Quote of the Day: Fictitious Capital

Cédric Durand wrote:

The return of the political is thus paradoxical. The hegemony of finance — the most fetishized form of wealth — is only maintained through the public authorities’ unconditional support. Left to itself, fictitious capital would collapse; and yet that would also pull down the whole of economies in its wake. In truth, finance is a master blackmailer. Financial hegemony dresses up in the liberal trappings of the market, yet captures the old sovereignty of the state all the better to squeeze the social body to feed its own profits [emphasis added].

Durand wrote his book in response to the Crash of 2008-9. We are unfortunate that the crisis before us might prove to be far worse, especially since the next collapse will reflect the workings of the plague on the economy. In both instances, the crisis reflected and will reflect the political character of the neoliberal project. That character included the use of state power to impose laissez faire market norms on the labor market, of decoupling welfare and well-being from the state. Despite their rhetoric, neoliberals never offered the anti-statist, anti-political program its promoters claimed for it. The neoliberal state was active. It defended the prerogatives of capital and those capitalists who captured part of the state. Neoliberals was, in fact, a form of authoritarian liberalism. The extremism it practiced (Goldwater) produced a viciously narrow form of individualism. The rich and powerful take whatever they can, the weak and poor suffer whatever comes their way.

Green Capitalism

Is it an oxymoron or just a plain dumb idea? I believe we can easily guess Rob Urie’s answer to this question:

The bottom line is one of commensurability. Economic production that produces toxic externalities like global warming, dead oceans, undrinkable water, unbreathable air, etc, depends on assigning little or no value to these. To make this very clear, Western economic ‘accounting’ places no value on these, on the most fundamental necessities of living beings, by design. As Oscar Wilde put it, a cynic is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. This is in fact a summation of Western economics; circumscription of the ‘knowable’ world by what has had a price tag put on it. The externalized costs of capitalist production are real— more real than the stuff in stores that is only ‘cheap’ because the true costs were lobbed off on people who haven’t yet fought back. To Mr. Krugman’s argument, even if technological innovation did reduce carbon emissions the people who would reap the benefits are not the same people who will pay the consequences— more carbon emissions is more even if the rate of growth is reduced.

Global warming is but shorthand for the increasingly conspicuous fact that the quest for ‘stuff’ has turned the entire planet into a noxious garbage dump. This concern might rightly be considered effete if ‘we,’ broadly considered, could exist in the garbage that some of us have created. But as global warming suggests, we can’t. The time for gimmicks, ‘technology,’ was a half century ago. And unless you missed this, the West is still plenty rich— rich in approximate proportion to the social and environmental catastrophes that capitalism has wrought. The question today is who pays, not what the costs are.

Quote of the day

John Kerry, a crude opportunist by trade and need, recently dismissed Edward Snowden’s manhood — his virtù, to use the sense of the word given to it by Niccolò Machiavelli. David Lindorff rightly took issue with Kerry’s denunciation of Snowden. He concluded thusly:

Kerry has no right to question anyone’s “manhood.”

Having John Kerry tell someone like Snowden to “man up” is the moral equivalent of Richard Nixon telling someone to follow his conscience or Bernie Madoff telling a homeless beggar to get an honest job.

Snowden would have to be crazy or a masochist to come back to the US and submit his fate to the “American justice system” touted by Secretary Kerry.

Without a doubt, Edward Snowden in his person and actions more concisely expresses the sense Machiavelli gave to this term than Kerry ever had, even if we include the Kerry who opposed the Vietnam War. Machiavelli would have praised Snowden’s ferocity and bravery, his tactical and strategic senses and even his patriotism. He would have appreciated Snowden’s audacious project, one which originated in his stated hope to help put an end to America’s emerging tyranny. He would have considered Snowden a fellow republican. On the other hand, Machiavelli would have judged Kerry to be a faithless mercenary, and a source of corruption.

Quote of the day

Renfrey Clarke wrote:

If the limits for adaptation to climate change of natural systems are crossed, ecosystems must soon collapse. If modern industrial capitalism were a person, he or she would be on suicide watch.

The system that has brought us quantum physics and reality television, modern medicine and the columns of Andrew Bolt is set on a course which, by all the best reckoning, points directly to its doing itself in.

If capitalism goes on — everything goes. Climate, coastlines, most living species, food supplies, the great bulk of humanity. And certainly, the preconditions for advanced civilisation, perhaps forever.

Moreover, we’re not just talking risk, in the sense of an off-chance. These are the most likely outcomes for capitalism’s current policies and performance in the area of climate change.

Having read Clarke’s article, one might conclude that the author merely made hyperbolic claims in order to serve a survivalist position. That assessment presumes that any prediction of a global ecological catastrophe — and a great extinction — overstates the case. Does it? I think not. Radical action is needed, but such action is rarely on the agenda. Rather, more of the same defines our age. This is why revolution today entails pulling hard on the emergency break (Walter Benjamin) while hoping against hope that we engaged the emergency break in time.


Chomsky on state power, domestic surveillance and ‘national’ security

Writing for In These Times, Noam Chomsky offered the following observations about the kind of security sought by the security-surveillance state:

In an interview on German TV, Edward J. Snowden said that his “breaking point” was “seeing Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, directly lie under oath to Congress” by denying the existence of a domestic spying program conducted by the National Security Agency.

Snowden elaborated that “The public had a right to know about these programs. The public had a right to know that which the government is doing in its name, and that which the government is doing against the public.”

The same could be justly said by Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning and other courageous figures who acted on the same democratic principle.

The government stance is quite different: The public doesn’t have the right to know because security thus is undermined — severely so, as officials assert.

There are several good reasons to be skeptical about such a response. The first is that it’s almost completely predictable: When a government’s act is exposed, the government reflexively pleads security. The predictable response therefore carries little information.

A second reason for skepticism is the nature of the evidence presented. International relations scholar John Mearsheimer writes that “The Obama administration, not surprisingly, initially claimed that the NSA’s spying played a key role in thwarting 54 terrorist plots against the United States, implying it violated the Fourth Amendment for good reason.

“This was a lie, however. Gen. Keith Alexander, the NSA director, eventually admitted to Congress that he could claim only one success, and that involved catching a Somali immigrant and three cohorts living in San Diego who had sent $8,500 to a terrorist group in Somalia.”

A similar conclusion was reached by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, established by the government to investigate the NSA programs and therefore granted extensive access to classified materials and to security officials. There is, of course, a sense in which security is threatened by public awareness — namely, security of state power from exposure.

The basic insight was expressed well by the Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington: “The architects of power in the United States must create a force that can be felt but not seen. Power remains strong when it remains in the dark; exposed to the sunlight it begins to evaporate.”

Indeed, power does decay when made public, and we may recall here that Huntington was a leading figure of the excess of democracy movement (1970s) which sought to rehabilitate and secure state authority after federal institutions had weathered poorly the many political crises of the 1960s. American democracy was thought to be a burden for those governing America, according to these analysts. The governors could not govern if the governed refused to affirm governmental power. Today, on the other hand, the ‘excesses’ of an energetic civil society do not trouble much America’s national political institutions. The latest crisis of American democracy has another cause:

Is there a new crisis of democracy? Certainly, the American public seems to think so. Anger with politicians and institutions of government is much greater than it was in 1975. According to American National Election Studies polls, in 1964, 76 percent of Americans agreed with the statement “You can trust the government in Washington to do what is right just about always or most of the time.” By the late 1970s, that number had dropped to the high 40s. In 2008, it was 30 percent. In January 2010, it had fallen to 19 percent.

With trust goes authority. When trust is lacking, when citizens no longer believe their representatives, the wielders of power necessarily find themselves placed on a slippery slope with illegitimacy sitting at the bottom of the plane. If the American democracy is now in crisis, this crisis would have little or nothing to do with democratization efforts originating from below. The crisis is not a by-product of the Tea Party or Occupy movements. Nor has it issued from anti-system tendencies within the duopoly parties or from an emerging anti-system party the existence of which effectively threatens the American political system as such. Rather, the crisis originates instead in the anti-democratic qualities which now define governmental institutions in the United States, qualities which elicit mistrust in the governed. The federal government is neither responsive nor responsible, neither accountable nor transparent. Its failures are many, sometimes obvious and often painful for its citizens as well as for others subject to its operations. It has earned the mistrust it enjoys, for it is more akin to an automaton than a place where citizens gather in order to govern themselves.

updated 3.11.2014

Work without Hope

All Nature seems at work. Slugs leave their lair—

The bees are stirring—birds are on the wing—

And Winter slumbering in the open air,

Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!

And I, the while, the sole unbusy thing,

Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.

Yet well I ken the banks where Amaranths blow,


Have traced the fount whence streams of nectar flow.

Bloom, O ye Amaranths! bloom for whom ye may,

For me ye bloom not! Glide, rich streams, away!

With lips unbrighten’d, wreathless brow, I stroll:

And would you learn the spells that drowse my soul?

Work without Hope draws nectar in a sieve,

And Hope without an object cannot live.

— Samuel Taylor Coleridge

War. What is it good for?

Benjamin Franklin once opined:

War begets Poverty,

Poverty Peace;

Peace makes Riches flow,

(Fate ne’er doth cease.)

Riches produce Pride,

Pride is War’s Ground;

War begets Poverty, &c.

The World goes round.

Nothing, as Edwin Starr told us long ago:

Quote of the day

John Stanton wrote:

The USA and European Union (EU) continue on their downward trajectory in the 14th year of 21st Century. The perpetual state of war against terror, drugs, immigrants, the press and whistle-blowers moves on uninhibited. Another war, this time named Austerity, is being waged by USA and EU leaders against the middle and lower classes. Youth are particularly hard hit with the average unemployment rate in the EU at 23 percent. In the USA the figure is 17 percent according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But never mind that.

Cutting benefits, or, rather, throwing people away, will reduce the unemployment rate and that’s good for the economy. Such is the mindset of the financier class as reflected in the comments of Joe LaVorgna, chief economist at Deutsch Bank. He noted that in the USA,  23 percent of the 1.5 million who are losing their unemployment benefits will simply exit the work force, and another 850,000, at the state level, would give up on trying to find employment. LaVorgna stated that the unemployment will drop to 6.7 percent. Yippie!

Stanton here seeming channels thoughts previously explored by Zygmunt Baumann and Loïc Wacquant. Bauman wrote (2003, p. 5) that:

The production of ‘human waste’, or more correctly wasted humans (the ‘excessive’ and ‘redundant’, that is population of those who either could not or were not wished to be recognized or allowed to stay) is an inevitable outcome of modernization, and an inescapable accompaniment of modernity. It is an inescapable side-effect of order building (each order casts some parts of the extant population as ‘out of place’, ‘unfit’ or ‘undesirable’) and economic progress (that cannot proceed without degrading and devaluating the previously effective modes of ‘making a living’ and therefore cannot but deprive their practitioners of their livelihood).

Wacquant wrote (2009, p. 303)

Punishing the Poor contends that it is not the generic “risks and anxieties” of “the open, porous, mobile society of strangers that is late modernity” that have fostered retaliation against lower-class categories perceived as undeserving and deviant types seen as irrecuperable, but the specific social insecurity generated by the fragmentation of wage labor, the hardening of class divisions, the erosion of the established ethnoracial hierarchy guaranteeing an effective monopoly over collective honor to whites in the United States (and to nationals in the European Union). The sudden expansion and consensual exaltation of the penal state after the mid-1970s is not a culturally reactionary reading of “late modernity,’ but a ruling-class response aiming to redefine the perimeter and missions of Leviathan, so as to establish a new economic regime based on capital hypermobility and labor flexibility and to curb the social turmoil generated at the foot of the urban order by the public policies of market deregulation and social welfare retrenchment that are the core building blocks of neoliberalism.

The jobless poor, the masterless men and women who live in slums, basements, shelters, tent cities and, of course, on the streets of many cities, are fated to confront a bitter death as ‘freemen’ and ‘women’ or as prisoners within the vast prison apparatus that has grown these last 50 years. They are, however, artifacts produced by capital. As such, they also comprise signs that point to the barbarism of the age. The goal of our governors: To remove them from a shared everyday life and render to them faceless.

Quote of the day

The Guardian reports that:

The White House is stepping up pressure on Congress to approve emergency measures that would reinstate payments to more than 1.3 million long-term unemployed Americans who saw their benefits cut three days after Christmas.

President Barack Obama’s chief internal economics adviser appeared on two Sunday talkshows to warn against failing to reintroduce payments for those who have been out of work for more than six months – while also indicating that the benefits programme could legitimately end when unemployment rates return to “normal”.

But, what if a 7% U-3 rate reflects a new norm? What if an austerity politics combines with long-term stagnation to produce a high-unemployment economy? Will America’s natural aristocrats move to secure the well-being of those Americans less fortunate than they are? Will they reinvigorate America’s welfare state?

I would not recommend holding one’s breath waiting for the aristocrats to move on this matter.

Quote of the day

This one comes from the word processor of the late Peter Mair:

The age of party democracy has passed. Although the parties themselves remain, they have become so disconnected from the wider society, and pursue a form of competition that is so lacking in meaning, that they no longer seem capable of sustaining democracy in its present form.

The quoted passage can be found in the opening paragraph of Mair’s Ruling the Void: The Hollowing of Western Democracy. Although his book addresses this phenomenon as it can be found in the Western European democracies, I believe that one can successfully argue that the epitome of democratic elections without significance lies in the United States. The last election which posed candidates that were clear alternatives to each other: The 1972 contest between Richard Nixon and George McGovern. And Nixon wins any comparison made with Barack Obama! Democratic accountability, and therefore political legitimacy, always eludes America’s national politicians, especially presidential candidates and winners. Because of this lack of accountability, it would be accurate to claim that America’s political elite represent the federal state to civil society and to America’s citizens in general. The happy relationship has these politicians representing civil society and the citizenry at large in the state. The founders did not care much for the common folk; they thus refused to constitutionally secure the direction and telos of this relationship such that it promoted representative government.