Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Agnosticism Even in Our Anti-Capitalism

(h/t: fellow twitter-er and Edwards/Dean/Jerry Brown strategy guy Joe Trippi)

Spiegel Online re: Davos...
Davos can deliver insights it doesn't necessarily intend.

The key messages that seemed to flow from four days of speeches, panels, "bilaterals" (i.e., chatting with someone), cocktail parties, and press briefings were these:

1. Everyone stupidly failed to see the financial calamity coming except roughly four economists who now must be heeded in everything they say and all they predict.

2. The private sector has ruined the global economy and can no longer be trusted.

3. Government is ascendant, with regulation closest to godliness.

4. These conclusions are correct and will stand the test of time.

What I took away instead was this: Beware conventional wisdom and groupthink. Be skeptical of tidy explanations for complex past events. Be even more skeptical of confident predictions of future human behavior. Don't fight the last war.

All true, my "non-ideological" friend. I fear for those among us who are too hopped-up about:
  1. New Deal 2.
  2. "More public, less private" as an end in itself.
  3. The fallacy that somehow favoring industrial capital over financial capital is an intrinsically good (or always necessarily meaningful) decision.
Brass tacks: be it in laissez-faire or mixed economy tones, the state always "regulates" the economy under capitalism (read your Dean Baker, or Poulantzas on the theory side.)

And to put a theoretical bow on things: on a political-cultural level, the 100% socialization of assets might somehow make our society 100% "public"...but it's not enough to undo the public-private binary that shapes the ideological playing field for social actors, social movements, etc.
Not to sound too lapsed-Catholic, but there's no getting out of the desert until the Original Sin of public-private discourse is undone, transgressed, defaced, profaned, overturned. Of course I'd rather the state administered/guaranteed my health care, and I'll go to as many informational pickets as you want in favor of it. But the state's still the (capitalist) state, in that instance.

What are you saying, Lex - Socialism or Barbarism? Well, of course I'm always at least implying that, I hope. But I'm also trying to make the more pragmatic point that there is a horizon - just a horizon right now, what with all of the totally necessary socialization/regulation/de-privatization we absolutely have to do right now - beyond which the socialization/regulation/de-privatization of capital will cease to be strategically viable aims for organized labor in particular, if not the "working class" in general. The work of agnosticism, which to me is also the work of democratic socialism, is to provide unflagging-but-contingent support for civil society, the public sphere and the state regulation of capital and capitalists, but without elevating those "empty signifiers" to the level of godheads or ends-in-themselves. These aforementioned are worthy socialist causes, but hardly the stuff of life-after-liberalism, let alone life-after-capital.

Any theologians out there interested in the question, "Is socialism capitalist?" It'd prolly make for good barroom talk if the company was right.


gabbagabbahey said...

ever studied labour issues in East Asia (Japan, Korea moreso than 'communist' China)?

there you've got a) culturally different conceptions of public/private and b) Buddhism and somewhat similarly oriented faiths.

gabbagabbahey said...

that's really simplistic obviously, but it's a serious question. I know a good deal of the political history, but not the social/left stuff.

wobblie said...

As far as I know, unions are relatively week in most of Asia, with the exception of S. Korea. In Japan, where I know that unions are relatively weak, their "cultural conceptions," as it were, of the public/private dichotomy are much more holistic, but they inform industrial relations from a management perspective. S. Korea strikes me as a more confrontational "western" style labor-capital conflict (because of its semi-client status?).

Everywhere else I see the same economic development story that either favors company unions (à la China) or union-free export-processing zones.