SUNDAY, AUGUST 06, 2006
1.Back in the day… the days when Greenspan was a genius, when Clinton was an empath, feeling pain with benefits; back in the days when markets were efficient, elastic, ever-expanding, almost perfect; back in the days when investment was everything, when profit was every bourgeois’ birthright.. a token of god’s esteem… a foreskin returned… sewn back on to expanded reproduction, god’s covenant with those pious souls practicing the virtue of selfishness… Back in the day, cash was trash.
Back in those days capital tricked itself out in its poser A-list VIP room, Armani, beach wear, wrestlemania, stock-jobber best and vogued its way across a billion integrated-circuit boards, a billion 200mm wafers, a million miles of unused fiber optic cable, broadbanding its way to nowhere, all the time lip-synching to Irene Cara’s “Fame…”
“I’m gonna live fo-ev-ah!” Forever.
2. Meanwhile, a minor “financial crisis” erupted in Asia… a momentary, and mere, wobble in the walk of the super-model capitalism, the cost of doing business in stilettos on uneven payment.
“SOS, “ sang the central bankers of Seoul, Jakarta, Bangkok, Taipei… meaning “Save Our Spreads.” But the financial genius, godlike in his persona as the stammering obscurantist, divine in the practice of extreme equivocation; a man who started every sentence with the religious incantation “On the one hand…,” a man who imagined himself the Kierkegaard of political economy where the words “yes” and “no” were the fear, the trembling, the sickness unto death, a man for whom fiscal policy was a leap-of-faith based exercise, and the empath, now standing not undressed but exposed, so human, so needy of understanding himself, a cheeseburger libertine, a modern Fatty Arbuckle with an air force… these icons of modern decrepit capitalism heard the SOS and thought it was from the song by their favorite girl group, ABBA, which wasn’t even a girl group.
“SOS?” said Greenspan. “Where’s the Waterloo?”
“SOS?” said the libertine empath zipping up and brushing off the crumbs, “Give me the Dancing Queen.”
Only capital can turn bagmen into savants, and sleezebag men into heroes, idols, victims.
Speculation and spectacle are capitalist creation crowned.
3. The wobble, as wobbles will, expanded. What appeared in 1997 as financial crisis, as speculative excess, as currency panic in the “new tiger” economies of Asia was not financial in origin, speculative at core, nor currency driven in sum… at least no more than any of the other panics, runs, crises that form and inform the shabby history of capitalism.
The assaults of the short sellers were the market, and marketing, reflection of the overproduction that had accompanied, determined, the recovery from the 1991-1992 contraction. More precisely, the rate of overproduction had overtaken, as it always does, the increased profits and profitability initiated in the expansion of capitalist production. As always and forever, sooner and later, expanded capital accumulation, production for the appropriation of value through exchange, had undermined the very purpose of expanded capital accumulation.
The overproduction in the “emerging, industrial” Asian economies, overproduction of semiconductors, cement, electronic components was not separate and apart from the underlying overproduction in the established industrial economies of Europe and the United States.
The assaults on the currencies of the Asian economies were, but not just, indexes to the vulnerability of these economies to overproduction within their “national” markets, indexes to their vulnerability to the overproduction of capital in the world markets. The currency assaults were also essential destruction. Capital and capitalists required a pitiless devaluation of the assets, instruments, means, and objects of production.
Capital has no equilibrium. It oscillates. The frequency of its oscillations is a dynamic disequilibrium; a destruction of labor and the means of labor, devaluation, through speculation, hedges, margin calls, death squads, and carpet bombing, is ever present.
Changes in capital are changes in the rates of the competing, composed, contradictory yet identical process of accumulation and devaluation, where the rates of the topsy quicken that of the turvy and the system of reproduction becomes systematic destruction.
4. So…the wobble of the emerging tigers was the stumbling of capitalism as a whole, and the eventual response of the premiere capitalist economy, the US, was in fact to lock down a certain rate and mass of devaluation of capital as an offset to reinflating the overall accumulation of capital. The lockdown, of course, took place mostly offshore. It was, as many things are, outsourced, secured in the contraction of the Asian economies, despite the rebound impact on US farm exports; applied less than lightly to the economies of Brazil and Venezuela; let loose like a plague against the fixed assets, the standards of living, the social welfare of the former Soviet Union.
But the U.S. of thee I sing? Accumulation restored and maintained. The AARG of the GDP (year to year rate of growth) measured at 3.7% in 1996, 4.5% in 1997, 4.2% in 1998, 4.5% in 1999. Real private fixed non-residential investment increased so much so that by 2000 the real amount invested in equipment and software was 60% above the 1996 level. Investment in transportation equipment was 30% above the 1996 level. Changes in the net stock of produced assets increased 27.5%. But…
But corporate profits were not quite capable of recovering in mass or in proportion to the expanded accumulation. In 1997, profits had reached and peaked at $552 billion, declining to $470 billion in 1998, recovering to $517 billion in 1999. And the rate of profit was similarly unable to achieve the ecstacy of 1997 level, declining from 6.26% of net value of the stock of non-residential equipment and software to 5.22% in 1999 … whereupon the empath and the genius almost heard the artist formerly known as the artist formerly known as Prince singing 1999… “2 thousand zero zero, party over oops out of time, so tonight I’m going to party like it’s 1999.” Almost. The libertine had programmed the CD player for continuous replay of “Little Red Corvette.”
Into that quandry of expanding investment and reduced profits, the US bourgeoise brought their trusted battering, bartering, ram, OPEC. Once, twice, third charming time, the US had used oil price changes, up and down, to rearrange, redistribute profits; to devalue the overaccumulated fixed assets. The 1998 collapse of oil prices below $10 per barrel, a collapse triggered by the emerging identity of expanded reproduction and overproduction, where price and value converge, made OPEC’s actions more than inevitable. It made them mandatory.
Cash was trash all right, but OPEC was, is the US’s garbage collector.
5. Two thousand zero, zero, and ONE, the departing Pres greets the arriving Pres. They meet, naturally, in the entrance ramp to the official White House garage. The departing Pres and the first lady on their matching Harley’s, wearing their matching maroon leathers, bouncing the noise of the engine revs off the concrete. The arriving Pres and that first lady show up in their Cadillac, the very same one driven by James Dean in Giant, this time sporting stolen Florida plates.
“Nice ride,” says the outbound Prez.
“Like it?” says the inbound Prez, powering down the window. “Gift from my brother.”
The outbound nods. “Here,” he says, handing over the keys to to the official White House Hummer, code-named ‘The Big Lewinsky’ by the Secret Service. “The tank is half-full.”
“Or half-empty,” says the inbound.•Outbound nods again, throttles down his Harley, listens to the music coming from the Cadillac’s stereo.
“Sam the Sham? Wooly Bully?” he asks.
“Yeah,” says the inbound. “More than music. My role model. Whole way of life in Texas. And as in Texas so too in America. What about you?” asks the inbound. “What’s playing in your headphones?”
“Jr. Walker and the All-Stars. My favorite tune, “Pucker up, Buttercup.”
Inbound nods too.
“Word of advice?” offers outbound.•Inbound puts his finger to his lips and blows..”Ssshh. Don’t ask, don’t tell.”
“Egg-zackly,” says outbound. He and Mrs. Outbound then wheelie out of the garage, heading for the nearest drive-thru window before hitting that big ribbon of concrete called I-95.