Friday, February 27, 2009

Call for Rationality

I mentioned Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin a couple of posts back, both radical economists doing some of the more serious work I've seen lately on the global economic crisis.
They have done an historical analysis and explained why capitalism morphed so heavily in the direction of financialisation, breaking it down into four main headings.
1.The spatial expansion and social deepening of capitalism in the last quarter century could not have occurred without innovations in finance.
2. The competitive volatility of global finance produced a series of financial crises whose containment required repeated state intervention. (goodbye Von Mises)
3. Both finances central role in the making of global capitalism and the American states role in sustaining it produced the bubble that emerged inside the US housing sector.
4. The crisis reinforced the centrality of the American state. Hell, even Mort Zuckerman is for intervention! Here is their conclusion and call to action.

"The call for nationalization of the banks provides an opening for advancing broader strategies that begin to take up the need for systemic alternatives to capitalism.
The severity of today's economic crisis once again exposes the old irrationality of the basic logic of capitalist markets. As each firm (and indeed state agency) lays off workers and tries to pay less to those kept on, this has the effect of further undercutting overall demand in the economy. At the same time, the financial crisis exposes new irrationalities, not least those contained in the widespread proposals for trading in carbon credits as a solution to the climate crisis, which involve depending on volatile derivatives markets that are inherently open to the manipulation of accounts and to credit crashes. In the context of such readily visible irrationalities, a strong case can be made that - to save jobs and the communities that depend on them in a way that converts production to ecologically-sustainable priorities during the course of this crisis - we need to break with the logics of capitalist markets rather than use state institutions to reinforce them. We need to put on the public agenda the need to change our economic and political institutions so as to allow for democratic planning to collectively decide how and where we produce what we need to sustain our lives and our relationship to our environment. However deep the crisis, however confused and demoralized are capitalist elites both inside and outside the state, and however widespread the popular outrage against them, making this case will certainly require hard and committed work by a great many activists, many of whom will see the need for building new movements and parties to this end. This is what is really needed if this crisis is not to go to waste.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Real Crisis

"Once the running of the state involves a permanent and massive shortage of historical knowledge, that state can no longer be led strategically."
Guy Debord

Same thing with the economy.
It's one thing to debate different answers to a problem but what happens when there is no agreement as to the problem? The defenders of "free market" anarchy had no idea what they were doing by opening Pandoras Box but anarchy begets anarchy and though they act tough we'll see if they really have the stomach for it. For decades Conservatives promoted (while liberals played along) an anti-intellectual reductionism for which Reagan is the icon but Bush the logical result. A populace beligerantly proud of their collective ignorance is the perfect herd when things are going good, tell them to shop, they shop. Tell them to fight a "war" on terrorism, they fight.Tell them "free markets" are the pure embodiment of perfect logic and Joe the Plumber puts on his Clean Coal hat and worshippers genuflect to St. Von Mises.

But when the greed finally catches up and the house of cards starts to tumble, a nation of "ditto heads" is the last thing you want. In a crisis you need a populous that can reason. Spend a few hours reading the comments on the conservative blogs to see the "permanent and massive shortage", tune in to Glen Beck or try Investors Business Daily ie ("most CEOs are hugely talented, driven, highly intelligent people" while it was the "irresponsible" lower orders (w/brown-black skin) who couldn't afford the house they wanted that caused the trouble.) I like this one: "the S& P lost 34.5% since Obama pulled ahead of Mc Cain". These same people made Jews wear stars.

The real crisis is that no democracy ( not even a formal, putative one) can exist in a climate of such labored ignorance.The corporate state loves "weak citizens" while things are in control, just as it loves "weak states" when it comes time to make trade agreements. But when things are no longer in control, when the "strategy" is in tatters, the brainwashed minions of Rush can no longer be counted on to "pull together" to save an economy or a civil society. Clinging to their failed dogma they would rather drag the entire system down than admit mistakes. (Again, Bush) I'm glad they are doing the work for us and wish them success in bringing it all down but rebuilding any kind of democracy from the ashes is not going to be easy.

Since we are "naming names" try the comments at Will the DOW hit the 6000s tomorrow?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Who Are the Brain Police?

Who is old enough to remember Frank Zappas exploration of the Big Brother question? To wit: "what would you do if they made you go home? And the plastic all melted and so did the chrome?"

Yodood sent a link in the last thread to some Brit who has, after twenty years of painstaking research, FIGURED IT ALL OUT! Like Donald Rumsfeld patiently explaining about the things we don't know we don't know, this author begins by explaining that "what is- is." And fortunately for mankind he has figured out what "is". With ancient Babylonian bloodlines, a fascist cabal of Illuminati like "madmen" lurk "behind the shadows" creating a dictatorial One World Order. I couldn't sit through the whole bloody thing (sorry, I tried) but apparently They are scaring us with a false "global warming" and all sorts of other attacks on our freedom. What can we do to battle the Dark Side? (beside going to lectures and buying his books) We can raise our "level of consciousness" and "get involved". Poor bastard ended soaked in sweat, head bowed with heroic exhaustion, humbly accepting the ecstatic applause.

Sorry Greg, this guy is actually a character in my novel! The guy for whom a systemic, phenomenological analysis is just to simple, who craves a multi- tentacled, ephemeral Dr. No hiding behind the curtain like an Evil Puppetmaster! The ( Jim Carrey) guy who has got a little too carried away "connecting dots".

Why do you and he so stubbornly resist a materialist world view? Why do people yearn for the Knights Templar? You don't have to trace bloodlines or get access to the Bohemian Grove or the Masons or the Council on Foreign Relations. Everything you need to "uncover" is right in front of your face every time you buy a loaf of bread. Think of every relationship that bread represents, the investment, the production, the exchange, the division of labor, the consumption. It doesn't take twenty years to figure out how to determine your own destiny. The answer is in that loaf of bread.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Research for my novel led me to In the Name of Identity by Amin Maalouf, subtitled Violence and the Need to Belong. In it he states "We are also living through not the dawn but the dusk of internationalism too, at least in it's 'proletarian' form." Maalouf sees the "Church" as the current binding agent and asks "So what will religious affiliation be replaced by?"

Our historical moment brings this question into sharp relief and adds urgency as well.From the reporting it would be easy to think the "crisis" is all about America and is only economic but as Ducky pointed out, most of the worlds economies, even those with no direct exposure to "toxic assets", are affected. There is no "de-coupling" from the octopus, those "emerging economies" who were sold an export model cannot eat all the Tonka Toys they produce ( lead paint is also a problem). As disappointment turns to unrest those in Eastern Europe are warned :

"a push towards protectionism, or any sort of self sufficiency, would have a disastrous impact for these countries." Neil Shearing Emerging-Europe economist with Capital Economic LTD. London

Right there is the "veiled threat" approach for a country first decimated by State Socialism and now being pulverized by Late Capitalism. Interesting term that, "emerging Europe". I think Hitler called it something similar. Asian countries also went with the export model, assured Americans would "shop till they dropped" without thinking through the implications. Latin American countries meanwhile get their threat and policy prescriptions from the IMF and they are the exact opposite of "bailouts" or pumping liquidity or nationalization. They are given austerity budgets, privitization, elimination of capital controls, elimination of social services because they have brown skin and are more susceptible to "moral hazard". We get a "Buy America" clause in our Stimulus Plan because we are currently the hegemon and if you don't like it, bend over and prepare for a little "democratization"!

There is actually some interesting debate about US status as reigning hegemon, whether our power is waxing or waning and whether capitalism in general (ok, "state"or "late" capitalism for the nit-pickers) is experiencing a crisis in the rate of profit or not. (See the symposium with Crafts, Aglietta and Yamamura in New Left Review Nov./Dec. 2008) I am starting to think Robert Brenners take in Economics of Global Turbulence, that rates are falling and only propped up by bubbles, now has more weight but Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin have a very reasonable counter -argument.

As for the"dusk" of proletarian internationalism, that depends on us. Whether we get "social democratization" or a "New Deal" or real workers power depends on when the Soma wears off, how bad things get and how willing we the proletariat are to identify as such, form common bonds and agree to work for common cause. Religion is a strong pull, redneckism is a strong pull, hopelessness and despair are a strong pull. Let's pull together!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Fear and Greed

The CNN analyst (a woman) standing in the pit of the NY Stock Exchange (men) just explained that "there are two things which drive the market, fear and greed." Strangely symbolized by a bear and a bull? Anyways, the DOW is at this moment down 280 on the eve of the Great Signing.
"Mommy, why do the basest human emotions determine our economic future?"
"Because, son, the 'invisible hand' is Gods hand and you know how people steal from the collection plate then fear Gods wrath! It's Natural!"

Limbaugh is red-baiting and saying if there are not "jobs in two months" we will declare the stimulus a failure but if there ARE new jobs, "the fix is in" to make Obama look good. (co-conspirators are Catepillar Corp. and NY Times) Last night HBO showed a documentary about Nascar Red Staters, gun and bible clingers, etc. campaigning for McCain/Palin. (Made by Nancy Pelosi's daughter!) Fascinating study of ignorant ,racist, brainwashed, mostly blue collar working class and my wife turns to me and says "there's your proletariat". She likes to give me a hard time.

To explain how I can still believe in radical social transformation I point her to the wonderful writings of Anton Pannekoek in the great Workers Councils where he explains and sympathizes with this class which is bombarded on all sides. Of course they seek the opium of Evangelical Religion or Budweiser or sit-coms and it is perfectly reasonable to see this trend increase as lay-offs continue.Of course their consciousness is diverted and dulled, look at their daily grind, the personal tragedies, the "lives of quiet desperation" .Surely Fox News, reactionary ideologues and bigot zenophobes have as ripe a field for picking as they could want BUT,
and this is a big BUT, the hollowness of their logic and twisted prescriptions(anti-welfare) , combined with the vacuousness of their leadership, is exposed and highlighted daily. (see Rush's argument above) They don't know what or who to argue for or against. But it will take a strong, forceful, solid, Left-left critique to finally bury them. Start planning May Day 2009!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Capitalism for 3rd Graders

"Mommy, why do we have to sleep in our car now? Why can't we go back to our house where its warm?"
"Well dear,when your dad got sick we ran up lots of bills. Now that this recession has hit his boss had to lay him off and we couldn't pay to keep our house any more."
"Well, when will the recession be over Mommy?"
"As soon as people believe its over."
When will people believe its over?"
"As soon as the banks start lending money again."
"When will the banks start lending again?"
"As soon as they believe the recession is over."
"When will they think the recession is over Mommy?
"As soon as people get their jobs back and start spending money again."
"When will people get their jobs back Mommy?"
"As soon as the recession is over dear."

"So if people could just believe, like we do in church, then that would make it all better, the recession would be over and we could stop sleeping in our car?"
"That's right sweetie."
"Then why doesn't President Obama just tell everyone to believe? They will trust what he says.He's a nice man"
"He's trying dear, he's trying."
"Mommy, why did people stop believing?"
"Because all their money turned out to be fake money. Someone had gambled all the real money away and replaced it with dream money."
" So if the people believe its real money again, will it really be real?"
"For a little while, dear."
"Goodnight Mommy"
"Goodnight ,honey."

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Stimulative Effect

I thought after the election defeat conservatives would need a while to lick their wounds but they have been born again, as it were, resurrected, by this debate over the Stimulus Bill. They have a certain dogged resilience which is fascinating,the more their ideology and policies are shown to be entirely vacuous, the more insistent they become we follow them. Each lie that has been told requires a double or triple lie to cover it, Bernie Madoff style, and a public stripped of it's ability to analyse can only watch the CNN "panel of experts" and pray. "Is this a stimulus? Is that?" Perhaps we should consult the ECONOMISTS (those who practice the "science of economics") , they know all and see all. "How big should the tax breaks be?" Where should we put the deck chairs now? How do I get this boot off my neck?

"Green energy, education spending, money for the states, shovel ready projects, etc etc" , a whole new Spectacular lexicon we are supposed to memorize while "the surge, the Awakening Council, the Green Zone and WMDs" all fade into the dream space of yesterdays news. It's so damn hard to keep up! Is this the War on Terror or just another Credit-default Swap? What we need is an Inauguration of Hope! It had a Stimulative Effect!

Capitalisms defenders are manning the barriers, liberal and conservative intellectuals, bureaucrats and the political class side by side, arguing only over what condiments to put on their sandwiches." Tax breaks!" No, No No "government spending!" NO No "Save the Banks!" No No No, "Save the homeowners!" Main Street, Wall Street, Mustard, Catsup! The main thing is to save the system! Check CBs blog for true believers in a last ditch effort, guarding the ramparts and boiling the oil.

Meanwhile, beyond the studios of CNN or NPR, the rot spreads ,the contagion sweeping through the buffets and bingo parlors and bowling alleys of an America that has of late let others pick the food or sew the t-shirts or carry the water on their head. As the "free hand" strangles the last little bit of life from the illusionary "middle class", They will cry out in shock and pain :"How could we have known?"

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Comfortably Dumb

Comfortably Dumb is the name of this new comedians act on HBO, he riffs on political uncorrectness, a little sexism, a little racism,your basic Joe the Plumber shtick which gets tons of giggles from people who voted for Bush twice or loved Sarah Palin. Stupid, mean, yet clever is very IN. Which is a segue into the Ignorance Tour I took following Sonias link on my last post End Strong. Wanting to prove "communist support for Batista" she sent me to the New English Review and an article by Berdichevsky who teaches ESL at Central Florida Community College. Dispensing with such niceties as sources or a bibliography, we are informed that Batista was such a "masterful politician" he could "enjoy the confidence of the propertied classes while he cultivated the Left (meaning Stalinists) The "professor"goes on to explain how the dictator denounced America but then chose Miami to abscond to with his looted millions.

They have a slick website advertising "informative historical articles" but it's filled with this form of sophomoric psuedo-scholarship:
"Part of the self-delusions of those who identify themselves as "progressives" or many liberals today is their immediate and most often mistaken gut reaction that the "masses" must be right when they emotionally respond to anti-Western and especially anti-American (and even more irrationally, anti-Israel, anti- Christian and anti-Jewish) rhetoric and jargon."

It's one thing to sucker people like sonia in with this kind of right-wing Zionist blather but it gets scary when you head over to Beaks blog and start following a few links. I particularly recommend Paleo-con Command Center, click on video RSU on the Stimulus package. Follow a thread where Farmer John will tell you "Obama hates all white people." John Stewart might joke about "moments of Zen" but ignorance really isn't a laughing matter if you think about where we are and how we got here.

Its like the "Botswana is beating Zimbabwe therefore capitalism is great and communism sucks" form of debate. De-contextualized, de-historicized spin for those too lazy and comfortable to check sources.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Superstructure of Ignorance

Cultural production was on vivid 3D display at the Nationalist Spectacle known as the Super Bowl. While General David Petraeus flipped the coin and the fighter jets roared overhead, both our National Anthem AND America the Beautiful were slowly sung. Thanks to the Genius Generals "surge", the Malaki List (Daawa Party) appears victorious in the "democratic" elections. Of course their support stems from the fact they held firm on a Status of Forces Agreement ending US occupation,closing all bases,establishing Iraqi command, ending oil agreements, banning contractors such as Blackwater, etc. We'll have to wait and see about Kurds in Kirkuk and Awakening Forces, Sadrists etc.

Bourgeois discourse lately has focused on "making good choices". We are told success springs from this ability which some possess and others (either poor, usually minority, or greedy bankers) don't. Buying a house you couldn't afford or running up credit card debt was a "poor choice" for which you must pay in the Grand Moral Scheme of Things. Financiers who bought "credit-swap derivitives" made bad choices too, like a teenager doing drugs or having an unwanted pregnancy. Bill Cosby will explain it better than I.

But within the Superstructure of Ignorance do we ever stop to consider who established the RANGE of choices we have? What are the limits to our choices and how did they get there? What are some of the "good choices" we can make during the global economic meltdown? We could ask Rush Limbaugh or Thomas Friedman or Charles Krauthammer or any one of the architects of the Superstructure, the artists and writers and teachers and leaders upon whom we depend for answers and guidance. We could pick up the Times or the Post, tune into CNN or Fox or ABC or even NPR and get pretty much the same advice.

Work harder for less money,save your money, spend your money, invest your money, trust the leaders, get in line at the food bank, demand "more affordable" health insurance, go vote, call your Senator, tighten your belt, pull your kid out of college, sign up for the military, but above all, make a "good choice"!