“Capitalism never solves its crisis problems; it moves them around geographically”

This is one of the best — and most visually interesting — animations about modern capitalism and the political/economic system we’ve been living in for the last 50 years I’ve ever seen. If you’ve been following my wanderings for the past week or so — for example, “Free Trade and Capital Flow: How billionaires get rich“ — you’ll know why I recommend it.

From the creators, RSA Animate:

In this RSA Animate, celebrated academic David Harvey looks beyond capitalism towards a new social order. Can we find a more responsible, just, and humane economic system?

This RSA Animate was taken from a lecture given as part of the RSA’s free public lecture programme. The RSA is a 258 year-old charity devoted to driving social progress and spreading world-changing ideas. For more information, visit http://www.thersa.org

Note: I’m not presenting it to recommend any given solution (and the speaker offers none). I’m putting it up for its wonderful explication of the process and structure of this modern world. The headline quote:

“Capitalism never solves its crisis problems; it moves them around geographically.”

comes at 7:00 minutes in, and as soon as you see how the speaker got there, you’ll get it. Wonderful work. Watch (h/t valued commenter Bill_Perdue):

Notice at 7:40, “Capitalism cannot abide a limit.” David Graeber makes the same point in a different way in DEBT: The first 5000 years. (The audiobook version is excellent, by the way. Very listenable.)

Graeber says (paraphrasing) that some systems have to expand constantly or they collapse. There’s no stasis point for them. Empires based on the nexus of coinage (which means mines) + conquest (using soldiers paid by the coinage) + slaves (captured by the soldiers to work the mines) are a perfect example.

The Roman Empire was one such instance. It was a coinage empire heavily dependent on slaves. Once they couldn’t expand, they crumbled. Post-Roman Europe had many serfs but fewer slaves (though Europeans were involved in the slave trade to Islam as middlemen). And much of the money in medieval Europe was virtual, just like today.

Modern capitalism, according to Graeber, is another instance of a system that will collapse as soon as it stops expanding. (I’ll leave you to figure out why, but consider the quarterly profit report of any major company. What happens to companies with consistent zero growth?)

I ended up watching this video several times, each one increasing my understanding. I hope you enjoyed this as well.

GP

To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius


Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States. Click here for more. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius and Facebook.

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  • condew

    That Capitalism is the enemy of Marxism is nothing new, far more gut-wrenching is that we now know Capitalism is also the enemy of Democracy.

  • Bill_Perdue

  • Tim Kane

    The reason Marx won’t quite ever die, is because he diagnosed the problem quite well. The reason we thought he would die was because he did not diagnose the solution very well. His solution is revolution. Even Harvey, here, is suggesting something similar, massive demonstration and rioting in the streets. That’s all sledgehammer stuff in lieu of a tweezers.

    The problem has to do with bargaining power. The founding fathers gave our system of civics a four legged stool:
    1) The bill of rights, which effectively ended culture wars (the current by the same name is really a faux proxy war for class warfare)
    2) Common Law which gave us a cheap but malable but reasonably effective system of justice that butresses up #1 above and vice versa.
    3) Free Contract: which basically says we are in constant of class/economic warfare. In such a society, bargaining power is everything. Now the founders knew that bargaining power has a tendency to accumulate and that concentrated wealth destroyed Rome and they believed that it was destroying England (Calvinist abhorrence to inherited -landed- wealth as contrary to work ethic based salvation). To limit this they gave us democracy.
    4) Democracy: when wealth becomes too unbalanced, because bargaining power has become too unbalanced, then democracy can serve to level the playing field again. This is exactly what occurred in the 1930. Unfortunately, that mechanism has proven entirely too slow, and Big Money has learned how to “transcend” or “leap” over this barrier through the purchase of politicians.

    So we don’t necessarily need a big revolution. The only thing not working up to snuff is the democracy component. So we need to tweak that.

    Here are some simple changes:
    1) Reverse Citizens United and, most especially Arizona Free Enterprise Club (Partial solution).
    2) Public campaign financing
    3) spending caps on campaigns
    4) Lobbying caps, or better yet, make it illegal and treason to provide anything more than information (as in prohibiting aid, money and/or comfort to a person in public employment, in campaign mode and in public employment, and for 10 years after employment).
    5) strictly limit media and press holdings to one major unit (paper or video) and one minor unit (web site).

    If politicians could not look to Big Money to get elected and/or find comfort, then we’d get politicians that acted on behalf of the public’s interests.

    Incidentally – as I’ve said before, you should look to the Arizona Free Enterprise Club ruling to fully understand and validate what Harvey is saying here. Citizens United gave corporations the opening into buying policy – but there’s a veil of logic a jurist could hide behind. But Arizona Free Enterprise Club, the majority had to go WAY OUT of their way to render the decision against floating point public campaign financing – even the “Club” that brought the case didn’t think it stood a ghost of a chance of succeeding because of over a century of precedent – but its obvious to see that “floating point public campaign financing” would immensely mitigate against the outcome intended in Citizens United, perhaps completely neutering Citizens United in the application. Those decisions, plus Bush v Gore shows the courts hand. And even Sandra Day showed no remorse, despite going on 13 years of calamity ever since. 1980 Reagan Thatcher revolution is small potatoes compared to the 2000 revolution that finished what Reagan started.

  • Indigo

    Yes.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    How sweet it is to hear the name ‘Marx’ again.

  • stan

    Isn’t this what Ross Perot told us before Bill Clinton was elected? “Giant Sucking Sound”? “Infinite supply of cheap labor”? Yes, this is what Ross Perot warned about.

  • Bill_Perdue

    Playing soon in cites all over North America

  • lynchie

    I tend to agree. The problem with unions these days is there marginalization by the government and media. Gone are the days when there was some understanding for the reason for solidarity. Now we are fed a steady diet of the lack of work they do, huge entitlements because of the union, outrageous salaries, etc. Young folks are taught to be greedy and think only of themselves so they are fed a diet of union dues rob you of income. We truly do need a national strike day by all unions. It won’t wake up Congress or the Corporations but it may wake up Mom and Pop who are living on the edge and don’t know who to blame except the immigrants, unions, homos and the like.

  • Bill_Perdue

    The Occupiers are a creation of Obama, his fake promises in 2008 and his dismal failure since then. Many Occupiers were part of the vast volunteer network created by Obots and the DNC in 2007-08.

    Historically the closest parallel is the growth of SDS in late 1960′s and early 1970′s, They too started out as liberals, became largely ultraleft and then settled back into pathetic, conformist liberalism. They infest the Democrat party.

    I don’t think OWS will degenerate like SDS because of this crucial difference; SDS was built around the war and the current radicalization is focused on mass unemployment and is increasingly propelled by the union left. There are now significant left wing groups in the longshore unions on both coasts, Teamsters, rail workers, teachers, nurses, and in groups organizing Wal-Mart and imported workers. With unemployment at or near Depression levels, with four applicants for every job opened, and with wages being relentlessly down workers, not students, will lead this radicalization.

    Unions and union workers are the heavy infantry of social change and that overwhelmingly important difference gives us an opening for fundamental change by creating workers parties and then a workers state.

  • Bill_Perdue

    Thanks for posting this. I do everything I can to make it available. People love it.

  • ComradeRutherford

    “What happens to companies with consistent zero growth?”

    What is interesting about that is that the company itself can be perfectly sustainable at zero-growth, what kills everything are the ‘investors’ that cause the collapse because they can’t stand zero-growth.

    I was a member of the Park Slope Food Coop back in the late ’80s and 1990s. The company was carefully managed to have as little ‘profit’ as possible. The income never had much excess at the end of the year because of the ‘wholesale plus’ model they employed. But when they went to a bank to finance the first expansion the banks looked at this ‘for-profit’ company and saw no ‘profits’. It took some convincing to get the bank to understand that the lack of ‘profits’ wasn’t the point, the company still did $7M of business every year!

    Among the finance sector reality doesn’t matter, only the made-up-on-paper fabrications they invent. Mortgages are a perfect example. The bank writes a ‘note’ that says your house is worth, say, $200,000. The market drops and your house is now worth $100,000, but the bank refuses to accept reality and demands that you keep paying the paper value, not the real value. Take that all the way up to the Mortgage Backed Securities that Wall Street used to cause the 2008 collapse where they claimed that their securities had ‘X’ dollar value, when there was nothing actually to back it up.

    I realized when I was a teen that capitalism depended of continual growth. Today, 300% profit increases every quarter are required, it doesn’t matter if that kills off the company before the next quarter, and it doesn’t matter if that kills off all life on the planet.

  • lynchie

    The pleasure is all mine. I have been told by my kids that i have grown from a romantic, eternal optimist to someone who has a negative side to my arguments and that is true. I prefer to feel that its not negativity but reality. I am in my sixties and for me the greatest invention in the world is the internet. To be able to type a question into google and have thousands of potential web sites to visit totally plays to my curiosity something I demanded from my kids and those around me. There certainly are some things you can’t question but now the Internet offers alternative answers, a lot bad, but the rush is being able to search the answers to see if they add up the same way. Keep speaking truth to power. I agree about the Occupy movement, but I fear that we can’t get enough involved to do something in those 5 to 10 years.

  • GaiusPublius

    Everything of mine you see elsewhere is posted here first. So this is a good one-stop shopping place (though the comment sections at other sites is often interesting as well). Thanks for the compliment; I really appreciate it.

    There are wildcards in the system. Occupy, for example, created the 1% meme that turned the national conversation back to wealth, and arguably sunk the Romney campaign. The street action is critical. Also the occasional accident. For example, re guns, Newtown will be hard to put back in the tube for the NRA. I think the tide has turned there.

    The tide could well turn against Money as well. The real race is with the climate and “catastrophe awareness”. We have, IMO, 5-10 years to really do something, then the end is inevitable — +7°C by 2100. If, in those 10 years, people figure out that it’s over (and they will, since the climate is making its own case these days), people will also get that the wealth-captured U.S. government will abandon most of them — and save the elites and those whom they need or want. That won’t be a good day. That’s the deadline I’m racing to avoid.

    Again, thanks for reading and following so consistently, lynchie.

    GP

  • nicho

    Graeber’s book is vital for anyone who wants to know anything about monetary policy. It puts to rest all the econo-babble we see (even from some posters here) about “fiat money,” debt, the gold standard, etc. Money — has pretty much always been whatever the government says it is — gold, silver, clam shells, paper, feathers, whatever — and is worth whatever the government says it’s worth.

  • lynchie

    Gaius: Consistently terrific posts. Do you also blog at other sites or re post these?

    The bottom line is that with governments owned by the corporations we seem to be powerless. No one has the money to run a campaign based on changing banking or Wall Street, regulation, etc. As a result we have no avenue to force government to do the right thing for its people. We can go to the streets, we have a corporate police. We can strike, even if not in a union, none of us have enough to survive through that process. We can vote out all incumbents but anyone put into washington is just as compromised by money. I fear we are on this endless spiral around the toilet bowl with no way to stop the downward plunge.

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