inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #76 of 131: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Wed 18 May 11 08:06
    
It's a new day, so this is only a run-on and doesn't count.

Let's talk about your book! I take it that your view is that we are
watching the unraveling of capitalism as it undergoes its fourth global
crisis. Would you give us some history there please?

Your statement: "organizing for a post capitalist future is
delusional" merits some comment.

"The force of ideas, born out of action, help us understand the world
we unwittingly construct....the book attempts to construct, grasp, the
vulnerabilities of the current order; weigh and devise avenues for
fracture and revolt..."(I'm recapping your intro). Is that intentional?
I mean do you hope and do your collaborators and compatriots hope to
wittingly grasp a vision of a new world order(s) and construct a
future(s)?

You say your premise is a "perceived radical project in the Global
North that would be fortified by these ideas... The thinkers in the
book are rooted in critical and contrarian lineages of the Marxist
tradition." Why would that work now, when it hasn't in the past? What
is different that might allow it to take root?

Re the theme of commodification, you say, "the answer to the crises of
nature and capital lies in public abundance replacing private wealth."
Can that take place gradually (are there current examples?) or must it
be preceded by a revolution of thought and action? History would
indicate it generally requires a great leader and communicator. Any on
the forefront?

Punt!
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #77 of 131: David Gans (tnf) Wed 18 May 11 10:38
    

I don't think we're seeing the unraveling of capitalism.  I think we are
seeing the unraveling of society.  Capital is the parasite that has taken
over the host.  Those with the most bucks can protect themselves from the
misery much longer than the rest of us can, but eventually the air itself
will be toxic.
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #78 of 131: David Gans (tnf) Wed 18 May 11 10:38
    
Greed kills.
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #79 of 131: Angie (coiro) Wed 18 May 11 11:13
    
I must apologize for my absence. Life interfered for a couple days
there! Thanks for the ongoing conversation.

David said something very provocative, drawing a distinction between
capitalism and society. Right now, I can't imagine separating one from
the other in the US, and to some extent the western world as a whole.
We are what we own, buy, labor on, aspire to be career-wise. I wonder
how much one could truly be extricated from the other. (Let me take
this parenthetical moment to acknowledge the many individuals and
groups who work hard to discover and nurture what they are as people
and subcultures. I'm glad they exist, but I fear they're very much a
minority in the US.)

Sasha, what steps lie before us to relegate capitalism to a healthier
role in society? What would that look like? I doubt there's full
consensus among the many, many minds you've interviewed, both for this
book and in your career overall. But what are the common points that
come up with any frequency?
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #80 of 131: those Andropovian bongs (rik) Wed 18 May 11 11:23
    
I think David makes a very important point.   It's stunning to me that the
ultra-wealthy right don't see that ultimately they're cutting off the roots
of their own wealth.
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #81 of 131: . (wickett) Wed 18 May 11 11:27
    

But not for a long time.  There are too many people to exploit and too many
services and goods to commoditize.  As capital becomes more voracious and
society shrinks, the process will, I think, accelerate.  Collapses, too, 
and they will accelerate the wealth transfer and further diminishment of 
society.
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #82 of 131: Sasha Lilley (sashalilley) Wed 18 May 11 23:38
    
Capitalism may have appeared to be unraveling.  But it's not so
simple, as we know. Crises are times where capitalism tries to renew
itself.  I think that's what we're witnessing right now.  It's not the
business class that is hurting, but what David is calling "society" --
the rest of us, to varying degrees. 

(High profit rates, however, do not necessarily indicate that elites
have overcome the crisis.  Various analysts, such as "Capital and Its
Discontents" contributor David McNally, argue that the business class
has just pushed the day of reckoning into the future and that it can't
be avoided indefinitely.  The years ahead may be very rocky indeed.)

David, I think that you're right that those with money believe they
can insulate themselves from the fallout of the system from which they
profit.  It's been alarming to see the shift by elites from giving lip
service to preventing global warming, to now simply mitigating its
effects with no intention of stopping it.  And, of course, the wealthy
can buy second houses that are high above sea level or may live behind
walled communities, so their experience of climate change will
undoubtedly be substantially different than for the rest of us.  

Yes, sooner or later the air will be so fouled that it affects them as
well.  But I think that, in the main, they're not interested in
societal solutions, but rather individual or class-based ones, which by
definition will be partial.

The historian Karl Polanyi, in his classic work The Great
Transformation, wrote about what he called the double movement: the
tendency within capitalist societies to oscillate between cycles of
unbridled rule of the market -- where workers and nature are pushed to
their breaking point as elites pursue maximum profits -- and cycles of
intervention by the state in support of social welfare, when elites
become concerned that the toll of the laissez faire system may lead to
social explosion or various social problems (roving bands of poor
people, epidemics, and other manifestations of the break down of the
status quo).  Then elites push again for increased exploitation, since
profits aren't high enough when workers and nature are somewhat
protected, starting a new round yet again. 

After three decades of neoliberalism, one might have wondered whether,
just based on the appalling rate of plunder and destruction of nature,
there might be a counter-movement, slowing that destruction down.  But
it's clear that without substantial social movements demanding it,
elites will not act to protect the environment or decrease the squeeze
on workers.  (Let's not forget that the most progressive president in
recent history when it came to the environment -- passing the Clean Air
Act, Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act -- was
none other than Richard Nixon.  Clearly that wasn't because he was a
green -- far from it -- but because the environmental movement was at
its height and he was pushed into signing such legislation kicking and
screaming.)
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #83 of 131: Sasha Lilley (sashalilley) Thu 19 May 11 00:13
    
Angie, there are two general tendencies on the left about that
question, in my experience. 

The first current suggests that we should aspire to return to the type
of capitalism that predominated in the US and the developed capitalist
countries of Europe and Asia, and to some degree Latin America and
Africa, from WW2 to the 1970s or so.  In the US, that's often referred
to as the Golden Age of capitalism.  It was characterized by almost
full employment (especially for white males), some degree of social
provisions through the welfare state -- more so in Europe and Canada
than in the US -- and by an international monetary system where
currencies were pegged to the US dollar, which was fixed to the gold
standard, creating a fair amount of financial stability.  The argument
one hears from these folks is that if we could institute the kinds of
policies and regulations that were in place during those times, we'd
have a fairly livable form of capitalism. 

The second perspective asserts that period of postwar capitalism was a
historic anomaly to which it would be very hard to return. The
thinkers in that camp point to how by the early 1970s relatively full
employment was leading to eroded profits -- which capitalists are never
happy about -- and great worker militancy, as workers demanded higher
wages and more control over their work lives.  (There was a monetary
component to this as well, which perhaps is getting a bit too wonky,
but suffice it to say that the US was forced to take the dollar off the
gold standard and the stability that had characterized the
international monetary system fell apart.)  These thinkers argue that,
from the vantage point of the business class, a switch needed to be
made to what we now know as neoliberalism -- the cutting back of social
welfare, no commitment to full employment, attacks on unions and
workers, etc -- which has been terrible for the rest of us. 

They believe that if there was ever an attempt to return to that other
form of capitalism -- which they argue capitalists would not go for
anyway -- those in power would end up with the same kinds of
profitability problems as they did in the 1970s.  These thinkers
therefore conclude that we need to think about life beyond capitalism
-- which, of course, is easier said than done.
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #84 of 131: Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Thu 19 May 11 07:35
    
I have to admit that to me, much of the broader discussion these days
feels like mystification. Many would disagree, but it seems pretty
clear to me that a mixed economy is a sensible way to provide goods and
services on the one hand and social equity and environmental
protection on the other.  

It's a given in mainstream economics that markets fail all the time. 
That's why governments step in to provide public goods like defense,
infrastructure, education, law enforcement, fire protection, and
(increasingly) health care. And it's starting to look like we in the
U.S. need to add journalism to that list. (It's already the case in
most industrialized democracies.) 

I suppose that puts me in the first category above, and my short stay
in Sweden in the early 1980s gave me a hint of what's possible in this
department.  When I returned to the U.S., it was all about rolling back
those state interventions in favor of a free-market fundamentalism
that has cost us dearly ever since. 

Yes, the post-war period was unique in many ways.  Still, it doesn't
feel like nostalgia to argue for the merits of a mixed economy. It's
telling that such an argument even needs to be made, but I guess that's
a perverse tribute to the free marketeers and kleptocrats who are
currently running the show. 

Sasha, your book is a series of interviews, so your own views aren't
always featured, but it sounds like you favor something more novel. 
Can you elaborate?     
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #85 of 131: Gail Williams (gail) Thu 19 May 11 15:59
    
That sounds interesting.  I'm also curious about how the work you did
on this book has shaped your interpretation of current events including
trade, debt and monetary issues.  Has it provided you with a more
powerful contemporary lens?
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #86 of 131: Sasha Lilley (sashalilley) Thu 19 May 11 23:07
    
That markets fail is, as you say Peter, a given in mainstream
economics.  And you're right that it's a sign of the times that other
forms of organizing the economy aren't even debated.  But I think one
needs to ask whether there is the political appetite amongst elites for
that sort of mixed economy (for the reasons I mentioned previously
about profitability), especially without the threat of social upheaval
or the popularity of more radical alternatives.  What is striking when
one looks over the last three decades of neoliberalism is how many of
the governments that pushed through or furthered privatization and cuts
to the welfare state were actually headed by Social Democratic parties
of various stripes.

And of course Sweden is no longer the country that it once was (which
is immediately apparent if you read the best-selling Swedish crime
fiction writer Stieg Larsson, whom I have to confess I read
compulsively when "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" was published). 
One of the contributors to my book, David Harvey, describes the process
of taking Sweden at least partially down the road of what you term
free market fundamentalism and illustrates the political/economic
question that I'm attempting to flag:

"There was a really serious threat to the ownership structure in
Sweden during the 1970s. In effect, there was a proposal to buy out
ownership entirely and turn it into a sort of worker-owned democracy.
The political elites in Sweden were horrified by this and fought a
tremendous battle against it. The way they fought was partly, again,
through ideological mechanisms. The bankers controlled the Nobel Prize
in economics, that went to Hayek, went to Friedman, that went to all
the neoliberal figures to try to give legitimacy to all the neoliberal
arguments. But then also the Swedes organized themselves as a
confederacy of industrial magnates, organized themselves, built think
tanks and the like. 

"And every time there was any kind of crisis or difficulty in the
Swedish economy, and all of these economies run into difficulties at
some point or other, they would really push the argument: the problem
is the strength of the welfare state, it's the huge expenditures of the
welfare state. But they never actually managed to make it work too
well. So they came up with the interesting strategy of going into the
European Union, because the European Union had a very neoliberal
structure—through the Maastricht Treaty. So the Swedish Confederation
persuaded everyone they should go into Europe, and then it was the
European rules that allowed the more neoliberal policies to be
introduced into Sweden in the 1990s. It hasn't gone very far in Sweden
because the unions are still very strong and the political history is
very strong over social democracy and the like. But, nevertheless,
there has been a process towards a limited neoliberalization in Sweden
as a result of the activities of these political elites and their
strategy of taking Sweden into Europe."

In terms of my own views, I imagine it's becoming fairly clear that
I'm skeptical that elites would consider reversing course without
large-scale movements pushing for something much more radical (which is
of course how the New Deal came about in this country, where elites
were genuinely concerned about social revolution).  And my feeling is
that if we did have such formidable movements bent on thoroughgoing
social transformation, then why stop at a mixed economy?
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #87 of 131: Sasha Lilley (sashalilley) Fri 20 May 11 00:11
    
Ted, thanks for these questions (and sorry for the lag in catching up
with them).  Various contributors to the book suggest we are living
through the fourth global crisis of the capitalist system.  What makes
this the fourth?  The first global crisis took place in 1870-1880 and
led to the further expansion of capitalism globally.  The second was
the Great Depression, which led to the opposite effect: countries
putting up tariffs and limiting foreign investment and trade with each
other.  The third was in the 1970s, the resolution of which involved
the expansion that came to be known as neoliberal globalization --
which ultimately led to the crisis of the last several years. 

When I wrote in the Introduction to "Capital and Its Discontents" that
"the idea of organizing for a postcapitalist future commonly seems
delusional," I was taking issue with such thinking.  The thrust of my
argument is that we have been living through such pessimistic times for
so long, that those of us on the left have internalized the notion
that the world couldn't be organized any differently.  As I mentioned
there (referencing a quote that is often attributed to Fredric
Jameson), it's become easier to imagine the end of the world, than the
end of capitalism.  I think we need to resist such thinking.  

I'm arguing for the unfashionable notion of reengaging with
transformative or utopian thinking, in the broadest sense of that word.
That means thinking differently in all sorts of respects, including
within the radical and Marxist traditions, which give us wonderful
tools for understanding capitalism.  In answer to your question, I do
indeed proffer this book as a modest contribution to creating a better
world.  And that involves very honestly looking at the failures of the
left -- why so many radical social experiments have ended disastrously
or not endured -- without then assuming that capitalism is the only
way, or that somehow it's tied to our basic nature as humans.  It is my
belief that the failures of the left originated not from an excess of
utopianism -- as is usually argued -- but too little.  Whatever one's
perspective, these are discussions and debates that I think we need to
have.

Regarding your final question: I believe it's possible to replace
private wealth with public abundance in ways that are partial or
gradual -- just look at public parks, which obviously didn't come about
because of a social revolution.  But within a capitalist society there
will always be great pressures on the public sector, either to
subsidize the private through various means, or to be privatized
itself.  One of the contributors to my book, Ursula Huws, has written
about how in the midst of this most recent economic crisis, a new round
of expansion and profit has been launched by privatizing public
services and turning them into new commodities. 

So it comes back to the political economic questions that I was
discussing with Peter.  And, as I was suggesting to him, any
thoroughgoing transformation of private luxury into public abundance
would only happen through large-scale social mobilization.  Given that
I believe this is an essential dimension to slowing climate change,
among other looming perils -- given the immense ecological and human
waste of profit-driven production, as well as the consumption of the
affluent -- it strikes me as very urgent. 
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #88 of 131: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 20 May 11 04:55
    
Thanks for that; it is what I like most about your book, that you
engage with your contributors and are not afraid to disagree with them
while still affirming your commitment to making positive change in the
world. The dialog in itself opens me to re-listening to the  old ones
and hearing the new ones.

I have to admit when I first started reading it, I took a deep sigh
and said to myself, "Oh no, here we go again." By the end of your
introduction I was surprised by how comprehensive it was and am
thoroughly enjoying being intellectually and viscerally challenged.
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #89 of 131: . (wickett) Fri 20 May 11 09:00
    

I thought your introduction was the best part of the book!

One large obstacle to any movement to build public abundance is what I 
call the outsourcing of personal responsibility, aided and abetted by the 
commodification of skills and abilities ordinary people used to have.  
When people feel helpless to do, but only to buy, they are less able to 
figure out how and what to do and then do it.  Helpless individuals do 
not create strong collective action.
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #90 of 131: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 20 May 11 09:26
    
One historical observation about elites. I don't think it is so much
that they ignore the hoi polloi, rather they are so preoccupied with
what they are involved in financially, and more importantly socially,
and are so removed from any daily intercourse with them that until
there is some kind of economic crisis or great social movement their
attention is simply elsewhere....We like to cover that sort of
ignorance by the term noblesse oblige....lately I haven't noticed too
much noblesse and almost no oblige on the part of elites worldwide --
this past Davos conference for example (the Hall Pass alone would allow
most people to live comfortably for the rest of their lives!).

Your point is well taken, that given this purported fourth crisis the
elite are most noticeable by their action - which may best be described
as "packing up and leaving the arena.". I think anything we may hope
for in the transition(s) to a more globally equitable society will have
to happen from the ground up. Ma and Pa Kettle are clearly on their
own, and the proper place to start political/economic/social
conversations with them is in helping them to see and understand that
fact....nothing except treacle is going to "trickle down" from the
elites and our  governments are broke and unable to help.

(I realize in re-reading this in Spellcheck, I assume their is a
global intellectual elite which very much wants to help the Kettle's;
and just like the 60;s, some who wish to seize or manipulate the
Zeitgeist - same as it ever was.)
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #91 of 131: David Gans (tnf) Fri 20 May 11 11:04
    

<89> is a very good point, <wickett>.  Thank you.

> Helpless individuals do not create strong collective action.



I'm afraid I agree with this, too:

>  (referencing a quote that is often attributed to Fredric Jameson), it's
>  become easier to imagine the end of the world, than the end of capitalism.


This feels like a silly question, but: is there a spiritual component to
this?  I have come to believe that you can only change the world one soul at
a time, by inspiration and instruction and example, and that coercion never
leads to positive nor permanent change.  Over the half-century of my life I
have watched the very language drained of its compassion as the public
discourse has been perverted to the cause of capitalism over the needs of
humanity.  How can we attain a critical mass of decency to end this race to
extinction?
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #92 of 131: Angie (coiro) Fri 20 May 11 11:49
    
(I love that question, David, and am eagerly awaiting this answer.
This opens up a whole 'nother realm.)
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #93 of 131: those Andropovian bongs (rik) Fri 20 May 11 12:21
    
"How can we attain a critical mass of decency..."

The most important question facing humanity, and I sure don't have an
answer.
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #94 of 131: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 20 May 11 12:43
    
"How can we attain a critical mass of decency..."

Beauty of a phrased question!
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #95 of 131: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 20 May 11 12:44
    
First let's see who's left after today's rapture and go from there:)
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #96 of 131: David Gans (tnf) Fri 20 May 11 12:55
    
Problem with that is that the truly kind and compassionate are going up, and
the greedy sons of bitches will still be here among us.
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #97 of 131: those Andropovian bongs (rik) Fri 20 May 11 13:13
    
What you mean "us", Paleface?"
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #98 of 131: David Gans (tnf) Fri 20 May 11 13:39
    
Dude, you are so grounded!
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #99 of 131: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 20 May 11 13:43
    
Does that mean, we who are posting here tomorrow are all in your later
category?? Oh well, as G.B. Shaw, I'd rather be in good company
anyhow. (Or was it Oscar Wilde?)
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #100 of 131: David Gans (tnf) Fri 20 May 11 15:04
    

Heaven seems like a pretty boring plave to me.  I'll take southern Utah any
day.
  

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