Commentary on Political Economy

Friday 8 July 2011

Crisis and Systemic Risk - from Rupert Murdoch to Nietzsche

What does it really mean to say that “economic items” such as losses and debts have been “socialized”? What is the “real” meaning of this “Vergesellschaftung”? At first blush, we would say that it means “We are all in the same boat” – that, in other words, it may be acceptable for “individuals” in our society to be rewarded or penalized economically (in terms of “monetary income” that are “claims” on social resources) until such time as a “crisis” arises that poses a “systemic risk” to the entire society, to its “reproduction” in its present form, with its existing social relations – and that at that time all these “externalities” (because bourgeois economists will never accept that “systemic risks” are “internal” to the present system) need to be “internalized” until such time as “the economy” returns to “normal”.
But the medical meaning of “crisis” is precisely this: - it is a point in a patient’s condition when we do not know whether it will survive or die. So this “crisis” poses a mortal threat to the survival of this “system” whose “risks” become more “systemic” by the hour: they extend not merely to the “economic” stricto sensu, but it reaches well beyond to the ecosphere (the very “biological” survival of the planet) and to things such as “information”, as we are witnessing with the Rupert Murdoch and “News of the World” saga.
Let us focus an instant on the last “systemic risk”. Because what we see happening here if the “nemesis” not (as Philip Stephens argues in the FT) of Rupert Murdoch’s “hubris”, but rather of the entire capitalist “system” based on the “competitive” concentration of decision-making power in the hands of a few “tycoons” who use the very ideology of “competition” in order to arrogate for themselves what is the birthright of all of us – namely, our power to know what is happening around us and to make “informed” decisions!
It is here that this ideology of “competition” collapses, falls back onto itself, in a pile of ignominy and disgust – of “indignation” as our beautiful Spanish youngsters remind us – for it is high time we became truly and passionately “indignant” about the stench of putrefaction that the rotting carcass of capitalism leaves all around us.

We have talked of the “Crisis-State” – yes, because the “crisis” does not stop at the economy, the ecosphere, and information – three vital spheres of social reproduction: it goes far deeper to infect the very “mechanism of State” by which we are governed – if it is true indeed that David Cameron’s former media chief was right at the centre of the illegal scheming that emanated from Murdoch’s papers. It is the very “concentration of political power” in a strict pyramidal structure that rises from its Parliamentary base to the Cabinet system, and then to the office of the Prime Minister, on whom “the final exceptional decision” rests – it is this concentration that menaces our very survival nowadays and that we must remove to restore a semblance of democracy to our society.

As Carl Schmitt, the great Nazi-leaning German constitutional philosopher writes, “the Sovereign is he who decides on the exception”. Crises are “exceptional in that they lead us “to the brink”, they test the “system” to its constitutional boundaries where finally “the ultimate decision” – “the exception”! – must be decided upon. And the more this capitalist “system” grows “systemically risky”, the greater is the power concentrated in the hands of a few! Indeed, there is a sense in which the very “systemic” nature of “crisis” is imposed upon us “by” the mechanism of State so as to limit and constrain, mutilate and annul our democratic alternatives and potential. There is a Nietzschean Will to Power behind the pyramidal orchestration of political power from parliamentary institutions through to government ministries and departments and all the way up to “the heads of State” who have power over the “ultima ratio” – the exception, the “suspension” of democratic rights “within” so-called “democracy”! Donoso Cortes called dictatorship “a miracle” because, like all miracles, it “suspends the laws of nature”. And Dante spoke of divine power in these terms: “Vuolsi cosi’, la’ ove si puote” – it is Willed thus there where Power resides”. Will and Power go hand in hand. In Western philosophy we have a “line” of reflection that seeks a “freedom from the will” (call it the Spinoza-Hegel-Marx line), and one that asserts the “Freedom of the Will” in one form or another (call it the Hobbes-Nietzsche-Schumpeter line). We shall look at these by and by, beginning with Nietzsche first.

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