February 9, 2010

Imperialism vs. Politics


The White House recently announced its intent to pursue further “free trade” pacts. The pending pacts are with Columbia, Panama, and South Korea. It’s supposed to be part of a plan to double American exports within five years, though how on earth America can do this (other than through further dumping) remains a mystery.
The NYT reports that free trade cadres are hailing “the first time that the Obama administration had embraced trade liberalization vigorously.” It’s difficult to see how free trade, which is already a Hobbesian free fire zone, can become more “liberal”, but god bless ’em they’re trying.
(Of course the MSM and the hacks want us to forget one of the times the Obama campaign was caught in a lie, when the shiny candidate promised to rethink NAFTA, while on the secret hotline his flunkies were assuring their Canadian counterparts that it was just a lie for the peasants.)
Obama’s point man before Congress is, who else, Timmy Geithner.

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner told a House budget hearing on Wednesday that the administration “absolutely” planned to make passage of the three trade pacts part of the new export strategy this year. “It’s not just that,” Mr. Geithner said. “We want to be in the game in Asia as they move to negotiate new agreements there.”

Here’s a quote from Hannah Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism which gets more to the essence of the matter:

Expansion as a permanent and supreme aim of politics is the central political idea of imperialism. Since it implies neither temporary looting nor the more lasting assimilation of conquest, it is an entirely new concept in the long history of political thought and action. The reason for this surprising originality is simply that this concept is not really political at all, but has its origin in the realm of business speculation, where expansion meant the permanent broadening of industrial production and economic transactions characteristic of the 19th century.

Geithner has a long, interesting record in this lawless respect. A few days ago Joshua Rosner reminded us of some of his pre-Fed handiwork, back in the Clintonian glory days of globalization, internet branding bubbles, and deregulation.

In truth, Geithner’s ineffectiveness in his role at NY Fed President and his current political posturing — without any policy substance to directly address too-big-to-fail or the Fed’s flawed powers to bailout firms — seems to have resulted from design rather than accident. After all, in a previous “public service” role, Geithner was the lead negotiator for the WTO’s General Agreement on Tarrifs and Trade for financial services. In this role, Geithner reported to Larry Summers, who in turn reported to Secretary of Treasury Robert Rubin. In 1998, this team won the banks EVERYTHING they requested from that treaty. From open access to new markets to unrestricted growth in equity and credit derivatives, they opened the door to rapid and deregulated growth of the large multinational banks, allowing them to become “too big to fail”. Moreover, the terms of the agreement has made it almost impossible to put the “too big to fail” genie back in the bottle without running afoul of rules of this international agreement. That was the work of Geithner as “public servant”.

Back then the gangsters looked like vigorous young hunting dogs, chasing the hapless panicked rabbits in the morning sun. Time magazine could actually put some of the ugliest men in the world on their cover (and in an intentionally uglified light) and seriously want you to look at them as if they were movie stars. Tom Friedman published a book dedicated to the image of a straitjacket to whose bondage we must all submit, so we might as well lie back and enjoy it. (He called it the “golden” straitjacket.) Seattle and the dotcom crash had not happened and were physically impossible. Those must have been intoxicating days for Geithner.
In fact this round of imperialism is not different in kind from the first round in the 19th century. The same bottleneck of finance capitalism was forcing the same irrationality and violence upon a system which has no productive path available to it. The only way out was expansion for expansion’s sake. Expansion for the sake of the system’s appetite trying to feed itself, expansion for the sake of tyranny to render possible the escalating violence which will be required to maintain “growth”.
Imperialism rose out of and is a part of the growth ideology. Where growth runs up against the limits of a nation, imperialism is born. Although this new kind of growth-driven imperialism was and is usually seen as the same as old-style empire building or mercantile colonialism, this is really a sham. This is not nation-driven, state-driven, law-driven, culture-driven. It’s driven by the growth imperative of a particular mode of organizing economic activity, growth capitalism. It’s structural, inherent. It’s nothing but racketeering. 
Classical empire-building could only ever expand and enhance the body politic at home where it was based on expanding rather than escaping the law’s purview, integrating new areas into the law rather than setting up free fire zones. But modern imperialism, as it occurred first in the 19th century colonial heyday and now for the second time with modern globalization, is simply business speculation, gangsterism, transposed into the realm of political and foreign policy. It engages in more or less violent and extractive racketeering overseas, consolidates this as the government’s policy baseline through corruption and capture, and then brings the racketeering ideology home.
Financialization is one especially modern version of this non-productive, larcenous imperialism. We speak today of the Bailout which began in 2008, but really all of financialization was always this same Bailout. It was always hijacked government legalizing gang activity and where necessary directly funneling taxpayer money to the rackets. This was just stepped up to a higher level of intensity in 08.
Perhaps the first big step was the anti-federalist overriding of the many state bucket laws in the 80s. These laws criminalized many of today’s standard speculator practices of betting on the rise and fall of stocks and other underlying. Such gambling was not a legal contract and was relegated to the slimy dives and back alleys where it belongs. (In researching this I learned a new term. They used to call these crooks “bucketeers”, back when we still had the rule of law and these rackets were still illegal, before the law’s hijacking began in earnest in the 1980s.)
That this gutter casino was federally legalized, brought into the contractual open, burnished and spit-shined by academia, rolled out to a media chorus of oohs and aahs, was simply the nadir of imperial gangsterism now dignified as the pinnacle of American ingenuity, the apotheosis of the American Dream.
Growth is not a political concept, but an ideological dogma. It is anti-political. Its only basis in reality was the way fossil fuels could temporarily fuel it, but now facing the end of this easy fuel source it has lost its place in physical reality and become the province of ivory tower dogma, pseudo-religious fundamentalism, and the gun. Since it cannot be engaged politically, where rationality and humanity would refute it, it becomes aggressively anti-political. The “growth” cadres seek to kill all thought, all discourse, all politics. Just look at the modern media. Today’s MSM preaches a sham “happy balance”, but Arendt expounds the real nature of this balance:

This happy balance, however, had hardly been the inevitable outcome of mysterious economic laws, but had relied heavily on political, and even more on police institutions that prevented competitors from using revolvers. How a competition between fully armed business concerns – “empires” – could end in anything but victory for one and death for the others is difficult to understand. In other words, competition is no more a principle of politics than expansion, and need political power just as badly for control and restraint.

So just like expansion itself, competition is not political, but on the contrary needs politics to control it. (Arendt’s quote is ambiguous, and seems to mean the empires used politics to control themselves, sort of like how in theory the Mafia’s “commission” was supposed to regulate among the different families. Today Basel, the G20, etc. represent the same theory. But today the globalized gang wants to cast off all controls upon its own actions.) Seeking to cast off such control, the gangs have sought to dissolve politics.
Imperialism wants to evade politics. Having had its basis in foreign policy, it tries to bring home this characteristic combination of elitism, secrecy, and debate-killing slogans (like “growth” or “national security” or “terrorism”) to domestic politics, to foreignize it. It seeks to treat the people of the home country as a conquered colonial people.
So, for an example, just as Paul Bremer set up a space in Iraq devoid of all law for the mercenaries of globalism, so the system is now bringing home this lawlessness, as the federal court system seeks to absolve Blackwater of all responsibility before any law, anywhere.
Those are just a few examples of the lawless, anti-political core of globalization and the growth ideology. What’s considered the debate-killer? What’s our characteristic anti-intellectualism, flat-earthism? And what musters all corrupt political power against anything that’s in the public interest? Anything whose utility for growth isn’t obvious. That’s the black hole, the dead zone, the hypoxia, the doldrums, the horse latitudes, of politics. It’s the repository for all notions and expressions which are stupid, arrogant, bullying.
Corporatism is the tyrannical process seeking to liquidate all politics and all freedom.
(I add here one optimistic thought. Can the “war on terror” slogan indefinitely terrorize the people into conformity, docility, and where necessary fascist lynch mobs, all on behalf of the military-industrial ans security-industrial complexes, the same way the Cold War mindset and propaganda was able to do? The Cold War actually did threaten annihilation, whereas any sane person has to eventually realize that terrorism is a nuisance at worst, and cannot possibly justify a trillion dollar rathole, the gutting of the constitution, and incipient totalitarianism.
Is it likely the liars of the system, who are after all the real terrorists, can really keep this bogus terror going?)  


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  3. […] can do this (other than through further dumping) remains a mystery.   That led into a post about Imperialism vs. Politics.   Imperialism wants to evade politics. Having had its basis in foreign policy, it tries to bring […]

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  4. […] directly to freedom from the law. Or as Hannah Arendt wrote in Origins of Totalitarianism, legalized gangsters sought to use politics to regulate their bloodshed. The British East India Company’s violent lawlessness is exactly mirrored today in the form […]

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  5. […] the people, those who actually work, on civil society, on democracy, and on all freedom. This means the assault has been upon politics itself, to abolish it and replace it with direct administrative rule on behalf of corporations […]

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