Saturday, July 30, 2011

An Untold Marxist Story of Financial Crises: Japan, the United States, and the European Union

This is the story that Marxists haven't told yet. In my view, though, this story is perfectly consistent with not only most Marxists' theories of capitalism but also their traditional (usually implicit) policy preferences.

Let's evaluate policy responses in the wake of the most recent financial crises of Japan, the United States, and Europe, beginning not in 2008 but in 1991, with the ranking based on policy impacts on the overall economy and more importantly on the working class.

Central Banks

1. The Fed: Could have been better, but it's clear Bernanke knew what he needed to do and was determined to do it
2. BOJ: Confused and feckless

Stimulus and Output

1. Japan: The sum total of public spending for this purpose is respectable, and so is per capita GDP (as opposed to total GDP) growth
2. US: Way too small, ending too soon, leaving the US infrastructural deficit intact, though it's not as if it did nothing to sustain GDP and consumption as the Right claims
3. EU: Terrible squeeze of the periphery from Day 1, disaster capitalism par excellence

Composition of Fiscal Policy + Labor Market Policy + Budget Financing Method

Here there is no ranking. It's a story of "every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." This is basically where the Japanese working class were done in: even as the government spent a great deal on contingent public works, structurally it made (by the standard of rich nations already small) social benefits smaller, especially for old people, while facilitating the rise of contingent labor without establishing a new social safety net for the precariat; and moreover taxes on corporations were cut while those on workers were raised. The same is now being done to American and European workers, though exactly how it's done politically varies.


Don't make it sound like a Great Depression is what the working class should fear facing a financial crisis; if you do, you are only defending a Maginot Line and motivating workers to turn to bastard Keynesians rather than Marxists. A modern state knows how to avoid a Great Depression, by breaking up a panicked financial crowd by a big monetary water cannon, except in cases where it wants to deliberately inflict a depression on workers for the purpose of effecting structural change, as the ECB is doing to the euro periphery.

Make sure the working class bark, and bark up the right tree. The right tree in the case where the state has its own money and controls its own monetary policy, with little to no pressure from foreign creditors, (as in the cases of Japan and the United States), is people determining the composition of fiscal policy, the labor market policy, and the budget financing method. To get the working class to bark up the right tree, Marxists must fight against right-wing populist mystification about "always uniformly bad and morally hazardous bailouts," (bailouts are not at all alike in their impacts on workers -- it all depends on how they are done and how they are financed; and, if workers are well organized, politically conscious, and militant, they can turn them into opportunities to assert social control over the bailed-out enterprises and/or sectors), without leaving that battle to Keynesians.

Monday, July 04, 2011

No Green Goddesses

Here is an important intervention by Janet Biehl, published in the latest issue of Le Monde diplomatique: "No Green Goddesses: Ecofeminism Isn't Feminist or Eco Either." Unfortunately, the English version is for subscribers only, and the French version won't be available till next month. But the Portugese and Italian versions are already online. A funny thing is that people who wouldn't put up with the god of the Abrahamic religions often love Pachamama. One reason is that Pachamama is cast as female while the God of Jews, Christians, and Muslims is commonly cast as male. Goddesses can be useful for reactionary, patriarchal thought, though. Amaterasu is female and kind of cool in the original tellings of the myth about her, but Japan's ruling class at one time successfully built patriarchal capitalism and imperialism in part using an ideology based on the claimed kinship with her. Another reason is that there are two kinds of "otherness": one (e.g., Muslims, hijab) is cast as frightening; the other (e.g., indigenous peoples of the Americas, Indian saris) is cast as cute. A deeper reason, though, lies in what Janet Biehl touches on in her article: the Left's neglect of the questions of the gendered division of labor and social reproduction. Given that most struggles on the Left today are defensive rather than offensive, there is a tendency to employ the rhetoric of uncommodified = good versus commodified =bad and adopt the posture of defending the remaining space of the former against the encroachment of the latter. But a lot of oppression of women takes place in the sphere of uncommodified relations, which gets scant attention in the aforementioned rhetoric.