SPECTACLE OF IRRATIONALITY
by Wolfgang Hetzer
[This article published 1/30/2013 from the German DGB union website “gegenblende” is translated from the German on the Internet, http://www.gegenblende.de
The situation of the euro zone recalls times when people feared an immediate imminent military attack on a territory. States were then always ready to sell their sovereignty on a large scale. The West is not alone in facing hard times. The destruction of money damages the spirit of secular societies. Inter-personal and inter-state relations are poisoned. An extreme constellation arose with a destructive potential. A breakdown of the euro may trigger enormous economic turbulences and massively endanger Europe's integration. The bailout umbrellas may establish a modern kind of feudal rule. As everybody knows, feudalism was the starting point of violent domestic and foreign policy again and again in history. In the twentieth century, Europe experienced two civil wars. That is what the First and Second World Wars were from a European perspective. Historians may interpret the Euro crisis as a third European civil war that may not only be waged with “peaceful” means. The price that Germans and others must pay in a breakdown of the currency union will arise in stability, peace and security, not so much in jobs and pensions.
THE REASON OF THE MARKETS
In history, such risks were always the consequences of extensive political failure. Alongside the economic consequences, the abdication of politics is now one of the worst consequences of the financial crisis. That abdication was also a prerequisite of the greatest damage-causing events of recent economic history. With pied-piper formulas (“work must be rewarding again”), politicians helped build a disgraceful diversion culture where markets were the place of social justice. Supposedly as many decisions as possible need to be left to these markets. On the markets, fateful authorities with their expertise gather so performance is rewarded and failure punished. A nearly divinely-ordained balancing tendency hardly allows any criticism to arise. The claimed rationality of market processes seemingly make superfluous a discussion about the meaning of certain market processes. However the past years of the financial crisis have revealed the illusory if not deceitful character of this philosophy. By their own failure, the financial markets submitted to the states. Failure is rewarded. The benefits of the state in the crisis are accepted. But no one was ready up to now to unmask the grand delusion of neoliberal economic circles and their political circles. Are markets more efficient the less the state interferes?
“Even charlatans and politicians are confronted with reality some time or other. Everyone can see that markets are not self-regulating. Markets are not programmed to serve the public welfare. Highly professional bankers must admit that the securities they purchased for billions were not transparent. Even worse, they must assume that nearly all competitors also had to stock up with this toxic junk and therefore were not creditworthy any more. No credit should be given any m,ore without state guarantees. That was the birth hour of a paradoxical world. The states had to bail out the banks, not vice versa. Many politicians believe the market-radical nonsense that tax cuts finance themselves. What had to happen happened. The interests for government bonds became unaffordable. The situation of national economies massively deteriorated where the euro is the currency. For the majority of people in many states, the capitalist economic system changed into an existence-threatening system. The objective motives, the individual instigators and the profiteers of this development still remain mostly in the dark.
MONEY AND DEVIANCE
The financial crisis raises more than the question about the nature of money. The extent of the damage and the conduct of the actors in the world of finance and politics also provoke the question about the distinction between business diligence and criminal energy. In the modern money economy, the guidelines of moral-ethical orientation seem rejected like the categories of criminal law. The principles of rule of law and constitutionality are challenged. A clientele advantage culture endangers the inner cohesion of whole societies. Supposed expertise is neutralized or functionalized through political and economic calculation, adjusted in a mode of veiling and legitimation. However its effect is hard to determine on account of the camouflaging of the money term.
Coalitions of “experts” and politicians ultimately cause a corrupting of the democratic “res publica.” There are signs of resistance in more and more European cities. Still the protests will fizzle out if the goals remain vague amid aggression, rage, anxiety and despair. People do not seem to have completely understood that money has become the plaything of the executive. Under the conditions of a state of emergency in the illusion theater of presumed political skill, the elixir of life of the real economy has transformed into a medium of systematic and authoritarian fraud. Fundamental social dislocations will occur if the habitual offenders from politics and the economy are left undisturbed. More and more people will understand that a well-coordinated attack of certain networks on their existential foundations is underway, not only individual and concrete violations of legally protected rights. The stability of the value of the currency is one of those protected rights.
SYSTEM AND CRISIS
The approval ratings for capitalism have fallen dramatically all over the world, even in its original western countries. The question bout the way out of capitalism has never seemed as topical as today. In fact, this question is raised in a radically new way and urgency. The financialization of this economic system has hit an inner and outer limit. This system only survived the crisis of its basic categories with the help of tricks: labor, assets and capital.
Criticism does not only come from the “usual suspects,” the political left. Rather an extensive agreement exists that capitalism in its present construction has become a threat. Some even call for the bailing out of capitalism at the “World Economic Forum.” In Davos, the world elite of capital already suffers grievously in this system. Managers and bankers only seem to endure the capitalist economic order because no better one is on the horizon. The hypocrisy of those helped to special prosperity and power by the market system is manifest. Cowardice is diagnoses which in a crisis has more to do with the weaknesses of politics than with weaknesses of the market. Undaunted capitalism is certified as doing rather well and that its central idea has not lost any of its persuasiveness.
SPEECHLESSNESS AND SPECTACLE
Nevertheless the market is not the only remedy in Europe against the malformations in the economy. Capitalism does not have a self-cleaning effect. The conflict over the true organization of the free market economy cuts the system to the quick. This conflict is full of great political explosiveness. Speechlessness prevails between the “bastions of the world economy.” The state of extreme tension becomes more unendurable with every further day of the financial- and debt crisis. Trade wars began this way in the past. Democracy is challenged. In the crisis, nothing can seemingly oppose the excesses of the markets. A theme of anger and violence in the streets arises out of the scandalously high youth unemployment ion some southern European countries. That the regulations for the financial markets and the banking system are still inadequate is a danger that should not be underrated. Whoever ignores the thunder rubble today should not be surprised at the ringing in his ears tomorrow. More rules for the potentially dangerous financial institutes and fewer rules for other commercial areas must be part of a new capitalism.
The dialectic of the crisis is marked by the fact that states often extend the errors of the past in combating the crisis. A stable capitalism can only arise when states find their way to balanced budgets. Instead enormous sums of “fresh” money are pumped into the world economy that could trigger a gigantic wave of inflation. Is the present crisis big enough to lead to another capitalism? Do governments need a catastrophe to do what is necessary? We are confronted with a paradoxical situation: a financial- and economic crisis of historical proportions that hasn't left any lasting traces on the everyday consciousness of the German population. Despite isolated sporadic movements of resistance, the crisis is still worked out in an economic-, fiscal- and labor market way without being a center of great public social conflicts. There is no simultaneity of crisis and conflict. This seems to be changing in Greece, Spain and Portugal. Perhaps people already understand that a “spectacle of pure irrationality” (Vogl) occurs on the venues of international financial management, not an efficient teamwork of rational actors.
MONEY AND RELIGION
It is high time to clarify the question whether the “capitalist spirit” operates reliably and rationally or is simply mad. This is not easy. A feeling of helplessness arises sooner or later in reflecting about money and markets. This is an alarming discovery. Money defines our existence as nothing else. No one can really say how the money exchange works. This mysteriousness or obscurity can cause aggressiveness and a feeling of emptiness and paralysis. Money often triggers irrational behavior. Economists also do not have everything under control. They cannot forecast what is coming, steer the market or understand its “logic.” The market does not think of acting rationally. It does not regulate itself according to the laws of any “economic reason.” That is excluded by the economic actors themselves, with their greed, lust for power and hope to get a greater hunk of the spoils than the others. The market behaves irrationally because its actors act irrationally. There is no objectivity in dealing with money. What our dealing with money causes with the increasing abstraction of the exchange process, the reference to things that money should represent, was obviously lost. The system makes itself independent. It has become obscure for the “material reason.” Perhaps people fall back into a “magical pattern.” More and more persons act as believers and unbelievers like drunken but skeptical participants in a cult. Perhaps we have all become voluntary-involuntary members of a worldwide religion. As such, we could be forced at last to accept what “high priests” (experts and politicians) proclaim to us because rational knowledge is denied us. Greed for money cannot be taken on as long as money rules as an illusion. All reform efforts only remain unsuccessful attempts at combating symptoms when we do not see that it only helps settle our relations under the mantle of an illusory commodity. Therefore a moral reorientation is indispensable. In a rational system of human societies, morality may not import its ideas from bookkeeping as a balancing of advantages and disadvantages.
Given the fact that expertise and public interest-oriented characters in politics and the economy are scarce resources, that the diverse leadership cliques cannot be expected to draw the right conclusions on time from this insight. Will intelligence and reason prevail among people who ever more often put their hope in the streets than in soundproofed conference halls in Brussels or other capital cities?