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28 responses to “The state of capitalism today II”

  1. SocProf

    It will be interesting to see what happens to Sarkozy’s proposal of a new Bretton Woods because, contrary to Bush, Merkel and others, Sarkozy’s not a lame duck, he still has his majority in Parliament. And with the socialist party in disarray and therefore no threat to the next electoral cycle, Sarkozy is in a stronger position to make such proposals.

    Actually, (and I may have mentioned it before), alter-globalization groups should get their own New Bretton Woods to put forward their own reform proposals.

  2. professor rat

    The future keeps happening and I welcome the obvious collapse of this golden calf of Austrian – economics. It was always as bogus an ideology of the right as Marxism on the left. I have to disagree with the framing of this as a fork-in-the-road between capitalism and statism. Its more like a lane merger. But now – aided by the net – we will see some genuinely competitive alternative and independent markets emerge in real-time, more Proudhonian mutualism emerge, more Stirnerian co-ops and collectives and more libertarian-socialism and revolutionary syndicalism all around. The first planet-wide revolution in fact. Free trade means open borders and a global commonwealth economy requires a global ‘ hawala’ of a convenient common currency. ( The Euro will do for now )
    Anarchism is such a neat fit with P2P, Freenets and wildnets, cryptoanarchy, prediction pools and open-source operating systems it’s practically indistinguishable from magic.
    ‘ The urge to destroy that is also the creative urge…’ Bakunin.

  3. Katz

    Bretton Woods lasted as long as it did because the US found it to be advantageous to maintain its aims and methods. When these aims and methods ceased to be advantageous to the US, the US dumped its commitments to Bretton Woods. Without US support Bretton Woods was doomed.

    Any return to a Bretton Woods-style arrangement requires both China and the capital that is property of the oil-rich Gulf states.

    I’m not sure what kind of argument can be made to China which may convince them of the advantage of underwriting a new regime of fixed exchange rates, perhaps using the RMB as the reserve currency.

  4. SocProf

    to be sure a New Bretton Woods would not look like Bretton woods. As you mention (as do the articles and posts mentioned by Mark), the US hegemony is no longer a given and we’re are more now in a multipolar world. This would have to be taken into account.

    And what of the global civil society? How much involvement here?

    So there is “return” possible. Bretton Woods was the product of very specific conditions that are mo longer present. What I meant with “New Bretton Woods” was more as symbol of “building a new global economic order.”

  5. Katz

    What would you imagine to be a minimum set of operating principles for “a new global economic order”?

  6. SocProf

    Man, that’s a tough and complicated question. Just a few thoughts as to who should be involved:

    – Governments, of course, and not just the Big Ones (US / China / Russia …) but there should be representatives of regional governance bodies (EU, African Union, etc.).

    – This should be organized under the auspices of the UN.

    – I would hope that non-orthodox economists would be involved as well (Sen, Yunus, Stiglitz, Bello).

    – The World Social Forum should be working on that as well to provide representation from the global civil society.

    – There are already a vast array of global regulatory statutes. They should be reviewed to see how they work and whether they could be adapted to the financial world.

    – The goal might be to draft a global social contract / compact on economic governance to replace the Washington Consensus.

    – This would mean a reexamination of the statutes of the IMF, WB and WTO.

    This is, of course, assuming, against Wallerstein, that capitalism can / should be saved.

    This also does not address the issues specific to the American economy: the massive deregulation, huge levels of state / corporate / household indebtedness and unsustainable spending.

  7. Bingo Bango Boingo

    The idea that capitalism is in such a state as to require ‘saving’ is just bizarre. It treats capitalism as a synonym for a particularly opaque and unsustainable model of high finance. It also ignores the underlying capitalistic nature of social democracies, and of any conceivable post-crisis framework for trade/capital movements.


  8. Mark

    What exactly are you saying, BBB, that the provision of credit is not necessary for a capitalist economy to function? Or, ahem, access to working capital?

  9. Katz

    Some practical questions SocProf.

    Is it possible to run an intergrated economic system with a plethora of currencies?

    If so, how? If not, what should replace them and how would that replacement be achieved?

    BBB, aren’t complex finance arrangments the crowning achievement of capitalism? Bretton Woods attempted to excise these complex arrangements from the system and failed. Aren’t these arrangements, therefore, unavoidable?

  10. Bingo Bango Boingo

    “BBB, aren’t complex finance arrangments the crowning achievement of capitalism?”

    Perhaps for some. Mostly investment bankers and derivatives traders, I suspect (at least up until mid-last-year). For the rest of us, the crowning achievement of capitalism must surely be the massive productivity increases in the manufacture/production of clothing, food, and housing and lately the integration of information technologies into the privately-owned and operated means of production. But here you’ve highlighted the problem. Bretton Woods was a global framework which enshrined capitalism as the dominant feature of the post-War international economic order. After all, the primary objective of Bretton Woods was to create a monetary stability that would facilitate trade. And yet we have people setting it up as the antithesis of capitalistic behaviour on a global scale. Really it is Capitalism, Flavour B.


  11. Adrien

    There was no effective opposition. The left and organised labour collapsed as intellectual, social and political forces;
    The Left and organized labour parted ways somewhere back when. The unions are outplayed by global transfers of capital often to places where organizing labour gets you a visit from a midnight death squad. Corporations can hold nations to ransom. Hence centre-left parties like British Labour face either electoral annihilation or must conform to the one ideology state. At least that’s as they see it.
    The enthusiasm for restricted states and international free markets was simply smoke. A cursory look at ‘free’ trade deals like NAFTA shows pretty clearly that the freedom belongs almost exclusively to firms that are already multinational. Having an ineffective international system of ‘law’ in addition to very effective international systems of economic policy dictations (the BWIs) and institutions like multinational corporations which are designed to eschew liability whilst at the same time enjoying full rights is obviously disasterous.
    Part of the blame lies with us of course. Part of it lies with people like Tony Blair who appear to me nothing short of moral vacuums who, at the same time, indulge the conceit of being righteous (!). We need one of two things: a resurgence of democracy with some kind of internationally enforced apparatus or – the collapse of it followed by some kind of regional autocracy.
    I know which one I pick.

  12. Adrien

    After all, the primary objective of Bretton Woods was to create a monetary stability that would facilitate trade.
    Well that might’ve been the Dream. The reality is that it became the New Way to have an old Empire keep on keeping on. Mercantilism never went away it just called itself liberal economics. And just like moving the power from Athens to Alexandria or Rome to Byzantium it shifted from London to New York/Washington.
    And in keeping with the NeoEmpire in answer to the ‘what have the Romans ever done for us’ question, the new answer is: lend us money at impossibly high rates delivered Don Corleoni style and/ore Jack Shit. 🙂

  13. David Rubie

    Adrien wrote:

    lend us money at impossibly high rates

    When did that happen? The credit derivatives that exploded were all written at *too low rates to reflect the risk*.

    Credit card rates are high and cripplingly so, but at least they reflect the risks of default (which is partly what interest is supposed to do).

  14. Adrien

    I wasn’t referring to the current meltdown. I was referring to loans made for development to third world countries based on impossible growth forecasts. It’s generally agreed that these loans are impossible to repay. Please see John Perkins Confessions of an Economic Hitman for how this worked.
    I myself grew up on a World Bank project community. The idea was sound. But it was corrupted by a lack of transparency, by a lack of competition and by the inevitable problems encountered when the source of the loans are also the recipients of the contracts building the projects that said loans are supposed to fund.
    In essence I lend you my money for you to pay me to do work in the expectation that it will help you make X amount of dollars. The trouble is that the X is a fiction cooked up by consultants working for me. The deal being that you end up at my mercy for good. In real life such consultants (like Perkins) forecast figures such as 20% growth. This is thought to be impossible. Trouble is: the third world governments didn’t know that. In the event if the shonky dealing doesn’t do the trick btw, the CIA will.
    Whether organized or not the end result is that the third world stays where it is except insofar as having infrastructure vital for us to exploit its resources without helping the people out one bit. The Empire without the hassles.
    One day we’ll pay for that.

  15. Peter Kemp

    It is certain that what is occurring is Schumpeterian “creative destruction”,…

    Which Paul Krugman seems to have predicted August 29, 2005:

    How bad will that aftermath be? The U.S. economy is currently suffering from twin imbalances. On one side, domestic spending is swollen by the housing bubble, which has led both to a huge surge in construction and to high consumer spending, as people extract equity from their homes. On the other side, we have a huge trade deficit, which we cover by selling bonds to foreigners. As I like to say, these days Americans make a living by selling each other houses, paid for with money borrowed from China.

    It’s not as if “capitalism” had no warnings. (Notably, as I recall, Krugman was the only one who predicted the SEA meltdown of 97/98. Wish I’d known about that at the time.)

  16. danny

    Steve Keene has been pretty much, as they say, on the money, for quite a while hasn’t he?

  17. Bingo Bango Boingo

    After all, the primary objective of Bretton Woods was to create a monetary stability that would facilitate trade.

    “Well that might’ve been the Dream. The reality is that it became the New Way to have an old Empire keep on keeping on. Mercantilism never went away it just called itself liberal economics.”

    Yep, mercantilism as a conceptual input to economic policy is alive and well in the American Empire, which is why the American state has ensured a healthy trade surpl… oh, wait. What rubbish you are talking, Adrien. But anyway it’s a refreshing departure from the standard critique of modern globalisation, which usually claims, among other things of course, that trade itself is the imperialist instrument through which the West, and in particular the US, maintains its hegemony. You have neatly and succinctly divorced the two.


  18. Adrien

    BBB – America’s trade deficit has to do with living on credit complements of China et al and allowing them to become the world’s workshop which, for some reason, economists didn’t think a problem. Result: the US is now at the PRC’s mercy.
    My reference to mercantilism is more by way of explaining the strategy behind the corruption of the BWIs.
    Thing is it’s not really mercantilism in the sense that it was in the days of the British Raj. It’s more casual. Third world countries are required by the BWIs to adhere to strict regulations particularly low tariffs and almost no social spending on things like health and education. This, it is said, is for their own good. A necessary condition if they’re going to develop despite the overwhelming historical evidence to the contrary. Either they’re blind ideologues or straight-up lying crooks. You decide.
    At the same time the States along with the EU and Japan etc persist in maintaining tariffs precisely in those markets that third world countries can compete in – like agriculture. Add to this the extension of such laws as intellectual property that enable people in America to patent traditional remedies or the imposition of ‘free’ trade deals designed to prevent governments from impsing sanctions on odious regimes like, say, the NFTC’s suit of the State of Massachusetts for boycotting Burma and the picture that emerges is not one of free trade so much as the structural privileges of multinational corporations.
    The strategy is to use the rhetorical appeal of free trade (I endorse free trade btw) in order to impose a restricted regulatory regime that prevents states from imposing restrictions on multinationals whilst at the same time positively obliges states to restrict and even oppress their own populations for the convenience of these same institutions.
    Far from free trade and competative markets the move is toward entrenched oligopolies which sew up markets in entirety much like Mafia families carve out territory. Take the shitty bits of capitalism and socialsm and mix ’em together. Fab!

  19. Bingo Bango Boingo

    Fair enough, Adrien. If the position is that the US extols the virtues of free trade while it goes about protecting well-heeled producers from foreign competition (in a range of sectors, but most obviously agriculture), you’ll get no argument from me. It’s disgusting. The massive government failure that this represents is quite literally killing people. And there’s more than enough blame to share around on that: the so-called social democrats of Europe have turned screwing third-world agriculturalists into a fine art. Is there any more grotesque a policy than the CAP?


  20. RobWindt

    The “crash course” series at http://www.chrismartenson.com/ seems to offer a comprehensive view of the trends that got us here and why, or am I missing something obvious?

  21. Lefty E

    Repeat after me: regulation is GOOD, regulation WORKS.

  22. Adrien

    BBB – It’s realpolitik. Any American or European politician who tried to do the right thing would be tossed out. Simple as that.
    It’s one instance where enlightened monarchy would be better than democracy. Actually enlightened monarchy is the best form of government as Aristotle said. The trouble is enlightened monarchs come around about once in every 10 000 years and are usually strangled in the cradle. 🙂

  23. Razor

    Adrien obviously likes being at the cutting edge of political economy – giving it a whole new meaning and applying it to a completely different time than when Mercantilism (as commonly taught in unergraduate economic history courses) thrived.

    You can have Krugmann’s Nobel Prize when he is finished with it.

  24. Adrien

    Razor – I admit I’m using the word mercantilism a little loosely but I think it applies:
    Definition: The theory and system of political economy based on national policies of accumulating bullion, establishing colonies and a merchant marine, and developing industry and mining to attain a favorable balance of trade.
    Except for the accumulation of bullion I think the arrangements installed in the name of ‘free trade’ can be considered a kind of mercantilism. A controlled trade system favourable to those states that wield such.
    If my description of this is inaccurate or lacking in some way I would sincerely like to hear about it.

  25. Adrien

    You can have Krugmann’s Nobel Prize when he is finished with it.
    No thanks. I have serious doubts as to the veracity of any award granting institution that’d give Henry Kissinger a peace prize – seriously.

  26. Bingo Bango Boingo

    Adrien, the institutions are different. The Nobel Peace Prize is a proper Nobel Prize, one of the five instituted by the will of Alfred Nobel. The granting institution for the Nobel Peace Prize is the Norwegian Nobel Committee (which is appointed by the Norwegian Parliament). By contrast, the co-called “Nobel Prize in Economics” is not a proper Nobel Prize; it is a late-60s invention of the Swedish central bank. The granting institution is the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (which, incidentally, also selects laureates for the proper physics and chemistry Nobels).


  27. Katz

    Perhaps Bush may salvage something from the wreckage of his presidency by winning the Nobel Prize for Economics for his contribution to the theory and practice of centrally planned economies.

    It’d only be fitting…

  28. Hal9000

    Back to Bretton Woods Mark 2 – as I recall it a central element of Keynes’s proposal was the establishment of an International Clearing Union as a world central bank, but the realpolitik of 1944 ensured the US Dollar was made the world reserve currency. Bretton Woods collapsed when the Johnson and Nixon administrations printed dollars to pay for the Great Society and Vietnam War programs, and the rest of the world eventually decided to stop paying premium rates for the effectively devalued currency. Perhaps it’s time to revisit Keynes?