Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Talking the Economy Up and Down?

In 1967 there were protests throughout the US against the war in Vietnam. In October that year, organisers from Mobe - the National Mobilisation Committee to End the War in Vietnam - called for a march on Washington. As part of the protest, two political activists, Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, planned to exorcise and levitate the Pentagon by invoking an ancient Aramaic ritual.

That day, over 50,000 attended the anti-war protests. After the protests had finished about half the crowd marched over the Memorial Bridge to the Pentagon guarded by the army and the National Guard. Several hundred people - led by Abbie Hoffman and Allen Ginsberg - started chanting and singing. As TIMES MAGAZINE explained at the time:

[B]y chanting ancient Aramaic exorcism rites while standing in a circle around the building, they could get it to rise into the air, turn orange and vibrate until all evil emissions had fled. The war would end forthwith.

The Pentagon did not move and the war in Vietnam continued for another six years. Chanting an ancient Aramaic exorcism rite achieved nothing. While Ginsberg’s generation, despite their energy and political activism “… passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war” (The Howl), changed nothing, capitalism and its wars have persisted from one generation to the next.

If levitating the Pentagon proved a futile act of folly back in 1967, so too has the current penchant for sections of the pro- Brexit and EU Remainers to use faith-based economics in an attempt to either “talk up” or “talk down” the economy.

It has been amusing to watch the pro-Brexit media, daily apply a faith-based economics to “talk-up” the economy. They really do believe that all you have to do is constantly repeat that the economy is booming, that British capitalism is on the rise and that all is grand and dandy in the markets and then the economy will somehow blossom and bloom.

And some even they have God on their side. When Theresa May is kept awake at night thinking about Brexit she takes comfort in her Christian faith. Prayer and her religious belief inform her politics and economic thinking (THE SUNDAY TIMES, November 27th 2016).

The Brexiteers also believe the reverse is true. They bitterly complain when economic statisticians, like the Office for Budget Responsibility (whose track record on economic predictions is lamentable) or journalists such as the Keynesian, Will Hutton, “talk down” the economy. They become agitated and alarmed that this economic negativity will cause the economy to nose-dive, the pound to fall and for business confidence to collapse. So hysterical have the Brexiteers become that negative criticism of the economy is denounced as treachery. Economic treason, if you like.

A similar, but equally foolish, faith-based economics is pursued by the “remainers” who hope the economy, post Brexit, will be so dire and painful that they can say turn round to those who voted to leave the EU and sneer: “we told you so”. They want Brexit to become apparent in higher prices, squeezed incomes and deeper austerity. A constant stream of negative articles and statistics is produced, on an almost daily basis, by the pro-EU enthusiasts in an attempt to “talk the economy down

”. The movement of the economy from boom to bust and from bust to boom is not dependent on religion, the psychological disposition of economic actors or the fatalism of Kondratiev waves oscillating through human history. Economic crises occur because of the contradictions inherent in the anarchy of commodity production and exchange for profit.

Faith-based economics is as baseless as chanting Aramaic rituals to levitate the Pentagon. This is not to say that capitalists need confidence to invest. They do. Capitalists only invest when they believe they are going to make a profit. However, capitalists do not need recourse to a faith-based economics to know when to invest and when to employ and exploit the working class.

As Marx noted:

…capitalist production moves through certain periodical cycles. It moves through a state of quiescence, growing animation, prosperity, overtrade, crisis and stagnation (Wages, Price and Profit in SELECTED WORKS, Volume 1, p. 440)

Capitalism generates periodic economic crises through contradiction. Capitalism has the capacity to produce vast social wealth simultaneously with poverty; the freedom for capital to move across the world alongside wage slavery for the majority imprisoned within national boundaries; sophisticated robotic factories producing commodities but with human labour dehumanised as a mere appendage to the machine; and the deliberate prevention of the forces of production from being used to meet the needs of everyone even though a world of abundance is possible.

Workers should dismiss the faith-based economics of either “talking-up” or “talking down” the economy. It can’t be done. Instead, workers should realise that there is a practical and reasonable alternative to capitalism; the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society. The conscious, political and democratic movement to establish socialism is the only force capable to end war, and the social and economic consequences of the anarchy of commodity production and exchange for profit.

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