what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!
The Bucegi mountains - the range I see from the front balcony of my mountain house - are almost 120 kms from Bucharest and cannot normally be seen from the capital but some extraordinary weather conditions allowed this pic to be taken from the top of the Intercontinental Hotel in late Feb 2020

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Money Talks - why we need a new Vocabulary of social change

Exactly one hundred years ago. Keynes wrote a famous paragraph about globalisation which started -
The inhabitant of London could order by telephone, sipping his morning tea in bed, the various products of the whole earth, in such quantity as he might see fit, and reasonably expect their early delivery upon his doorstep.
Two world wars checked capitalism's dynamism - although the post-war period enjoyed what the French have called "the glorious 30 years". A new phase, however, came into play in 1971 with Nixon's unilateral decision to take the US out of the 1944 Bretton Woods system of global finance. The UK's Big Bang liberalisation of banking and the EU's Single Market 15 years later; and the establishment in 1995 of the World Trade Organisation were further boosts to a new phase of global financialisation.
These past 40 years of increasingly instantaneous financial flows have made a mockery of both democracy and of sovereignty. It is capital markets which now decide the shape and scope of state policy-making - and which have destroyed the model of social democracy. 
When countries borrow, it is the money markets who make the judgements about the risks and therefore the range of interest rates payable.
Whatever the rhetoric of party manifestos, it is money - not politics - which now talks and which should make us take more seriously the question posed more than a decade ago by the veteran US political scientist SM Wolin in Democracy Incorporated – managed democracy and the spectre of inverted totalitarianism (2008) - namely whether capitalism and democracy can continue to coexist. Robert Kuttner's Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism? (2018) clearly doubts it

The ideology of "neoliberalism" may well be a useful one for academics but is disastrous as an explanatory tool for social activists - let alone one likely to help persuade others. We do therefore desperately need a proper vocabulary for persuasive conversations with others about the nature of the system which is grinding us asunder. I've taken in recent blogposts to refer to it, variously, as "The Beast" or the Elephant - although Yanis Varoufakis's "Minotaur" is probably the best metaphor.
When I was born, capitalism was something which stood or fell according to its ability to produce real things - now it is more of a psychic process so well described in Adam Curtis' documentaries. The 2011 book Monoculture - how one story is changing everything is one of the few good reads about all this.

Skidelsky's "Money and Government", which was the positive focus of the last post, is an important book in its (sadly all too rare) attempt to make the world of money comprehensible to the average citizen. But it has, these past few weeks, been lying unread in my car - I just didn't have the patience to wade through the economic history it offers.
Something called "Modern Monetary Theory" has suddenly become flavour of the month in leftist circles thanks apparently to one of Bernie Saunders' advisers, one Stephanie Kelton whose book The Deficit Myth  has been attracting feverish reviews - although Michael Roberts, the Marxist economist, needs some convincing 
Such is the level of interest in this new body of work that Real Economics devoted an entire issue to the subject which is well worth reading

update; last year saw the publication of this book which argues against the prevailing view that capitalism is destroying democracy – balancing the 2013 book Managing Democracy; managing dissent – capitalism, democracy and organising consensus.