22 October 2016

Conservative, or Bourgeois, Socialism

Continuing my commentary on The Communist Manifesto
"To this section belongs economists, philanthropists, humanitarians, improvers of the condition of the working class, organisers of charity, members of the SPCA, temperance fanatics, hole-and-corner reformers of every imaginable kind... 
The Socialistic bourgeois want the living conditions of modern society without the struggles and dangers necessarily resulting therefrom. They desire the existing state of society minus its revolutionary and disintegrating elements. They wish for a bourgeoisie without a proletariat. The bourgeoisie natural conceives the world in which it is supreme to be the best; and Bourgeois Socialism develops this comfortable conception into a more or less complete system. 
... A second and more practical, but less systematic, form of this Socialism sought to deprecate every revolutionary movement in the eyes of the working class, by showing that no mere political reform, but only a change in the material conditions of existence, in economic relations, could be of any advantage to them... 
.... Free trade: for the benefit of the working class. Protective duties: for the benefit of the working class. Solitary confinement: for the benefit of the working class." 
- The Communist Manifesto, 1848, Chp 3.

Anyone in Britain reading this recognises, or should recognise, the present government as the most recent in a long line of governments who dismiss revolution and argue that they are the party of the workers, the only ones who can make the workers better of materially. As if offering workers back some minuscule fraction of the products of their own labour in order to be a better consumer has anything but the enrichment of the 1% in mind.

At the same time they knobble labour unions, export jobs to other countries, and most importantly they *remain in power*.

The bourgeois remain in control and dole out rewards to the faithful workers in the form of "benefits" when their jobs are annihilated or the system crushes them so much that they can no longer work. And we see the 1% getting exponentially richer while workers become redundant or keep their jobs only at the cost of less wages and poorer conditions.

We are even treated to the slogan "taking our country back from the bureaucrats of Europe". What a bitter irony that is.

But as (right-wing) comedian Simon Evans has remarked, there was never in history, a country less likely to revolt than Britain is today. Workers have bought the line about the desirability of material goods, are eager to be consumers, and have their minds anaesthetised by reality TV and the internet. The constant pressure to relocate away from family and community to seek work is slowly atomising society. Schools churn out conformist drones for the call-centres, who live for the binge drinking weekend. And best of all, he points out, "a stroke of genius", the poor are *fat*. At least in the past the poor were thin and hungry and that made them eager for change.

The collapse of totalitarian forms of state socialism seems to have been used to discredit the left generally. As though there is no value in helping each other, supporting each other. Our politicians are completely insulated from the problems they cause. The supposed party of the workers is so busy with its internal power struggles that it has lost the ability to perform any function in the power structures of the nation. But it long ago become bourgeois.

The ruling classes have hoodwinked the population into believing that there is no alternative to Neoliberalism - a combination of discredited economic and social policies that lead to the breakdown of economies and societies, but which succeed in enriching the rich. And we're not even really angry about this. Bombarded with TV news in which our capacity for empathy is swamped by vicarious suffering and hyperstimulation, we struggle to respond to the people around us.

Some of us think we can create a protective bubble around us. Walk around the homeless, ignore the political corruption, cling to what we have, and keep our fingers crossed that the people in charge will not take our jobs, homes, and savings again as they did in 2008. But we are not protected by this.

The weird thing is that be definition we out number the 1% 100 to 1. We could simply repossess all that wealth. There are not enough police to stop us if we all acted together. But Capitalism per se has atomised society to the extent that concerted action is probably no longer possible. Effective resistance to the bourgeoisie is all but over. Most of us are not even thinking in terms of resistance, let alone revolution. Revolution, as Marx and Engels predicted has been discredited, and participation in free market Capitalism is now the only way for workers to improve their lives. Free market Capitalism has replaced the Christian Church as the arbiter of values and consumerism as the opium of the masses.

To be fair, Capitalism has dragged everyone with it to some extent. The average worker does have a materially better standard of living. But that raising of the workers is steadily reversing now that opposition has been neutralised. Wages are falling. Jobs are disappearing to places where people labour in worse conditions for less for less pay. Atomisation continues apace.

18 October 2016

Cybernetics, Game Theory, and Economics

In Adam Curtis' documentary The Trap, he links Game Theory to Economics. Game theory-inspired economics has a lot in common with cybernetics in that modern Neo-classical economics argues that economies, like organisms, tend towards homoeostasis, or in economic jargon, to equilibrium.

It is true that organisms, ecosystems, and Gaia all tend towards homoeostasis, or to put it another way they all have feedback mechanisms that sustain the environment in state that is conducive to life and is typically deflected from the equilibrium that would hold under inorganic chemistry. For example having 21% oxygen in our atmosphere is not something that could be sustained by chemistry alone, but requires constant renewal from living sources. Left to itself oxygen reacts with just about anything to form oxide compounds that are hard to break down. Without life on earth, the oxygen levels would plummet from 21% roughly 0% in quite a short period of time.

When James Lovelock was asked to contribute to a NASA project for finding life on other planets, he told them to look for systems out of equilibrium. Look for too much oxygen for example. One didn't need to actually visit Mars to decide if life exists there, one need only measure the composition of the atmosphere which one can do by spectroscopy right here on earth. It turns out that the atmosphere of Mars is at chemical equilibrium. Therefore, there is no life on Mars. The requirements of living systems are very different from the chemical environments found anywhere on earth at present, and bound within each living cell is a modified vestige of that original milieu in which life originated (which was probably in warm, alkaline, thermal vents)

Neoliberalism draws on such economic theories, from libertarianism, from merchantilism, and game theory to create the idea of the black box called The Market. The argument is that the market is a homoeostatic system that seeks equilibrium. It responds to inputs directly to produce outputs. The theory is that there is a linear relation between input and output and that the participants in the system are rational, but selfish and greedy (as if selfishness and greed are rational!)

13 October 2016

Fucking with Neoliberalism

If you watch the video of Simon Springer delivering the original Fuck Neoliberalism talk, at the end there are questions. A Marxist asks why Springer eschews the language of revolution that is at heart of Marxist ideology (Fuck Neoliberalism 15:45). The ideas Springer is talking about are Socialist ideas, and Springer himself is an Anarchist rather than a Marxist. He's strived against the Marxist orthodoxy in his discipline.
"For an opportunity to move beyond Neoliberalism, we don't have to think of a revolutionary moment to do this... that implies the politics of waiting, right? The [revolution], well maybe it will come, but we'll wait for someone else to do the work. But we can actually do the work ourselves, right here in the here and now. The revolution of the every day. If you're stuck on the word revolution, think of it as an everyday process rather than something that is an ideal, somewhere in the future. It is something that we can embrace, here and now, in this moment." (Lightly edited transcript, emphasis added)
Springer emphasises mutual aid, reciprocity and cooperation as ways we can work against Neoliberalism. He says:
"Our community, our cooperation, our care for one another, are all loathsome to Neoliberalism. It hates that which we celebrate."

In other words we fuck with Neoliberalism simply by being active members of our community. Which is fucking brilliant.

But here are a couple of more specific suggestions.

1. Get out of Debt

The basic premise of modern Neoliberalism is to drive economic growth by increasing demand. Demand can be increased in the short-term by banks creating debts. In other words we rent money from the bank to increase our spending power now. A business investing in growth to increase profits makes a certain amount of sense. The investment pays for itself. Similarly with buying a house. But consumer credit is insane for consumers. You are mining your own future and hollowing it out. What you do is impoverish yourself in order to enrich banks. And the banks are corrupt. They don't do any good with your money, they use it to gamble on asset and commodity prices and to gamble on whether their bets will win or lose (aka derivatives and default swaps).

It's quite easy to stop participating in this system. Just stop borrowing money. I have a very low income and live from week to week. But I got out of debt 10 years ago and have vowed never to get into debt now. I don't have any credit cards. Barkleys recently invited to apply for their card which charges 26% APR. No thanks! If you have a lot of debt spread around, consolidate it into one loan and set up regular payments.

2. Don't be a Consumer
"Buy more shit, or we're all fucked." - bag on sale in Fopp some years ago.
Of course there is stuff that we need to buy. The area where we play into the hands of Neoliberalism is in the stuff we only want to buy. We can assess both our needs and our wants. It is of course up to each of us to decide what is essential, what is necessary, and what is not. But the line is something we ought to keep in consciousness. Every time we buy something we don't need, Neoliberalism wins. Every time we remember and resist that is a victory for us and other people who are against Neoliberalism.

We can also look for ways to recycle or re-use rather than buying something new. This is an inherently cooperative strategy, a sharing of resources. If you can't be bothered to sell your used stuff, then give it to a charity. And so on.

Lets all fuck with Neoliberalism in our every day lives. After all Neoliberalism is constantly fucking with us. Fuck Neoliberalism! Each time we save money, pay off debts, recycle, re-use, buy second-hand, give to charity, refrain from mindless consumption, etc we fuck with Neoliberalism and we can say to ourselves "Fuck Neoliberalism!"

02 October 2016

The Warning.

I've just watched an excellent documentary which provides another important angle on the 2008 financial crisis. It actually first aired on PBS in the USA in Oct 2009. The Warning.

Hat tip to Ann Pettifor of Prime Economics for tweeting about this.

Asked about the financial crisis of 2007/8 and the subsequent recession/depression, the mainstream - including those still in charge of the economy - often reply that we could not have seen this coming. But this was only ever true because the mainstream were just not looking. Instead, they had their heads buried in troughs of money.

In American a woman called Brooksley Born did see it coming and was in a position to do something about it. She tried, but was shut down by Bill Clinton's financial advisors: Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, Tim Geitner and the Fed Chief,  Alan Greenspan.

Born warned that the market in derivatives--bets and insurance on the future price of assets and bets on those bets--was huge, completely unregulated, open to fraud, and likely to cause huge damage to the USA and world economies if they failed. Evidence that they certainly would fail was already evident in 1994 because of law suits brought by Proctor & Gamble and others against the hedge fund that lost their money in risky investments in derivatives. Banks were massively invested in the derivatives market. In 2008 this market was worth USD500 trillion. For perspective the UK's annual GDP is about USD2 trillion.

Greenspan was an disciple and acolyte of Ayn Rand. He did not believe in the necessity of pursuing fraud prosecution because "the market would sort it out". The others were like-minded. They shut Born down and made it impossible for her to continue in her role. The argued vociferously and repeatedly against any regulation of financial markets.

Greenspan retired in 2006. Then in 2007, Lehman Brothers went bankrupt. In 2008 the Great Financial Crash happened. Later, Greenspan recanted his free market ideology during a senate hearing. But does not seem to have been help culpable for this costly errors.

Rubin took over City Bank in time for it to be bailed out by the US tax payers because of it's reckless gambling in derivatives.

Obama's financial advisors are... Larry Summers and Tim Geitner. So we know that Summers and Geitner basically facilitated the financial crisis and they are the economic advisors to the President.

One of the problems for Hillary Clinton is that she is associated with this crowd of losers who wrecked the economy and walked away from it unscathed, like drunks who walk away unharmed from the multiple car pile they caused.

Brooksley Born is a name that ought to go down in history.

Further Reading

The Great American Bubble Machine (2010). Rolling Stone Magazine. "From tech stocks to high gas prices, Goldman Sachs has engineered every major market manipulation since the Great Depression -- and they're about to do it again."

 The Woman Greenspan, Rubin & Summers Silenced (2009) The Nation.

10 September 2016

Private Property and Neoliberal Religion

I'm still slowly reading and thinking about The Communist Manifesto.
"You are horrified at our intending to do away with private property. But in your existing society, private property is already done away with for nine-tenths of the population; its existence is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of those nine-tenths." 
"Communism deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of society; all that it does is to deprive him of the power to subjugate the labour of others by means of such appropriation." 
"It has been objected that upon the abolition of private property all work will cease, and universal laziness will overtake us. 
According to this, bourgeois society ought long ago to have gone to the dogs through sheer idleness; for those of its members who work acquire nothing; and those who acquire anything, so not work." 
The Communist Manifesto. 1848.
This narrative is not unfamiliar, though again it is striking how pertinent this social analysis is 150 years later. Its clear that mainstream ideas of private property are constructed by and for what we would now call the 1%. Oxfam said in January 2016 that the wealth of the 1% was now equal to that of the 99%. They wish to protect that they have; but what they have comes from the exploitation of the labour of others. They appropriate all the products of society and dole out a minimal amount to workers. Too much, they argue will allow the inherent laziness of workers to manifest.

Doing away with private property mainly affects the bourgeoisie because they have appropriated nine-tenths of the property. Those who work for a living, especially in the mid-19th Century had very little to lose from this policy.

Since then I think things have shifted. The 1% have encouraged the middle-classes to aspire to climb the social ladder, to climb the housing ladder, and so. The idea is that if one only climbs the ladder it becomes a stairway to heaven - one can retire to the 1%. The narrative is striking religious in tone. It imitates elements of the Egyptian Book of the Dead for example and of course Christianity. The major difference is that whereas religion encourages people to accumulate good deeds as defined by some divine code, the Neoliberal religion encourages and rewards the accumulation of wealth. Wealth is the modern measure of morality. And one only becomes wealthy by appropriating the products of the labour of others. As such the supposed stairway to heaven becomes a highway to Hell for most people.

As immoral as they might be by other standards, the 1% are deemed good by their own lights simply because they have accumulate much wealth. Wealth is the measure. The wealthier a person is, the more moral they must be. This is the essence of Neoliberal morality. This is why no modern government has been interested in perusing tax reforms or chasing tax reforms. The 1% see taxation as theft of their rightly acquired wealth by people who have not earned it. They believe that "unearned wealth" cannot be spent wisely. No government can spend wisely.

The internal contradictions of this narrative about wealth and accumulation are not apparent to those who live by the Neoliberal creed. But even in 1848 Marx and Engels saw the incoherence of this worldview. As they say "bourgeois society ought long ago to have gone to the dogs through sheer idleness". The wealth of the 1% is not earned. At best it is acquired. But the fact is that wealth is accumulated by the appropriation of the products of other people's labour. In other words, as  French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon said, property is theft (this was in 1840, a bit before the Manifesto).

It would not be so bad if the 1% were not so obviously stupid and incompetent. If they were some kind of benevolent tyranny that cared for the people and the environment they would be a lot less objectionable. Instead we see consistent mismanagement of the world by the 1%.

It is now clear that if we do not put the breaks on and change direction, we will be facing environmental catastrophe on several fronts: toxic, mutagenic, and carcinogenic pollutants, warming, flooding, extreme weather events, species deaths (bees are a particular concern), and so on. This is not because the 1% are doing such a great job of managing things. It's because they are stupid and incompetent. They behave like monomaniacal psychopaths. And really, we should treat them like psychopaths.