Sunday, December 18, 2016

Correspondence: The dying of the light

Edited by Moristotle

Personal note from the editor: It has been a week since I’ve posted anything. Only this morning did I think I begin to understand why: I’ve been paralyzed in the inaction of waiting to hear the news of Donald Trump’s death.
    Not sure why I suddenly became un-paralyzed. Maybe it was driving through a bright patch of sunlight this morning and being reminded of the feeling I experienced as a child when I “saw the light” and believed that I had just been saved by Jesus. One gives up hope after a while.

The article Wolfgang Streeck: the German economist calling time on capitalism,” on Streeck’s new book, How Will Capitalism End? [Aditya Chakrabortty, Guardian, December 9], gives a good view of current pessimism about our neoliberal faith that the dynamism of the market economy will save itself from a future of gross economic inequality and social injustice. Streeck states that quality and social justice in modern capitalism have turned out to be “utopian ideas.”
    Instead, Streeck predicts a long limbo of decay of unreformed capitalism, run by authoritative governments, badly leading an angry and poorer electorate. High inequality, low purchasing power of workers, inadequate aggregate demand, and subsequent low investment and growth are ahead in the western capitalist world.
    Streeck has a stark views of Brexit:

Britons mutinied against their government, their experts and the EU and consigned themselves to a poorer and angrier future...a frenzy of collaborative self-harm.
    Equally quotable and critical are Streeck’s views of the failure of macroeconomists and social scientists. Academics are “retreating into disciplinary solipsism” rather than providing understandable analysis of current problems.
    I take time to send you this because Streeck has been one of the most knowledgeable and intelligent analysts of labor economics and industrial relations in Europe. His views helped shape the intellectual history of modern capitalism.
    His irruption into final pessimism may be alarming and/or could simply sell more books.
    After all, Donald Trump’s massive planned Keynesian government spending on infrastructure could provide the missing aggregate demand in the States.

I saw some roadkill this morning, a dog and a possum. I wished they had been Trump & Pence instead.

In a November 7 podcast from the London School of Economics, “Wolfgang Streeck discusses his new book: How will Capitalism End?,” an intellectual history of the historical phase of modern capitalism, at the invitation of David Soskice, the author of the great book, Varieties of Capitalism (2001).
    Soskice argues that there can be supporting institutions to make market-based economies function more effectively, like in Germany where government and firms agree to train apprentices and support the education of firms’ workers to raise productivity and competitiveness of German industry versus the antagonistic struggle between UK firms and workers in the past.
    Streeck runs through ideas on modern capitalism held by the German historical school of economics since

  • Marx on the accumulation process, 
  • Max Weber on the impact of culture – especially bureaucracy – on the accumulation process,
  • Werner Sombart on the taming and stabilizing of capitalism by the state and trade unions,
  • Max Weber on the end of the Roman empire – a story of the end of the empire’s conquests since Hadrian and the ending supply of new slaves, which eliminated cheap labor for big farms and cheap food supplies to the major urban areas, thus leading to an improvement of the treatment of resident slaves and their families, an expensive way to keep them, that lead to strong trade protection and the creation of semi-autonomous structures of feudalism in the following 400 years, a new political organization that was unclear to inhabitants of those times,
  • and others, like Karl Polanyi on the Great Transformation, which argued for the historical contingency of market-based institutions, arguing that the rise of market economies was imbedded in the politics and society of the first capitalistic states, like Great Britain in the late 1700s, and, one should add, already in Holland one hundred years earlier,
  • Antonio Gramsci’s cultural hegemony on how the state uses cultural institutions to maintain power in capitalistic societies,
  • Niccolo Macchiavelli on how The (new) Prince can establish order in a divisive, corrupt society by balancing interest groups – the costs of achieving this stability being surpassed by the benefits of order, occasional brute force on dissenting powerful families also being necessary to suppress potential disorder.
    Fascinating stuff. Is Donald Trump the new Principe?
    It becomes clear that Streeck proposes that there was a beginning of capitalism, that it has crashed numerous times due to its own limitations and has been saved by political assistance since the 1930s, but the bailouts have become less effective – especially the last one by cheap money – thus ushering in a lengthy period of decline. We are now in the beginning of this phase, a la Streeck. What new reorganization of societies will evolve remains unclear. Only the almost certain prospect of muddling through remains.
    Interesting, yes. But I say, let’s wait one further business and election cycle. In any case, the intellectual history covered by the podcast lecture is fascinating.

Someone Is Always Listening, say the Samaritans, at [phone number]. It is a hard time of the year – especially this Christmas, with Santa Trump – and the contact number is just in case someone is in need.

“Dr. Henry J. Heimlich , Famous for Antichoking Technique, Dies at 96” [Robert D. McFadden, NY Times, December 17]. Excerpt:
It is called the Heimlich maneuver — saving a choking victim with a bear hug and abdominal thrusts to eject a throat obstruction — and since its inception in 1974 it has become a national safety icon, taught in schools, portrayed in movies, displayed on restaurant posters and endorsed by medical authorities.
    It is also the stuff of breathless, brink-of-death tales, told over the years by Ronald Reagan, Edward I. Koch, Elizabeth Taylor, Goldie Hawn, Cher, Walter Matthau, Halle Berry, Carrie Fisher, Jack Lemmon, the sportscaster Dick Vitale, the television newsman John Chancellor and many others.
    Dr. Henry J. Heimlich, the thoracic surgeon and medical maverick who developed and crusaded for the antichoking technique that has been credited with saving an estimated 100,000 lives, died Saturday at Christ Hospital in Cincinnati after suffering a heart attack at his home last Monday, his family said. He was 96 and lived in Cincinnati. [read more]
I just had a long political back and forth with a family member. At the end of it – I never attacked his belief – he said we probably had more in common than he thought we had; just had different ways of solving the problem. Now, that is how it used to be, that is where we need to be now. Somehow one side has refused to admit there is a problem and the other side has refused to listen to why the first one thinks that way.
    Only with a two-way conversation will there be a change.

Grateful for correspondence, Moristotle

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