[OPE] Callinicos/Wolf debate

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@telfort.nl>
Date: Sat Nov 07 2009 - 04:21:50 EST

I watched the Callinicos/Wolf debate on video, eager to see these learned
top intellectuals enter into discussion with each other, but found it rather
uninspiring, disappointing and unfocused. It did not throw in sharp relief
what the financial crisis is essentially about, what its root causes are, or
what its overall social impact will be.

Neither of the estimable speakers was really in great form; Martin Wolf was
speaking rather perfunctorily, rushing through his material and looking at
his watch, while Alex Callinicos said he had read the FT for 35 years, and
was constantly making the characteristic hand-movements to emphasize his
words. Questioners in the audience often sounded rather fatigued or worn
down by the crisis. If you were looking for a blistering critique of
capitalism or a fullblooded, enthusiastic defence of it, this was not it.
Martin Wolf is of course much better as a "discussant" than a "debater".

As an exercise in communication or dialogue, the debate did not score high
in my view, it was really more a fideistic ritual, and thus you'd be better
off reading the writings of Mr Wolf and Prof. Callinicos. Mr Wolf argued
with justification that capitalism would survive and recover in some way
from this financial crisis despite its acknowledged problems (but is that
really the issue?) - he seemed however to think that the solution applied to
current problems was "Keynesian".

This is not really credible, since Keynes, concerned with full employment,
argued for the "euthanasia of the rentier" as I noted a year ago on OPE-L
http://archives.econ.utah.edu/archives/ope-l/2008m11/msg00031.htm. Alex
Callinicos correctly replied that Keynes was further to the Left than Martin
Wolf suggested (Marx dropped out of the argument at this point), but his
lack of economic insight started to show. Martin Wolf did indicate that
today's capitalism was different from the capitalism of the 1930s, but he
did not really say how it was different, but that was exactly what was
crucially important, since that shapes a different outcome from the result
in the 1930s.

Alex Callinicos quoted Rahm Emmanuel as saying that "the crisis was too good
to waste", using this comment to infer that we should be looking at
alternatives to capitalism (cf.
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122721278056345271.html ). But what Emmanuel
himself meant is really something else, namely that the crisis offered
opportunities to unify the discordant ranks of the political class in the
face of a common problem, with more room for a bipartisan approach, and less
factionalism. Because that is the chief problem of the political class.

The real point there however is that the idea that "we're all in the same
boat now" is largely illusory, since the crisis intensifies competition for
dwindling resources all round, and given that reality, we ought to consider
what the competition stakes are mainly about then, or, in Marx's phrase,
"what the fights are really about" ("Wir zeigen ihr nur, warum sie
kämpft")http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1843/letters/43_09.htm. A
case could be made that the economic slump isn't in truth unifying the
polity, precisely because sharply diverging interests are coming to the
surface - in good part because of the fiscal problems of the state.

In this sense, Russell Napier makes a good point in a sharp article in the
FT (Crisis leads to conflict, 7 october 2009
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/bee1e196-b34e-11de-ae8d-00144feab49a.html): "One
consequence of the financial crisis is that fund managers are increasingly
going to come into conflict with governments. Actions taken in the best
interest of fund managers' clients are likely to be considered against the
national interest". I had thought that Alex Callinicos, with his "state
capitalism" theory, would at least have addressed this aspect, but he
didn't. In the UK, state expenditure is nowadays equal to circa 43% of GDP,
double of what it was in the 1930s, which means in practice that whereas one
in five British workers is nowadays employed by the state, three of them are
directly dependent on the state for their income. That happens to be
decisive for the future of British capitalism.


( Alex Callinicos:

Martin Wolf:

Questions & Answers:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYpHLnlUrFg ).

ope mailing list
Received on Sat Nov 7 04:24:31 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Mon Nov 30 2009 - 00:00:02 EST