Media, culture, and politics from an aesthetic-materialist's perspective.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Zizek Gets It Right?

I'm not one to recommend Slavoj Zizek's online missives to people, but I thought his October 9 article from the London Review of Books struck some pretty sensible chords. In "Don't Just Do Something, Talk," Zizek critiques the government's $700 billion bailout plan by exposing some of the myths that have surrounded its labored passage. I find his points persuasive -- I daresay reasonable -- given the bizarre political configurations that have emerged to support/oppose the bailout. Zizek does well to parse how these political configurations have congealed around the question of whether or not the government should use taxpayers' money to "save" Wall St.

On the supposed "socialism" of the bailout plan:
If the bailout plan really is a ‘socialist’ measure, it is a very peculiar one: a ‘socialist’ measure whose aim is to help not the poor but the rich, not those who borrow but those who lend. ‘Socialism’ is OK, it seems, when it serves to save capitalism. But what if ‘moral hazard’ is inscribed in the fundamental structure of capitalism? The problem is that there is no way to separate the welfare of Main Street from that of Wall Street. Their relationship is non-transitive: what is good for Wall Street isn’t necessarily good for Main Street, but Main Street can’t thrive if Wall Street isn’t doing well – and this asymmetry gives an a priori advantage to Wall Street.
On how the US is already "socialistic" (not a model of free market capitalism) in terms of underwriting our agricultural economy at the expense of poor, Third World agricultural economies:
There is nothing new in strong state interventions into the banking system and the economy in general. The meltdown itself is the result of such an intervention: when, in 2001, the dotcom bubble burst, it was decided to make it easier to get credit in order to redirect growth into housing. Indeed, political decisions are responsible for the texture of international economic relations in general. A couple of years ago, a CNN report on Mali described the reality of the international ‘free market’. The two pillars of the Mali economy are cotton in the south and cattle in the north, and both are in trouble because of the way that Western powers violate the same rules that they impose so brutally on Third World nations. Mali produces cotton of the highest quality, but the US government spends more money to support its cotton farmers than the entire state budget of Mali, so it is small wonder that Mali can’t compete. In the north, the European Union is the culprit: the EU subsidises every single cow to the tune of five hundred euros a year. The Mali minister for the economy said: we don’t need your help or advice or lectures on the beneficial effects of abolishing excessive state regulations; just, please, stick to your own rules about the free market and our troubles will be over. Where are the Republican defenders of the free market here? Nowhere, because the collapse of Mali is the consequence of what it means for the US to put ‘our country first’.
On why the market is never "neutral" and demands to be tarried with politically:
What all this indicates is that the market is never neutral: its operations are always regulated by political decisions. The real dilemma is not ‘state intervention or not?’ but ‘what kind of state intervention?’ And this is true politics: the struggle to define the conditions that govern our lives. The debate about the bailout deals with decisions about the fundamental features of our social and economic life, even mobilising the ghost of class struggle. As with many truly political issues, this one is non-partisan. There is no ‘objective’ expert position that should simply be applied: one has to take a political decision.

In the 1992 election, Clinton won with the motto ‘It’s the economy, stupid!’ The Democrats need to get a new message across: ‘It’s the POLITICAL economy, stupid!’ The US doesn’t need less politics, it needs more.

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