Minnesota’s split state—a DFL Governor and a GOP Legislature—appears to be the cause for the fiscal confusion that has shut our state government down. Such a claim assumes that the two parties are diametrically opposed and binary. Yet differences across party lines are not that vast—and certainly not static. Rather than meeting in the middle and accepting the false binary construction, our split state presents us with the gripping opportunity to explode contradictions, logical inconsistencies, and false consciousness that are at the heart of the fiscal confusion.
Publicly engaged citizens and our state lawmakers need to approach state governance dialectically. A debate, distinct from a dialectic, divides Democrats and Republicans outright and requires each party to defend and prove a pre-committed position. Reporters have noted that a major point of fiscal disagreement between Governor Dayton and the Legislature has been the issue of income tax. In line with the historical difference between the two parties, Democratic Governor Dayton has wanted to increase income tax on the highest Minnesota income earners while the Republican-housed Legislature has wanted to cut taxes and decrease spending. A number of smaller disagreements concern the distribution of the budget to various state-funded and state-supported programs, like public transit and higher education. These disagreements nonetheless have significant effects on Minnesota residents; for instance, the University of Minnesota, MnSCU, Metro Transit, and mental health service agencies are all at risk of losing large portions of much-needed state support. Governor Dayton budges here and there towards the “center” and the Legislature likewise budges here and there towards the “center.” Gov. Dayton may modify his proposed tax increases and the Legislature may increase funding for higher education or public assistance programs.
Yet a position-defending debate limits creative resolutions and visionary change. How can our lawmakers pass laws that correspond with Minnesotan’s longing for true wealth (based on human health, happiness, and sustainable well-being) if they are locked into defense mode? The Recession and ecological devastation together have provoked a growing class consciousness and ecological awareness that must be engaged and worked through. A dialectic exchange needs to take place at public squares and at the State Capitol to reveal contradictions implicit in both parties’ reasoning. Logical inconsistencies can thereby be surmounted through such an emergent dialogue. The urgency and necessity for lawmakers to engage the budget dialectically should not be mistaken by readers as a merely theoretical proposal—while we engage and stir our consciousness for an equitable, sustainable, flourishing society, we must remember that individuals and communities are bearing the consequences now of inaction and wrong-headed action.
A dialectic consideration of the budget reveals that as debates surrounding income tax and budget allocation continue, such debate accepts de facto the condition of employment and the constitution of money under capitalism. Reviewing very briefly this system, we see that income-earners are economically coerced to work for the owners of the forces of production, whether these forces be factories that produce rubber vehicle tires, mills that ground flour, plants that assemble cell phones and laptops, or organizations that employ individuals to administrate, manage, supervise, do financial accounting, and many more tasks. Importantly, the pyramid’s flag-bearing peak is capital itself. The accumulation of money for the sake of money is the penultimate value and purpose of the entire scheme.
Accepting the unsustainable and inequitable system of capital is the core dysfunction behind the fiscal confusion and the state government shutdown. This acceptance amounts to a policy decision de facto. Budget formation, which unjustly receives less media attention than outright policy decisions such as marriage laws, for example, is in effect state lawmakers’ highest level of policy-making that affects individuals across all identity politics’ given demarcations. State budget planning and implementation requires, evidently, the use of money. But where does money come from in our capitalist system? From the surplus value that owners of productive forces extract from discrepancies between the worker’s waged labor, new technology that increases productivity, and the private sale of the commodity produced, as Philosopher Karl Marx painstakingly first analyzed in his seminal work Capital. Common sense and experience confirms these findings.
It is this foundational inequality that our lawmakers fail to examine and to surmount, effectively composing a destructive budget year after year. A balanced budge serves society, not exploits society in order to provide, after the fact, handouts for the disadvantaged and the poor that it creates as part of its very mandate. The existence of large numbers of impoverished peoples demonstrates the failings of capitalism to provide for the needs of all human beings. This lethal understanding of “budgeting” must be done away with. It is not the tax on income that we and our state lawmakers need to redress. It is not the amount of money to be allocated that needs to be discussed. It is not even the income discrepancies between lower, middle, and upper classes that needs to be addressed, though exceptional discrepancies will naturally dissolve when the core issue is surmounted. Indeed, it is the rotting, ghostly figure of capital that must be cornered and condemned. Collective ownership of the forces of production will end the privately traded commodities market for capital profit and restore the needs, goals, and prosperity of human societies.
Erudite philosophers, such as Hegel and Marx, have shown that work is critical to self-consciousness, to the existence of the human. There are many ways to be human—to experience the well-being and joy inherent in our rich and generous species-life. Late capitalism destroys the work-self-consciousness symbiosis that is critical to the human and obligates humans to give up our very consciousness. Individuals cannot work for our humanity but rather must work for capitalists, and for the capitalist’s god, capital wealth (the accumulation of money). Our labor is not only traded for private profit but, being so traded, alienates us from what it means to be human.
Cooperatively owned spaces and public-access spaces, like libraries, universities, parks, gardens, and public transit, showcase the cooperative spirit of the human giving for shared human use. These are not intangible ideals but real practices and places that exist; it is these very places and spaces that the fiscal dysfunction and consequent state government shutdown has ruined, or threatened to ruin. The de facto policy that leeches on the people’s blood and hearts is the clandestine consideration of what money is and how money is created, funneled, withheld, and accumulated in modern society. Unjustly acquired money does not belong in any law-abiding budget.
Minnesota has the rich natural and human resources necessary to sustain our human population at high levels of well-being and happiness. We are a state of farmers who have been producing nutritious foods for distribution and exchange at food co-ops around the state. We need more Minnesota residents to purchase their food needs at co-ops, whose pricing and collective ownership reflects the real needs of farmers, sustainable farm practices, and nutritionally-rich bodies, as opposed to corporate, for-profit grocers that sell towards the whims and mercies of the sociopathic stock exchange. We need Minnesota to keep running cooperatively led places, like the Seward Café in Minneapolis, and to open more. The contention that co-op costs are unreasonably priced for middle-income people is built on a form of reasoning that ultimately binds people—including the impoverished who truly cannot afford it—to the slave-like chains of repetitive, mechanistic, unfulfilling, corrupt, competitive, and time-drenching employment at the hands of the owners of productive forces. Such employment is economic coercion. We need a truly balanced budget. We must organize to work for ourselves, for our communities, and for our humanities.