MARKETS AS A FETISH
by Joachim Hirsch
[This essay published in May 2012 is translated from the German on the Internet, http://linksnet.de.]
Hardly a news broadcast or politician’s speech goes by where “markets” are not invoked. Sometimes, they are considered the lynchpin of world events. That sounds like distant deities or at least the dark sides of fate. Obviously, the emphasis is on the financial markets where monetary-, capital-, and financial products are traded boundlessly and worldwide, not a super- or weekend market. Unlike apples and bananas, these are not visible but hidden under complex numbers and data. The man on the street only has access to these markets from a stock broker or bank advisor who as a rule palms off rotten products. So the markets appear as a higher power that must be brought sacrifice so it acts graciously. This quasi-religious conceptual world is not really astonishing since market-oriented economics has changed into an atavistic dogma and strongly believes in totemism.
Markets are not subjects gifted with their own will, feelings and states of mind (scared, alarmed, disappointed and so forth). Rather, they are social institutions where very concrete persons interact. These institutions are based on property- and legal relations that are secured with force by the state. Personalizing should veil this. Financial products must be brought to the market. This happens on the financial markets to exploit capital and make profits.
Those populating the markets could be named by name. Naming includes the risk of disclosing their conduct and interests and revealing their quasi-religious fetish. What these subjects do should be mentioned: namely, engineering massive privatizations with miserable consequences for the impacted: unemployment, forced migration, food speculations, land robbery and not only financial crises.
Marx once described capitalists as character masks of capital that only play a role forced on them by capital. That is not entirely right. Capitalists must make profits so they and the whole system do not perish. This has changed considerably in the last decades. One reason for this is the so-called “globalization,” one of the terms with which the neoliberal capital offensive has been veiled since the great crisis of the 1970s. The underlying fact is that international capital increasingly succeeded in eluding the restrictions to which it was subject when nation-states still had a certain control and governments were at least tangentially democratically responsible. Controls were rescinded by the governments themselves and “markets” then ensured that democracy would go downhill. Therefore, global corporations do not need to worry about the societies where they are located. In the long-term, they undermine their own foundations of existence and bring on social crises. Far-reaching ideas or even a change of the social status quo cannot be expected from them.
A social mobilization outside and independent of the state, parliament and parties is necessary. There are a multitude of groups, initiatives, organizations and critical non-governmental organizations and alternatives that thematicize the real social problems and propose viable solutions… A closer cooperation and stronger civil society networking are crucial. Only a permanent social pressure from below can bring changes in parties, politics and government policy. The democratic structures decaying to formalities can be filled with content again. Democracy should involve self-determination and not only mediate capitalist logics of exploitation.
Antonio Gramsci emphasized the battle for harmony and ideas of social order and development have their place or locus in civil society. This assumes strengthening independent social self-organization. This cannot be limited to the national area in view of the global interdependencies. Strengthening international cooperation on the social plane is vital to prevent the neoliberal location competition at the expense of the dependent population. This is also an important prerequisite for changing global economic and political structures, from creating international social funds to democratizing institutions like the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO. The economic globalization with its crisis-laden consequences must be countered today by social forces on the national and international planes.
FOR THE MANY, NOT THE FEW: NOTES ON THE FUTURE OF GLOBALIZATION
By Werner Raza
[This essay published on September 9, 2018 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://awblog.at. Werner Raza is the director of the Austrian Research foundation for International Development.]
The legitimate criticism of neoliberal globalization is increasingly marginalized by Trumpian protectionism. But no unconditional confession to free trade helps against populist protectionism. Social inequality as a result of globalization leads to alarming political follow-up costs. Regaining political possibilities of acting and strengthening democratic participation is necessary, a globalization agenda for the many on the basis of a good life for everyone.
Neoliberal Globalization Redux: Same Same but Different
With the global 2007/08 financial- and economic crisis, the defenders of economic globalization have been on the defensive. The advantages of free trade and financial streams were extolled incessantly in the 1990s and early 2000s. “Globalizers” from the OECD, the EU Commission or the World Bank must admit that open markets produce losers and not only winners – on the backdrop of the political successes of `populist’ forces today. The former are strongly represented among low-skilled employees.
The responsibility for this is ascribed to technological change. This is hardly convincing as recent research shows. Financialization and outsourcing are basically responsible for the strong distribution effects of globalization. If culpability for the negative distribution effects is shifted to the supposedly neutral factor “technical progress,” it can be argued more easily that globalization brought more growth and prosperity.
Broken Promises of Globalization: Growth
The risk of balance of payments- and indebtedness crises increases. The latter leads to a drastic breakdown of growth and employment as the long lists of these crises since the early 1980s confirms.
…and Better Living Conditions for Everyone
The increasing networking of the world economy produces winners and losers. This is well-known in academic discussions. But no lessons were drawn from this for the political-economic praxis of the last decades. The widespread assumption is that the losers will ultimately share in new job chances. This way of thinking tolerated drastically higher inequality as a consequence of globalization and was blind to the strong rise of social polarization both in employment and income.
In the last decades, there was practically no job growth in medium-level jobs. Rather, jobs for office workers or skilled workers grew scarcer. Jobs in the high-trained segment increased and also in the low-skilled area, mostly in the form of precarious employment with miserable working conditions and low pay… All this reflects outsourcing or offshoring – business strategies of international corporations. The socio-economic erosion of the working middle class had to have political effects in the long run…
Populism and Nationalism as Follow-Up Political Costs of Neoliberal Globalization
A study of the renowned MIT-researcher-authors Dorn and Hansen concludes 2.4 million manufacturing jobs were lost in the US between 1999 and 2011 through the greater trade with China alone. If unemployment is regionally concentrated and persistent for lack of other job possibilities as in the traditional US industrial areas, this can lead to serious social problems and sooner or later to political protests. Voter protest was disproportional in regions marked by economic crises. This is corroborated in recent research for the US and Great Britain. There are also clear signs that authoritarian attitudes increase in regions affected by trade. In his latest book, Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam analyzed the socio-structural changes of the last decades co-induced by globalization processes. The American dream of social advancement has become an illusion for the young generation of Americans, he concluded.
Like the rise of right-wing nationalist forces in Europe, the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House was not an accident but a manifestation of far-reaching socio-structural changes in western societies. The unreasonable demands of neoliberal globalization have a greater share in this political backlash. Moderate prices and a wide selection of products as typical advantages of globalization cannot be trivialized where wide parts of the populati9on suffer under stagnating incomes and poor job prospects are on the horizon for one’s children and grandchildren. The so-called losers of globalization turn away from established political forces and support alternative political possibilities, even if these are problematic. This is true for the US and Europe where the traditional parties of the political center (Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and Liberals) are stricken by an advancing erosion of their credibility. Since 2000, social democratic parties have had to accept up to 50% fewer voters, mainly to the benefit of right-wing nationalist parties.
Globalization for the Many Needs Good Life for Everyone
Capitalist development is a constant process of creative destruction, Joseph Schumpeter stressed. The indwelling dynamic of the system promises enormous material prosperity but demands great sacrifice again and again from the broad mass of the population (wage earners, farmers, small businessmen etc).
This permanent structured change was fueled by four decades of trade-, capital- and financial market liberalization. Falling economic globalization profits face rising social costs unlike the “embedded liberalism” of the postwar decades in the global North with its mixture of gradual liberalization and developed social states…
The paradox of neoliberal globalization is that the win-win constellation was largely undermined by economic liberalization with simultaneous social security in the politics of the last decades. The political consequences of this system breach – high voter abstinence, erosion of the traditional political middle, rise of right-wing nationalist parties, undermining of liberal democratic systems and renaissance of authoritarian political forms – now appear more openly.
The competitive tension between political equality as a basic pillar of democratic rule and economic inequality as a condition of capitalist economics was falling ou89t of balance and had to be rebalanced to prevent our drifting into anti-liberal intolerant or open authoritarian forms of government.
Concretely and immediately, this means economic inequality must be reduced and democratic participation regained. This project cannot hope for the insight of the wealthy but must be fought for politically. For that, an alliance of traditional actors from civil society, unions and churches with representatives of the precariat is necessary.
The common perspective of a “good life for all” must be redefined. From my view, this consists of three strategic corner pillars. Firstly, the struggle against economic, social and political inequality in the sense of Nancy Fraser’s concept of acknowledged representation and redistribution; secondly, the rejection of neoliberal globalization and the redefinition of the priorities of international cooperation in the form of a solidarity globalization agenda are crucial. The priorities must lie in resisting tax avoidance, financial market regulation, climate policy and global combating of poverty – instead of further trade globalization, deregulation and privatization. Last but not least, a “Green New Deal” is needed for the urgently necessary transformation of our environmentally harmful “imperial lifestyle.” This cannot happen without the protagonist role of a strong public sector as a promoter of research and innovation (Mazzucato’s Entrepreneurial State) and alternative forms of cooperation between the private sector, civil society and the state. The old idea of promoting a third sector of solidarity economy on the local and regional planes is relevant here. Social state insurance and an employer-of-last-resort should be made available from the public sector. Higher wealth taxes, ecological taxes and European Central Bank financed investment funds could finance this program...
The perspective of a globalization for the many avoids a narrowing to the liberal discussion about free trade versus protectionism. Regaining political possibilities and strengthening democratic participation are central given the high social, ecological and political costs of neoliberal globalization, not black-white oversimplification – here good free trade and there bad protectionism. The three corner posts fighting inequality, a solidarity globalized agenda and a Green New Deal could form the core of this project.
By Rainer Mausfeld
[This article published on December 8, 2018 is translated from the German on the Internet, www.heise.de.]
How emancipative needs for change can be neutralized
More than 250 years ago, the great Scottish philosopher David Hume spoke of his astonishment over the ease with which a minority of the propertied can rule over the majority of the non-propertied. This situation can only happen by ruling opinion.
This insight is still true today. Democratic societies are only acceptable to the centers of power when they are risk-free for the powerful. This assumes public opinion can be controlled in all politically relevant areas. Therefore, opinion management in capitalist democracies that are electoral oligarchies in reality represents one of the most important techniques of rule, Prof. Rainer Mausfeld says in his commentary.
There are now situations where opinion management alone is not enough for the real centers of power. With great expense, techniques were developed since the beginning of the 20th century with the help of psychology and the social sciences for influencing and controlling minds.
Early on, people recognized that the need for political change threatening to erupt against the centers of power can build up. Therefore, techniques must be developed by which such energy of change can be neutralized or divided and undermined.
These techniques were already used successfully in the 1920s to socially divide the working class and subvert unions. Social divisions can be managed very effectively by systematically creating false identities. For example, sophisticated methods were developed at that time that served the goal of workers identifying with their employers and not with their social class.
An effective method of neutralizing emancipatory potential for change through division is based on a simple method of interlocking. When measures and goals joined with moral and humanitarian values really serve imperial or economic interests, humanitarian measures can be used as Trojan horses to carry out measures in a nearly invisible way that otherwise would not find any public approval.
The “struggle for democracy and human rights,” the “war on terror” or the “right of humanitarian interventions” are examples of deceptive packaging. All these examples are humanitarian packagings. They join serious current humanitarian concerns with long-term imperial or economic interests into a package of measures that can hardly be classified.
The public is then made to believe that both aspects are indissolubly connected and humanitarian goals can only be realized by accepting the whole package. The humanitarian concern can have a considerable attraction in the public. In this way, legitimate humanitarian concerns can be misused to enforce economic or imperial interests.
The neoliberal conception of globalization is that kind of interlocking with which humanitarian aspects and human rights are misused for carrying out a policy serving economic or imperial interests. An interlinking (Verklammerung) of pressing humanitarian concerns with interests of powerful economic and political actors – like the interest of global mega-corporations for “flexible” and cheap “human capital” – are used very successfully for divisions.
Moreover, the centuries-old ancient battle against democracy can be waged very effectively through interlocking humanitarian concerns with interests of a neoliberal globalization. Neoliberalism is the most vehement worldwide opponent of democratic forms of organization since it sees democracy as a kind of market-interference. Themes connected with the alleged practical constraints of so-called globalization prove very sell-suited for the neoliberal struggle against democracy since there cannot be any globalized forms of democracy.
The modern idea of the constitution cannot be applied to a world society since there are no global “demos” and thus no global bearers of a democratic legislative sovereignty. There can be no public debate on the plane of the world community in which different particular interests are harmonized for a political campaign. Consequently, there cannot be any procedures of a democratic consensus-discovery and peace assurance on the global plane.
The idea of a democratic organization of a political community on a global plane is completely meaningless. This is especially true when centers of international power are organized today so they write the laws to which they are subject and are not subject to any form of democratic control and accountability. Democracy and arduously gained civilization achievements – like the social state and the mechanisms for limiting excesses of capitalist accumulation – depend on the national plane. Democratic forms of legislation are impossible on the glob al plane.
Powerful economic actors obviously know this. They can kill two flies with one swat with humanitarian cosmetic changes by combining global neoliberal interests with legitimate humanitarian concerns – as in the UN Migration pact aiming at a migration management and not at real combating of the causes of migration. The long-term foundation is taken away from democratic forms of organization, on one hand. On the other hand, these combinations occur through the tensions produced in emancipatory movements. Dissent is curbed through divisions and diverting energies of change against the centers of power. These energies are directed to other goals to make them politically ineffective.
How can counter-strategies be developed against rule-techniques? Counter-strategies must be carefully analyzed and publically discussed. This emancipatory task can only be accomplished in non-parliamentary ways.
Rainer Mausfeld, “Neoliberal Indoctrination,” Jan 18, 2016,
Rainer Mausfeld, “We live in a time of radical counter-enlightenment,” October 2, 2018, http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2018/12/436927.shtml
Rainer Mausfeld, “Why are the Lambs Silent?” June 22, 2016,
Techniques - fragmentation and propaganda - make serious violations of moral norms by the ruling elites morally and cognitively invisible to the population. With many examples, Prof. Mausfeld gives insight in the actual management of our democracy and how people are kept in apathy and in the illusion of being informed.