Archive for April, 2009

Real Romantics

Fantastic piece by Leo Panitch on Marx in Foreign Policy.

Despite the depth of our current predicament, Marx would have no illusions that economic catastrophe would itself bring about change. He knew very well that capitalism, by its nature, breeds and fosters social isolation. Such a system, he wrote, “leaves no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash payment.’” Indeed, capitalism leaves societies mired “in the icy water of egotistical calculation.” The resulting social isolation creates passivity in the face of personal crises, from factory layoffs to home foreclosures. So, too, does this isolation impede communities of active, informed citizens from coming together to take up radical alternatives to capitalism.

Marx would ask first and foremost how to overcome this all-consuming social passivity. He thought that unions and workers’ parties developing in his time were a step forward. Thus in Das Kapital he wrote that the “immediate aim” was “the organization of the proletarians into a class” whose “first task” would be “to win the battle for democracy.” Today, he would encourage the formation of new collective identities, associations, and institutions within which people could resist the capitalist status quo and begin deciding how to better fulfill their needs.


“From financialisation of the economy to the socialisation of finance,” Buiter wrote, is “a small step for the lawyers, a huge step for mankind.” Clearly, you don’t need to be a Marxist to have radical aspirations. You do, however, have to be some sort of Marxist to recognize that even at a time like the present, when the capitalist class is on its heels, demoralized and confused, radical change is not likely to start in the form of “a small step for the lawyers” (presumably after getting all the “stakeholders” to sit down together in a room to sign a document or two). Marx would tell you that, without the development of popular forces through radical new movements and parties, the socialization of finance will fall on infertile ground. Notably, during the economic crisis of the 1970s, radical forces inside many of Europe’s social democratic parties put forward similar suggestions, but they were unable to get the leaders of those parties to go along with proposals they derided as old-fashioned.

Attempts to talk seriously about the need to democratize our economies in such radical ways were largely shunted aside by parties of all stripes for the next several decades, and we are still paying the price for marginalizing those ideas. The irrationality built into the basic logic of capitalist markets—and so deftly analyzed by Marx—is once again evident. Trying just to stay afloat, each factory and firm lays off workers and tries to pay less to those kept on. Undermining job security has the effect of undercutting demand throughout the economy. As Marx knew, microrational behavior has the worst macroeconomic outcomes. We now can see where ignoring Marx while trusting in Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” gets you.


Yet the work of building new institutions and movements for change must begin at home. Although he made the call “Workers of the world, unite!” Marx still insisted that workers in each country “first of all settle things with their own bourgeoisie.” The measures required to transform existing economic, political, and legal institutions would “of course be different in different countries.” But in every case, Marx would insist that the way to bring about radical change is first to get people to think ambitiously again.

Which presumably has nothing to do with submitting ideas to a website sponsored by the American Chamber of Commerce.

How likely is that to happen? Even at a moment when the financial crisis is bleeding dry a vast swath of the world’s people, when collective anxiety shakes every age, religious, and racial group, and when, as always, the deprivations and burdens are falling most heavily on ordinary working people, the prognosis is uncertain. If he were alive today, Marx would not look to pinpoint exactly when or how the current crisis would end. Rather, he would perhaps note that such crises are part and parcel of capitalism’s continued dynamic existence. Reformist politicians who think they can do away with the inherent class inequalities and recurrent crises of capitalist society are the real romantics of our day, themselves clinging to a naive utopian vision of what the world might be. If the current crisis has demonstrated one thing, it is that Marx was the greater realist.

(My bold)

Reverting Back To Revert

Bravo to the makers of Kildare Street. An excellent resource, which I plan on using extensively to satisfy my curiosity. For example, if I wanted to find out who the most frequent user of the word ‘revert’ is, I could find out in an instant.

Facing Facts

Fintan O’Toole unloads on Michael Lowry:

A country still in thrall to the likes of Lowry – The Irish Times – Tue, Apr 21, 2009

There is a wider issue here that O’Toole scarcely refers to here, which is how much the Irish economy depends on the machinations of transnational corporations that want to avoid paying tax, which morally speaking is like a hundred million Michael Lowrys. And it is far more than the ‘handful’ of jobs he refers to here. I had a look at CSO stats for turnover for service industry firms in ‘Computer and related activities’. Firms with a turnover of €5,000,000 and over generated a total of €14bn turnover in Ireland in 2006. That works out at €702,000 turnover for each person working in those firms. Go figure.

Yes, Michael Lowry is a lowdown dirty rat, and yes the prominent members of the public who eat cocktail sausages in his company are of morally dubious character too, but one of the frustrating things about O’Toole is how he gets hung up on matters of individual character, virtue and vice. I mean, of course they’re all a pack of dirtbirds, but the cute hoorism isn’t the point. Sure, there may be some arresting considerations around how what might once have been a strategy of the colonial subject to outwit the master is now a strategy used by a substantial portion of the ruling class to efface class antagonisms. Yet all we’re talking about here is capitalism with an Irish face, but O’Toole is in thrall to the face.

As a general rule, we should approach complaints about ‘crony capitalism’ in the same way as we might approach complaints about ‘crony fascism’.

Of The Terrible Cerebral

Video: Darling accused of prompting British brain drain with tax increase on high earners – Times Online

Alex Henderson, tax partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said today’s tax hike could see the City’s high-earners flee to lower tax locations such as Ireland and Switzerland.

Switzerland. Please let it be Switzerland. Please, Jesus. C’mon.

The Long Run

Nationalising banks is the best option – The Irish Times – Fri, Apr 17, 2009

We do not make this recommendation from any ideological position. In normal circumstances, none of us would recommend a nationalised banking system. However, these are far from normal times and we believe that in the current circumstances, nationalisation has become the best option open to the Government.

Thing is, if you survey world economic history over the last 250 years or so, as I do every morning before having my organic Weetabix, it becomes pretty clear that capitalism doesn’t do normal.

I Liked Him in ‘The General’

Britain walks out of conference as Ahmadinejad calls Israel ‘racist’ | World news |

One person not boycotting the conference was the film star Jon Voight, a staunch supporter of Israel who said he had come to confront Ahmadinejad’s position on the Holocaust. Voight told the Guardian: “The fox is in charge of the hen house here. This is supposed to be about human rights, but hidden under that banner is antisemitism. Someone has to respond to it.”

Jon Voight is a raving fruitcake, as this video demonstrates.

And this one:

The ‘barren land into an oasis’ catchphrase echoes the more familiar Zionist one about ‘making the desert bloom’, which is intended to deny the fact that Palestine had half a million Arabic-speaking farmers in it when the Zionists started to arrive.

By an eerie coincidence, Jon Voight once appeared in a film titled ‘Desert Bloom‘, which has nothing to do with Israel. Some people who do have something to do with Israel is the newly founded Northern Ireland Friends of Israel group, who laud Israel for ‘causing the desert to bloom’.

Northern Ireland Friends of Israel was launched by former Northern Ireland First Minister and all-round agent of tolerance Ian Paisley.

His successor is pictured below, on a fact finding mission to the Israeli border area (wherever that is) some years back.


Orgies of Irish-bashing

IrishCentral editors respond to Krugman rant | Irish News | IrishCentral

He has jumped on the merry-go-round that every economist in the world has in an orgy of Irish-bashing that is without parallel.

But I think America would be privileged to turn Irish, Mr. Krugman.

Nowhere in his column has he talked about the Irish people other than as statistics.

That could be because he has never met them, or is ignorant of their history.

What he should know is this.

Yes, things are bad in 2009 in Ireland. But they’ve seen a lot worse.

Back in the 1840s millions of Irish starved to death in Europe’s worst 19th century genocide as the British stood idly by.

The country recovered and defeated the British.

Not only that, they have endured and overcome more than almost any other nation on earth.

In the 1950s the country had nothing and huge numbers emigrated.

In the 1980s the country was broke again and many more emigrated.

So the Irish, Mr. Krugman, are well used to adversity, the kind you could never possibly imagine from your Ivy League office at Princeton.

Confronted with this kind of voluntarist come-all-ye, the average person in Ireland may be inclined to perform serious self-harm with the nearest shillelagh. However, it is important to see this in its true context: as an minor American domestic dispute. The entire population here could be living in crack dens, human trafficking could account for 55% of GDP, and the warlord owners of the country could be launching ballistic missiles unprovoked at the population of Anglesey, and you’d still have lots of prominent voices in the US sticking up for Ireland. I’m not criticising it and I don’t think Irish-Americans should refrain from doing it: in fact I think it’s a quite entertaining feature of American culture.

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April 2009
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