Mailvox: The Origins of the Alt-Retard

Alt-Left-perspectives3

The reaction to degeneracy can sometimes happen within the spirit of degeneracy. Genocide is not the morally wholesome solution to whoredom. The Marxist-Lenninsts regard Fascism as form of bourgeois reaction. That is their frame, it is how they like to position their argument as it emphasises the difference between the two, but I think it is far better to think of Socialism as Left Modernism and Fascism as being Right Modernism. With Left and Right being dispositional/temperamental distinctions. They might be different teams but they’re both playing the same game.

A Generation X reader sent me this analysis of the Fake Right Clown Posse, which somehow manages to be both sympathetic of the plight being faced by the young men of today and contemptuous of what some of them have become in response. I think he is largely correct, and explains why their attempts to defend their race and their nations so often go awry.

We have no choice but to help them. The challenge is that the only answer to ignorance is information, and as we know, as we have witnessed, there are some who cannot be instructed by information.

Mailvox: The Origins of the Alt-Retard

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Cryptocurrency and Efficient Market Hypothesis. Drunken Risibility.

According to the traditional definition, a currency has three main properties: (i) it serves as a medium of exchange, (ii) it is used as a unit of account and (iii) it allows to store value. Along economic history, monies were related to political power. In the beginning, coins were minted in precious metals. Therefore, the value of a coin was intrinsically determined by the value of the metal itself. Later, money was printed in paper bank notes, but its value was linked somewhat to a quantity in gold, guarded in the vault of a central bank. Nation states have been using their political power to regulate the use of currencies and impose one currency (usually the one issued by the same nation state) as legal tender for obligations within their territory. In the twentieth century, a major change took place: abandoning gold standard. The detachment of the currencies (specially the US dollar) from the gold standard meant a recognition that the value of a currency (specially in a world of fractional banking) was not related to its content or representation in gold, but to a broader concept as the confidence in the economy in which such currency is based. In this moment, the value of a currency reflects the best judgment about the monetary policy and the “health” of its economy.

In recent years, a new type of currency, a synthetic one, emerged. We name this new type as “synthetic” because it is not the decision of a nation state, nor represents any underlying asset or tangible wealth source. It appears as a new tradable asset resulting from a private agreement and facilitated by the anonymity of internet. Among this synthetic currencies, Bitcoin (BTC) emerges as the most important one, with a market capitalization of a few hundred million short of $80 billions.

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Bitcoin Price Chart from Bitstamp

There are other cryptocurrencies, based on blockchain technology, such as Litecoin (LTC), Ethereum (ETH), Ripple (XRP). The website https://coinmarketcap.com/currencies/ counts up to 641 of such monies. However, as we can observe in the figure below, Bitcoin represents 89% of the capitalization of the market of all cryptocurrencies.

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Cryptocurrencies. Share of market capitalization of each currency.

One open question today is if Bitcoin is in fact a, or may be considered as a, currency. Until now, we cannot observe that Bitcoin fulfills the main properties of a standard currency. It is barely (though increasingly so!) accepted as a medium of exchange (e.g. to buy some products online), it is not used as unit of account (there are no financial statements valued in Bitcoins), and we can hardly believe that, given the great swings in price, anyone can consider Bitcoin as a suitable option to store value. Given these characteristics, Bitcoin could fit as an ideal asset for speculative purposes. There is no underlying asset to relate its value to and there is an open platform to operate round the clock.

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Bitcoin returns, sampled every 5 hours.

Speculation has a long history and it seems inherent to capitalism. One common feature of speculative assets in history has been the difficulty in valuation. Tulipmania, the South Sea bubble, and more others, reflect on one side human greedy behavior, and on the other side, the difficulty to set an objective value to an asset. All speculative behaviors were reflected in a super-exponential growth of the time series.

Cryptocurrencies can be seen as the libertarian response to central bank failure to manage financial crises, as the one occurred in 2008. Also cryptocurrencies can bypass national restrictions to international transfers, probably at a cheaper cost. Bitcoin was created by a person or group of persons under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. The discussion of Bitcoin has several perspectives. The computer science perspective deals with the strengths and weaknesses of blockchain technology. In fact, according to R. Ali et. al., the introduction of a “distributed ledger” is the key innovation. Traditional means of payments (e.g. a credit card), rely on a central clearing house that validate operations, acting as “middleman” between buyer and seller. On contrary, the payment validation system of Bitcoin is decentralized. There is a growing army of miners, who put their computer power at disposal of the network, validating transactions by gathering together blocks, adding them to the ledger and forming a ’block chain’. This work is remunerated by giving the miners Bitcoins, what makes (until now) the validating costs cheaper than in a centralized system. The validation is made by solving some kind of algorithm. With the time solving the algorithm becomes harder, since the whole ledger must be validated. Consequently it takes more time to solve it. Contrary to traditional currencies, the total number of Bitcoins to be issued is beforehand fixed: 21 million. In fact, the issuance rate of Bitcoins is expected to diminish over time. According to Laursen and Kyed, validating the public ledger was initially rewarded with 50 Bitcoins, but the protocol foresaw halving this quantity every four years. At the current pace, the maximum number of Bitcoins will be reached in 2140. Taking into account the decentralized character, Bitcoin transactions seem secure. All transactions are recorded in several computer servers around the world. In order to commit fraud, a person should change and validate (simultaneously) several ledgers, which is almost impossible. Additional, ledgers are public, with encrypted identities of parties, making transactions “pseudonymous, not anonymous”. The legal perspective of Bitcoin is fuzzy. Bitcoin is not issued, nor endorsed by a nation state. It is not an illegal substance. As such, its transaction is not regulated.

In particular, given the nonexistence of saving accounts in Bitcoin, and consequently the absense of a Bitcoin interest rate, precludes the idea of studying the price behavior in relation with cash flows generated by Bitcoins. As a consequence, the underlying dynamics of the price signal, finds the Efficient Market Hypothesis as a theoretical framework. The Efficient Market Hypothesis (EMH) is the cornerstone of financial economics. One of the seminal works on the stochastic dynamics of speculative prices is due to L Bachelier, who in his doctoral thesis developed the first mathematical model concerning the behavior of stock prices. The systematic study of informational efficiency begun in the 1960s, when financial economics was born as a new area within economics. The classical definition due to Eugene Fama (Foundations of Finance_ Portfolio Decisions and Securities Prices 1976-06) says that a market is informationally efficient if it “fully reflects all available information”. Therefore, the key element in assessing efficiency is to determine the appropriate set of information that impels prices. Following Efficient Capital Markets, informational efficiency can be divided into three categories: (i) weak efficiency, if prices reflect the information contained in the past series of prices, (ii) semi-strong efficiency, if prices reflect all public information and (iii) strong efficiency, if prices reflect all public and private information. As a corollary of the EMH, one cannot accept the presence of long memory in financial time series, since its existence would allow a riskless profitable trading strategy. If markets are informationally efficient, arbitrage prevent the possibility of such strategies. If we consider the financial market as a dynamical structure, short term memory can exist (to some extent) without contradicting the EMH. In fact, the presence of some mispriced assets is the necessary stimulus for individuals to trade and reach an (almost) arbitrage free situation. However, the presence of long range memory is at odds with the EMH, because it would allow stable trading rules to beat the market.

The presence of long range dependence in financial time series generates a vivid debate. Whereas the presence of short term memory can stimulate investors to exploit small extra returns, making them disappear, long range correlations poses a challenge to the established financial model. As recognized by Ciaian et. al., Bitcoin price is not driven by macro-financial indicators. Consequently a detailed analysis of the underlying dynamics (Hurst exponent) becomes important to understand its emerging behavior. There are several methods (both parametric and non parametric) to calculate the Hurst exponent, which become a mandatory framework to tackle BTC trading.

Surplus. What All Could Social Activists Do, But Debate?

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The social surplus is a basic concept of classical political economy which has been revived in the post-war period by Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy. They defined it as

.. the difference between what a society produces and the costs of producing it. The size of a surplus is an index of productivity and wealth, and of how much freedom a society has to accomplish whatever goals it may set for itself. The composition of the surplus shows how it uses that freedom: how much it invests in expanding its productive capacity, how much it consumes in various forms, how much it wastes and in what ways.

The surplus can be calculated in alternative ways. One is to estimate the necessary costs of producing the national product, and to deduct the costs from the national product. This raises the conceptual problem of calculating the necessary costs of production. Some of the outlays recorded as costs by firms (such as outlays for superficial product differentiation and advertising) may be unnecessary from the social viewpoint. Hence the determination of the necessary costs is crucial for this first method. A second method is to estimate the various expenditures absorbing the surplus (non-essential consumption, investment etc.) and to add them up.

The re-elaboration of the surplus concept in the post-war period is connected to the evolution of certain features of capitalism. In Monopoly Capital Baran and Sweezy argued that capitalism had made a transition from a competitive phase to a monopolistic phase in the twentieth century. In their view, the concentration of capital in giant corporations enables them to fix prices, in contrast to nineteenth century capitalists who worked under more intense competition. These giant corporations set their sales prices by adding mark-ups to production costs. Such price setting gives the corporations control over the partition of the value added with their workers. Corporations also strive to increase their profits by reducing their production costs. On the macroeconomic plane, the general endeavour to reduce production costs (inclusive of labor costs) tends to raise the share of the surplus in GDP. This rising surplus can be sustained only if it is absorbed. The consumption of capitalists, the consumption of employees in non-productive activities (e.g. superficial product differentiation, advertising, litigation etc.), investment and some part of government expenditure (e.g. public investment, military outlays) are the main outlets for absorbing the surplus.

As almost sixty years have elapsed since the above framework was formulated, it is legitimate to ask: has the increasing ratio of trade to global output impaired the diagnosis of Baran and Sweezy with regard to the monopolization of capital, and with respect to the inclination for the surplus in GDP to increase? Has increasing trade and integration of markets raised competitive pressures so as to restrict the pricing latitude of industrial conglomerates?

The immediate effect of global trade expansion obviously must be to increase overall competition, as greater numbers of firms would come to compete in formerly segregated markets. But a countervailing effect would emerge when large firms with greater financial resources and organizational advantages eliminate smaller firms (as happens when large transnationals take on firms of peripheral countries in opened markets). Another countervailing trend to the competition-enhancing effect of trade expansion is mergers and acquisitions, on which there is evidence in the core countries. A powerful trend increase in the extent of firm level concentration of global markets share could be observed in industries as diverse as aerospace and defence, pharmaceuticals, automobiles, trucks, power equipment, farm equipment, oil and petrochemicals, mining, pulp and paper, brewing, banking, insurance, advertising, and mass media. Indications are that the competition-enhancing effect of trade is balanced (perhaps even overwhelmed) by the monopolizing effect of the centralization of capital, which may sustain the ability of large corporations to control the market prices of their products.

On the other hand, if mergers and acquisitions imply an increase in the average size of the workforce of corporations, this could stimulate a counterbalance to corporate power by higher unionization and worker militancy. However, the increasing mobility of capital, goods and services on the one hand, and unemployment on the other is weakening unionization in the core countries, and making workers accept temporary employment, part-time employment, flexibility in hiring and dismissing, flexible working days and weeks, and flexibility in assigning tasks in the workplace. Increasing flexibility in labor relations shifts various risks related to the product markets and the associated costs from firms onto workers. Enhanced flexibility cannot but boost gross profits. Hence the trend towards increased flexibility in labor practices clearly implies increased surplus generation for given output in individual countries.

The neoliberal global reform agenda also includes measures to increase surplus generation through fiscal and institutional reforms, both in developed and underdeveloped countries. Lowering taxes on corporate profits, capital gains and high incomes; increasing taxes on consumption; raising fees on public services and privatization of these services, of utilities and of social security – all these policies aim at disburdening the high income earners and property owners of contributing to financing essential services for the maintenance of the labor force. These reforms also contribute to increasing the share of surplus in total output.

In brief, in the era of neoliberal policies evidence does not seem to suggest that the tendency for the share of surplus in GDP to rise in individual countries may have waned. If so, what is happening to the surplus generated in international production?

Baran and Sweezy argued that the surplus of underdeveloped countries had been and was being drained away to the centers of the world-system. Their description of core firms‘ overseas activities in Monopoly Capital can be read as a description of offshore outsourcing activities today if one replaces subsidiary with suppliers:

What they [giant multinational corporations] want is monopolistic control over foreign sources of supply and foreign markets, enabling them to buy and sell on specially privileged terms, to shift orders from one subsidiary to another, to favour this country or that depending on which has the most advantageous tax, labour and other policies…

The authors’ view was that imperialism had a two-fold function with respect to the surplus: finding cheap foreign sources of supply (which increases the surplus in the home country), and using other countries‘ markets as outlets (which helps absorb the surplus of the home country). A major motive of transnational companies in their current practice of outsourcing parts of production to underdeveloped countries is to cut production costs, hence to increase gross profits. When the corporation of a core country decides to outsource its production to a peripheral country, or when it shifts its sources of supply of intermediate inputs to a peripheral country, this increases global surplus creation. Global output remains the same, the costs of producing it decline. For the firm, the effect of offshore outsourcing is the same as if it were to reduce its own (in-house) costs of production, or were to outsource to a cheap supplier in the home economy. If the workers in the core country dismissed due to the offshore outsourcing find newly created jobs and continue to produce surplus, then global output increases and surplus creation increases a fortiori. If the workers dismissed due to the outsourcing remain unemployed, then their consumption (provided by family, unemployment benefits etc.) absorbs part of the surplus produced by other workers in employment. Should the supplier in the peripheral country expand her production to meet the order under subcontract, there will also be some increase in surplus creation in the peripheral country. In this case the total increase in surplus may accrue to both countries  economies – in indeterminate proportions.

It is worth noting that the effect of offshore outsourcing on productivity in the core economies is ambiguous. The formula

Productivity = (Sales Revenue – Material Input Cost) / Number of Workers

shows that an increase in material input cost (due to the increase in outsourced inputs) and a reduction of the in-house workforce (due to outsourcing) may ultimately affect the outsourcing firm‘s productivity either way. The gains that motivate firms to outsourcing are not gains in labor productivity (which arguably could legitimize outsourcing from a social viewpoint), but gains in gross profits – i.e. in surplus appropriation.

It emerges that the basic tendencies in the production and growth of the social surplus described by Baran and Sweezy have not changed under globalizing capitalism. New economic policies, corporate strategies and international rules of conduct appear to promote increasing surplus transfers from the periphery to the core of the world-system. In order to lift itself out of destitution the periphery is exhorted to remove restrictions on trade and capital flows, and to compete for advantageous positions in global value chains controlled by transnationals by improving quality, reducing costs, innovating etc. The export-led growth economic strategy compels peripheral producers to individually compete for exportation by repressing wages, and conceding much of the surplus produced to their trade partners in the core countries. Part of the surplus accruing to the periphery is consumed by transnational élites imitating the consumption of the well-to-do in the core societies. On the other hand dollarization, capital flight and official reserve accumulation exert downward pressure (a pressure unrelated to trade balances) on the exchange rate of peripheral currencies. The undervaluation of peripheral currencies, reflected in deteriorating terms of trade, translates into a loss of surplus to the core countries, and reduces the capacity of poor countries to import capital goods from the core. The resulting meager per capita fixed capital formation in the underdeveloped countries bodes grim prospects for the welfare of future generations of working people in the periphery. These trends are maintained by the insertion of millions of workers in Asian hinterlands into global production networks, and by the willingness of peripheral states governed by transnational élites to continue free trade and capital transactions policies, and to accumulate foreign exchange reserves. Africa’s poor populations await their turn to be drawn into the world labor market, to eke out a subsistence and produce a surplus, of which a large part will likely flow to the core.

In order to prevent the drift of the victims of globalizing capitalism to irrational reaction (religious or nationalist fanaticism, clash of civilizations etc.) and to focus their attention on the real issues, social scientists and activists should open to debate the social and economic consequences of the export-led growth idea, all the theories and policies that give precedence to global efficiency over national saving and investment, and the social psychology of consumerism. There is pressing need to promote socio-economic programs based on the principle of self-sufficient and self-reliant national development, wherein the people can decide through democratic procedures how they will dispose the social surplus they produce (how they will distribute it, how much they will save, invest, export) under less pressure from world markets dominated by transnational companies, and with less interefence from international institutions and core states. Within the framework of the capitalist world-system, there is little hope for solving the deep social contradictions the system reproduces. The solution, reason shows, lies outside the logic of the system.

Sino-India Doklam Standoff, #BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). How the Resolution Could Have Been Reached?

The National Security Adviser of India, Mr. Ajit Doval was posed with a blunt question by China’s state councillor Yang Jiechi when the two met on July 27 to make a settlement over the disputable patch in the Bhutan-owned Doklam stretch. He was asked: Is it  your territory? However, this tough question failed to faze Doval, who, according to reliable sources, had most calmly replied that the stretch of land in question is not China’s territory either – Does every disputed territory become China’s by default? Doval asked in return. This has the potential to read a lot in between and thus without getting awed by the response, deconstructing what transpired is the imperative. This sharp exchange between the two countries was followed by several rounds of negotiations between the two sides in Beijing, with India’s foreign secretary S Jaishankar and India’s ambassador to China Vijay Gokhale trying to reach out to a mutually acceptable solution. These meetings were also sanctioned by the prime ministers of both the countries, especially when they met in Hamburg on the sidelines of G20 meeting on July 7. In fact, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping also agreed to the fact that the negotiations should be held at the NSA level in order to let the dispute not escalate any more. Modi later asked his diplomatic team to reach to a solution at the earliest as this dispute had been the worst in numerous years and the two countries cannot afford to lose each other’s support any more.

This is Doklam, the tri-junction between India, Bhutan and China.

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It was here that India and China were involved in a three-month standoff with the two largest militaries in the world in a eyeball-to-eyeball contact. While, it was in everybody’s interest that the countries do not spark a conflagration, the suspense over this tiny out-of-bounds area had consequences to speculations trajectory. It all started in June this year, when the Indian troops crossed over the disputed territory claimed by both China and Bhutan as its sovereign territory to halt a road construction at Doklam, which could have given China the surveillance and access mechanism over India’s Chicken Neck, the narrow strip that connects the NE Indian states with the mainland. But, other reason for India’s crossing over the boundary lies in a pact with Bhutan where the country would defend any incursions into Bhutan. The standoff was pretty tense with piling up of the war machinery and the troops from either side in a ready-to-combat stature, but still showed extreme presence of mind from getting involved in anything adventurous. China’s blistering state-owned media attacks from instigating to belligerent to carrying out travel advisories on the one hand, and India’s state-purchased media exhibiting peppered nationalism to inflating the 56″ authoritarianism on the other did not really help matters boil down to what was transpiring on the ground. We had pretty much only these two state-owned-purchased behemoths to rely upon and imagine the busting of the myths. But, this week, much to the respite of citizens from either side of the border and the international community at large keenly observing the developments as they were unfolding, the tensions eased, or rather resolved almost dramatically as they had begun in the first place. The dramatic end was at least passed over in silence in the media, but whatever noises were made were trumpeting victories for their respective sides. Even if this were a biased viewpoint, the news reports were quantitative largely and qualitative-ness was generally found at large. The resolution agreed on the the accelerated withdrawal of troops from the site of the standoff.

China still vociferously insists that the territorial dispute in Sikkim was resolved as long ago as in 1890, when Beijing and the British Empire signed the so-called Convention of Calcutta, which defined Sikkim’s borders. As per Article (1) of Convention of 1890, it was agreed that the boundary of Sikkim and Tibet shall be the crest of the mountain range separating the waters flowing into the Sikkim Teesta and its affluents, from the waters flowing into the Tibetan Mochu and northwards into other rivers of Tibet. The line commences at Mount Gipmochi, on the Bhutan frontier, and follows the above-mentioned water-parting to the point where it meets Nepal territory. However, Tibet refused to recognise the validity of Convention of 1890 and further refused to carry into effect the provisions of the said Convention. In 1904, a treaty known as a Convention between Great Britain and Tibet was signed at Lhasa. As per the Convention, Tibet agreed to respect the Convention of 1890 and to recognise the frontier between Sikkim and Tibet, as defined in Article (1) of the said Convention. On April 27, 1906, a treaty was signed between Great Britain and China at Peking, which confirmed the Convention of 1904 between Great Britain and Tibet. The Convention of 1890 was entered by the King of Great Britain on behalf of India before independence and around the time of independence, the Indian Independence (International Arrangement) Order, 1947 was notified by Secretariat of the Governor-General (Reforms) on August 14, 1947. The Order provided, inter alia, that the rights and obligations under all international agreements to which India is a party immediately before the appointed day will devolve upon the Dominion of India. Therefore, in terms of Order of 1947, the government of India is bound by the said Convention of 1890. However, India’s affirmation of the Convention of 1890 was limited to the alignment of the India-China border in Sikkim, based on watershed, and not with respect to any other aspects. However, India-backed Bhutan is convinced that Beijing’s attempt to extend a road to the Doklam area goes against a China-Bhutan agreement on maintaining peace in the region until the dispute is resolved.

The question then is: how could have the tensions that were simmering just short of an accident resolved? Maybe, for the Indians, these were a result of diplomatic procedures followed through the time of tensions, whereas for the Chinese, it was a victory and yet another lesson learnt by the Indians after their debacle in the 1962 conflict. The victory stood its claim because the Chinese maintained that even if the Indians were withdrawing from the plateau, the Chinese would continue patrolling the area. Surprisingly, there isn’t a convincing counterclaim by the Indians making the resolution a tad more concessionary as regards the Indians. It was often thought that amid tensions over the dispute, there had been growing concerns over whether Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi would skip the upcoming BRICS summit in China as he did in May when Beijing hosted an international event to celebrate the One Belt One Road Initiative championed by Chinese President Xi Jinping. Harsh Pant, a professor of International Relations at King’s College, London, and a distinguished fellow at Observer Research Foundation, said,

If the road is not being built, it’s legal enough for India to pullback, because the boundary dispute is not the problem and has been going on for ages. The real issue was China’s desire to construct a concrete road in this trijunction under dispute. If the Chinese made the concession to not build the road, the whole problem went away.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman said on Tuesday that China would adjust its road building plans in the disputed area taking into account of various factors such as the weather. In his turn, Prime Minister Modi would not have gone ahead with the visit to China if the border dispute remains unresolved, according to the expert. Following the resolution of the border dispute, India’s MEA said that Modi plans to visit Xiamen in China’s Fujian province during September 3-5, 2017 to attend the 9th BRICS Summit. But, the weather angle refused to go, as in the words of Hu Zhiyong, a research fellow at the Institute of International Relations of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences,

The weather condition is still the main reason. We all know that heavy snowfall is expected in the Donglang region by late September. The snow will block off the mountain completely, making it impossible to continue road construction. This incident has allowed China to clearly understand potential threat from India. I would call India an ‘incompetent bungler.’ That’s because India always is a spoiler in all the international organizations it becomes a part of. It always takes outrageous and irrational actions. After this incident, China realized that India is not a friendly partner, but a trouble-maker.

The Shanghai-based expert pointed out that the recent standoff has helped China better understand the potential harm India can cause. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that Beijing hopes that New Delhi will remember the lessons of latest border confrontation and will avoid such incidents in the future. Despite both China and India agreeing to deescalate the border dispute for the sake of the BRICS summit, the temporary compromise may not last long, as tensions could quickly flare again. In the words of Brahma Chellaney, a professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research,

The standoff has ended without resolving the dispute over the Doklam plateau. The Indian forces have retreated 500 meters to their ridge-top post at Doka La and can quickly intervene if the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) attempts to restart work on the military road – a construction that triggered the face-off. As for China, it has withdrawn its troops and equipment from the face-off site, but strongly asserts the right to send in armed patrols. A fresh crisis could flare if the PLA tries again to build the controversial road to the Indian border.

Hu, the Shanghai-based Chinese professor, asserted that the recent standoff has allowed China to better prepare for future border disputes with India. The Chinese Defense Ministry said that China will maintain a high combat readiness level in the disputed area near the border with India and Bhutan and will decisively protect China’s territorial sovereignty.

So, where does Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) fit in here?

With India and Pakistan as newly installed members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, or SCO, China is likely to face an increasing amount of divisiveness within a regional economic and security organization accustomed to extreme comity and cooperative discussions. India’s entry could especially frustrate Beijing because of rising geopolitical competition between the Asian giants and different approaches to counterterrorism. Beijing may not have even wanted India to join the SCO. Russia first proposed India as a member, likely in part to complement bilateral economic and security engagement, but mainly to constrain China’s growing influence in the organization. Russia is increasingly concerned that post-Soviet SCO members  –  Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan – are drifting too far into China’s geostrategic orbit. Moscow had long delayed implementing Chinese initiatives that would enable Beijing to reap greater benefits from regional trade, including establishing an SCO regional trade agreement and bank. As China gains more clout in Central Asia, Moscow may welcome New Delhi by its side to occasionally strengthen Russia’s hand at slowing or opposing Chinese initiatives. Indeed, during a visit to Moscow, Modi said, “India and Russia have always been together on international issues.”

Going forward, this strategy is likely to pay big dividends. New Delhi has a major hang-up related to the activities of its archrival Pakistan – sponsored by Beijing at the 2015 SCO summit to balance Moscow’s support of India – and continues to be highly critical of China’s so-called “all-weather friendship” with Islamabad. In May, New Delhi refused to send a delegation to Beijing’s widely publicized Belt and Road Initiative summit, which was aimed at increasing trade and infrastructure connectivity between China and Eurasian countries. According to an official Indian statement, the flagship project of the Belt and Road Initiative – the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor – was not being “pursued in a manner that respects sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Indian opposition stems from the plan to build the corridor through the disputed Kashmir region and to link it to the strategically positioned Pakistani port of Gwadar, prompting Prime Minister Narendra Modi to raise the issue again during his acceptance speech at the SCO summit last month. New Delhi likely will continue to criticize the corridor in the context of the SCO because, as a full member, India has the right to protest developments that do not serve the interests of all SCO members. The SCO also offers another public stage for India to constantly question the intent behind China’s exceptionally close ties to Pakistan.

India-Pakistan tensions occasionally flare up, and Beijing may have to brace for either side to use the SCO as a platform to criticize the other. In the absence of a major incident, Beijing has admirably handled the delicacy of this situation. When asked in early June whether SCO membership would positively impact India-Pakistan relations, China spokesperson Hua Chunying said: “I see the journalist from Pakistan sit[s] right here, while journalists from India sit over there. Maybe someday you can sit closer to each other.” Additionally, the Chinese military’s unofficial mouthpiece, Global Times, published an op-ed suggesting that SCO membership for India and Pakistan would lead to positive bilateral developments. Even if that is overly optimistic, it would set the right tone as the organization forges ahead. But the odds are against China’s desired outcome. Beijing needs to look no farther than South Asia for a cautionary tale. In this region, both India and Pakistan are members of the multilateral grouping known as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. New Delhi, along with Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan, boycotted last year’s summit in Islamabad because it believed Pakistan was behind a terrorist attack on an Indian army base. Even with an official ban on discussing bilateral issues in its proceedings, SAARC has been perennially hobbled by the intrusion of India-Pakistan grievances. Beijing can probably keep its close friend Islamabad in line at the SCO, but this likely won’t be the case with New Delhi. Another major issue for the SCO to contend with is the security of Afghanistan. An integral component of the organization is the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure, aimed at combating China’s “three evils” – terrorism, extremism, and separatism. India, however, is likely to reliably and reasonably highlight the contradiction between China’s stated anti-terrorism goals and the reality of its policy. Most notably, Beijing has consistently looked the other way as Pakistani intelligence services continue to support terrorist groups in Afghanistan, including the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network. Moreover, because India is particularly close to the Afghan government, it could seek to sponsor Afghanistan to move from observer status toward full SCO membership. This would give India even greater strength in the group and could bolster Russia’s position as well.

Lingering border disputes and fierce geostrategic competition in South Asia between China and India is likely to temper any cooperation Beijing might hope to achieve with New Delhi in the SCO. Mutual suspicions in the maritime domain persist as well, with the Indian government recently shoring up its position in the strategically important Andaman and Nicobar island chain to counter the perceived Chinese “string of pearls” strategy – aimed at establishing access to naval ports throughout the Indian Ocean that could be militarily advantageous in a conflict. Such mutual suspicions will likely impact SCO discussions, perhaps in unpredictable ways. Although India may be an unwelcome addition and irritant to Beijing at the SCO, China does not necessarily need the SCO to achieve its regional objectives. From its announcement in 2001, the SCO gave Beijing a productive way to engage neighbors still dominated by Moscow. But today, China’s economic and military strength makes it far more formidable on its own – a point that is only magnified as Russian influence simultaneously recedes, or rather more aptly fluctuates. For instance, even though India rejected Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative overture, China remains India’s top trading partner and a critical market for all Central and South Asian states, leaving them with few other appealing options. India’s entry into the SCO, however, could put Beijing in the awkward position of highlighting the organization’s value, while increasingly working around or outside of it. Outright failure of the SCO would be unacceptable for China because of its central role in establishing the forum. Regardless of the bickering between countries that may break out, Beijing can be expected to make yet another show of the importance of the SCO, with all of the usual pomp and circumstance, at the next summit in June 2018. China as host makes this outcome even more likely.

Taking on the imagination to flight, I am of the opinion that its the banks/financial institutions, more specifically the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the upcoming BRICS Summit that have played majorly into this so-called resolution. India’s move to enter Doklam/Donglang was always brazen as India, along with Pakistan entered the Shanghai Cooperation Organisations (SCO) shortly before India entered Chinese territory. In this sense, India was almost mocking the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation by refusing to utilise the SCO as a proper forum in which to settle such disputes diplomatically. So, even if diplomatically it is a victory for #BRICS, materially it is #China‘s. Whatever, two nuclear-powered states in a stand-off is a cold-threat to….whatever the propaganda machine wants us to believe, the truth is laid bare. This so-called diplomatic victory has yielded a lot of positive, and in the process have snatched the vitality of what economic proponents in the country like to express solemnly of late, growth paradigm, wherein the decision is rested with how accelerated your rate of growth is, and thus proportionally how much of a political clout you can exercise on the international scenario. India’s restraint is not to be taken as how the Indian media projects it in the form of a victory, for that would indeed mean leading the nation blindly at the helm of proto-fascism. This could get scary.

Orthodoxy of the Neoclassical Synthesis: Minsky’s Capitalism Without Capitalists, Capital Assets, and Financial Markets

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During the very years when orthodoxy turned Keynesianism on its head, extolling Reaganomics and Thatcherism as adequate for achieving stabilisation in the epoch of global capitalism, Minsky (Stabilizing an Unstable Economy) pointed to the destabilising consequences of this approach. The view that instability is the result of the internal processes of a capitalist economy, he wrote, stands in sharp contrast to neoclassical theory, whether Keynesian or monetarist, which holds that instability is due to events that are outside the working of the economy. The neoclassical synthesis and the Keynes theories are different because the focus of the neoclassical synthesis is on how a decentralized market economy achieves coherence and coordination in production and distribution, whereas the focus of the Keynes theory is upon the capital development of an economy. The neoclassical synthesis emphasizes equilibrium and equilibrating tendencies, whereas Keynes‘s theory revolves around bankers and businessmen making deals on Wall Street. The neoclassical synthesis ignores the capitalist nature of the economy, a fact that the Keynes theory is always aware of.

Minsky here identifies the main flaw of the neoclassical synthesis, which is that it ignores the capitalist nature of the economy, while authentic Keynesianism proceeds from precisely this nature. Minsky lays bare the preconceived approach of orthodoxy, which has mainstream economics concentrating all its focus on an equilibrium which is called upon to confirm the orthodox belief in the stability of capitalism. At the same time, orthodoxy fails to devote sufficient attention to the speculation in the area of finance and banking that is the precise cause of the instability of the capitalist economy.

Elsewhere, Minsky stresses still more firmly that from the theory of Keynes, the neoclassical standard included in its arsenal only those earlier-mentioned elements which could be interpreted as confirming its preconceived position that capitalism was so perfect that it could not have innate flaws. In this connection Minsky writes:

Whereas Keynes in The General Theory proposed that economists look at the economy in quite a different way from the way they had, only those parts of The General Theory that could be readily integrated into the old way of looking at things survive in today‘s standard theory. What was lost was a view of an economy always in transit because it accumulates in response to disequilibrating forces that are internal to the economy. As a result of the way accumulation takes place in a capitalist economy, Keynes‘s theory showed that success in operating the economy can only be transitory; instability is an inherent and inescapable flaw of capitalism. 

The view that survived is that a number of special things went wrong, which led the economy into the Great Depression. In this view, apt policy can assure that cannot happen again. The standard theory of the 1950s and 1960s seemed to assert that if policy were apt, then full employment at stable prices could be attained and sustained. The existence of internally disruptive forces was ignored; the neoclassical synthesis became the economics of capitalism without capitalists, capital assets, and financial markets. As a result, very little of Keynes has survived today in standard economics.

Here, resting on Keynes‘s analysis, one can find the central idea of Minsky‘s book: the innate instability of capitalism, which in time will lead the system to a new Great Depression. This forecast has now been brilliantly confirmed, but previously there were few who accepted it. Economic science was orchestrated by proponents of neoclassical orthodoxy under the direction of Nobel prizewinners, authors of popular economics textbooks, and other authorities recognized by the mainstream. These people argued that the main problems which capitalism had encountered in earlier times had already been overcome, and that before it lay a direct, sunny road to an even better future.

Robed in complex theoretical constructs, and underpinned by an abundance of mathematical formulae, these ideas of a cloudless future for capitalism interpreted the economic situation, it then seemed, in thoroughly convincing fashion. These analyses were balm for the souls of the people who had come to believe that capitalism had attained perfection. In this respect, capitalism has come to bear an uncanny resemblance to communism. There is, however, something beyond the preconceptions and prejudices innate to people in all social systems, and that is the reality of historical and economic development. This provides a filter for our ideas, and over time makes it easier to separate truth from error. The present financial and economic crisis is an example of such reality. While the mainstream was still euphoric about the future of capitalism, the post-Keynesians saw the approaching outlines of a new Great Depression. The fate of Post Keynesianism will depend very heavily on the future development of the world capitalist economy. If the business cycle has indeed been abolished (this time), so that stable, non-inflationary growth continues indefinitely under something approximating to the present neoclassical (or pseudo-monetarist) policy consensus, then there is unlikely to be a significant market for Post Keynesian ideas. Things would be very different in the event of a new Great Depression, to think one last time in terms of extreme possibilities. If it happened again, to quote Hyman Minsky, the appeal of both a radical interventionist programme and the analysis from which it was derived would be very greatly enhanced.

Neoclassical orthodoxy, that is, today‘s mainstream economic thinking proceeds from the position that capitalism is so good and perfect that an alternative to it does not and cannot exist. Post-Keynesianism takes a different standpoint. Unlike Marxism it is not so revolutionary a theory as to call for a complete rejection of capitalism. At the same time, it does not consider capitalism so perfect that there is nothing in it that needs to be changed. To the contrary, Post-Keynesianism maintains that capitalism has definite flaws, and requires changes of such scope as to allow alternative ways of running the economy to be fully effective. To the prejudices of the mainstream, post-Keynesianism counterposes an approach based on an objective analysis of the real situation. Its economic and philosophical approach – the methodology of critical realism – has been developed accordingly, the methodological import of which helps post-Keynesianism answer a broad range of questions, providing an alternative both to market fundamentalism, and to bureaucratic centralism within a planned economy. This is the source of its attraction for us….

Why Do Sovereign Borrowers Seek to Avoid Default? A Case of Self-Compliance With Contractual Terms.

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Every form of debt is typically a contractual agreement between a lender and a borrower. The former initially pays a money amount to the latter, the latter promises regular interest payments in the future (ct) for a certain time period (n years) and then return of the whole nominal value of the contract (C). This practically means that the owner of the contract (creditor) acquires a right on a future stream of payments and the contract a present value for the same reason. In a general case, the present value of the contract is given by the following formula (r is the discounting rate):

PV = ∑t=1n ct/(1 + r)t + C/(1 + r)n

Put simply, the equation gives the present value of the liability discounting all future anticipated payments. Default is by definition any ex post change in the stream of current and future payments on the debt contract. This change makes the contract less valuable to the creditor, reducing its present value for non-execution of the agreed payments.

In the case that the borrower is a private firm (or a household), law and related third party enforcers (including but not limited to the courts) guarantee the execution of the contractual terms. If the borrower in the international financial markets is a sovereign state, things are quite different as the third-party enforcement is typically futile. Sovereign borrowers may voluntarily choose to self-comply to the contractual terms; nevertheless, if not, there is no typical third-party enforcement on the international level. Even in the case that the debt contracts are subject to foreign law, the enforcement powers of the foreign courts are limited. The case of Argentina is indicative enough. As it is now well known and widely discussed, the court judgment of Thomas P. Griesa determined that the Argentine government should pay the holdouts pari passu despite the fact that the great majority of creditors had agreed to a restructuring. The decision had its results and triggered a new mini-default, but by no means could typically enforce a policy change to Argentina. In the relevant literature, this is usually called fundamental asymmetry of the sovereign debt market. In the mainstream misleading analytical context (where states, firms, and households are treated as coherent agents acting on a cost/benefit basis and pursuing the optimum position) the key question is the following: why do sovereign borrowers comply with the contractual terms much more often than expected?

Sovereign borrowers avoid default and self-comply with the contractual terms because the strategic benefits from a default do not exceed the anticipated losses. There is truth in this argument. For instance, a sovereign default would heavily affect the domestic financial system, which is usually not only exposed to domestic sovereign debt but would also face serious impediments in its organic connection to the international markets (in the case of a developed capitalist economy, this implies extra financial costs for the private sector and thus serious macroeconomic consequences for employment and growth). One should also take into consideration the economic and political consequences of a default, since negotiations with the creditors take considerable time. The list of cost/benefit analysis can be quite long, but this train of thought misses the crucial factor: the very nature of contemporary capitalist power.

Cost-benefit analysis takes a concrete form only within the contemporary context of capitalist power. International financial markets do not curtail the range of state sovereignty – they reshape the contour of capitalist power. Contemporary capitalism (the term “neoliberalism” is too restrictive to capture all its aspects) amounts to a recomposition or reshaping of the relations between capitalist states (as uneven links in the context of the global imperialist chain), individual capitals (which are constituted as such only in relation to a particular national social capital), and “liberalized” financial markets. This recomposition presupposes a proper reforming of all components involved, in a way that secures the reproduction of the dominant (neoliberal) capitalist paradigm. From this point of view, contemporary capitalism comprises a historical specific form of organization of capitalist power on a social-wide scale, wherein governmentality through financial markets acquires a crucial role. The new condition of governmentality (reproduction of capitalist rule) thus takes the form of a “state-and-market” type of connection. Regardless of the results of cost-benefit calculus, the organic inclusion of the economy in the international markets is a critical premise for the organization of capitalist rule. On the other hand, it is also clear that a recomposition of the relation to international markets (national self-sufficiency) can easily incite the most regressive and authoritarian forms of state governance, if it is not accompanied by a radical shift in the class relations of power.

Where Hegel Was, There Deconstruction Shall Be: The Dialectical Calculus Between Lukács and Laclau & Mouffe. Thought of the Day 81.0

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Lukács would be the condensation of everything that is deemed politically regressive about the social theory of “the rationalist ‘dictatorship’ of Enlightenment” (Ernesto Laclau New Reflections on the Revolution of Our Time), of just about everything that the new social logic of postmodern culture brings into crisis. In this context – which is theoretically and politically hostile to the concept of totality – Laclau and Mouffe’s recasting of the Gramscian concept of hegemony is designed to avoid the Lukácsian conception of society as an “expressive totality”. For Lukács, a single principle is “expressed” in all social phenomena, so that every aspect of the social formation is integrated into a closed system that connects the forces and social relations of production to politics and the juridical apparatus, cultural forms and class-consciousness. By contrast, Laclau and Mouffe insist that the social field is an incomplete totality consisting of a multitude of transitory hegemonic “epicentres” and characterised by a plurality of competing discourses. The proliferation of democratic forms of struggle by the new social movements is thereby integrated into a pluralistic conception of the social field that emphasises the negativity and dispersion underlying all social identities. “Radical and plural democracy,” Laclau and Mouffe contend, represents a translation of socialist strategy into the detotalising paradigm of postmodern culture.

For Lukács, the objective of a new conception of praxis is to establish the dialectical unity of theory and practice, so as to demonstrate that the proletariat, as the operator of a transparent praxis, is the identical subject-object of the historical process. The subject of history is therefore the creator of the contents of the social totality, and to the extent that this subject attains self-reflexivity, it is also the conscious generator of social forms. This enables Lukács to emphasise the revolutionary character of class conscious as coextensive with revolutionary action. Laclau and Mouffe’s concept of discursive practice has the same effect – with this difference, that Laclau and Mouffe deny that discursive practices can become wholly transparent to social agents (Ernesto Laclau, Chantal Mouffe Hegemony and Socialist Strategy Towards a Radical Democratic Politics). By reinscribing the concept of praxis within a deconstruction of Marxism, Laclau and Mouffe theorise a new concept of discursive practice that “must pierce the entire material density of the multifarious institutions” upon which it operates, since it has as its objective a decisive break with the material/mental dichotomy. “Rejection of the thought/reality dichotomy,” they propose, “must go together with a re-thinking and interpenetration of the categories which have up until now been considered exclusive of one another”.

Critically, this means a fusion of the hitherto distinct categories of (subjective) discourse and (objective) structure in the concept of “hegemonic articulation”. This theoretical intervention is simultaneously a decisive political advance, because it now becomes clear that, for instance, “the equivalence constituted through communist enumeration [of the alliance partners within a bid for political hegemony] is not the discursive expression of a real movement constituted outside of discourse; on the contrary, this enumerative discourse is a real force which contributes to the moulding and constitution of social relations”. In other words, the opposition between theory and practice, discursive practice and structural conditions, is resolved by the new theory of hegemonic articulation. The operator of these discursive practices – the new agent of social transformation – is at once the instigator of social relations and the formulator of discourses on the social.

The most significant difference between Lukács and Laclau and Mouffe is their respective evaluations of Hegelian dialectics. Where, for Lukács, a return to dialectical philosophy held out the prospect of a renewal of Marxian social theory, for Laclau and Mouffe it is “dialectical necessity” that constitutes the major obstacle to a radical postmodern politics. Laclau and Mouffe’s fundamental objection to dialectics is to the substitution of a logically necessary sequence for the contingency of the historical process. They applaud the dialectical dissolution of fixity but deplore the supposed inversion of contingency into necessity and the imposition of a teleology of reconciliation. Hegel’s work, therefore, “appears as located in a watershed between two epochs” and is evaluated as “ambiguous” rather than simply pernicious. On the one hand, Laclau and Mouffe reject the Hegelian notion that “history and society … have a rational and intelligible structure”. This is regarded as an Enlightenment conception fundamentally incompatible with the postmodern emphasis on contingency, finitude and historicity. On the other hand, however, “this synthesis contains all the seeds of its own dissolution, as the rationality of history can only be affirmed at the price of introducing contradiction into the field of reason”. Once the impossibility of including contradiction within rationality is asserted, it then becomes clear that the “logical” transitions between historical “stages” are secured contingently:

It is precisely here that Hegel’s modernity lies: for him, identity is never positive and closed in itself but is constituted as transition, relation, difference. If, however, Hegel’s logical relations become contingent transitions, the connections between them cannot be fixed as moments of an underlying or sutured totality. This means that they are articulations.

This is not a rejection of Hegel but a re-interpretation. Interpreted in this light, Hegel’s “logical” relations are the language games that frame social practices – rather than formally rational structures deducible a priori – and their “transitions” are only the contingent connections created by political articulations. In opposition to the logically necessary sequence of closed totalities, Laclau and Mouffe insist on a historically contingent series of open discursive formations. Resolutely contesting the category of the totality, Laclau and Mouffe declare that:

The incomplete character of every totality leads us to abandon, as a terrain of analysis, the premise of “society” as a sutured and self-defined totality. “Society” is not a valid object of discourse.

So where Lukács once declared that “the category of the totality is the bearer of the principle of revolution in science”, Laclau and Mouffe now announce, by contrast, that totality is an illusion because “‘society’ as a unitary and intelligible object which grounds its own partial processes is an impossibility”. Where Hegel was, there deconstruction shall be – or so it would seem.