Destroy your safe and happy lives before it is too late

Via Wonkette, I just read an interesting profile of an anthropologist, David Graeber, who helped start the OWS movement. The guy’s pretty hard-core:

There is very good reason to believe that, in a generation or so, capitalism itself will no longer exist – most obviously, as ecologists keep reminding us, because it’s impossible to maintain an engine of perpetual growth forever on a finite planet, and the current form of capitalism doesn’t seem to be capable of generating the kind of vast technological breakthroughs and mobilizations that would be required for us to start finding and colonizing any other planets. Yet faced with the prospect of capitalism actually ending, the most common reaction – even from those who call themselves “progressives” – is simply fear. We cling to what exists because we can no longer imagine an alternative that wouldn’t be even worse.

How did we get here? My own suspicion is that we are looking at the final effects of the militarization of American capitalism itself. In fact, it could well be said that the last 30 years have seen the construction of a vast bureaucratic apparatus for the creation and maintenance of hopelessness, a giant machine designed, first and foremost, to destroy any sense of possible alternative futures ….

Graeber is an anarchist who recommends a “jubilee” in which all monetary debts are forgiven.

As a mainstream social democrat, I probably don’t agree with Graeber’s that much. I don’t think our system is as fucked as he thinks it is, and I don’t know about mass debt forgiveness on that scale. But I don’t think that his positions are any more radical than what mainstream conservatives advocate in the Times, Kaplan, and (especially) Wall Street Journal every day: perpetual war, rule by corporations for corporations, and a return to pre-Enlightenment mores.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit






126 replies
  1. 1
    cleek says:

    There is very good reason to believe that, in a generation or so, capitalism itself will no longer exist

    idiocy.

    and, no, we don’t need to be off this planet in a generation or so. and if we did, and had the means, the kind of technology that could allow us to live off of this planet will likely include exactly what we need to keep living here: some awesome new way to generate huge amounts of energy.

  2. 2
    BethanyAnne says:

    I’m reading his book “Debt: The First 5000 Years” currently. It’s really interesting.

  3. 3
    Poopyman says:

    @cleek: The Bloomberg article DougJ cited starts thusly:

    David Graeber likes to say that he had three goals for the year: promote his book …

    I don’t think I need to go on, do I?

  4. 4
    handy says:

    Mekons? Cool.

  5. 5
    Woodrowfan says:

    He’s still more grounded in reality that the would be John Galts.

  6. 6
    BGinCHI says:

    When SkyNet becomes self-aware we’ll wish capitalism had stayed around.

    Look, we’ve already got a whole party full of robots. We’re getting close.

  7. 7
    Bill E Pilgrim says:

    I probably don’t agree with his anarchist views entirely or much at all either but I just read that book and it’s the best thing I’ve read in years. He’s a pretty seriously respected anthropologist and it shows, and the book is worth a look.

  8. 8
    Bill says:

    @cleek: of course you don’t need to go on, because anyone promoting a book is incapable of telling the truth, everybody knows that. Whereas anybody posting a comment on a blog is the fount of all wisdom.

  9. 9
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @cleek:

    the kind of technology that could allow us to live off of this planet will likely include exactly what we need to keep living here: some awesome new way to generate huge amounts of energy.

    30 years ago, Jimmy Carter was looking into that.

    Then the shitty grade Z movie star moved into the White House, and one of his first official acts was to take the solar panels off the roof.

    They he and his team of asshole advisers (many of whom worked for Tricky Dick…guys like the Dark Lord and von Rumsfailed) proceeded to trash Carter’s energy initiatives programs.

    So, I do believe we are royally screwed, unless some miracle breakthrough happens. Because this cannot go on. It’s not sustainable, and the morons in charge refuse to accept that it’s not. After all, investment bank analysts were telling their masters of the universe bosses that there was no more market to tap for mortgage securities, and the masters of the universe say find a way to make our growth numbers continue, and the only way to do it was to lower lending standards and mislead borrowers into taking on debt they could not pay back. But then again, the money is no longer in getting the debt paid back…it’s in selling the debt to some sucker who doesn’t know that the debts won’t get paid back. Ever.

    The whole thing is unsustainable, and anyone with non-Ferengi neurotransmitters knows it, but the Ferengi are fully in charge and, by all the gold pressed latinum there is, we’re driving this SUV into the fucking ditch, bitches!

  10. 10
    John Weiss says:

    @cleek: Google thorium reactors for a source of awesome power.

  11. 11

    Humans living on the planet have to have some sort of economic structure to interact economically. I don’t agree with this guy as to the end of capitalism, because collectivism or feudalism would likely replace, or some other system than the one we have.

    I see two big problems with capitalism, that become problems, and can even reach existential problems for the planet and any given countries on it, using the capitalist model.

    The first is a mature and reasoned approach to create a safety net for the certain losers in a competitive system, that is both humane in a moral way, and practical in maintaining the overall health and balance of supply and demand.

    The second is ferreting out mindless unrestrained greed and corruption by making and enforcing rules for the collective good of the system and the people who practice it. We have and are doing poorly on the second problem, and the first is under constant attack by those who think the system can regulate itself, and don’t really care what happens to those who come up short, that need assistance to meet the requirements for a dignified existence, and to keep them as consumers for the demand side of the equation.

    It seems to me, the purely collective system has been tried and failed, because it sublimates the human nature to strive for something better, and the inclination of humans to barter and trade shit.

  12. 12
    Linnaeus says:

    I’m not an anarchist, but I’m glad that there are folks like Graeber who are still willing to make these critiques of capitalism, even if I don’t fully agree on theory and/or practice (although I do agree with some of both). It’s clear that there are problems with capitalism and we’ve seen these problems repeatedly.

  13. 13
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @General Stuck:

    It seems to me, the purely collective system has been tried and failed, because it sublimates the human nature to strive for something better, and the inclination of humans to barter and trade shit.

    Read Adam Smith. The market is very much a collective system by any reasonable analysis. The problem is the distortions that are caused by non-enlightened self interest, and short term thinking.

    It’s why the invisible hand needs a guardian. Otherwise, the invisible hand gets lobbed off and sold to the highest bidder.

  14. 14
    smintheus says:

    One of the most consequential and controversial reforms of the Enlightenment was to strip property from the Church. It wasn’t merely about minimizing the extreme influence of religious institutions on the state. The Church had such an excessive concentration of property that it depressed the economy and held nearly the whole society in thrall that way.

    Not surprising that anti-Enlightenment forces are on the march in a world where once again the economy is buckling under obscene concentrations of wealth in the hands of a neo-feudal elite.

  15. 15
    Bill E Pilgrim says:

    @General Stuck: The first thing he takes on in his book is the myth that barter is the natural or previous state of things, and that things evolved from there to using money. And takes it apart every way but sideways, and proves it wrong. Actually it’s generally seen as a myth by people like anthropologists and historians; only economists, and then the rest of us, keep repeating it as fact.

    You should read it. Fascinating.

  16. 16
    ornery says:

    I wondered if was really a good idea to defeat aristocracy, bind them down with law, take their lands and strip them of privilege … then simply forget what We the People did and why.

    Seems stupid and fatally dangerous to me, but hey, it’s what we done did. Ya’ll saw it too. And ‘they’ sure haven’t forgotten, and even set up Think Tanks to make sure it can’t happen again.

  17. 17
    John Weiss says:

    @General Stuck: I see the problem with capitalism and most other problems as well, as overpopulation. The problem that no one seems to recognize.

  18. 18
    Andrew just andrew says:

    The “perpetual growth is impossible in a finite system” shit really makes me mad. It’s a really sloppy argument.

    Consider a forest on an island. The actual amount of land covered by a forest may not increase at all, but within that forest, there is constant perpetual growth, as seeds grow hundredfold from sapling to tree, and new growth replaces things that naturally die or are overrun. In fact, the “total growth rate” of the forest might be zero, but the average growth rate of the trees might be astoundingly high.

    the whole “ahh capitalism suxx0rz because you can’t grow forever!!11” is just lazy thinking…

    his history of debt book sounds great, though!

  19. 19
    Mike Goetz says:

    Hint: Any time you hear the phrase “it could well be said,” you are being fed a line of bullcrap.

    I have to admit I’m getting sort of tired of apocalypse porn and associated histrionics.

  20. 20

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    The second is ferreting out mindless unrestrained greed and corruption by making and enforcing rules for the collective good of the system

    I tried to make that distinction, but likely not very well. A capitalist system that is viable for the long term, has to be thought of in a way that is for the collective good, but allows for individual difference in achievement, up to the point those successes don’t damage the basic premise for the collective good.

  21. 21
    Chris says:

    So if my employer owes me a paycheck, I’m just out of luck?

  22. 22
    cleek says:

    @Bill:
    better check your aim there, Bill. looks like you hit the wrong target.

  23. 23
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @General Stuck:

    Indeed. But nowadays, you can quote directly from The Wealth of Nations on any online forum there is, and if there are any neofeudalists (they call themselves “libertarians”, but that’s a marketing term, like how “Soshulist” was for the National Soshulists) reading they’ll jump on you for being a “collectivist” or, worse, a “Marxist.”

    Then you tell them who you’re quoting, and the chirping of crickets will drive you mad.

  24. 24
    The Moar You Know says:

    I don’t think our system is as fucked as he thinks it is

    You should probably read his book first before saying that. I am in the middle of it right now. To say I recommend it would be an understatement.

  25. 25
    El Cid says:

    I think it would be quite surprising if in the past 150 or so years we had stumbled upon the ideal politico-economic system for human civilization for all time imaginable.

    It’s quite typical in any era for tons of people to conclude that things more or less would continue the same way forever, that the truly big questions had been sorted out, and that better or fairer or more just or more efficient ways of organizing human political, legal, cultural, and material world activities would be too unwieldy and too unlikely.

    You don’t have to know some likely next step to maintain skepticism about that view.

  26. 26
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Andrew just andrew:

    Andrew…two words.

    Easter Island.

    Used to be forested, you know.

    Then the local masters of the universe decided that the trees were needed for other things.

    Then there were no more trees.

  27. 27
    smintheus says:

    OT, but damn Romney is a dumbass. He just came out in favor of turning Medicare into a voucher system a la Ryan…because that proposal turned out to be as popular as poison ivy tea.

  28. 28
    cleek says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    So, I do believe we are royally screwed, unless some miracle breakthrough happens. Because this cannot go on. It’s not sustainable, and the morons in charge refuse to accept that it’s not.

    the morons in charge can’t do more than what the people will tolerate.

  29. 29
    DougJ says:

    @Andrew just andrew:

    Well, I don’t really think that the end can be assessed as of itself as being the end because what does the end feel like? It’s like saying when you try to extrapolate the end of the universe, you say, if the universe is indeed infinite, then how – what does that mean? How far is all the way, and then if it stops, what’s stopping it, and what’s behind what’s stopping it? So, what’s the end, you know, is my question to you.

  30. 30
    Seebach says:

    @Andrew just andrew: Uh, no. It’s not lazy thinking. What you’re describing is a forest that has just a replacement rate. If the forest was actually growing, it would need to extend out onto the ocean.

  31. 31
    BGinCHI says:

    @smintheus: It’s like Mitt Romney read Freud’s late work on the Death Drive and thought, hey, people are going to love this shit.

  32. 32
    fasteddie9318 says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: And then there were no more people, so there were no more other things for which they needed trees. The system totally works!

  33. 33
    Anne Laurie says:

    Just for the record, DougJ, I wrote about this article on Tuesday, but of course if we can collectively produce seventy-leven posts about Herman Cain’s ham-handed history…

    But I did wonder if Graeber’s book DEBT might be a good choice for the Balloon Juice reading group. Or then again, there’s SHOCK DOCTRINE, which somebody on this blog thought should be the next BJ book — which poster was that?

  34. 34
    Jewish Steel says:

    I like any discussion of alternatives to capitalism, no matter what their prognosticative power, because why the fuck not?

  35. 35
    BGinCHI says:

    @DougJ: It’s all right there in The Doors song “The End.”

    Geez.

  36. 36
    pat says:

    I’m always amused when someone says Oh we are destroying life on earth so we have to go to Mars… or find other planets… what the hell do they think they will find on Mars?

    It’s not like Columbus discovering a continent of unimaginable riches for the Europeans to exploit. In other words, we are stuck here.

    And referring to another thread a while back, we who grew up after the second world war have had it pretty damn good, better than any generation before, and sadly probably better than any yet to come. Unless of course you are a member of the 1%.

  37. 37
    Shlemizel says:

    I have maintained for some time that our beloved rulers are going to destroy capitalism so the only quibble I would have with him is what will replace it.

    I would love to see some detail on what the actual outcome of a ‘jubilee’ would be. I think it would be a lot worse that he expects but that is just a guess.

    Funny how all those fundamentalist, bible-believin’ Christians who would insist on OT law to rule over us never talk about jubilee.

  38. 38
    El Cid says:

    @Andrew just andrew: When I hear that analogy, I’m pretty sure that most times it means total growth rate, i.e., the expansion in coverage or mass or volume of the tree or general plant mass.

    By the way, it’s not like it’s just critics or opponents of capitalism who use energy or resource or human activity based calculations of maximum possible economic activity on the planet — it’s been done by all sorts, many of whom are making arguments on the most efficient way of organizing life via markets.

  39. 39
    Poopyman says:

    @Bill: That was me, not Cleek.

    I’ve not read the book yet, and in fact that quote on the end of capitalism is from an adbusters article by Graeber, not the book and not the Wonkette article. And in the article he gets to why he thinks capitalism cannot last, but I’m not even sure what he means by “capitalism” here. I think it stands to reason that capitalism will fall when something rises to supplant it, but there’s no mention of that, nor really of what will replace it. That in the book?

  40. 40
    DougJ says:

    @Anne Laurie:

    I thought I remembered seeing this on the site, but I couldn’t find it.

  41. 41
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @cleek:

    I may live to see the collapse.

    2050 or thereabouts, I’m thinking. We just passed 7 billion on global population, the price of readily accessible and usable fossil fuels is beginning to inch up as demand from places like India and China are increasing as their desire to live the sort of lifestyle enjoyed in Europe and North America also grows.

    It’s not just me…DoD sees this as a problem, too. Couple it with climate change that will eventually disrupt food supplies, also tied to fossil fuel use in several ways, and the distinct possibility of pandemics that our current medical technology can’t cope with…

    It’s not looking good, and the elites are acting as if none of this is going on…

  42. 42
    smintheus says:

    @BGinCHI: Very possible. Or perhaps Mittens remembers back in the ’60s when vouchers were called ‘S & H Green Stamps’ and thinks: Hey weren’t those just great. And all the books you had to fill in, the hours spent licking stamps at the kitchen table, with the dog tied up on the roof. Fun times.

  43. 43
    RossinDetroit says:

    That sounds like a book I would really enjoy.
    I think Charles Stross found a key to capitalism in one of his novels: corporations are sociopaths that will prey on society unless they are restrained and vigorously policed.

  44. 44
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @fasteddie9318:

    Mother Nature will deal with all this. Balance will be restored.

    We humans, however, may not care much for Mother Nature’s solution to the problem.

    She’s a bitch, you know.

  45. 45
    Andrew just andrew says:

    @DougJ

    I don’t know what the end is either. I’m trying to address the intuitive-but-false idea that “perpetual growth is inherently unsustainable.” As it turns out, there are many examples of perpetual growth in natural systems. There’s also perpetual turnover to make it possible… So i’m really not talking about a larger question of whether or not its good, bad, or how it ends up — those are really indifferent to the question of “can there be perpetual growth.”

    @Seebach
    if you had to invest in the trees, you could pick some combination of trees every year that would show a positive growth larger than the growth rate of the whole forest.

    A flock of dodos might slowly go extinct; there would be perpetual growth on the level of the individuals going through youth and adolescence… the flock itself might be doomed, though :)

  46. 46
    Poopyman says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: Yep! Still waiting for the next flu like the 1918 strain to go worldwide. Or worse stuff.

  47. 47
    cleek says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    2050 or thereabouts, I’m thinking.

    nah.

    people have been predicting the end of the world since the beginning of history – always using the best technology available at the time. and they’ve always been wrong because nobody can predict the future.

  48. 48
    BGinCHI says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: Are you paraphrasing Rand Paul’s forthcoming book?

    It’s Bitches: How Chicks Are Destroying How Men Roll, Except For Ayn Rand Who Was Totally Like a Dude (Rgnery, 2012).

  49. 49
    joes527 says:

    Question:

    Does a “jubilee” in which all monetary debts are forgiven mean that the bank doesn’t owe you the money in your savings account any more? Does it mean that unless you have your life savings in your mattress you will will need to start over on that whole saving for retirement thing?

    I’m a sucker for the whole science fiction “humanity needs to colonize the galaxy” thing, but then I remind myself that colonizing Antarctica (no, not just visiting, but populating the continent with an independent, self sustaining nation) would be a million times easier than colonizing another planet. And we haven’t been pushed hard enough to do more than dip our toes in the water in that area.

  50. 50
    Poopyman says:

    @cleek: But but but … capitalism’s going extinct!

  51. 51
    eponymous says:

    @Anne Laurie:

    I’d definitely recommend Graeber’s book. I’d also recommend “Why America Failed” by Morris Berman as a book for potential discussion.

  52. 52
    The Moar You Know says:

    DoD sees this as a problem, too.

    @Villago Delenda Est: DoD has gone balls to the wall getting all their gear certified on synfuels. They don’t worry about electricity very much – they have more nuclear reactors than anyone else – but much of what they do relies on easily portable, high-energy fuels, and diesel or a synthetic version thereof is needed for that.

    They are getting ready for collapse, slowly and below the radar, but they are. So should all of you.

  53. 53
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @cleek:

    No one can predict what technological or political breakthough will alter the current trendlines.

    The current trendlines are just not good, from a sustainability point of view.

    What you CAN do is prepare for a possible future like that. Some are doing so, with things like seed banks.

    The problem is are there enough non-shitheads amongst the elite to see the value of planning for contingencies like this?

    Glancing at the NYT oped pages on a non-Krugman day, the answer is a resounding NO.

  54. 54
    DougJ says:

    @Andrew just andrew:

    I agree with you, that’s just one of my favorite quotes from Spinal Tap, and I felt like using it.

  55. 55
    Anne Laurie says:

    @DougJ: So… book group?

    I don’t want the book discussions to be labelled as ‘something only Anne Laurie does‘.

  56. 56
    Chris T. says:

    @Bill E Pilgrim:

    The first thing he takes on in his book is the myth that barter is the natural or previous state of things, and that things evolved from there to using money.

    I suspect he is correct here, but in an important way, this is irrelevant. Money is simply “any medium of exchange”, and word-of-mouth “I owe you one” is itself a “medium of exchange”. (It’s just limited. As soon as you turn it into, e.g., the letters “I O U” written on paper and allow that paper to be traded, you have, well, “paper money” … again, limited, but as far as I am concerned, it counts.)

    I like to call inflation a “frenemy” (in a mild distortion of the usual meaning) because it has some nice positive effects, including a sort of automatic debt forgiveness over time.

  57. 57
    Enhanced Voting Techniques says:

    @Andrew just andrew:

    Consider a forest on an island. The actual amount of land covered by a forest may not increase at all, but within that forest, there is constant perpetual growth, as seeds grow hundredfold from sapling to tree, and new growth replaces things that naturally die or are overrun. In fact, the “total growth rate” of the forest might be zero, but the average growth rate of the trees might be astoundingly high.

    That’s really the problem in a nut shell; the regulations set up so the forest is treated as a garden, things are planted, nurtured, grown, harvested and reseeded. The Galtards claim the only reason the forest isn’t infinite in time and space is because the rules say its on a island, tear up the rules and then try to cut it all down.

  58. 58
    cat48 says:

    @smintheus:

    Obama & Plouffe are High Fiving on the Flight home from France. They’re absolutely giddy. Time to freshen up the April 2011 speech that made Paul Ryan & the GOP cry! In Mitt Romney’s America………….

  59. 59
    RossinDetroit says:

    @The Moar You Know:

    DoD has gone balls to the wall getting all their gear certified on synfuels.

    Didn’t Germany pretty much fight WWII on gasoline synthesized from coal?
    Maybe the DOD’s anticipating a war with extremely restricted crude oil supplies. Like if the middle east antagonists start lobbing fissionables.

  60. 60
    fasteddie9318 says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: I think the whole thing, from the forest to people arriving to people needing the trees to people cutting down all the trees to all the people dying off or fleeing to there not being any need for trees anymore is almost worthy of a children’s book. Imagine James Earl Jones doing the audiobook.

  61. 61
    Poopyman says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: Oh, there are changes coming, no question about that. The odds for huge upheaval are small, but 3 years ago I would have said infinitesimal, so ….

    It never hurts to plant your garden with heirloom seeds, and keep enough for the following year. Just in case. (I just started that, so I’m behind the curve a tad.)

  62. 62
    eponymous says:

    @joes527:

    My understanding of Graeber’s “Jubilee” would be that most (or all of) consumer debt would get wiped out, but commercial debt (say between banks and corporations) would not.

    So, in this scenario, your credit card debt (or student loan debt to banks) would be wiped out. Loans by banks to businesses would not be wiped out (or, more likely would be reduced, but not totally forgiven).

    So, banks would be obligated to pay you your money (because its your money and not the banks).

    One of the things that Graeber mentions in his book is that debts get forgiven all of the time – especially for those that have the financial and political wherewithal to have it done.

  63. 63
    fasteddie9318 says:

    I’m reminded of George Carlin, when he speculated that maybe the planet only allowed us humans to come about because it wanted plastic, but couldn’t figure out how to make it for itself.

  64. 64
    Djur says:

    @Andrew just andrew: Except that the economic dogma of the day is that the economy needs to grow in scale (i.e. increasing GDP) every year. If that forest was a nation’s economy, that nation would be in a recession.

  65. 65
    Linnaeus says:

    @eponymous:

    One of the things that Graeber mentions in his book is that debts get forgiven all of the time – especially for those that have the financial and political wherewithal to have it done.

    Reminds me of that witty aphorism: “If you owe the $10,000, it’s your problem; if you owe the bank $10 million, it’s the bank’s problem.”

  66. 66
    cleek says:

    @eponymous:

    So, in this scenario, your credit card debt (or student loan debt to banks) would be wiped out. Loans by banks to businesses would not be wiped out (or, more likely would be reduced, but not totally forgiven).

    and then the businesses go under because they’ve delivered products and services to people who now don’t have to pay them? or do the banks behind Visa and MC eat the charges and, in effect, float the economy themselves?

    you can’t just cut the system in half and not kill both halves.

  67. 67

    This Candide attitude of “best of all possible worlds” makes me really tired. The fact is that some form of large scale capitalism has out-performed the competing large scale systems. That doesn’t mean spit to possibilities or other systems. Just as an example: you cannot say shit about large scale cummunal economics in competition with capitalism. You could bring up Communism and be entirely fucking wrong.

    This doesn’t even begin to address the fact that Capitalism as practiced has been some small to large varient rather than the thing itself. It boggles the mind to assert that in the universe of ideas this one is The Thing. I don’t think there’d be a shit load of argument around here that capitalism as practiced in this country right now isn’t working very damn well and probably that screwing around at the margins isn’t going to do much. Just what would work to make sufficient corrections might push the damn thing out of the definition of capitalism or the ongoing system continuing on its current course may also push it out of that definition – maybe called Corporate Feudalism.

  68. 68
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Poopyman:

    See, that’s the thing that alarms me.

    The trendlines, as I said earlier, are just not good.

    This doesn’t mean that we can’t come up with an event of some sort that alters the trendlines.

    The thing is, the event may not be very humane. A massive pandemic that kills off a substantial fraction of humanity will of course ease up the stress on the ecosystem. But the price…the price is high.

    How do we address the trendlines while avoiding a drastic “solution” that may create more new problems than old ones it addresses?

    This is the problem with the 1789/1917 model of modifying the political landscape. You have no idea going into it how it will turn out. There’s a distinct possibility that it will make things much worse than they already are.

    Guys like Bismarck, TR, and FDR don’t seem to be around to provide us with ways to make the change less disruptive than the Robespierre/Lenin approach to change. Which turns into the Napoleon/Stalin outcome.

    Which I’d think we’d rather, um, avoid, don’t you?

  69. 69
    The Moar You Know says:

    Didn’t Germany pretty much fight WWII on gasoline synthesized from coal?

    @RossinDetroit: Yes, and South Africans still drive their cars using nothing but.

    Engines are bit more finicky than they were back in WWII, so the DoD is being smart and making sure it all works beforehand. And they’re setting up their own synfuel refinery to make sure they don’t get caught with no gas.

    It’s pretty obvious at this point that they consider a Mideast hot war a very likely possibility.

  70. 70
    Sly says:

    The unsustainable nature of capitalism is standard Marxist analysis. Capitalism only creates problems through the constant need for growth and never solves them, it merely moves them around the table and makes them more entrenched. Need more resources and more markets? Imperialism. Need to keep reducing costs? Wage slavery and sweatshops. Need to constantly recapitalize? “Too Big to Fail” financial institutions.

    This is not exactly a critique made by Marx that Laissez-Faire folks have ever effectively addressed. The early ones went after his very rudimentary theory on Surplus Value and left it at that, while your latter day prophets like Hayek attacked the (rather naive and teleological) belief that Utopian anarchism would emerge following the final class conflict between the Bourgeoisie and Proletariat. That was pretty easy to knock down. But unsustainability? Not so much. It is very difficult to argue that unrestricted capitalism does not need constant growth to survive.

    And it shouldn’t be surprising that they rarely talk about this, because Smith made this very same criticism of mercantilism in the parts of The Wealth of Nations that they never read. The parts like the whole section where Smith writes about the absolute need for banking regulations and anti-monopoly laws, how paying taxes is a badge of liberty, and how the division of labor, if left to excess, will ultimately destroy civilization itself.

  71. 71
    Calouste says:

    @RossinDetroit:

    The DoD has been anticipating a was with restricted oil supplies pretty much since WWII. It’s the main reason America started importing oil, to keep its own oil for when WWIII broke out.

    And yes, Germany synthesized gasoline from oil. Not that they didn’t try to capture the oilfields in Romania, the Caucasus and the Middle East. (They got the ones in Romania, but only after some wells had been blown up, and they were a target of Allied bombing later in the war.)

  72. 72
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @cleek:

    and then the businesses go under because they’ve delivered products and services to people who now don’t have to pay them?

    If the system can’t provide those with a means to repay the debt, then the system itself is fucked.

    That’s one of the key points of Occupy. These people have played by the rules, they’ve taken on the debt in the understanding that they’d have careers that provide them with the means of paying them off…it’s an investment…but it turns out that it wasn’t an investment. It was a crap shoot.

    They were sold a bill of goods, and now they have no means to pay back that debt…because the system has utterly failed on that end.

    So sorry, banksters, but you’re fucked, too. Suck it up, assholes.

  73. 73
    lockewasright says:

    @cleek: If only there were a huge nuclear explosion in our cosmic neighborhood shooting shit tons of energy at us in a constant steady stream or something…

  74. 74
    Catsy says:

    @General Stuck:

    A capitalist system that is viable for the long term, has to be thought of in a way that is for the collective good, but allows for individual difference in achievement, up to the point those successes don’t damage the basic premise for the collective good.

    I was trying to think of a way to clearly sum up where I sit on the whole continuum between capitalism and socialism, and now I don’t have to.

  75. 75
    AA+ Bonds says:

    This story isn’t very accurate without explaining that David Graeber has repeatedly stated (for instance in the comments here on his piece for Yves Smith) that one effect of OWS that reformers should appreciate is the pressure it puts on Congress from the left to step up and pass specific bills.

    He doesn’t think that OWS is useless for anything but imminent revolution. His point of view is favorable to the coalition that exists.

  76. 76
    AA+ Bonds says:

    I’d also note that there are multiple critiques of capitalism that do not involve Marxism, anarchism, or class struggle.

    Some critiques are utilitarian, and involve the utility of envy in terms of relative deprivation, for instance.

    What’s more, critiques of capitalism aren’t restricted to anti-capitalists. It’s very “Road to Serfdom” – i.e., very hyperbolic and stupid – to be in favor of capitalism and not have a critique of the system as well.

  77. 77
    joes527 says:

    @eponymous: THAT can’t possibly be what he means. I mean, he is supposed to be all smart and everything, and that is one of the stupidest ideas I have ever heard.

    Folks who owe me money still owe me money, but folks I owe money to can suck it.

    Unless he is < 9 years old he can't possibly be advocating this.

  78. 78
    AA+ Bonds says:

    The biggest endorsement of Jubilee comes from Pope Benedict XVI (and of course from the Bible). Not an economist or financier himself, the Pope, but this is a little bigger than David Graeber.

  79. 79
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    It’s worth noting that Adam Smith inspired Karl Marx. But then again, most modern defenders of Capitalism have not bothered to read Adam Smith. I can’t blame them…he himself apologizes for the tedium of some of his foundation work in setting up his ideas. The Wealth of Nations is not a page turner. It’s a serious slog.

    Marx’s solution to the problems of Capitalism are way too underpants gnome to be taken seriously, but the analysis of the problem still lends light to the discussion.

  80. 80
    cleek says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    If the system can’t provide those with a means to repay the debt, then the system itself is fucked.

    mmmm. wha?

    if you owe me $1,000 and i’m counting on that $1,000 to pay the rent, but the magic Anarchy Pony Fairy says you don’t owe me that $1,000 anymore, what do i do for rent?

    not all businesses are multi-national corporations with billions in the bank, ya know.

    @lockewasright:
    if only we had a way to harness that energy efficiently.

  81. 81
    AA+ Bonds says:

    For all the slow Joes here who think they have a handle on the Marxist critique but don’t know a thing about it, I’d recommend the recent work of David Harvey as a primer.

    Here’s an excellent starter article from the London Review of Books.

    Please also note that the Marxist critique does not necessarily lead to bourgeois-proletarian war of the sort Marx predicted, and it’s only a few non-scholar diehards who think Marx’s work itself is immune to critique.

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    Marx’s solution to the problems of Capitalism are way too underpants gnome to be taken seriously, but the analysis of the problem still lends light to the discussion.

    That’s how a lot of Marxist/Marxian writers see it.

  82. 82
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @cleek:

    Well, what you do, obviously, is sell that oblligation, along with a bunch of others bundled in, to someone else.

    Don’t you get how the modern banking game is played? You never collect on the debt. That becomes someone else’s problem, not yours. You cash out now, fast, and pay your rent.

    Good luck sustaining this long term. I wish you well.

  83. 83
    donr says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: You should check the latest studies on Easter Island. Most, I believe, think that the ecological havoc wrought on Easter Island came from the source you’d most likely expect it: diseases and rodents from visiting ships. The theory that the trees were all cut down to move the giant statues is looking increasingly tenuous.

  84. 84
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @RossinDetroit:

    Rule 34 ftw!

  85. 85
    AA+ Bonds says:

    @cleek:

    Devil’s advocate here, as I don’t really buy Marxian class struggle or Marx’s theory of value, but here’s Kunkel reading Harvey in the link above:

    The trouble is already there to see. Imagine an economy consisting of a single firm which has bought means of production and labour power for a total of $100, in order to produce a mass of commodities it intends to sell for $110, i.e. at a profit of 10 per cent. The problem is that the firm’s suppliers of constant and variable capital are also its only potential customers. Even if the would-be buyers pool their funds, they have only their $100 to spend, and no more. Production of the total supply of commodities exceeds the monetarily effective demand in the system. As Harvey explains in The Limits to Capital, effective demand ‘is at any one point equal to C+V, whereas the value of the total output is C+V+S. Under conditions of equilibrium, this still leaves us with the problem of where the demand for S, the surplus value produced but not yet realised through exchange, comes from.’ An extra $10 in value must be found somewhere, to be exchanged with the firm if it is to realise its desired profit.

    In this stylised scheme, with the entire capitalist economy figured as a single firm, the supplementary value can be produced only by the same firm and only in the future. The full cash value of today’s product can therefore be realised only with the assistance of money advanced against commodity values yet to be produced. ‘The surplus value created at one point requires the creation of surplus value at another point,’ as Marx put it in the Grundrisse. How are these points, separated in space and time, to be linked? In a word, through the credit system, which involves ‘the creation of what Marx calls “fictitious capital” – money that is thrown into circulation as capital without any material basis in commodities or productive activity’. Money values backed by tomorrow’s as yet unproduced goods and services, to be exchanged against those already produced today: this is credit or bank money, an anticipation of future value without which the creation of present value stalls. Realisation (or the transformation of surplus value into its money equivalent, as profit) thus depends on the ‘fictitious’.

    Once again, not my POV, but I think this is what the commenter is getting at.

  86. 86
    DougJ says:

    @Anne Laurie:

    Yes, that Corey Robins book. I will start soon.

  87. 87
    jncc says:

    I stopped reading Adbusters after I read one of their articles that looked forward to the collapse of modern society and rhapsodized about people “planting gardens in their shoes on windowsills” or something equally idiotic.

    The thing that these folks don’t seem to realize is that greed, avarice, and hatred aren’t going to go poof after the NYSE craters and the banks all close. No, what is going to happen is that people with guns are going to shoot them and steal the heirloom tomatoes they’re growing in a shoe on their windowsill.

  88. 88
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @donr:

    Human impact can’t be dismissed, even if it’s not directly tied to moving heads around.

    The rats didn’t cut down the trees, I don’t think…

  89. 89
    Judas Escargot says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    Easter Island. Used to be forested, you know.

    When I was a kid, I’d read about ancient cultures in Africa and, later, the Levant and wonder why all the early civilizations were in deserts.

    Later in life, I realized something: That’s what humans do, we make deserts. Find a fertile area with access to water, colonize it, build cities, flourish… then move on to the next fertile area once the resources were gone and repeat the cycle.

    Britain was largely deforested, so they had to start harvesting timber from the New World to keep building their Nevy. In turn, New England was pretty much deforested by the mid 1800s, but has more trees now than it did then because the farmlands out West turned out to be more farmable.

    Now we have globalization. One big world. And well on our way to making a desert of it. Except there’s no more green lands to move on to, once we’ve finished the job.

    It really is ‘different this time’.

  90. 90
    AA+ Bonds says:

    @jncc:

    I wouldn’t judge Adbusters by one arty-farty primitivist provocateur article.

    Personally I judge Adbusters by how I’m not going to pay that much fucking money for a magazine

  91. 91
    El Cid says:

    @cleek: It’s a pretty simple statement if taken in the broadest context:

    If the vast majority of a population owe debts to a variety of creditors, but it isn’t possible for those debtors to pay the debts, then it doesn’t really matter what someone is ‘owed’, and anyone’s moral views on the subject.

    What will happen is creditors will not be paid.

    If you only have turnips, and yet you need to get blood, you’re out of luck.

    This isn’t some handily thrown about notion by those seeking to elide their bar tab — in plenty of countries, a given population simply cannot pay to businesses debts which are owed — and it’s because of how their economy dysfunctions.

    Say, in borrowing money for agricultural inputs such as fertilizer or tools or transportation fees, and then a widespread crop failure or pestilence or drought or insurgency or whatever causes. These smallholding farmers have no ability to pay off any creditors for these loans, at least not in any short term, perhaps not ever.

    Yet continuing a scenario in which the economic participants at the lower level cannot return to productive activity due to crushing debts which they cannot repay in advance of that normalization is harmful to the creditors as well.

    So, in a system in which economic activities fail to enable the great majority of individuals to pay their debts no matter how much they’d like to, creditors will not receive sufficient payment.

    This was also, FWIW, the life of sharecroppers here in the US; living on company scrip in mill towns was the same thing.

    Nobody made enough to pay off their debts, so they stayed indebted; however, in the sharecropping and mill town cases, they could have received more pay but lacked the power to challenge the landholders’ or mill owners’ domination.

  92. 92
    Bill E Pilgrim says:

    @Chris T.: Actually I’d sort of say the opposite, if you accept that barter didn’t come first then it removes a lot of talking points about how money was an improvement on barter and if we didn’t have money we’d all be giving chickens to our doctor like the Republican was proposing a while back, i.e. we’d “revert” to that.

    I’d also agree with you that in the ways you mention, money at base really isn’t anything other a collective agreement.

    I for one don’t think that’s a conclusion without a whooole bunch of consequences however, once you come to it. Not irrelevant in the least IMO.

    Much more on all this in that book obviously than can be described here in blog posts, again well worth a look for anyone interested. It’s not any sort of anarchist screed, in case anyone expects that, not by a long shot.

  93. 93
    donr says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: I think you’re behind on your research. See Terry L. Hunt and Carl Lipo, “The Statues that Walked.” There is a decent, free review available online at the TLS.

  94. 94
    AA+ Bonds says:

    @cleek:

    I would consider the caveat that there is a difference between , say, predictions of the death of thousands and the displacement of millions by flood made by climate scientists, and the predictions of the same made by a Frankish mystic c. 1100 A.D.

  95. 95
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Judas Escargot:

    In Germany and Japan, of all places, some people figured out that deforestation was not a good idea.

    So they’ve had regulations (egads! soshulism!) in place for centuries to make sure their forests are sustainable.

    In the meantime, the Japanese have this nasty habit of deforesting other people’s territory in order to feed their domestic demand, while preserving their own.

    Eventually, this all will come tumbling down because the supply of everything on this mote of dust is FINITE. By definition, it is. It does not go on forever if you keep treating resources that can be renewable as resources that must be extracted.

    It’s more short term profit vs long term prosperity at work.

  96. 96
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Judas Escargot:

    See, also, “The Fertile Crescent” which is, of course, not what it used to be.

  97. 97
    Bill E Pilgrim says:

    @eponymous:

    One of the things that Graeber mentions in his book is that debts get forgiven all of the time – especially for those that have the financial and political wherewithal to have it done.

    Bingo.

    I mean the notion that all debts are created equal but some are more obligated to pay them back than others is one that wouldn’t seem very foreign to most people here from what I’ve read.

    It really comes down to deciding what kind of society we want, I think. And this one ain’t working, I think a lot of people would agree.

    So, there’s the idea that we’re going to somehow just force things back to the version we had postwar, recreate the harmonic convergence of FDR and all the rest that led to a strong middle class, but I actually sort of doubt it. Anarchy, meh, not for me at least at this point but– what then? Now for something completely different?

  98. 98
    jncc says:

    @AA+ Bonds – good point.

  99. 99
    Anoniminous says:

    @Andrew just andrew:

    You’re using the wrong definition of “growth.” Try “increase” and things will become clear.

    Your example is actually an ecological steady state.

    (And I rushed to give everyone the benefit of my knowledge before reading the thread so I apologize, in advance, to the twelve people who – no doubt – have already said this. :-)

  100. 100
    xian says:

    @Poopyman: wait, if you write a book, you want people to read it. why the hell wouldn’t you promote it then?

    (signed, has written books and wanted people to buy them)

  101. 101
    Bill Murray says:

    @cleek:

    if you owe me $1,000 and i’m counting on that $1,000 to pay the rent, but the magic Anarchy Pony Fairy says you don’t owe me that $1,000 anymore, what do i do for rent?

    but the point in the comment is clearly about about the system being fucked which is pretty clearly about the case where I owe you $1000 and can’t repay it, so you are fucked, whether there’s an anarchy pony fairy or not. That is the very first new line of the comment you are referring.

  102. 102
    joes527 says:

    So it seems the Jubilee is for folks who can’t pay their debt, and that makes sense and all. But then the Jubilers need some way to determine whose debt gets 0’d out and whose debt stands.

    I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that the Jubilee authority will determine (after solemn consideration) that Goldman Sachs cannot possibly pay off their debts, and so will have them forgiven, but the folks who don’t have as much lobbying power as Goldman Sachs just need a little bit more austerity to make their payments.

    Or are we working on the assumption that people will stop acting the way people have always acted during the Jubilee?

  103. 103
    smintheus says:

    @cat48: Yep. My first thought when I saw the headline was ‘Mitten’s toast’.

  104. 104
    Rome Again says:

    Yet faced with the prospect of capitalism actually ending, the most common reaction – even from those who call themselves “progressives” – is simply fear. We cling to what exists because we can no longer imagine an alternative that wouldn’t be even worse.

    Not me. I’ve been looking forward to non-monetary reciprocity for years, but, I understand that saying that publicly makes me the enemy.

    I always thought it was a Biblical concept. I thought Jesus said “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesars…” but apparently I’m evil if I bring this up.

  105. 105
    Samara Morgan says:

    @DougJ

    capitalism itself will no longer exist – most obviously, as ecologists keep reminding us, because it’s impossible to maintain an engine of perpetual growth forever on a finite planet

    YES! finally. the frontpagers get a clue. now do you get why erik “free market fantasy forest” kain drove me mad?

    there are substantial critiques of “freed” market capitalism. One is based on evolutionary economics, and another is based on complexity economics.

  106. 106
    RossinDetroit says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    Rule 34 ftw!

    FTW. A Cory Doctorow young adult novel about Economics. Strangely appropriate here.

  107. 107
    Cat Lady says:

    Anyone have any experience either working for or with a B Corporation? Capitalism with a conscience may be the Middle Way.

  108. 108
    Rome Again says:

    @smintheus:

    He’s cutting off his nose trying to secure a Republican nomination that he’s going to find he needs in the general.

    :P I love it!

  109. 109
    Anne Laurie says:

    @DougJ: Great — I’m looking forward to it!

  110. 110
    dadanarchist says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: Marx’s solution to the problems of Capitalism are way too underpants gnome to be taken seriously, but the analysis of the problem still lends light to the discussion.

    I’m not sure how you can criticize Marx for an “underpants gnome” theory of overcoming capitalism when Marx barely wrote anything about post-capitalism. Das Kapital was originally one part of Marx’s larger lifelong project of (1) critiquing capitalism in order to (2) overcome it; he never finished part 1 (critiquing capitalism – volume 3 was left unfinished at his death), so he never got on to part 2 of his project.

    I know this is a standard Marxist defense of Marx, but that’s because it’s true.

  111. 111
    Rome Again says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    It’s not looking good, and the elites are acting as if none of this is going on…

    None of it IS going on for them. They are playing Monopoly with real property while we folk are playing a different game called Life.

  112. 112
    dadanarchist says:

    @Sly: The unsustainable nature of capitalism is standard Marxist analysis. Capitalism only creates problems through the constant need for growth and never solves them, it merely moves them around the table and makes them more entrenched.

    And it is at this point that I plug Robert Brenner’s Economics of Global Turbulence.

    Essentially, his point is that the essentials of capitalism – invest capital to make commodities to sell for a profit to end up with more capital – broke down in the 1960s and 1970s as the famous “limits to growth” kicked in. There were no new frontiers to conquer, no new continents to pillage, no new vast reserves of untapped resources to exploit, no new (outside the “internet realm” which employees a relatively small slice of people) dramatic, world-changing industries to invent.

    So the rate of profit began to fall, dramatically. This unleashed the current class war that we exist in – the redistribution upwards to compensate for the falling rate of profit, executed through elite-driven regulatory and political capture.

    This leads to Brenner’s next point, that our current era of financial instability – we’ve had at least three bubbles burst in 25 years (Savings and Loan; Internet; Housing) – is driven by capital chasing capital and skipping the intermediary stage of making (and therefore employing people) things – it has becomes pure speculation.

    Brenner suspects that capitalism will stagger onwards because enough new profits are being generated at its periphery – Chinese investment in Africa, internet and knowledge industries – but that we are going to witness more and more financialization and more and more instability.

  113. 113
    Chet says:

    Graeber is an anarchist who recommends a “jubilee” in which all monetary debts are forgiven.

    Does he mean “debt” like the debt my bank owes me because I’ve been loaning them the entire sum of all of my paychecks?

  114. 114
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Rome Again:

    Not me. I’ve been looking forward to non-monetary reciprocity for years, but, I understand that saying that publicly makes me the enemy.

    I’m not sure that makes you the enemy so much as making other people wonder how you expect people to live in anything other than villages of no more than 100 people apiece. Humans have been using money since about 5,000 BCE, which means that humans have used some form of money for over 7,000 years.

    You realize that David Byrne wrote “Nothing but Flowers” as a dystopian song, right?

  115. 115
    Steve says:

    The bank doesn’t owe you a debt. It’s still your money, the bank is just holding it. Investment accounts, on the other hand, are basically a debt.

  116. 116
    mclaren says:

    Graeber has been saying what I’ve been saying for years. Capitalism was a passing phase and will now be relegated to the dustbin of history as technology + the limits of the planetary ecology force society worldwide into a zero-growth totally recyclable sustainable social-economic paradigm.

    Therefore we may safely say that Graeber is “a crazy person,” “mentally ill,” “missing his thorazine drip,” “in need of therapy,” “off his meds,” “ranting and raving,” and all the rest of the epithets hurled at me on this forum.

    Meanwhile, scientists continue to predict that all large fish will be fished out of the world’s oceans by 2050.

    Cue the kooks and cranks and crackpots who infest this forum to rush forward and explain that the scientists are “off their meds” and “in need of therapy”…

  117. 117
    Rome Again says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    Personally, I have always believed the Kibbutz is the natural order of things.

  118. 118
    Calouste says:

    @AA+ Bonds:

    Sounds like a standard economo-philosophical circle jerk that misses connections to reality. The whole premise behind it became invalid the day the first caveman went out hunting and came back with more food than his family could eat. At that point he was actually creating wealth.

    @dadanarchist:

    Non-fossil (“alternative”) energy is a vast untapped resource to exploit. Of course that goes against the oil/nuclear complex and requires long-term planning, so it’s not going to happen in America. But other countries are exploiting those resources.

  119. 119
    Steve says:

    @mclaren: Every generation in memory has had a significant contingent who believed we were living in the End Times. I’m sure we’re right this time, though.

  120. 120
    Bill Arnold says:

    @lockewasright:

    If only there were a huge nuclear explosion in our cosmic neighborhood shooting shit tons of energy at us in a constant steady stream or something…

    Careful what you ask for… A big CME from a big X-class solar flare from a big sunspot could seriously damage our technological civilization.

  121. 121
    dadanarchist says:

    @mclaren: Capitalism was a passing phase and will now be relegated to the dustbin of history as technology + the limits of the planetary ecology force society worldwide into a zero-growth totally recyclable sustainable social-economic paradigm.

    On the one hand, I agree with this. It’s the height of hubris and teleological thinking to just assume that industrial capitalism will continue on indefinitely and that we as a society will come up with a technological fix to undo its many obvious ecological impossibilities.

    @Steve: Every generation in memory has had a significant contingent who believed we were living in the End Times. I’m sure we’re right this time, though.

    And on the other hand, this is absolutely correct as well.

  122. 122
    Munira says:

    @smintheus: No problem. He’ll have a different position next week.

  123. 123
    virag says:

    having the CHOICE to destroy your safe and happy life is the ultimate luxury. when the shit goes down, there won’t be any choice any longer.

    we are right in all that we distrust.

  124. 124
    Valenciennes says:

    @cleek: Someone please think of the poor businesses for once!

  125. 125
    oldpunk23 says:

    I continue to get all of the musical references. Wierd.

  126. 126
    mclaren says:

    @Steve:

    No one ever said we are living in the “End Times.” Your response proves my point — people today are so indoctrinated with the propaganda that capitalism is the only possible way of organizing society that anyone who suggests that there might exist another way of organizing society than capitalism is immediately dismissed as someone “ranting about End Times.”

    Notice your bizarre belief system: you equate the end of capitalism with The End of the World.

    Here’s a clue for you… Capitalism is not the world. It is one possible way of organizing human society. Hunter-gatherers represented another way of organizing society. Hunter-gatherers cared nothing about money or markets; they had no interest in bonds or stock markets, and they did not understand or need the concepts of a “corporation” or a “business,” let alone “taxes” or “ownership of property.”

    To claim as you do that the end of capitalism = the end of the world is the true sign of a kook. That’s classic crackpot thinking. No different from the bizarre claims of the Southern slavemasters of the 1850s that “the end of slavery means the end of the world!” or the weird assertions of the diehard monarchists of thely 1900s that “The end of the divine rule of monarchs and the triumph of the rabble via democracy means the end of the world!”

    The end of capitalism will entail a significant change in people’s lives. It will change society. It is not the end of the world. Anyone who claims or implies that the end of capitalism means “the end of the world” is a crank who is merely demonstrating the degree to which he has been brainwashed by the American Business Council and the Citizens United decision of the supreme court.

Comments are closed.