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I wanted to invite those who have an interest to discuss the new piece by David Graeber over at the Baffler: http://www.thebaffler.com/...

I have several initial thoughts on it as follows:

1.  What has happened to the concept of the 99%/1%?  It seems to not have a place in this piece.

2.  Isn't consumer and personal debt truly a reflection of wealth disparity and isn't debt just a substitute for a lack of increase/actual decrease of wages, which itself reflects the attack on collective bargaining?  Is the real problem consumer debt or is it the exotic financial debt instruments that have been built atop it?

3.  What role does the wealthy taking more out of the economy play in this?

4.  What role do protecting innovative financial instruments play in the role of debt and how does it enslave us to austerity or dysfunctional capitalism in the future?

I'll be gone for most of the morning, but will pick up on comments, if any, this afternoon.

Initially, it strikes me that fixing the 99#/1% disparity plays a key role in the route back to the mutuality Graeber hints at.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (8+ / 0-)

    "To recognize error, to cut losses, to alter course, is the most repugnant option in government." Historian Barbara Tuchman

    by Publius2008 on Thu May 09, 2013 at 09:50:26 AM PDT

  •  Graeber is an anarchist, IIRC, so not suprrising (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Odysseus, AoT, chuckvw, Nattiq, Publius2008

    to see class-conscious elements muted in his piece.

    The whole concept of ownership and concentration of wealth (1% currently control 40% of the wealth of the U.S.) gets short shrift in this piece, at least as I read it.

    Several questionable premises and definitions, about debt and money, make the thrust of his argument weaker.

    To wit, Graeber writes that money "is really . . . just a set of promises". Actually, that is only part of what money is, it is also an absract store of value. And "a planetary debt cancellation" will mean that people who lent money in good faith expecting to be paid back with money plus interest will, what, get a haircut?

    I generally favor some of Graeber's specific suggestions, like redefining full employment to mandate a 35-hour work week and mandatory 4 weeks of paid vacation for all workers, along with a Guaranteed Annual Income (a la McGovern 1972), so that the sperm lottery does not determine who lives and who dies.

    Thanks for posting this, btw. It's a great thought piece and I don't feel nearly so depressed about Occupy Los Angeles' seeming demise after reading it. The sacrifices of many of my friends may not have been entirely in vain.

    •  Have you read his book "Debt: The First 5000 Years (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      chuckvw, Odysseus, Publius2008, cynndara

      A lot of the problems you have are addressed in that, especially the things about money. This article builds on that book so I recommend reading it if you want to see those questions addressed. I'd just generally recommend reading it, really. It's an amazing book in terms of content and writing.

      In regards to class consciousness and anarchism, I'm not sure why those would ever be separated or thought to be separate. Class is central to the anarchist critique. I'd imagine Graeber didn't talk as much about it in this piece because he is not used to people being as class conscious as they are these days.

      If debt were a moral issue then, lacking morals, corporations could never be in debt.

      by AoT on Thu May 09, 2013 at 12:11:22 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I have not read that book. I've now read a couple (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        AoT

        really great articles by Graeber, so will check the book out next time I'm by LA Public Library.

        I'm not an expert in anarchist theory or history, so I'll defer to your judgments on those matters. I do think it telling that Graeber can propose a 'debt jubilee' without proposing a fundamental and permanent redistribution of wealth. But, again, maybe I'm missing something contextual.

        Thanks for the tip.

        •  In regards to the Debt Jubilee (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Odysseus, cynndara

          I agree that it alone wouldn't be enough to make long term changes. I tend to see a jubilee as a beginning, not as a final goal. I think he's being very conservative in his proposals in a lot of these things. He is an anarchist and ultimately supports a complete abolition of the state and of capitalism. I identify as an anarchist, an anarcho-syndicalist specifically, and I think a jubilee would be a good step on the way to full worker control of the means of production without the failed dictatorship that is best represented by communist countries. Really, I'm for anything that benefits the working class both immediately and in the long term.

          I'd add that the psychological victory of successfully agitating for a debt jubilee would be immense. At this point it seems like a pipe dream, but if we could pull it off then I think it would completely change the tide of everything. We tend to see economic forces as unchangeable and inexorable. A jubilee would put the lie to that conception.

          If debt were a moral issue then, lacking morals, corporations could never be in debt.

          by AoT on Thu May 09, 2013 at 02:50:06 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  I think he may be avoiding class analysis (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      AoT, cynndara

      because that implies having to actually take on or over the govt. on some level and he seems to be suggesting that any revolution will be a paradigm or mind shift, a way of thinking, not a power revolution.

      But I think that class issues are the practical means by which we could get to a more authentic mutuality.

      I actually agree with him about what money really is.  It is mutuality at an unbelievable level of abstraction.

      "To recognize error, to cut losses, to alter course, is the most repugnant option in government." Historian Barbara Tuchman

      by Publius2008 on Thu May 09, 2013 at 02:43:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  you do realize (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Publius2008, AoT, cynndara, Odysseus

       I was the one who pushed the 99% theme to begin with? I was an anarchist then too!

        Actually the reason class analysis is downplayed in the text is that these are extracts from a book ("The Democracy Project") and the class analysis is in chapter 2. This is from the last chapter.

      •  Well then, I guess I'll have to buy the book to (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        AoT

        find out how it ends.  Tease.  :)

        BTW, thanks for dropping in.

        "To recognize error, to cut losses, to alter course, is the most repugnant option in government." Historian Barbara Tuchman

        by Publius2008 on Thu May 09, 2013 at 03:48:49 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  This is significant. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AoT, chuckvw, Publius2008, cynndara
    What is debt, after all, but the promise of future productivity? Saying that global debt levels keep rising is simply another way of saying that, as a collectivity, human beings are promising each other to produce an even greater volume of goods and services in the future than they are creating now. But even current levels are clearly unsustainable. They are precisely what’s destroying the planet, at an ever-increasing pace.
    Systems which can't be sustained won't be.

    To the extent that "money" is power, and that power is directed towards delaying an inevitable collapse, it's all wasted.

    -7.75 -4.67

    "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."

    There are no Christians in foxholes.

    by Odysseus on Thu May 09, 2013 at 11:56:42 AM PDT

    •  Yes, I too think this a significant insight (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      AoT, Odysseus

      tho, as I said, debt is also an unfair substitute for what is really unpaid wage.  

      Debt is also saying: "we can't balance the books now, but we are planting seeds, so you will get the debt plus interest in the future."  I don't see that happening based on the reality of the world situation.  I see it as kicking the can down the road.

      I totally agree with Graeber's insight that "the economy" is or should just be the sum of mutual agreements we make to each other.

      "To recognize error, to cut losses, to alter course, is the most repugnant option in government." Historian Barbara Tuchman

      by Publius2008 on Thu May 09, 2013 at 02:39:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Graeber's Mistake (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Odysseus

    In a previous essay, "The Shock of Victory"
    ( http://www.minorcompositions.info/... ), Graeber makes a mistake that he repeats here:  he concentrates on long-term goals (his are "smash the state and destroy capitalism") without realizing that we need a continuous daily practice that points directly toward the long-term goals we choose.

    Graeber, from what I've read, can only see the short-term and the long-term - the immediate action today and the ultimate goal on the far horizon.  He does not understand the need for tactics and strategies that allow people to gain a little ground for themselves day by day, a practice of struggle that builds by every action a road to the ultimate goal.

    Gandhi knew this well as he made swadeshi, local production, the daily practice of productive, community labor, the foundation of his politics and his economics, something that too few have recognized.

    Graeber is correct in trying to disentangle the politics of late stage capitalism from the economics of late stage capitalism but his understanding of what to do about it ignores the day to day.  He's a "big thinker" with all the problems that such a style of thinking bring.

    Graeber and the rest of us would do much better to focus on those things we can do on a daily basis that help loosen the chains that bind us.  Too bad that the immediate excitement of a street action or the dreams of the ultimate freedom keep us from it.

    •  I think that he doesn't address those issues (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Odysseus, david graeber, cynndara

      because there are a huge number of people talking about them. We see people more and more working toward medium range goals with things like pushing for more worker control in things like worker-owned worker-run collectives and urban agriculture and localism. I see these things pushed all over the place, here included. And that's a good thing, but we need long term thinking about systemic change as well and I would say that working toward a debt jubilee is one aspect of that.

      Graeber and the rest of us would do much better to focus on those things we can do on a daily basis that help loosen the chains that bind us.  Too bad that the immediate excitement of a street action or the dreams of the ultimate freedom keep us from it.
      This is the most common topic covered in almost everything I see that isn't electioneering. This is the normal range of thinking for those who are frustrated with the system as it is, from what I can tell.

      If debt were a moral issue then, lacking morals, corporations could never be in debt.

      by AoT on Thu May 09, 2013 at 02:56:47 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  What I found interesting: (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gmoke, Odysseus, AoT
    "Is it possible that this preemptive attitude toward social movements, the designing of wars and trade summits in such a way that preventing effective opposition is considered more of a priority than the success of the war or summit itself, really reflects a more general principle? What if those currently running the system, most of whom witnessed the unrest of the sixties firsthand as impressionable youngsters, are—consciously or unconsciously (and I suspect it’s more conscious than not)—obsessed by the prospect of revolutionary social movements once again challenging prevailing common sense?"
    I couldn't help but remember that the German High Command surrendered to the Allies in WWI not because the military was completely beaten, but because they feared that shortages of food and other necessities at home were leading to an inevitable revolution of the sort that had already taken place in Russia.  Their concern was no longer foreign enemies, but domestic revolt.

    The reactions to the Occupy Wall Street movement are best understood in the light of conservatives who, like the landheer and Nazis of Bavaria in 1930, had already seen and barely suppressed a previous revolutionary movement.  While wild overreactions to the actual circumstances of the protests, they made emotional sense in the context of paranoia induced by the massive unrest and social upheavals of the 60's and early 70's -- as did the rapid, romantic rally of old hippies to the cause of the young protesters.

    That war ain't over yet.

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