Friday, March 27, 2015

De Value


1.  Speaking for myself, I've had more than enough of political economy and political economists. Political economy is of a whole, and that whole is capitalism; political economists, in particular radical political economists are those who radically labor to prove that the alternative to capitalism is of course "radical" capitalism.  Here's an experiment:  take all the radical political economists in the world (starting with those clustering in Greece) put them all in one bag; shake bag; turn bag over.  What comes out?  Nothing. There's nothing there.  End of experiment. Political economy is the original zero-sum.

2. Speaking for myself, if I never hear the words "fictitious capital" again,  I'll be positively grateful.  Really.  And if I never hear a political economist uttering the words "fictitious capital" again... well can one person even expect so much good fortune in a single lifetime?  Obviously not, but that's the point, isn't it?  To not hear a radical political economist talking about non-existent capital capital is such good fortune that it could only occur in the end of the lifetime of a class, the bourgeois class.  It takes more than a village to raze radical political economy and it's "go to" explanation, fictitious capital. It takes a revolution.

3. But, and there's always a but, this thing, er.. this relation, called a revolution just doesn't happen overnight, spontaneously, miraculously.  We need to bend the stick in order to break it, and we are supposed to be all about breaking the stick, not making  a better stick, or putting a better stick into  "better hands."  That's what radical political economists think they are doing, making a better stick, and finding better hands.

4. So here's the thing, er.. the relation, and it's not that fictitious capital doesn't exist.  It always exists.   It's part and parcel, inherent to, immanent in capital, in that capital has no life, no existence, separate and apart from the expansion of value; apart from its self-expansion.  Ergo, hence, therefore any interruption or disruption in the accumulation process, in the process of reproduction, of capital makes all capital fictitious, more or less.  The difference is circumstantial, not determining.

5. So... when they, the radical political economists, are talking "fictitious capital," they think they're  talking debt, or credit, same-same. When Marx talks credit, he's talking about relation embedded in, determined by, the different turnover times of different capitals that somehow have to be reconciled, smoothed, averaged in order for exchange to exist period. Period.

6. Turnover times are the production times and the circulation times of the various capitals.  Now as capital accumulates, in particular as greater portions of expanded value are embedded into the fixed assets, the fixed capital of value production, the portion of value transferred from the fixed assets to any individual commodity decreases.  The time necessary for the turnover of the total capital embedded in production increases.

The time for the system as a whole is made up of individual times for the individual capitals which are necessarily asynchronous.  There is no "harmony," "balance," "equilibrium"  in capital.  Accumulation is realized only through an "uneven" distribution of the total surplus produced in dynamic disequilibrium where capitals are of different sizes, different efficiencies, with different ratios.  Credit/debt embody and reproduce this disequilibrium in, and because of, their "bridging" function of advancing money.  Rather than representing a "fictitious" quantity, credit/debit represent the real quality of capital-- production of, by, and for exchange value; production subjugated to aggrandizement of  value.

7. The iterations of credit/debt-- stocks, bonds, notes, syndicated loans, private equity, asset-backed securities, derivatives based on the future performance of stocks, bonds, loans, ABS, etc-- "advance" as the value mass of fixed assets accrues, as capital expands, as profits increase.  The notion that "self-financing" of industry represents some sort of "healthy" or "productive" condition is pretty much nonsense, primitivist nonsense.

8. The radical political economists ascribe an all powerful role and function to "fictitious capital."  When capital is expanding, the expansion is the product of "fictitious capital."  When capital contracts, the contraction is the result of "fictitious capital."  The source for capital's cycle, in fact for its very existence-- the exploitation of wage-labor; the compulsory organization of labor-power as a commodity, as a value for exchange-- is usurped by, and attributed to the volumes of  "fictitious capital."   Actually, "fictitious capital" is the radical political economist equivalent of "supply and demand"-- answers everything, explains nothing.

9. Consider this: the maritime shipping industry, and the ship-building industry, have been dire straits (pardon the pun) since 2008.  Massive sums were invested in the ships and the ship-building, between 2004 and 2008, far more massive sums than can be generated by profits in any single year.  So where does the money come from?  From the profits accrued through all previous years by other capitals that are held/circulated in the capital markets.  And those sums are in turn secured not by the assets, the ships built, delivered, in service, and anticipated to be in service, but by the value of those assets

For the shipbuilding enterprises,  those sums are secured by the values of the shipyards assets, the values of cranes, supplies of steel, aluminum, copper, microprocessors necessary for production...and by the value of the  ships being built on contract.

10. Remember, the basis of capitalist ownership, of private property in production, is that the owner has no use for the commodities produced, but produces and exchanges the  commodities only to accumulate value.  The loans, notes, bonds, the finance capital, are simply, or not so simply, capital's, or rather, capitalists' attempt to do what capitalists wish they could do everywhere and all the time, separate, disentangle, the heavenly value, the exchange value of the commodity, from its earthly, profane form, its material body; it's existence as an object of use.    

11. Continuing: hard times hit.  Now 10 percent of the container fleet gets laid up, stored at anchorage, no longer functioning as container ships, no longer functioning as capital.  Are the notes, loans, bonds, securities previously secured by the values of those ships now fictitious?  Are the notes any more or less fictitious as capital values than container ships no longer operating in the Asia-Europe trade, no longer functioning as capital?  Of course not.

The notes, like the container ships, like the capital values embodied in the container ships will be devalued, certainly.  That devaluation may discount the value represented by  notes, and the value represented by the ships, all the way to zero.  Is capital thereby made fictitious? No, or yes, but only to the extent that all capital in whatever form represents the conflict between use and exchange, between need and value.

12. The container ship, as a commodity, can only function as capital to the degree that it absorbs labor power, and only to the extent that value is expanded can the container ship pass on, in increments, its own value.  The container ship only functions as capital to the extent that it circulates in the processes of exchange.  It transports itself as a value as it transports the value of its lading.  Then the fullest expression of its exchange value is in the consumption, and the extinguishing, of its use value.

The problem is, for the expanded reproduction of capital, is that the exchange value fixed in the container ship a)reduces the rate of that expanded reproduction and b)cannot "outlive" the use value of the ship.

13. But what about...derivatives, credit default swaps?  What about Exxon vs. Enron?  What about say, Warren Buffett vs. Bernie Madoff?  Differences of degree, quantity,  circumstance, not source, quality, or determination.  And certainly not of negation, abolition, overthrow.   Thirteen's the charm.

S. Artesian
March 27, 2015







Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Political Economy of Things

1. Left-Keynesians, Presente!

The bourgeoisie have made a near-science of confusion  They've made a near-art of dressing the confusion in language of profound superficiality.  We know when they're doing it, and they do it all the time.


The near-science,of course, is political economy, or as it is more profoundly anointed, "economic theory."  The near-art, of course, is spin. 

We have "political economists," or more profoundly superficial "economic theorists" spinning ever onward to utopian capitalism where social needs are met by private initiative primarily or public intervention reluctantly,   and public/private partnerships if there's enough money in it for that hero of the bourgeois age, the entrepreneur; where profits continue to grow; the business cycle becomes an event only dimly recalled by the very old; and the assignment, parceling, distribution, of social labor time according to the dictates of value production goes on forever because it's the natural order of...things.

We have economic theorists who prove everything is a question of balance; that all failures are the results of policies improperly balanced; that all success depends on restoring proper balance.  

We have economic theorists spinning hasta la victoria siempre the tale where taxes are paid on time, with the assistance of tourists using their cellphones as body-cams; where budgets are balanced, more or less, by demanding war reparations so the reparations can be used by the country receiving them to meet its obligations on its sovereign debt which is held by the country making the reparations.  Adam Smith shake hands with Mr. last name "Monty."  First and middle?  "Three" and "Card."

We have political economists, excuse me, economic theorists, mashing up the US "New Deal" of the 1930s with the "Marshall Plan" of post WW2, ignoring that the New Deal was a failure except in its fundamental objective which was not economic, but social--namely the tethering of the working class to the destructive force of capitalism, and that the Marshall Plan was the offshoot of that destruction.

Meanwhile of course, we have the same political economist(s) urging the country from whom reparations are being demanded to undertake such a New Marshall Deal Plan as a holy crusade.
 
We have other economic theorists telling us how important Keynes is for Marxists political economists, excuse me,  Marxist economic theorists when it comes to matters of policy, which, not being a economic theorist, I take to mean matters of fiscal policy, matters of monetary policy, matters of industrial policy, matters of defense policy, matters of labor policy, when the vanguard of political economists, our Keynesevik-academics, our heroic professors, take power and administer the bourgeoisie's "economy" on behalf of the bourgeoisie.


2. Counterrevolution within the counterrevolution

C'est vrai.  Marx's work is not a work of economic theory.  Marx's work does not provide a guide to effective monetary, fiscal, industrial, defense policies when administering the capitalist economy on behalf and in the interests of the bourgeoisie. Capital is a critique of the capitalist organization of production which demonstrates that "economics" as such does not exist.  Economics pretends to be about the production of things; Marx shows that capitalism is all about the reproduction of relations, of the condition of labor

Accumulation of the means of production is accumulation of the means of production as capital, as value maintaining only to the extent that they are value expanding.  Value can be expanded only by "revisiting" its source in the condition of labor itself.

Marx has no interest in designing or divining policies for the administration of "the economy."  The economy does not exist apart from the class relations the compel labor power to be presented for exchange.  The subject of his life's work is the social mediation of the labor process.  His critique of capital determines that capital is a specific, historical, limited mediation.  This specific mediation creates barriers not only to the satisfaction of human needs, but through the  previous successful accumulation of capital, to the continued successful accumulation of capital.

The development of the determination of capital, labor power as value producing, is the development of the negation to capital-- the terms and prospects for its abolition, and not its administration. 


So Capital isn't really concerned with maximizing tax revenues, or stabilizing the inherently unstable relations of exchange among countries.  Capital is not a field guide to selective nationalization of industries,  seizure of "commanding heights," "peoples' banks and banking," "economic growth"-- in that no such growth exists outside the reproduction of a specific condition of labor.

Nor is Marx's work intended to guide "economic theorists" as they consider currency devaluations, arms purchases, or appropriate tactics in trade and other wars.

The point to Marx's work is quite to the contrary: namely, that whatever the policies adapted and adopted may appear to be, intend to accomplish, the policies are merely expressions, more or less imprecise, of capital's need to reproduce the condition of labor as a commodity, as value producing, as wage-labor. 

"Economic theory" is exposed as, and by, class struggle.  The conflict among capitalists, between capitalists, is the business of capitalists and their professional attendants. The overthrow, abolition, replacement of capital is the work of the class which embodies that determinate negation.

"Economics" gives way, in every sense, to history, to historical materialism.

If  you're looking for an investment strategy; if you want to assess the prospects for maintaining a common currency, or  for entering a trade association; if you want to take a position in the markets; if you want to know if you should go long or short on copper, pork bellies, emerging market debt...well all of that presupposes the reproduction of capital.  Political economy, left or right, left and right, recognizes no alternative to capitalism. 

If you're looking for the means to counter the programs and tactics of the bourgeoisie, then those means are found in the "end," in a program for the overthrow capitalism.  The strategies, tactics, actions that are deployed are practical, concrete, realistic  to the degree that they are transitions to the realization of the program, and drive the program to a greater universality-- an elaboration beyond national boundaries that can confront and defeat that "universalizing" impulse of capital itself.

So maybe Marx can't tell the Council of Peoples Commissars of Political Economy  how to collect taxes to pay the troika, but it can tell the Greek workers to repudiate the debt.  That's more than a technical distinction.

3.  And Vice Versa

Greece became the 12th member of the euro zone in 2001. In the years prior to adopting the euro, Greece's annual GDP growth was greater than the euro zone average; its GDP per capita, however, was 30 percent below the zone average.

Throughout the period prior to adopting the euro, when GDP growth rates exceeded that of the currency union as a whole, the Greece's sovereign debt always exceeded 100 percent of the GDP.

In 2001, capitalism in Greece was distinguished by the high ratio of value added in production by the agricultural sector, at 8.9 percent more than triple the rate for euro zone countries as a whole; by the disproportionately elevated role of household consumption in the economy, about 30 percent greater than the zone average, with that consumption concentrated in foodstuffs; a manufacturing sector considerably smaller in relation to GDP than that of the zone; an "under-weighted" (compared to the zone average) financial sector; and an "over-weighted" transport, trade, and communications sector (which includes tourism) accounting for 28.3 percent of the value added in the economy. 

In short, Greece's capitalism was relatively less "developed" than the other euro zone countries.  Ireland and Portugal showed some similarities to Greece in the structure of its economic output, but in both countries, the industrial sector was more significant than in Greece. 


Adoption of the common currency was intended to boost Greek capitalism's "strengths" in transport, trade, and tourism; to enhance the real estate sector, and to boost the financial sector.  That was the "economic" intent.

Developing industry, manufacturing in Greece was never the intent of the Greek bourgeoisie, nor the intent of their EU partners. From 2002 through 2008, the average annual growth rate of the value added by  manufacturing measures less than one-third of one percent.  For industry as a whole, including construction, utilities, and mining, the average annual growth in value added was about 1.5 percent.

The "political intent" of joining the currency union, couched as always in the language of competitiveness, "free markets," rationalization, productivity, etc. etc. etc. was as always to lower the wage floor, reduce pension obligations, eliminate, if possible, subsidies and support for medical care.

That is what makes up the political economy of the common currency and the European Union.   That is the political economy that Syriza insists on preserving.


In order to "qualify" for euro "membership," the Greek government had to demonstrate "fiscal responsibility" and the ability to reduce its deficits.  The Greek government did exactly that, in the time-honored tradition of the bourgeoisie everywhere and all the time.  The government cooked its books.

No big deal, capitalism wouldn't be capitalism without cooking the books.  Everybody cooks their books-- it gives the real meaning to "double entry" bookkeeping, CFOs are supposed to be iron-chefs of book cooking, and if they're not, they're gone.

So Greek governments lied about the operating deficits.  Everyone knew they lied.   Back in 2004, the European Statistical Agency (Eurostat) issued its report, revising the figures for the government deficits as a percentage in GDP.  For 1997, the government's operating deficit was revised up from 4 percent of GDP to 6.6 percent.  For 1998, the figure was revised to 4.3 percent from 2.5 percent, and for 1996, the revision was to 3.4 percent of GDP from 1.8 percent.

A significant element in the original figures was the under reporting of expenditures for military equipment.

Still, Greece's future was evaluated by those paid to do such evaluations, political economists, as rosy, sunny, positive-- with concerns for the future of course, hedging being the perfect expression of political economy.  Said the OECD's Economic Surveys: Greece 2005: 
In terms of real GDP growth, the Greek economy has performed well in recent years and has weathered the international slowdown in activity better than most OECD countries. 
But, there's always a but:
However...this has been achieved at the cost of a sharply widening fiscal deficit and rising public indebtedness.  Hence a major challenge of economic policy will be to rein in government deficits to meet European obligations and to prepare for the spending pressures that will start emerging after 2015 [!] arising from an ageing population and an actuarially unsound and unreformed public pension system.  The growing cost of the public health system...
Get the picture? Among the other recommendations, the OECD recommended:
(i)mobilising the existing large reserves of labour inputs through comprehensive labour market reforms...
Translation:  lower the wage floor by eliminating minimum wage requirements, permitting greater use of "temporary workers."
(ii)keeping productivity growth at a high level over a long period... through the removal of...government control in the economic process and the establishment of a competition culture in product markets
Translation: remove job protections, work safety rules, and environmental restrictions.

These elements, of course, have always been the back story to the glorious dream of an European Union, and the adoption of the common currency.

In its 2007 Economic Survey, the OECD wrote:
Over the past decade, Greece has progressed rapidly in closing the income gap with the best performing economies, particularly once the recent 26% upward revision to the level of GDP is taken into account.  This data revision is largely the result of improved measurement of the fast-growing services sector, while, contrary to many press headlines, the contribution from illegal activities was less than 1% of GDP.  A full assessment of growth performance is difficult..., but it is likely that growth in GDP per capita over the past decade has exceeded 4.5 per cent per annum, which would rank Greece second highest (after Ireland) in the OECD.
But, and there's always a but:
While the short-run prospects remain good, sustaining robust growth over the longer term will necessitate further market reforms..
 --removing the financial disincentives to work at older ages which are inherent in the pension system while constraining the possibilities for early retirement.
--reducing the minimum cost of labour by introducing the sub-minimum wage for you people and lowering the social security contributions for the low-paid.
--reforming employment protection legislation.  In particular re-balancing employment protection across different occupations.
--reducing barriers to entry and promoting competition in network industries. 
Sounds familiar, doesn't it?  Still, in its 2009 survey OECD was optimistic in its assessment:
Greece has initially held up better during the global economic crisis than many other OECD countries.  It is unlikely, however, to avoid a recession as confidence, tourism and shipping receipts have all fallen substantially.  The financial sector may face pressures from a contracting real estate sector and its exposure to the emerging economies of south-eastern Europe.  The authorities have responded with fiscal measures and a plan to assist the financial sector.  However, their room for policy manoeuvre is tightly restricted by the high public debt, repeated fiscal slippages and the large external and internal imbalances, which have been reflected in high sovereign interest-rate spreads since the end of 2008 as risk aversion rose.
Short version:  the trade, transport, communications, and tourism sector, which is overweighted in the Greek economy just had the snot knocked out of it.  Real estate construction, which accounted for the high level of fixed capital formation is contracting.  But things could be worse.... and will be.

The European Union to which Syriza swears its allegiance is not a "European Union" no more than NAFTA is "North America."   Both are mechanisms for increasing the exploitation of labor.  There is no more reason to participate in an union of the European bourgeoisie than there is to participate in a government with a national bourgeoisie.

4.  Deja vu all over again; it's the song, not the singer; come here often?

From The New York Times, September 30, 1981:
Public opinion polls suggest that Greece will turn left in the general elections of Oct. 18 and install the Socialist leader Andreas Papandreou in power.
Mr. Papandreou a former professor of economics at the University of California at Berkeley predicts victory this time with more than 50 percent of the vote and promises "reforms which the country has not experienced since Greek independence in 1821."
He continues to say that it is "preposterous" for Greece to belong to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization...
But sources close to him maintain that Mr. Papandreou has decided, if elected, not to move quickly to pull Greece out of NATO or close down the four American bases in the country.  They say that he is wary of possible displeasure in the military...and that he realizes there is no easy alternative source of arms supplies. 
They also say he has abandoned earlier plans to seek the outright withdrawal of Greece from the European Economic Community and has decided to move instead for a renegotiated special relationship or a referendum on Greek membership. 
From The New York Times, October 11, 1981:
On the balcony however, Mr. Papandreou, a seasoned crowd pleaser, skips over such subjects and instead concentrates on excoriating NATO, the American bases in Greece, and his country's entry into the Common Market 10 months ago.  His audiences assume that Mr. Papandreou means to disengage Greece from these involvements but when closely question, he is circumspect.
From The New York Times, November 22, 1981:
Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou will present his Socialist Government's program to Parliament on Sunday in a speech that could clarify Greece's position on key foreign policy issues such as a possible withdrawal from NATO and the European Common Market...
"Tomorrow's  policy speech will prove that Pasok is not abandoning any of its declared positions in the economy, foreign policy sectors," the official government spokesman, Dimitrious Maroudas, said today in a briefing for the Greek press.
From The New York Times, December 14, 1981:
Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou announced a series of economic measures tonight that he said would help ease the financial burden of lower income groups in Greece and revive the country's flagging economy.
At the same time, he announce prices increases for gasoline, heating oil, water, and telephone rates. 
From The New York Times, March 7, 1982:
Greece's Socialist Government, which swept into power last October with a program for socialization and neutralism, has preferred pragmatic economic recovery measures to striking out on revolutionary paths.
There is no more talk here of ambitious nationalization plans or walking out of the European Economic Community.  Instead, the Government is working on a favorable investment law, aid to ailing enterprises, support for farm cooperatives, decentralization and demands for better treatment from Common Market Partners.
Responding to...opposition comments, an official said the Socialists had noted before gaining power that the economy was in bad shape.  He said, however, that they "didn't know how bad things were."  He cited  "tax evasion, capital outflow, commissions" as the key problems.
Government sources also cited a dip in shipping revenues, saying it was caused primarily by a worldwide shipping crisis.

What was it Jimmy Ruffin sang?  No, not "What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted?" but "I've Passed This Way Before."

S.Artesian
March 17, 2015








Saturday, March 14, 2015

Query

Help needed: Conducting research for book, working title A Government of the Political Economists, by the Political Economists, and for the Political Economists  

Is there any individual who is a member of the Syriza Central Committee and not at some time in the past or currently, a professor of political economy?

Please contact me by email at sartesian@earthlink.net

March 14, 2015

Thursday, March 05, 2015

The Shorty Long of It

1.  The Short

--Submit the "reform package" agreed to by Syriza government to the parliament for a vote
--No to the "reform package" agreed to by the Syriza ministers
--No confidence in the Syriza government
--Repudiate the debt, the MFFA, and the reforms in their entirety.

2. The Long

Somewhere along the curve of the universe that is this space-time continuum, Alexander Pope runs into Hungry Joe, King of the Bunco men.  The result of that heroic couplet is a grade A, class 1 mash up of cosmic proportions that goes like this:  Hope springs eternal in the human breast because there's a sucker born every minute. 

No sooner does the Syriza government reverse its "policy" regarding the extension of and compliance with the 2012 agreement and its so-called reforms, than our eternalists take hope from the very bleakness of the situation.  Syriza has "bought time."  To do what, exactly?

The victory/defeat won by the government has a "due by" date of four months.  At the end of four months....

At the end of four months, the final tranche(s) of the bailout money is, or is not, released to the government, and the money, except for €8.2 billion held by the IMF for distribution through 2015-2016 is... gone.  Vanished, disappeared, gone.   The "reforms" however, like the debt, are supposed to last forever, and at €317 billion, the debt is pretty certain to last forever-- or  until it is abolished.

So the eternalists, despite all noises made to the contrary, despite the "emphatic statements" of Prime Minister Tsirpas  are, more or less, committed to yet another bailout, because, much more than less, none of the "reforms" will generate sufficient cash flow to sustain the government. Without the guarantee of the guarantors-- the ECB, the IMF, and the European Commission-- the international credit markets, having been compelled to submit to one Greek haircut earlier, aren't about to Sweeney Todd themselves one more time. At least not without charging an interest rate that factors in the price of the haircut and thus consumes more of the meager cash flowing to the government.

Now the "reform package" that is supposed to revive the cash flows and make Greece's sovereign debt instruments marketable requires devaluation, deflation, liquidation of government assets and government obligations.  This liquidation is in direct contradiction with the generation of taxable revenues for the government. 

Much has been made in the press, by the Eurogroup, the IMF, and the Syriza ministers about tax evaders but the fact is that much of the lost tax revenue is lost from people who are too poor, not too rich, to pay taxes.  Nothing in the reform package remedies the raging poverty in Greece.

More revenue is lost as those companies providing basic services on a contract basis to the government  have not been paid, and can no longer provide the service (in particular in the health care sector).  


There is no solution to the predicament of Greece based on the reforms, the current bailout, or future bailouts that preserve the debt.  Yanis Varoufakis, when questioned about a scheduled debt repayment due the IMF at the end of this month said he was prepared to "squeeze blood from a stone" to meet that obligation.  The problem is of course that stones can't bleed; and human beings aren't rocks. 

3. Function: Hungry Joe meets the Alexander Papists

Some take heart from the apparent dissent of Syria's left wing, "The Left Platform," from the reform package.  The depth of the dissent is supposedly great enough that 40% of the Syriza representatives in parliament oppose the reform package. An "amendment" (amending what?) expressing that dissent states:
In the immediate future, SYRIZA, despite the agreements of the Eurogroup should take the initiative of implementing steadily and as a matter of priority its commitments and the content of its programmatic governmental statement.
To go down that road, we have to rely on workers' and popular struggles, to contribute to their revitalization, and to the continuous expansion of popular support in order to resist any form of blackmail and promote the perspective of an alternative plan promoting the full realization of our radical objections.
The main conclusion of the latest developments is the necessity, which is of decisive importance for the course we will follow, that decisions should be taken following a discussion in the leading party instances, which have, jointly with the party and the party branches as a whole, to upgrade their function and play a leading role in the new progressive course of our country.  
Of course, the fact that the "Left Platform" wants these discussions to be confined to the party organization; that these discussions are not conducted "outside" the party structure, in public, and on the floor of the parliament, means that this bloc regards the "workers' and popular struggles" as an adjunct to Syriza, as a "pressure group" rather than the means and ends for a class that must organize itself to take power.

4.  Junction

The inflection point, the moment of transition, for the class struggle in Greece is the emergence of working class organs of dual power.

The strategy for advancing to that transition point is to deprive the institutions of bourgeois power; the parties; the ministers; the parliament of the support of the workers.

The tactic critical to that strategy is to demand the presentation of the package to the parliament for approval/rejection.

--Submit the "reform package" agreed to by Syriza government to the parliament for a vote
--No to the "reform package" agreed to by the Syriza ministers
--No confidence in the Syriza government
--Repudiate the debt, the MFFA, and the reforms in their entirety.

March 5, 2015



Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Cat in the Box: Quantum Social Democracy and the Uncertainty Principle

Richard Seymour, VIB, wrote on SIP Louis Proyect's chat-list:



No formal count was taken at this meeting, but according to Stathis Kouvelakis, 30 MPs were out of the room when the vote was taken and 40 abstained or voted against.  If this is right, then a third of those present voted against.  He recounts that most speakers - some 80 MPs - criticised the deal, in an emotional and turbulent meeting that went on for 12 hours.

Tsipras would be smart not to bring this to a parliamentary vote.  The centrist opposition want it to be voted on because they want to split Syriza and pass the deal.  The KKE want it to be voted on because they want to split Syriza and take their place as the dominant left party.

It was shrewd and characteristic of Tsipras’s leadership style to take an informal vote on this.  Because he could have just forced it through and gone ahead with a parliamentary vote without listening to anyone, which would possibly have split Syriza in a big way.  But the scale of dissent, the difficulties it creates for the agreement, and the clear rejection of the ‘famous victory’ line that Tsipras peddled, has saved Syriza’s honour.  The Left Platform have been shown to be wholly correct in their approach, while the cheerleaders and the told-you-so sectarians now look a bit silly.

I am not one to ever say "I told you so," and as I have demonstrated earlier, I'm not nearly important enough to be an irrelevant sectarian.  But since I specifically and repeatedly advocate forcing a vote of confidence in the Syriza government on the floor of the parliament, I wonder if I'm now one the "silly lookers"?

I'm not sure, and not being sure means being uncertain, and being uncertain calls to mind Werner Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, and that evokes quantum mechanics, playing dice with the universe, thought experiments and whether the cat in the box is dead or alive.

I have to wonder what's "wholly correct" about the approach of the "The Left Platform" if it provides an indication to Tsirpas that he should by-pass parliament and simply impose the reform package, because that "would possibly have split Syriza in a big way"?  Unless it is to keep Syriza in power.

Well, we have the answer now to the earlier question about a vote of confidence.  Seymour is definitely voting his confidence in the Syriza government by rejecting a vote of confidence.  The cat in the box may be dead, but Seymour doesn't want anyone to open the box and find out.

So I propose a thought experiment for our supporters of Syriza, supporters of the Syriza "Left Platform," supporters of a government of, by, and for Syriza:  It goes like this:

Supposed the relative strengths in the Syriza-ANEL coalition were reversed; suppose Syriza was the junior partner and ANEL was the senior partner.  Suppose ANEL had "co-opted" Syriza into its government.  Suppose Syriza had agreed to the coalition and a ministry based on the shared opposition to the 2012 MFFA and the reforms associated with it. With Syriza, ANELforms a government based on maintaining the combined parliamentary majority.

Now suppose ANEL, the major partner, did what Syriza has just done: reverse its opposition to an extension of the bailout; agree to maintaining the conditions of the MFFA; submitting the same package of reforms to the Eurogroup.

What would the response be of our quantum social-democrats, our VIBs, our SIPs, our quasi-Marxists?  Would anyone on the left argue that the government's actions actually represent a "victory" for Greece?  That the ANEL government had won the all-important concession of time for Greece?

Would our never-close-to-being Marxists excuse, or rationalize, the ANEL actions with "the bosses are too strong?"

Would anyone on the "left"-- would any one member or supporter of "The Left Platform" argue that Syriza should stay in the coalition and not expose the ANEL-Syriza government to a vote of "no-confidence"?

Would anyone suggest that it was important of ANEL to conduct a "straw poll" and based on the reluctance of some parliament members, by-pass bringing the package to a vote in the parliament in order to keep the government in power?

Would anyone suggest that a "straw-poll" meaning less than nothing was an act of valor, saving the "honor" of the government?

Well, end of thought experiment.

So what's the difference between the hypothetical ANEL-Syriza government doing what the actual Syriza-ANEL government has already done?  Syriza includes socialists?  Syriza is more secular?  If socialism or secularism are the determining characteristics of Syriza, then those determining characteristics should preclude an alliance with ANEL in any way shape or form.

Clearly, socialism and secularism are not those critical components. It is, and is solely, Syriza's supposed opposition to the MFFA and the so-called reforms. 

Which brings us to the interesting possibility, where the cat in the box is half dead and half alive-- where, while the "Left Platform" may falter in fear before the prospect of splitting Syriza, ANEL will not, and ANEL holds the balance of power; ANEL can force a vote of confidence.

I don't know if ANEL is venal enough to be bought off by Tsirpas in order to avoid ANEL's defection, but if ANEL does decide to walk, all the "honor-saving" by the "Left Platform" stands exposed as the meaningless action we know it to be.  ANEL gets to claim that it alone represents the aspirations of the Greek people for the end of the bailout and to the package of "reforms."

And if ANEL doesn't walk, and as the dissent within Syriza threatens to burst the boundaries of straw polls, ANEL's importance to Tsirpas increases, and the "new type of socialist mass non-vanguard democratic popular party" becomes more and more dependent on a right-wing, nationalist, racist party of the old type.

The "Left Platform," and its supporters, with their limited valor, have put themselves and the cat, not in the box, but in the trick bag.  And there's no getting out without destroying the bag.  That much is certain. The cat's dead.  The cat's alive.  It doesn't matter.

February 28, 2015





Friday, February 27, 2015

Yani and the Hand Jive

I know a cat named Doctor Yani...
He's got a real cool job, jivin' for money
He knows just what makes the eurozone tick
He does that hand jive just for kicks

On Tuesday, February 24, 2015,  the Syriza government of Greece presented its "first comprehensive list of reform measures" to the president of the Eurogroup.  The Eurogroup is what  the committee made up of the finance ministers of countries using the euro as currency is called when it actually meets.

Section III of the list of reforms is identified as "policies to promote growth," and number one, with bullets, among those policies is:
Privatisation and public asset management-- To attract investment in key sectors and use the state's assets efficiently, the Greek authorities will:
--Commit not to roll back privatisations that have been completed.  Where the tender process has been launched the government will respect the process according to the law.
On Wednesday, February 25, 205 the Telegraph reported that George Stathakis, holding the economy portfolio in the Syriza government, had declared:
We will cancel the privatisation of the Piraeus Port.  It will remain permanently under state majority holding.  There is no good reason to turn it into a private monopoly, as we made clear from the first day.
The deal for the sale of the Greek airports will have to be dramatically revised. It all goes to one company .  There is no way it will get through the Greek Parliament.
Stathakis was joined in his opposition by the energy minister, Panagiotis Lafazanis, who stated:
 There will be no energy privatizations.
Always ready with the snappy retort, Germany's finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble responded:
Greece will not get a single penny until it complies with its obligations

This is the second time the story's been floated regarding cancelling the privatization program of state assets.  Now confusion, disorder, and disagreement among government ministers isn't exactly unexpected in a new government of a party that is an amalgam of centrists and leftists. And the amalgam itself is bound to fracture, or collapse, under the crush of events.

That fracturing has already begun.  However the back story of the official "commitment" to privatization and to its opposition is that the program itself has been, is, and will continue to be an abject failure.  Originally proposed to generate some €50 billion in revenue by the end of 2015, as of 2014 the program reported less than €8 billion in sales, with revenues of less than €5 billion.  
It's not just the fact that the program has failed, but the fact that the program cannot succeed.  The program cannot generate revenues sufficient for Greece to pay off its debt, no matter how "efficiently" it is run; regardless of the properties that are offered for sale. 

The program is a liquidation sale of encumbered properties, the value of which is directly proportional to the stability of the economy circumscribing the properties.  The sales themselves tend to destabilize that environment and thus we have another iteration of the "death spiral" of overproduction, where depressing value depresses value. 

Before and upon assuming government, Syriza explicitly recognized that none of the "reforms" required by the Troika could or would allow Greece to repay the debt.  Liquidation sales are never designed to repay the face value of the debt.   Prior to taking power, Syriza correctly identified the Greek economy as insolvent with the privatization program being a liquidation process of bankruptcy, rather than a debt repayment process. 

The point of the privatization process was, and is, liquidating the accumulated social value of the ports, the properties, the infrastructure networks, in order to drive the cost of labor below its value, below its "price" of reproduction.

Wolfie told Yani you'll ruin my zone
You and the hand jive have got to go
Yani told Wolfie 'Don't be so sour'
I'll deliver the whole country in 24 hours
 
Nothing in the package of reforms imposed under the 2012 agreement will permit Greece to repay its debt obligations.  Nothing in the package of reforms submitted by the Syriza government will provide Greece with enough revenues to repay its accumulated debt.  That is part of the reason Varoufakis didn't provide any numbers to accompany the so-called reforms.  The debt simply cannot be supported.   

Consequently the only realistic, practical "economic" program is at one and the same time the only rational radical social program.  Both begin with repudiating the debt in its entirety.  Both necessarily involve scrapping the MFFA of 2012 completely.  Both require bringing Syriza's "reform package" to the floor of the parliament for a vote of confidence.  

The forcing of a vote of confidence is not designed to ensure a change of ministers, substituting Stathakis and Lafazanis for Tsirpas and Varoufakis.  Nor is it about ensuring a change of parties. The issue is not that Syriza has "betrayed the revolution," or "betrayed the workers."  Syriza never represented a "revolution" nor the workers.  Syriza reversed its political message upon achieving power, as the conditions in Greece are indeed revolutionary and Syriza is indeed not.

The vote of no confidence in the Syriza government is essential for changing the locus of power from the institutions of the bourgeoisie, like parliament and the ministers,  and towards the mobilization of neighborhood, factory, and social assemblies as platforms for the advance of a class-wide program. 

Yani sent a package to the city of Brussels
Intending  to flex his virtual muscles
"It's a virtual economy," he said with glee
"Pretend and extend" is our curren-cy 

Some where there has to be some thing both more hilarious and more pathetic than the twists and turns of our VIBs, our SIPs, our counter punchers, our tomb raiders, repentant film reviewers as they try to spin Syriza's pig ear into a silk purse.  We get told "Sometime the bosses are too strong." We're told how sometimes even real revolutionists have to make bad deals.  Then we're told, sometimes by others, sometimes by the same "Well, it's not a defeat after all.  Hell, it's a victory."  Then we're told "Varoufakis is a fucking genius."  

Even others tell us, after acknowledging that indeed Syriza did capitulate, that "honor" has been rescued by 30 or 40 Syriza members of parliament, who in an informal caucus either voted "no"  or abstained during a "straw poll" regarding the reform package.  This, you see, tells Tsirpas that submitting the package for parliamentary approval will very clearly become a no-confidence vote for his government.  Therefore, Tsirpas will simply impose the agreements with the Troika, without submitting them to parliament, while the "Syriza left" has saved Syriza's "honor," and the honor of all the left by abstaining or voting no in a meaningless straw poll.  

Shows just how little honor there really is among these thieves.  And shows you how meaningless is the support offered by these New Blairites for "democracy" for "elections"  for "parliament."  Now  maneuvering to prevent new elections, to by-pass parliament is the new democracy.  

If intelligence and integrity were dynamite, our VIBs, SIPs, counter punchers, tomb-raiders, znet pundits, our New Blairites wouldn't have enough, collectively, to blow their noses.  

And that ain't no jive. 

February 27, 2015




 




Tuesday, February 24, 2015

24 hours late, and € 240 billion short

1. A day late and more than a dollar short, Yanis Varoufakis submitted a "program" of reforms to the Eurozone finance ministers (Eurogroup) regarding the Greek government's development and implementation of tax policies, public finance management, revenue administration, public spending, social security reform, public administration and corruption, instalment schemes, labor market reforms, product market reforms, better business environment, judicial system reforms, banking and non-performing loans, privatisation and public asset management, statistics, and last and certainly least,  the humanitarian crisis where Yanis sums it up perfectly, puts a cherry on it, wraps it with a bow, seals it with a kiss--
The Greek government affirms its plan to:  Ensure that its fight against the humanitarian crisis has no negative fiscal effect.
Upon reading that, Wolfgang Schäuble, a tear in his eye,  sent a telegram to one Dieter Kaufmann stating:  Je suis Charlie. Tout est pardonné!

2. The submission of the "reform" package was a clever bit of stagecraft in that it gave the appearance that the Syriza government was negotiating on behalf of Greece as an equal among equals; partners among partners; as if in fact there is or was any substance to the negotiation process itself. 
 

Syriza had already affirmed that Greece was not an equal among equals; that there were no "partners" only the debtor and the debt holders; that "negotiations" were but a charade.  The government had assumed power demanding an end to the conditions of the 2012 Master Financial Assistance Facility Agreement.  The finance minister had "killed" the Troika of the ECB, the Eurogroup, and the IMF overseeing the disbursements and assistance to Greece.  And then...

And then, when faced indeed with the end to the MFFA; when faced with no further extension and no further disbursements, the Syriza government "flipped":
The Greek authorities reiterate their unequivocal commitment to honour their financial obligations to all their creditors fully and timely.
The "reforms" submitted by Syriza are simply "pretend measures," as in "I'll pretend I'm saying something, and you pretend you're listening." 

What counts is who controls the cash flow; and there's no pretending there. 

That the very act of submitting such a document "pretending" to so many reforms in so many areas to an external agency answers all the questions anyone might have about "partners," "equals," "sovereignty;" that the existence of the document and the process prove what the parties  hope to obscure--namely that fools and cynics are no less essential to capital accumulation than fear and greed--didn't stop Yanis from submitting the document with a straight-face.  And the Eurogroup from accepting it, equally straight-faced.

Wolfgang, however, in the privacy of his office, howled with laughter.  "More rabbits!" he said.  "I want more rabbits!"

3.  The document itself is supposed to be the basis for a review to be concluded within the next four months regarding Greece's worthiness to receive further disbursements from the Troika.  If drafting this comprehensively vague document caused the Syriza to run a day late, the actual development and execution of the so-called reforms will take much more than four months if in fact they are ever developed anywhere other than on Varoufakis Macbook.

But that's the point.  The so-called reforms and plans aren't reforms and plans.  They are "white noise" to cover the continued subjugation of the population to servicing the debt. 

The Greek government "promises...."  The Greek government will "modify...."  The Greek government will "modernize..." The Greek government will "devise and implement..." The Greek government will "enhance...," "strengthen...," "staff...," "augment..." "augment and review...," "identify...," "control...," "phase out...," "establish...,"  "turn the fight...into a national piority...," "target, tackle, reduce, activate, rationalize, promote, improve, calibrate, step-up, utilize, collaborate, commit not to roll back privatizations that have been completed, safeguard, review, adopt, achieve, expand, phase in (to balance the phase out), remove, pursue, honour, guarantee, address, evaluate..."

Nowhere in the document is there any analysis of how much the strengthening, enhancing, staffing, reviewing, etc. will cost nor how much benefit it will provide.  Not a single projection, not a single estimate, not a single number. 

Nowhere does the document specify when and how it will accomplish a single one of its promise, intentions, programs.  

The point of the document, at least as Syriza would like to imagine it and sell it to those interested in buying, and eating, an air sandwich, is to provide a basis for the government to a)prove its compliance with the obligations agreed to in the various MoUs and facility agreements that direct the disbursement of funds b)request some sort as yet undefined, and unclear, mitigation in the obligations Greece is attempting to prove it has satisfied, and can satisfy.  

That is the inherent, and irresolvable conflict in the document submittal and review process, and that is why the language being used is so fundamentally imprecise, irresolute-- and traffics in ignorance. 

The language that is used in this document is exactly the language used by corporations when they want to market their gutting of pension plans, health care benefits, work rules, wages, as "improving efficiencies," "eliminating waste"  "maximizing choice." 

Here's the "thing"-- and the bottom line, the only bottom line to be found in this ridiculous submission by a huckster government:  There is nothing there except the preservation of the creditors' demands on the debtor.

February 24, 2015