Memo to Tsipras: SYRIZA will have all the tools necessary to fix Greece’s crisis

icfNWXWz7v28If the polls hold up, it looks as if SYRIZA has emerged as the most likely party to form the next government in Greece and this is a good thing.

If the party can get its shit together, it has all the tools it needs to address the prolonged crisis imposed on Greece by the troika — the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund — and chart a different path forward for all of Europe.

My optimism might seem utopian, since by all accounts SYRIZA will be dependent on the European Central Bank for much of policy required to extract Europe from its crisis. Essentially, it would appear the Left is dependent on the very people who created the crisis to fix it.

I will show in this post why this is not true.

The crisis and the crisis of fiscal policy

The policy problem SYRIZA will face once it has formed a government is often framed the way it is in a recent article by Blyth and Lonergan, “Why Central Banks Should Give Money Directly to the People”. The article, which appeared in, of all places, Foreign Affairs magazine, the propaganda organ of the Council on Foreign Relations, purports to explain how a central bank might facilitate the creation of a basic income scheme.

Like Billy Mitchell’s recent piece on his misconceived job guarantee apparently it never dawned on Blyth and Lonergan that having a central bank just hand out money to the citizens of a country implies that enormous political power has become concentrated in the hands of an unelected financial oligarchy.

If we assume for the sake of argument the respective plans suggested by the Mitchell and by Blyth and Lonergan are technically feasible, we still have to explain how this sort of political power has become so concentrated in the hands of private, unelected, banking cartels? Moreover, we have to ask ourselves what impact this concentration economic power will have on political relations if both the general management of economic cycles and ‘social entitlements’ like a jobs guarantee and a basic income scheme now appears within the purview of unelected financial oligarchy?

If these programs can work technically why can’t the central banks simply print up currency and fund education? NATO? Social Security? Infrastructure ‘investment’? In fact, why can’t we just turn all of the economic management functions of the state over to the banking cartel to manage it for us?

Ignore, for a moment, that the roots of Blyth and Lonergan’s basic income scheme are anchored deeply in the writings of some of the most notorious post-war fascists, like Friedman and Hayek, why is the Left so willing to overlook the enormous shift in political power into the hands of a financial oligarchy that their plan implies? Bill Mitchell, who touts himself as a Leftist, never appears to even notice that the European Central Bank is not an elected public authority. The central banks are private cartels that have been handed control of monetary policy in much the same way many other state military and police functions have been outsourced to Blackwater and G4S. Functions of the state have been outsourced piecemeal by Washington and other national governments to private interests in one after another sphere.

Blyth and Lonergan admit that government can boost spending through both its fiscal and monetary policies. However the writers explain fiscal power in the United States — the power of the state to tax and spend — has been crippled by party squabbles and lack of consensus. Meanwhile government has outsourced its monetary authority to a private cartel of banks. Thus, with fiscal policy tied up in knots, elected officials have come to rely almost exclusively on the monetary policy conducted by central banks:

“The shift has occurred for a number of reasons. Particularly in the United States, partisan divides over fiscal policy have grown too wide to bridge, as the left and the right have waged bitter fights over whether to increase government spending or cut tax rates. More generally, tax rebates and stimulus packages tend to face greater political hurdles than monetary policy shifts. Presidents and prime ministers need approval from their legislatures to pass a budget; that takes time, and the resulting tax breaks and government investments often benefit powerful constituencies rather than the economy as a whole.”

A suspiciously convenient explanation

There is something suspiciously convenient about this alleged explanation that bears closer examination. Permit me to argue that it is not the lack of consensus on fiscal policy; rather, the situation is the opposite: there is a consensus for a concerted effort to prevent fiscal policy from operating. Fiscal policy is not crippled because of party squabbles, but because national governments have no desire to use fiscal policy.

This fact is most clearly demonstrated by looking at the European Union.

As Mitchell has pointed out, the European Union was deliberately created without any facility for countercyclical fiscal policy. While in Washington or Tokyo the political conflict among elected officials over fiscal policy appears to  result from a lack of consensus, no such explanation can account for how the EU works. We have to account for the fact that the EU somehow was created without any facility for fiscal countercyclical policy.

Now, how was that possible? How did some of the best minds of Europe just forget crises happen? Clearly, no one just forgot to include the capacity to conduct countercyclical fiscal policy in the EU’s structure. A fiscal countercyclical mechanism was left out intentionally, so that all countercyclical policy would be conducted through an unelected monetary authority — the ECB.

When you look at the EU’s structure, the apparent political impasse over fiscal policy in the US and Japan becomes easier to understand. This is because there is no legacy institutional explanation for the lack of countercyclical fiscal policy in the EU in the present crisis. The EU, from its inception, was created without the capacity to implement countercyclical fiscal policy. Monetary policy was placed in the hands of the unelected European Central bank, which is characterized as “politically independent” — that is, not subject to democratic will — and able to implement policy, “with a single conference call”.

In the EU, there is no facility for fiscal policy, while monetary policy has been removed from democratic control altogether and placed in the hands of an unelected financial oligarchy.

Fiscal policy has been deliberately crippled

When Bill Mitchell and Blyth and Lonergan advocate for their pet projects — a jobs guarantee for Mitchell, basic income for Blyth and Lonergan — each bases their proposal on the explicit assumption governments have, for whatever reason, no capacity to implement any fiscal policy, while an unelected central bank controls monetary policy. But, leaving the eurozone aside, it is not as if the writers are unaware of the fiscal power of national governments, rather they simply assume this power is effectively dysfunctional and unable to be employed for their policy purposes.

However, the experience of the EU suggests something else is at work: a deliberate effort to constrain or prevent national governments from conducting fiscal policy. And this is set against the backdrop of the outsourcing of monetary policy — inconvertible state issued fiat — to a private cartel. First, monetary policy was outsourced, then fiscal policy was crippled.

Okay, so now I am beginning to sound like a gold bug conspiracy theorist, right? Well, that is not likely to convince anyone, so let’s broaden the discussion beyond the outsourcing of monetary policy and the crippling of fiscal policy to another, broader, conflict at the heart of state economic policy.

No one in power want to end unemployment and poverty

Why was fiscal policy crippled? Why was monetary policy outsourced? According to the writers, fiscal policy was crippled because of the lack of political consensus. And, again, according to the writers, monetary policy was outsourced to insulate monetary policy from (democratic) political pressure. In both cases the conduct of fiscal and monetary policy has been influenced by a consistent political aim: to prevent economic policy from reflecting democratic will.

The problem is not that government cannot conduct its own fiscal and monetary policy; rather it seems that no one in Washington wants this. Yes, the Fed could, in theory, print up some fiat and hand it out in the form of a basic income, but so could the elected government in Washington. Since the Fed has been delegated the power to conduct monetary policy by elected officials in Washington, it has no power not that is not already in the hands of the elected officials.

Thus, if the aim of the elected officials was to eliminate unemployment and poverty, the officials could do this directly and get all the credit. In the next election, they could run on their accomplishments: Yay! We ended poverty and unemployment! Re-elect us!”

Which is to say, the Left needs to consider the possibility that monetary policy didn’t end up as the function of a private cartel to fix poverty and unemployment; it ended up there in order to NOT fix them. And fiscal policy was crippled in order to NOT fix them as well. If you don’t want to fix unemployment and poverty, you cripple fiscal policy and outsource monetary policy to a private cartel. You try, in other words, to insulate policy tools from democratic political pressure to address unemployment and poverty.

Further, fiscal and monetary policy only exist to avoid directly tackling the problems of unemployment and poverty in the first place. There is, for instance, nothing that prevents Washington, Tokyo or Athens from tackling unemployment and poverty — all they have to do is reduce labor time until no one is unemployed and raising the minimum wage until no one who is working is in poverty.

If people are unemployed, you just cut hours until no one is unemployed; if people are in poverty, you just raise the minimum wage until no one working full time is in poverty. Between these two policies, everyone has a job and no one is in poverty. It does not require any fiscal or monetary policy tools to accomplish this.

Which means, politicans rely on fiscal and monetary tools only because they DON’T want to eliminate unemployment and poverty.

Fiscal and monetary policy began in order to relieve pressure for reduction of hours of labor in the 1930s — that was the sole purpose. After the depression of the 1970s, fiscal policy itself was discarded in order to relieve pressure for increase spending to employ people.

This was the whole purpose, for instance, behind the 1978 Humphrey–Hawkins Full Employment Act. The purpose of that act was to make “full employment” completely dependent on Federal Reserve monetary policy, i.e., to insulate the management of the economy from democratic political pressure. The 1978 act did not just insulate monetary policy from political pressure; more important, it insulated employment and wages from political pressure.

The fiscal and monetary policy debate is a distraction

The monetary power of the central bank is a distraction, since every government already has the power to address unemployment directly. What remains to be explained is why the Left has not made use of this capacity in the hands of the state in its agitation since the 1930s. Why does the Left not only ignore this capacity, but repeatedly dismisses it whenever they are confronted with the idea of reducing hours of labor?

This, I believe, cannot be explained by stupidity — although I often use this excuse. There is something deeper and more sinister at work on the Left than mere stupidity. It comes to the surface here in a particular way — evidence of a basic despotism on the Left — that the aim of emancipation is not to free society from labor but to regulate its activity.

SYRIZA has the opportunity to break with this despotic tendency on the Left and redirect the Left’s energy in the direction of a genuine social emancipation of society from labor. The tool will be in their hand, but will they use it?

Noumena deFanged: Ray Brassier’s toothless critique of Nick Land

180694754Ray Brassier’s take on Nick Land is jaw-droppingly silly for someone whose Wikipedia entry touts him as “one of the foremost philosophers of contemporary Speculative realism interested in providing a robust defense of philosophical realism in the wake of the challenges posed to it by post-Kantian critical idealism, phenomenology, post-modernism, deconstruction, or, more broadly speaking, “correlationism”.”

You would think with those sorts of credentials he could understand Land’s argument at least at the level of a recent entrant to university.

But you would be disappointed.

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Gaza: The class that puts an end to classes, will never realize it is a class

Earlier this week, in a response to my post, “The necessary incoherence of proletarian consciousness”, a tweep directed this question to me:

“I’ll ask you directly: Do you consider Gaza or Auschwitz intraproletarian conflicts?”

World News - July 21, 2014This is a really good question that goes to the implications of my post: why is proletarian consciousness susceptible to accepting the most outrageous behavior toward members of their own class? Why, in other words, is it so difficult to realize solidarity among proletarians?

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Fuck MMT: The Left had better start looking for an exit from capitalism

Bill Mitchell, an Australian blogger associated with the modern money (MMT) school, thinks the Eurozone has failed, but he is not clear whether the failure results from ignorance, stupidity or malice. And I feel his pain, since I go back and Photo0637-1forth on this one myself. It is difficult to figure out whether the European Union (EU) was designed to be ineffective in a crisis or if these people are just too stupid to be managing one of the world market’s most important regional institutions.

Mitchell takes exception with the idea that the European economic mechanism has been crippled by the crisis. According to him, this idea only makes sense if you assume the European Central Bank (ECB) has no role to play in facilitating the fiscal intervention necessary to fight the crisis — an assumption he doesn’t accept:

“The ECB boss [Mario Draghi] felt it his purpose at the gathering, which you can guarantee is plush in all respects (catering, wines, etc), to urge politicians to introduce more “growth-friendly policies”. He claimed in his speech – Unemployment in the euro area – that the so-called “sovereign debt crisis” had disabled “in part the tools of macroeconomic stabilisation”. Which is only true if one accepts that a central bank should play no role in supporting fiscal policy and that fiscal policy should be constrained by innane rules that deliberately prevent it from having sufficient latitude to meet foreseeable crises.”

If you think the ECB can support fiscal policy, then fascist management hasn’t failed — it is just being incompetently managed. But, Mitchell adds, ECB action is constrained by rules that appear to deliberately prevent it from meeting what should have been a foreseeable crisis. If the crisis was foreseeable, but the ECB was hedged in by rules to prevent it responding, this might imply the ECB is working just the way it was designed to work.

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The necessary incoherence of proletarian consciousness

A while ago, @graphlegmblop asked me a question: “what the hell does “behaving as a class” mean?” Both of us were disappointed with my response at the time. So I am going  to restate in a way we might both find more satisfactory.

The question was raised, because my contention is that Marx and Engels did not think the proletariat was capable of behaving as a class. If the proletariat is incapable of behaving as a class, much of 20th century Marxist political strategy is Bt-B_CgIQAAZUKOdefective because it assumes the opposite: that political strategy assumes the working class can act as a class, can acquire consciousness as a class and has a class interest to assert. If none of these assumptions are true, it would explain much about the course of 20th century politics and the emergence of fascism. I contend none of them are true and that proletarian revolution was always premised on an external event that is not given in the capitalist relationship — the development of a political consciousness among the working class.

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Land, Accelerationism and the “impending human extinction”

If you want to make the case against Nick Land, you could not do it more completely than the case made against him by Alex Williams. According to Williams, Land seeks to dissolve humanity “in a technological apotheosis”. The terminology is just completely over the top: Land has ‘hijacked’ Deleuze and Guattari, “bringing out an implicit inhuman pro-capitalism.”

16l0i3aNote Williams admit this so-called “inhuman pro-capitalism” is already implicit in  Deleuze and Guattari. He cannot possibly accuse Land of having invented it as I have so often accused Marxists of inventing ideas said to originate with Marx. If Land has done anything, it is only to tease out of Deluze and Guattari an inhuman pro-capitalism that was already present.

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An exchange with a Left Accelerationist

I had a short exchange with a Left Accelerationist, @nervemeter, on Twitter this week. It was an interesting discussion, so I am publishing it here. The original context is on my twitter account. I have made some edits to it for clarification.

Nervemeter: I don’t think [Nick Land] thinks the “blind process” is at all communism-bound. & I don’t think he thinks we can drive it there.

Jehu: And you accept that conclusion?

social_anxiety_1Nervemeter: Well, not entirely, but that there is one of the major dividing lines between [Right and Left Acelerationism]. I’m skeptical about the 1st part, but generally agree with the second. We can (I hope) find ways to steer blind cosmic-scale processes. But I don’t quite think capitalism is a machine fated to produce communism of its own momentum. It might create *conditions* for communism, that is, it might make communism *possible*, but never *necessary*. That’s my very sketchy take on it, anyway.

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Left Accelerationism as product re-branding

Indian_call_centerWhat makes Land’s Accelerationism the purest and only valid existing expression of Accelerationism today?

Well, at least in part, it is because Land’s self-styled critics, such as, for instance, Alex Williams, write shit like this:

Where Deleuze and Guattari ultimately counseled caution, to accelerate with care to avoid total destruction, Land favored an absolute process of acceleration and deterritorialization, identifying capitalism as the ultimate agent of history. As Land puts it, “Capitalism has no external limit, it has consumed life and biological intelligence, [and it is] vast beyond human anticipation.” Here, the deregulation, privatization, and commodification of neoliberal capitalism will serve to destroy all stratification within society, generating in the process unheard of novelties. Politics and all morality, particularly of the leftist variety, are a blockage to this fundamental historical process. Land had a hypnotizing belief that capitalist speed alone could generate a global transition towards unparalleled technological singularity. In this visioning of capital, even the human itself can eventually be discarded as mere drag to an abstract planetary intelligence rapidly constructing itself from the bricolaged fragments of former civilizations. As Land has it, through the acceleration of global capitalism the human will be dissolved in a technological apotheosis, effectively experiencing a species-wide suicide as the ultimate stimulant head rush.

Marxists look at Land and they are scandalized by his writing; writings that violate their petty bourgeois sensibilities.

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“Capitalism Harder!”: Accelerationism as Marxism’s mirror

Left accelerationists have to show why they are not simply repackaging a discredited Marxist political strategy — a charge Nick Land makes forcefully here. The reason I say this is simple: a vulgar interpretation of Marx’s theory would suggest that as the conditions of the working class screen-shot-2012-12-30-at-9-48-52-pm-01-14-57deteriorated, they would be goaded into a socialist revolution. Some variant on this idea regularly becomes very popular among Marxists in the middle of economic downturns.

Of course, this idea is not as blunt as I put it. For instance many  simply assume deteriorating conditions push people into struggle with capital and requires the additional intervention of some sort of advanced or vanguard element to raise the political consciousness of the class. This seems to be the thinking behind the more polished argument made by Michael A. Lebowitz in this passage that crises produces conditions for socialist education:

“But, they are merely open to this understanding. All those actions, demonstrations and struggles in themselves cannot go beyond capitalism. Given that exploitation inherently appears simply as unfairness and that the nature of capital is mystified, these struggles lead only to the demand for fairness, for justice within capitalist relations but not justice beyond capitalism. They generate at best a trade union or social-democratic consciousness—a perspective which is bounded by a continuing sense of dependence upon capital, i.e., bounded by capitalist relations. Given that the spontaneous response of people in motion does not in itself go beyond capital, communication of the essential nature of capitalism is critical to its nonreproduction.”

But it was (and still is) generally held that when conditions deteriorate the working class is pushed in a heightened level of at least defensive conflict with the capitalists and thus become more open to “socialist education”.

Accelerationism simply asks a perfectly reasonable question: If deteriorating conditions allows the working class to become more open to going beyond capitalism, why try to prevent conditions from deteriorating? Why fight for piecemeal reforms that only prop up existing society by maintaining the illusion it can be fixed? If the capitalists are only concerned to push their brutal exploitation of the class to ever more extreme limits, why not welcome this?

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By way of reply to the author of the essay “So, Accelerationism, what’s all that about?”

apple_ceo_steve_jobs_holds_the_new_ipad_during_the_launch_of_the_new_tablet_computing_device_in_san_francisco_wednesdayThe post mentioned in the title of this blog post has a rather different take on Nick Land’s Accelerationism (because, in any case, Land is the boogeyman we should all fear) and its Leftist expression. In this view, no Left accelerationist advocates accelerating capitalism because it will collapse under the weight of its own contradictions. Any such idea is a straw man.

“Not even Nick Land? No. Not even Nick Land. He likes capitalism. He wants to accelerate it, but not because it will collapse under the weight of its own contradictions. What about Deleuze and Guattari? No. According to them ‘nothing has ever died of contradictions’, and so whatever deterritorialising force they aim to accelerate, and whatever end they aim to accelerate it towards, neither is a contradiction or its inevitable collapse. What about Srnicek and Williams? No. Much of what they do can be seen as breaking with D&G (and a fortiori with Land), and returning to a much more Marxist position, but they explicitly refuse to see the transition between capitalism and post-capitalism as a dialectical sublation brought about by the intensification of contradictions.”

“Well, what about Marx then?!”, the author asks. Not surprising, at this point the author wants to change the subject:

“Just how much Marx is invested in a substantive notion of contradiction as the metaphysical driving force of history is a question up for debate, and I’m not about to stumble into that particular hermeneutic hornets’ nest.”

Really? You’re shitting me, right?

Continue reading “By way of reply to the author of the essay “So, Accelerationism, what’s all that about?””