Sacrificing to the Minotaur

In the current economic crisis people are tempted to fall back to conservative ideologies affirming the existing capitalist system. With the fall of the Stalinism any ideological alternative has evaded people’s imagination. People suffered the consequences from the greatest economic crisis since World War II, in which global banks, the flag ships of world capitalism, collapsed and governments had to intervene with unprecedented measures using public funds to prevent a total economic downfall. And as people fear the threats of economic downfall, politicians within the social-economic status quo advertise two responses. The first Keynesian reflex is to spend money and stabilize the turning of the economic wheels, preventing them from further slow-down. The second response is a reflex to the former and advocates a fiscal conservative policy of cutting budget deficits resulting from the Keynesian reflex. Within the economic wisdom of the existing system these are both established outcomes.

The political debate surrounding the state of the economy has one central question: how much will be cut where? Not even socialists, not christian-democrats or social nationalists, not liberal capitalists doubt the economic necessity of budget cuts. Any person however should be confused, because while everyone made the right analysis of the financial crisis within the status quo of the existing capitalist system, no one is suggesting or considering even any alternative.

The blame points according to all and without doubt at the American investors who sold subprime mortgages with the expectation that their value would continue to rise in the future. The European banks, pension funds and private investors saw rainbows at the horizon and chased after the pots of gold, lured by the same American investors who had invented the subprime mortgages. Following, American investors started speculating on a failure of the mortgage packages by buying default swaps against the same products they were now selling to their own customers. Problems started years ago with the process of globalization of corporations and the relentless expansions that were necessary and financed by loans. Some of these loans were directly at the costs of employees’ pension funds, which were depleted and collapsed when financing fell short. But the crisis exploded only full scale with the financial crisis in 2009.

And what else could government, this servant of their electorate, do than intervene? In Amerika it was said that the banks were ‘Too Big to Fail’. In this process, governments bought the shares of banks against a generous price that lay above their real value, and in order to keep the all but in name bankrupt banks alive the worthless risky loans were sold with risk guarantees to investors (the same investor that had invented, speculated, sold and undermined those packages), while an injection of capital was considered necessary to supply the emptied banks with new cash. All this was unavoidable, finance ministers told the people. This scenario was followed alike in all countries within the American sphere of influence.

In reality, this necessity was also an invention of American capitalism, which was believed without scrutiny by the rest of the western world, perhaps overwhelmed by shame for being taken in, blinded by fear of cataclysmic events, perhaps driven by bad intention, or perhaps out of simple stupidity. The investors who are to be blamed for the crisis (those who enriched themselves by this pyramid game of selfish greed ravishing future increase of value) only accumulated more wealth in the process. They speculated on the failure of subprime mortgages, and turned those failures into huge profits. In the meantime, governments intervened and sold underpriced risky loans to private equity firms without risk with underlying risk guarantees, and injected further tax payers’ cash into fallen and stumbling banks. But instead of passing on these cash reserves to companies and private households in order to keep current accounts at the root of economic activities funded, these banks kept cash in house to increase interest rates by limiting supply. Again capital earned more capital with the higher interest rates, pushing profits ever higher and higher in a speculative spiral in which the rest of the world economy was sucked down. Governments ended up short of capital as interest on capital increased. In response, governments issued new bonds to pay short term expenses, all adding continuously to the profits of investors.

Those same investors started to speculate now on credit default swaps against those governments from which they had bought bonds in order to stimulate government spending, helping to dig their own holes, in which public money was thrown deeper and deeper. Thus they continued a perpetual speculative game of buying, packaging, selling, insuring and undercutting. It is hard for voters to imagine the numbers, the size and the speed by which financial products are created, bought, sold, in every second, every minute, fictive hundreds of millions shoot like electric currents via bank accounts and computers all over the world, allowing only the profits to be skimmed by a small fraction of the population, and en-debt the others in economic bondage.

Greek socialists are a rare bulwark of resistance in Europe, still prepared to literally fight and revolt against the greedy influence of world capital, the institutions that it controls and which accumulates ever more capital and power, leaving less choice and freedom to the lower and middle classes. The ordinary Greek is one of the few European citizens that is not fooled, even if it goes at the cost of the other Europeans, but now the Greeks too are pushed into the fangs of the American IMF, and Europe is selling itself short to the American financial imperium. The unique feature about the current decapitalization of the majority of the people is that it is not the labor classes that are the target of world capitalism, but it is the middle class that is pulled into submission to the influence and power of world capitalism. While in the 1980s the middle management and middle segments of the economy were pushed out of the economic center of power, now it are the middle classes who are voided of economic and political interest in shaping and directing the existing system.

The accumulation of capital no longer takes place mainly or especially by the classic Marxist method of replacing manual labor with machines, the automation of production processes with computers or robots, or by relocating production to low wage countries. This accumulation mainly occurs by borrowing from the future, by speculating on the value of future increase of value, the borrowing from future generations, and shifting the costs of payments to the tax payers. The ‘Verelendung’ or impoverishment of the laborer and accumulation of capital is paid with public money that has been extorted from the employees and independent small entrepreneurs, causing enormous public deficits that are left to be paid by low and middle incomes. The capitalists want us to believe that there is only one single remedy against the threat of this crisis: cutting back public services! Everyone and all have to cut back, these after all are just the laws of the market. Wages, health care, education and social services, all will be cut, while jobs will be relocated to low wage countries, because the hunger of the capitalist minotaur must be fed. There is always something bigger to be feared than these sacrifices, always a bigger doom hanging over us, to make these sacrifices inevitable.

Regardless how clever you think you are, how self righteous you can feel, how much confidence you take from your career, no matter if you are on top of the markets managing your portfolio of petty capital, if you are afraid to lose your new car or to lose your first home, what you should really fear is to be owned by the scale of world capital. It is in this water that you swim: the larger processes of the long term, controlled by the currents and waves that are caused by speculators and private equity firms that sluice money through invisible channels back and forth to and from barely regulated businesses, minority shares, internationally operating companies that only exist on paper and dodge taxes through shell-companies in profit tax paradises like the Netherlands.

What people should fear is not to loose the little they have, but contributing to a system that serves largely the super rich who evade their obligations in return, who launder money via postal addresses on tropical islands or Swiss bank accounts, and who pull the strings of the docile common citizen in their grand stage plays. People with light shoulders carry the heavy burden that the whole system depends on, while those with the most means enjoy the greatest pleasures. What you should fear however, is that you no longer see an alternative, that you believe there is simply no other choice than to bow under the weight. You should fear to lack the courage to strike back, to say enough is enough, and not to live your life as the little man trampling the grapes for the banquets of your lords. If you are only allowed to play another man’s game, you should not continue to gamble for small gain. Retirees have seen their pension savings being annihilated, their pensions frozen or cut back with increasing inflation, young workers have seen future debt accumulating while the perspective of opportunities have disappeared to countries with less worker protection, where workers bow even deeper for the power of world capitalism, disrupting existing economical and social structures, to break the capacity for alternatives.

The power of the status quo lies not in the enforcement against people’s will of an economic system that serves the interest of a small class of the people. The real power lies in the ability to void people of the capacity to think of alternatives. The criticism in the media has been directed at the perverted psychologies of individuals like Nick Leeson or Bernard Madoff. But the root of their perversion lies not in the individual behavior, but in the system that provokes it, tolerates it and promotes it. When the system permits a consistent and continuous stream of faults, the system itself is at fault. While the leaks in the system that allow the occasional outpouring are patched, the system itself that exercises the high pressure on the fragile casing of ethics that surrounds it, remains intact.

See also: Agenda 2010: Life in the Endtimes according to Slavoj Zizek, Slavoj Zizek in VPRO Tegenlicht.

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