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ECOMONIC REFORM MAGAZINE
Volume 10, Number 11, November 1998. Publisher may be contacted at:
245 Carlaw Street, Suite 107
Canada M4N 2S6
annual subscription: CAD/US$30
by John McMurtry, Professor of Philosophy
University of Guelph.
As the wheels come off the global market juggernaut, we need to understand that the unfolding collapse has been programmed into the machine. Stay the course of capital deregulation long enough and a truly momentous wreck is guaranteed. The fact is that our political and market leaderships have ensured no intelligent thought relating to the actual life needs of societies has been listened to for 15 years. "No alternative," they incanted without a break since the Reagan revolution of mindless govenment first began stripping social infrastructures by ever lower tax rates for the rich and 20% compound interest rates on public debt. Even now as the government of France pulls out of the MAI declaration of rights for unaccountable borderless capital, Ottawa is still prating about "sticking to its commitments" to the meltdown program.
The problem is a generalized mind-seizure. As money-to-more-money circuits have become increasingly autonomous, public consciousness has fetishized money demand as the sovereign authority of the world. The lifeblood of societies has been circulated away as fast as possible to "pay off deficits as a national emergency," "reduce social costs to attract investors," "cool down the employment rate to ward off currency devaluation," "deregulate the labour and resource markets economy for greater efficiencies," and so on. The litany for expropriation of societies' common heritage and infrastructure has been recited every hour for almost twenty years, and it has always and everywhere been the disguise for highly leveraged money sequences to feed on the social life substance across the planet.
But even as the meltdown progresses across continents, the unseen seat of the disease is not yet whispered—that money sequences are overloaded far beyond the capacity of social and environmental capacities to feed them, and that they increasingly attack life-serving functions to continue their decoupled cycles.
Because these money sequences are increasingly without productive outcome of any kind, redistribute more and more wealth to the economically parasitic while stripping the civil commons and the poor, and progressively demand ever more revenue extraction from social and environmental hosts, their reproduction has become increasingly incompatible with civil and planetary life.
The overloading of the life-system by ever more ravenous money sequences is, in truth, behind every crisis people face today in the global market—behind the stressing and breaking of the planetary environment's carrying capacities, behind government debt and deficit loads and crises across the world, behind the ceaseless mergers, acquisitions and job-sheddings by corporate finance departments, behind the speed-ups of every process of work and resource extraction, behind the privatization and enclosure of evolved civil commons in every culture, and behind now the Asian meltdown and the great slump of Japan.
We need not summarize all the symptoms. But consider some figures of money-demand aggregates increasing exponentially on life systems at every level, every new unit of the escalating load requiring "more competitive performance" or "more competitive cost cutting" from individual, social and environmental life-hosts, with no limit set to what will be demanded next.
Bear in mind that the meaning of "discounted cash flow," which is the moving line and reference body of global market value, means that what is today $100 in real terms is the same as $100 + compound interest in one year ($110), two years ($121), or 20 years from now as the starting base from which every "worthwhile enterprise" is calculated. The system is a horizonlessly expanding money-demand machine engineering all that lives to extract more money value from it.
If the victim societies melt under the "free circulation" of the hot money flows, then this is because they did not "adapt effectively." If the atmosphere itself can no longer hold the pollutants dumped into it, then this is the occasion for issuing "pollution credits" to make more business out of the earth's collapse.
Canada's Pension Plan itself is now being fed to the hungry money circuits. The reason is simple. Since money grows money, why not put our national pension funds into the global market to make it pay for future pensions. Consider the rate of multiplication. An input of $10,614 in 1955 yields an output of compound-interest-plus multification to $5,309,000 in 1998.(1) That is, an over 500-times increase in what goes to "the investor" who performs no function in the increase, nor in the productive economy to receive this increase, nor in serving the life of any life organization to be entitled to all further exponential multiplication of this money demand seeking to be still more. This is called "market freedom."
In 1998, the combined money-demand value of US pension and mutual funds to whom this multiplication is promised was $9 trillion, or 30 times the net money worth of the US's 60 richest market agents, with more new money-demand then going into these funds every quarter than all the US super-rich own together.(2) These were predicted to grow at a sustained or rising rate. At the same time, both British and Canadian national pension funds planned to redistribute all of their public funds into the global market of transnational money sequences as well, instead of as in the past lending to governments, investing in jobs for the young, or committing to any defence or growth of life at all. Meanwhile the poverty of children, dead-end youth prospects and the slips in environmental carrying capacity in both societies continued to climb.(3)
During this collapse of life-system bearings and money-sequence metastasis, even the once mighty machine shop of the world, Japan, came to the end of the line. It reached the surplus money wall in the early 1990's, performing as a harbinger of the disorder few saw. When the speculatively driven prices or real estate and Nikkei stocks plunged, and the richest banks in the world could not find productive enterprises to invest in and steward as their successful automobile and electronic industries had done since 1950 by long-term, careful financial ministry planning, Japan's money sequences had no way out. When the hundreds of billions of uncommitted money demand first invaded and then exited Asian stocks and currencies in 1997-98, leaving societies there on average halved in their money access to means of existence, Japan was left with hundreds of billions of debt that could not be paid by the lenders, and with no advances behind the armed force of land clearances and forced borderless markets favoured by the US corporate axis.
Japan controlled $12 trillion in loose money with no real function to perform except to become more. But with its unmoored banks loaded with $1000 billions in bad loans, Japan's government naturally had to pump over $200 billion more in public funds to back up the decoupled financial circuits.(4)
Robotically lock-stepping to the unhinged market paradigm, the IMF and the US government demanded still more borderless financial deregulation from Japan, just as they had prescribed for all the economies of Asia that had already been melted down by such financial deregulation. Japan's government, not recognizing the gallows wit and still locked in the paradigm themselves, promised "a big bang" of more deregulation in financial markets.
We've been getting the big bang now for a long time, and it only gets bigger.
When a long-dominant paradigm fails in its prescriptions, and it calls for more of its failed prescriptions to solve its failures, its circularity becomes terminal. What is not recognized is the underlying principle of the escalating failures: that financial crises always follow from money-value delinked from real value, which has many names but no understanding of what it is. Value is what serves life itself, and the global market paradigm has no place in its metric for the life factor at any level.
1. "Illustration of an Assumed Investment of $10,000," Templeton Growth Fund Limited Annual Report, April 30, 1998, p.3. return
2. Peter Drucker, "The Idol Rich," Report On Business Magazine, January 1998, p.88. return
3. In the 1998 Competitiveness Rankings by World Economic Forum, the growth of child poverty, youth unemployment, environmental depletion and degradation, and every other indicator of societies in serious life-slippage is simply excluded from the index. This is how the value metric of the global market paradigm is systemically life-blind, and how nations which follow it can be hollowed out while believing they are ever more competitive. return
4. The figures referred to above are drawn from across the special issue of Newsweek (February 2, 1998) devoted to the Asia financial crisis, "How Big Is Asia?" The Economist, February 7, 1998, p.72, The Wall Street Journal, February 17, 1998 and Marcus Gee, "The Real End of Japan Inc." The Globe and Mail, April 18, 1998, p. D4. return
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