Thursday, 24 November 2011

John Gray-The Occupy Movements are the realists, not Europe's ruling elites

John Gray has also written a brilliant piece for The Guardian ( The Occupy Movements are the realists, not Europe's ruling elites November 15 2011 ) contrasting the greater realism of The Occupy movements that have sprung up across Europe and the USA in the wake of the economic crisis and the prospect of a double dip recession,

'The Occupy movements have been attacked for being impractical visionaries. In fact it is the established political classes of the west that are wedded to utopian thinking, while the protesters are recalling us to the actualities of human experience. Based on economic theories that left out human beings, the global free market was supposed to be self-regulating. Now a process of disintegration is under way, in which the structures set up in the post-cold-war period are visibly breaking up.

Anyone with a smattering of history could see that the hubristic capitalism of the past 20 years was programmed to self-destruct. The notion that the world's disparate societies could be corralled into a worldwide free market was always a dangerous fantasy. Opening up economies throughout the world meant ordinary people were more directly exposed to the gyrations of market forces than they had been for generations. As it overthrew existing patterns of life and robbed large numbers of people of any security they might have achieved, global capitalism was bound to trigger a powerful blowback.

For as long as it was able to engineer an illusion of increasing prosperity, free-market globalisation was politically invulnerable. When the bubble burst, the actual condition of the majority was laid bare. In the US a plantation-style economy has come into being, with debt-servitude for the many coexisting with extremes of volatile wealth for the few. In Europe the muddled dream of a single currency has resulted in social devastation in Greece, mass unemployment in Spain and other countries, and even, for some, reversion to a life based on barter: sucking society into a vortex of debt deflation, austerity policies are driving a kind of reverse economic development. In many countries a settled bourgeois existence – supposedly the basis of popular capitalism – has become an impossible aspiration. Large numbers are edging closer to poverty and a life without hope'.

John Gray on The Utopian Delusions of Global Free Markets.

John Gray has recently written much of interest as regards the crisis of the neoliberal project to engineer a global free market. In the Revolution of Capitalism ( BBC New A Point of View, September 4 2011 ) Gray states,

Marx was wrong about communism. Where he was prophetically right was in his grasp of the revolution of capitalism. It's not just capitalism's endemic instability that he understood, though in this regard he was far more perceptive than most economists in his day and ours....

More profoundly, Marx understood how capitalism destroys its own social base - the middle-class way of life. The Marxist terminology of bourgeois and proletarian has an archaic ring.

But when he argued that capitalism would plunge the middle classes into something like the precarious existence of the hard-pressed workers of his time, Marx anticipated a change in the way we live that we're only now struggling to cope with. capitalism evolves, its defenders say, an increasing number of people will be able to benefit from it.

Fulfilling careers will no longer be the prerogative of a few. No more will people struggle from month to month to live on an insecure wage. Protected by savings, a house they own and a decent pension, they will be able to plan their lives without fear. With the growth of democracy and the spread of wealth, no-one need be shut out from the bourgeois life. Everybody can be middle class.

In fact, in Britain, the US and many other developed countries over the past 20 or 30 years, the opposite has been happening. Job security doesn't exist, the trades and professions of the past have largely gone and life-long careers are barely memories.

If people have any wealth it's in their houses, but house prices don't always increase. When credit is tight as it is now, they can be stagnant for years. A dwindling minority can count on a pension on which they could comfortably live, and not many have significant savings.

More and more people live from day to day, with little idea of what the future may bring. Middle-class people used to think their lives unfolded in an orderly progression. But it's no longer possible to look at life as a succession of stages in which each is a step up from the last.

In the process of creative destruction the ladder has been kicked away and for increasing numbers of people a middle-class existence is no longer even an aspiration.

As capitalism has advanced it has returned most people to a new version of the precarious existence of Marx's proles. Our incomes are far higher and in some degree we're cushioned against shocks by what remains of the post-war welfare state.

But we have very little effective control over the course of our lives, and the uncertainty in which we must live is being worsened by policies devised to deal with the financial crisis. Zero interest rates alongside rising prices means you're getting a negative return on your money and over time your capital is being eroded.

The situation of many younger people is even worse. In order to acquire the skills you need, you'll have to go into debt. Since at some point you'll have to retrain you should try to save, but if you're indebted from the start that's the last thing you'll be able to do. Whatever their age, the prospect facing most people today is a lifetime of insecurity.

At the same time as it has stripped people of the security of bourgeois life, capitalism has made the type of person that lived the bourgeois life obsolete. In the 1980s there was much talk of Victorian values, and promoters of the free market used to argue that it would bring us back to the wholesome virtues of the past.

For many, women and the poor for example, these Victorian values could be pretty stultifying in their effects. But the larger fact is that the free market works to undermine the virtues that maintain the bourgeois life.

When savings are melting away being thrifty can be the road to ruin. It's the person who borrows heavily and isn't afraid to declare bankruptcy that survives and goes on to prosper.

When the labour market is highly mobile it's not those who stick dutifully to their task that succeed, it's people who are always ready to try something new that looks more promising.

In a society that is being continuously transformed by market forces, traditional values are dysfunctional and anyone who tries to live by them risks ending up on the scrapheap.

Capitalism has led to a revolution but not the one that Marx expected. The fiery German thinker hated the bourgeois life and looked to communism to destroy it. And just as he predicted, the bourgeois world has been destroyed.

But it wasn't communism that did the deed. It's capitalism that has killed off the bourgeoisie"

Friday, 18 November 2011

The New Great Game and Afghanistan

News of two more deaths in Afghanistan of British troops in Helmland has still not yet led in the media in Britain to any public debate as to the real nature of the war aims. It is a fact that the war is crucially concerned with securing the route for the TAPI pipeline. This was evident as early as 2003 when Lutz Kleveman wrote his seminal The New Great Game.

His book, peer reviewed and praised by those such as respected journalist and historian Misha Glenny, sets out in tough and clear writing what is really at stake in Central Asia. Here is part of a review of it that appears on Kleveman's own website.

"The Great Game today is about access to the region’s substantial and largely underdeveloped reserves of petroleum and natural gas. The former Soviet Republics of the Caucasus region are also players in this story. Before the United States occupied Iraq and before Osama bin-Laden became a household dirty word, American foreign policy favored an economic plan to build an oil pipeline...

Lutz Kleveman’s interviews with Afghan, Russian, Uzbek, and other regional leaders indicate that something else is the primary motivation for American presence in the region. Such people believe that U.S.involvement in Afghanistan is neither about promoting democracy or stopping Al Queda. The Americans are believed to be in Central Asia for oil and, with respect to Afghanistan, the right of way for an oil pipeline. The United States’ supposed “democratic reconstruction” of the national government of Afghanistan appears shallow in Kleveman’s reporting. Local warlords lack the systematic brutality of the Taliban, but remain very much in charge of their regions. With one group of Islamic fundamentalist thugs gone, another group of political muscle men now seem to be in charge. These local bosses refer to Afghanistan’s President Karzai as the “Mayor of Kabul.”