Credit, Debt, and the End of Capitalism
From Lily Allen’s song, “Everything’s Just Wonderful”:
Oh Jesus Christ almighty,
Do I feel alright? No not slightly,
I wanna get a flat I know I can’t afford it,
It’s just the bureaucrats who won’t give me a mortgage,
Well it’s very funny cos I got your fucking money,
And I’m never gonna get it just because of my bad credit
Oh well I guess I mustn’t grumble,
I suppose that’s just the way the cookie crumbles
I’ve been listening to Lily Allen a bit lately. A guilty confession, I know, but I like the way she combines bright, happy pop tunes with gritty lyrics that deal with the losing end of our booming global economy. These particular lyrics about credit and credit ratings have stuck in my head for some reason.
Possibly it is just that strange way that disparate things come together sometimes, but the papers also seem to be full of how as individuals and a society we are overburdening ourselves with debt. Also in the papers is all that concern among finance writers and politicians over the private equity bid for Qantas.
And every now and then, someone says what we are experiencing is not Capitalism any more, but something else. Certainly there’s a lot of academic writing around that tries to explain how Capitalism has evolved into something new, still Capitalism, but with ‘late’ or ‘new’, or ‘global’, or some other modifier stuck in front of it. But doesn’t the proliferation of names in itself indicate that we’re not really sure what we’re dealing with?
I’ve just read an article, “‘Capitalism’ as False Consciousness” by Phil Graham in a new journal, called Language and Capitalism, which gives the clearest explanation of this that I’ve seen yet. Graham uses the writings of Marx and Engels to argue that what we live in is no longer Capitalism but a form of Corporatism based on the separation of ownership and control, and maintained by the leveraging of debt. It is important to note that he is arguing that Capitalism as Marx described it no longer exists, not that the analytical methods used by Marx are no longer relevant.
The point is: if Graham is right, even in part, then we need to rethink traditional forms of activism. This may be stating the bleeding obvious, but it seems that more theoretical work like this, including a reassessment of class, is necessary as a grounding for more effective activism, given that the usual methods and targets are so frequently ineffective now. Maybe I’ve just been out of the activist loop for too long now. Any activists like to comment?