Extrapolation from Gordon 2016

Gordon, Robert J. 2016. The Rise and Fall of American Growth. Princeton.

Note: GPT, General Purpose Technology, is the fundamental technology upon which a society is built. For example, Gordon cites both electricity and oil extraction and processing as the GPTs of the 20th century US. GPTs pave paths of technological and social-organizational dependency in which specific trajectories of subsidiary technologies are developed.

1) Kalecki thesis: capitalists fundamentally seek control, in order to secure capital, fungible social power.

a) When they have managed to constrain workers’ human-capacity development, particularly their organizing capacity, capitalist control means deploying workers as expendable, dehumanized machines. In aggregate, this takes away from developing the forces of production.

i) Conservative ideology helps reproduce the capitalist Human Waste economy, as per the slavery, servitude model.

b) Upon a Depression separating capitalist exploitation from labour, social-liberal (pro-worker) policy and institutions and war nationalism combined to promote the collective infrastructure required for rigorous subsidiary tech improvements in the US. This extremely-heightened activity, based on the war-social democracy convergence, formed the basis of the exceptional US Trente Glorieuses growth (Gordon 2016).

Social democracy sustains the worker capacitation required to maintain this tech innovation pressure. But without war nationalism, economic growth from tech innovation is moderated; affronted by worker capacitation, elites petulantly go on strike (See 1970s inflation). Conservatized liberalism dismantles social democratic developmentalist infrastructure in favor of control-prioritizing war nationalism only. Without social democracy, subsidiary tech innovation is constrained and the GPT is petrified; economic growth declines.

c) Because it does not mute working-class feedback, a philosophical-materialist, socialist-backbone society has superior capacity to collectively decide on the GPT (General Purpose Technology) governing subsidiary innovations in tech and organization. Examples of superior GPT intervention capacity: Scandinavian social democracies, Germany, China.

i) Societies that delegate GPT decisions strictly to the market, the global capitalist class, relinquish and have no capacity to guide GPT change. They serve as stupid, senseless global bulwarks against GPT shift, prioritizing predictability, ROI, and rentier capitalism (producing increasingly-absolute ownership rights). Anglo-American capitalism is an island aristocracy-designed machine for constraining and muting (torturing into a ventriloquist’s dummy, per Scarry 1985) a domestic working class in favor of maintaining a global-elite-coordinating GPT regime. Imperialism, colonialism, and the military necessarily grow out of and support this primary solution to exclusionary value accumulation (which is why capitalist marketeers once claimed that capitalism would dispense with this violent outgrowth–They misrepresented the successive outgrowth as an optional tactic in poor taste). In order to secure global elite cooperation with their leadership while disrupting societies globally, these Anglo-American model societies prioritize control over, and effective criminalization of their domestic working class, capacitating them and offering them to global elites strictly as consumers and working-class-targeting police/managers and imperial soldiers. Management, militarization, and finance are the governing economic institutions of these capitalist “core” or “metropole” societies.

Prioritizing control over, and effective criminalization of the domestic pool of workers and their families and communities (smallholders), such a global capitalist-subordinated, militarized nationalist society cannot sustain worker capacitation and does not have the capacity to collectively decide on or intervene in the GPT orientation.

Hence, the Anglo-American societies, for example, are bound to contribute increasingly to climate crisis, surveillance and carceralism, and disruptive imperialism, and dismantle or forgo public infrastructure and assets, policy and technology supporting environmental repair, and public education, libraries, and substantive democratic capacity building.

Maintaining a GPT in defiance of broad, shared human development and welfare ratchets up pressure. The belligerence sustains the aging GPT, by shifting around the mounting structural pressure building against GPT-maintenance, which further requires capitalist hoarding and militarization. Anti-social democratic regional economies most tied to the aging GPT, such as the oil states of Texas, Alberta, and Saudi Arabia, will produce the most militant, and methodically inhumane and destructive opposition to GPT shift.

See also: Erica Benner (Actually-existing Nationalisms) for informed identification of Marx’s arguments around human development, sovereignty, including in relation to economic catch-up, and idealist philosophy and nationalist ideology traditions (as these are embedded in liberal-conservative approaches to uneven development), particularly in The German Ideology, also The Jewish Question, and the Grundrisse.

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Who really supports the arc of Western civilization?

“All that is real in the universe is an infinity of void space, and an infinity of primary particles in random and everlasting motion. Such is the physics of Epicurus…The Epicurean idea of an infinite universe of matter and space, indifferent to human hopes and concerns but whose workings can be understood, is the predominant scientific idea with which we now live. We have fellow feeling with the importance Epicurus attaches to happiness in this life, with his desire to diminish pain and overcome irrational fears, and with his attempt to understand and come to terms with death, the frontier we shall all reach but not cross as the individuals we now are…

The one world realism of Epicurus is made sharper by the principles 1. No thing is ever created out of nothing by divine will; everything happens according to natural laws without the aid of gods. and 2. No thing is ever put out of existence: natural laws resolve each thing again into its primary parts.

…This would commonly be taken as a contradiction of the Genesis story which forms the foundation of Jewish, Christian and Islamic credos about God creating ex nihilo.

But there is an ambiguity. The first two verses of the Book of Genesis may mean either (a) ‘In the beginning God created (out of nothing) the heavens and the earth and (when he had done this) the earth was without form and void…’ or (b) ‘In the beginning the earth was without form and void and (from the pre-existing condition) God created the heavens and the earth…’

The first time that meaning (a) appears unequivocally in the Hebrew canon is in Maccabees 7:28. Generally Christians have preferred (a) and Muslims (b)” (Gaskin, John. 1995. The Epicurean Philosophers: ix, xxiv, xxvii.).

Building Alternatives

“To my mind, the so-called ‘socialist society’ is not anything immutable. Like all other social formations, it should be conceived in a state of constant flux and change. Its crucial difference from the present order consists naturally in production organized on the basis of common ownership by the nation… 

To begin this reorganization tomorrow, but performing it gradually, seems to me quite feasible. That our workers are capable of it is borne out by their many producer and consumer cooperatives which, whenever they’re not deliberately ruined by the police, are equally well and far more honestly run than the bourgeois stock companies”  

Engels, Letter to Otto Von Boenigk (1890).

Capital strike is a problem for working class strategy and strength, as Adam Smith, Kalecki & Sweezy keenly observed. It makes sense not just to disrupt or tear down (though certainly that, see Marx, Piven, Domhoff & Zizek), but also to build fortifications around that fundamental vulnerability, as well as to build an answer to conservatives’ play on the fear of loss. See Rudolf Meidner.

…  Jodi Dean cites Chomsky discussing the importance of working class organize-to-rule strategies, including sit down strikes, co-operative takeovers of languishing industries and economic sectors (think green technology), and a build-up of broad working class-conscicous support for such initiatives:

“In one of the suburbs of Boston, about a year ago, a multinational decided to close down a profitable, functioning facility carrying out some high-tech manufacturing. The workforce and the union offered to buy it, take it over, and run it themselves. The multinational decided to close it down instead, probably for reasons of class-consciousness. I don’t think they want things like this to happen. If there had been enough popular support, if there had been something like the Occupy movement that could have gotten involved, they might have succeeded.” 

We Belong

Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel the first. The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor and elsewhere, destroyed the forests to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that by removing along with the forests the collecting centres and reservoirs of moisture they were laying the basis for the present forlorn state of those countries. 

When the Italians of the Alps used up the pine forests on the southern slopes, so carefully cherished on the northern slopes, they had no inkling that by doing so they were cutting at the roots of the dairy industry in their region; they had still less inkling that they were thereby depriving their mountain springs of water for the greater part of the year, and making it possible for them to pour still more furious torrents on the plains during the rainy seasons. Those who spread the potato in Europe were not aware that with these farinaceous tubers they were at the same time spreading scrofula. 

Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature – but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists (only) in the fact that we have the (modest, potential) advantage over all other creatures of being able (given a responsive social structure) to learn its laws and apply them correctly” 

Engels, The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man (1876). My emphases and modifications.

Capitalism & Corruption

Capitalism overfloweth with marketing. It’s fair enough to point out the system never does deliver the goods.

“First and last, it’s a question of money,” Clarence Darrow said. “Those men who own the earth make the laws to protect what they have. They fix up a sort of fence or pen around what they have, and they fix the law so the fellow on the outside cannot get in. The laws are really organized for the protection of the men who rule the world. They were never organized or enforced to do justice. We have no system for doing justice, not the slightest in the world.” 

Not all condemnations of corruption are equal. Certainly, one can and should warn against getting stuck upon ‘corruption’ as a problem of individual moral failing, against assuming that such an individual moral failing can cause our age’s contradictions and crises. Zizek thunders against clerics’ efforts to blind us to the causes of our problems with their anti-historical, idealist framing:

“The first two things one should prohibit are therefore the critique of corruption and the critique of financial capitalism. First, let us not blame people and their attitudes: the problem is not corruption or greed, the problem is the system that pushes you to be corrupt. The solution is neither Main Street nor Wall Street, but to change the system where Main Street cannot function without Wall Street. Public figures from the pope downward bombard us with injunctions to fight the culture of excessive greed and consummation – this disgusting spectacle of cheap moralization is an ideological operation, if there ever was one: the compulsion (to expand) inscribed into the system itself is translated into personal sin, into a private psychological propensity, or, as one of the theologians close to the pope put it: ‘The present crisis is not crisis [sic] of capitalism but the crisis of morality.’”

But you need not simply use the charge of “corruption” as an emotional tool with which to blind, distract, manipulate, and control nearly-powerless subjects, as the conservative Papacy, flexing its enduring utility to feudal power, does to the unsuspecting, the faithful, and the libertarian. Rather, you can, as does Marx, comprehend corruption as an inevitable product of a social order that demands concentrated economic surplus/power accumulation.

“In every stockjobbing swindle every one knows that some time or other the crash must come, but every one hopes that it may fall on the head of his neighbour, after he himself has caught the shower of gold and placed it in safety. ‘Après moi le déluge!’ is the watchword of every capitalist and of every capitalist nation. Hence Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the labourer, unless under compulsion from society” Marx, Capital, Volume I, Chapter 10 (1867).

It is not that emotion or condemnation is wrong. Emotion is human, and often must be addressed strategically. Leftists would be autistic dupes to let conservatives monopolize emotions, and ridiculous to flatter themselves that to leave emotion to conservatives makes Leftists pristine, ethical…otherwordly, in imitation of imaginary deities, and similarly ineffable, ineffectual. That’s a trap that’s been laid before, and we should recognize it.

The problem is the socially-irrational concentration of the massive accumulation of wealth–capitalism. That is fundamentally corrupt. The problem is, as Zizek recognizes, “Main Street’s” rigid inability to function without Wall Street, to the point of compounding, brakeless social and environmental irrationality. Socialism is needed to break this free-fall, to put a brake on the capitalist corruption of human sociability.

The Philosophic Roots of Marxism

“The fullest possible appreciation of pleasure creates a need for the prudent management of the flow of pleasures over time, and for a mental grasp of the art of living.”

Marx’s dissertation compared the Epicurean tradition favorably to the Skeptics. Marx used Greek materialism to found his socialist humanism.

Marxist materialism is elaborated by Mandel (D Henwood found this):

Ernest Mandel, Late Capitalism, pp. 394-396: 6.

“…Marx fully appreciated and stressed the civilizing function of capital, which he saw as the necessary preparation of the material basis for a ‘rich individuality’. The following passage from the Grundrisse makes this view very clear: ‘Capital’s ceaseless striving towards the general form of wealth drives labour beyond the limits of its natural paltriness, and thus creates the material elements for the development of the rich individuality which is as all-sided in its production as in its consumption, and whose labour also therefore appears no longer as labour, but as the full development of activity itself, in which natural necessity in its direct form has disappeared; because a historically created need has taken the place of the natural one.’

 For socialists, rejection of capitalist ‘consumer society’ can therefore never imply rejection of the extension and differentiation of needs as a whole, or any return to the primitive natural state of these needs; their aim is necessarily the development of a ‘rich individuality’ for the whole of mankind. In this rational Marxist sense, rejection of capitalist ‘consumer society’ can only mean: rejection of all those forms of consumption and of production which continue to restrict man’s development, making it narrow and one-sided. This rational rejection seeks to reverse the relationship between the production of goods and human labour, which is determined by the commodity form under capitalism, so that henceforth the main goal of economic activity is not the maximum production of things and the maximum private profit for each individual unit of production (factory or company), but the optimum self-activity of the individual person. The production of goods must be subordinated to this goal, which means the elimination of forms of production and labour which damage human health and man’s natural environment, even if they are ‘profitable’ in isolation. At the same time, it must be remembered that man as a material being with material needs cannot achieve the full development of a ‘rich individuality’ through asceticism, self-castigation and artificial self-limitation, but only through the rational development of his consumption, consciously controlled and consciously (i.e., democratically) subordinated to his collective interests.

 Marx himself deliberately pointed out the need to work out a system of needs, which has nothing to do with the neo-asceticism peddled in some circles as Marxist orthodoxy. In the Grundrisse Marx says: ‘The exploration of the earth in all directions, to discover new things of use as well as new useful qualities of the old; such as new qualities of them as raw materials; the development, hence, of the natural sciences to their highest point; likewise the discovery, creation and satisfaction of new needs arising from society itself; the cultivation of all the qualities of the social human being, production of the same in a form as rich as possible in needs, because rich in qualities and relations – production of this being as the most total and universal possible social product, for, in order to take gratification in a many-sided way, he must be capable of many pleasures, hence cultured to a high degree – is likewise a condition of production founded on capital….”