-hyped outrage. From Russian hacking that is not actually Russian hacking to moderate rebels that are not actually moderate rebels, the party determined to stamp out “fake news” does not seem to have any qualms about using it for their own purposes, regardless of its source.
Kevin Drum made a rather bold claim recently in an article for centrist malcontents Mother Jones: the Affordable Care Act is untouchable despite the imminent Republican control of all three branches of federal government. The basic idea is that (1) Republicans cannot repeal the pre-existing conditions protection; (2) insurance companies need a substantial federal healthcare infrastructure in order to afford taking on clients with pre-existing conditions; therefore (3) Republicans cannot substantially repeal the Affordable Care Act because it would cause the individual insurance market to collapse.
Aetna has joined many other major insurers in pulling out from most of the markets created by the Affordable Care Act. The right wing mainstream media is predictably depicting this withdrawal as a sign that the Affordable Care Act was too ambitious. Aetna for its part blames the Affordable Care Act’s risk-adjustment system. The truth is much more simple. Universal healthcare and the free market are incompatible ideologies: trying to create a hybrid of the two was as likely to succeed as pairing ice cream with industrial waste. The removal of profit motive is the only means of ensuring healthcare coverage for all people.
Though we tend to forget since liberals united behind it during the repeated attacks by the Tea Party and others, the Affordable Care Act was such a deplorable compromise that even Left-liberals like Dan Savage called it “Less evil. But still evil.” And Savage easily identifies the main flaw: it is as dependent as the Republican’s suggested alternative on people “not getting sick.” This is indefensibly shameful when the corporations behind these plutocrats have had free reign and government subsidizing to brainwash people into drinking, eating, and otherwise consuming poison. 98% of the 4000 food ads children view every year are products high in fat, sugar, and sodium. But that’s just half of why the “don’t get sick” model is so patently offensive. Aetna and even the U.S. government wants you to believe that the problem has been that an unexpected number of people got sick and, according to Aetna, the ACA did not have the risk-adjustment tools necessary to deal with that. It is a lie.
There have been two major and very similar policy platforms announced by the organization The Movement For Black Lives and the Green Party. While The Movement For Black Lives focuses on, well, Black lives, a lot of the policies it puts forth especially around economic justice are ones that would benefit all people (except those wealthy few currently controlling the economy and government). The Green Party has finally adopted a platform that is vocally in opposition to capitalism, a long time goal that many youth in the Party fought hard for. I highly recommend reading both platforms, sharing them with your colleagues, and supporting the efforts to get the policies passed and the Green Party (and other Left third parties) into power.
However, there is one component of both platforms I would like to caution enthusiasm and give some alternatives for. Community control, also called local control, is not an inherently problematic concept and I can certainly get behind community control of many things such as the internet. I will be focusing on two community control policies that could have some problems in implementation and result: The Movement For Black Lives policy to gain direct community control over local, state, and federal police and the Green Party policy of “return[ing] to the local, face-to-face relationships.”