Post-Covid: Fears, Dreams & Choices
2 – Post-Covid: Dreams
Many dreams are visceral. You wake feeling like it really happened; your emotions and maybe physical effects show the impact. Some regurgitate former abuses, conflict. Some rework a new version of a personal injustice, where reconciliation occurs after long years of intransigence. Unspoken embitterment melts away as an opportunity arises to make peace and move on. Until the knife twists again and you find your trusting nature was deceived just the same way it was all those years ago. The aftermath is just as painful and only the fact it was a dream allows you the reassurance that this was not a repeat of the abuse.
This was you… your mind, trying to process things you knew were wrong and ignored, or that you felt powerless against.
Covid -19 has become a living nightmare. Something so miniscule originating allegedly from one of two chemical laboratories in Wuhan, China, travelling so rapidly and widespread, affecting you and your unsuspecting inquisitive children. Whether infected or not, most have altered their way of going about daily life, some not as drastically as others, but the additional effect to the economy hits everyone. Everyone is distracted due to the mere possibility of its presence as no one can see it and verify it. They could, if it were not for money. The real costs to people do not figure as highly as their effect on the balance sheet. Must everything cost money?
This pandemic is a metaphor for the disease of neoliberal economics; the global economy run not by trade and commerce but the dissolution of industry and exclusion of most people. The externalities of the 1% psychopathic greed, through financialization and reductive employment strategies, are exposed for all to see. Billions wiped out overnight on the stock exchange, panic, bankruptcy, infrastructures once considered concrete, washed away like sand. This generates expansion in uncontrollable crime, migration, trafficking, prostitution, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, violent conflict and decimation of habitat and species.
We divorce ourselves from it like it’s a bad dream another world away, until billionaires whip the duvet from us, calling for bailouts from taxpayers who simply want to mind their own business and get on with their lives. Having just lived through the worst decade of economic hardship with atrocities outweighing those of WWII, we have to wake up and call neoliberalism exactly what it is – the greatest economic abuse and deceit in history.
But wouldn’t that take mass revolt? We’ve tried that. Wouldn’t it undo the embedded infrastructure of exchange that still facilitates our everyday lives?
Firstly, it is neoliberalism that has already done this. It is easy to be polemic about this, but to wake up we need also to take into consideration the benefits of a global market as well as its atrocities. Just as Covid-19 cannot be treated in isolation and overlooking potential cause never redresses injustice. As anyone abused has to, to place this into perspective and reduce its power, we have to examine neoliberalism beyond political or philosophical terms. Paradoxically this very process of oppression if appropriated by the 99% can offer them the very things they dream of but think are unattainable. Yachting around the Mediterranean used to be connected to how many people could fulfil their right to earn a living. Neoliberalism turned it into the cost of most peoples’ right to earn a living; yet it is still seen as aspirational. So what needs to alter? Do we have to overturn it?
The quick answer, shockingly, is no. The end to economic exclusion does not require the end of capitalism, nor even the end of money. But it does require a waking up to a far vaster reality beyond monetary trade.
Harry Cleaver examines this process in his book ‘Rupturing The Dialectic: the struggle against work, money and financialization.’ He highlights how capitalism has transformed everyday need and functions into monetised assets as a system of control of labour, seeking to inform us of how to rupture that oppression. It appears to most that elite capitalists are winning the argument, but it isn’t without cost to them. Capitalists and governments pay far more attention to this power to undermine them than everyday workers do. But in limiting people’s accessibility to engage in capitalism they simultaneously contribute to their own downfall whilst believing they are maximising their interests. This is their trade-off, but does this have to be the case? So, what we examine now – before any return to the ‘status quo’ – is of crucial interest to both parties.
Cleaver refers to studies done by Raniero Panzieri and Romano Alquati “struggles might grow and become more effective as workers… succeeded in throwing capitalism into crisis.” The mastery of neoliberalism is this… “But again and again, capitalism would find… a way to decompose those methods and restore the balance of class power.” Cleaver’s conclusion is that there are endemic issues effective at breaking capitalist oppression and could contribute – from within or from without – to “the complete rupture of the revolutionary overthrow and transcendence of the system as a whole.” That’s debatable and it could take longer than humankind currently has.
The key to it is human labour value. But again, neoliberalism turns this around into a tool for capitalist advantage. Another study by Foster and Magdoff, on the 2008 ‘credit crunch’ Cleaver cites: “inasmuch as… ‘creeping stagnation’ in the productive sector continues to provide the flesh upon which financialization feeds, one might have expected [them] to deepen the analysis of the source of that stagnation.” So, this counteractive key to the success of neoliberalism, through financialization, negates the value of labour in dictating prices and production. Hence, the redundancy of Marx’s ‘labour theory of value’ in generating wealth. Less labour = more profit = more interest = more leverage on credit and debt. The purchase of national debt, its interest and insurance of those red figures, replaced the foundation upon which all global commerce is governed.
Old dogs – new tricks.
Marx predicted labour would be replaced by automation and the fall of capitalism, before electrically generated light was invented. So are neoliberals winning? Well, where has all that labour gone? Did the vast majority of disengaged global population just down tools and sit twiddling their thumbs until they starved? This is the conundrum facing governments and corporations now Covid-19 has taken the reins and whipped their feet from under them. So their thinking is, unless the trickle-down economy is further supported from below – from the people they have systematically alienated and disempowered and can no longer work for them – we all hit the wall. Why should they pay for it, when they see themselves as the main stay and benefactors of society? They are reaping what they have sewn, considering also they are the biggest tax avoiders. But they still get to be influential to government.
As mentioned in the previous article, the answer is that people always find ingenious ways to carry on through voluntary work, free sharing initiatives and people simply caring for each other. Charities suddenly starved of their regular incomes find new volunteer support and fund-raisers. Unofficial sales of personal goods, crime and the black-market all unaccounted for. It is a lie that neoliberalism has reduced labour. They have reduced only formally paid labour. They, more than anyone, exploit non-paid labour to succeed. So, why shouldn’t the 99% appropriate that labour for their own profit by rewarding it?
Transference – getting perspective.
“Traumas we are not ready or able to remember haunt us all the more forcefully. We should therefore accept the paradox that, in order to really forget… we must first summon up the strength to remember it properly… the opposite of existence is not non-existence but insistence; that which does not exist continues to insist, striving for existence” Slavoj Zizek – ‘Welcome to the Desert of the Real’ (Verso2002). This we know happens with all insecurities either deliberately or unwittingly.
In the article ‘Covid Capitalism or Corvée’ I proposed that corvée could be utilised as a credit to government by placing a monetary value on all contributed unpaid labour as a virtual tax, in order to reduce the long-term tax bill and free up liquidity of existing financial resources in tackling the pandemic. It seems governments would rather lumber the taxpayer with further decades of austerity for the sake of keeping businesses afloat. Benefits, bailouts and bank loans the blunt instrument plastering over the expanding chasm of immediate cash flow. Yes, hang on… small and medium businesses are instructed to apply for bank loans, yet rich corporations still generating immense profits get to ask it from the drastically diminishing taxpayers? Corvée could be a far less intrusive supplement. But there is a further missed trick.
Marx contended that the only way to overturn economic hardship was to eliminate prices. But this is the method used by the “bourgeoisie” to control their societies and any conflict with this generates violence, police or military states. So, it would take not only the removal of price but to “revolutionise the bourgeois economically.” How is this done?
Here’s the dream that helped make neoliberals rich. All this unpaid activity in commerce is already accounted for in reduced budgets, reduced taxes, reduced interest on debt and increased tax-concessions; a real virtual parallel economy that already makes up an established part of the monetary economy. Why should the 1% mega-rich capitalists not doing the work benefit financially from this when the 99% doing it do not? This was the basis of Marx analysis.
Since the value of essential workers has been brought into stark relief, people feel their monetary value should be reassessed. But this can only make monetary sense if more people are put out of work or take wage cuts. There are two elephants in the room. One is that all the work continuing within individual locked-down families is amassing a gargantuan burden upon government budgets. The other is that the elite still do not need this labour for their riches to increase. That horse bolted long ago. So, on this basis the elimination of price and revolutionising of the bourgeois economically is contradictory to commercial recovery. Not so…
They are only contrary to the prohibitive and preferential use of the monetary market by the bankers who create and control it. That is why capitalists would want to oppose change. But what if all un-paid labour was turned into a different kind of profit? Neither money, nor cost, nor merely supplemental to capitalists costs, but an entirely self-contained profit economy. So, we are talking about two kinds of parallel profit, monetary and non-monetary. Would capitalists want that? Even if the two economies were not exchangeable (and they never should be), what would that do for their monetary markets? What if they generated monetary profits from not paying wages, reducing labour costs whilst expanding employment and production, as well as entitling them to an additional profit simply for engaging the non-monetary workforce?
This is the method that can transform people’s lives within a very short time and in the process “revolutionise the bourgeois economically.” It revolves around what Marx stated: “The revolutionary overthrow of capitalism can and will only be achieved with the end of work as a means of social control—the abolition of the material grounds of the concept of abstract labour.” Which is… money. “Those steps include both those that restrict the sphere of money and exchange—while expanding spheres free of it.” Restricting the sphere of money and exchange doesn’t need to be coercive, when all ‘abstract labour’ or ‘social capital’ can generate a non-monetary and monetary value to industry. Opening up vast opportunities not simply to meet urgent needs, but to place economic sufficiency and wealth at every individual’s fingertips. It can address, on mass scale, the urgency of rapid green industrial development and conservation. Expanding capitalism without dependency upon money dilutes monetary power by scale of accessibility and diversification.
Capitalism and labour become mutually negotiable forces once all informal or abstract labour can be redefined as rewarded work; without costing employers money in wages, but crucially contributing to income, expenditure and productivity.
One thing Cleaver pointed out that hardly any neoliberal would dispute is this – “higher waged workers are more ‘valuable’ to capital, not just because it must spend more money on them, but because the production of the consumer goods they purchase… provide expanded opportunities to impose work.” You’d think it is a no-brainer. No compromise or conflict of interest. So what stands in its way? The same thing that stands in the way of everybody functioning economically – the finite quantity of money, whether virtual or physical, and the variables that affect it from financialization. The model has built in self-destruct.
Money is control, and with the 1% controllers having more of it than anyone would need in numerous lifetimes, elite capitalists minds already think way beyond it. The numbers are a fluctuation, they can always be found and they do not even have to add up, but they exert pressure. That is why state are obsessive about running deficits and some economists propose they run more deficit to compensate crises. But even those comfortably off are now unnerved at the market vulnerability they will claim is due to an uncontrollable anomaly rather than fundamental flaw. Yet these anomalies keep occurring.
So what choices are at our disposal and is it an ideological dream to think of another form of economy? Do we need a completely new capitalism? We will see in the next article how the issue of reduced labour can be redressed with expanded non-monetary labour to form a parallel economy of scale enhancing and even recovering existing monetary capitalism without altering it.
Contributed: Kendal Eaton, author ‘A Chance For Everyone: the Parallel Non-Monetary Economy’