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Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Ends of Capitalism

The Ends of Capitalism

By Rob Urie
Counter Punch
November 17, 2013

In the midst of the unfolding economic and financial catastrophes
of 2009 Barack Obama, the new President of the U.S., entered
office with the broad political support needed to lead the
country away from the war, militarism, and economic pillage of
the George W. Bush years.

The U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had left those countries
in ruins with over a million Iraqis killed and four or more million

In contrast to the outcomes imagined in the deluded hubris of
neo-con ‘think tanks,’ these wars demonstrated both the limits
of American military power as means of geopolitical suasion and
the absolute moral bankruptcy of America’s ‘leadership’ class
from the Bush/Cheney ‘team’ all the way down to the local flag

The economic calamity underway was the broadest and deepest
since the Great Depression and shared that human-economic
catastrophe’s genesis in runaway finance and its result in a
socially untenable and politically incapacitating divide between
rich and poor.

The ‘world’ Mr. Obama inherited wasn’t ‘working’ for large
majorities in the West.

The level of employment of the working age population had
begun declining in 2000 and it had fallen off of the proverbial
cliff by late 2008.

The illusion of prosperity in some evidence in the mid-2000s
courtesy of the monetization of the preponderance of U.S.
housing equity, the collective savings of home ‘owners,’ to
fund purchases of wide screen televisions, 3rd, 4th, and 5th
automobiles, and new porch furniture, had shown its
foundations in mass delusion.

On Wall Street the gig was up, the financial ‘system’ was in full
collapse from the weight of its own ‘bounty’ and only had left its
brethren in financial ‘innovation’ to plunder.

The economic ‘efficiencies’ of thirty years of pirate capitalism
had shown themselves in the pockets and bank accounts of
America’s few hundred richest families and in its residual,
the smoldering ruins of an economy that had once made things,
for better and/or for worse, as well as in the emergent ‘micro’
economy of the formerly employed trading piece work and stock
tips on the Internet to keep the foreclosure wolves at bay.

In theory and in human capacity Mr. Obama had ‘options’ outside
dedicated restoration of the system of political economy that had
been so recently repudiated through his very own election and
through its own emergent facts.

Mr. Obama’s artifacts of American social ontology, ‘black,’
‘liberal,’ ‘thoughtful,’ were/are in theorized opposition
to the beloved/reviled baby Bush whose ‘aw shucks’ isms
were/are the coded populism of the business class in Atlanta,
Houston and of the rapidly expanding sputtering pissed right.

Rendered invisible in the public politicking was that Messrs.
Obama and Bush went to the same schools, ate at the same
restaurants with the same corporate representatives and
saw/see their interests as deeply tied to the existing order.

To the extent human agency ‘is,’ history will deal with each
man for the social space they occupied.

And that social space includes embodying the ‘hopes and
aspirations,’ however implausibly, of the people they only
encounter in passing on their way to or from meetings, lunches,
golf outings with their ‘peers’ whose competence at traversing
the social divide for long enough to bring back the bounty has
been demonstrated.

For those to whom this ‘embodiment’ is important, its motorcade
just drove past you on its way to a bankers convention in Geneva,
a United War Profiteers of America ski outing in Jackson Hole or
the annual Drone Murder and Torture shindig in San Diego.

However, and with apologies in advance for being the bearer of bad
news, as metaphor the ‘rollout,’ such as the term is operationally
applicable, of Mr. Obama’s Affordable Care Act is rough measure of
where you stand in the order of things.

In clear contrast, no systems other than the one that mattered
capitalism, crashed in 2009.

According to the income distribution data the restoration of banker
bonuses, executive pay, and the gaping chasm between the
beneficiaries of ‘free-market’ corporate welfare and its victims,
went off without a hitch.

There were no reports of J.P. Morgan’s Jamie Dimon or
Goldman Sach’s Lloyd Blankfein having trouble logging on

No doubt it is easier to transfer a few trillion dollars to a few
hundred families than it is to support and maintain the most
radically dysfunctional health care system in the ‘developed’
world, but don’t they teach technocratic competence at Harvard?

While all this is now just so much water over the windmill or
some such, the system that crashed in 1990, 2000 and again
in 2008 is still the one ‘we’ have.

And its reach into the world that we, the ‘driven by,’ live in
increases with every passing calamity

There was speculation when Mr. Obama appointed the primary
Clinton administration architects of the 2008 financial economic
catastrophe, Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner, to key
positions in his administration that he was doing so because
they knew ‘where the bodies were buried.’

Left unconsidered was that the practical, actual, factual effect
of the then unfolding calamity on the ‘people who matter’ was
their being forced to listen to annoying talking points on cable
business shows and having to forego a few moments of moving
and shaking to transfer their financial ‘assets’ of ill repute onto
the public accounts.

It wasn’t that different paths forward were considered and
decided against; they never entered the decision making

There are points of dispute here, enthusiastic ‘debate’ was
reportedly held inside the Obama administration around the
questions: should Citibank and Bank of America be ‘nationalized,’
should Wall Street be ‘reined in’ through re-regulation and most
fundamentally, should the ‘stimulus package’ have been larger.

Of relevance is that the institutional prerogative of the politically
‘feasible’ was the unifying characteristic of all of these ‘debate’

But to be clear, this realm that of the politically feasible, is
utterly unrelated to the circumstance of the ‘driven by’ it is
coded reference to the politically, economically embedded,
in no way to be confused with the ‘hopes and aspirations’

The saying is that Mr. Obama inherited difficult circumstances
when he came into office.

But what he inherited was a particular stage in an historical
trajectory, one of what are regularly recurring crises in the
ascendance of global capitalism.

Within this trajectory catastrophes such as that of 2009 are
as much a part of political economy as the times of ‘prosperity.’

The view from the ‘inside’ from Washington and Wall Street,
averages prosperity with catastrophe to come to an ‘average’
conclusion about the political-economic viability of this capitalism.

Mr. Obama, or any other successful politician within the modern
understanding of success, ‘embodies’ the hopes and aspirations
of ‘average’ Americans in the same way that the average of
catastrophe and prosperity reach them in their lives.

Mr. Bush before him embodied the hopes and dreams of ‘long
suffering’ war mongering white, Christian Pentecostals and Mr.
Obama has his liberal progressive constituency, the average of
the two which form different ‘sides’ of an outside, the ‘driven

This isn’t to discount the difference, but rather to ask: who
exactly is making bank on it?

As circumscribed by those whose fortunes have been restored
since Mr. Obama took office, the difference that matters
remains between the embedded and the embodied, between
those whose fortunes are foregone conclusions and those who
wave as the motorcade passes.

The passions that surround Western political economy are
reactive for a reason.

Mr. Obama was assumed to represent antithesis because history
called for it.

The unmitigated disaster of the (baby) Bush years was evident to
even the dullest of his supporters as the incontrovertible ‘proof’
of calamity, falling stock prices, was underway.

But ‘change’ holds forth no promised direction. And more
fundamentally, from what possible logic would true antithesis

Within the static anti-historicism of capitalism antithesis always
and everywhere exists in the ‘driven by,’ in the ‘failure’ needed
to demonstrate the truth determining power of ‘success’ through
wealth and profits.

Restoration of the fortunes of the already rich was restoration
of this static antithesis, the only one visible to Mr. Obama’s

The problem of re-thinking capitalism, not that anyone in the
recent history has tried, is that within its logic no catastrophe
is effective repudiation and outside of it either the whole project
goes into the garbage heap or none of it does.

A real catastrophe confronted the peoples of the West as
Mr. Obama entered office.

But the difference between having a billion dollars in the bank or
‘only’ five hundred million dollars was the problem that confronted
the people who brought Mr. Obama into office.

That problem calls for a different set of solutions than being cold,
hungry and unemployed.

And that is the problem Mr. Obama set about fixing.

Western economists view the sequential crises of 1990, 2000 and
2008 as unrelated events to be ‘solved’ through reactive responses,
through Keynesian stimulus or with ‘more’ capitalism.

However, within each subsequent economic ‘recovery’
the political economy of catastrophe grows.

The evidence of social dysfunction, radically skewed income
distribution, the increasingly sharp divide between those on
the ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ of political economy, political
incapacitation and a collective inability to solve even the
most basic social problems, is but the detritus of the thread
that carries these crises through ‘normal’ times.

In the terms of those moving comfortably along in the motorcade
there are ‘recessions’ and ‘recoveries,’ life’s facts whose average
may impact ‘the people’ differently, but only through the secular
god of capitalism’s discriminating hands.

The ‘driven by’ wave to themselves, to their ‘embodiment’ that
‘could have been them’ under some alternate order of the universe.

If ‘success’ and ‘failure’ are their own ‘proof’ of the efficacy of
capitalism as god’s hand in human affairs then so is its attendant
social dysfunction, if the rich are busy ‘making money’ and the
poor are their own ‘proof’ of their inability to be ‘successful’
then what conceivably could be the point of political reconciliation?

In choosing to ‘save’ the ‘system’ he so willingly entered, Mr.
Obama, like those before him, chose the sides inherent in that

The government money used under Mr. Obama’s direction to buy
Wall Street’s garbage ‘assets’ was/is unified in its ‘moneyness’ with
that needed to salve the lot of the ‘driven by,’ those dispossessed
by birth, race, gender or more general circumstance, economic

To paraphrase the cliché, ‘if you teach a man to borrow he eats
for a day, if you give the bank the money to lend to the man he
eats for a day and repays the borrowed money for a lifetime.’

Alternatively, and following from that theoretician of ‘system’
John Maynard Keynes, if you give people the money they need
to eat and live indoors they spend it and the system of
capitalism survives.

Given the choice, banks or their ‘customers,’ what system exactly,
precisely was it that Mr. Obama saved by choosing the banks?

In either case the system of capitalism would be ‘saved.’

To pretend for a moment that the question hasn’t already been
answered, why choose bankers, the ‘embedded,’ over ‘the people,’
those whose hopes and aspirations Messrs. Bush and Obama so
readily ‘embodied?’

The system to be so regularly saved is that of the perfectly ordered
universe, every man, woman and child in his or her God determined

How does one know their proper place?

Which side of the motorcade are you on?

Rob Urie is an artist and political economist in New York. His book "Zen Economics" will be published by CounterPunch / AK Press in
Spring 2014.

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