Saturday, December 26, 2015

Neoliberal Austerity and the Capitalist State Rant

There are a number of stories that capitalism tells itself which assume the form of ideology. A current one is that we have entered a new (neo) era of liberal political-economy. This is supposedly a resurgence of market fundamentalism taking its theoretical cues from von Hayek and the Austrians and Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman etc, as a backlash or counter-force to the preceding era of strong labor and the welfare state. This makes a good story and there is a whole cultural apparatus built up to reinforce it, the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times and textbook- writing economics professors (Mankiw)and then lower orders of popular media(Fox News, NPR) and pundits and think tanks and politicians. All of which filters down to the average Jane/Joe as a few key catch phrases like "get government off my back" or "market driven innovation". The other thoroughly normalized meme is that we live in a time of "austerity". That due to the reckless accumulation of debt, both public and private, it is necessary for everyone to tighten their belts and be responsible and live within our means. In other words,relinquishing frills like public services and social provision, all the things the government has (mis)managed with its extravagance and waste and nanny-state coddling (true and false, war and Pell Grants). But then, if you look into something like subsidies for the fossil fuel energy industries, you see how totally absurd this narrative is. Take something specific like the coal industry and this whole push to find technologies to capture and sequester CO2 from power plant smokestacks. All the climate modelling being used to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius has an input of CO2 capture (CCS)built into them, a technology which doesn't exist but which our "oh-so-austere" governments are pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into. Yes, the evil public sector, the (capitalist) State, the government which Ronald Reagan told us never to trust( true and false), is miraculously finding billions for research into "clean coal". The money they never seem to find if you are looking for housing or tuition or healthcare or food for poor people. Or investing in renewable energy. Renewable energy, we are told, will become available "when the market" makes the price competitive. Right. My point is, this whole con is precisely where tragedy becomes farce. There is no "market fundamentalism" in reality, no austerity when you pull back the curtain. It is just a giant mafia, like Mexico and drug cartels. Only on a global scale. And with an awesome PR department. Ted Cruz and John Tester pass the exact same spending bills for Big Ag and clean coal and more fracking. They just have to use different lies to sell it to their constituents. Whew.


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  2. From First as Tragedy, Then as Farce pages 79-80:

    The ongoing financial meltdown demonstrates how difficult it is to disturb the thick undergrowth of utopian premises which determine our acts. As Alain Badiou succinctly put it:

    "The ordinary citizen must "understand" that it is impossible to make up the shortfall in social security, but that it is imperative to stuff untold billions into the banks' financial hole? We must somberly accept that no one imagines any longer that it's possible to nationalize a factory hounded by competition, a factory employing thousands of workers, but that it is obvious to do so for a bank made penniless by speculation?"

    One should generalize from this statement: although we always recognized the urgency of the problems, when we were fighting AIDS, hunger, water shortages, global warming, and so on, there always seemed to be time to reflect, to postpone decisions (recall how the main conclusion of the last meeting of world leaders in Bali, hailed as a success, was that they would meet again in two years to continue their talks...). But with the financial meltdown, the urgency to act was unconditional; sums of an unimaginable magnitude had to be found immediately. Saving endangered species, saving the planet from global warming, saving AIDS patients and those dying for lack of funds for expensive treatments, saving the starving children... all this can wait a little bit. The call to "save the banks!" by contrast, is an unconditional imperative which must be met with immediate action. The panic was so absolute that a transnational and non-partisan unity was immediately established, all grudges between world leaders being momentarily forgotten in order to avert THE catastrophe. But what the much much-praised "bi-partisan" approach effectively meant was that even democratic procedures were de facto suspended: there was no time to engage in proper debate, and those who opposed the plan in the US congress were quickly made to fall in with the majority. Bush, McCain, and Obama all quickly got together, explaining to confused congressmen and women that there was simply no time for discussion- we were in a state of emergency, and things simply had to be done fast... And let us also not forget that the sublimely enormous sums of money were spent not on some clear "real" or concrete problem, but essentially in order to restore confidence in the markets, that is, simply to change people's beliefs!

    Do we need any further proof that Capital is the Real of our lives, a Real whose imperatives are much more absolute than even the most pressing demands of our social and natural reality?...


    p.65-80 of this book are pure gold, Zizek's sweet spot. If we haven't already read this book together, we should. Isn't the correlation between speed of reaction to deal with financial crisis versus "other issues" and what it says about our Real the most vivid contradiction of Capitalism we can point to? But how do you pack that story up in a way that the Right, the Oregon gunmen, aren't just going to blame the mechanism of theft and reallocation on gumment, taxes, the (capitalist) State?