[-empyre-] Debt Culture--types of debt

Thomas LaMarre, Prof. thomas.lamarre at mcgill.ca
Wed Nov 28 02:59:25 EST 2012

I wanted to thank everyone for the discussion of debt culture, and
especially in the context of universities.  I didn't have time to contribute
an account of developments in Quebec, where major resistance movements
against tuition hikes (and against the idea of austerity and its politics of
debt) have transformed the political landscape, and posed serious questions
about what kind of political economy we're building around universities.

In absence of a thorough account (my apologies), I will offer a couple links
to essays that people might find useful:





On 27/11/12 5:09 AM, "Brian Holmes" <bhcontinentaldrift at gmail.com> wrote:

> On 11/26/2012 01:10 PM, Annie McClanahan wrote:
>> Thanks, Brian. I take the claim about the ultimate intractability of
>> crises in surplus value extraction from the long tradition of Marxist
>> political economy; contemporarily, I'd recommend post-'08 essays by
>> folks like Gopal Balakrishnan and Robert Brenner, among others
> Well, I have read those people. I just don't think Brenner's analysis of
> declining profitability in manufacturing gives any particular clue about
> the shape of the future. Balakrishnan's piece on the "Stationary State"
> gets closer to the real problems, as summed up in his opening quote from
> Gramsci:
> "A crisis occurs sometimes lasting for decades. This exceptional
> duration means that incurable structural contradictions have revealed
> themselves and that despite this the political forces which are
> struggling to conserve and defend the existing structure itself are
> making every effort to cure them within certain limits and to overcome
> them. These incessant and persistent efforts (since no social formation
> will concede that it has been superseded) form the terrain of the
> conjunctural, and it is upon this terrain that the opposition organizes."
> What I'm trying to say is that without a radical demand for a different
> model of development, the crisis can just go on, and new
> pseudo-solutions can continue both to cement the power of elites and to
> distract from the deep contradictions of inequality and ecological
> unsustainability. The difficult thing is that the radical demand has to
> be formulated within the conditions of the conjuncture. Which are the
> conditions of the world as it is being produced and reproduced today, so
> very badly, under the financially coordinated regime of
> neoliberalism-in-crisis.
> The idea that a decline of manufacturing (or of the surplus value
> produced by labor in manufacturing) would be enough to derail the global
> economic system has already been proven false by history. Way back in
> the Seventies, one could easily have supposed that the decline of
> manufacturing, and the inflation and unemployment that resulted from it,
> were about to spell the end of capitalism -- or at least of American
> hegemony. Instead, after a protracted period of crisis, we got the
> US-led financial turn from 1979 onwards, which deeply and durably
> changed the class structures of the core countries, while reorganizing
> the world economy to sustain those changes. In the US, automation was
> developed very extensively in the continuous-flow industries (oil,
> chemicals, steel) and a flexible work regime was imposed on an expanding
> service sector, including research, marketing, information-processing
> and all that. Unemployment was camouflaged by a system of mass
> imprisonment. A new just-in-time production and distribution system
> brought very cheap manufactured goods to consumers, which helped make
> the lower wages bearable. An entrepreneurial ideology promised success
> to the most ruthlessly competitive individuals. Rising asset prices
> (stocks and homes) did in fact deliver a wealth effect to the upper 20
> or 30%. And credit made up for the rest. By the late Nineties,
> variations on the same social deal had spread across the developed and
> developing world. That was neoliberalism.
> Now all the above is in crisis. Most of the characteristic features of
> neoliberalism are likely to morph into something very different over the
> course of the next decade, as we lurch from palliative measure to
> palliative measure. But nothing guarantees this crisis will produce an
> ultimate collapse of the capitalist system, or an inevitable revolution.
> That's the sobering lesson of what's currently going on in Greece:
> intense opposition in the streets, but no plan B. Instead, the great
> powers -- which in our time are the central banks -- have now concerted
> to apply the same solution: quantitative easing to wipe away the worst
> of the debts, essentially an attempt to reboot the system. This is how
> the trillion-dollar holes are filled. It's not just an American
> strategy, though it originated here. Instead it's being applied
> simultaneously, by the US, the UK, the EU, Japan and China, so there is
> considerably less risk of a run on the dollar and a cataclysmic
> transformation of the world economy. Sudden, uncoordinated changes in
> the world monetary regime are considered too risky, because they could
> lead to war. This kind of limited concertation was established back in
> the 1980s and 90s, with the Plaza and Reverse Plaza exchange-rate
> accords. Giovanni Arrighi does a great analysis of it, in his critique
> of Brenner in NLR 20. We are seeing the same kind of thing at work again
> today. In fact that's largely what Gopal Balakrishnan describes in his
> text: the palliative measures that sustain the stationary state. The
> question he does not deal with, in his otherwise very probing essay, is
> how to organize an opposition on this terrain.
> History suggests that after a period of relative chaos (how intense no
> one knows) a new, more-or-less contradictory "fit" will emerge between
> what people produce and how that production circulates through national
> and global markets. It's not likely to be a fudamental change in the
> system, or even a very good fit, but it will work somehow, for a while.
> Financial arrangements, wage structures, technologies, institutions
> including the military and the police, and also cultural forms will all
> gradually change to establish the new pattern -- and undoubtedly there
> will be very dramatic moments and events along the way, as there already
> have been over these last four years. The Left needs to develop a
> strategy to influence this gradual change and push it in a
> transformative direction, both through meaningful social conflict and
> through the propagation of a new analysis that can resolve into a new
> common sense. This would be the process of formulating a radical demand,
> to which I referred above.
> The extraordinary thing about the student debt problem is that it puts a
> crucial question on the table: the question of what knowledge is good
> for in society. Do we go to the university just to be more-or-less
> enslaved into the roles of middle-managers who will carry out the next
> restructuring of capitalism? Or do we insist on a public mission that
> cannot be carried out under the conditions of super-exploited
> intellectual labor (for the teachers) and debt peonage (for the
> students)? David Golumbia is totally right to say that the capacity of
> critique is being targeted right now by the neoliberal elites, as part
> of their struggle to conserve and defend the existing rotten structure.
> He's also right to say that this capacity of critique is something
> essential -- IF, I would add, it can be turned into a real power, the
> power to propose and demand a different development model, one that is
> precisely NOT based on the surplus value of Fordist manufacturing, which
> is actually the last thing we need. We need an economy of care, for each
> other, for the social peace and for the environment, and that cannot be
> a predatory capitalist economy, even though it will still involve a
> complex fit between what people produce and how that production circulates.
> The question is how to develop a strategy for moving through this crisis
> and exerting transformative effects. I'm wondering what David might have
> to say about this. From my viewpoint (which is not that of a career
> academic, by the way) I think the university has to be part of the
> strategy. It's a key site, both for perceiving the conjuncture, and for
> organizing an opposition within it.
> all the best, Brian
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