Zombie Capitalism?

No, I haven’t forgotten the globalisation series. I’m about to watch the next Yale lecture.

Meanwhile, as mentioned some time ago by Benjamin Solah, there is a new book around looking at all this from an intelligent Marxist perspective. See Book Review: Zombie Capitalism: Global Crisis and the Relevance of Marx by Chris Harman on BlogCritics.org.

… Many of us were taught economics from textbooks that talked about equilibrium which resulted when wages and prices balanced out; markets automatically cleared, attracting productive investment, leading to growth. The idea was simple: the markets would bring about whatever adjustments were necessary to draw the appropriate resources to the appropriate places. We were also told that capital is the source of wealth and that investors were its creators.

And yet throughout its history, capitalism has been dogged by wave after wave of crises. Unfortunately, the equilibrium model of economics hasn’t been able to explain this fundamental characteristic of capitalist systems. Ben Bernanke says that "understanding the Great Depression is the Holy Grail of macroeconomics." Edward C. Prescott, Nobel Laureate, says that it was a "pathological episode and it defies explanation by standard economics."

Of course, there have been many attempts to patch up the equilibrium model to try to explain such massive periodic crises, how markets which were supposed to "clear" somehow didn’t. But there has been another tradition in economics which has had no problem explaining the periodic crises: Marxist economics.

There are those of course who immediately identify anything Marxist as being a defence of the Russian communist system, its centralised command state structure, its massive exploitation of working people for accumulation of wealth, and the slavish devotion of communist parties around the world to the Russian centre.

Chris Harman, in his book Zombie Capitalism, has no truck with Stalinism nor the state capitalist system of Russia, and his analysis is as incisive in dealing with state capitalist economics of the eastern bloc and China, as he is in examining the Western economies…

Douglas Rae in the Yale lectures does question the equilibrium idea, pointing out that it is really Newtonian physics imported by analogy into the economic sphere. He tells a wonderful story about a conference of physicists and economists that apparently really did take place; the story rather favours physicists as real scientists.

Nothing much to do with the above is Jonathan Rauch, “The Zombie Party” (2009). I just like the article and wanted to mention it.

GEORGE W. BUSH’S presidency exposed conservatism’s fissures, and here and there it widened them, but it did not cause them. Time had moved on; conservatives had not. Reaganism had rendered itself obsolete by cutting tax rates, whipping inflation, tripling the incarceration rate, and rebuilding American confidence and strength. Conservatives in the 2000s seemed bereft of answers to newer challenges–climate change, health care, non-state enemies–and often appeared uncomfortable discussing them.

We know what happens when movements or parties continue to stagger forward after running out of ideas: They become zombies. Zombie parties are a recurrent feature of electoral democracies. Unable to articulate any coherent or workable governing philosophy, they mindlessly jab at cultural hot buttons, mechanically repeat hardwired tropes ("cut taxes, cut taxes, cut taxes"), nurse tribal resentments, ostracize independent thinkers. Above all, they feel positively proud of their doggedness. You can’t talk them out of it. Think of the Republicans in the FDR years, the Democrats in the Reagan years, the British Labour Party in the Thatcher period, and the British Conservative Party in the Blair period. Think of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party for most of the past half-century, or France’s Socialists today. To get a new brain, zombie parties usually need to spend years out of power or wait until a new generation rises to leadership.

Anagram site — lovely stuff

An ex-student of mine of more recent vintage than the TIGS time mentioned in the previous post (David Smith class of 1998 SBHS) posted about this on Facebook just now: Wordsmith.Org.

I checked my own name:

Wildlife Thine
Width Lifeline
Feed Within Ill
Defile Hilt Win
Defile With Nil
Felled Within I
Whitened If Ill
Whitened Fill I
Elide Filth Win
Infidel He Wilt
Flied Lithe Win
Flied While Tin
Flied While Nit
Flied Whine Lit
Filed Whine Lit
Fiend White Ill
Hied Elfin Wilt
Hinted Wife Ill
Whined Fillet I
Whined Lie Flit

And so on!

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My past walked by me…

… and I didn’t notice — or not until the opportunity had gone.

In 1971, when I was 27, I started work at The Illawarra Grammar School in Wollongong, staying until the end of 1974 when I returned to the state school system (Wollongong High). A much loved colleague there was John Traas, the foreign languages teacher, whom I mention (with Jim Belshaw) in comments on Alex Buzo, Australian playwright, dies (August 2006).

Jim Belshaw
August 18, 2006 at 6:17 am | #3 Quote

Thanks, Neil. I am glad you enjoyed the post. On Hoxha, Alex’s dad’s exact words as I recall them were that Hoxha was the type of boy who used to pull the wings off flies! Re your comment on New England, Australia, yes I did know John Traas. If I remember correctly, and it’s a long time ago, he had the misfortune to try to teach me French. The school was trying to encourage languages and gave a 25 per cent mark bonus in exams. I think my final French mark was 13 per cent including the bonus!.

August 18, 2006 at 8:10 am | #4 Quote

Thanks, Jim. John Traas was one of the most interesting people I ever met, and a great humanist.

Jim Belshaw
August 18, 2006 at 12:35 pm | #5 Quote

Now that’s interesting Neil. Based on what you said, I assume that it is the same John, one of the problems for teachers, if problem is the right word, is that their students see them in one dimension. I see John in the mid school classroom in front of me, as a teacher, not a person.

Down in Wollongong on Tuesday John walked right by me.

Definitely this is John Traas

I didn’t realise until I checked my photos later on in Kiama! Kicking myself now, as I wish I had spoken to him.

And part of Jim Belshaw’s past as well!