Tuesday, October 27, 2020

THE CORONA CRASH, a leftist's view of the unfolding economic collapse

THE CORONA CRASH: How the Pandemic Will Change Capitalism

Verso Books
$9.99 Kindle edition, now available and on sale! See Verso's website for details.

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: In The Corona Crash, leading economic commentator Grace Blakeley anatomises the long term causes for the financial fragility and offers a series of radical means to not only restore but revolutionise the world's economy.

We have never experienced such an economic moment such as this one. The coronavirus pandemic heralded one of the most catastrophic financial crashes in history. In March, stock markets collapsed. In April unemployment figures skyrocketed and the price of oil went negative. Meanwhile the human cost is recorded in an ever spiraling death toll as the world, it seems, is in lock down. The pandemic has caused the deepest global recession since the Second World War. Meanwhile the US human cost is reflected in our still-rising death toll, as many states find themselves unable—and some unwilling—to grapple with the effects of the virus. Whatever happens, we can never go back to business as usual.

This moment demands a radical programme similar to the Green New Deal that demands social justice, equality and an economy with the future of the planet at the fore. This crisis will tip us into a new era of monopoly capitalism, argues Blakeley, as the corporate economy collapses into the arms of the state, and the tech giants grow to unprecedented proportions.

We need a radical response. The recovery could see the transformation of our political, economic, and social systems based on the principles of the Green New Deal. If not, the alternatives, as Blakeley warns, may be even worse than we feared.


My Review
: The UnHoly Trinity of metastatic capitalism: financialization, monopoly, stagnation. We're seeing the results of around forty-five years of neoliberal nightmare-fodder economic and social policy: A US state, a UK state both hobbled by incompetent and apparently actively evil governments whose vision of how to control the pandemic is to punish the people who live in their states.

I reviewed Thomas Piketty's Why Save the Bankers? collection of columns not long ago; that was the crisis before this one, in 2008, if COVID-19 Fog has reduced your mental time horizons to "was it ever not like this?" Here we have a quite short book—it might take you a morning and an evening commute to finish—that updates the same message as Piketty brought to us then: Change is possible, and desirable, even vital, but we must seize the moment and bring all our power-of-numbers to bear on the problem of forcing change.

Before that, we must do the thinking of "what kind of change do we want to see?" Because in the absence of a rational, harmonious vision for the changes we want to see come to the world, the capitalists will sow dissension and scream about irrelevancies like tradition, continuity, the sacredness of institutions...which they've been subverting for decades, largely and ineffectively when done unopposed. The tech giants whose dominance in the financialized capitalism of the 21st century achieved such glittering heights of social and societal control have done so largely frictionlessly.

As of this month, there has been one are of friction that actually points up the prior ease of these monopolies' formation: The Section 230 hearings on how to force tech giants to accept responsibility for their part in spreading disinformation—which goal the giants themselves *want* the laws to spell out, the original was written 25 years ago!—degenerated into a right-wing bash-fest calling for, effectively, the internet to be limited to their own mouthpieces. This is the naked, ugly ass that the capitalists are showing the world, and this is a clear sign that this election cycle in the US truly is an existential choice between more of what we had versus less of everything we've earned. (The UK is, as Author Grace Blakeley makes clear, in a slightly different place. The social safety net there is under attack too, but it has much farther to fall.)

While I'm no fan of any tech giant, and I am sure that these companies possess monopoly powers that urgently need curbing, what the hearings in the Senate demonstrated was that the right-wing party here wants the monopoly powers to remain in place and thus be usable by them to make their propaganda the only accessible viewpoint. That would mean that their worldview would, for many unsophisticated consumers, become to all intents and purposes, Reality.

If you ever needed a proof that the monopolistic inevitability of capitalism is extremely bad for you and me, that should be it.

But there is another piece of this disaster that we're not talking near enough about (pace AOC): The austerity screams of days gone by were made in bad faith, for the purpose of greater control by capital of the levers of government, and the proof is in the present-day response of the US and UK governments to the COVID Crash. They created literal trillions (that's 2,200,000,000,000 dollars in US relief spending...look at all those zeroes!) in spending power to rescue banks and prevent huge corporations from having to use their massive piles of cash to pay their bills. As a result, the stock markets have gone haywire, up hugely, down enormously, lather rinse repeat. The signal is unclear yet unambiguous: We'll do whatever it takes to stay in power, but we can't be arsed to feed the people who need to eat and buy in order to fuel the economy...that way is a long-term downturn and a disaster for the corporate entities who rely on consumption to survive. Author Blakeley trots out the eye-popping statistic that 65% of the UK GDP is consumer-spending led. And the US can't be far behind. Ignoring the support needs of the consumers is stupid, but offers a giant opening for the Left to make real, systemic change.

The capitalists have created the state-monopoly-capitalist central planning system they've been demonizing for generations. There is no denying it now. Those trillions of spendable credits materialized...and they did so in certain hands...and so, gentlemen, your shibboleth is revealed as the straw man it always was, your cries of "socialism is evil" were merely covers for the fact that you were building a small, exclusive socialist state at the top income level.

Which also reveals the core idiocy and ignorance that the neoliberal idea of socialism always was. The central planning part clearly wasn't the awful monster to be fought, since two successive crises have brought the capitalists' eagerness to centralize planning power. It was always about the idea of democratic control of planning, of returning the control of the economy to a consortium of government, labor, and capital...of including again the people in the decisions that affect them most of all.

The Green New Deal gets a lot of play in this book. What that means is never spelled out in there, and the fact is that's a sign of how quickly this book was put together. Representative democracy that includes representatives of the laboring classes has largely been dismantled by the neoliberal austerity hawks. The few remaining vestiges of that era of workers' unions with actual power are increasingly, in this crisis, seeing their agenda picked back up: extensive polling in the US and UK (eg, YouGov) that a solid plurality of the people want a Green New Deal. Now what will happen post 3 November 2020? The Biden campaign has a consistency issue, but is broadly aware that the time to act is now. A Left-led charge, using the Covid Crash as a combination crowbar and bludgeon, stands some chance of making substantial progress. If 45 is re-elected, there's no point in worrying about it because the Apocalypse is assured.

It's true that this book's origins in the UK and in haste explain a lot of troubles I've had with reading it...examples from UK economic and political realities don't make instant sense to me here in the US...but there is a larger dissatisfaction that led to my knocking a whole star off the review. An example of it is: "Climate breakdown is accelerating at rates that would render many parts of the planet uninhabitable in just a few short years." The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming is the entire source cited in footnotes. This is plain old sloppy. Your sweeping statement is backed up by a non-specific reference to a secondary source? Well then! I'll just fall in behind you because I agree with what you're saying, shall I?

That's not something I pass over lightly. This is meant to be a book I can press on people whose concerns are growing, to show them that they are correct to trust the Left has the ideas and plans to meet and address those concerns. This isn't the effect of such slapdashery as exemplified above, and that is not the only instance of such in the work. But, all in all, I do agree with what Author Blakeley and Verso Books are presenting to us; I do think the Left, in the US people such as AOC and Senator Elizabeth Warren, possess the ideas and plans that can lead us out of the plague crises, and the climate crisis. I urge all of you to invest the under two hours it takes to read this trenchant and tendentious book.

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