For A More Humane Pandemic

April 2020 revision

Including the US, many countries’ public health authorities, their virologists and hospital workers, have coalesced with politicians, citing mortality risks to the immune-compromised, and prioritizing support for health care professionals in a time of ramping demand in many jurisdictions. Together they have instituted an isolation and immobilization policy upon a great, crude swath of the people, now designated “non-essential workers.”

Eager to protect and serve, people have embraced the virologist’s statistical conceptualization of people as disease vectors. People have embraced a sort of altruistic policy, suggested by public health officials for indefinite implementation. We can see this collective enforcement everywhere, as people impose self- house arrest and dutifully sew their own face masks. Police have expanded checkpoints from DUI to immigrants and now the entire population of disease vectors. Parks are closed, corporations and states furlough and fire employees, New York epidemiologists call for Americans to “freeze in place,” and the only people allowed to move their bodies in plague-riddled Milan are people who own dogs.

 

There is a greater good at stake. It’s just not the greater good we think. While we admire the brand of selfless cooperation, there is also a very strong element of inhumanity in our approach to the pandemic. It is very much rooted in a fundamental, Malthusian premise: Our humanity is the problem to be eradicated. To follow expertise means faithfully following whatever lab-coated technocratic policy crushes humanity while, thankfully for the politicians (some of whom liquidated their vulnerable investments before policies were implemented), maintaining and augmenting economic inequality. The issue here is that indefinite detention, for example the prohibition of walking, the preference for indefinite isolation and immobilization, is also torture in a walking, communicating species, which is what humans are. Both policy confining people to cell-like apartments and mortality are distributed very unequally, afflicting people who live in public infrastructure-poor areas and in the US, particularly long-beseiged African Americans.

Yet if we agree with population management experts in law, that isolating and immobilizing criminals and migrants in prisons is a necessary cost, logically we must agree to the similar recommendation of population management experts in health:  immobilizing disease vectors long-term in their homes is a necessary cost. We have a specific model for how we address problems, optimizing the variables of masculine policing employment, maintaining the medical system as -is, reducing deaths among the immuno-compromised, and maintaining the state-mediated intergenerational transfer of wealth from the working class to business owners and top managers. Applied to the COVID-19 pandemic our “health” and “epidemiology” concepts are narrowly technocratic and political;  nonetheless when we say it’s all for health, we think of our mortality and feel deeply.

Governments have offered trillions to compensate businesses for the economic depletion accompanying extended shut-down of all but “essential” work– primarily hospital and guard work. When life is on the line, most people are pleased to pitch in, particularly helping to police and abnegate themselves. In Canada, a Globe & Mail thought leader posed himself a Pandemic Mr. Rogers, affirming that Canadians are “helpers,” and that what helpers do is isolate and immobilize themselves.  But there is more to being a responsible member of a human society, even in an emergency.

 

A better approach is possible in many places. In Vo, an Italian town where an early COVID19-related mortality occurred, the government instead tested everyone and isolated the 3% of the population that proved to be infected (80% of whom were asymptomatic). In a mere two (2) weeks, the blanket-testing and selected-isolation approach eradicated COVID19 from that population. Iceland is a prominent exception to the technocratic-political refusal of mass-testing. It has been mass-testing and select-quarantining to stop the virus in Iceland within a couple of weeks. With its high public health capacity and systematic incorporation of humane criteria in public policy, Sweden has pursued a testing-forward, selected isolation policy to maintain a socio-economy where federal transfers don’t facilitate business to loot the paychecks of future generations. With its high public health capacity and systematic incorporation of humane criteria in public policy, Kerala has responded to the crisis with effective disease suppression balanced with humane supports and democratic freedoms. As the Wall Street Journal recently observed, countries such as Germany, that are conceptually able (via corporatism) to recognize the contribution of their working class to their economy, soon moved onto increasing their testing capacity, toward a testing-forward approach that allows them to minimize population isolation and immobilization. Minnesota has the capacity to mobilize a testing-forward approach, and save its diverse working class and the economy that depends on human thriving.

 

While blanket testing takes state organization and costs money up front, it can be more efficient and effective–and useful in the long run, and will cost less than shutting down the entire society and economy, and indefinitely treating most people inhumanely as nothing more than disease vectors, a variant of criminals, as the technocratic-political population-management model must do.

 

Different conditions require different interventions. The testing-forward approach is not appropriate in urban concatenations, such as Milan, London, and New York City-Connecticut, where for specific reasons of age demographics, culture, and global economic network and transit centrality, COVID19 has raged throughout the population, and spread outward. In those metropoles, selected testing and blanket isolation & immobilization makes sense. Just as Wuhan was transformed into a “dystopia,” in the first week of May New York’s Governor Cuomo announced that New York City would become a surveillance and policing city as its response to its convulsive, central COVID-19 experience. Because NYC is a capitalist metropole, this will create a commercial export industry in antihuman infrastructure. This antihuman policy and infrastructure will be heavily promoted, but must be resisted outside these capitalist criminalized, disease-vector population cores.

Blanket testing/selected isolation would work best in regions with a lower incidence of transmission. The virus has been spread with the travel of business elites. Yet even in seemingly highly-infected Colorado, playground for the rich, testing has shown that only 1% of the population is infected. Regions less central and disadvantaged under global capitalism could move into a forward economic position, diminishing global inequality, if they were permitted to take advantage of their more moderate COVID-19 exposure, by instituting universal testing rather than the debilitating and interminable blanket isolation & immobilization approach that looks best on computer simulations preserving the existing parameters that produced the crisis.

 

Unfortunately, in countries like the US, policy flows from its financial metropoles. In a pandemic, this subsidiarization is not beneficial. It is a lack of regional-appropriate capacity. While global centers have the resources to manage morality throughout, including solidarity with the afflicted, distinctive high-capacity regions like Minnesota have a different responsibility, to always recognize that that the authoritative status of population management and policy expertise not only reflects their wonderful technical knowledge, but is also conferred by experts’ and politicians’ attunement to optimization at the hearts of the global system—misconstrued, in technocratic conceptualization, as universal welfare. Favoring “freezing” the hinterlands, metropole expertise will argue that the virus and antibody tests are not perfect. Yet if the virus and antibody tests are not perfect, in humane-policy jurisdictions like Sweden, Iceland, and Kerala, they have been shown to be sufficient to allow for efficient, targeted virus suppression and eradication—without incurring other forms of mass health devastation, economic collapse and exacerbated, multigenerational inequality.

 

We need to be able to recognize when and where population management detaches from the human, becomes inhumane, so that we can instead support policy alternatives more effective and efficient for circumstances in our part of the world, connected to but also distinct from people in other places. Doing like Sweden, Iceland, and Kerala, and following not just the virological disease-vector population framework and the politician’s population-communications framework, but incorporating Enlightenment sociological and developmental biology perspectives can help us keep our eyes on what it is to be human and what we need to make to support humanity.  In this pandemic, a cost-forward blanket testing/selected isolation approach would cost some percentage of the trillions governments are working to transfer from workers to business elites for generations, where such problems as coronaviruses are caused by already-excessive discounting of workers’ human needs and welfare (Wallace, Liebman, Chavez & Wallace 2020). It would require immediately building testing capacity under state direction. It would require an organized mobilization, redeploying many of the out-of-work legions in the work of testing, or bringing into testing the armies of frustrated altruists within the military. It would be stridently opposed by metropole expertise, because it would be an expenditure of collective resources, and the global financial metropoles will not benefit from either mass testing or the diminishment of socio-economic inequality.

A testing-forward turn would also reduce the runaway risks and costs of universalizing blindness to the multiple conditions humans need to thrive and survive. For all their hopeful public recitations, none of the potential upsides of the crisis will materialize if we are not able to recognize these conditions, and act upon them now.

 

Mid-March reporting held that Minnesota state and private (eg. The Mayo corporation) labs did not have sufficient supplies to do mass testing. This “shrug” reporting was quite common in the US and Canada at the time, and there was little interest in how the state might fund and organize testing in these jurisdictions.  Throughout the US the main interest in this story was exhibited by political partisans, who used it to bicker over which party was to blame for the poor testing capacity. This diversion is part of the problem with dependency on antidemocratic political leadership temporarily patronizing virologists. By contrast, Sweden averted politician leadership problems by having long ago built up an independent public health bureaucracy. Politicians have little say in public health policy there, though there was some attempt by politicians to intercede. Without politicians able to jump into manipulating people’s fears to keep policy choices within inequality-preserving parameters (eg. using police and commercial tech to institute a vast prison landscape), Swedish public health experts could take into account the significantly-deleterious mental and physical health impacts of treating humans as little more than population network nodes, and instead design epidemic interventions that preserve human health. While the US and Canada shrugged at their own incapacities or gave room for politicos to carp at their political enemies, governments such as Germany’s began to fund and organize mass testing capacity.

Mayo is among the private corporations that raced to produce immunization, as, with both state and private markets, immunization is expected to be more lucrative than testing. It could be that Mayo’s for-profit requirements mean that Minnesota, unlike Iceland (which state has more independence from New York), does not have the public-private-sector incentive to produce the testing that could end the epidemiological threat far more quickly than more-profitable immunization. This for-profit medical preference will be devastating to human health and the economic viability of the working class and capitalism itself in the short, medium, and long-term. Did Minnesota public health authorities have the capacity to intercede and redirect efforts? In April, Minnesota announced its public health officials had convened Mayo and the University of Minnesota to produce 20,000/day swab (molecular/RNA) coronavirus testing capacity. Yet the governor of Minnesota continued to prioritize isolation & immobilization policy, barring the public from parks and recreation.

Are we blinding ourselves to our humanity in order to prevent us from “squandering” our wealth on making less-central regions viable, in order to reserve our wealth as back-end compensation for the disruption of existing centers of overaccumulation? Minnesota’s economic and political elites are well connected to the US financial metropole; but because Minnesota also has working class people, from farm workers to small business owners to furloughed managers, following an isolation and immobilization program is not in this region’s health or economic interests. Ultimately, even our friends in New York can benefit from Minnesota pursuing a humanist testing-forward approach, and preserving health, social, and economic integrity in the US.

Our problem isn’t insufficient mobilization. Our problem is that we are already excessively subordinated, as our swift lockdown makes evident. Prioritizing policies that keep the wealth in overaccumulation centers, stubbornly discounting life outside centers of overaccumulation, will reproduce the crisis conditions, because those crisis conditions inhere in dehumanization and inequality. This pandemic, like the epidemics before it and the crises that will come after it, has everything to do with how capitalism in a dense human-population world smashes its giant, necessary, global working class into no economic choice but to reproduce themselves by living off of what awkward combination of commodified and, especially, uncommodified goods and services they can access and cobble together (Katharine Moos, 2019; Wallace, Liebman, Chavez, and Wallace, 2020). Capitalism separates wealth from the working class, but the population is needed to grow wealth. The wild game must be supplemented by poultry. The development must sprawl into field, forest, and watershed. While we clutch our pearls and claim that our expert antihuman policies are for the “health,” the frontline nurses and doctors, the grandpas and people of color, in fact we are living in a time in which a sinister Malthusian presumption undergirds our expertise: In our disposition to maximize the augmentation of dehumanization and inequality both in our everyday and our emergency policies and institutions, we continue to discount the humanity of working people, to discount their economic contribution, to take more and more from them, to immiserate, stunt and weaken them around the world and cut short their lives, our lives. How can we develop feelings about the foundation of our pandemics, so that we can stop reproducing them? Do well-educated Minnesotans have the capacity to break with the antihuman population management models? Can Minnesota put its weight behind testing rather than freezing humanity?

 

For supporting articles, follow Mara Fridell on Twitter.

References

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix:

 

Anglo-American Health Authorities Prescribe Indefinite Isolation/Immobilization:

‘How long will we need to practice social distancing? “For now, it’s probably indefinite,” Dr. Marrazzo said.’ —New York Times, March 17, 2020.

 

‘How long, then, until we’re no longer behind and are winning the fight against the novel coronavirus? The hard truth is that it may keep infecting people and causing outbreaks until there’s a vaccine or treatment to stop it.

“I think this idea … that if you close schools and shut restaurants for a couple of weeks, you solve the problem and get back to normal life — that’s not what’s going to happen,” says Adam Kucharski, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and author of a book on how outbreaks spread. “The main message that isn’t getting across to a lot of people is just how long we might be in this for. As Kucharski, a top expert on this situation, sees it, “this virus is going to be circulating, potentially for a year or two, so we need to be thinking on those time scales.’

Vox, 3/17/ 2020, Coronavirus Lockdowns.

 

Testing Data

COVID-19 Testing Data: https://ourworldindata.org/covid-testing

 

 

Law & Political Economy

The enduring entanglement of modern property law with this original “feudal calculus” is a thread running throughout Pistor’s book. Most importantly, it informs her skepticism about the alignment that is commonly assumed in liberal grand narratives among progress, property rights, and the rule of law (understood in the sense of the universal applicability of general rules, such that no one class received preferential treatment by the state).

There have been revolutionary moments, Pistor concedes, in which property owners did line up behind the demand for general rights—the American and French Revolutions being cases in point. But once their property was established, owners became, like their feudal predecessors, defenders of privilege. They have advocated not universal binding rules, but what Max Weber called a “modern particularism,” finding ways around the law when it suited their interests.” —Tooze reviews Pistor (2019).

The Usual Suspects: The University of Chicago, Ronald Coase, and Aaron Director established the school of Law and Economics in the 1960s. Its purpose was to diffuse the functionalist liberal grand narrative on capitalist law, in which capitalist law is mythologized as harmonizing interests throughout society by creating rules that maximize efficiency, productivity, and economic growth. This obfuscatory economist-managed myth factory helped distribute resources and power globally, but within the inegalitarian rules of feudal privilege that efface the citizenship and interests of smallholders and life on Earth.

Responding to the 20th-21st century expropriation explosion and democratic dissipation, Pistor is part of a new school, Law & Political Economy, that clarifies that global Anglo law, based in New York and London, actually marries exceptionalist feudal restrictions on [immobile] land property alienability with increasing volumes of extremely-mobile exclusive private property claims [only obliquely upon–but governing the disposition of– tangible assets], so that states enforcing this elite, privately-manufactured law have come to unequally, inequitably, exceptionally enforce the asset claims of large, global capital owners against the interests and welfare of the rest of societies.

Note the gendered leadership of the Law & Econ v. Law & Political-Economy networks. Together patriarchs may imagine their protection racket as benevolent. Women are experientially informed about the central, pervasive, destructive role of expropriation in capitalism.

 

Bibliography

Bhattacharya, Tithi. 2017. Social Reproduction Theory. Pluto.

Choudry, Aziz & Adrian A. Smith, eds. 2016. Unfree Labour? Struggles of Migrant and Immigrant Workers in Canada. PM Press.

Ghodsee, Kristin. 2018. Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism.

Graeber, David. 2006. “Turning Modes of Production Inside Out: Or, Why Capitalism is a Transformation of Slavery.” Critique of Anthropology 26 (1): 61-85.

Kapczynski, Amy.

Kalecki, Michal. 1971. Selected Essays on the Dynamics of the Capitalist Economy 1933-1970. Cambridge University Press.

Kato, Daniel. 2015. Liberalizing lynching: Building a new racialized state. Oxford University Press.

Law & Political Economy blog.

Lawrence, Andrew G. 2014. Employer and Worker Collective Action. Cambridge University Press.

Marx, Karl. 1867. Part VIII, “Primitive Accumulation,” Capital V. I.

Moore, Jason. 2015. Capitalism in the Web of Life. Verso.

Orren, Karen. 1991. Belated Feudalism: Labor, the Law, and Liberal Development in the United States. Cambridge University Press.

Pistor, Katharine. 2019. The Code of Capital: How the Law Creates Wealth and Inequality. Princeton University Press.

 

 

Serfdom: From the American Working Class to Global Capital & China

Conservative organizer Friedrich Hayek famously, counterintutitively predicted that democratic Enlightenment and egalitarianism would restore serfdom. However, in our less enthralling, dog-bites-man history, financialized global capitalism restored serfdom instead.

Partly, as the capitalist economic coordination organizations (World Bank) like to point out, that is the cost of recycling wealth to China and India, which have been serving as the global factory. Partly, that is the cost of building up the astronomical fortunes and exclusive sovereignty of a restored, and slightly more global patrimonial capitalist class.

Class War Brings Commodified Life…

8-22-17highered_f9

…Paid for with Credit in Lieu of Income.

not including mortgage debt (presuming mortgages debts converts into private wealth at some point), US data.

debt to income us households minus mortgage

From the 1970s on, Anglosphere Rentier Capitalism Busts Out, EZ Credit Permits Housing Prices to Balloon, and Household Debt Balloons

Blue (below) is household debt, from the 1920s-2010s.

debt life

…Then, Fed on Credit Not Income, the US Working Class Hemorrhages Wealth in the 21st Century

After housing asset inflation, student & car loans expand.

total household debt us 03-16

The American Working Class Lives in Debt Serfdom, Loses Wealth, so that China Can Develop & Global Capital Can Accumulate

Chinese Money on Credit Markets

Suffering and Dying in 21st Century American Serfdom

One way of recognizing the impact of this global capitalist macro social construction is in its effects on working class people’s life chances. As working class people are in the majority, their suffering impacts population health statistics.

Regardless of current racial composition, former slavery counties continue to maintain inegalitarian slavery institutions, facilitating elite prosperity on the back of mass human stunting. The map below shows the bifurcating distribution, in the US, of declining (green) and increasing (pink) mortality in the 21st century. This is to say that life expectancy is declining in the pink zones.

divergent mortality rates, US

The orange and blue map below shows the distribution, within the US, of the “hardest places to live” (in orange). Easier living is found in the darker blue counties. The “hard places” index was constructed from data on each county in the United States on education (percentage of residents with at least a bachelor’s degree), median household income, unemployment rate, disability rate, life expectancy and obesity.

hardest places in the US

Index and map by Alan Flippen, New York Times, June 26, 2014.

By comparing the above life-chances distribution maps to the green map below, we can note the correlation between white evangelical Christianity (light green) as a sacralized organization (associated with inegalitarian slavery culture) and crappy life chances. White evangelical Christians are just a-passin’ through this world–all rough ‘n’ tumble-like.

whats wrong with oregon

Women’s health is taking a hard hit with the restoration of class inequality within the US. The chart below shows the high and increasing rate of maternal mortality in the US, compared with other core capitalist countries.

Maternal Deaths per 100,000 live births

propublica-mortality-rates

While life chances have always been distributed by race, gender and class in the US, aggregate life expectancy has begun to gradually decline in the 21st century US. “Life expectancy in the United States has declined for a second year in a row, driven in large part because increasing numbers of Americans are dying from drug overdoses, suicides and chronic liver disease, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A baby born in 2016 can expect to live 78.6 years, which is down from 78.7 years in 2015 and 78.9 years in 2014.”–Susan Perry, US Minn Post.

LifeExpectancy640 US by race

Breaking Windows…or the Whole Welfare State?

In Le Monde, Brotherton & Phillips argue that a criminology theory, Broken Windows, became distorted by vulgar American social speciation (The poor are evil. Their automatic small transgressions cascade into crimes against the Order), and this corruption is what resulted in a recent, tyrannical Supreme Court ruling.

I like this analysis, in that it points to how even materialist explanatory frameworks become distorted within a conservative culture. (And why materialist explanations can never serve as adequate substitutes for historical-materialist explanations.)

Nonetheless, at the end of the day, any Supreme Court decision must be assessed in the context of that body’s other contemporaneous decisions, and there, unless we are hopelessly immobilized by fear, we must recognize a stark pattern has emerged.

 It is not simply that the Supreme Court justices fell prey to a bowdlerization of Broken Windows theory. That would be a tough enough problem to address. But in fact the situation is much, much more dire. The justices were selected for the Supreme Court because they are far from innocents. The US Supreme Court has come to revert to pre-liberal, end-of-days feudal British legal traditions, and this is not through a series of mishaps. SCOTUS sanctioned election fraud at the highest level; it has recently ruled in favor of capitalist class totalitarianism in the workplace; it has come to rule repeatedly in favor of state tyranny over citizen liberties; it is positioning itself to revoke Congress’ capacity to create welfare institutions. Through its interpretations and rulings, the both conservative and fundamentally elitist US Supreme Court is actively, systematically creating the legal framework for the decisive blows that convert the US to a ferociously capitalist class-biased night watchman terror state.

The working elite theory is that the conservative initiatives will bolster the investor confidence that the US, its dollar and its debts rely on. But the conservative theory of investor confidence is superficial, a symptom of a larger conservative misreading of capitalist accumulation incentives. Because of the 40+ year dominance of conservatism, the US economy is going down like a stepwise-imploding dirigible, and its elites will not fall without scrambling together a new age of serfdom and primitive accumulation—concentrated accumulation by any means possible.

Though they are always enchanted by American capital’s money, networks, organization, ready policy models, hype, and marketeers’ assurance, the rest of the world would do well to continue to turn away and let the Americans alone erect their self-rape and -pillage legal framework in their “exceptionalist” (British serfdom and imperialism meets American slavery and nuclear chain-reaction exploitation) tradition.

Marxists are correct about what is happening here. Despite their emotional rejection of Marxists above all, American liberals need to start to assess whether they will withdraw from the real world to protect their visions of marginally-conflicted, equilibrium, civilized capitalism, or whether they will get back in there and organize to defend the pillars of their crumbling, limited-Enlightenment utopia—from conservatives this time, again.

You have to ask yourself: Are you really comfortable with slavery and serfdom?, because these remain fundamental conservative institutions–entirely complementary to, we can see plainly before us, capitalism, wretched capitalism. Absolute power corrupts absolutely; and under a system of concentrated power–such as is capitalism, there is no high, easy road to progress.

Primitive Accumulation, Anyone?

There are two ways to read this HSBC investment ad. The first one is naive.

The second one is about how wealth languishes in the remaining assets of the aging yet childish (unworthy, vulnerable) American middle class, and the bank is there to help investors get in on the expropriation. We were warned.

Greece, Pinatified

Yanis Varoufakis posts Marshall Auerback’s “Greece and the Rape by the Rentiers,” with Varoufakis’ caveat that the best option is for Greece to default.

More on the austerity debacle in Greece
What the (Troika–the European Commission, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund) MOU (with the Greek parliament) is really all about:

“It’s a corporate wish list; a mix of punitive belt tightening policies for working people and perks for big oil, big gas, electric, aviation, railroads, communications etc. ‘Fast track licensing’ and baby food have nothing to do with helping Greece reach its budget targets. It’s a joke. … None of this has anything to do with helping Greece. It’s just corporate pillaging gone haywire. Greece is a big pinata that’s just been cracked open and everyone (Euro capital) is pushing and shoving to grab their fistful of candy. All of this is coming soon to a neighborhood near you. If not’s already there, that is” (Mike Whitney, quoted by Chris Floyd).

Bustin’ open the Greeks. Who’s next?

Athens in flames, Michael Dussault (quoted by Naomi Wolf): “’The rebellion has begun,’ the Greek resistance hero and veteran left-winger Manolis Glezos told reporters. Indeed, as students and anarchists fought back waves of riot police assaults on the occupied University Law Department, as hundreds of outraged protesters took over a TV station, and as plumes of smoke and clouds of teargas filled up the Athenian night skies, one thing became overly clear: the social situation in Greece has spun entirely out of control.”

Damned if it shouldn’t be. As Chris Floyd says, what Greeks are facing is down a few levels of hell lower than the imposition of Sharia law.

 There is no (0) possibility that an Anglo-American intervention (which is what a NATO intervention would be) could improve the lives of Syrians in the oil era. However, pro-democracy North Americans can support the Greeks, perhaps Spanish Civil War style? Or what about support in Spain? Right now Spaniards and the Portuguese need help fighting against the conservative state-facilitated anti-labor crusade.

Billy Bragg once composed a little song, RE: serving as a fightin’ tool for Anglo-American capital.

New consensus in Berlin, according to Varoufakis: As soon as Sarkozy wins the French Presidency, Germany will amputate Greece & Portugal (maybe Ireland too) from the EU, and cauterize the wounds by printing money.

Varoufakis thinks the strategy won’t work because:

1) German financiers are underestimating the substantial links between Portuguese banks and Spanish banks, and between Greek banks and German and French banks.
2) Injecting massive liquidity into European banks will Japan1990s-ize them.
3) The problem is in the uneven nature of capitalism, here the geographic core-periphery, that creates systemic trade imbalances, and the lack of a GSRM (global surplus recycling mechanism) in Europe. This problem will not be addressed by the German financier’s solution. So when a couple of countries are amputated, the problem will move over and take up residence in the remaining periphery–Italy, Spain– requiring further amputations.

Richard Koo explains why the Japanese banks failed, and what that means for Europe.

Economic Leadership Today: A Report from the Trenches

 The tiny bit of progress in elite thought on institutionalized, socially-subsidized banking failure and Western working-class economic decline: Conservative economists and policymakers are finally acknowledging inequality, and vaguely entertaining the Occupy-introduced notion that inequality might not be all they fantasized for us after all.

Unfortunately, they have no conceptual tools or will to address it. Stale, refried 1991 Robert Reich (Such as is presented by the elite economic consensus in the OECD’s “Divided We Stand“. Yeah, that’s not a typo. Remember for capitalist conservatives, inequality is thought to create stability–by diversifying economic preferences and market niches.) aint going to do it.

I attended and wrote note notes last night at a panel on Canadian business’ relationship to inequality and Occupy protest, provided by the business school for the benefit of the business community in a Canadian city.

Businessmen in the audience said they wanted to stay with the “globalization makes inequality necessary” line. They like that, know it, don’t want to abandon it. Feels good.

 But it’s killing off your consumer market, and there can only be a few Walmarts in monopoly capitalism, replied the business profs. Can you businessmen at least think about maybe taking some of your profits and investing them in local charity works, or in Living Wages?

The progressive business profs tried to introduce the idea that inequality has costs, to human health,  to human capital, and economic costs in the form of consumer market decline.

The idea that inequality has human and economic costs did not appear to register with the businessmen and business students in the audience. On the one hand, the audience managed to respond that they expect the Chinese to replace failing Americans as the consumer market to the world; on the other hand, they expect to still keep super-exploiting starvation-wages Chinese labor. Cake; eat it too. So that’s the quality of plan you get from the leaders of a high-inequality regime.

The business school dean authoritatively lectured on how Canada should respond to economic inequality. He cribbed the OECD’s “Divided We Stand”. His takeaway OECD message? Stay the course; Occupy will fade; the problem is simply that some people just aren’t techno-skilled enough–ergo Canadian businesses should engage in more in on-the-job training. 

 It’s good to read this OECD report so you know how your elite are failing.

 The business dean refused to acknowledge parasitic over-financialization’s relationship to unyielding Western economic gout. Over-financialization, at the root of economic destruction and political sclerosis, is not on elites’ radar as a problem.

You might be interested in knowing that the business dean and business profs said that elites are hoping on securing the continued loyalty of the top 30-40% income earners, at least within Canada, to help maintain their order. Is that you?

 …Because I know 30-40%ers who are having their incomes actively suppressed right now by the neoliberal machinery in place. They’ve got big and growing education debt and housing debt–or they don’t live middle class in significant ways/aren’t bought off. Neoliberalism has a life of its own. The  middle class buy-off is in decline, and that means that the discipline that the middle class enforces is  slated to follow… and though they are still purportedly relying on it, this decline is off elites’ radar! Good thing they’re still over-“investing” in guard labor.

 Their leadership is not as irreplaceable as their money leads businessmen and their technocrati to believe they are.

Financial Economic Power = Political Stranglehold

The Crisis in the Eurozone
by James K. Galbraith
Salon.com

 “(T)he ECB refuses to solve the crisis at a stroke, which it could do by buying up the weak countries’ bonds and refinancing them. The argument against this is called “moral hazard,” buttressed by old-fashioned inflation fears, but the real issue is that to do so would admit loss of control by creditors over the central bank. Actions parallel to those taken by the Federal Reserve – nationalizing the entire commercial paper market, for instance – would repel the ECB, even though it does buy up sovereign bonds when it has to.

[MF: This is all a polite, econ-theoretical way of saying that the ECB is the tool of financial capital, not a manager of social or economic welfare.]

 So instead the zone has gone about creating a gigantic toxic CDO called the European Financial Stability Fund, which may shortly be turned into an even more gigantic toxic CDS (like AIG, they will call it “insurance”). This may defer panic at most for a little while.

 Technical solutions exist. The most-developed of these is the “Modest Proposal” of Yanis Varoufakis and Stuart Holland, widely backed by older political leaders in Europe. It would 1) convert the first 60 percent of GDP of every eurozone country’s debt to a common European bond, issued by the ECB; 2) recapitalize and Europeanize the banking system, breaking the hammerlock of national banks on national politicians; and 3) fund a New Deal-like program of investment projects through the European Investment Bank.

 Variant proposals include Kunibert Raffer’s call for a sovereign insolvency regime modeled on the U.S. municipal bankruptcy statute, Thomas Palley’s proposal for a new “government banker” and Jan Toporowski’s proposal for a tax on bank balance sheets to retire excess public debt.

 These are the best ideas and none of them will happen. Europe’s political classes exist these days in a vise forged by desperate bankers and angry voters, no less in Germany and France than in Greece or Italy. Discourse is sealed off from fresh ideas and political survival depends on kicking cans down roads so that the fact that this is a banking crisis does not have to be faced. The fate of the weak is at best incidental. Thus every meeting of finance ministers and prime ministers yields treacherous half-measures and legal evasions.

Political fragility also explains the fury in France and Germany when George Papandreou [the calmest man in Europe, by the way, having been born and raised in Minnesota] sought to cut the knot of his rebellious ministers, irresponsible opposition and angry public by putting the latest austerity package to a vote. God help the bankers! The move was fatal to Papandreou in short order, and Greece will now be turned over to a junta of creditors’ deputies if such can be found willing to take the job. It won’t be anyone who wants to continue to live in Greece afterward.

Greece and Ireland are being destroyed. Portugal and Spain are in limbo, and the crisis shifts to Italy – truly too big to fail – which is being put into an IMF-dictated receivership as I write. Meanwhile France struggles to delay the (inevitable) downgrade of its AAA rating by cutting every social and investment program.

If there were an easy exit from the Euro, Greece would be gone already. But Greece is not Argentina with soybeans and oil for the Chinese market, and legally exit from the Euro means leaving the European Union. It’s a choice only Germany can make. For the others, the choice is between cancer and heart attack, barring a transformation in Northern Europe that not even Socialist victories in the next round of French and German elections would bring.

[MF: Here, I would demur. This explains why Greece hasn’t exited so far. But at this point, why not choose exit? Everybody proper said, following orthodox theory, that exit wouldn’t work for Malaysia, Argentina, etc. as well. But it did. Considering the empirical evidence at this point in history, and adding to that game theory logic, I think exit is the only rational option now.]

So the cauldrons bubble. Debtor Europe is sliding toward social breakdown, financial panic and ultimately to emigration, once again, as the way out, for some. Yet – and here is another difference with the United States – people there have not entirely forgotten how to fight back. Marches, demonstrations, strikes and general strikes are on the rise. We are at the point where political structures offer no hope, and the baton stands to pass, quite soon, to the hand of resistance. It may not be capable of much – but we shall see.”

…..

There remains a popular or perhaps professional conservative economist’s insistence that the cause of economic crisis in Europe is immoral Greek consumer and political behaviour. That might be an opportune, EZ, resonant, discursive tactic if you’re a Greek with a meso-political axe to grind or a conservative economist clinging to the wire monkey mother of your dogma.

As someone who was hounded by bankers and real estate agents to buy a house in the US at the peak of the bubble (and of course I was! I was even given a whole book by the realtor explaining in simple terms that if I bought a home, I could be part of the Infinite Pyramid Scheme (TM) and someone would without fail buy that home from me for an even-more inflated price.), when I had just graduated from my PhD program with grotesque mounds of student debt, I know good and well that moralistic arguments about the consumer root of economic crises are full-on undiluted bullshit, toxic CDOs, if you will.

To still buy those toxic funds, you would have to be completely autistic; hallucinating nothingness in the face of mass marketing, highly-unequal social status and institutionally-flogged hegemony; utterly blind to the global quality of the economy; and abjectly deaf to the extreme variations in money-borrowing and -lending power. You would have to be a conservative economist, or the slave of some such defunct economist).

Debt + No Class Compromise > Delay > Asset Liquidation

If you get your rocks off by pursing your lips sourly and pointing fingers at more-or-less hapless pawns, here’s a link to Greg Palast’s observation of one of the proximate causes of Greek economic crisis. The conservatives had to borrow from financial capital in order to temporarily prop up the pretense that the financial capitalist’s order works, and the conservatives can operate it. The order, one of primitive accumulation, doesn’t, cannot work for most societies and people and environments. So what were conservatives supposed to do? Admit that, and lead the socialist revolution? THAT WAS NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN. Did I even have to caps-lock that? No. Conservatives’ only (pro-system) choice was debt-to-delay. So that is not a choice.

Now, should any working class person ever elect a liberal, let alone a conservative, to represent her in the political sphere? No. Absolutely not. Because that debt-to-delay non-choice is exactly what you get from them. Fetishizing the politicians’ systematic corruption is kind of perverse and creepy and stunted, given it’s about “catching” them doing what they are ideologically-constrained and coached to do.

Regardless of Keynesians’ belief that states can deficit spend, everyone believes in debt–or money liquidity, as it’s known when we’re not being manipulatively moralistic. It’s a fundamental part of economies, as well as pious, exploitative moral economies. Debt was the key to US military-economic dominance in the latter half of the 20th century, and this constrained everyone else’s options–especially in Europe, not to even mention how the financialization/debt model was sold, was saturation-marketed as the 1-Tru (TM) path to infinite economic expansion and happyness.

But of course the underlying problem is that actually-existing financialized capital is principally a tool for primitive accumulation–appropriating, concentrating and controlling value and exchange. In other words, debt-to-delay leads inexorably to wicked public and smallholder asset liquidation and a continuous and depleting debt-to-liquidation cycle, or else one helluva social fight to force garbage investors to take the losses on their garbage investments and to clean up their investment practices.

Our elites are very diligent at reminding us about the terms of their protection racket: that if investors are forced to be prudent, they will withhold liquidity and offload the costs onto the working class and the public. However, the traditional  threats have begun to mean nothing, because the primitive accumulation debt-to-liquidation cycle has resulted in withheld liquidity and economic crisis offloaded onto the working class and smallholders anyway. When there’s no class compromise, the hegemonic leverage wears down quickly, leaving bare brutality.

Unless we fight to reduce its power, we cannot escape capitalist primitive accumulation and our own over-determined economic dispossession and depletion. Yet we still have a wide range of commentators declaring TINA on austerity. There are alternatives. The alternatives simply do not support financial-military global monopoly capitalism.

Thus, faced with this impassible dilemma, (much like the 20% (a low) of Americans who still somehow believe that they will be in the top 1% of wealth accumulators) paid experts somehow still desperately pretend to believe that there is a universal, moral path to wealth accumulation in a fictitious 2-D world without power, and that little Greece, if they’d just been more moral, could have followed that yellow brick road, paved by the benevolent financial system devoted to unproductive accumulation and geo-political power moves undertaken by the financial capital centers of the US (US banks own over 10% of Greek risk), England, France and Germany in the west, and oil capitalists and China eastward. The level of political- economic and geopolitical naivete required to maintain this moral handwringing and within-Greece fingerpointing is flabberghasting at this point in history.

Within the context of global monopoly capitalism, nothing could have been done for the welfare of peripheral small economies (countries) like Greece. Financial-military capital has not been and is not aligned for this. That this mal-alignment destroys capital and undermines the Greek, European or global economy is not a problem to financial-military capital–especially not when the dollar as world reserve currency automatically secures such resolute US dependability for capital. (Which is why OWS is so important to disciplining global speculation.)

Someday, the capitalist lords and retainers claim, global monopoly capital may get in the mood or accidentally do something to benefit non-elites. You just never know. It’s happened (with some considerable drawbacks, including population explosion, scarcity and environmental catastrophe. But dammit some of us did get those nice SUVs for a while in some places.) In the face of their brutal solipsism and frigidity, the deity-bankers only ask for assurances that, as long as you or your politicians are worried about liquidity for your society’s survival (assuming of course that we’re not interested in bothering to establish a global network of rebellion), they are entitled to the wealth your society creates into the future. This is the blackmail of late monopoly capitalism. To really paraphrase Nixon all out of recognition, perhaps we all have Stockholm Syndrome now. You give your wealth. You get a steady supply of bloody fingers, etc. in the mailbox. It all ends when you open up the envelope to find your own bloody heart muscle wrapped in a tissue.

And for what? Regardless of what happens to the body, the economy or societies or the environment, as long as they get the wealth, financial capital wins. –Perhaps we go along with it because we think the capitalists are sexy (Thanks for the beer goggles, Frank Luntz!), because even all the militarized cops can’t follow all of us around in our daily rounds of assiduous obedience.

Class War with a Little Generation War on the Side

According to the recent Pew Social & Demographic Trends study,

The current (generational wealth) gap is unprecedented. In 1984, the age-based wealth gap had been 10:1. By 2009, it had ballooned to 47:1. Older people today have 47 times more money than younger people; and they have 42% more wealth than their same-aged counterparts in 1984, while the younger generation has 68% less than theirs.

Someone needs to use the Pew data and write on the Silent & Boomer Generations’ little cut of our era’s  class war. We should be able to talk about how the younger generations were sold out, without the Republicans co-opting the discussion for their anti- working class institutions (Medicare, social security) campaigns.

Sources of intergenerational (young to old) wealth transfer: housing bubble, privatized education & student loan debt, deunionization & stagnant incomes, pension funds & bank bailouts.

And that’s not even talking what devastation they wrought on the environment, just to keep floating atop their magical oil geyser kingdom. With sincerest apologies to that punk Tom Brokaw, the point is not that some generations are holier or more evil than others. The point is that we need to learn how to recognize when we’re selling out the future, stop ourselves from selling out the future, and formulate a real sense of wealth (cf J. Schor). In order to see class war, we need to be able to see how class warfare strategically manages (inter alia) generation divides.