Capitalism – crisis and critique (defunct)

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Caving in to the corporations?

July 14th, 2010 · general

“Health” Secretary Andrew Lansley seems to be in process of abandoning every health initiative taken by the previous Labour government, often based on a pretty near consensus of health professionals and social commentators and vigorously opposed by the food industry. Under the ConDems the corporations have won by the look of it, providing more evidence that pro business and private sector policies is all too often anti people and society policies. Mr Lansley, junk food and idiocy.

Perhaps a clue to why pro business is so often anti-people and society can be found in Pavan Sukhdev, head of the UN’s investigation into how to stop the destruction of the natural world, recent claim that modern businesses are “soulless corporations” that are in danger of becoming a “cancer” on society. He claims companies usually take a short-term view of the importance of the environment, and this short-term thinking is seen in their lobbying against new policies that could slow environmental devastation, he said.

This short-termism and unrelenting profit and growth orientation applies underpins a relentless and powerful resistance to all forms of regulation that create obstacles to ‘share holder value’. Things seem to have moved on very little since Friedman’s statement in the 1970s that in a “free-enterprise system” business’s only concern is with profit and has no responsibility for achieving desirable social ends (The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits).

Lansley has killed off traffic-light labelling, which exposes hidden salt, fat and sugar against the advice of the British Medical Association, the British Dietetic Association, the British Heart Foundation and dozens of other health and consumer groups. He has rejected a plan by National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence to prevent 40,000 deaths from heart disease, calling for a ban on trans fats, no TV junk-food advertising before 9pm and restrictions on takeaways close to schools. He plans to close the Food Standards Agency (although there is evidence this was already heavily influenced by the food industry and agribusiness).

His answer to all of this is that the food producers are in the best position to educate the public about healthy eating and diet. This is about as useful as saying casino financial interests are in the best positon to advise people on savings  and pension schemes.

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Privatisation of everything?

July 13th, 2010 · economics, general

In a previous post – A neoliberal budget for business and marketisation? – I began to document the claim that the emergency budget was informed by the supposedly discredited neoliberal economic doctrine. The recent changes to the education system and the NHS proposed by the ConDem government both seem to offer opportunities for ‘back door’ privatisation and the general neoliberal objective of commodifying and marketising as much of public sector provision and services as possible. In the case of the NHS the plan is too pass a large part of the budget to GPs who will provide or purchase services on behalf of their patients.  The private sector is already circling to pick up the spoils.

NHS faces radical pro-market shakeup
“The plans could represent the biggest shakeup of the NHS in a generation, with a whole tier of the NHS decapitated: 10 strategic health authorities would be abolished by 2012 and the 150 primary care trusts scrapped by 2013; up to 30,000 managers face being cut or redeployed. […] By 2014 every hospital will be a foundation trust and all will be allowed to leave public ownership while still providing public services”.

NHS shakeup: Private companies see potential to expand their role
“Private companies believe the shake-up of the NHS will lead to a big expansion of their currently small role, as many GPs will need their help to carry out their new role as commissioners of healthcare. Firms which already have small-scale involvement with family doctors are preparing to exploit the chance to gain an unprecedented foothold in the NHS once GPs start spending £80bn of NHS funds”.

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The Idea of Communism at Marxism 2010

July 12th, 2010 · economics

“The Idea of Communism” at Marxism 2010 (1/2) from Kosho Yoshiyama on Vimeo.

A debate between Alex Callinicos, John Holloway and Slavoj Zizek on the Idea of Communism.

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How Goldman Sachs gambled on starving the world’s poor – and won

July 2nd, 2010 · economics

Posted by Johann Hari

By now, you probably think your opinion of Goldman Sachs and its swarm of Wall Street allies has rock-bottomed at raw loathing. You’re wrong. There’s more. It turns out the most destructive of all their recent acts has barely been discussed at all. Here’s the rest. This is the story of how some of the richest people in the world – Goldman, Deutsche Bank, the traders at Merrill Lynch, and more – have caused the starvation of some of the poorest people in the world, just so they could make a fatter profit.

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The effects of the recession

July 1st, 2010 · economics

In the World Tonight broadcast by BBC Radio 4 on the evening of June 30th ( minutes 13 to 18) a couple of small business owners were interviewed to test the claim of the ConDem govt that the reduction of the jobs in the public sector would be more than compensated by the creation of new jobs in the private sector. As far as the intentions of the programme were concerned, the test was inconclusive. However, the programme was revealing in another, unremarked upon, way. The first business was a small fashion designer. SeeMe London. Their customers had not bought anything for most of 2009. To the credit of the owners they had kept their staff on while weathering the storm and restructuring their business. Business was now expanding again but they had ditched their previous customers and markets and how re-branded themselves at the high end of the market selling high value services. The future is now looking quite rosy. The second small business was a company that specialised in tuning high performance cars, Paramount Performance. Again, over 2009 business declined dramatically. One attempted solution was to diversify and offer economy tuning rather than performance tuning thinking that their customers, in straightened circumstances, would be more willing to spend money on saving fuel. To their disappointment this did not appeal and the attracted very few customers. However, this year business is growing again and it is the high end sector that is placing the orders and spending the money.

This is only anecdotal evidence of course but may prove to be symptomatic of how this recession will play out – the already poor and the middle classes getting poorer and the rich getting richer, as is evidenced by previous recessions.

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RSA Crises of Capitalism Talk Animated

June 30th, 2010 · economics

As succinct account of the cause of the current economic crisis as you’ll find. The original version of the talk is at but I think the animations, apart from being quite witty, add a lot.

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The Power of Money (Marx)

June 26th, 2010 · economics

Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844

“By possessing the property of buying everything, by possessing the property of appropriating all objects, money is thus the object of eminent possession. The universality of its property is the omnipotence of its being. It is therefore regarded as an omnipotent being. Money is the procurer between man’s need and the object, between his life and his means of life. But that which mediates my life for me, also mediates the existence of other people for me. For me it is the other person”.

“That which is for me through the medium of money – that for which I can pay (i.e., which money can buy) – that am I myself, the possessor of the money. The extent of the power of money is the extent of my power. Money’s properties are my – the possessor’s – properties and essential powers. Thus, what I am and am capable of is by no means determined by my individuality. I am ugly, but I can buy for myself the most beautiful of women. Therefore I am not ugly, for the effect of ugliness – its deterrent power – is nullified by money. I, according to my individual characteristics, am lame, but money furnishes me with twenty-four feet. Therefore I am not lame. I am bad, dishonest, unscrupulous, stupid; but money is honoured, and hence its possessor. Money is the supreme good, therefore its possessor is good. Money, besides, saves me the trouble of being dishonest: I am therefore presumed honest. I am brainless, but money is the real brain of all things and how then should its possessor be brainless? Besides, he can buy clever people for himself, and is he who has [In the manuscript: ‘is’. – Ed.] power over the clever not more clever than the clever? Do not I, who thanks to money am capable of all that the human heart longs for, possess all human capacities? Does not my money, therefore, transform all my incapacities into their contrary?

If money is the bond binding me to human life, binding society to me, connecting me with nature and man, is not money the bond of all bonds? Can it not dissolve and bind all ties? Is it not, therefore, also the universal agent of separation? It is the coin that really separates as well as the real binding agent – the […] [One word in the manuscript cannot be deciphered. – Ed.] chemical power of society”.

via Posterous and Joss Winn’s Things that stick

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A neoliberal budget for business and marketisation?

June 26th, 2010 · general

It looks like it. I’ll keep some sort of a record of business and private sector benefits from the budget although, if this is the intention of the budget, there is plenty of scope for it to shoot business in both feet. Generally the outcome of an economic recession seems to be the increase and consolidation of the wealth of the few at the expense of the many. So far there is little reason to suppose that this one will be any different. What follows are random jottings as things emerge.

Academies and Free Schools

Chains and brands will develop. Management tasks will be consolidated. It makes no sense for every school to be a procurement agent, every school to have an account with a stationer. Some of the tasks of consolidation that have been poorly discharged by local education authorities (LEAs) will be taken over by charitable foundations, by co-operatives of teachers and, in time, by private companies.

Transfer of public sector services to the private sector. There seems to be a presumption that, by reducing public sector costs (and therefore reducing services) and promoting the private sector, the private sector will step in and offer the services the public sector will no longer provide. I’m sure I have heard this explicitly stated by the ConDem govt. but will need to check.

On the radio this morning it was reported that Pickles will introduce some controls over free local council free local newspapers. The argument is that these are often propaganda publications and they are unfair competition to privately owned ‘independent’ local papers that are suffering loss of circulation and advertising.

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Liquid histories

June 26th, 2010 · general

I was impressed with the thinking behind Sekula’s approach to documentary photography and film that I posted on a little while ago ( and have been thinking about how these ideas could be used to write a sort of material and economic history of an everyday object that would reveal in detail the process of its conception and production and the material and social relations that constructed it both as a material object, as a commodity and as a instance in the flow of capital. The idea goes something like this, imagining for instance a commemoration mug of some sort. It can be shown as a moment, a temporary coalescence, in the flow of time, space and human history. The origin of its potentiality and subsequent actualisation is in the Big Bang. Materially its substance is the product of the transformation of geology brought about by the appearance of life,  i.e.  chalk, clay, oxygen. The energy used by its manufacture is also the product of geology and life processes  (oxygen and fossil fuel).  It is also the product of a particular human and social history. The story of its conception and manufacture as a commodity is told in terms of human and cultural development, within  the development a globalising capitalist system of labour relations and commodification.   The mug will no doubt eventually break and possibly over 100s of years return to something like an aggregate of its physical components. If the whole process could  be speeded up the mug may well appear as a brief eddy, a fleeting shape shift,  in the flow and whirl of material processes (within which humanity makes a brief appearance) that have, on a different time scale, many of the characteristics of a flowing river in which temporary liquid structures are formed and dissipated in response to external, internal and contingent influences and events.  In terms of society, some aspects of the modern phase of this process have speeded up enough to become visible even on a human time scale, prompting  Zygmunt Bauman to introduce the concept of ‘liquid’ as a major component of his diagnosis of late modernity and a little earlier Marshal Berman to take Marx’s phrase All That Is Solid Melts into Air as the title of his book about the self-destructive nature of capitalist modernization and its relations to contemporary forms of consciousness.

Following  Sekula, the story of the mug would be a short segment of the story told above and told in terms of the labour relations embedded in the mug via its production under the conditions of globalising capitalism. David Harvey focusses on the impersonal flow of value and capital that privatises and commodifies all within its grasp under the ceaseless compulsion to accumulate and achieve 3% growth through and beyond each successive systemic crises, a feature of the capitalist economic system. He also sees commodities as the embodiment of social relations that produce value.

“But what kind of social relation is presupposed here? Value is an internal relation within the commodity. It internalises the whole historical geography of labour processes, commodity production and realization, and capital accumulation in the space-time of the world market” page xx in the introduction to the 2006 edition of The Limits of Capital, Verso.

I think this is pretty close to what Sekula attempts to make visible in his documentary photographs and films.

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Critical Theory and David Harvey

June 26th, 2010 · general

I have been reading up on Critical Theory and David Harvey’s work on capitalism recently. A couple of links for future reference:

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