Scenario Analysis

Best-Practices Management: Scenario Analysis

A common form of risk-reduction management in industries, like finance, where results matter, Scenario Analysis is increasingly being adopted to assess the impact of policy proposals on climate change, another field where growing consensus holds that real-world, in-situ results need to be optimized. There is also enough at stake in seemingly small middle-management decisions made within institutions that collect and house valuable public and private assets and income to warrant the adoption of Scenario Analysis to mitigate risks to the enterprise.

At stake: Reducing Perverse-incentive Spillover

One of the standard problems over the past half century of institutional reforms has been the adoption of Isolated Optimization analysis and decision making throughout institutions. In the Isolated Optimization management approach, variables that the policy designer can control are optimized in isolation from the context that they will operate in. Factors that the manager cannot immediately control are excluded from the analysis and the decision-making process.

It is one thing to distinguish controllable, “Close to Home” factors from environmental factors. It is a serious overstep to ignore those environmental factors, or dismiss them prematurely as unknowable, in a strategic analysis and in making organizational decisions. Analytical reduction generally can be a useful tool for making decisions; however, it would be a mistake to equate the Isolated Optimization analytical reduction with analytical reduction generally. Isolated Optimization is just one, excessively-parsimonious variant of analytical reduction, and the risks and costs associated with this reductive variant  over the past half-century have proven too high.

Isolated Optimization policies are generally understood to be the product of the best of intentions, including positive intentions expressed toward growth, efficiency, seniority, and diversity. The problem that Isolated Optimization policies create is not bad intentions. The problems they create when they hit the road include insufficient decision-making method, and resulting bad decisions and perverse incentives.

The perverse incentive epidemic we have lived through ranges from the tax reduction movement’s perverse incentivization of labour oversupply and wage and economic stagnation, to excess carceral build up on behalf of rationalization and its perverse incentives to war, concentration camps for immigrant children, and the far-reaching reduction of public, working class life-supports in expensive economies, to financial deregulation and socio-economically perverse incentives resulting from automatic state convertibility responses to financial failures. The empirical record of perverse-incentive spillover resulting from management optimizing “controllable” immediate variables in isolation from their context goes on and on and on. It is unfortunately the management aesthetic that we have known in our era. But we have enough data on the results to respectfully require  managers to adopt the more fully-specified cost-benefit risk-assessment and decision-making methodology that is used when resources are at stake and outcomes matter.

Scenario Analysis: The Benefits

Scenario Analysis by contrast is designed to mitigate the avalanche of unintended consequences of Isolated Optimization decisions. It can be particularly appropriate and beneficial for those institutions and organizations that have insufficiently accounted for their own access to assets, income streams, and benefits relative to that same accounting made by better-organized, for-profit institutions like finance and investment firms, tech and management firms, and management-directed accounting consultants.

By extrapolating the introduction of proposed policy changes to a fully-specified environment of institutional connections and their operational mandates, including and analyzing Best and Worse-case Scenarios within policy proposals, Scenario Analysis allows a decision-making collective to make better decisions–still optimizing controllable variables, but with respect to the context they operate within.

Key benefits include:

  • Future planning – gives public-sector stakeholders a peek into the expected returns and risks involved when planning to shift budgets.
    • The goal of any business venture is to grow–to increase revenue over time, and it is best to use informed calculations when deciding to begin a transfer of public budgets to private businesses.
  • Proactive – University communities can avoid or decrease potential losses that result from uncontrollable factors by being aggressively preventive during worst-case scenarios, by analyzing events and situations that may lead to unfavorable outcomes. As the saying goes, it is better to be proactive than reactive when a problem arises.
    • Worst case scenario example:In 2012 Bain Financial (owners of Dollar Stores, inter alia) famously identified regional (hinterlands) universities as under-tapped resources for investors wanting low-risk publicly-provided assets in their tranches and portfolio mixes. In 2019 the Republican government of Alaska reinterpreted the financial industry’s asset vein interpretation of universities to mean that the public was excessively larding universities with income and assets. In lieu of inter-regional income transfer, the conservative government of Alaska stripped 41% of university funding, targeting 1,300 university workers for layoffs.

      What will happen to 40% of each regional university’s budget over the upcoming years? Will it be diverted to investment portfolios and for-profit management and software sales/data-accumulation firms? Or will it be stripped by governments and converted into regional tax reductions? Can university stakeholders and managers identify strategies alternative to facilitating or  private v. public income and asset mining?

  • Avoiding risk and failure – to avoid poor budgeting, priorities, planning, and policy decisions, scenario analysis allows the university organizations and communities to assess prospects detracting from or fortifying institutional integrity and degrees of freedom. It takes the best and worst probabilities into account so that stakeholders can make an informed decision.
  • Projecting investment returns or losses – the analysis makes use of tools to calculate the values or figures of potential gains or losses of an investment. This gives concrete, measurable data that stakeholders can base the approaches they take for a better outcome.

Case Study: Replacing University Courses with Software Rental

Let’s take the scenario of a project by a regional university’s management to replace first-year university courses with renting educational software from an international for-profit Health and Education Management and Software corporation with national and regional offices. The Isolated Optimization management approach would both design and market the policy as optimizing controllable immediate, organization variables, while black boxing how those variables will perform within the context of the same business environment it institutionalizes. In the Isolated Optimization approach, management would be simply required to present outcomes of this policy that we would expect if the organization and institution were operating in a black box, rather than in a specifiable context.

Rose colored glasses: For example, sans context, the replacement of first-year courses with capital-intensive, reduced-labour costs training software could be expected to a) allow scholars employed by the university to better use their skills, concentrating on university-level education and research (assuming the university has previously established loose income-driven or immigration-driven admissions criteria, flooding first-year courses with seriously-underprepared education-credential consumers). Sans context, and less realistically, the replacement of first-year courses with training software might be hoped to be designed to b) professionally, neutrally, incrementally introduce students of all identities to the university experience and basic work expectations, or perhaps instead to c) efficiently, objectively weed out underprepared education credential consumers after they have contributed income to the university. Sans context, the replacement of first-year courses with capital-intensive, reduced-labour costs training software could be expected to d) allow management to institute a “cost-saving” (substituting capital for labour) managerial strategy recognized by the business community and its legislatures for its contribution to profits or economic control, or e) build strong, portable relationships within international Health and Education management and software market networks. In an Isolated Optimization analysis, the policy change is presented–marketed–as a win-win all-benefits proposition. It lacks a realistic accounting of probable costs in situ. Yet in a specifiable context that such policy change will help institutionalize and operate within, these win-win scenarios can very well fail to pan out, or even produce the perverse incentives that have been a hallmark of Isolated Optimization.

Financial management corporations such as the ubiquitous Bain Capital (owner of Dollar Stores, inter alia) are part of that identifiable context that should be incorporated in analysis and accounted for in decision-making. They have long advised that privatizing multiple functions and assets of regional universities and redirecting regional universities’ public funding into financial instruments channeling organization income into private investors’ income streams will permit investors around the world to expand their opportunities to earn income on their otherwise-underemployed wealth, while the financial advisors themselves enjoy income and profits from managing these privatized assets and innovating the financial instruments that are built upon investor credence that these assets will provide lucrative income to financial firm shareholders.

The perverse incentive characteristic of an era in which a small number of people around the globe own more assets than they can productively employ in wealth-generating production is that commonly–as in the famous case of Lehman Brothers inter alia–the real, amassed assets that global shareholders rely upon to deliver market-busting returns, such as those contained in the regional public university–are simply depleted, the debts owned by financial firms are transferred into the depleted organization, and that underlying productive organization feeding the financial-instrument strategy is allowed to die, stripped of assets and burdened with transferred debt.

Financial advisors identify regional universities in particular as promising sources of private income and debt sinks because global investors are thought to be distant from the effects of regional asset liquidation. The current financial system is awash in moral hazard. As well, dedicated to private wealth, legislatures can be relied upon to let the public resources die rather than restore the public institution by taxing the very investors (possibly beyond the jurisdictional state’s reach, and due to wealth transfer, increasingly wealthier and more powerful than regional actors) whose financial investment earnings were taken out of the public resources, and debts transferred to the public resources, to boost private wealth in the first place. Socially-rational taxation currently violates wealth entitlement. Under current conditions, the perverse incentive cascade can only be nipped in the policy proposal stage, for example with effective barriers to the privatization/expropriation of public budgets.

Fortunately, the management corrective to analysis overlooking these salient contextual factors is available. Organizations can require their management to pursue a more fully-specified analysis, the Scenario Analysis. The key is requiring management modeling to incorporate context research and specification, which management will deploy in crafting Best and Worst-case Scenarios concerning the policy innovation.

If organization members have adequate freedom to hold management to competent research into contextual factors and analysis of Best and Worst-case Scenarios, these scenarios will allow management to make more valid analyses, and will allow the organization to make better decisions preserving member goals and organization integrity, including as that integrity supports regional socio-economic integrity.

The Scenario Analysis Method

Identifying Optimization Parameters

The first step is asking the members of the organization what it is that they value about their work, in this case as scholars. Compiling these answers will inform the organization’s policy optimization parameters, which will be reintroduced after the contextual identification and analysis and the Best and Worse-case Outcomes analysis stages.

Contextual Identification and Analysis – TBD

An organization needs to understand the nature of the market-related risks and opportunities it may face.

  • Each organization faces a different blend of market-related risks and opportunities.
  • The enterprise impacts related to market change may vary significantly depending on the economic sector(s)/sub-sector(s) in which an organization operates.
  • Enterprise impacts may also vary significantly depending on the following:
    • the geographic location of the organization’s value chain (both upstream and downstream).
    • the organization’s assets and nature of operations.
    • the structure and dynamics of the organization’s supply and demand markets.
    • the organization’s customers.
    • the organization’s other key stakeholders.

Best and Worse-case Outcomes Analysis, Prep

There are 3 major categories of considerations organizations face in constructing scenarios and conducting scenario analysis: parameters/assumptions, analytical choices, and impacts.

Parameters/Assumptions

Discount rate – what discount rate does the organization apply to discount future value?, see Best-case/Worst-case Scenarios, below.

Labour & technology commodity prices – what assumptions are made about how labour v. technology prices would develop over time, including economic incentives and disincentives to the in-house or outsourced development and maintenance of the skilled v. deskilled or unskilled university labour force, and multiplier effects and their social and geographic distribution? How does the distribution of in-house v. outsourced skilled v. unskilled labour impact socio-economic inequality and attendant political shifts recursively impacting university funding? How does the distribution of multiplier effects impact socio-economic inequality and attendant political shifts recursively impacting university funding?

As technology inputs allow private for-profit companies to monopolize data on stratified consumer-products (students and their households) over time, how will private data pricing impact the cost structure, to the university, to the public financers, and to its consumer-products and their end-users, of the education commodity?

In the university enterprise, as with online media, the consumers are also the product. As management and technology allow higher-education and credentialing inputs to be standardized, optimized for efficiency, and cheapened, what conclusions does the organization draw about the development over time of quality and market prices for the student consumer-product outputs of public financing, private financing, labour, and technology? How might optimizing efficiency of production in regional universities, v. flagship national universities, impact the consumer-product’s capacity to penetrate the higher-value labour markets increasingly concentrated in metropoles in a period of declining economic mobility, or contribute to stagnation or exceptional economic dynamism in regional networks?

Work demand and mix – what would be the resulting total work demand and work mix across different sources of primary work (labour, technology)? How does this develop over time assuming supply/end-use efficiency improvements? What factors are used for work conversion efficiencies of each source category and for end-use efficiency in each category over time?

Macro-economic Variables – what public financing rate, consumer-financing rate, employment rate, and other economic variables are used?

Demographic variables – what assumptions are made about population growth, migration, labour mobility and its distribution, economic mobility, socio-economic network development, and socio-economic inequality?

Institutional, social and economic distribution of benefits and costs – to what extent are distributions of income and assets, efficiency (type specified) gains and losses, sovereignty and strategic degrees of freedom gains and losses, clean energy transition, and ecologically-driven regional physical changes incorporated into scenarios, priorities and planning?

Geographical tailoring of transition impacts – what assumptions does the organization make about potential differences in input and output parameters across regions, countries, asset locations, and markets?

Technology – does the organization make assumptions about the development of performance/cost and resulting levels of deployment over time of various key supply and demand-side technologies (e.g. education and research labour, and technologies in interested sectors including financial, managerial, data accumulation, and patent rentiers)?

Policy – what are assumptions about the strength of different private-public policy coalitions and signals, and their development over time and across jurisdictions (e.g. provincial university funding, university managerial independence, collective bargaining and organized labour, Academic Freedom, Collegial Governance; subsidies for technology; subsidies for construction; marketing budgets; accounting budgets; Black Budgets; managerial and other administrative budgets; the university as conduit for increasing the public funding of international private marketing, management, education services, social services, immigration services, and financial services providers). What can we assume about the upcoming likelihood of private-public growth political parties v. anti-public political parties and governments?

Expropriation sensitivity assumptions – assumptions of privatization increase v. taxation stagnation or decrease; increased demand by financial, technology, and managerial firms for income streams, public access; assumptions about university consolidation in Canada v. spinning off regional universities or their parts into online course credential sales?

Analytical Choices

Scenarios – what scenarios does the organization use for transition impact analysis and which sources are used to assess physical impact both for central/base case and for sensitivity analyses?

Quantitative vs. qualitative or “directional” – is the scenario exercise fully quantitative or a mix of quantitative and qualitative?

Timing – how does the organization consider timing of implications under scenarios e.g. is this considered at a decadal level 2020; 2030; 2040; 2050

Scope of application – is the analysis applied to the whole value chain (inputs, operations and markets), or just direct effects on specific organization units / operations?

Financial, tech, and managerial models/data sets – which models and data sets support the assessment of privatization-related risks?

Risks to scholarship, schools, and the university – when assessing market risks, which specific risks have been included, including tje severity of their probable impact? To what extent has the organization assessed the impact to its portfolio (e.g. largest assets, most vulnerable assets) and to what extent have risks been incorporated in future organization strategy?

To what extent has the impact on prices and availability in the whole value chain been considered, including knock-on effects from suppliers, infrastructure, and access to consumers?

Enterprise Impacts/Effects

Earnings – what conclusions does the organization draw about impact on earnings and how does it express that impact (e.g. as EBITDA, EBITDA margins, EBITDA contribution, dividends)?

Costs – what conclusions does the organization draw about the implications for its operating/production costs and their development over time?

Revenues – what conclusions does the organization draw about the implications for the revenues from its key commodities/ products/ services and their development over time?

Assets – what are the implications for asset values of various scenarios?

Capital Allocation/ investments – what are the implications for capex and other investments?

Timing – what conclusions does the organization draw about development of costs, revenues and earnings across time (e.g. 5/10/20 year)?

Responses – what information does the organization provide in relation to potential impacts (e.g. intended changes to capital expenditure plans, changes to portfolio through acquisitions and divestments, retirement of assets, entry into new markets, development of new capabilities etc.)?

Enterprise Interruption due to physical impacts – what is the organization’s conclusion about its potential enterprise interruption/productivity loss due to market impacts– both direct effects on the organization’s own assets and indirect effects of supply chain/product delivery.

 

Best case-Worst case Scenarios

When performing the analysis, managers and executives at a university, school or department will generate different future states of the university, higher education, and the economy. These future states will form discrete scenarios that include assumptions about supplier business plans, product prices, student-consumer data, operating costs, politics and public funding, and other drivers of the  enterprise.

Managers typically start with 3 basic scenarios:

  • Base case scenario – this is the average scenario based on management assumptions.
    • Note: When calculating the net present value, the rates most likely to be used are the discount rate, or the cash flow growth rate.
  • Worst case scenario – considers the most serious or severe outcome that may happen in a given situation.
    • Note: When calculating the net present value, one would take the highest possible discount rate and subtract the possible cash flow growth rate.
  • Best case scenario – this is the ideal projected scenario, and is almost always assumed by management to market and institute their pre-existing preferences.
    • Note: When calculating the net present value, use the least possible discount rate, highest possible growth rate, or lowest possible tax rate.

 

Preventing Garbage In, Garbage Out: Distributed Power in Organizations

While a significant improvement on Isolated Optimization, Scenario Analysis is not immune to GIGO–Garbage In, Garbage Out hazard. Though we would like to believe that all managers are competent at identifying and analyzing environmental factors and their likely interactions with policy, it also remains that managers can often have seriously-compromised incentive to constructing effective Scenario Analyses.

This is not just because Scenario Analysis requires more work of managers, but because the same firms with a business model tapping into public-organization budgets standardly also provide incentivizing career-building, income-enhancing, and network opportunities to helpful agents within the target organization. This business model has been particularly common within sales to the public sector, which labor market is subject to legislatively-imposed income compression, stagnation, and in the course of anti-public campaigns, status degradation. In fact, recognition of this standard business model–selling both products to organizations and managerial job opportunities to helpful agents within those organizations– should be built into the Scenario Analysis, as the business model itself imposes environmental costs upon the organization.


It is easy to identify whether this business model is an environmental factor: Does the firm selling the product also support helpers’ career advancement within customer organizations, or, more ostentatiously, hire helpful agents from within client organizations? Is the for-profit goods or service provider also a management or consulting firm? Huron Consulting Group is an example of such a firm (see appendix), advertising to cooperative health care and university managers and purchasers career-mobility opportunities in its own international management and sales network expansion.


An important cost of this business model to be analyzed in decisions to adopt their products, to transfer public funding to the private for-profit corporation, is that organization members serving as agents of private firm product adoption are opening exclusively for themselves a wider field of credible employment opportunities, an advantage in employment negotiations that can allow them to command a larger share of organizational resources at coworkers’ expense. These employment opportunities may also engage moral hazard by incentivizing predatory, organization-depleting decisions from which the facilitating agent is uniquely shielded by virtue of their employment mobility through their relationship with the management and product sales firm.

The integrity of the cost-benefit analysis requires that managers not be allowed to exclude this prevalent contemporary context from analysis, and regardless of whether organization intermediaries admit an intention to take advantage of perks on offer, no policy change proposal should be allowed to proceed until such cost-benefit distribution factors are incorporated in the Scenario Analysis and Best- and Worst-case Scenarios. After all, even respected and well-remunerated professionals like medical doctors have been known to overprescribe medications under pharmaceutical rep influence.

The safeguard against disincentivized, half-hearted, ineffective Scenario Analysis is an organizational structure of distributed power, wherein organization members have the capacity to push managers for analytical improvements and policy options based on fully-specified analysis.

This is also to point out another common contextual factor today: Because hierarchical decision making undermines the conditions required for effective, fully-specified Scenario Analysis, and so permits greater opportunities for predatory decision-making capture, interested corporations, such as financial, technology, and management-consultant firms, have an especial, compelling interest in supporting hierarchical decision making in the organizations whose income and assets they target, as Bain Capital has also indicated. Therefore, in universities, active Collegial Governance is an institution essential to fully-capacitated policy analysis and sound decision making.

 

References

Bain Capital. 2012. “The Financially Sustainable University.” https://www.bain.com/insights/financially-sustainable-university/

Corporate Finance Institute. “Scenario Analysis.” https://corporatefinanceinstitute.com/resources/knowledge/modeling/scenario-analysis/

Kishita et al. 2016. “Scenario Analysis.” https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/earth-and-planetary-sciences/scenario-analysis

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

TCFD. “The Use of Scenario Analysis in Disclosure of Climate-related Risks and Opportunities.” https://www.tcfdhub.org/home/scenario-analysis

 

Appendix: Tech Sales-Driven Management Goals, Stage One

The following images summarize institutional optimizations that for-profit management and tech sales corporations are geared to sell to universities via their managers. Recall also that most tech sales firms have a less-public, longer-term business plan to eventually monopolize and monetize the data (eg. on consumer-products) that they will gain through organizations adopting their technology; this typical, staged business strategy in the present era of private property law-making can create and lock in future increased–constraining and possibly prohibitive–costs for the technology-adopting (university) organization and its (student) consumer-product base.

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Clarifying Social Reproduction Feminism: Not Liberal, Not Idealist, It’s Socialist and Historical-materialist

The essay, “Traveling in the Wrong Direction” by British political philosopher Lorna Findlayson is required reading for socialist feminists. The first half is a brilliantly-written take-down of liberal feminism. The second half wobbles around, and reveals something very interesting, an analytical deficit in an otherwise powerful analysis:  A philosophical-Marxist (as opposed to political-Marxist) tendency to analyze capitalism as THE ruling class mode does not survey history, really take women’s socio-material global experience seriously, and does not consider that exploitative capitalism is a competitive option, always reliant on mass expropriation, in the arsenal of rivalristic regional ruling class strategy. Findlayson posits social reproduction strikes as an *alternative* to organized industrial action.

Findlayson needs some Jane McAlevey correction. Greta Thunberg’s individual action, the Climate School Strike, is not industrial action, and it is not the sole answer. But, as she indicates, it is a good form of collective action for a young person on the autism spectrum.

Findlayson is trying to equate social reproduction socialist-feminism with liberal feminism, in terms of strategic lameness and misdirection. But to pursue this reduction, she doesn’t see the strategic problem that is visible today: How do you counter a rivalristic, regional ruling class strategy that has always juggled a little bit of exploitation with a lot of expropriation?

In the late 19th century, industrial action, particularly in steel production, was effective because Western economies leaned on steel production at that time (Lawrence 2014).  At their most effective, industrial action was in truth collective action across working class communities. We just don’t see it because our delegated capitalist imaginations only recognize the exploited male labor, and so we’re gender blind.

Then there’s the issue: Western economies have moved on from the industrializing era. What does this mean for industrial action, or for smallholder political interests and strategy in regions that have been capturing global wealth?

Further, over the long haul, we have seen that capitalism cannot be dismantled simply by disrupting key nodes of exploitation, though conceived more broadly as building working-class communicative and egalitarian-cooperative capacity (by capitalist definition, disruptive; see also McAlevey 2016 for description), union-community action needs to be organized again–recognizing that militarization and policing is funded precisely to crush that organization. (Left Critics of the Left always uncannily forget about or black-box the massive repressive apparatus into which much of global wealth, energy, and human capacity is poured. This tradition of “Critical”/competitive kvetching (firing circle) Left “forgetting” always reads like a ritual that might easily be fanned by cops.)

By cohering a hierarchical economic alliance through selective exploitation, regional capitalists sell finance as a vehicle for expropriation, and they enjoin class-solidaristic, shifting-frenemy rivalries with each other. But the properly-capitalist exploitative mode is plodding as well as fungible and optional where there are other strategies–imperial war, for example–of pursuing elite rivalries for domination. Where there are other strategies is everywhere, all the time, because once you make money off of commodity production, you plunge it into higher-profit expropriative and rentier activities to keep your advantage and entitlements (See Pistor 2019, Piketty 2013). Exploitation and commodity production are a tool for organizing economy, society, and states under globalizing capitalist elites, and underwriting elite power expansion. Once the organization and underwriting have been accomplished, the real elite Power Resources are in taking, not making.

Industrial action cannot itself dismantle capitalism not only because capitalists possess the surveillance technology, the legal strategists, the economist marketeers and whips, the state, and layers of militarized police (as Adam Smith observed in 1776), not only because it’s far easier for less-numerous, habitually, socially class-solidaristic capitalists than workers to organize across space and scale, along with their supportive comprador class of lawyers and managers (as Adam Smith again observed in 1776, was demonstrated in the early 20th century strikes, and was analyzed by Bill Domhoff over his career), and not only because they possess the wealth to outlast resource-poor worker revolt, but also because erstwhile capitalists possess the economic degrees of freedom to shift to rents, extraction, and expropriation.

If workers and other smallholders in the West can be organized for internationalism, to solidaristically support Chinese and Indian worker revolt, that may well cause enough disruption to produce change, including some lessening of elite confidence. But we have learned that it will not be enough to direct change or maintain an egalitarian direction. Disruption is not the same as strategy, full human coordination capacity. We already have had neoliberalism producing change. What we need is to build the capacity to direct change strategically upon a temporary elite loss of confidence that industrial action could achieve, aiming to build up redistributive incentives. A key to collective agential change is agile, multipronged strategic capacity. Social Reproduction feminists are in one of the best positions to think strategically in this context, as I have indicated previously (Fridell 2017).

Socialist Social Reproduction feminism still has plenty of room for development, but it has been forwarded by some of the most powerful analysts of both logical structure and empirical variation, and, compatible with historically- and regionally-sensitive Political Marxism (per Meiksins-Wood), it holds out the promise of clarifying better anticapitalist strategy than is possible via idealist-discursive philosophy, including idealist-philosophical Marxism.

As Bourdieu suggested, idealist philosophy’s contribution to an egaliberte justice telos arrives when those philosophers turn their decisionist- genealogical and discursive-deconstructionist approaches on their own discipline…or even on conservative-liberal law and mainstream economics, if they cannot bear to critically analyze their own methods and knowledge’s structure and (given the encompassing historical context that philsophers are not interested in specifying) its effects. The neoliberal era is a long, conservatizing period in which junior managers and marketeers have aestheticized managing the variables they can control (for philosophers–critiquing equality-justice discursive logics), bereft of anything like Scenario Analysis–analyzing the optimal and worst case scenarios of how the products of that management interact with adjoining and governing incentives. For some reason in this conservatizing period, only financial managers have been allowed to assess management’s and products’ interactions with context.

To accomplish better socialist strategy, Social Reproduction feminism advances not idealist philosophy, but materialist philosophy. Historicist, socialist-feminist Social Reproduction scholarship and praxis, as well as new feminist indigenous theory, have reconstructed philosophical materialism as an egalitarian, internationalist form of cosmopolitanism supporting re-organization.

 

Bibliography

Benner, Erica. 2018 (1995). Really-existing Nationalisms. Verso.

Bezanson, K. and M. Luxton, eds. 2006. Social reproduction: Feminist political economy challenges neoliberalism. McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Bhattacharya, T., ed. 2017. Social Reproduction Theory: Remapping Class, Recentering Oppression. Pluto.

Federici, Silvia. 2018. Re-enchanting the World: Feminism and the Politics of the Commons. Pm Pr.

Federici, Silvia. 2004. Caliban and the Witch: Women, The Body, and Primitive Accumulation. Autonomedia.

Finlayson, Lorna. 2019. “Traveling in the Wrong Direction.” London Review of Books

Finlayson, Lorna. 2015. The Political is Political: Conformity and the Illusion of Dissent in Contemporary Political Philosophy.

Fraser, Nancy. 2017. “Roepke Lecture in Economic Geography— From Exploitation to Expropriation: Historic Geographies of Racialized Capitalism.” Economic Geography 94(1): 1–17.

Fraser, Nancy. 2013. Fortunes of feminism.

Fraser, Nancy and Axel Honneth. 2003. Redistribution or Recognition?

Fraser, Nancy and Linda Gordon. 1994. “Dependency Demystified: Inscriptions of Power in a Keyword of the Welfare State.” Social Politics 1(1): 4-31.

Fraser, Nancy and Linda Gordon. 1992. “Contract vs. Charity: Why Is There No Social Citizenship in the United States?” Socialist Review 22(3): 45-67.

Fridell, Mara. 2017. “The Social-Democratic Small-State Strategy and Immigration: Sweden in the 21st Century.” World Review of Political Economy. Vol. 8, No. 3, Small States in the Multi-polar World (Fall 2017), pp. 390-415.

Kollontai, Alexandra. 1916. Society and Motherhood.

Lawrence, Andrew G. 2014. Employer and Worker Collective Action: A Comparatie Study of Germany, South Africa, and the United States. New York: Cambridge University Press.

McAlevey, Jane. 2016. No shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age.

Meiksins-Wood, Ellen. 2014. “Capitalism’s Gravediggers.” Jacobin, December 5.

Pistor, Katharina. 2019. The Code of Capital: How the Law Creates Wealth and Inequality.

 

Roaming Rights Now!

Over the last couple of years there have been books and bills introduced to establish Roaming Right in Anglo-American jurisdictions. Roaming Rights were denied in the colonies on the grounds that indigenous people had to be cleared from the land to make way for colonial extraction. As contested as they were and are, Roaming Rights were established for indigenous populations in treaties between colonial and indigenous governments, however.

The racist, colonial denial of universal Roaming Right in Anglo-American law produces an unjust conflation between private land required for living, such as a house, a yard, and a garden, and mass-acreage land privately owned, for example in land speculation, for the accumulation of social power over other citizens, rival rentier capitalists, and global markets. In Marxist terms, this (im)moral conflation reflects the power-blind liberal conflation of capitalist use value–profit–with general use values, which legitimates sovereign-consumer and consumer-market choice arguments, private monopoly and collusion, corporate deregulation, inequality, and general capitalist Best of All Possible Worlds assumption/argumentation. Under this ruling and codified conceptual conflation, even homes have been used in apartheid settler societies not for shelter (use value), a necessary minimal condition of health, enjoyment and development, but as assets (capital) permitting Whites and global economic victors to claim intergenerational wealth over, power over, and capacity to exclude Blacks and smallholders.

This conceptual blindness is the vehicle through which inequality produces inegalitarianism, despite liberalism’s formal subscription to the former and proscription of the latter. While it brings liberalism to coalesce with conservatism, liberalism’s formal separation of inequality and inegalitarianism keeps liberalism able to co-opt the exhausted portions of its egalitarian opposition, and better able to maintain law; in this way, while it’s less immediately appealing than conservative exceptionalism, liberalism can ultimately outcompete raw conservatism, devoted to inequality, inegalitarianism, and exceptionalism. Or, liberalism and conservatism together create a system-stabilizing oscillation of strategies that pragmatists and true-believers alike can insert themselves into.

Because of this lack of conceptual distinction, for a long time, the incapacity to recognize a public interest in cross-population, sustainable use of land and water supported an inegalitarian elite-settler coalition dedicated to absolute, exclusive private property in liberal societies. This institutionalized blindness to public interest, this inegalitarianism can be observed every day in financial apartheid advertisements for gated rural and suburban property and Poor Door urban real estate property, in excluding curtains and punitive air travel policies corralling most travelers, and in the enduring public goods and services poverty of historical slavery counties. It sustains a socialized inability to distinguish depletion activities on land and water from sustainable activities. This apartheid-society conceptual incapacity was useful for establishing colonies as premier global sites of unfettered resource extraction and unfree labor exploitation and expropriation.

Restoring Collective-action Capacity and Freedom in Rural Tributaries

In the latter-day context of global monopoly capitalism, with its institutionalized wealth cores and tributary peripheries, these conceptual incapacities, codified in law, strongly undermine the freedom and reproductive capacity of non-elite, smallholder settlers. It is another case where in the multi-generational run, non-elite settlers would have been better off in coalition with peasantified indigenous people and enslaved workers than serving as grunts for elite colonial interests, under the hope that their own patrimony would be protected, not by a politically- and socially-constructed status such as citizenship, but by a magical, mythical identity conferred only at elite convenience–White Ownership.

To start off with, as discussed above, smallholders’ interests–in securing living space and life enjoyment in balance with others–are not reducible to or stably, largely compatible with mass-property owning rentier-capitalists’ interests in mining wealth for the exclusive, advantageous accumulation of social power and control over other citizens, over rival rentier capitalists, and over global markets. Whiteness politics are the result of a naive, excessive belief in the munificence and durability of economic elites’ instrumentalist marketing campaigns. But as the recent mass primitive accumulation of New Zealand, the Canadian West, and particularly the US West demonstrate, even Christian Texan billionaires–raised as Masters of Whiteness sacralization and politics–will not maintain White coalition in all those places where non-Whites have already been cleared from the land (Turkewitz 2019). If you cannot count on even Evangelical Texas oil-extractionist billionaire patriarchs for White protection, do you think it’s a good social contract option for you to buy into?

As a mystical moral exclusion, a promise of inclusion in an exclusive coalition with ruthless, teeth-baring elites, the White political construction was always designed to be land-owning elites’ paw of control over a traumatized, fearful population, for elites’ own political benefit, if variably distributing lesser resources to a malleable “White” “police” force. The broad Whiteness elite-“police” coalition is easily scrapped–in England, but just as well in the militarized, surveillance-embedded settler colonies–in favor of the narrower elite-police employer relationship in Nightwatchman societies. Today’s capital-intensive, tech-addled Nightwatchman policing relationship with exclusive, absolute, mass private property severely curtails non-elite freedom and enjoyment–from snowmobiling to fishing to hunting, to cross country skiing, mushroom gathering, forest bathing, walking, clean-water swimming, stargazing, fresh air, and so on–outside of capitalism’s expensive urban metropole commodity market.

Roaming Right & Freedom of Movement, Right of the “Starving” Man in an Excluding, Privatized World Economy

In Europe, Roaming Rights were codified in law in the mid-20th century (In England, they were codified in liberal law in 2001). They distinguish the exclusionary space needed for living–the yard, garden, house, barn, garage–from the larger, decommodified space required for people, the public, to both modestly supplement private life and enjoy sustainable use of the political-territory’s land: hiking, fishing, swimming, boating, horse watering, berry gathering, and camping rights, etc. Roaming Rights assume that people are living, reproducing, developing Earthlings, and therefore the public needs to traverse–move freely–and enjoy life in a social, balancing, non-depleting manner. This assumption is not shared by property right law, built for perpetual conquering (See the influential, founding formulations of property right and its underlying assumptions, forwarded by liberal-conservative theorists including Hobbes, Grotius, and Burke’s later reconciliation with capitalist liberalism, etc.). Roaming Right corrects property right and its antihuman excesses.

Organizing for Roaming Rights is important in the settler colonies today because inequality has grown to the point where settlers are financially excluded from global rentier capitalism’s metropoles, while at the same time they are losing access to the dispersed resources required to live and enjoy life in the tributary regions. In this context, tributary settler-indigenous coalition is vital. After all, and all pretty mystifications aside, how are indigenous people made? Indigenous people are not another, animal-like species or colorful otherworldly visitation, as political discourse has predominantly constructed them. Whatever their history and culture, the indigenous have been repeatedly constructed, and will be made out of the raw material of people again, by imperialists prohibiting indigenous people’s free movement and access to the necessities and enjoyment of life outside of inaccessible, commodified, commercial cities. Race is network boundary construction, and it’s not been as tight or class-distinguishing a boundary as wealth accumulators prefer. Today’s FIRE (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate industry) and surveillance and military tech do the exact same function, tighter.

Every capitalist elite is afraid of working class settlers and smallholders recognizing that they can be made indigenous or enslaved. To some extent this is an honest, liberal fear, because many smallholding settlers have, with but a little elite threat/encouragement, moved from that sociological, historical realization to “Better you than me” imperial warfare against indigenized people, the enslaved, and descendents thereof (See Wilson 1976).

But that honest fear has always been in coalition with the much more self-interested elite fear that other smallholding settlers will coalesce politically with the indigenized, the enslaved, and their descendants. By suppressing non-elite organic intellectuals, we have hardly come to terms with this liberal-conservative elite coalition, the imperial “civilized” bloc, and its ravaging effects.

Instead, apartheid society is fed a nonstop stream of conservative and liberal high and low cultural enforcement, cementing us apart along the difference-justice telos: Whites must know only their unjust, isolated historical place. Reified, stylized, Black positionality, Black Exceptionalism will carry difference justice (as that is reduced to liberal Dem Party political rentier strategy). In the UK, this quasi-historical (permitting recognition of heritage, but prohibiting recognition of ongoing social construction, social reproduction) cultural pseudo-speciation is further reinforced through regional class distinctions.

The Primitive Accumulation of the US West in the 21st Century

From Turkewitz 2019: “In the last decade, private land in the United States has become increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few. Today, just 100 families own about 42 million acres across the country, a 65,000-square-mile expanse, according to the Land Report, a magazine that tracks large purchases. Researchers at the magazine have found that the amount of land owned by those 100 families has jumped 50 percent since 2007.”

The fracking-lord Wilks brothers “who now own some 700,000 acres across several states, have become a symbol of the out-of-touch owner. In Idaho, as their property has expanded, the brothers have shuttered trails and hired armed guards to patrol their acres, blocking and stymying access not only to their private property, but also to some publicly owned areas…The Wilks brothers see what they are doing as a duty. God had given them much, Justin said. In return, he said, “we feel that we have a responsibility to the land.”

“Gates with “private property” signs were going up across the region. In some places, the Wilkses’ road closings were legal. In other cases, it wasn’t clear. Road law is a tangled knot, and Boise County had little money to grapple with it in court. So the gates stayed up.

…The Wilks family hired a lobbyist to push for a law that would stiffen penalties for trespass…

The problem, said Mr. Horting, “is not the fact that they own the property. It’s that they’ve cut off public roads.”

“We’re being bullied,” he added. “We can’t compete and they know it” (Turkewitz 2019).

As well, financial institutions started dispensing with land titling a few years ago, so in the post-2007 property grab, claims on property are going to fall to might rather than right. It’s a new mass primitive accumulation offensive.

Climate Crisis, Unproductive Capital, & Elite Rentier Strategy

While they let their Republican henchmen lull the peasantry with squeals of “No climate crisis” for decades, billionaire rentier capitalists shifted quietly into land-capturing overdrive.

“Brokers say the new arrivals are driven in part by a desire to invest in natural assets while they are still abundant, particularly amid a fear of economic, political and climate volatility.

‘There is a tremendous underground, not-so-subtle awareness from people who realize that resources are getting scarcer and scarcer,’ said Bernard Uechtritz, a real estate adviser” (Turkewitz 2019).

The Persistent Role of Moralism in Expropriation

Moving into extractive fracking from a Texas religious franchise, the Wilks Bros provide a strong example of how extractivism and expropriation is buttressed by moralism.

While buying political and legal cover, they continually assert that their antisocial land speculation offensive is mandated by God, sacralizing their self-interested conflation of smallholder living space with their own, exclusionary mass capture of land.

Expropriative, Gilded-Age Restoration: Separating Out Global Rentier Capitalists’ Interests from Smallholder Interests

TBD

The Urbanite’s Interest in Roaming Right

Why would an urbanite care about Roaming Right? After all, urbanites are precisely the people who have forfeited Roaming Right in favor of obtaining all their life reproduction needs and enjoyment through the concentrated commodity market of the city, and by proximity to self-interested elite infrastructure. As Mike Davis and Cedric Johnson (2019) clarify, the cosmopolitan eschews the public. Relatedly, the condition of inequality-restoration urbanity, the engine of global monopoly capitalism, is the denial of capitalism’s reproductive dependence upon its sea of expropriation. A city is built on legalized, overlapping claims on future wealth creation, but the ingredients to that wealth creation are not exclusively to be found in the city.

Urban intellectuals and social workers recognize that denial extremely partially, as “gentrification.” Those who cannot live on 100% commodified life, the poor, are removed out of sight from the metropole. Yet at the same time, within and across borders, the tributary countryside is enclosed by global billionaires, and the people in that periphery are shoved to the smallholding margins, left without wealth, without access to fully-commodified life (which affordability, which wage-consumption urban economy depends on rural decommodifications, cheap inputs), or access to non-commodified life reproduction or enjoyment. They are expelled, set marching, set reeling. We admire how they’ve chosen us when they alight amongst us to serve us. Or we demand to speak to the manager. As in past Primitive Accumulation offensives, itinerancy is criminalized, and imperial militarization and an international for-profit carceral industry rages like a climate-crisis Firenado.

In this context, wouldn’t it be more natural, an efficient division of political labor, for urbanites to focus on getting Democrats (or Liberals or NDP) elected to office? Meanwhile urbanites can wait for deprived, low-density rural populations to organize their own solution to their desperate lives. After all, in those moments when those rural folks were organized and slightly-patronized by big owners (See Wilson 1976), they should have seen the limits of the inequality coalition…like wage-earning urbanites do? Something seems to be impeding organization. Perhaps, just perhaps, it’s that massive surveillance, policing, and carceral apparatus (Johnson 2019).

Cities depend on tributaries for most of the raw materials of life bought on the urban market. As well, they depend on using the countryside as an urban waste sink. A pervasive lack of recognition of the non-autonomy of the city, urban commodity fetishism, including imagining the enjoyments–museums, libraries, bars and restaurants, dance venues, art galleries, theatres, orchestras, ballet troupes, poetry nights, etc.–as the sui generis private-collective property of the city, the lack of  conceptualization of how the cheap raw-material market goods come to appear in the city and how wastes disappear from the city, leads to pervasive political mis-analysis.

If cosmopolitans around the world want to stop being ruled by Donald Trump and like politicians, if they want to enjoy the free expression of their cosmopolitan merit, they need to use their geographic concentration as an organization asset to break down the marginalization, the peasantification of the countryside domestic and international, the remnant alignment between rural -tributary smallholders and global rentier capitalists–particularly in an unfree time in which those rentier capitalists are aggressively excluding rural settlers from enjoyable rural life and yet inequality, including tight metropole police exclusion of indigents, prohibits mass rural-urban mobility.

museum display

Artwork by Fernando Garcia-Dory & Amy Franceschini

As beholden as their enjoyment and their identities are to FIRE (Finance Insurance Real Estate capital) patronage and cheap commodity inputs and waste sinks, urbanites need to organize, to reconstruct a smallholder Red-Green alliance traversing the urban-rural divide, and taming private property right, as Swedes did at the turn of the Twentieth Century to establish an effective, semi-independent social democracy. Roaming Right is a great coalition vehicle for such a democratic realignment and legal revolution. City people should use their structurally-superior communication and organization capacity to reach out and help rural people–across race and gender–to secure–but not mine–the non-commodified world they need to live and enjoy themselves, through universal Roaming Right. Recognizing that the past half century of rural expulsions transcends national boundaries, Red-green political coalition could be the “close to home” foundation of internationalist capacity, rather than mere consumption cosmopolitanism.

 

You Are What You Enjoy: Identity, Alienation, & Inegalitarianism in Capitalism

TBD

 

Bibliography

 

Greens of British Columbia. 2017. “Weaver introduces Right to Roam Act.”

Ilgunas, Ken. 2018. This land is our land: How we lost the right to roam and how to take it. Plume Press.

Johnson, Cedric. 2019. “Black political life and the Blue Lives Matter Presidency.” Jacobin, February 17.

Turkewitz, J. 2019. “Who gets to own the West?The New York Times, June 22.

Wikipedia. “Freedom to Roam.”

Wilson, William Julius. 1976. “Class conflict and segregation in the Postbellum South.” Pacific Sociological Review 19 (4): 431-446.

Controlling Asia by installing and enforcing Middle East tyranny

From Tom Stevenson’s May 2019 LRB review of David Wearing’s Angloarabia (2018):

The Middle Eastern Tyrannies Serve to Allow Anglo-America to Control Europe and Asia

Starting in the late 18th century, Britain installed satraps in the Middle East. Installing and working primarily with the Saud family as its proxy, Britain developed these satraps into monarchical family dictatorships serving as a colonial, geographical flying buttress to the British Empire. What the Middle East primarily offers to empire is great supplies of particularly cheap and high-quality oil, which continental Europe and Asia are dependent upon. The Anglo-Americans that installed and enforce the ruling Middle East tyrannies are strategically independent of Middle Eastern oil. By installing and enforcing a proxy tyranny in Middle Eastern countries, the Anglo-America wing of the Atlantic ruling class quietly holds a knife over the  throats of continental Europe and Asia. Relations between Middle East tyrants and the US and UK are secondarily girded with the re-circulation of oil wealth through arms sales, finance, and urban real estate. Moreover, the Middle East ruling class is reproduced through the British military college Sandhurst.

The Costs of Middle Eastern Colonialism

The most terrible, primary cost of of the US and UK maintaining the Middle Eastern  tyrannies is to the 400 million nonelites in the Middle East, from Palestinians to the local population and imported Egyptian and South Asian workers all forbidden democracy, enslaved, surveilled, imprisoned, tortured, and finally, continuously disrupted, traumatized, and dislocated, as the massive US military and the Saudi tyrannies that purchase US, UK, and French arms bombard these populations to maintain absolute control of that region and the leverage it confers over Asia and continental Europe. The Middle Eastern dictatorships draw in fresh supplies of hapless labor from overpopulated Asia and North Africa, which workers are maltreated and soon bombed around the Middle East and North Africa, and onto Europe and the Anglo-American settler states. 11.4 million refugees circulated within the Middle East in 2017, as the global (internally-displaced and cross-regional) refugee population soared in recent years above WWII records to over 65 million disrupted, traumatized, and displaced people (UNHCR 2019).

It is important to understand that these migrant laborers are the wretched unprotected of the Earth. As a recent study by has shown, countries that rely on migrant remittances are more tyrannical rather than less (TBD).

A second cost with far-reaching antidemocratic implications is the reverse control, beyond support, that the Saudi dictators exert over their colonial patrons, as the huge profits of oil secured by the absolute control provided courtesy of the American military sloshes around within the colonial relationship. The Middle Eastern tyrants’ piling wealth is used to prop Anglo-America financially, with anti-democratic results: 1) Chicago darling Monica Prasad tells a sweet, mendacious story of financial innocence, starring Nixon defying the French, taking the dollar off gold, and finding to his “surprise” that the financiers of the world rushed in with cash to support the US as the global financial center. The truth is that financiers had been organizing to deregulate finance from the moment FDR regulated it (Fridell & Hudson 2010), and they accomplished deregulation quickly in Britain (Blyth 2002), which served as global finance’s power base. Defying France wasn’t completely a Nixonian feat of capitalist solidarity and faith, the dollar backed by aught but heroic, immaterial financial speculation. While Nixon was being cut out of power in 1974, US treasury secretary William Simon arranged with the Sauds for the Middle Eastern tyrannies to back the US dollar with their all-too-materially-based oil revenues (Spiro, David. 1999).

Saudi support accomplished a lot, a lot on behalf of finance and military. It enabled the US to continue military expansion, and provided the additional independence to Wall Street-City of London finance it needed to maintain inflation as capital strike and liquidate and privatize the working-class accountable state in the US and UK. Backing the US dollar with Middle East oil permitted the reversal of democratic gains in the US and UK, enabling neoliberalization as the conservatization of liberalism as well as the public-private Nightwatchman State militarization of the US and UK. Swiftly deprived of state institutions supporting working class organization and democratic citizenship, the US and UK working classes were converted from an indirect brake on finance and war into a militarized police force topped by a management class, all with no capacity for independent organization. 2) The Middle Eastern tyrants ostentatiously finance the City of London as a global elite real estate holding, an ever-more gilded hole in which to hoard rents far away from the excluded 99% of humanity. This has become a decadent urban model throughout the world, proliferating not just inequality and inegalitarianism, but housing and transportation poverty as well. 3) When the unregulated Anglo banks were self-aggrandizing, self-deluding, and profligate in the 21st century, it was the Middle Eastern tyrants that bailed them out and allowed them (including Barclays) to avoid economists’ beloved moral hazard reckoning. The Middle Eastern tyrants make Too Big to Fail work. The Middle Eastern tyrants maintain the lack of regulation over Anglo-American finance. The significant secondary costs of Middle East colonialism accrue to core capitalism’s vast smallholding class and to democracy.

Is the Middle Eastern Tyranny Indispensable?

The one flaw of Stevenson’s account is the notion that the primary, humanitarian cost (with its immigration impacts) could be reversed if only the US encouraged Britain’s satraps to behave more kindly. Stevenson lays the blame for this great, rolling imperial disaster squarely on the shoulders of the US, on account of the US’s general barbarism and ignorance. Would that the British could manage everything absolutely, surely they would restore a kinder, gentler colonialism. Though the Anglo ruling class didn’t maintain a kinder, gentler colonialism from the late 18th century up to 1943, when the US joined Britain in bankrolling the Saud’s war on the Gulf, nor up to 1971 when Britain was no longer able to cover the costs of the Gulf military protection racket and transferred the military economy over to the US. Invoking the beloved liberal political-science phantasm of socially-rational state bureaucrats (This may be the sensitive Anglo elite v. US barbarian contrast that liberals and Anglos are imagining as the norm.), perhaps Stevenson has in mind that the UK could finally volunteer to be the benevolent dictator today that it formerly failed to be, and the US fails to be, and that it’s the US that forces the UK to continue to maintain the enabling military support the Gulf States rely on to crush democracy at home and abroad. It seems the British terror of US barbarism is real and not just performative, and yet surveying history as well as contemporary imperial relations (For example, to forestall an Iran-style revolution, “Britain equips and trains the Saudi police force, has military advisors permanently attached to the internal Saudi security forces, and operates a strategic communicaions programme for the Saudi National Guard.”), it is difficult to see how the British offer a positive alternative protection racket, any more than capitalist Russia offers “multipolarity” (distinct from patronage for a handful of political scientists).

Maybe the problem is that the Anglo-American ruling class is too tight. Maybe the recursive jackboot could be eased by splitting the US and UK’s territory in the Middle East, creating a sort of Anglo-American multipolarity. Maybe that’s what a powerful state would do, if it actually valued and pursued humanitarian goals. Both the Obama and Trump administrations suggested publicly that the US has the strategic latitude to cut out the middle man. Presumably if the UK and the Middle Eastern tyrannies attempt to exert too much control over the unholy imperial alliance, the US could roll up its military and, following Nixon, treat directly with the East Asian states, what Stevenson refers to in alarm as “the Asian plot.” Curiously on the affronted Saudis behalf, Stevenson warns US strategists that with climate change, Middle Eastern tyranny affords more precious control over East Asia than ever.

So many questions open up. Does the US need the UK and its colonial satraps as much as they need the US? With this perhaps small or merely-symbolic divergence in UK and US interests in mind, it would be interesting to assess the indispensability of the Middle East tyrannies, within them distinguishing alignments with the US and UK, versus the relative strength of the US’s v. UK’s coercive ties and alliances with China. Certainly, within the British Commonwealth, Canada and Australia have been integrating with China. Why are UK partisans so keen to keep space between the US and China? How do the US and UK interests align with or diverge from China’s interests?

How do US and UK interests diverge from each other, not just in arms sales (The Middle East tyrants are the world’s largest buyer of military equipment, and the US, UK, and France compete with each other to bribe them.), but particularly in finance, as its independence is propped and wagged by the Middle East tyrants? Yes, Saudi oil wealth maintains the US’s war economy, and absolute libertine finance in both Wall Street and the City of London. It helpfully dismantles democracy in both the US and UK. Yet are the Saudi dictators necessary to controlling East Asia, putatively their primary role? The British assure us they are. But can the US exert sufficient control over East Asia in its alliance with the Israeli and Egyptian tyrannies, and by colonial dominance over Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and perhaps Yemen and Iran? (Note: Check out Sunni v. Shi’a alignments.)

A League of Innocent Tyrants

I do not think that the British Empire fell quite as gracefully, in the early 20th century, as is commonly told. The story goes that the expense of WWII was the end of the British Empire, and the transfer of Atlantic ruling class leadership to the US as well as the granting of Indian independence. And it’s true that the locus of power shifted within the Atlantic ruling class family coalition, but did not completely retract from the UK. The Atlantic ruling class is a robust, inbred alliance, and it commands enough of world wealth to grease its internal conflicts. However, together with 20th century financial history, UK-US relations in the Middle East reveal fissures within that robust league of imperialists.

See my brief account UK v. US states and finance from the 1950s – the early 1970s, in “6 Pivotal Class Collective Actions in the US in the Second Half of the 20th Century.” To preserve its power, Britain deregulated finance in the 1950s. This deregulation provided US and global finance extra degrees of tactical freedom and leverage over the US state, including the power to enforce inflation as a form of capital strike. Indicative of solidarity within the UK ruling class and a lack of solidarity between the UK’s rulers and a then-fractured US ruling class, US political leaders did not grasp that the US state had been subordinated to international finance until Nixon was brought down in 1974, a couple years after he inadvertently demonstrated, with state-coordinated price control boards, that (finance-coordinated) capital was manipulating inflation to end US state accountability to the working class (See Blyth 2002: 135-6).

Contrary to much-circulated conservative theorization, inflation was not simply caused by the working class, or even the US’s imperial wars against SE Asians and the OPEC oil embargo (from which the UK was secretly exempted, see Stevenson p. 11). The results of the price-control boards clearly showed that capital was intensifying domestic US inflation, which indicates that capital had heightened coordination and strategic capacity, a capacity typically provided by deregulated finance. With Nixon serving as a publicly-flayed goat signifying the inexorable fate of that perennial bugaboo of Atlantic ruling class meritocracy–upstart American provincial political miscalculation, the US political class was deeply embarrassed, cowed, and fully chastened for decades, bound to faithfully serve finance and military in exchange for top-manager income and financially-advantageous marriages for their daughters…until the rise of socialists over the last couple of years.

Not only running the 1973 OPEC oil embargo and adding to US inflation panic, the Saudis were right there throughout the 1970s, supporting US imperialism, US and UK de-democratization, and a financial hegemony that turned the City of London and New York City into powerbrokers and international elite real estate enclaves populated inter alia by Middle Eastern tyrants and Russian oligarchs. The Saudis switched from the British currency, pounds sterling, to the US dollar in 1971, when Nixon took the US dollar off the gold standard to defy anti-imperial runs on US gold reserves. Three years later, in 1974, while Nixon was being removed (arguably more for his presumption of state capacity than for his connivance with petty political party crimes revealed by plucky newsmen), in an agreement with the US Treasury Secretary William Simon, the Saudis infused US finance with oil revenues to again back up with solid material wealth the otherwise speculation-backed US dollar (Spiro 1999).

 

Bibliography

 

Blyth, Mark. 2002. Great Transformations: Economic Ideas and Institutional Change in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge.

Fridell, Mara and Mark Hudson. 2010. “Financialization, Enabling Policy, and Elite Policy Networks.”

Schenk, Catherine R. 1998. “The Origins of the Eurodollar Market in London: 1955-1963.” Explorations in Economic History 35: 221-238.

Spiro, David. 1999. The Hidden Hand of American Hegemony.

Stevenson, Tom. 2019. “What are we there for?” LRB 11, 9 May.

Wallich, Henry C. 1971. “One chance in a generation: Guideposts for the Commission on
Financial Structure and Regulation.” Journal of Money, Credit and Banking 3(1): 21-30.

Wearing, David. 2018. Angloarabia: Why Gulf Wealth Matters to Britain. Polity.

 

 

 

 

The carceral core

the carceral state 21st c

From Bauman, Valerie. 2018. “Incarceration vs. education: America spends more on its prison system than it does on public schools,” The Daily Mail, 25 October.

Capitalist Primacy

“Britain can be conceived of as the first fossil-fuel-led market civilization with a rising money supply (Central-bank-issued money representing global expectations of and co-optation into its network of private financiers’ future power accumulation,) backed by the surplus energy capacity provided by its (social reproduction-disruptive, inegalitarian social relations, consequent forest depletion and) reliance on coal.

Expanding the money supply–as in France, Spain and Portugal–without adding manufacturing capacity largely resulted in rising prices for a limited amount of goods” (Di Muzio, T. & M. Dow. 2017).

Britain’s 1694 Central Bank moment was replicated in the 1971 Nixon move removing gold backing from the US dollar. Both constituted empire brinkmanship that successfully secured the subordinate cooperation of global wealth owners who in turn controlled non-owners.

Nitzan & Bichler (theorists behind Di Muzio & Dow) are motivated by their aversion to the labour theory of value, and their analytical preference for elite perspective. So I think their critique of Marxists is as usual worthless, because a central point of Marxism is to understand capitalism from the perspective of its mass of expropriated, exploited/discounted, abjected, but still somehow necessary peoples.

With elite-centric theory, the mystery remains unaddressed: The masses are still economically necessary and vital. Elite theorists don’t understand why. Why do elite theorists believe in plutonomy while also believing in the necessity of population growth?

But I think Di Muzio & Dow can be shorn of their anti-labour theory of value tic, to better effect.

They remain academic anarchists, though, and that means that another main objective for them is demonstrating that the state = capitalism, and recommending that all political strategy fall out from there. To do that, they methodically eschew comparative method and most of political sociology findings, and instead reify a British case study. Britain, as Meiksins Wood showed, is capitalism’s premier state, and in an expanding, coercive *accumulation* system (as Di Muzio & Dow show it to be), the premier position is an exceptional position. What Di Muzio & Dow have shown is that Britain’s state = capitalism. That implies a whole ‘nother ball of strategy.

It would be intellectually and strategically irresponsible to ignore all the Marxist-inspired comparative work on state variability and development/stunting in relationship to Anglo-centric global capitalism, to produce a one-size-fits-all story that certainly misrepresents state-society relations in other parts of the world, and may well distort even empirical, actual, and real state-society relationships in Anglo resource-extraction management zones like Canada.

See also: Desan’s “Making Money” is a fantastic book. History of British currency from Anglo Saxon times until ~1700.