Monday, August 04, 2014

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Leo Panitch questions the "responsible capitalism" theme which is being used by Ed Miliband in lieu of a more significant alternative to unfettered market dogma:
It is most unlikely that Miliband’s call for “responsible capitalism” will refresh genuine political debate let alone galvanise anew a meaningful left-right discourse at the popular level. The real problem with “responsible capitalism” is not that it sounds clunky on the doorstep but rather that ordinary people know in their gut that it is a contradiction in terms. They can sense how evasive it is in relation to their own experience.
What is today called irresponsible finance was in fact incubated in the postwar decades, and it had outgrown the old boys’ City networks through which postwar state regulations operated long before they were finally removed by Margaret Thatcher’s “big bang”. In fact, the sterling crises that rocked Labour governments in the 1960s took place in the context of the deepening integration between Wall Street and the City. These crises rendered incredible Anthony Crosland’s confident claim just a decade earlier that there had been an irreversible “transformation of capitalism” in terms of the “diminished power of banks and financial markets” amid the overall loss of the “commanding position” of the capitalist class.

Merely blaming Thatcher free-market rhetoric and sheer force of will for the undoing of the Keynesian welfare state ignores the deep crisis it was already in by the time she came along. As the main parties of the left responded to the growing contradictions between capitalist markets and social reforms by trying to cling to the chimera of a responsible capitalism, neoliberalism triumphed everywhere. The misguided attempt to cling to a romanticised image of a stable responsible capitalism in the face of the rise of neoliberalism was recognised as a failure by New Labour. But by embracing so completely a financialised global capitalism centred in the City of London, it further contributed to the growth of this chaotic and increasingly irrational system – as 2008 proved.

Miliband’s attempt to distance himself from this is to his credit, although the architects of New Labour will continually try to contain him by threatening to divide the party in the run up to next year’s election. But the compromise of clinging to the tired old discourse of responsible capitalism is not the way to go. Ordinary people recognise it for the doublespeak it is. And if they are not offered a positive vision and plan for a renewed democratic socialism that embodies cooperation rather than competition as the basis of social life – if they are not offered, that is, any alternative to capitalism – they will increasingly cling to whatever toehold they have within it at the expense of the “others”.
- Meanwhile, if we needed a reminder as to how irresponsible corporatism is in practice, Nick Surgey discusses the connections between ALEC and the oil industry - featuring TransCanada as one of the most prominent fossil fuel peddlers funding the development of anti-environmental legislation. And Justin Gillis reports on Naomi Klein's work finding nominally environment-friendly groups working hand in hand to exploit even land which is supposed to be set aside for conservation - which all too likely parallels what's happening in Canada as well.

- Jeff Furman makes the case for a financial transactions tax to limit some of the most dangerous incentives in the financial sector.

- Amelia Gentleman highlights the devastating human consequences of cuts to social programs in the UK - while adding "no one should die penniless and alone" to "please don't slaughter children" on the list of seemingly unobjectionable statements which are being hotly contested by far too many.

- And finally, Maria Konnikova writes that even as the absence of positive choices is a major stressor for people living in poverty, so too can an excess of choices cause needless stress even for the lucky few with relative income security.

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