The Back Story


So let’s pick up the strands of the economic dislocation from 2008, although these threads extend much further back in time, at least to 1970.  At the very least.

1.  Having jacked the price of oil to record levels, thereby pumping money through the hardened heart of the capitalists’ world financial network in what was the economic equivalent of “blood doping,” in 2008 the bourgeoisie’s dream of infinitely expanding asset valuations collapsed like a junkie’s veins.

Banks, commercial, merchant, investment, sovereign, near sovereign, shadow, heard a hissing sound, only to find out that it wasn’t hissing at all.  Rather,  it was the sound of the sucking chest wound called asset-backed securities.  Assets, that is to say debt-encumbered property, went from Triple-A to non-performing faster than you could have said, “rollover.”  In the dog’s repertoire that is their dog life, the bourgeoisie had lost the ability to do the most fundamental trick, rollover.   All they could do, for the moment, was sit-up and beg.

Which they did, begging at the table of government they pretended to despise; for the free lunches they claimed didn’t exist and shouldn’t be provided to school children as it weakened the child’s moral fiber.

Refreshed, restored, reinvigorated by the fruits of other peoples’ labors, the bourgeoisie didn’t exactly bite the hand that fed them, but steered that hand that was feeding them into the pockets of the workers everywhere, to drive down wages; to impose tiered wages structures; to shutdown entire industries in order to restart them free of pension and medical care obligations; to expel workers from production; to reduce funding for anything remotely resembling the general, as opposed to their particular, welfare, while they themselves slurped at the subsidized nipple on their negative interest rate bottle.

2.   The “recovery” itself has been (a)the slowest and (b) the shallowest of the post-WW2 era, purchased with a real decline in living standards, and life expectancy; with a real deterioration in the general welfare, reducing, for example the number of primary and secondary school teachers by 9 percent over ten years; with real declines in labor-force participation rates.

Now capital has no life outside its ability to command the labor of others.   The means of production capital accumulates as private property sustains its value only to the degree that value is expanded.  It’s all about “what have you done for me lately?” with lately being “right now” and the answer always being “not enough.”  Capital, without accumulation, without expansion, finds itself value-less, forfeit.  Capitalist property, absent the recapitalization of surplus value becomes moribund, and the productive apparatus becomes a target for destruction.

The general law of accumulation is that the more capital accumulates, the more intense the exploitation of labor power, then the greater the mass of labor/value accumulated as machinery that is animated by the relatively reduced portion of living labor.   The more capital exchanges itself with living labor the less of itself capital actually exchanges.  Under these conditions not just of its own making, but of its own existence, the mechanism of accumulation breaks down.

Capital imagines itself as always and ever a system for the meeting of equals in the market, or rather a meeting of those made equal by the markets.  Exchange is supposed to embody the rationale, and the rationality,  of the system.  It’s all sorted in the buying and the selling.   Imbalances are balanced, puts meet calls, bids are offers…the market embodies the reason of capital, as profit precipitates out of the swirl of positions and counter-positions taken in the markets.

     This makes exchange both the stage and the theater where capital’s multiple melodramas work themselves out, or in.   The networks of exchange are the most sensitive to disruption, interruption of this precipitation process.  So…as the mechanism of accumulation staggers under the weight of its own “overgrowth,” its own overproduction, the established networks, conditions, terms, pacts, agreements, treaties slow.  Exchange loses its “reason.”  The rationality of the system, its “logic” of free trade, of increasing integration of economies, of mediated disputes, of established alliances, “special relationships,” don’t immediately collapse, but they do rapidly dis-integrate. 

3.   The bourgeoisie like to flog the notion that capitalism is the most rational of systems; that “reason” displaces compulsion as the organizing principle of the economy.  But rationality, like everything else in capitalism, is a market relation, a percentage, a ratio; a measure of performance.  When the performance falls, the rationality plummets.  When the ratio goes pear shaped, the networks unravel.  Force, compulsion, which has always stood behind the “reason,” the rationality of exchange, moves to the fore.  Resentment from those pressed between the hard place of  “free trade,” and the rock of slower growth,  becomes the political, that is to say the social, currency of the economy where and when accumulation has been impaired;  where compulsion is truth behind reason.

We get a Brexit, we get a Trump, an Orban.   None of the lurches, the spasms, that shake and shudder through capitalism spring full blown overnight.  None are spontaneous. Scratch a bourgeois and you’ll find a petit-bourgeois, suspicious to the max, beyond paranoid, a hoarder always facing the nightmare of the loss of the hoard.   The bourgeoisie, to protect their hoard, have been playing the resentment card for years, manipulating the frustration engendered by their system against the “others,” both internal– migrants, workers of color, labor unions,– and external– migrants, workers of color, trading partners and ex-partners– on behalf of private property and against social welfare; against public education, against public health care, against just about public anything.

And the Brothers Kochs, those Murdochs Rupert, those Mercers and Breitbarts– that whole posse of crackpot-John Birch-libertarian-assault rifle loving–confederate battle flag waving–patio fascists think they actually can control the unreason, the compulsion necessary to the preservation of capital.  That’s what ideology does– it makes the arsonist feel like he has control over the fires set.

4.  So…2016 was a near miss, recession wise for the bourgeoisie; overall global GDP growth rates, emerging market growth rates, were the lowest for any year since the negative growth rates of 2009.  Real GDP growth in 2016 in the advanced countries decline from 2.1 percent in 2015 to 1.7 percent, almost the same exact level of the 2001 recession.  That’s the back story fueling the nationalism, the petty chauvinism, the “populism” that rages from Austria to the Philippines.

March 25, 2018

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