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Capital Resurgent: Roots of the Neoliberal Revolution
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Capital Resurgent: Roots of the Neoliberal Revolution
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The Enigma of Capital. The Roots of American Communism. Rethinking the Roots of Terrorism. The Roots of Pictorial Reference. For the powers that be, this strategy was enormously successful. Capitalism, despite Adam Smith, had never been about the wealth of nations so much as the wealth of the capitalist class. The financialization process managed to counter economic-stagnation tendencies to some extent, but at the cost of periodic financial crises layered over the normal business cycle.
Nevertheless, the amassing of wealth at the top continued to accelerate, with financial crises themselves leading to even greater financial concentration and centralization. In this situation, neoliberalism increasingly took on the logic of financialized expropriation and accumulation. The state too became subject to the financialization policy, shifting its overall role to protecting the value of money.
Rather than representing a severe crisis for neoliberalism itself, the Great Financial Crisis only gave it further impetus, reflecting the fact that neoliberal politics had become the ideological expression of an all-encompassing system of financial expropriation. A characteristic of this new era of financialized accumulation is that it is progressively removed from the realities of production and use value, heightening the conflict between exchange value the value form and use value the natural form within the overall production and accumulation process.
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Fossil fuels are entered as financial assets on the books of corporations, even when they exist only in the form of reserves buried in the ground. In this way, they are integral to the entire financialized accumulation process of monopoly capitalism.
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Trillions of dollars of Wall Street assets are thus tied up in fossil capital. Hence, there is less of a vested interest in these forms of energy. The human population stands by, seemingly helpless, watching the destruction of the climate and the loss of innumerable species, all imposed by the ostensibly overwhelming force of market society.
Neoliberalism has always been directly opposed to strict laissez faire since it has invariably emphasized a strong, interventionist, and constructionist relation to the state, in the direct service of private capital and market authoritarianism, or what James K. Galbraith has critically referred to as the predator state.
The role of the state is not simply to protect property, as maintained by Smith, but, as Foucault brilliantly explained in his Birth of Biopolitics , extends to the active construction of the domination of the market over all aspects of life.
Hence, both fiscal and monetary policy are increasingly put out of reach of the government itself—in those cases where changes going against the vested interests are contemplated. Central banks have been transformed into largely autonomous branches of the state, in fact controlled by the banks. Treasury departments are shackled by debt ceilings. Regulatory agencies are captured by monopoly-finance capital and act, for the most part, in the direct interest of corporations outside governmental control.
The result of such an attempt to construct a so-called self-regulating market society—in fact requiring constant state interventions on behalf of capital and the creation of a predator state—is, as Polanyi powerfully demonstrated, to undermine the very foundations of society and life itself. Neoliberalism has thus become integrated into the system in the context of the structural crisis of capitalism in its globalized monopoly-finance phase. It extends this structural crisis to all of society and makes it universal and insurmountable within the system. The answer to every failing of capitalism is thus to turn the screw further, which accounts for much of the allure of the market principle, since it is perpetually seen as the solution to the problems it causes—with each failure opening up new areas of profitability for a few.
The result of this irrational logic is not merely economic and ecological disaster, but the gradual demise of the liberal-democratic state itself. Neoliberalism thus points inevitably to market authoritarianism and even neofascism. In this respect, Donald Trump is no mere aberration. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history. Neoliberalism, in short, is not a mere paradigm that can be dispensed with, but represents the absolutist tendencies of the system in the age of monopoly finance.
But if capitalism has now failed, the question becomes: What next?
Yet, looking forward, he concluded, the new century and millennium offered even greater dangers. We know, or at least it is reasonable to suppose, that it cannot go on ad infinitum. The future cannot be a continuation of the past, and there are signs, both externally, and, as it were, internally, that we have reached a point of historic crisis. The forces generated by the techno-scientific economy are now great enough to destroy the environment, that is to say, the material foundations of human life. The structures of human societies themselves, including even some of the social foundations of the capitalist economy, are on the point of being destroyed by the erosion of what we have inherited from the human past.
Our world risks both explosion and implosion. It must change. We do not know where we are going. We only know that history has brought us to this point and—if readers share the argument of this book—why. However, one thing is plain.
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If humanity is to have a recognizable future, it cannot be by prolonging the past or the present. If we try to build the third millennium on that basis, we shall fail. And the price of failure, that is to say, the alternative to a changed society, is darkness. Nevertheless, such realism in approaching the failure of capitalism in our time is still rare on the part of left intellectuals in the wealthy countries, even in the face of decades of neoliberal assault combined with economic stagnation, financialization, growing inequality, and environmental decline.
This sustains the belief that the failures of unregulated capitalism can be countered by a return to regulated capitalism, a new Keynesian age—as if history had stood still.
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Pinning hopes on a double movement of this kind, however, denies four material realities. First, social democracy came about and persisted only as long as the threat of actually existing socialist societies was present and union strength endured, and faded immediately with the demise of both. Second, neoliberalism today is ingrained in capitalism itself, in the phase of monopoly-financial capital.
The earlier age of industrial-capital dominance, on which Keynesian economics was based, is now gone. Third, social democracy was in practice reliant on an imperialist system that was opposed to the interests of the vast majority of humankind. Fourth, the liberal-democratic state and the dominance of a purportedly enlightened industrial-capitalist class willing to engage in a social accord with labor is largely a relic of the past, with its structural bases having all but disappeared. Even when social democratic parties come to power in these circumstances, promising to work within the system and create a kinder and gentler capitalism, they invariably fall prey to the laws of motion of capitalism in this phase.
On the so-called liberal-left, some have adopted a broad technological-modernization approach, largely disregarding social relations. Here, in an implicit technological determinism, digital technology, social engineering, and wise liberal management are expected to reign supreme. It is true, such thinkers argue, that the capitalist absolutism of neoliberalism points to unending disaster. But capitalism can be altered, presumably from above, to fit any exigency, even the sidelining of profits and accumulation, conforming to current technological imperatives. What will remain of the system, in this conception, will be the bare frames of corporations and markets now devoid of any class or acquisitive drive, mere engines of efficiency.
The dominant reality, he predicts, will be a more efficient and sustainable, if more physically constrained, version of the present-day capitalist world. The situation confronting the world is qualitatively more serious than it was in , at a time when gradualist, technocratic solutions to climate change still seemed feasible to many even among those on the left and when the liberal-democratic state appeared perfectly stable. Today, in the context of accelerated climate change, continuing economic stagnation, political upheaval, and growing geopolitical instability, it is clear that the challenges that the world is facing will be both more cataclysmic and epoch-making than progressive ecological modernizers like Randers envisioned.