Bailout Meets Marx

I just watched most of this whole discussion (which you can find on Fora, here) as background for a paper I’m doing on process theology and economics.

If you can get beyond the sincere though smug circle-jerking lefty-ism of the thing, they do raise some interesting points. That might be a little harsh, so let me balance that by saying I have read at least one if not more of the works of all of the panelists. And learned a good deal from all of them.

But there’s a really weird moment in the whole conversation particularly when the insufferably cranky leftist Marxist boomer (yikes, yikes, yikes, yikes to all that) David Harvey [whose book on The History of Neoliberalism I actually liked in some ways] asks Naomi “Why aren’t people more angry?” Angry about the bailout, the cronyism, and all the rest.

And it should have occurred to him or her because it occurred to me (and this isn’t some fantastically brilliant insight on my part just basic common sense), Klein and Harvey just spent minutes bemoaning the fact that everything is about economics and the elites, the powerful (they are classical Marxists both of them after all) and then wonder why people are apathetic? Perhaps it is because if they actually bought into your storyline about the world, the clear implication is that they are powerless to do anything and therefore are actually acting responsibly.

You hear it in Klein saying (rather ludicrously) that Alan Greenspan built the entire (derivative? housing?) market. No acting human subjects (minus the uber-powerful), no humans flawed in economic thinking–the powerful are always so rational in these systems…if not rational then at least completely logical in their self-interest. My (albeit limited) interactions with rich and powerful usually leave me convinced that they are not the brightest bulbs in the universe. [The sample size of my life’s interactions with the aristocracy are probably not a legitimate sample size though to be fair].

But in traditional leftist economic thought it’s still really all about managing people from a top-down engineering model. I can’t help but feel the Harveys and Kleins of the world secretly (or maybe not so secretly) are in some perverse way really drawn to people like Greenspan because that is what they wish they could be doing–controlling the great events from the top-down.

Of the many flaws of Marxism, one that’s always puzzled me is if the world is only essentially the power relationship through economics (class conflict iow), then why support the proletariat? Beyond some vague discussion of human rights, justice, fairness whatever–because how are not those simply another ideological veil to support class power? Stiglitz says the bailout is redistributionism up the scale (true that) but why is that exactly worse than redistribution down a la New Deal and Great Society Left? Again from within the Marxist thought world?

For what it’s worth I tend to favor distribution of property not income (either up or down) which is why I tend to lean towards Hernando de Soto’s work--although in this (as in everything else I’ve seen the man on) he is a one-track pony which becomes very boring, very quickly.

Update I: It’s worth linking again to Jon Chait’s definitive takedown of the excessively Marxist Klein.

Update II: The answer to the why the proletriat is that Marx’s vision is ultimately a secularized form of Jewish eschatology and the prophetic ethics (the cry of the poor) against the abuses of the rich. The classless state is a secularized form of the apocalyptic Biblical vision of the eschaton or the Age to Come in the Rabbinic sources. I actually think that is where the great power of the system lies, but it’s not proved by economic laws or management/power discourse. One could argue that misunderstood as the imposition of by a deux ex machina, the Messianic Age in the religious (as well as certainly in Marx’s formulation) is a basic definition of unfreedom. Of a predetermined destiny and set metaphysic that will be imposed upon beings. There is an alternative reading of the Messianic Age which states that The Messiah will come when the Messiah is no longer necessary. The constant themes from farther left of the romanticization of the rising up of the masses hearkens to this call but is usually bound up in all kinds of problems and typically does not end well.

Shock Doctrine Video

In this earlier Iraq post I referenced Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine.  The video below which warning has some graphic imagery covers the ideas well.  Notice the connection between Abu Ghraib style torture and economic shock therapy.  Alfonso Cuaron of the amazing Children of Men helped make this film.

With the new oil contracts (particularly in Kurdistan) and the Iraqi Oil Ministry run by a man (Sharistari) who is out to break the power of unions and national ownership of the oil, you see her thesis in perfect display.