Re: Giovanni Arrighi "Tracking Global Turbulence" NLR Mar-Apr/03

From: Michael Eldred (artefact@T-ONLINE.DE)
Date: Tue Apr 29 2003 - 05:38:37 EDT


Cologne 29-Apr-2003

rakeshb@STANFORD.EDU schrieb Sun, 27 Apr 2003 12:13:08 -0700:

> Michael,
> Brenner does in fact delve into the debate about whether there has
> been a productivity revolution, and has been skeptical of claims of
> a new economy for years--long before the NASDAQ bubble
> crashed and US government agencies began downward revisions
> of productivity growth.

Rakesh,

I've seen enough evidence and read/translated enough about digital
technologies and experienced it myself in my work as a translator over
twenty years to know that, in every sphere of production, digital
technology sets free enormous productivity potentials -- especially by
allowing the automation of repeated and repetitive processes, whether it be
wrapping chocolates in different coloured wrappers or generating invoices
or testing 100,000 pharmaceutical active agents per day, or what have you.

Learning to live with digital techology (i.e. all cybernetic control
technology based on binary logic) is a challenge for us today. These
digital beings demand their own way of (binary) thinking if we are to deal
with them appropriately. Some would say this demand is tyrannical, and
technophobia and incompetence in dealing with digital technology are indeed
widespread. It does not come from some capitalist conspiracy or anything
similar, but, more eerily, from the way the world opens up digitally in a
way of thinking which is (fortunately or unfortunately) incredibly
effective. Digital switching is an immensely powerful means of cybernetic
control.

> While your notes on product innovation suggests how difficulties in
> the realization of surplus value are in part overcome--if demand for
> the extant product set is saturated, it may take some time for
> capital to develop new products and to convince consumers
> through psycho-technics to purchase them (OPE-L member Paolo
> Cipolla has worked on this problem)-- the emphasis on the
> expansion of capital's valorization base through the incorporation
> of new workers underlines that capital increases the production of
> surplus value not only through the achievement of a higher rate of
> surplus value on a fixed population.

I don't think that "realization of surplus value" makes any sense, but I've
already said enough on that score for the time being.

The notion of manipulation of consumers I find smacks of the usual
purportedly 'critical' fantasies of weak victims, losers, suckers vis-a-vis
some omnipotent, superior, dominant power. The manichaean division of the
world into good and evil, viz. oppressors and oppressed, as fundamental
categories indicates that Marxism is a secularized Christianity with its
own worldly eschatology. Apart from moments of successful resistance
against superior power (conjured by the word 'solidarity'), the encounter
with the world is chronically downcasting, depressing for this way of
being-in-the-world. The a priori status of 'always already' having been
defrauded and short-changed provides solace and comfort.

The notion of "psycho-technics" is a product of the totalizing cybernetic
imagination. It does not take account of human freedom and repudiates the
notion, so much so, that talk of human freedom is relegated to the realm of
bourgeois ideology. "Psycho-technics" comes from _technae_. In Aristotle's
thinking such a technics of the soul is called rhetoric. The peculiarity of
rhetoric is that it is not a proper controlling _technae_ in the sense of
other kinds of know-how such as house-building. In particular, human
exchange in the broadest sense (including the exchange of words, views,
etc.) does not fit the technicist paradigm and cannot be cybernetically
controlled.

> You also write:
> _____________
> Another point -- Arrighi writes:
> "It is hard to see how this situation can be reproduced for any
> length of time without transforming into an outright tribute, or
> 'protection
> paymenté,
> the $1 billion (and counting) that the United States needs daily to
> balance
> its current accounts with the rest of the world. But it is even harder to
>
> envision the kind of system-wide social and political convulsions that
> are
> necessary to make the extraction of such a tribute the foundation of
> a new, and for the first time in history, truly universal world empire."
>
> What is called a "tribute" here is no tribute, and the US is not an
> "empire". The flow of capital into the US is attracted by possibilities
> of return on capital, whether it be direct investment, the stock market,
> the bond market or something else. The markets continue to act as
> attractors
> (that could change); it is not a movement coerced by superior
> force, but a
> further aspect of capitalist competition among economies.
> Perhaps the US
> state has been clever in manoeuvring and arm-twisting to keep the
> dollar
> attractive, but what accounts for the continuing underlying
> attractiveness
> of the US economy for the rest of the world?
> _____________
>
> But this is not what Arrighi said. He did not claim that the US was
> presently collecting tribute; he claimed that the present inflow of
> capital into the US would  have to be converted into a kind of tribute
> if that inflow was to continue.

Yes, I agree that Arrighi did not claim that the US were presently
collecting tribute. What I am questioning, however, is the entire
vocabulary of empire and imperialism (with its imperial/feudal talk of
things such as tributes) which, in my opinion, is entirely inappropriate
for capitalist economic phenomena. Such misnomers do not serve to bring the
phenomena to light, but rather to obfuscate them.

> Of course this raises the question of why Asian central banks in
> particular have been willing to support the dollar and the way of the
> debt-happy US.
>
> It could be that they want to weaken their own currencies relative to
> the dollar to maintain export competitiveness (I tried to emphasize
> this factor months ago on OPE-L); it could be that they are fearful
> that otherwise the US could close off the market through explicit
> protectionist legislation; they could fear that grave US financial
> difficulties would force the US to reduce its military presence in the
> region; they could fear that the US would otherwise use its military
> power to establish more pro US, less multilateral governments in
> Southeast Asia .  The US probably intends to make a statement by
> marginalizing a non-cooperative France in the new Iraq.
>
> Such fears could also motivate Japan in particular to allow the US
> to dictate IMF policy to which it would otherwise be opposed, e.g.,
> capital account liberalization which seems to benefit the US
> financial sector alone.
>
> Like Susan Strange, I tend to think the US ability to run a current
> account deficit for years with impunity is sign of US power, not US
> decline. Which is not to say that I think the US is a hegemonic
> power. We'll need to get straight the meanings of hegemony.

Coming from the Greek, I understand 'hegemony' above all as leadership, and
in particular leadership exercising a predominant authority. In that sense
I think the United States are hegemonic and powerful, but by no means
omnipotent. To appreciate US economic and political strength somewhat
better, one can compare it with the situation in other major capitalist
societies, viz. Germany and Japan. The political and social sclerosis in
these societies is almost unimaginable. This sclerosis is not attributable
only to political structures but also and especially to the populace at
large, whose complacency and fear of the future, despite all the visible
big economic and social problems, keep sclerotic governments in power.

Some would say that the German (and presumably also Japanese) obsession
with security is a good thing because it is anti-capitalist. Capitalism
works only through the hurly-burly of risk-taking (for value relations
shift groundlessly and are not amenable to cybernetic control). But that is
little solace as these societies sink slowly but surely, with all their
immense accumulated wealth, into economic decrepitude, overtaken by more
aggressive, up-and-coming competitor economies.

A recent international Gallup survey showed that Germans are world leaders
in pessimism. Only thirteen per cent of the populace see the future
optimistically. The Germans have lost their faith in being able to solve
problems and react only defensively. Their uppermost concern is security
and maintenance of the status quo. The proverbial German xenophobia is
nourished by the obsession with security. Foreigners are regarded in
general as a threat to German jobs, rather than as a potential enrichment
of economic potency and cultural life. Unemployment in Germany currently
runs to 4.7 million plus roughly another million in state-subsidized jobs.
That is almost equal to the total number of working trade union members at
six million, who have infinitely more political clout. The union
functionaries have the strongest self-interest in preserving the status
quo, as do their members, i.e. as long as their employing companies don't
go broke. Once unemployed, however, the unions have 'achieved' such a high
level of 'social justice' that you will have a very hard time getting
another job at all.

The United States do not have to worry about any threat to their economic,
political or military hegemony coming from German quarters, you can be
sure. The global turbulence will certainly continue, and the US will
continue to act forcefully and flexibly, shaping a new post-Cold War order,
but the Germans will stay on the sidelines wrapped in their security
blankets, harmlessly holding hands with each other in peace chains, smugly
self-satisfied with their moral superiority.

--

This morning heard a news report on a missile attack in Pakistan on a
EU-funded institution for furthering women's interests, especially in
healthcare. The imams have called on their followers to launch attacks on
anti-Islamic Western institutions which do anti-Islamic things liking
helping women.

Cheers,
Michael
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