Bulletin N° 734
Subject : J20-minus-one and counting, in the Year of the Oligarchs.
Dear Colleagues and Friends of CEIMSA,
Tomorrow is Inauguration (and anti-inauguration) Day in Washington, D.C. ! The war of words escalates, as the relentless wheels of capital accumulation continue to turn, and the rich get richer, the planet is increasingly poisoned, and the rest of us become poorer. Eight individuals, according to a recent Oxfam report, own more wealth than one-half of the world’s population. What is the significance of such a concentration of wealth? Has casino capitalism completely turned against consumers and against the market place that offers essential commodities, in order to satisfy the desires of a few capitalists sitting at the control switch of this game? If so, how can they be unplugged? How can this fixed system be shut down? These are the burning questions being discussed today, on the eve of the Inauguration.
In chapter 7 of his book, The Structures of Everyday Life, Fernand Braudel discusses the historical perspective of money :
Let us start by adopting something like the old-fashion (nominalist) approach of before 1760, and look at things through the deliberately mercantilist perspective of the preceding centuries. This perspective gave a particular prominence to money, which was considered as wealth in its own right, like a river whose force alone could stimulate and complete exchanges, and whose mass could accelerate or slow them down. Money, or rather the monetary stock, combined mass and momentum. If the mass increased or the overall momentum was accelerated, the result was virtually the same: everything went up: prices, more slowly wages, and the total volume of transactions. If the opposite occurred, the whole process went into reverse. Under these conditions, if there is direct exchange of goods (barter); or if substitute money makes it possible for a deal to be concluded without cash changing hands; or if a transaction is facilitated by credit, it must be concluded that the volume in circulation has actually risen. In short, if all the instruments of capitalism are introduced into the monetary process, they are behaving like pseudo-money –or ever real money. In other words, what one has is a general reconciliation . . . .
But if it is possible to say that everything is money, it is just as possible to claim that everything is, on the contrary, credit –promises, deferred reality. . . . As [Joseph] Schumpeter said: ‘Money in turn is but a credit instrument, a claim to the only final means of payment, the consumer’s good. By now  this theory, which, of course is capable of taking many forms and stands in need of many elaborations, can be said to prevail.’ All in all, the brief can legitimately be argued either way. Like ocean navigation or printing, money and credit are techniques, which can be reproduced and perpetuated. They make up a single language, which every society speaks after its fashion, and which every individual is obliged to learn. He may not know how to read or write: only high culture depends on the written word. But not to know how to count would endanger one’s survival. Daily life is ruled by sums: the vocabulary of debit and credit, barter, prices;, the market and fluctuating currencies envelops and imprisons any society with a claim to development. Such techniques become inherited and are inevitably passed down through example and experience. µthey determine human life from day to day, lifetime to lifetime, generation to generation, century to century. They provide the environment of human history the world over.
. . .
The techniques of money, like any other techniques, are therefore a response to express, insistent and often-repeated demand. The more developed an economy became, the wider the range of monetary instruments and credit facilities it employed. And in the wider international unity that money represented on a world scale, each society had its place, some favored, some backward, some heavily handicapped. Money gave a certain unity to the world, but it was a unity of injustice.
Of this hierarchy and of the consequences it brought in turn (for money rushed to the service of monetary techniques), there was more awareness than one might think. An essayist, Van Ouder Meulen, remarked in 1778 that to read the authors of his day ‘one might think that there are Nations who will become very powerful with the passage of time, and others who will become completely destitute’. A century and a half earlier, in 1620, Scipion de Gramont had written: ‘Money, said the seven sages of Greece, is the blood and soul of men and he who has none wanders dead among the living.’(pp.476-478)
The unequal and unjust concentration of the world’s wealth placing great power into the hands of the few cannot assure world peace, notwithstanding the efforts of certain religious cults who would like to introduce a new world order based on coerced submission rather than voluntary cooperation.
The 12 items below will provide CEIMSA readers with insights into strategies of the world’s oligarchs, who long ago abandoned any politics of national identity and are now on the World Wide Web seeking quick profits from clandestine financial interventions. The disconnect between what is said and what is done is obvious to anyone willing to look into the fearsome reality that is unfolding today. This is the new norm !
Professor emeritus of American Studies
Director of Research
University of Paris-Nanterre
Center for the Advanced Study of American Institutions and Social Movements
The University of California-San Diego
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