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Interregnum: After the ball was over

9:38 am in Uncategorized by David Seaton

This week William Hague, Britain’s foreign secretary, told the inaugural London Conference hosted by Chatham House that the world was not simply going through a difficult patch, but had entered a period of ‘systemic disorder.’ Financial Times

Nowadays, both advanced economies (like the United States, where unlimited financing of elected officials by financially powerful business interests is simply legalized corruption) and emerging markets (where oligarchs often dominate the economy and the political system) seem to be run for the few. For the many, by contrast, there has been only secular stagnation, with depressed employment and stagnating wages. Nouriel Roubini

The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear. Antonio Gramsci

After the ball was over

Nellie took out her glass eye

Put her false teeth in water

Corked up her bottle of dye

Put her false leg in the corner

Hung up her wig on the door

And all that is left goes to bye byes

After the ball

After The Ball Was Over

What kind of animal are we talking about?

I have to admit that I’m getting bored, but bored as combat soldiers get bored, where fear and boredom mix. Bored with the “systemic disorder” of the “interregnum,” the randomness, chaotic entropy of it, which defies rational ordering or analysis: anxiety without any horizon.

At the bottom there is something very simple: when they asked the legendary Willie Sutton why he robbed banks he replied, “because that is where the money is.” The money is in tax-havens and it must be taxed and redistributed if humanity is going to have any chance of a “human” future.

It would seem much more useful, in terms of building the capacity to address the environmental crisis, to frame the issue of the environment as linked to a broader struggle that includes the redistribution of income and wealth to more equitably share the costs of environmental restraint; a cultural shift in the balance between individual consumption of goods and collective services; the development of public spaces and desperately needed infrastructural renewal (including mass transit); and the conversion of potentially productive facilities rejected by the market to the production of socially useful and environmentally necessary products and services. Such a framing would also tie the environmental crisis to the obvious need to place democratic planning on the agenda and go so far as to start talking about making private banks into public utilities so that we have access to the financial resources to carry out the above initiatives. Sam Gindin – Jacobin

Alas, who is going to ever bell this cat?

Capitalism: is we is or is we aint?

12:05 pm in Uncategorized by David Seaton

Read carefully the two quotes below as if they were a Zen koan on the order of “what is the sound of one hand clapping?” or “does a dog have Buddha nature?”, and see if you notice the cognitive dissonance they produce.

Consumer spending is not only the key to economic recovery in the short term; it’s also necessary for balanced growth in the long term. If our goal is to repair our damaged economy, we should bank on consumer culture — and that entails a redistribution of income away from profits toward wages, enabled by tax policy and enforced by government spending. James Livingston – New York Times

“For capitalism is abolished root and branch by the bare assumption that it is personal consumption and not enrichment that works as the compelling motive.”
Karl Marx – Das Kapital – Vol. II, Ch. IV, p. 123

Meditating on the above, first, on the the need for carefree consumer spending in order to avoid an even deeper recession, and then on the essential capitalist virtues of thrift and capital accumulation, sound fiscal policies and solid currency, I began to get some understanding of where we are and the dangers we may be facing.

We are being urged to drastic cost cutting and thin-lipped austerity in order to manifest the capitalist virtues of thrift and the sacrifice of immediate gratification, with a view to accumulation, which when manifested will paradoxically lead to even greater economic hardship, certainly in the short term… and as Maynard Keynes said, “in the long run, we are all dead”.

For some reason, known only to my neurons, the following simile occurred to me:

In cities such as Beirut and Cairo, a sophisticated middle class lives in a liberated, western style in the midst of a deeply conservative, Arab society, where all men, Christian and Muslim alike expect to marry virgins. In consequence, the best plastic surgeons in Europe are charging rich, young, Arab women high fees to perform Hymenorrhaphy or hymenoplasty, the surgical restoration of the hymen. This relatively simple operation is perfectly safe when performed by a skilled professional under hygienic conditions, and is, of course, performed with the patient under anesthetic.

What conservative economists are asking western consumers, the motor of the world’s economies, to do right now, is to restore our capitalist “virginity”…  but instead of being in the hands of competent surgeons, we are being asked to undergo surgery performed with dull knives by incompetent, butcher-quacks, with dirty hands (politicians etc)… and without anesthetic.

Once this ordeal has been undergone and our “virtue” restored, it is hoped that we, thus painfully re-cherry-ed, will soon return to our former libidinous lubricity.

The question would be: is this trip really necessary?

For many years, people have been getting jobs, owning a home, getting an education, paying their medical bills, all because of easy credit. Now, it seems to me, that having a job, owning a home, getting an education, paying medical bills, are basic human needs that almost all human beings rightfully aspire to, and rightfully demand. The system provided all those things, therefore the system was considered “good”.

Now the credit has been shut off and humans no longer can get a job, own a home, get an education and pay the doctor, therefore the system is “no good” and should be changed so that people can return to owning a home, getting an education and paying the doctor.

But what was our system really?

“Personal consumption” and not “enrichment” was the compelling motive that moved the economy, and that according to Karl Marx, who knew a thing or two about it, is not capitalism.

As the quote from Marx at the top of the post indicates, our economy had long ceased to be classic capitalism and had become, what for want of a better word, I would call “consumer socialism”. The state printed money and practically gave it away at absurdly low interest and every obstacle to lending it, such as credit worthiness, was removed and people had jobs, owned homes, got an education and paid the doctor.

If we really are going “tighten our belts”, there is a very real chance of our entering into a full blown depression similar to the 1930s and we would be well advised to remind ourselves that only two countries avoided the Great Depression of the 1930s, to wit, Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia and the United States only climbed out of the depression by entering World War Two and creating a command and control economy with unlimited public debt, severe price controls etc. Thus, during the war the American economy came to resemble those of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union and after the Second World War, the Cold War soon began, which established the Military-Industrial Complex as a continuation of America’s sui generis  wartime “corporate state”, which was the beginning of America’s legendary prosperity.

So now, at the this late date, we are expected to apply classic, capitalist “fundamentals”, when history shows us the result?

Meditations on America and the the Flight of the Oozlum Bird

8:46 am in Uncategorized by David Seaton

The Great Helmsman and Friend

Just the other day I saw a well-known documentary, “Food Inc“, which shines a light on the physically and morally toxic American food industry. I found myself getting very depressed about all the young people, especially poor, young people developing diabetes. Fully half of minority children are set to develop this disease

Being a Celt, certain types of sadness are pleasurable for me in a way similar to the Portuguese “saudade,” and so I tend to nurse melancholic feelings along to see what juice they have in them…. Melancholy is like the dear brother pig, all of whom, except for his death screams, is either useful or delicious.

Thinking about Food Inc and ruminating on the sadness that the story of all the overweight, diabetic poor people dredges out of me, I remembered something that Felipe González, the former president of Spain, and an extremely intelligent and perceptive man, once said about Americans.

I’m quoting from memory, González said something like, “Americans are sad people, I find them touching” (me enternecen). My first reaction was to find his remark condescending and offensive, but after thinking about it at length, I decided he was right.

What is this sadness, where does it come from, what is it about?

Everybody, even Thomas Friedman, has read that bit in the Communist Manifesto, describing the action of capitalism on society that goes, “All that is solid melts into air” The full, famous paragraph goes like this:

Read the rest of this entry →

China: capitalism, democracy and sovereignty

11:52 pm in Uncategorized by David Seaton

China is an authoritarian state, run in Leninist fashion by a communist party and at the same time a vital player, perhaps, alongside the United States, the key player in the international capitalist system.

We wish it were more democratic.

Perhaps we should be careful what we wish for.

Many who know China feel that the Chinese Communist Party is a moderating force on Chinese nationalism. That if China had something like a US system, they would be the plaything of fascist demagogues… It seems that reading their blog traffic etc, bears this out.

Let us take then, as given, that across the political spectrum, the Chinese are nationalist-chauvinist-revanchist. Then let us consider the situation they faced when the Soviet Union began to implode and it was no longer possible to play two superpowers off against each other.

China, a poor country, was left standing alone against what is commonly considered the greatest, most powerful, military, economic and cultural hegemon in the history of the world.

To use Maoist terminology the “primary contradiction” of the PCC was to maintain China’s sovereignty at all costs: other priorities such as “building socialism” (whatever that might be) would have to be postponed in the greatest national emergency since the Japanese invasion, but facing the USA, open war would be suicidal.

What has happened in the past twenty years?

The best battle, Sun Tzu says, is the battle that is won without being fought.

After only two decades the United States economy and her currency are entirely dependent on China, that is to say, in many ways firmly in the grasp of the Chinese Communist Party. And now it seems entirely possible the Chinese People’s Army’s cyber-warfare capabilities could paralyze American infrastructure, again without firing a shot.

Let us assume that China’s situation is that of a nation at war for its survival as a sovereign state… again, Sun Tzu:

“For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”

People with a deep understanding of China have said that is a very fruitful exercise to study how Taoist thought (Sun Tzu is the greatest “applied” Taoist) found the dialectical thought of Hegel (as against Kant or Plato) the most congenial and useful of western philosophies and that Hegel led them directly to Marx.

If you take Marx as lucid analyst of the weaknesses of the capitalist system, especially the system’s bottomless greed, and then knowing those weaknesses you take advantage of them in the manner of Sun Tzu, you might have a workmanlike description of what the Chinese have done.

If this is seen as a war, as a “national liberation struggle”, which the Chinese are winning without firing a shot, then the sacrifices of the Chinese people in today’s struggle are nothing compared to what they suffered to rid themselves of the Japanese, and instead of the smoking ruins that battle left behind it, today they have high speed trains.

And as for us, who think that by “converting” the Chinese to capitalism, we have won a famous victory. The famous Spanish mystic, Saint Teresa of Avila, said that there are more tears shed over answered prayers than over unanswered prayers.

Again, perhaps we should be more careful what we wish for.

Cross posted from: http://seaton-newslinks.blogspot.com/

Are we looking at a possible intellectual and economic “ecological” disaster?

12:22 pm in Uncategorized by David Seaton

Bank concentration: Graph – Mother Jones, (click though to view)

Low genetic variation can make a species less resilient to changes in its environment, and place it at increased risk of extinction. BBC News

Ecologists say that when the gene-pool of a species is reduced beyond a certain point that species is in danger of extinction because it may not have enough alternative genes to recover from a negative event such as a plague etc.

Could this concept be applied to our new globalized economy and even to our educational resources?

When I saw the documentary “Food Inc”, I was surprised to learn that less than half a dozen corporations control almost all of American agriculture and food production:

I was talking to someone on the far left the other day who said that economic power has become so concentrated in the USA that if you nationalized some 20 corporations, then in one blow, you would have created a de facto, ad hoc, “real existent socialism”. He gave Walmart as an example of a perfect “planned economy”.  Maybe he is on to something.

Most economists today don’t ask who rules the global economy, visualizing it as a decentralized competitive market that cannot be ruled. Yet new evidence suggests that global economic clout is highly concentrated among large interlocking transnational companies. Three Swiss experts on complex network analysis have recently examined the architecture of international ownership, analyzing a large database of transnational corporations. They concluded that a large portion of control resides with a relatively small core of financial institutions, with about 147 tightly knit companies controlling about 40 percent of the total wealth in the network. Read the rest of this entry →

Meditations on America and the the Flight of the Oozlum Bird

10:57 am in Uncategorized by David Seaton

Just the other day I saw a well-known documentary, “Food Inc“, which shines a light on the physically and morally toxic American food industry. I found myself getting very depressed about all the young people, especially poor, young people developing diabetes. Fully half of minority children are set to develop this disease

Being a Celt, certain types of sadness are pleasurable for me in a way similar to the Portuguese “saudade,” and so I tend to nurse melancholic feelings along to see what juice they have in them…. Melancholy is like the dear brother pig, all of whom, except for his death screams, is either useful or delicious.

Thinking about Food Inc and ruminating on the sadness that the story of all the overweight, diabetic poor people dredges out of me, I remembered something that Felipe González, the former president of Spain, and an extremely intelligent and perceptive man, once said about Americans.

I’m quoting from memory, González said something like, “Americans are sad people, I find them touching” (me enternecen). My first reaction was to find his remark condescending and offensive, but after thinking about it at length, I decided he was right.

What is this sadness, where does it come from, what is it about?

Everybody, even Thomas Friedman, has read that bit in the Communist Manifesto, describing the action of capitalism on society that goes, “All that is solid melts into air” The full, famous paragraph goes like this:

The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It … has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment” … for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation … Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones … All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind. (emphasis mine)

Taking that as my text, I would preach that as America is and always has been the absolute vanguard and the world’s most enthusiastic advocate of capitalism, logically no other people have ever felt capitalism’s effects half as directly or half as powerfully as Americans have. If we add to that the deracination of the process of immigration, then we also talking about people who have had all the defenses and the retarding effects of “feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations” already stripped from them when they arrived.

More than even the British who invented capitalism, Americans therefore stand naked before the forces that “melt all that is solid into air” with all that is holy profaned.

That leaves the American “at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind”.

How to avoid that self-examination is the central task that Americans have set for themselves.

This has led to a frantic search for new “veils of religious and political illusions” to make all of this contemplation of “his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind” bearable.

This explains to some extent the obsession with entertainment, the idolatrous celebrity culture and growing religious eccentricity.

The man and his companion whose statue grace this post might be apt symbols of an industrial effort at distraction from the “naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation” and the “uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation”, as shown in “Food Inc”, which make up the actual warp and woof of our lives.

The consolation would be that since American society has advanced far further on this road than any other, if capitalism is ever to take the path of the Oozlum Bird*, it will happen in America first.

*The Oozlum bird, also spelled Ouzelum, is a Legendary Creature found in Australian and British folk tales and legends. Some versions have it that, when startled, the bird will take off and fly around in ever-decreasing circles until it manages to fly up itself, disappearing completely, which adds to its rarity.