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Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism
April 9, 2014 12:16 AM   Subscribe

David Harvey's latest book looks at the internal contradictions within the flow of capital that have precipitated recent crises and "why this economic engine should be replaced, and with what." Available online are the Prologue, the last two chapters, and video & audio for his April 2nd talk at the London School of Economics.
posted by spamandkimchi (44 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
Also! Harvey has a RSA talk today that will be streamed live online (6 pm London; 1 pm New York City)
posted by spamandkimchi at 12:20 AM on April 9


The one big institutional difference this time around seems to be
the role of the central banks, with the Federal reserve of the United
States playing a leading if not domineering role on the world stage.
But ever since the inception of central banks (back in 1694 in the
British case), their role has been to protect and bail out the bankers
and not to take care of the well-being of the people. The fact that the
United States could statistically exit the crisis in the summer of 2009
and that stock markets almost everywhere could recover their losses
has had everything to do with the policies of the Federal reserve.


The author seems to be confusing capitalism with crony capitalism. In a real capitalist system those banks would have gone out of business, their investors would have been wiped out, and the path to structural reform would have been laid open. Yes at great harm to everyone else and that was threat that made the ransom note work.

The Economist magazine recently had an entire issue dedicated to "The New Age of Crony Capitalism" in which they argued that government regulation and intervention and the increasingly corrupt political conections between business and government are at the root of the problem.

Unfortunately The Economist believes that "People want politicians who don't line their pockets, and tycoons who compete without favors. A revolution to save capitalism is under way."

A letter to the editor published in the subsequent issue put a fork in this Panglossian optimism. John Radizilowski of the University of Alaska wrote:

"... Teddy Roosevelt's trustbusting could act as a somewhat neutral broker and the regulations placed on industry were limited and fairly simple to enforce. In today's crony capitalism, the state is the problem. Arcane and unclear regulations that are enforced on some and not on others favour large corporations and wealthy cronies. They can afford teams of lawyers and accountants and provide political contributions (or even bribes) to make the system work on their behalf. The regulations that you (the Economist) call for will be written and enforced by the minions of today's crony capitalists and the more they add, the wealthier and more powerful they will become."

There is, I believe, a common interest between those who decry income inequality and those who want smaller government. It seems obvious that the Bush/Clinton/Bush era was (and is) deeply indebted to crony capitalism. Bill Clinton's pardon of Mark Rich at the end of his second term - facilitated by Eric Holder - earned Holder an appointment by Obama as his attorney general and will no doubt provide Mrs. Bill Clinton with the same springboard in 2016.

The Tea Party mantra of smaller government and less regulation is maybe an overly simple way of reducing the amount of government corruption, but it is at least a proffered solution. Revolutionary humanism - Marxism rebranded - doesn't offer anything new other than a name.
posted by three blind mice at 1:22 AM on April 9 [7 favorites]


I'm afraid the study of 'capitalism' has to all intents and purposes become the study of economics. We need new labels to describe what's salient now.

the violent and unpredictable eruptions that are occurring all around the world on an episodic basis (from Turkey and Egypt to Brazil and Sweden in 2013 alone) look more and more like the prior tremors for a coming earthquake that will make the post-colonial revolutionary struggles of the 1960s look like child’s play.

Yes, but if you squint the right way they also look more and more like the disturbances that foreshadow the end times. Or more and more like the unstoppable determination of humanity to achieve liberty, democracy, and coca-cola. And perhaps most of all like the small change of incoherent, detailed, unforeseeable human history.

Years ago I read a Marxist history of China where the ongoing crisis of feudalism was mentioned repeatedly; it just happened to be a crisis that lasted more than a thousand years. When a Marxist tells you something is inevitable, don't hold your breath.
posted by Segundus at 1:29 AM on April 9 [7 favorites]


In a real capitalist system

Nope. Sorry, we live in a real capitalist system. What you call "crony capitalism" is the logical outcome of the concentration of wealth that Marx (and later Marxists) observed in the tendencies and laws of motion of capitalism. The crises, the corruption, the manipulation of the state for the interests of private capital are all part and parcel of having a capitalist system.

There is, I believe, a common interest between those who decry income inequality and those who want smaller government.

The middle classes who want lower taxes (as Marx put it, "gouvernement à bon marché", or cheap government) today are pawns of billionaires who want to tear apart the remaining regulations protecting workers, the environment and any other rights, interests or public goods that stand in their way of making a buck. Both tax cuts and austerity are a weapon for transferring wealth from workers, the poor and the middle classes to the rich. None of it is aimed at a smaller government.
posted by graymouser at 3:31 AM on April 9 [60 favorites]


I would like to be optimistic about what's in the book, but based on these extracts it seems to be: the usual. There's a nice 17-point shopping list of how the world ought to be, but tremendous vagueness on how it's actually going to work, and how it's going to come about.

What makes my heart sink more is that he talks about "use value" and "exchange value". Unlike modern Marxists like John Roemer who have adapted Marxism to the Marginalist theory of value, he's still sticking resolutely to the 19th century Labour theory of value.

Things I'd particularly like to see a how for:
2. A means of exchange is created that facilitates the circulation of goods and services but limits or excludes the capacity of private individuals to accumulate money as a form of social power.
How exactly does this work? It lets you exchange but puts some kind of limits on it? What are people's motivations to adopt this new and more limited means of exchange?
6. Daily life is slowed down – locomotion shall be leisurely and slow – to maximise time for free activities conducted in a stable and well-maintained environment protected from dramatic episodes of creative destruction.
How does taking more time on transport give me more time to do what I want to do?
9. Technical divisions of labour are reduced through the use of automation, robotisation and artificial intelligence. Those residual technical divisions of labour deemed essential are dissociated from social divisions of labour as far as possible. administrative, leadership and policing functions should be rotated among individuals within the population at large. We are liberated from the rule of experts.
It's great that someone's remembering Marx's key goal of eliminating division of labour. But so far most technological advances have required increasing specialization: e.g it takes specialists to program and fix a factory robot. Why is this suddenly going to turn around?
10. Monopoly and centralised power over the use of the means of production is vested in popular associations through which the decentralised competitive capacities of individuals and social groups are mobilised to produce differentiations in technical, social, cultural and lifestyle innovations.
So we have both monopoly and centralized power, but also decentralization and competition. How does that work?
12. All inequalities in material provision are abolished other than those entailed in the principle of from each according to his, her or their capacities and to each according to his, her, or their needs.
Even Marx thought that "to each according to his needs" could only be achieved when human character itself has been improved and made selfless, and technology has improved to the extent that Nature becomes Man. Is there any chance this can be done with human nature in its selfish present form and without some kind of Star Trek replicators or nanotechnology?
posted by TheophileEscargot at 4:01 AM on April 9 [13 favorites]


Any suggestions on where to start with Harvey? Preferably one of his more research oriented books rather than an extended essay. Thanks.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 4:53 AM on April 9


There is, I believe, a common interest between those who decry income inequality and those who want smaller government.

In the sense of "small government" as advocated since about 1980 in the US ("starve the beast"; the Tea Party; etc) this statement is nonsensical to the point of absurdity. (In some platonic sense of small government where you are incorporating ideas from anarchist philosophy and totally rethinking the entire political system, sure, and I'd guess Harvey would be the first to agree, but we all know that is not being seriously proposed at the national level.) Given existing political and economic structures and power systems, regulations are a key mechanism for lessening inequality and buffering the most (self)destructive impulses of capitalism.

Regulations are why we have weekends and why the mining industry and industrial agriculture no longer rely on child labor. Regulatory capture is also why the oligarchs are smiling and the rest of us aren't -- like any other tool, regulations can be used well or poorly, and we can see evidence of both every day.

I would like to be optimistic about what's in the book, but based on these extracts it seems to be: the usual.

I had to read a bunch of Harvey in grad school, and I just read the prologue and skimmed the other sections linked here. My reaction then and now is that Harvey is ridiculously smart, often very insightful, and yet fails utterly in closing the loop from critique to an workable path to change. In the quote below, he articulates what is wrong in a way that many, if not most would recognize and agree:

it is not only the capitalist elites and their intellectual and academic acolytes who seem incapable of making any radical break with their past or defining a viable exit from the grumbling crisis of low growth, stagnation, high unemployment and the loss of state sovereignty to the power of bondholders. The forces of the traditional left (political parties and trade unions) are plainly incapable of mounting any solid opposition to the power of capital.

But then he ends with the list partially quoted by TheophileEscargot (it's at the end of the "last two chapters" link and is worth reading in full) which is a mix of great (provide housing and food to all) and silly (slow locomotion), without any glimpse of the "how" of any of it. He's amazingly smart -- I've heard him lecture and he's even better in person than as a writer -- but fundamentally it's all criticism and no praxis, and honestly these days I'd much rather read about someone's flawed attempts to improve things incrementally than someone's wildly unrealistic utopian fantasies.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:10 AM on April 9 [15 favorites]


2. A means of exchange is created that facilitates the circulation of goods and services but limits or excludes the capacity of private individuals to accumulate money as a form of social power.

How exactly does this work? It lets you exchange but puts some kind of limits on it? What are people's motivations to adopt this new and more limited means of exchange?


Removal of the tax protections enjoyed by the rich and corporations would be a start, I would think. The thread on housing in London from a few days ago seems to show a fairly stark problem with the perverse incentives to buy property in order to let it decay; there were a bunch of proposals on how to turn that around with a general opinion that there is no political will behind it. In retrospect, this is seen as a mistake as the guillotines are being set up, but by then it's too late.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:20 AM on April 9


Ah yes, the old Crony Capitalism dodge.

"We need stronger business and weaker government, because government is evil!"

"But businesses are doing terrible things!"

"Do those businesses control the government?"

"Yes, what with government being weak and business being strong and all, they do basically control it."

"Well there's your problem. If businesses are doing terrible things, they must be doing them via their control of the government, because government is the source of all evil and businesses are naturally virtuous because the free market makes them so. The only way to solve this problem is to make sure that government is so weak it's not worth controlling. Therefore we need stronger business and weaker government! I told you so!"
posted by edheil at 5:45 AM on April 9 [16 favorites]


(You know, on second thought that was really just an off-topic snark. I apologize.)
posted by edheil at 5:48 AM on April 9


There is definitely "a common interest between those who decry income inequality and those who want smaller government less waste, corruption, fraud, etc.", three blind mice and graymouser, but yeah obviously the phrase "small government" have been captured by those seeking more waste, corruption, fraud, etc. that lines their own pockets. And our agencies that regulate corporations have remained relatively inexpensive, mostly because the corporations they regulate don't want them being too effective. It's subsidies, defense, and non-regulatory law enforcement, like the war on drugs, that consumes virtually all discretionary budget.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:59 AM on April 9


In a real capitalist system

No true Scotsman...
posted by Saxon Kane at 5:59 AM on April 9 [12 favorites]


The problem with the attempt to make a difference between "capitalism" and "crony capitalism" is that capitalism is not just an economic system but also (necessarily) a political one.
posted by Saxon Kane at 6:01 AM on April 9 [4 favorites]


The crises, the corruption, the manipulation of the state for the interests of private capital are all part and parcel of having a capitalist system.

Agreed. There is a values problem: money is what our society values the most. Wherever we try to carve a space for justice, equality, freedom, honor, dignity, health, family, faith, science, art, or whatever else people hold dear -- the pursuit of money is there to subvert it.

It's really too bad we didn't base our society on lust and sloth instead of greed and gluttony.
posted by Foosnark at 6:12 AM on April 9 [2 favorites]


It's really too bad we didn't base our society on lust and sloth instead of greed and gluttony.

To be fair, lust and sloth also have their place at the capitalist table.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:21 AM on April 9


OK, let's be honest, the Seven Deadlies are basically the Caterers of Capitalism.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:21 AM on April 9 [4 favorites]


It's PEOPLE!~ The market is PEOPLE!
posted by Trochanter at 6:23 AM on April 9 [3 favorites]


...they argued that government regulation and intervention and the increasingly corrupt political conections between business and government are at the root of the problem.

What we call 'regulation', 'intervention' and 'government corruption' is actually the means by which the state ensures the continuation of viable conditions for capitalism. That's its job.
posted by colie at 6:27 AM on April 9


The Tea Party mantra of smaller government and less regulation is maybe an overly simple way of reducing the amount of government corruption, but it is at least a proffered solution.

The Tea Party mantra is just words. Time and time again when pressed on their beliefs, the Tea Party has proven to be hardline GOP-in-all-but-name Christian Dominionists who will offer full-throated support to big government they see as benefiting themselves. If it helps the older, white, straight, and/or evangleical Christian folks it's all good; if it helps the younger, non-white, GLBT, and/or non-Christians or non-believers, it's Uncle Sugar.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:42 AM on April 9 [11 favorites]


Nope. Sorry, we live in a real capitalist system. What you call "crony capitalism" is the logical outcome of the concentration of wealth that Marx (and later Marxists) observed in the tendencies and laws of motion of capitalism. The crises, the corruption, the manipulation of the state for the interests of private capital are all part and parcel of having a capitalist system.

Uh....how is this different from any communist system that's ever been enacted, or any feudalist system, for that matter? Power corrupts. Every system requires somebody to have access to the levers of power. Everybody has friends and relatives.
posted by Diablevert at 7:03 AM on April 9 [1 favorite]


Well for one, communist systems didn't witness private capital manipulating the state.

What you are quoting is much more specific than 'power corrupts'.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:06 AM on April 9 [1 favorite]


Bank CEO Assassinated In Parking Garage
posted by jeffburdges at 7:18 AM on April 9 [2 favorites]


Uh....how is this different from any communist system that's ever been enacted, or any feudalist system, for that matter? Power corrupts. Every system requires somebody to have access to the levers of power. Everybody has friends and relatives.

Not every system has cyclical crises and the increasing concentration of resources and power in a narrow band of necessarily self-interested individuals. This is a lot different from the simplistic idea that "power corrupts." Even if we accepted that premise as true, we're still better off with a system that doesn't actively encourage the concentration of power in the hands of a small proprietor class.

(NB: Not a dodge but I don't want this thread to turn into a long discussion over the merits of various socialist countries.)
posted by graymouser at 7:26 AM on April 9 [1 favorite]


Demarchy would reduce corruption under either capitalism or socialism.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:41 AM on April 9 [1 favorite]


David Harvey remains one of the most astute critics of capital, in part because he is examining it from outside the system of economics. His book, The Condition of Postmodernity, forever changed how I thought of capital and technology.

Harvey does an excellent job of defining what is at stake, without some of the obfuscation of other economists. I think he could benefit, of course, from reading some of the new Institutionalists like Elinor Ostrom or Oliver Williamson who have reasonable descriptions of why public sector or "socialist" institutions have difficulty at being effective (it's not ideological, but has to do with scope, credit, and administrative skills).

Capital wants to move quickly to make more capital; humans get in the way. We love the shiny baubles it brings us, but we fail to see how it removes us from our own power.
posted by john wilkins at 7:48 AM on April 9 [3 favorites]


Any suggestions on where to start with Harvey? Preferably one of his more research oriented books rather than an extended essay. Thanks.

His The Condition of Postmodernity is classic for its analysis of Fordism, you can maaaaybe skip over some of the cultural/artistic critique though.

He's well regarded in planning and urban theory circles. Social Justice and the City has been on my list for a while, I think it's supposed to be a good starting point as well. Urbanization of Capital was interesting, but is somewhat more narrow in its focus.
posted by taromsn at 8:27 AM on April 9


In a real capitalist system

No true Scotsman...


I do find it funny to see that accusation being thrown around in a thread about communism. Because we might as well call the fallacy "no true communist state" given what happens when we talk about the problems China and the Soviet Union had with enacting a communist state.

Of course, in many ways, both the capitalist and and communist versions are right. Neither is a perfect enactment of their philosophy. But that's mainly because both systems tend to treat people like frictionless perfect spheres. And as TheophileEscargot and Dip Flash wrote above, the lack of a path from here to there is worrisome. Having a revolution and hoping that the state would whither away hasn't worked so well.
posted by zabuni at 9:47 AM on April 9


In a real capitalist system

No true Scotsman...

I do find it funny to see that accusation being thrown around in a thread about communism. Because we might as well call the fallacy "no true communist state" given what happens when we talk about the problems China and the Soviet Union had with enacting a communist state.

Of course, in many ways, both the capitalist and and communist versions are right. Neither is a perfect enactment of their philosophy.


Communism was developed explicitly as an antidote to the problems capitalism created, and was always and self-consciously a political project aimed at a specific goal; this is totally different from how capitalism came about and how it's constituted. The fact that states which identified themselves as Communist really weren't isn't readily analogous, so far as I can tell, to the question of whether or not any given nation-state does or doesn't have "real" capitalism because there isn't one conception of regulatory structure or power relations that characterizes true capitalism. It's not a normative political ideology.
posted by clockzero at 10:16 AM on April 9 [1 favorite]


I have all kinds of respect for Marxists. They really, genuinely seem to think the best of people. It is so much easier to like them than the libertarians, who sometimes seem to think only the worst of people, despite the similarities of their respective utopias. However, as I am sure many others have said more eloquently than me, there is such a thing as having too much faith in the goodness of human nature.

On the small scale of families and friends, most people might be ruled by compassion and goodwill. But on the larger, impersonal scale, most people are ruled chiefly by greed and fear. We all affirm this every day when we don't donate our wealth to the most needy and change jobs to worthy NGOs. We don't do this because the suffering of distant others does not affect us emotionally in a significant way. I mean, even Harvey must know that people are not selfless by nature and you can't expect that to change by giving a rousing speech on how awesome it would be if they were.

Any system based on a wrong idea of how the world is is not going to work well. As with all problems, if we want to find a good solution to how we organize our society, we must first have a clear view of where we stand, however flawed a place that might be, before we can try to figure out a way to get to where we want to be.

The current organization of western society has massive flaws, but any solution to these flaws has to be based on a realistic view of how people behave, or can reasonably be made to behave. Advocating for an abrupt transition to a utopia that rests on completely reworking the way the human mind works, especially a violent transition as Harvey seems to imply, is not only naive, but dangerous.

Nothing would make me happier than to see clear convincing evidence that we can "change the world ... into another kind of place populated by different kinds of people". But Harvey produces none, and as the facts stand today, I think it is very close to impossible without serious genetic tinkering. Which is the only praxis for utopia I can see that might actually work, with its own risks.

I know all this has been said before, some of it in this thread, but I just really wanted to say: Please guys. Let's not try Marxism again. Not in 2014.
posted by Spiegel at 11:32 AM on April 9 [3 favorites]


Umm, communism was a pretty shitty antidote then. "I know! We'll just assign all this power previously spread amongst a handful of feuding unaccountable boards of directors and corporate executives to equally unaccountable but much less diverse central committee."

There are two questions that outweigh any economic concerns : How widely is power distributed? How is that power assigned? Communism answered extremely poorly. Capitalism answered marginally better.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:36 AM on April 9 [1 favorite]


on the larger, impersonal scale, most people are ruled chiefly by greed and fear. We all affirm this every day when we don't donate our wealth to the most needy

I think uber-capitalist Bill Gates is now in the process of giving all his wealth away to the most needy. It doesn't mean anything and it certainly hasn't got anything to do with being a Marxist.
posted by colie at 12:17 PM on April 9


I think a society of Bill Gateses would be pretty close to a Marxist utopia.
posted by Spiegel at 12:33 PM on April 9


The current organization of western society has massive flaws, but any solution to these flaws has to be based on a realistic view of how people behave, or can reasonably be made to behave. Advocating for an abrupt transition to a utopia that rests on completely reworking the way the human mind works, especially a violent transition as Harvey seems to imply, is not only naive, but dangerous.

Anyone who thinks of Marxism as an "abrupt transition to a utopia" has got it wrong, including people who consider themselves as Marxists and believe this. Marx said, in Critique of the Gotha Programme:
What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges.
Understanding this point – and I think a lot of people, including self-identified Marxists, don't – is pretty important to understanding why the attempts at socialist societies in the 20th century eventually failed. There are a lot of complicated reasons, both for their massive internal problems and for their failures, but this is a big part of it.

I think you are talking about Marxism without understanding its materialism. That's a fair point, but it is a materialist and non-utopian form of thought; Marx and Engels spent their politically formative years competing with utopians who went off to build communes and the like. Maybe Harvey is a bit utopian, I'm not sure; I've actually only read one of his books, and that was The New Imperialism which doesn't touch much on his view of post-capitalism. But Marxism shouldn't be addressed as utopian, or not understanding questions that Marx dealt with pretty clearly.
posted by graymouser at 1:07 PM on April 9 [3 favorites]


Why are capitalism and communism the only two choices? Are their no other ways we can imagine a future society being organized? Are we really that unimaginative of a species?

The whole capitalist vs. communist schtick was always about consolidating security spheres and resource extraction. The arrangement was mutually beneficial for the elite on both sides of the cold war.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 3:30 PM on April 9 [1 favorite]


Umm, communism was a pretty shitty antidote then. "I know! We'll just assign all this power previously spread amongst a handful of feuding unaccountable boards of directors and corporate executives to equally unaccountable but much less diverse central committee."

If you're looking for a tussle over the wisdom of what the Soviet or Chinese regimes did, I don't anticipate many people coming to their defense on Marxist grounds.

There are two questions that outweigh any economic concerns : How widely is power distributed? How is that power assigned? Communism answered extremely poorly. Capitalism answered marginally better.

Those questions can't be separated from economic concerns, though, because whatever regime of access to and ownership of resources and property exists will formally comprise both political and economic principles in its constitution of power. Capitalism attains because it gives the wealthy immense control through a nearly-universally fungible medium of exchange, not because it solves problems of power-holding "better" than some other formal system of production and exchange. That's my opinion, anyway.
posted by clockzero at 5:42 PM on April 9


I think we'll have to actually read the book to see what Harvey says about the future. Jeremy Rifkin takes a stab at it. I think Harvey has always been perceptive about the reality, but it's economists like AO Hirschmann who understand human nature far more deeply.

There are certainly many more options. Within capitalism, the military acts a lot like a socialist institution. Some businesses have non-hierarchical and even anarchic ways of getting the task done.

One great anarchist said, "liberty without socialism is privilege, injustice; socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality.”
posted by john wilkins at 7:20 PM on April 9 [1 favorite]


In theory, communists, monarchs, etc. could always make the same or better allocations of capital and labor as capitalists do, clockzero. Actually Cuba does so because their communist regime must "run for it's life" so to speak, which keeps them relatively honest. In general though, communism has suffered from exactly the waste, poor innovation, etc. as large companies. There is a subtle corruption in how established groups defend their own interests, grow myopic, etc.

As an aside, capitalists do perpetually "print money" by inventing new investment products, a nice Keynesian boost that keeps liquid assets moving, but communism could achieve similar.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:26 PM on April 9 [1 favorite]


In theory, communists, monarchs, etc. could always make the same or better allocations of capital and labor as capitalists do, clockzero.

I'm not sure what you mean to argue by saying this, jeff. You're giving an institutionalist defense of capitalism, I thought, on account of its superiority in providing a diverse set of power-holders, right? So why would communist or monarchic regimes be functionally equivalent in terms of how they might allocate power?
posted by clockzero at 8:09 PM on April 9


graymouser: Not every system has cyclical crises and the increasing concentration of resources and power in a narrow band of necessarily self-interested individuals.

Also, not every system has a large number of well-funded free-market think tanks to propagandize the population and make sure pretty much everyone shares the values of that narrow band of individuals.
posted by sneebler at 9:21 PM on April 9 [1 favorite]


They do now.
posted by Grangousier at 12:36 AM on April 10


the main threats to capitalism in my mind are...
  1. global warming (and related, but perhaps more 'immediate', fisheries collapse)
  2. lack of demand (but that could just put you back in the 19th century with extra nationalism on top)
  3. technology & globalization; automation and its spread (driving the above)
all of which while 'capitalist' contain the seeds of its own destruction: first thru reaching limits of seemingly inexhaustible resources (externalities/public goods/commons), second people not having enough 'money' (which is?) and third a switch to 'abundance' from scarcity (zero marginal cost stuff; arranging atoms from bits...)

so far, so marxist, and the remedies would be your familiar democratic revolutions and more socialism (if not political favoritism and deftly manipulating interest/identity groups), BUT for the first point that ALL THIS could still be countermanded by resource depletion or, as einstein sed: "The significant problems we face today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them."

or as ashok rao sez:
Ultimately, economists need to step up on climate change. It is more than a textbook example of externalities and far more nuanced than many simple accounts make it to be. It is also far more harmful than many of their models suggest (consider the limits). Economic logic sometimes fails.

If an asteroid was about to crash into New York City, we wouldn't ask economists to create a poorly-founded model of its costs. We would tell NASA to do whatever it can to save us. Economists need to stop telling us what the program for change should be, but rather identify the most efficient means of implementing a program scientists already deem necessary.
but that of course is not happening; why? now we could be heading towards automating corporations...
Corporations can be thought of as information-processing feedback loops. They propose products, introduce them into the marketplace, learn from the performance of the products, and adjust. They do this while trying to maximize some value function, typically profit.

So why can't they be completely automated? I mean that literally. Could we have software that carries out all those functions?

Software could propose new products within a design space. It could monitor the performance of those products in the marketplace, and then learn from the feedback and adjust accordingly, all while maximizing its value function... A limited version of what I'm describing already exists. High-frequency trading firms are already pure software, mostly beyond human control or comprehension.
whether the future will be evenly distributed or not will be a political choice (simultaneously determined) but that presumes there will be a future to distribute; man/machine, discount that...

-Buying the Future
-Why We're in a New Gilded Age
-The Impolitic Wisdom of Simon Kuznets
-Larry Summers' Inverse Say's Law: Lack of Demand Creates Lack of Supply [viz.]

also btw...
-On the Material Basis of Modern Life [cf.]
-Famine and Water Riots Are Coming
-Can Evolution Outrace Climate Change?
-Are you ready for the resource revolution?
posted by kliuless at 7:11 AM on April 10 [1 favorite]


I'm a little late to this discussion - and I respect Harvey and all - but what purpose does this serve? I've been personally getting tired of speakers and thinkers like Harvey, who do not specifically outline any beginnings to 'how things should change', just 'what' and 'why' --- whereas the question of action and praxis is always about "how you can do things", rather than the relatively simple answers of what to do.

Without any sort of detailed analysis, all this revolutionary speak becomes just a series of easily-spoken top-down ideals that, while worthwhile, are irrelevant without an accompanying "action plan". Of course, actions without ideals can be destructive, also, but no need to plunge into the other evil of ideals without actions -- which also fulfills the myth of the martyr revolutionary who struggles ineffectively against a monolithic power.

I admire Marx's writings, especially his critiques of capitalism in the first and second volumes of Capital, which are (for its time) detailed and interesting and very much in dialogue with other political economists at the time, such as Adam Smith, Ricardo, Prudhon, etc. They are careful / interesting analyses of the role of advance capital, productivity, efficiency, etc, the impact of wage labor on the length of the working day, why labor is devalued as efficiency increases, etc. etc. He uses specific numbers and calculations as simple models for how the length of the cycle of production impacts how much capital can be leveraged. He has interesting concepts about how his labor theory of value works, and what kind of social effects it creates.

Yet to me, most of the 'secondary' texts riffing off of Marx loves to grab these and do utterly disheartening / unproductive analyses. In 70s continental philosophy, it's a kind of "symptomatic reading" championed by Louis Althusser and Balibar and co as a way to shy away from any sort of social/economic relevance and to treat Capital as material for a near-poetic misreading. For the Frankfurt School, Marx is used as an abstracted theory that can be hammered into instrumentalized material for a sociological reading.

And while I greatly respect Harvey, he doesn't seem to offer much beyond a call to action. Or to use an analogy, speakers like Harvey are the Steve Jobs of an industry - opinionated, bright-eyed, motivators who have no skills themselves. The hallmark of a good 'manager'/organizer/collaborator is that you both provide motivation, but also strategies for specific actions, and that you are able to amass talented people who work with you. Without that, you are an empty thinker who calls themselves a 'visionary', like money in business and radical politics alike.

Lucky, Jobs had enough time to learn how to market an idea and to mobilize enough smart people to work for him. But an industry full of Steve Jobs-imitators means that no work actually gets done and marketing speak ('marcom') gets pushed around endlessly, while the action in question is deferred and wrapped up in layers of presentation and shine. Steve Wozniak was the brains/skills behind early Apple, not Jobs. Likewise, the path to social change isn't to make more David Harveys, more Chantal Mouffes -- it's to create more action-oriented people who are motivated by calls to action. More people working at needle exchanges, for advocacy groups; more lawyers working in public defense and willing to be part of the National Lawyers Guild; more journalists, photographers, and filmmakers willing to do investigative documentaries / reporting; more public policy makers thinking about social justice; more economists thinking about financial regulations; and so on.

And Marx's critiques of capitalism were great. His call to revolution, not so much. Marx did his life's work criticizing the current conditions of conditions in many volumes, and wrote a short pamphlet and a letter about revolution; everyone remembers him for that pamphlet and letter.

Change needs more Wozniaks, less Jobses. More Marx-as-political-economist, less Marx-as-revolutionary.
posted by suedehead at 2:51 PM on April 10 [1 favorite]


i don't think there's any practical secret; you get 'your people' elected -- always be electin' (ABE) [people to fight for 'your causes' and promote 'your policies'] -- for instance in the US, you get:

-federal reserve chair janet yellen
-your supreme court justices
-senator elizabeth warren
-senator ron wyden
When it comes to trade talks, in my town hall meetings, people want to know what’s being negotiated. In my view the public has a right to know what the policy choices are. For its part, Congress has a constitutional responsibility to tell the President and the U.S. Trade Representative what they need to accomplish in trade deals, which it has traditionally done by passing trade promotion authority, or “fast-track.” I believe what’s needed to accomplish these things is different from a fast-track, or a “no-track,” and this afternoon I’d like to call it a “smart-track.”

A smart-track will hold trade negotiators more accountable to the Congress, more accountable to the American people, and help ensure that trade agreements respond to their concerns of our people and their priorities, and not just to special interest groups. It will include procedures to get high-standard agreements through Congress, and procedures that enable Congress to right the ship if trade negotiators get off course. But to get better trade agreements, there must be more transparency in negotiations. The Congress cannot fulfill its constitutional duty on trade if the public doesn’t know what’s at stake or how to weigh in.

The public needs to know that somebody at USTR is committed to shedding more light on trade negotiations and ensuring that the American people have a strong voice in trade policy – a voice that is actually heard.

Going forward in the days and weeks ahead, I am going to work with my colleagues and stakeholders on a proposal that accomplishes these goals and attracts more bipartisan support. As far as I’m concerned, substance is going to drive the timeline.

Some would like to lay blame for lack of support for the TPA proposal recently introduced in Congress at the doorstep of the White House. The president and Ambassador Froman are, frankly, having a difficult time selling a product that members are not thrilled about. Policy matters, and arbitrary timelines won’t work. Instead of casting blame, our time would be better spent rolling up our sleeves and getting to work on policies that expand the winners’ circle for our people. Expanding the winner’s circle is going to mean that Americans see a trade agreement that they actually want to pass. That will build more bipartisan support for the president’s trade priorities.
or, as gordon brown puts it: "Well, I wish I could be more successful. But the truth is that I know, from being a leader in recent years, that if there is not public pressure, and if there is not a demand from the rest of the world, then there are other priorities that you’re going to address."
posted by kliuless at 3:21 AM on April 11


oh and fwiw, re: 'cheap government'; Why the 'Next Silicon Valley' Is Always Silicon Valley - "How stars and spillovers make great cities and great companies"
In sociology, there is a term called the Matthew Effect, which is the idea that most talented people get access to best resources (while the least talented people get the worst), so that what began as a small advantages over time becomes an enormous advantage. This is familiar with our education system...

In the Matthew Effect, the individual acts like a magnet for small advantages that accumulate to provide a terrific overall advantage. But New Orleans doesn't need advantages that accumulate so much as it needs stars—brilliant workers and thriving companies—that grow and multiply. A new paper "Why Stars Matter" on the effect of star researchers who join university departments finds that wildly productive people actually don't make all of their new colleagues more productive. Instead, their most important contribution to the school is to help recruit more talented colleagues in the future. "Hiring a star does not increase overall incumbent productivity," the researchers sum up in the abstract (full paper here), but "the primary impact comes from an increase in the average quality of subsequent recruits."

In the entertainment industry, the power of stars as magnets is strong. The fact that HBO produces lavish dramas is itself a recruitment tool for lavish dramas, because if you're a brilliant show-runner with a cinematically complex TV idea, you first pitch the network that already produces cinematically complex TV. Just as great TV begets great TV, the converse can be true, too. In interviews with NBC's research department last year, an executive told me the network's decision to go cheap under Jeff Zucker a few years ago—i.e.: spending less on new programming, moving the relatively inexpensive Jay Leno Show to primetime—succeeded in cutting costs. But in the big picture it failed, because many of the quality show-runners with the best projects simply assumed that NBC wasn't interested or willing to invest in their show.
like it's interesting to think about agglomeration/assemblage/network effects wrt wall street (finance), DC (politics), silicon valley (technology) and hollywood (entertainment) -- who's more responsive to money/power/data/stories? -- but the larger point of getting the gov't you 'pay for' (and who it is beholden to) depending on the personalities and types of people they attract and the qualities of their leaders, while constantly evaluated and quotidian, is perhaps something that's also chronically underappreciated?
posted by kliuless at 4:59 AM on April 11


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