CapitalismEssays

The Politics of Public Debt

Neoliberalism, capitalist development, and the restructuring of the state

This is the text of the Heuss Lecture (with audio of the Q & A below), delivered as part of the General Seminar series in the Wolff Conference Room of The New School for Social Research at 6 E. 16th. St. in New York on December 11, 2013. 

From the 1970s on public debt increased more or less steadily in most, if not all, OECD countries, as it never had in peacetime. The rapid rise in public indebtedness was a general, not a national phenomenon, although in some countries, especially ones with low levels of inflation like West Germany, it began earlier than in others (Streeck 2011). In this essay I will emphasize the cross-national commonalities rather than the national specifics of the transformation of the “tax state” (Schumpeter 1991 [1918]) into a debt state and from there, at present, a consolidation state.[1] My argument focuses on the family of countries that adopted a regime of democratic capitalism, or capitalist democracy, after the Second World War, …

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EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

EuroMaidan Politics

Friends and Enemies in Ukraine

“The following video contains graphic content, which may be disturbing for some viewers,” says NYTimes.com about a video of the protests in Ukraine. Yes, politics — if by “politics” we do not mean debates of “experts” and TV celebrities who represent political parties — is disturbing, and not only in Ukraine.

Yet, in Ukraine, politics has come back. Hundreds of thousands of people have been on the streets for two months already protesting the government. What started in November 2013 as a protest against President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision not to sign the Association Agreement with the EU has very quickly turned into a protest against the entire regime, the whole system of power from the President to a local police officer.

The first violence used against the protesters on November 30 showed that the government hates to see the faces of those who do not like it. After two months of mass protests, …

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EssaysThe Left

Autonomous Politics and Liberal Thought-Magic

In response to Nancy Fraser

Anarchism is often dismissed as incoherent, naïve, and ineffective. This is Nancy Fraser’s position in a recent article called “Against Anarchism.” Fraser’s criticisms are worth engaging not because they’re particularly perceptive or unique, but because they’re exceedingly common: these are some of the reasons that people dismiss anarchism all the time. What is it about anarchism that’s so threatening to people like Nancy Fraser? I think Fraser (and many others) are actually threatened by what I’ll call “autonomous politics,” which is both narrower and broader than anarchism, encompassing currents of Marxism, indigenism, queer politics, feminism, and anarchism. My suspicion is that Fraser hates autonomous politics not because it’s ineffective or undemocratic, but because it undermines her whole worldview and political project. Autonomous politics destabilizes liberalism, opening up more productive ways of thinking and relating. …

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EssaysSex & Gender

Sex and the Super Bowl

Gender caricatures,

Every year the issue of gender and sexual stereotyping is highlighted at the Super Bowl and in the minutes of well-famed commercials surrounding the game. Be it macho-football players, sexy cheerleaders, slick, yet still, macho-men in fancy cars, sexy Danica Patrick, macho-beer drinkers, sexy female beer drinkers, static femininity and masculinity are displayed suggesting to us all what kind of men and women we should be.

Following this grand display of gender duality, there is an annual critique of femininity, generally in response to the halftime show, with camps divided between female sexuality as an autonomous choice of empowerment and female sexuality curtailed in consumerism, thus objectifying the participants. …

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EssaysMedia/Publics

The Interruptive Society

A seismic shift in social behavior has occurred over the last decade that to the best of my knowledge was not forecasted by futurists.

While in the early 80s we wrote and read about telecommuting, the evolution of Arpanet, the workings and impact of smaller, less expensive, more mobile computers, the progeny of CB radio, the future of what was then known as videotex and teletext, and the commercial beginnings of satellite communication, no one forecast a radical change in Western social behavior.  The change has been dramatic.

We have become the Interruptive Society – interrupting and interrupted.

Elevators have become phone booths.  The preface to almost any public event, sacred or profane, is an announcement to shut down the beepers, pagers, and cell phones. …

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CapitalismEssaysRace

Top 10 List of Best American Historical Writing

Recently the net has seen various ten best lists of works in American history. I’d like to propose one of my own, but first I want to explain my rationale. American historical writing was transformed in the 1960s by two things: the realization that slavery and racism were the foundations of American history and the enormous achievements of such Marxist historians and social thinkers as Eric Hobsbawm, EP Thompson and Immanuel Wallerstein. Works produced during and after the sixties have given us a dramatically new picture of the country and my list reflects this. In addition, I choose works that look at American capitalism as a whole, not works that narrowly confine themselves to particular “fields,” like political history, economic history and so forth. Finally, I have chosen works that help us to see the United States in a global perspective even if the works are not themselves comparative or transnational. Here is my list: …

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EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Ariel Sharon (1928 – 2014)

Reflecting on the myth of a Zionist martyr and the reportage in Israel and beyond

Ariel Sharon was perhaps the last Israeli soldier-statesman whose life was framed with the Zionist myth of martyrology. Although there surely is no shortage of commanders who are mythical figures and became politicians in contemporary Israel, Sharon joins an exclusive club of those mythic figures of men in the history of Zionism whose lives ended mysteriously, untimely, not in war, and/or whose death stories were contested and ambiguous. Theodore Herzl, who died young, and is rumored to have suffered from syphilis. Joseph Trumpeldor who died protecting Tel Chai in 1920 and, as the myth holds (Yael Zerubavel provides a detailed account), said before dying “never mind, it is good to die for our country.” Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995 by a national-religious law student. Yasser Arafat, whom Israel tried and in the end probably succeeded to poison or otherwise kill during his long career (2004). Rafael Eitan, a former chief of staff and politician: a wave pulled him into the sea in the Ashdod harbor in which he was a project manager (2004), and Sharon, who was in coma for eight years starting in January 2006. His social death was blurred, extended even beyond the span of “the king’s two bodies.” Shortly after his stroke, streets and institutions were already named after him. …

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EssaysPsyche

It’s All in the Mind – Or is It?

The power of the placebo

A recent New York Times article reports that a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that patients receiving one of the most commonly performed forms of knee surgery (arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus) did no better than those receiving a placebo treatment. In the study, patients with meniscus tears were randomly assigned either to the standard surgical procedure, or a sham surgical procedure, which involved making an incision without touching the meniscus. One year following treatment, the majority of patients in both genuine surgical and placebo conditions reported feeling better. Moreover, the majority of patients in both conditions said that they would undergo the same treatment again. The authors of the study conclude that their findings (taken together similar findings from previous studies) raise important questions regarding best practice standards of care for the treatment of knee problems.

From my perspective, the finding that the majority of patients in the placebo condition experienced the procedure as helpful, is just as important and perhaps more conceptually intriguing. …

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