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Ruins and stuff

It’s all falling down! Like a lot of radicals over the past 30+ years (or is that 130+ years?), I’ve always harbored this deep certainty that the self-perpetuating madness called the capitalist economy would just someday implode… and suddenly, voila! It is!… There’s a lot of lost wealth, already in the trillions, and if some folks are to be believed, a magnitude greater of financial destruction is still ahead. This Doug Noland piece has some really grim numbers to illustrate how profound the collapse is and will be. This blog a friend pointed me to the other day has been pretty impressive too, “The Automatic Earth.” And John Robb, a regular fave of mine, chimes in with this quick and dirty warning. With all this reading I’ve been doing, I have to say I’m rather surprised that the U.S. dollar has strengthened so markedly against almost all other major currencies (excepting the Japanese yen, and the Chinese Yuan), to the point that some of my hedging is actually a horrible failure now. (I stashed a few thou in a “hard currency” fund account and it’s lost about 20% in a few weeks of crashing world economy… who’d a thunk it?) Anyway, here’s a shot of the ruins of old City Hall in San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake, when it was discovered that the 27 years of building had been entirely corrupt, and the walls had been filled with sand… a rather appropriate visual metaphor for what has been done to the system…

Old City Hall in ruins, San Francisco, 1906.

Old City Hall in ruins, San Francisco, 1906.

My pals at Retort forwarded these two graphs earlier today, both of which do a good job of quickly illuminating the underlying dynamics at play:

The Debt Game, Coercion on a grand scale

The Debt Game, Coercion on a grand scale

Of course we’re not talking about something “going wrong” here. The systematic expansion of a debt cycle is quite analagous to what was done to the 3rd World in the 1970s, and serves to curb any expectations that life can be other than the bleak and scary world imposed on us by capital. Now all the talk, esp. from the likes of Obama, is about saving the system, unclogging the lines of credit, get things moving again, as though that would be good for average people! The bailout was one of the most egregious public thefts on record, taking billions of dollars of ostensibly public wealth and transferring it to a few failed million- and billionaires, so they can pocket the dough on their way out the door, ensuring decades of gated living and endless rounds of golf as they pass their twilight years lamenting the collapse of the game they’ve been playing all this time. No wonder so many people objected! And little surprise that Obama, bought and paid for by Goldman Sachs and their Chicago Boys ilk, has toed the party line (the One Party line that rules the U.S., the Party of Capital, never mind which faction you lean towards)…

I spoke on the radio today, recorded a couple of days ago, with David Suzuki on The Current on CBC radio, and it was interesting because he was seeking a conversation about the real politics of everyday life as opposed to the blather that passes for political in the election campaigns either in the U.S. or Canada. I got a flurry of emails and phone calls afterwards, all very enthusiastic and supportive, which is of course very gratifying. But it is telling because everyone knows the shit is hitting the fan, and few have any hope in the political class to do anything meaningful to alter our conditions (I’m always reminded of the Argentineans who threw out 4 presidents in a few months in 2001 with the universal slogan “Que se vayan todos!” … “Out with all of them!”), and yet finding agency in some course of action is no small problem. I’m attending a gathering tomorrow morning, mostly of Bay Area collectivists from local alternative small businesses, but some folks are coming too who are more of the Nowtopian ilk, those who are engaged in purposeful and useful activities outside of the nexus of monetization. Later, on Oct. 22, and again on Dec. 17, we’re going to be having public Talks at CounterPULSE that will continue the conversation about practical alternatives, ways of addressing our needs and daily lives directly, rather than waiting or expecting the capitalist economy to somehow be a solution, when it is now and has always been the essence of the problem.

I’m pretty clear that the small efforts at local gardening, bike culture, software development, etc., are not “ready for prime time,” not capable of organizing themselves soon into a meaningful alternative to the current organization of daily life. Still, it’s the kernal of a different approach, one based on individual agency and subjectivity, cooperation and mutual aid, solidarity and creativity, activity that gives reign to the full development of each person’s humanity, in fact depends on it! One interesting idea floated by on the many emails I’ve been receiving to begin organizing to force the financial instititutions that “our” government has just bought to cancel our debts! Time for Jubilee 2009! Cancel all credit card debts. Cancel all mortgages and assign homes to those who live in them. We’ll start from there and begin the massive public work it will take to raise everyone to a decent standard of housing. Transfer the wealth of the society from the moribund businesses and institutions that have been looting us all these years to the people.

The other angle to note here during this unfolding, and historically fascinating process, is that there is an important function for capitalism here too. Destruction of fixed capital clears the way for the next round of accumulation. Today’s announcement that Ford and General Motors were on the brink of bankruptcy bolsters this point, as clearly the private automobile’s days are over. The oil companies, owning the government lock, stock and barrel, and having had their most successful president ever (Bush presided over the radical increase in the price of oil and the transfer of untold social wealth into the pockets of his crony friends), might take a bit longer to topple, but if the radical deflation that started this week cannot be abated, perhaps a collapse in the price of oil will bring them down too.

Because it’s time to make a transition. Climate change demands it. Social disintegration demands it. Population overshoot and technological hubris demand it. Nowtopian efforts to make changes in everyday life are crucial starting points, both for what they demonstrate about the possibilities, and for how they begin to reshape people’s imaginations about what might be… But the capitalist cooptation of these initiatives is a likely outcome if we don’t have the political will and vision to grow the realm of decommodification at the expense of and in opposition to capitalist renewal.

I got to say on national Canadian radio that the economy is nothing more than all of us getting up every day and going back to work, reproducing this insanely stupid world. Why not get up and make a world of our own design? One we produce collaboratively, democratically and with our full humanity engaged at each step? Why not? If we rely on markets, investments of money, and wage-labor to organize our lives, we can only lose. If we start exercising our democratic instincts and insist on making conscious choices about what we do, why we do it, how it’s to be organized, how the ecological consequences will be handled in a biologically sound manner, and so on, we can make a world of generalized abundance, less work (ultimately), and a profoundly more enjoyable existence… why shouldn’t we?

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