Something To Think About

I’ll have some proper updates for you tomorrow – a list of what I’m working on as well as a new Compendium entry. I’ve been working very hard this week, but several projects should soon be finished.

Until then, here’s a video I would like you to watch. I know it’s long, and I know it’s all about economics, but this is crucial information about the world we live in. And even if you disagree with it, it might still get you thinking.

Edit: So you want a better reason for why you should watch this? Jeez, people, whatever happened to curiosity? Just think of how many times a week you spend far more time on utter bullshit. Listening to a speech about economics will definitely be more valuable than that, right?

But let me say a few words anyway. The wonderfully bearded man in this video is Prof. David Harvey, a notable Marxist scholar and one of the best and clearest voices speaking out against capitalism today. And when I say “Marxist” please do not imagine some stereotypical fanatic who cannot see past his own dogma, as the media present anyone who thinks outside the box imposed by their owners. Harvey is a serious thinker who approaches economics scientifically; which, after all, is the point of Marxism. (OK, Marxism is a stupid word, as Marx himself also thought. But Harvey prominently uses Marx in his own work.) Thus Harvey’s arguments are hard to refute – they’re based on the mathematical instability of the system.

This video is just one of many you can find. I am particularly fond of it, however, because it addresses several issues that are rarely mentioned these days. Its demonstration of why capitalism cannot and does not work, while not as detailed as others Harvey has provided, contains many important facts about what’s going on in the world of finance that people simply aren’t aware of; it’s an economic critique, not a moral one, and one which is fairly complex, looking also at what countries like China are doing (and why that won’t work either). It genuinely exposes some of the fundamental mathematical/logical problems of the whole setup; it shows what capitalism does, and why, and makes it self-evident that this logic simply cannot be sustained.

As the title suggests, Harvey also speaks about the end of capitalism. This is particularly interesting because so few on the Left do anymore, and that’s disastrous. One of the biggest problems in the world right now, in my opinion, is that people simply cannot imagine that capitalism could come to an end and a different system could be created; we’ve been conditioned to think it’s impossible, as if capitalism had always existed. Which is, historically speaking, utterly absurd. Harvey addresses this peculiar belief. At the end he also spends a bit of time discussing what kind of system could replace capitalism, and how it might be organized. His suggestions on that matter are excellent and thought-provoking; like Marx, he doesn’t actually demonize capitalism, but believes a great deal can be learned from it.

If all of that wasn’t enough, David Harvey is also immensely likeable and funny, and listening to him is very pleasant. I could listen to David Harvey analyzing Das Kapital just to relax.

I’m serious when I say that you need to watch this. The media never provide us with a real critique of capitalism; sometimes, rarely, we hear someone speak out against one excess or another, but always as if it were an individual crime or mistake, something that can easily be fixed with a law or two. And the alternative we usually get is some kind of anti-modern technophobic bullshit about going and living in the wild, eating tofu and drinking homeopathic cocktails. Thus most people end up thinking that capitalism is immoral but unavoidable, the “only system that works.” But a proper critique shows us that it fundamentally does not; not because bankers are evil, but because of the economic processes that underlie it. And such a critique also allows people to start thinking about real change.

Now you have a vague summary, but you don’t have the actual contents, the actual arguments. You need those. So go watch the video.

(You can skip the introduction.)

Leave a comment

16 Comments

  1. >I know it’s long
    >long
    Long, you say? What, ten minutes? 20? 30? I can deal with that.
    >start video
    >look at length
    >1:25:30
    O________________________________O

  2. Ezra

     /  January 12, 2012

    What Evil Roda said — that short paragraph hasn’t talked me into an hour and a half.

  3. And, of course, it is David Harvey talking… Could easily have handled 3 hours in a crowded amfitheatre with the man.

  4. James Patton

     /  January 12, 2012

    I just can’t watch an hour and a half of stuff all in one go – but, I’ve watched the first 20 minutes and it’s genuinely fascinating. “You’d have thought that after capitalism failed so catastrophically with the credit crunch people would start to consider alternatives – but if anything they just stick closer to capitalism. Why is that?” Yes, why IS that? That’s an absolutely riveting question. I really want to know what this guy says.

    So I’m going to watch it in twenty minute chunks over the next week or so, while eating or something.

  5. Awesome talk! It’s nice to hear a US folk speaking about Latin America when discussing capitalism, even if he’s not that optimistic about us.

    I particularly liked the learning-from-Wall-Mart concept and the critique of the notion of horizontality as the ultimate social hierarchy system (many people can’t see anarchism and socialism as the two different things they are).

    Since I still find it hard to understand spoken English I turned the automatic subtitles on. It actually helped with some words, tough most of it was crazy talk about Neil liberalism and marks sesame and the walking class movement.

  6. Anonymous

     /  January 13, 2012

    Out of interest, where do you see yourself politically? I think I’m the only game developer that would somewhat identify as a libertarian socialist, in the European sense.

  7. Frank

     /  January 13, 2012

    The actual talk, i.e. minus the introduction at the beginning and the Q&A at the end, is actually “only” 60 minutes long. So give it y try, y’all. 🙂

    I just did, and would like to thank you, Jonas, for directing my attention to that video and, more importantly, that man. I’m going to browse some of his other stuff on the web sometime soon.

    Furthermore, if you like David Harvey, you might be interested in the work of David Graeber as well, an anarchist scholar who recently made it into some headlines (at least in the internet) with his latest book, “Debt – the first 5.000 years”, illuminating the whole debt-money-credit-conundrum from a historical and anthropological perspective. Really worth a read, although, unfortunately, on the more expensive side of books. And likely not to be found that easily in German public libraries…

    Keep up the good work. F.

  8. James Patton

     /  January 13, 2012

    Just finished watching, and I too would like to thank Jonas for pointing us in Professor Harvey’s direction. I found this very interesting and it galvanised a number of things I’ve been thinking about idly for a while.

    And I really like his overall idea of an economy based on zero growth. It just sort of makes sense. And it would eliminate the need to keep expanding, which was not unreasonable when there was land and nations to expand into, but seems foolhardy now that we’re running out of expansion space. Plus, the more we expand the more we take from natural reserves, compounding the climate problem. It just seems unwise to blindly expand and use up resources because that’s what we’ve always done and we see no alternative.

  9. Awesome talk! It’s nice to hear a US folk speaking about Latin America when discussing capitalism, even if he’s not that optimistic about us.

    He’s English, but yeah, I agree – most of what one hears about Latin America is just bullshit. It’s refreshing to hear an opinion that is a little more complex.

    And I really like his overall idea of an economy based on zero growth. It just sort of makes sense. And it would eliminate the need to keep expanding, which was not unreasonable when there was land and nations to expand into, but seems foolhardy now that we’re running out of expansion space.

    Moreover, too many people aren’t considering that growth does not equal progress.

    (many people can’t see anarchism and socialism as the two different things they are).

    I agree. I think the anarchist critique of socialism is very important, as we have seen that it is possible for a socialist revolution to be taken over from the inside and destroyed (as happened in the Soviet Union), but I also think anarchism is far too utopian to ever exist, even if it desirable (of which I’m not entirely certain). Harvey’s example is perfectly fitting.

    The actual talk, i.e. minus the introduction at the beginning and the Q&A at the end, is actually “only” 60 minutes long. So give it y try, y’all.

    Ah, I should’ve mentioned the introduction. *goes to edit the post yet again*

    Out of interest, where do you see yourself politically? I think I’m the only game developer that would somewhat identify as a libertarian socialist, in the European sense.

    If I had to pick one word, I’d say I’m a socialist. However, like any political idea, socialism comes in many directions and flavours, so that can be confusing. I keep meaning to write a long and detailed post about where I stand, but I never have the time. It’s hard to summarize, because the detail is necessary. Let’s just say that my understanding of socialism emphasizes a reason-based, organized approach to economic matters (i.e. not the free market), extremely strong human and civil rights, direct democracy and open (self-)government. I think accumulations of power must be mistrusted, but government cannot be abolished (small government means big bullies) – instead it must be transformed to be more democratic. People sometimes tell me I want a bigger state, but I don’t. I want a better state.

    But I don’t believe in utopias or simple solutions; a new system wouldn’t be perfect. It would, however, be a lot better, and if done correctly would to some degree be self-correcting.

    I wonder what you mean by “libertarian socialist, in the European sense” though. I’m not trying to be aggressive, so please don’t take this the wrong way. It’s just that the political discourse of the United States is very odd. For example, a lot of Americans seem to believe that Europe is socialist. An idea which already falls apart at the word Europe, because there’s no such place. Often when people from the US say “socialist” they mean “Social Democrat,” of which most European countries haven’t really had any real ones in a couple of decades, though the systems of some countries still run on those principles (especially in Scandinavia). To most Europeans socialist means, well, socialist – Marx, Trotsky, that sort of thing. What in many countries is also called communism.

  10. He’s English, but yeah

    Man I’m bad with accents. They always call us all Mexicans, so I guess it goes both ways.

    I don’t believe in utopias or simple solutions

    Anarchism is utopian, but what I find strange is how socialism is accused being so, when all contemporary socialism comes in one way or another from Marx, who was possibly the least utopian thinker of his time.

  11. Man I’m bad with accents. They always call us all Mexicans, so I guess it goes both ways.

    Absolutely. English is just so widespread that a lot of people think that everyone ought to be perfectly proficient at it, forgetting that their culture is only one of many. (I do love Harvey’s accent, though.)

    Anarchism is utopian, but what I find strange is how socialism is accused being so, when all contemporary socialism comes in one way or another from Marx, who was possibly the least utopian thinker of his time.

    Yes! This is precisely what drives me mad about so many political discussions; everyone seems to think socialism is some kind of utopian let’s-all-love-each-other thing, “a nice idea but contrary to human nature” and all that nonsense. When in fact socialism is about trying to create a stable system based on principles derived from observation and analysis, while capitalism trusts in the Invisible Hand to make everything work, even when it manifestly does not.

    There’s a shocking disconnect between observable economic reality and the idealistic dogma spouted by the media and politicians (and a lot of geeks). The empirical evidence is right there: the more you deregulate, the more you cut taxes, the more you do everything that’s supposed to work according to the capitalist faith, the more the system will crash. We’ve seen the same results in country after country. That’s a matter of mathematics, not opinion. And yet you have people arguing that what we need is more deregulation. It’s like a drowning person saying they need more water.

  12. James Patton

     /  January 13, 2012

    @Jonas: I completely agree. The objectivist ideal whereby less regulation equals more freedom and therefore a more just and equal society simply doesn’t work. You get a small subset of people with massive amounts of wealth, exploiting the majority of people who have less. Personally, I see no reason to cut back on taxes for the super-rich and a lot more regulation on bankers, except for the fact that they might move to another, less regulated nation and leave us with even less.

    I mean what, sensibly speaking, is the difference between earning a hundred thousand dollars a year and earning a billion dollars a year? At a hundred thousand, you’ll have a house, a car (probably more than one), enough money to support a family, and enough to invest for your pension. At a billion, you’ll probably have all that but bigger: bigger house, flashier cars, masses of money invested in things all over the globe. You don’t *need* that, but there are people who *do* need to be fed, or who don’t need it to live but who would benefit from that money to eg. do a second degree or finance a few years working on writing or making games or something. Granted, the latter group don’t *need* that money necessarily, but they certainly need it more than the man who owns two mansions.

    I do know that many celebrities in the US get together and give massive amounts of money to charity every year. I was surprised at that but very, very impressed by it. So this is at least somewhat acknowledged: the rich can help those who are not rich and need money desperately. But while that is noble, it’s a drop in the ocean, and the only way to make the redistribution of wealth meaningful is to change the system. I know that sounds a bit crazy and revolutionary but I’m not a revolutionary person, by and large. I just don’t think the current system is particularly fair or effective so it makes sense to ask how to improve it.

  13. The Devil's Retarded Cousin

     /  January 14, 2012

    “I do know that many celebrities in the US get together and give massive amounts of money to charity every year. I was surprised at that but very, very impressed by it.”

    I’m not, I’m not particularly informed on the money celebrities give away, but I’m absolutely sure they still have reels of $100 bills as toilet paper and just wipe their asses with it. I mean, should an actor make, I don’t know, 8 million dollars for a month of work? That’s just ridiculous. Because 1, there’s a whole other bunch of people in dire need of that money; and 2, because people just don’t NEED that kind of money.

    “I mean what, sensibly speaking, is the difference between earning a hundred thousand dollars a year and earning a billion dollars a year? (…) You don’t *need* that, but there are people who *do* need to be fed, or who don’t need it to live but who would benefit from that money to eg. do a second degree or finance a few years working on writing or making games or something. Granted, the latter group don’t *need* that money necessarily, but they certainly need it more than the man who owns two mansions.”

    Completely agree with you. A person just shouldn’t keep that much money. I mean, I’m not in the situation, so I can’t tell you for sure, but if you have that kind of money at your disposal, just give it away you piece of shit!. Obviously I’m talking from outside the situation, possibly even I would get the TERRIBLE SUPERNATURAL DISEASE OF THE CRAWLING SOULEATING GREEN LUST OF TERROR FROM OUTER SPACE. But to be sincere, I don’t give a shit about money. Not beyond the basics. Do I need a 2 million dollars car and a mansion where something in the likes a hundred people could live in and be better off than before? Nobody should give a shit about that. Money doesn’t exist. Money is what fat guys with fat wallets tell you you need to improve yourself and be like them. But they have fat wallets BECAUSE you have little, and your neighbours are starving and BECAUSE people are searching for food in the trash cans. Being rich makes others be poor. You don’t need money. What you need is food, a shelter, and fulfilling your dreams or some shit like that. You know what I mean. Finding what you want in life. Not this artificial shit you get with money.
    So to summarize, if you’re rich, FUCK YOU YOU GREEDY FUCK, and if you’re not, you still have more than others, man, feed someone who’s starving or something.

  14. Anonymous

     /  January 14, 2012

    If I had to pick one word, I’d say I’m a socialist. However, like any political idea, socialism comes in many directions and flavours, so that can be confusing. I keep meaning to write a long and detailed post about where I stand, but I never have the time. It’s hard to summarize, because the detail is necessary. Let’s just say that my understanding of socialism emphasizes a reason-based, organized approach to economic matters (i.e. not the free market), extremely strong human and civil rights, direct democracy and open (self-)government. I think accumulations of power must be mistrusted, but government cannot be abolished (small government means big bullies) – instead it must be transformed to be more democratic. People sometimes tell me I want a bigger state, but I don’t. I want a better state.

    But I don’t believe in utopias or simple solutions; a new system wouldn’t be perfect. It would, however, be a lot better, and if done correctly would to some degree be self-correcting.

    I wonder what you mean by “libertarian socialist, in the European sense” though. I’m not trying to be aggressive, so please don’t take this the wrong way. It’s just that the political discourse of the United States is very odd. For example, a lot of Americans seem to believe that Europe is socialist. An idea which already falls apart at the word Europe, because there’s no such place. Often when people from the US say “socialist” they mean “Social Democrat,” of which most European countries haven’t really had any real ones in a couple of decades, though the systems of some countries still run on those principles (especially in Scandinavia). To most Europeans socialist means, well, socialist – Marx, Trotsky, that sort of thing. What in many countries is also called communism.

    Hey no worries, I don’t think you’re the kind of person to try and be malicious in asking questions.

    I’m European myself so I know what you mean about the American ideals of what is “socialism” is.

    When I said Liberian Socialism, I’m describing what Noam Chomsky describes it as. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hkaO12X-h1Y

    The reason I identify with this is because you see throughout history how socialism has always been hijacked, generally because there has been someone or a group with far too much power (like capitalism), which they then exercise on the general popular for their own gains.

    I think something like this is generally more difficult when there’s no “official” central power, and things are collectivised.

  15. I’m very much in favour of decentralising authority, but I think Harvey is correct in pointing out that you do need some central authority, or you simply cannot maintain the level of civilization we have today (and I think we need that), if only for organizational reasons. But that authority must in turn be subject to democratic control and oversight.

  16. @Jonas (last comment):
    Are you familiar with the idea of just drafting representatives to parliament and the other political bodies, instead of electing them? (1) Elections are bound to go hand in hand with political parties, are highly influenced by the media and thus big money, lobbyist know whom to target long in advance, and in the end career politicians always end up running the show, i.e. people who are in it for the money/fame/power/ego boosting only, but usually not for the common good… (Pretty hard to find some philosopher kings today…) By drafting representatives out of the populace as a whole, you of course will get new problems – but avoid a bunch of the old ones. Add to that media that would mandatorily have to be wholly owned by their own “employees” (like DER SPIEGEL once was planned to be), i.e. be corporatively structured, thus being at least partially independend from big money’s influence (not talking about old-style advertisement here, of course) – and, well, there you have a step into the right direction, wouldn’t it be?

    Just a few thoughts in the wee hours of the night. Sleep well, all of you. 😉

    (1) Prominently featured in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy – a definitive must-read, if you should not have done so yet. He coined the phrase “Enough is as good as a feast” (or, at least, his books are where I know it from) – and that’s the way how we should start to be thinking, because, honestly, enough already IS as good as a feast. (I know what I’m talking about, I had one today.) If only the greedy people could learn that…