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Re: <nettime> Peace-for-War
Brian Holmes on Mon, 7 Aug 2006 01:35:18 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Peace-for-War

Ed Philips wrote:

>Arrighi's long twentieth century thesis which is a kind of
>rethinking of Marx'x MCM formula has some fitness as well. 
>To quote Arrighi, "financialization (the capacity of finance 
>capital 'to take over and dominate, for a while at least, 
>all the activities of the business world') has been the 
>result of a recurrent overaccumulation of capital ('the 
>accumulation of capital on a scale beyond the normal 
>channels for investment'.) 

Hi Ed, greetings, thanks for your comments and observations. 
Actually, some more would be useful.

I'd be very interested in strong critiques of Bichler & 
Nitzan, either of what they claim to add to Marxism (the 
notion of differential accumulation), of their empirical 
findings (the various graphs) or finally, of their 
conclusions (particularly about the influence of a specific 
corporate lobby as a factor in US foreign policy).

I'm definitely an amateur at this, but I've read a fair bit 
of Harvey, Arrighi, world-systems theory generally, the New 
Left Review authors, etc. Very enlightening stuff. What I 
always missed, though, were political applications of 
notions as abstract as "overaccumulation" and 
"financialization." Who are the actors of such processes, 
where and when and why do their decisions matter?

Even the French regulation school, though they pay closer 
attention to the relations between technological change, 
organizational innovations, and social, political or even 
cultural norms, still tend mainly to describe shifts between 
broad productive paradigms. Well, pretty much everyone I 
know in Europe, on an activist level, tried to work in order 
to influence what seemed to be a new productive paradigm, 
coming in the wake of industrial mass production. 
Post-fordism, we called it, using the regulation-school 
term. We thought the contradictions of post-Fordism offered 
an opening for the transformation of society (ways of 
working, measures of value, unemployment policies, urban 
ecologies, north-south relations, many things). However, a 
sudden political turnabout, with economic and military 
consequences far more dramatic than any broad paradigm could 
account for, seems to have made much of that work obsolete. 
Nobody wants to hear about our social utopias anymore.

This change is particularly acute with respect to the USA, 
the hegemon after all, whose transformations affect 
everyone. It's abundantly clear that a specific 
constellation of actors (ideological, economic, military, 
and financial in a markedly statist way) has been at the 
helm since Bush came in, or more precisely, since September 
11. The differences from the Clinton years (and from the 
expansive, internationalizing economy of those years) are 
very tangible, not only politically but economically too. In 
terms of differential accumulation, I looked at the top 20 
profit-makers on the Fortune 500 list of American corps as 
published in 2000 and 2006. The difference is striking, 
check it out in the table below. The automakers (Ford, GM, 
whose sales would be a sign of a growth economy), the telcos 
of the 90s boom (SBC, Lucent, Bell Atlantic) and a merger 
specialist (Morgan Stanley) all fall out of the top 20 
profit-makers, while two oil companies appear from far below 
(Chevron and ConocoPhilips), to occupy very high positions. 
There is also a reshuffling of rank among financial groups, 
which I am not able to read due to insufficient knowledge of 
the differences between them. What's amazing, though, is the 
increase in absolute profit among the highest rollers, and 
particularly at the top six or seven positions, which almost 
double in the amount of profit being taken (or more than 
triple, in the case of the 2006 leader Exxon, compared to 
the former leader in 2000, the financial/industrial corp 
General Electric).

What ever happened to the "new economy" of high-tech 
innovation, semiotic products and immaterial labor? Why is 
this "old" one so vastly much more profitable? Well, I 
summed up Bichler and Nitzan's explanations in my text. 
Clearly, the process of financialization is not over, and 
nor is the associated informational mode of production; but 
their objects and orientations have changed in a dramatic 
way. In my opinion, neither the 90s tech boom, nor the 
current war economy, can be accounted mere "blips" in 
history. They have both been too damn important in my life! 
In any case, if you want to invest right now, try the oil 
companies, or the major arms dealers (I have put together 
some stats on them in the second table). But I'm sure you 
would be far too disgusted to invest in any of this shit.

There seems to be a difference in the way the groups of 
steersmen operate, both on the diplomatic and economic 
levels. If you then read, say, Super Imperialism by Michael 
Hudson, you begin to get a grasp of the methods used by the 
statist, military-oriented group and how they have worked 
over the years since WWII. Their propensity to borrow and 
print money (Bush has now upped the national debt some 2.4 
trillion, coming close to Reagan's score) seems to correlate 
with the distance that most East Coast financiers take from 
their policies. And their willingness to use the military as 
an engine of economic accumulation runs like a red thread 
throughout postwar American history. The gap between the two 
policy-sets cries out for an explanation that can make a 
difference. Generally the Marxist theorists give you a 
systemic explanation; capitalism does this or that, it has a 
long-term trend. I have always thought that the only way to 
help get the Left moving again is to say, groups and 
individuals do this or that; and we can stop them.

An important political question remains to my mind, though, 
as to whether it's better to focus every effort on 
denouncing the military-industrial-statist group, while 
attempting to influence the expansionist, civilian-oriented 
one towards a more egalitarian and ecological form of 
development; or whether the two are not ultimately 
inseparable. Well, I think they are, but that still doesn't 
eliminate the differences. In short, I think it would be 
important to popularize a reading of cyclical change in the 
capitalist economy, and to use it as a framework for 
strategies that would directly oppose the most dangerous 
groups; while pointing to the broad systemic tendencies, so 
as not to be surprised by the next seeming turnabout in the 
contemporary political economy.

best, Brian


Here you have the top 20 Fortune 500 corps, not in terms of 
size as in the usual list, but in terms of the real profits 
they made in 1999 and 2005 (for those of you accustomed to 
piggybanks, these figures are in MILLIONS of dollars):

2000 list         PROFIT  - 2006 list          PROFIT
General Electric  10,717    Exxon Mobil        36,130
Citigroup          9,867    Citigroup          24,589
SBC Communications 8,159    Bank of America    16,465
Exxon Mobil        7,910    General Electric   16,353
Bank of America    7,882    Chevron            14,099
Microsoft          7,785    ConocoPhilips      13,529
IBM                7,712    Microsoft          12,254
DuPont             7,690    Wal-Mart           11,231
Altria Group       7,675    American Intl. Gr. 10,477
Intel              7,314    Altria Group       10,435
Ford Motor         7,237    Johnson & Johnson  10,411
General Motors     6,002    Intel               8,664
Merck              5,890    Berkshire Hathaway  8,528
Chase Manhattan    5,446    J.P. Morgan Chase   8,438
Wal-Mart           5,377    Pfizer              8,085
American Intl. Gr. 5,055    IBM                 7,934
Morgan Stanley     4,791    Wells Fargo         7,671
Lucent Tech.       4,766    Verizon             7,397
Bell Atlantic      4,202    Proctor & Gamble    7,257
Johnson & Johnson  4,167    Wachovia Corp.      6,643

Here you see the average percentage of return on investment 
paid to stockholders of specific defence and aerospace 
corporations over the whole period from 1995 to 2005, and 
then the percentage of return for the single year of 2005 - 
which is dramatically higher in most cases. After that, I 
show the total profit of each corp in 2005 (in millions of 
dollars), and the percentage increase over 2004 profit - 
again, very high increases in just one year. Raytheon, which 
shrunk dramatically in the 90s, is like Dracula coming back 
to life...

-                   -          -          -        -
Boeing             7.6       37.8      2,572     +37%
United Tech.      18.6       10.0      3,069     +10%
Lockheed Martin    6.6       16.5      1,825     +44%
Northrop-Grumman   8.6       12.6      1,400     +29%
Honeywell Int.     6.6        7.5      1,655     +29%
Raytheon           0.5        5.8        871    +109%
General Dynamics  16.4       10.6      1,461     +19%

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