Iceland & Primitive Accumulation

Here’s Silla Sigurgeirsdottir and Robert H. Wade’s Monde Diplomatique article “Iceland’s Loud No.” Here’s a good English-language Icelandic journalist covering the transformation of private (capitalist) losses into public (working class) debt throughout Europe.

Iceland prosecutes predatory bankers, December 2011.

Iceland exits the recession, December 2011.

From November 2011:

 Deena Stryker’s adaptation of the Italian article “Iceland’s Ongoing Revolution” is on the alternative news, essentially arguing that Iceland’s response to the transformation of private investor losses into public (cross-national and cross-generational working class plundering) debt throughout Europe is not adequately covered by the English-language press. She argues that this may be because Iceland has been striving to find alternate ways to pay off British and Dutch investors, other than working through the IMF (like Malaysia did successfully in the 1997 East Asian crash), and Icelandic people have been working to reform their political system to prevent plundering capture by global financial capital.

 This is an important contribution because, first, the question for smaller-economy Western countries ultimately is: When Iceland/Greece/etc. govts are forced by global capital and larger-economy (more powerful) governments to strip wealth off their own citizens to pay off British and Dutch etc. investors, with interest, how much wealth will be transferred to the big-economy investors and their bankers?

 Those investors were gambling. If it were just an economic market, they should have to absorb the risks and take the losses of their own gambling. But economics is also political, because it’s about amassing and maintaining power. British and Dutch political regimes exist in capitalism to take up the sticks and guns and punitive trade strategies to make sure that there is all profit (growth) and no risk to British and Dutch investors, and by extension the bankers that served them–That the costs of Accounting-books economic “growth” are confined (inasmuch as is possible–Aye. There’s the rub.) to the Icelandic, Greek, Spanish, Irish, US, British, etc. tax-paying working-class. That Accounting-books economic “growth” (AKA unregulated, state-backed investment) is a successful wealth-plundering strategy (AKA primitive accumulation). In this way big economies hope to attract capital and stay big, and smaller-economy countries hope to ride upon and not be eaten by bigger ones.

 So there is the vital second question, which Ms. Stryker has tapped, of how much wealth transfer will be forced and must be conceded by various populations. This is an ongoing political fight involving: 1) the blackmail capitalist claim that the global capitalist economy cannot be restored until the wealth transfer is realized as exclusive private accumulation, 2) coercive and coerced enforcement of this transfer by governing regimes, and 3) many countries’ working class populations, their range of beliefs about how political-economies can work, and their capacity to resist and fight. It is necessary for liberationists and democrats to engage those working class political-economic beliefs, as Ms. Stryker is doing by gesturing to the Icelandic differences, if nothing else to raise a reflexive working class limit on predatory financial capitalist machinations around the globe. (Well, that’s the liberal ideal outcome. I can think of more ambitious outcomes.)

The carping about Stryker’s article in Iceland’s The Grapevine is about journalists’ endemic quick and dirty deployment of econ stats in service of political extrapolations, in the midst of ongoing political contention in Iceland. It’s nice that The Grapevine is clearing up the stats and reassuring Icelanders that le jeu n’est pas fait; but their critique  is not essential to Stryker’s argument. The constraints are similar; but there is a difference in the Icelandic popular political-economic imagination and strategies–a difference that, if not decisive, other working class populations need to see.

It’s not helpful when, as at The Grapevine, journos confuse bank relations with investors with the state guarantees to those investors’ powerful countries, and feed into conservative obfuscation of what is at stake in “bank bailouts.” Moreover, you can expect The Grapevine critique to be blown out of proportion by conservatives who are on the primitive accumulation warpath. Yet I do not think The Grapevine editor is conservative. His Davidsdottir recommendation (above) is helpful; and he and his commentators are right in urging Stryker to correct the article–if not to pay respects to more precise  Icelandic understanding of Icelandic political-economy stats and affairs, then to make her contribution  more robust to right-wing attack.

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