By Michael Albert at Sep 22, 2008
Let me start by saying I don't understand and never have understood the ups and downs of capitalist macro economics. I just don't get the innards of it - though I a bit self servingly I admit that i doubt anyone else does either. Rather, I tend to think there is a lot of hand waving, that's the technical term for making believe one knows what one doesn't know and putting on a good show of it, when talking about macro economic details, prognoses, etc.
It is not that we know nothing, however, it is just that the fine points, which admittedly can become very large factors at times, are incredibly elusive.
So I would like to propose a few simple things we do know about our economy that we ought keep in mind while life as we have know it seemingly spirals into oblivion.
(1) Capitalism is in crisis all the time. Thus, millions upon millions of people dying from preventable starvation or lack of medication ought to count as crisis. Billions of people occupying economic roles that deny them dignity and influence even over their own immediate conditions much less over broader social relations, ought to count as crisis. Indeed, there is an almost endless litany of despicable pain and suffering capitalist economics daily imposes on humanity, even when operating optimally, whether via low or no wages, via low or no concern for ecological disaster, via low or no attention to social and collective needs, or via low regard for human potential, dignity, and capacity - save for how these can be commercialized into obscenity.
(2) Capitalism is only publicly recognized to be in crisis, however, when its deadly decay escalates to affect those at the top - which is why we now say, hey, this week capitalism is in crisis, whereas a year back, with only slightly less human costs piling up - we didn't say it was in crisis. There is a balance sheet. Some peoples' suffering counts - their's. Some peoples' suffering doesn't count - our's.
(3) Mainstream efforts to deal with the dislocations capitalism wreaks upon us, as well as with its more typical slip slide on a less rocky road, always seek to preserve or even enlarge the advantages of elites while maintaining systemic relations that afford the possibility of those elites continuing to accrue advantages. Mainstream efforts, that is, seek first to enrich the rich at the expense of whoever is in the way - and second to ensure that greed doesn't get so out of hand that it threatens the overall conditions of enrichment.
(4) We can therefore aconfidently predict, despite our wider confusion, that owners and their minions in universities and think tanks, not to mention on the boards of their companies, will in the current upheaval scurry around mightily seeking to right their ship - which means seeking to return to a condition that is only moderately disruptive to them while still allowing a generalized rip-off of everyone else.
(5) That mainstream inclination, we can also predict, will come in two flavrs. A die hard group that wants pretty much the entire social product for the rich - save for some dregs jettisoned downward to keep lackeys alive, will square off against another group who are a bit more in touch with reality, and want, instead, to share out the social product a little bit more, precisely to ensure that the biggest part continues to come their way. Market lunatics, that is, will face off against Keynesian liberals (a rock and a hard place).
(6) Not to misinterpret, the spinning spiralling economy is hurting normal folks too, and things will get much much worse if there are no effective steps taken - so we do need acts now.
(7) In the interstices of the grand debate between market lunatics and liberal philosopher kings, in the nooks and crannies of this great battle of greedy haves against slightly less greedy (or more astute) haves, which is to say in the bars and ballparks and bus stations of society, where normal folks congregate, a different discussion is likely to occur. This popular discussion is likely to have one or both of two broad inclinations. It may be scared shitless of collapse and seeking divine guidance by powerful leaders - which could auger more or less fascistic outcomes. Or it could bemoan the system as a whole, the agendas of business and government generals as a whole, and begin to think about whether there is another way to conduct our collective lives. Down this second route lies the possibility of real progressive and even revolutionary change.
(8) In the short run there will be reforms, as we see occurring already - some on a massive scale. And reforms are needed, to be sure. But the issue for caring people about such reforms becomes, will the verbiage and values surrounding them and their detailed implications inspire and unleash fear and a desire to return to perhaps even more obedient and more decrepit, stability. Or will the verbiage and values surrounding the reforms and their detailed implications unleash a massive debate and exploration of how we can pursue still more change beyond achieving simple stability and into establishing new morality, new logic, and new structures of economic life. Here is where the actions of critics of capitalism might have an impact.