A few characteristics of contemporary capitalism

Published on Sunday, March 2, 2014
  1. The great recession:

The inherently chaotic, crisis-prone nature of capitalism was a key part of Marx's writings. He argued that the relentless drive for profits would lead companies to mechanize their workplaces, producing more and more goods while squeezing workers' wages until they could no longer purchase the products they created. Sure enough, modern historical events from the Great Depression to the dot-com bubble can be traced back to what Marx termed "fictitious capital" – financial instruments like stocks and credit-default swaps. We produce and produce until there is simply no one left to purchase our goods, no new markets, no new debts. The cycle is still playing out before our eyes: Broadly speaking, it is what made the housing market crash in 2008. Decades of deepening inequality reduced incomes, which led more and more people to take on debt. When there were no sub-prime borrows left to scheme, the whole facade fell apart, just as Marx knew it would.

  1. The imaginary appetites:

Marx warned that capitalism's tendency to concentrate high value on essentially arbitrary products would, over time, lead to what he called "a contriving and ever-calculating subservience to inhuman, sophisticated, unnatural and imaginary appetites." It's a harsh but accurate way of describing contemporary world, where people enjoy incredible luxury and yet are driven by a constant need for more and more stuff to buy. Consider the iPhone 5S you may own. Is it really that much better than the iPhone 5 you had last year, or the iPhone 4S a year before that? Is it a real need, or an invented one? While families across the world fall sick with cancer from e-waste, mega corporations are creating entire advertising campaigns around the idea that we should destroy perfectly good products for no reason.

  1. The Globalization of Capitalism:

Marx's ideas about overproduction led him to predict what is now called globalization – the spread of capitalism across the planet in search of new markets. "The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe," he wrote. "It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, and establish connections everywhere." While this may seem like an obvious point now, Marx wrote those words in 1848, when globalization was over a century away. And he wasn't just right about what ended up happening in the late 20th century – he was right about why it happened: The relentless search for new markets and cheap labor, as well as the incessant demand for more natural resources, are beasts that demand constant feeding.

  1. The problem of exporting capital:

Capitalism is so broken it can't be fixed is the headline from The Wall Street Journal's Market Watch. The bosses' pundit Paul B. Farrell is pointing out that nothing that the bosses are currently trying to do can solve the broken system of capitalism. He points out that what Marx called the tendency for the capitalists to hoard their capital as they search for maximum profitability is also a major facet of broken capitalism. The capitalists hoard their "capital" that sits unused on the balance sheets of corporations, and languishes inert in private equity funds, because they use it to speculate, generating abstract and fictitious Capital to generate their profit returns as opposed to investing it in infrastructure and other elements of concrete Capital that are actually needed to support their place as the world's hegemon. In other words, the bourgeoisie use their money to make money not the roads, rails, and factories that are needed to make actual products and preserve their level of production. This tendency of capital is mitigated by attacking the working class to extract more profit and, as Lenin pointed out in Imperialism, exporting capital to other undeveloped areas of the globe in order to produce at the highest profit possible. The problem of exporting capital is that other capitalists in other countries want to do this as well.

  1. The working class soldiers:

The ruling class has to protect their economic investment, and they use the working class to fight their wars. The workers who have been part of the economic draft to become US soldiers are now having Moral Injuries that tear their psyches apart. They have nightmares and have trouble living with themselves because of the atrocities that they do for the sake of profit based on the timeworn lies of god and country. "A moral injury tortures the conscience; symptoms include deep shame, guilt and rage. It's not a medical problem, and it's unclear how to treat it, says retired Col. Elspeth Ritchie, former psychiatry consultant to the Army surgeon general." So while the working class soldiers live with guilt, the professional mercenary scum in Blackwater get all of their charges completely dropped. Proof vanished. It cost them a few million, made some rich people a bit richer, and reaffirmed that the US needs their thugs to kill and kill!

  1. The winter of jihad:

In the Syrian arena, the Free Syrian Army, stooges of US Imperialism, have begun to bomb Hezbollah, stooges of Russian and Chinese imperialism and Iranian hegemony, in Beirut and Lebanon. The escalation of this war threatens the stability of the whole Levant, yet the US looks on with delight as they can get profitable pipelines and check their rivals. The "Arab Spring" has turned into the Winter of Jihad and reaction as Islamic Parties and other reactionary groups have filled the power vacuum that deposing dictators creates.

  1. The divided working class:

Thousands of workers in Bangladesh are fighting for false consciousness as they attack the police and rally in defense of Islam. They are angry at "atheist blogs". This reactionary rally is a tragedy for the working class as religion is a weapon that the ruling class uses to divide the working class and get us to pay attention to the next world instead of this one. The working class is divided by race, class, gender, and cultural structures such as – Religious vs Secular, Sunni vs Shiite, Muslim vs Hindu, etc. The working class is trapped in the prison of false consciousness.

  1. The movement from capitalism to corporatism:

Corporatism is characterized by a system in which the production, distribution, circulation, and exchange of indebtedness dominates the consciousness of its constituents. Debt consciousness has begun to pervade societies and their constituents throughout the world at every level. Credit underpins the corporatist system's feudal character because it provides the basis of loyal "service" and is the realization of corporate benefice for that service. Marx describes the moral basis of the credit system: "Credit is the economic judgment on the morality of a man. In the credit system man replaces metal or paper as the mediator of exchange. However, he does this not as a man but as the incarnation of capital and interest. Human individuality, human morality, has become both articles of commerce and the material which money inhabits. The substance, the body clothing, the spirit of money is not money, paper, but instead it is my personal existence, my flesh and blood, my social worth and status. Credit no longer actualizes money-values in actual money but in human flesh and in human hearts." (Marx 1844 [1975]: 264) In a universalized credit system, "labor" is no longer a commodity, it is literally "human capital"—people are exchange values set in the future tense so that we are worth only what we owe. The rise of consumer credit, national and international systems of credit, the proliferation of privately issued money, and the means of global communication linking these systems of debt provide the basis of a system that was unthinkable in Marx's day. The historical movement of money-as-medium has resulted in humanity making itself the expression of exchange values. Consequently the credit system (which is many systems more or less closely linked) is a systematic claim upon massive amounts of future human life. Trade in abstract forms of money constitutes roughly 99.9% of all "trade", and new forms of trade able debt continue to proliferate at an astonishing rate (cf. Hart 1999; Saul 1997; Graham, 2006). The bulk of transactions that occur within the globally mediated system that has cynically been called "the knowledge economy" is constituted of nothing less than claims on future life. It is the mass "monetization" of past and present human life and its subsequent mortgage against some imagined future based on actuarial calculation. The result is a mass indenture of future human life to the service of corporatized debt. The movement from capitalism to corporatism is in large part an achievement of expert discourse, particularly the languages of law, finance, policy, and econometrics. Credit is money in the subjunctive mood; it is the future-in-present expression of potential human life calculated in terms of exchange-values. In Marx's description of credit, we see recognition that the credit system contains in embryonic form the total colonization of social values – spiritual, cultural, social, economic, and moral – by monetary values. The credit system transforms people into mere materials of commerce and the material which money inhabits. In all its future tenses, money infuses human flesh and human hearts, and with these, human imaginations. With the emergence of a more or less generalized credit system, money values are no longer expressed in the alien, objectified forms of paper, gold, or silver, but in personal existence, flesh and blood, social worth and status: today, "human" and "social" capital have very literal meanings. But the movement does not stop at the colonization of individuals. From student loans and credit card debt; from consumer debt to household debt to national debt; from partisan political debts to personal financial favors, the oppressive character of debt now fills the imaginations of people everywhere. Rather than working for one's living, people in advanced and developing societies now work to "service", "manage", or "retire" their debt.

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