29 February 2012

From Permanent Austerity to Post-Industry: Thoughts on Nevada's future.

Nevada was barely a state under Fordism, the population of the whole state in 1970 was 496,960, yet the state and in particular Las Vegas became the promised land of Neoliberalism. In Las Vegas work was plentiful and housing was cheap, booms in profits were matched with booms in standards of living, and all this happened with a tiny state presence. Sure Las Vegas was dominated by three industries  gambling, construction, and realty  but no one saw any reason to worry. By 2008 the state population had reached 2,738,733 with 72% of those people living in Las Vegas.

The house of cards collapsed with the rest of the global economy. Tourism declined, heavily leveraged construction projects ground to a halt, housing prices plummeted, workers were laid off, people defaulted on their mortgages, and 15,000 people left the city. Ill try and make a more detailed analysis how this crisis unfolded in a later post but suffice to say, its bad.

24 February 2012

Critical(?) Subjectivities: The Greenhorns Part 1

I want to add a different, if perhaps less rigorous (in so far as it takes up the ephemeral), perspective to the conversation. It seems that one issue that has been recurrent through our conversation is current forms of subjectivity and whether they are or not adequate to an overcoming of capitalism, or to a new, more humane regime of accumulation that could better cultivate the conditions for a positive social (as opposed to dystopian asocial) overcoming. But we’ve been debating this issue without much attention to specific current expressions of subjectivity. To begin to fill this lacuna I offer below a close reading of one social movement. I offer my reading less as a definitive statement than as a critically attuned ethnography. It should also be noted that I did absolutely no traditional “reporting.” All the analysis is derived from promotional materials available on the web. Why talk to someone when you can assume they mean what they say?

The object of study is a group I mentioned in a December comment, the Greenhorns, a young farmers’ activist organization. These are not your mom and dad’s farmers. Emerging out of the Berkeley local food movement and now based in the Hudson Valley (elite locales within the foodie world), these are progressive neophytes plugged into social media, producing something that is as much a cultural project as an agricultural one. They eschew hierarchy in a fashion similar to that of the Occupy Movement, and also like Occupy seek to spread in the imitative fashion of a “meme.” Part information-provider, coalition-builder, and social event-organizer, the Greenhorns clearly express the lifestyle politics we’ve come to expect from neoliberalism. The question is, are they, could they be, something more? For while the triumph of lifestyle politics such as this, which advocates non-industrial agriculture, employment, and food for all could very well lead to more a more humane regime of accumulation, it is less clear, but still worth wondering, if it could also point beyond it.

17 February 2012

The rise and fall of national capital

The threat of a new nationalism (1)
In a previous post, I worried that left populists would prosecute a war against all of neoliberalism’s hegemonic social forms, neglecting the progressive side of neoliberalism and sabotaging the chance for real progress. This may have struck some readers as counterintuitive: those of us pursuing a vision of human equality, solidarity, and true freedom are not used to thinking about neoliberalism as progressive in any way. The rapacity of economic elites freed from all constraints; skyrocketing inequality reshaping work, politics, and culture so that increasingly we are all reconstituted as servants or dependents of the rich; whole populations rendered unsuitable for participation in mainstream life by the economic disintegration of their social ecology; accelerating environmental degradation; intensifying exploitation – these are our associations with neoliberalism.

But neoliberalism is (or was) a social totality: all the dominant forms of the last thirty years were components of neoliberalism as a coherent system. That includes progressive (but not unproblematic) impulses like gender equality, multiculturalism, and skepticism of authority. Because the crisis of neoliberalism has manifested itself primarily in the economic realm, and these forms of consciousness have no clear connection to the economy, they are for the moment secure (what comes after neoliberalism will, however, reshape them – for better or worse). Under much greater immediate threat is one other progressive side of neoliberalism: the erosion of the nation form.

07 February 2012

A Kinder, Gentler, More "Revolution-friendly" Regime of Accumulation?

The object of our efforts is not “inequality” or “the one percent”, but the social totality and the revival of its animating dynamic on a new, more humane basis.” Walker, "Redistribution is not enough" (italics mine)

“Walker's program, though, is precisely to try and shape those new conditions of accumulation, which does require an active politics that seeks to mobilize rather than interiorize the critique of capital. If I recall correctly, when Walker first proposed that the pressing question was not the overcoming of capitalism, but re-establishing it on a more "humane" basis it was on two grounds: 1) it is unclear that the dissolution of capital under current objective and subjective conditions would lead to a more humane society and not our worst dystopian nightmare 2) that capitalism always tends towards crisis and that when "humane capitalism" did reach its crisis point, conditions would be more amenable for a positive overcoming.” AB, comments on the above.

“I think we can all agree (please correct me if I'm wrong) that popular subjectivity is generated by social conditions, and that present-day social conditions make socialism wildly implausible to the overwhelming majority of the world's population.
On that assumption, a Marxian strategy would aim at achieving social conditions that made the overcoming of capital seem a compelling answer to the insoluble problems posed by modern society.” Walker, additional comments on the above.

The above three quotes provide a succinct presentation of what seems like the predominant perspective on this blog. The goal, “try and shape those new conditions of accumulation” on a more "humane" basis” which also creates “social conditions that made(sic) the overcoming of capital seem a compelling answer to the insoluble problems posed by modern society”, has some very loaded presuppositions which I hope to bring out and unpack.

    • The crisis that began in the 1970's can be encapsulated in the concept of Neo-Liberalism as a kind of “regime of accumulation” or maybe better a “regime of the crisis of accumulation previously known as Fordism”.
    • Neo-Liberalism is on its last legs and a new regime of accumulation will automatically come into being, and it will either be more or less humane.
The crisis of valorization that crystallized in the 1970's has not ended. For a new period of valorization to begin we would need to see the destruction of even more capital, including human capital, and a degree of immiseration that would enable new capital, with a higher organic composition and new labor processes, to be implemented on a global scale. There are several strong indicators (and that is all I am referring to these as) that a new cycle of accumulation has not begun.