Marx estava certo, por mais que economistas superficiais tentem negá-lo: causa das turbulências econômicas é enriquecimento sem-fim da burguesia. É surpreendente verificar que a extensíssima literatura produzida sobre as causas das crises atuais se tenha centrado tão pouco no conflito capital-trabalho (aquilo que costumávamos chamar de luta de classes) e sua gênesis no desenvolvimento da crise. Uma possível razão é a enorme atenção dada à crise financeira como suposta causa da recessão atual. Só que essa atenção desviou os analistas do contexto econômico, e também político, que determinou e configurou a crise.
Não é possível analisar cada uma delas, e a maneira como estão relacionadas, sem referir-se ao conflito capital-trabalho. Como bem disse Marx, “a história da humanidade é a história da luta de classes”. E as crises atuais (da financeira à econômica, passando pela social e política) são um claro exemplo disso.
An obsession with growth has eclipsed our concern for sustainability, justice and human dignity. But people are not disposable – the value of life lies outside economic development.
The dominant model of economic development has in fact become anti-life. When economies are measured only in terms of money flow, the rich get richerand the poor get poorer. And the rich might be rich in monetary terms – but they too are poor in the wider context of what being human means.
It’s one of those times when history accelerates. Whatever the outcome of the negotiations on the shutdown and debt ceiling, October 2013 is one of them. It’s the deadlock too far which has opened the eyes of those who still support the United States. A leader is followed when he is believed, not when he is ridiculous. “Building a de-Americanised world”: this statement would have raised a smile a few years ago. At most it would have passed for provocation by Hugo Chavez. But when we are seeing the United States’ bankruptcy in real-time and it’s an official Chinese press agency that says so, the impact isn’t the same. In reality, it’s describing out loud a process which is already well underway: simply, it’s now allowed to speak about it in public. At least US government deadlock has the merit of loosening tongues. Let there be no mistake, this analysis hasn’t appeared in the Chinese media by chance, and it reflects Beijing’s hardening tone.
Creating a sense of predictability and security has traditionally been attributed to what a society offers to its citizens. Today, as the economic crisis has planted its roots, millions of Europeans live with insecurity, uncertain about what the future holds. This is one of the worst psychological states of mind for human beings, and we now see a quiet desperation spreading among Europeans, resulting in depression, resignation and loss of hope for their future. We are also seeing signs of this quiet desperation turning more vocal through demonstrations and violence. We fear that increased xenophobia and the lack of confidence in society being able to provide jobs and security may lead to more extreme views and actions, with social unrest as a consequence.
Through our network, we already knew that the situation was only getting worse in many countries, however, some of the responses still surprised and shocked us, as they highlighted worrying trends and challenges.
Read also: The crisis has taken root at every level
China’s high-speed rail system has emerged as an unexpected success story. Economists and transportation experts cite it as one reason for China’s continued economic growth when other emerging economies are faltering. Chinese workers are now more productive. The productivity gains occur when companies find themselves within a couple of hours’ train ride of tens of millions of potential customers, employees and rivals. China relocated large numbers of families whose homes lay in the path of the tracks and quickly built new residential and commercial districts around high-speed train stations.
Freedom is a good thing, isn’t it? Not always, argues Slovenian philosopher Renata Salecl. The liberty to choose from an unlimited number of career options or coffee brands ultimately becomes a burden. Our modern capitalist society is ruled by a “tyranny of choice.” Today we believe we should be able to choose everything: the way we live, the way we look, even when it comes to the coffee we buy, we constantly need to weigh our decision. That is extremely unhealthy. Because we constantly feel stressed, overwhelmed and guilty. Because, according to this ideology, it’s our own fault if we’re unhappy. It means we made a bad decision. We constantly feel that there’s something even better hiding behind the next corner. So we are never truly content and are reluctant to settle on anything.
Ever since there has been a capitalist world-economy, one essential mechanism of its successful functioning has been the runaway factory. After a period of significant accumulation of capital by so-called leading industries (usually about twenty-five years), the level of profit has gone down, both because of the undermining of the quasi-monopoly of the leading industry and because of the rise in labor costs due to syndical action of some sort.
When this happened, the solution was for the factory to “runaway.” What this means is that the site of production was transferred to some other part of the world-system that had “historically lower wage levels.” In effect, the capitalists who controlled the leading industries were trading increased transaction costs for reduced labor costs. This maintained significant income for them, if nonetheless lower than in the previous period when they still had a quasi-monopoly.
Mark Blyth argues that economic ideas are powerful political tools as used by domestic groups in order to effect change since whoever defines what the economy is, what is wrong with it, and what would improve it, has a profound political resource in their possession. Blyth analyzes the 1930s and 1970s, two periods of deep-seated institutional change that characterized the twentieth century. Viewing both periods of change as part of the same dynamic, Blyth argues that the 1930s labor reacted against the exigencies of the market and demanded state action to mitigate the market’s effects by “embedding liberalism” and the 1970s, those who benefited least from such “embedding” institutions, namely business, reacted against these constraints and sought to overturn that institutional order. In Great Transformations, Blyth demonstrates the critical role economic ideas played in making institutional change possible and he rethinks the relationship between uncertainty, ideas, and interests on how, and under what conditions, institutional change takes place.
This is a brilliant, meticulously researched book, which is a worthy successor to Karl Polanyi‘s seminal work, The Great Transformation, from which it explicitly draws its inspiration.
Conservatives have succeeded in casting government spending as useless profligacy that has made economy worse, centering the policy debate in the wake of the financial crisis on draconian budget cuts. They are told that they need to live in an age of austerity since they have all lived beyond their means and now need to tighten their belts. This view conveniently forgets where all that debt came from. Not from an orgy of government spending, but as the direct result of bailing out, recapitalizing, and adding liquidity to the broken banking system. Through these actions private debt was rechristened as government debt while those responsible for generating it walked away scot free, placing the blame on the state, and the burden on the taxpayer. That burden now takes the form of a global turn to austerity, the policy of reducing domestic wages and prices to restore competitiveness and balance the budget. The problem, according to political economist Mark Blyth, is that austerity is a very dangerous idea. First of all, it doesn’t work. As the past two years of trying and countless other historical examples show, while it makes sense for any one state to try and cut its way to growth, it simply cannot work when all states try it simultaneously: all that happens is a shrinking economy. Second, it relies upon those who didn’t make the mess to clean it up, which is always bad politics. Third, it rests upon a tenuous and thin body of evidence and argumentation that acts more to prop up dead economic ideas and preserve astonishingly skewed income and wealth distributions than to restore prosperity for all. In Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea, Blyth demolishes the conventional wisdom, marshaling an army of facts to demand that we recognize austerity for what it is, and what it costs us.
Banking is not difficult to understand. Most of the issues are quite straightforward. But banking does need to be demystified and the issues do need to be explained to widen the circle of participants in the debate.
We want to encourage more people to form and to trust their opinions, to ask questions, to express doubts and to challenge the flawed arguments that pervade the policy debate.
If more people understand the issues, politicians and regulators will be more accountable to the public. Flawed and dangerous narratives — “the bankers’ new clothes” — must not win.