When I was a kid in the 1960s one of the big questions I remember being tossed about was what to do with all of the free time that modern society would afford us. That there would be a virtually unlimited horizon of material abundance and thus leisure, and how best to use it, was a topic of talk in the media and at dinner. Year after year, union contracts (back when there were such things) negotiated increasingly generous benefits, including substantial time off from work. John Kenneth Galbraith’s 1958 classic The Affluent Society set the terms of the conversation early on by challenging Americans to muster the country’s broadly experienced largesse, made possible by the productive capacity of modern mass manufacturing, to serve the larger social good. Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society was subsequently founded on the notion that widespread wealth, and along with it leisure, were faits accompli…
The following is the prepared text of the speech given by Minister Haekkerup on September 28, 2013, at The New School, with an introduction by William Milberg.
The word “capitalism,” describing our market-oriented economic system of wage labor, private ownership and the endless drive for wealth accumulation, was invented in the 19th century. For the last part of the twentieth century, “capitalism” was a dirty word. It alluded ever so uncomfortably to exploitation in human interaction and the unequal nature of modern economic society. The word capitalism was represented by euphemisms in economics –- “competitive equilibrium,” “pure competition,” or “monetary production system.” My late colleague Robert Heilbroner found that Gregory Mankiw’s popular textbook, Principles of Economics, a book over 500 pages long and first published in 1998, mentions the word “capitalism” just one time, and that occurs in a footnote.
In 2013, we once again dare to speak the word. Why? Because with the international financial crisis of 2008 and the economic stagnation experienced in much of the industrialized world since then, there is a palpable sense that the system is at risk and in need of scrutiny, as a system. Capitalism, it would seem, is back.
Below is an interview of Simon Critchley by founder and editor of the UK-based quarterly print magazine STIR, Jonny Gordon-Farleigh. It appears in the Autumn issue of STIR under the title “An Interview with Philosopher Simon Critchley.”
The most challenging task of recent times has been to find a common name — a new political identity — much like Proletariat was for the politics of the 19th and 20th centuries. In response, Simon Critchley’s work has explored political names such as the ‘indigenous’, and more recently ‘Anonymous’ — the name of those with no name — and Occupy’s slogan ‘We are the 99%’. In this interview Critchley argues that we need to create a new hegemony — the shaping of an alliance or common front — and also start a serious investigation into the history of political forms in general. With the remergence of general assemblies, affinity groups and spokecouncils, Critchley claims we should not be scared of the need to produce a formal political theory of these practices.
Jonny Gordon-Farleigh: Antonio Gramsci said, “the challenge of modernity is to live without illusions without becoming disillusioned”. In other parts of his writing he separates the intellect and the will — pessimism in the former and optimism in the latter. Is this the only way to get through the impasse of working for new alternatives within our political reality?
SC: Funnily enough, I sent that quotation, those very words to Thomas Hirschhorn, an artist who has been running a Gramsci monument in the Bronx under the auspices of the DIA Art Foundation. He’s built a fantastic, precarious, transient monument with a library and media centre with all sort of Gramsci-related activity. I sent him that quotation and it was put on the wall. The quotation is interesting because the point is not to become disillusioned while living without illusions. Maybe we could add another twist to that line of thought by saying the challenge of modernity is to live without illusions without becoming disillusioned but to accept that politics is the creation of an illusion that we know is an illusion. I think that illusion has a positive function and that it’s not all bad. It is not that we move from illusion to reality, necessarily. Politics is often about the creation of forms of positive illusion, which can stitch together a political movement and political front around a slogan or image. I don’t think we can just disregard illusions but we have to inhabit illusions while knowing they are illusions.
You may not be aware that the beaver, this unlucky, little, cute rodent, has suffered a long history of oppression and exploitation. On the American continent, the beaver, a traditional source of clothing and food for native people, became soon after the arrival of the European colonizers a main object of trade in the increasingly flourishing fur trade industry. Beaver pelt even led the English and the French to a brutal commercial war that ended up with the depletion, over-exploitation and over-starvation of beavers. Nonetheless, beaver hats remained quite a fashionable piece of clothing from 1550 to 1850.
As usual, colonization and exploitation were accompanied by a symbolic misrecognition that has lasted up to the present day. You may remember, for example, Jodie Foster’s 2011 movie, The Beaver, where a hand puppet named… The Beaver (I know, sorry!) turns from a cute, friendly fetish helping the main character, Walter, to recover from his severe depression, into a sort of manipulating and cruel incubus taking over his entire life. But there have been many precedents of this cultural devaluation of beavers.
The US has run a massive trade deficit for over 30 years. In recent times, there has been a growing chorus of commentators who seek to place the blame on our trading partners, most notably China, just as in an earlier time others had targeted Japan and Germany. It is said that the problem stems not from our reduced international competitiveness, but rather from the manipulation of exchange rates by our more successful trading partners.
This claim is not based on any direct evidence, but rather on an inference derived from standard international trade theory, which predicts that free trade will automatically lead to balanced trade. From this particular theoretical perspective, our large and persistent large trade deficit must be rooted in some obstacles to free trade. The large surpluses of our trading partners such as China then make them natural candidates for our opprobrium. Of course, if the standard theory is incorrect, this line of inference collapses. I wish to argue that the standard theory is wrong, on both theoretical and empirical grounds, and that free trade does not automatically eliminate trade imbalances. On the contrary, free trade reflects international competitiveness, and persistent trade deficits are symptoms of persistent competitive weakness.
This week The New School’s Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis (SCEPA) hosted three New School economists to discuss the economic and political fallout of the government shut down and the possibility of a default. Professors Teresa Ghilarducci, Rick McGahey and Christian Proaño discussed possible scenarios in case the United States would default on its debt, and the political economy of both the shutdown and the debt ceiling crisis. …