Keith Hart on Sat, 26 Jul 2008 07:56:15 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Some reflections on global mapping

This is a revival of a thread interrupted by two weeks spent in the salt
mines of rural Norway. The story so far, basically, is that Brian was
finding it hard to map global capitalism today and Ed said that is because
the politics is masked. Part of my response was:

> The most important and difficult task for all of us is to understand how
> we belong to others in society. The aim of ideology is to make it even
> more difficult. There is no question that the ideology driving world
> economy over the last three decades has masked the political conditions
> of that domination. But surely the current financial meltdown undermines
> such an operation. I would say that, just as the pendulum swung quickly
> from state to market in the late 70s, the reverse movement is rapidly
> under way now.

> The trick is to figure out where the state is these days or rather could
> be: central banks acting alone and together; sovereign funds bailing out
> failed banks; the dollar assets held by Asian governments; regional
> trading blocs like the EU; the American empire with or without a new
> president; countries like France, Iran, Brazil and China; OPEC; the
> Bretton Woods institutions or their replacements; the FT 500
> corporations. The multitude or countless social movements around the
> world need to come to grips with some or all of these.

> Clearly deregulation allowed looting on a massive scale and something
> will have to be done to regulate the looters. How or where? That is what
> I mean by 'the state'. We are in for turbulent times when I suspect that
> politics will become less opaque, often in quite unpleasant ways. Against
> fascism and war, a revival of redistributive politics at appropriate
> levels of world society would be one strategy. Promoting the voluntary
> reciprocity of decentralized groups another. But we need both. All the
> economic possibilities are already there to be built on. Embracing the
> idea of capitalism as a totality only makes it harder to see that. Our
> challenge is to make new institutional combinations with a new emphasis.<

Now a reply to Brian's questions in response:

> You have some access to international institutions so you may have some
> clues on these things... No one can see a politician or statesman or
> steward of the economy with an idea other than that capitalism as it is
> exactly right now is the very best of all possible systems. But I am
> hoping you have some notion of what might come down the pipe - the types
> of programs in particular.

What strikes me is the speed with which the capitalists adjust to the new
situation:  replacing the privatisation of profits with the need to
socialise losses. Even The Economist and the FT recognize that this means
new rules for the market economy and an enhanced role for the state, but
capitalism's critics are slower to acknowledge that neo-liberalism is over.
My guess is that the political pressure for new public safeguards against
what W called Wall Street getting drunk on itself will build up more
gradually. The question is where and how a phase on enhanced regulation will
take place. One recent example was a statement by  an EU commissioner that
the credit rating agencies will be forced to erect serious firewalls between
themselves and 'the markets'. But that is just a drop in the ocean.

In my previous post I said we need stories more than maps. I have plenty of
them, have been storing them up for years and refurbish them daily from the
news. But I don't have concrete foresight into institutional possibilities.
When it becomes obvious, the Bretton Woods institutions -- World Bank, IMF,
WTO -- will have to be scrapped. What gets put in their place depends on the
severity of the economic collapse and the combined social forces pushing for
a new deal. I know something of what is going on in the Bank, but nothing
that will keep them going in anything like their present form. The buildings
may still be there, but the functions will take a new form, perhaps even
with some new functions and interests to serve. Sorry that this is so vague,
but it is important to figure out what the political game is right now and
whose side we are on. You can be sure that institutional economics will be
revived, since the problem of saving the economy in practical terms ranks
higher than preaching the virtues of free markets now.

There are several stories in play: where we are in the history of the
boom/bust cycle; how the BRIC countries and others will use their economic
strength in dealing with the west; what forms a revived state apparatus will
take and not just in relation to the economy; the US empire, the dollar and
the war for oil; the future of European integration in face of a $2 euro
exchange rate; the future of the internet, especially if revived governments
find new ways to serve corporate interests (see the latest on ISPs and the
record companies); how all this is transformed into a green panic or its
opposite. Take your pick. It's all probably too complex and uncertain to be
mapped as a totality, but some political and intellectual movement is
desirable, rather than pining for a past of greater ideological clarity.

> > Against fascism and war, a revival of redistributive
> > politics at appropriate levels of world society would be one strategy.
> The famous "global Keynesianism" that's been talked about for decades.
> Could it be done? How? By whom? Are there any plans afoot?

It might have been talked about for decades, but now is a new historical
context for any such strategy.  I content myself professionally by writing
about Africa's prospects and nterests (and South Africa in particular). Then
by dusting off the Polanyi via Stiglitz playbook to see if any old tunes can
find a new resonance. My bet is that redistribution will move back up the
political agenda, at least as a way of selling a rescue deal for global
deal, perhaps for more democratic reasons. It means that those of us who
wrote off the state in the dot com boom will have to think again.

> > Promoting the voluntary reciprocity of decentralized groups another.
> Anywhere this is really happening? To any degree? (sincere questions, I
> am ignorant)

This is where I really put my professional effort, lately supported and
influenced by French economic sociologists such as Jean 'Louis Laville and
Alain Caille. Brazil and France have both kept the anti-capitalist flame
burning after the demise of the Soviet Union. The very successful
Dictionnaire de l'autre economie (Gallimard 2006), with its origins in Porto
Alegre 2000, is a major source. I have been approached by Brazil's central
bank to see if they can help Lula's programme of economic solidarity by
sponsoring community currencies. A friend in New York who was a derivatives
quant is now a trader in exotic markets specialised in Brazil. I am soon
giving the keynote for a Southern California conference on 'Everyday digital
money' sponsored by Intel. Michael Linton, inventor of LETS, will be
showcasing his plans for smart cards capable of registering 15 alternative
currencies. Kenya is a major centre for new developments in mobile phones,
IT and money using poor people's organization, technology and labour.

It has been obvious enough for some time that world society needs to adjust
to the internet, to the counterrevolution unleashed after Sept 11th, to the
rise of India and China and now to the end of the neoliberal boom. I don't
claim that the new social forms I study and sometimes promote are all that
big, when placed alongside dominant institutions, or that our side will win.
But I do know whose side I am on, the one that would grant more economic
power to the people, economic democracy. And I don't find the idea of
capitalism as a totality all that helpful to that end, even though the idea
has to be taken into account.

So your request for clarification, Brian, shows that I have no answers in
those terms, but lots of stories. Want to hear some more over a drink?


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