“The Scam” – Debashis Basu and Sucheta Dalal – Was it the Beginning of the End?

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“India is a turnaround scrip in the world market.”

“Either you kill, or you get killed” 

— Harshad Mehta

“Though normally quite reasonable and courteous, there was one breed of brokers he truly detested. to him and other kids in the money markets, brokers were meant to be treated like loyal dogs.”

— Broker

The first two claims by Harshad Mehta could be said to form the central theme of the book, The Scam, while the third statement is testimony to the fact of how compartmentalization within the camaraderie proved efficacious to the broker-trader nexus getting nixed, albeit briefly. The authors Debasish Basu and Sucheta Dalal have put a rigorous investigation into unraveling the complexity of what in popular culture has come to be known as the first big securities scam in India in the early 90s. That was only the beginning, for securities scams, banking frauds and financial crimes have since become a recurrent feature, thanks to increasing mathematization and financialization of market practices, stark mismatches on regulatory scales of The Reserve Bank of India (RBI), Public Sector Banks and foreign banks, and stock-market-oriented economization. The last in particular has severed the myth that stock markets are speculative and had no truck with the banking system, by capitalizing and furthering the only link between the two, and that being banks providing loans against shares subject to high margins.  

The scam which took the country by storm in 1992 had a central figure in Harshad Mehta, though the book does a most amazing archaeology into unearthing other equally, if not more important figures that formed a collusive network of deceit and bilk. The almost spider-like weave, not anywhere near in comparison to a similar network that emanated from London and spread out from Tokyo and billed as the largest financial scandal of manipulating LIBOR, thanks to Thomas Hayes by the turn of the century, nevertheless magnified the crevices existing within the banking system and bridging it with the once-closed secretive and closed bond market. So, what exactly was the scam and why did it rock India’s economic boat, especially when the country was opening up to liberal policies and amalgamating itself with globalization? 

As Basu and Dalal say, simply put, the first traces of the scam were observed when the State Bank of India (SBI), Main Branch, Mumbai discovered that it was short by Rs. 574 crore in securities. In other words, the antiquated manually written books kept at the Office of Public Debt at the RBI showed that Rs. 1170.95 crore of an 11.5% of central government loan of 2010 maturity was standing against SBI’s name on the 29th February 1992 figure of Rs. 1744.95 crore in SBI’s books, a clear gap of Rs. 574 crore, with the discrepancy apparently held in Securities General Ledger (SGL). Of the Rs. 574 crore missing, Rs. 500 crore were transferred to Harshad Mehta’s account. Now, an SGL contains the details to support the general ledger control account. For instance, the subsidiary ledger for accounts receivable contains all the information on each of the credit sales to customers, each customer’s remittance, return of merchandise, discounts and so on. Now, SGLs were a prime culprit when it came to conceiving the illegalities that followed. SGLs were issued as substitutes for actual securities by a cleverly worked out machination. Bank Receipts (BRs) were invoked as replacement for SGLs, which on the one hand confirmed that the bank had sold the securities at the rates mentioned therein, while on the other prevented the SGLs from bouncing. BRs is a shrewd plot line whereby the bank could put a deal through, even if their Public Debt Office (PDO) was in the negative. Why was this circumvention clever was precisely because had the transactions taken place through SGLs, they would have simply bounced, and BRs acted as a convenient run-around, and also because BRs were unsupported by securities. In order to derive the most from BRs, a Ready Forward Deal (RFD) was introduced that prevented the securities from moving back and forth in actuality. Sucheta Dalal had already exposed the use of this instrument by Harshad Mehta way back in 1992 while writing for the Times of India. The RFD was essentially a secured short-term (generally 15 day) loan from open bank to another, where the banks would lend against Government securities. The borrowing bank sells the securities to the lending bank and buys them back at the end of the period of the loan, typically at a slightly higher price. Harshad Mehta roped in two relatively obscure and unknown little banks in Bank of Karad and Mumbai Mercantile Cooperative Bank (MMCB) to issue fake BRs, or BRs not backed by Government securities. It were these fake BRs that were eventually exchanged with other banks that paid Mehta unbeknownst of the fact that they were in fact dealing with fake BRs. 

By a cunning turn of reason, and not to rest till such payments were made to reflect on the stock market, Harshad Mehta began to artificially enhance share prices by going on a buying spree. To maximize profits on such investments, the broker, now the darling of the stock market and referred to as the Big Bull decided to sell off the shares and in the process retiring the BRs. Little did anyone know then, that the day shares were sold, the market would crash, and crash it did. Mehta’s maneuvers lent a feel-good factor to the stock market until the scam erupted, and when it did erupt, many banks were swindled to a massive loss of Rs. 4000 crore, for they held on to BRs that had no value attached to them. The one that took the most stinging loss was the State Bank of India and it was payback time. The mechanism by which the money was paid back cannot be understood unless one gets to the root of an RBI subsidiary, National Housing Bank (NHB). When the State Bank of India directed Harshad Mehta to produce either the securities or return the money, Mehta approached the NHB seeking help, for the thaw between the broker and RBI’s subsidiary had grown over the years, the discovery of which had appalled officials at the Reserve Bank. This only lends credibility to the broker-banker collusion, the likes of which only got murkier as the scam was getting unravelled. NHB did come to rescue Harshad Mehta by issuing a cheque in favor of ANZ Grindlays Bank. The deal again proved to be one-handed as NHB did not get securities in return from Harshad Mehta, and eventually the cheque found its way into Mehta’s ANZ account, which helped clear the dues due to the SBI. The most pertinent question here was why did RBI’s subsidiary act so collusively? This could only make sense, once one is in the clear that Harshad Mehta delivered considerable profits to the NHB by way of ready forward deals (RFDs). If this has been the flow chart of payment routes to SBI, the authors of The Scam point out to how the SBI once again debited Harshad Mehta’s account, which had by then exhausted its balance. This was done by releasing a massive overdraft of Rs. 707 crore, which is essentially an extension of a credit by a lending institution when the account gets exhausted. Then the incredulous happened! This overdraft was released against no security!, and the deal was acquiesced to since there was a widespread belief within the director-fold of the SBI that most of what was paid to the NHB would have come back to SBI subsidies from where SBI had got its money in the first place. 

The Scam is neatly divided into two books comprising 23 chapters, with the first part delineating the rise of Harshad Mehta as a broker superstar, The Big Bull. He is not the only character to be pilloried as the nexus meshed all the way from Mumbai (then Bombay) to Kolkata (then Calcutta) to Bengaluru (then Bangalore) to Delhi and Chennai (then Madras) with a host of jobbers, market makers, brokers and traders who were embezzling funds off the banks, colluded by the banks on overheating the stock market in a country that was only officially trying to jettison the tag of Nehruvian socialism. But, it wasn’t merely individuated, but the range of complicitous relations also grabbed governmental and private institutions and firms. Be it the Standard Chartered, or the Citibank, or monetizing the not-even in possession of assets bought; forward selling the transaction to make it appear cash-neutral; or lending money to the corporate sector as clean credit implying banks taking risks on the borrowers unapproved by the banks because it did not fall under the mainline corporate lending, rules and regulations of the RBI were flouted and breached with increasing alacrity and in clear violations of guidelines. But credit is definitely due to S Venkitaraman, the Governor of the RBI, who in his two-year at the helm of affairs exposed the scam, but was meted out a disturbing treatment at the hands of some of members of the Joint Parliamentary Committee. Harshad Mehta had grown increasingly confident of his means and mechanisms to siphon-off money using inter-bank transactions, and when he was finally apprehended, he was charged with 72 criminal offenses and more than 600 civil action suits were filed against him leading to his arrest by the CBI in the November of 1992. Banished from the stock market, he did make a comeback as a market guru before the Bombay High Court convicted him to prison. But, the seamster that he was projected to be, he wouldn’t rest without creating chaos and commotion, and one such bomb was dropped by him claiming to have paid the Congress Prime minister PV Narsimha Rao a hefty sum to knock him off the scandal. Harshad Mehta passed away from a cardiac arrest while in prison in Thane, but his legacy continued within the folds he had inspired and spread far and wide. 

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Ketan Parekh forms a substantial character of Book 2 of The Scam. Often referred to as Midas in privy for his ability to turn whatever he touched into gold on Dalal Street by his financial trickery, he decided to take the unfinished project of Harshad Mehta to fruition. Known for his timid demeanor, Parekh from a brokers family and with his training as a Chartered Accountant, he was able to devise a trading ring that helped him rig stock prices keeping his vested interests at the forefront. He was a bull on the wild run, whose match was found in a bear cartel that hammered prices of K-10 stocks precipitating payment crisis. K-10 stocks were colloquially named for these driven in sets of 10, and the promotion of these was done through creating bellwethers and seeking support fro Foreign Institutional Investors (FIIs). India was already seven years old into the LPG regime, but still sailing the rough seas of economic transitioning into smooth sailing. This wasn’t the most conducive of timing to appropriate profits, but a prodigy that he was, his ingenuity lay in instrumentalizing the jacking up of shares prices to translate it into the much needed liquidity. this way, he was able to keep FIIs and promoters satisfied and multiply money on his own end. This, in financial jargon goes by the name circular trading, but his brilliance was epitomized by his timing of dumping devalued shares with institutions like the Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) and Unit Trust of India (UTI). But, what differentiated him from Harshad Mehta was his staying off public money or expropriating public institutions. such was his prowess that share markets would tend to catch cold when he sneezed and his modus operandi was invest into small companies through private placements, manipulate the markets to rig shares and sell them to devalue the same. But lady luck wouldn’t continue to shine on him as with the turn of the century, Parekh, who had invested heavily into information stocks was hit large by the collapse of the dotcom bubble. Add to that when NDA government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee presented the Union Budget in 2001, the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) Sensex crashed prompting the Government to dig deep into such a market reaction. SEBI’s (Securities and Exchange Board of India) investigation revealed the rogue nature of Ketan Parekh as a trader, who was charged with shaking the very foundations of Indian financial markets. Ketan Parekh has been banned from trading until 2017, but SEBI isn’t too comfortable with the fact that his proteges are carrying forward the master’s legacy. Though such allegations are yet to be put to rest. 

The legacy of Harshad Mehta and Ketan Parekh continue to haunt financial markets in the country to date, and were only signatures of what was to follow in the form of plaguing banking crisis, public sector banks are faced with. As Basu and Dalal write, “in money markets the first signs of rot began to appear in the mid-1980s. After more than a decade of so-called social banking, banks found themselves groaning under a load of investments they were forced to make to maintain the Statutory Liquidity Ratio. The investments were in low-interest bearing loans issued by the central and state governments that financed the government’s ever-increasing appetite for cash. Banks intended to hold these low-interest government bonds till maturity. But each time a new set of loans came with a slightly higher interest rate called the coupon rate, the market price of older securities fell, and thereafter banks began to book losses, which eroded their profitability,” the situation is a lot more grim today. RBI’s autonomy has come under increased threat, and the question that requires the most incision is to find a resolution to what one Citibank executive said, “RBI guidelines are just that, guidelines. Not the law of the land.” 

The Scam, as much as a personal element of deceit faced during the tumultuous times, is a brisk read, with some minor hurdles in the form of technicalities that intersperse the volume and tend to disrupt the plot lines. Such technical details are in the realm of share markets and unless negotiated well with either a prior knowledge, or hyperlinking tends to derail the speed, but in no should be considered as a book not worth looking at. As a matter of fact, the third edition with its fifth reprint is testimony to the fact that the book’s market is alive and ever-growing. One only wonders at the end of it as to where have all such journalists disappeared from this country. That Debashis Basu and Sucheta Dalal, partners in real life are indeed partners in crime if they aim at exposing financial crimes of such magnitudes for the multitude in this country who would otherwise be bereft of such understandings had it not been for them. 

Global Significance of Chinese Investments. My Deliberations in Mumbai (04/03/2018)

Legends:

What are fitted values in statistics?

The values for an output variable that have been predicted by a model fitted to a set of data. a statistical is generally an equation, the graph of which includes or approximates a majority of data points in a given data set. Fitted values are generated by extending the model of past known data points in order to predict unknown values. These are also called predicted values.

What are outliers in statistics?

These are observation points that are distant from other observations and may arise due to variability in the measurement  or it may indicate experimental errors. These may also arise due to heavy tailed distribution.

What is LBS (Locational Banking statistics)?

The locational banking statistics gather quarterly data on international financial claims and liabilities of bank offices in the reporting countries. Total positions are broken down by currency, by sector (bank and non-bank), by country of residence of the counterparty, and by nationality of reporting banks. Both domestically-owned and foreign-owned banking offices in the reporting countries record their positions on a gross (unconsolidated) basis, including those vis-à-vis own affiliates in other countries. This is consistent with the residency principle of national accounts, balance of payments and external debt statistics.

What is CEIC?

Census and Economic Information Centre

What are spillover effects?

These refer to the impact that seemingly unrelated events in one nation can have on the economies of other nations. since 2009, China has emerged a major source of spillover effects. This is because Chinese manufacturers have driven much of the global commodity demand growth since 2000. With China now being the second largest economy in the world, the number of countries that experience spillover effects from a Chinese slowdown is significant. China slowing down has a palpable impact on worldwide trade in metals, energy, grains and other commodities.

How does China deal with its Non-Performing Assets?

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China adopted a four-point strategy to address the problems. The first was to reduce risks by strengthening banks and spearheading reforms of the state-owned enterprises (SOEs) by reducing their level of debt. The Chinese ensured that the nationalized banks were strengthened by raising disclosure standards across the board.

The second important measure was enacting laws that allowed the creation of asset management companies, equity participation and most importantly, asset-based securitization. The “securitization” approach is being taken by the Chinese to handle even their current NPA issue and is reportedly being piloted by a handful of large banks with specific emphasis on domestic investors. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), this is a prudent and preferred strategy since it gets assets off the balance sheets quickly and allows banks to receive cash which could be used for lending.

The third key measure that the Chinese took was to ensure that the government had the financial loss of debt “discounted” and debt equity swaps were allowed in case a growth opportunity existed. The term “debt-equity swap” (or “debt-equity conversion”) means the conversion of a heavily indebted or financially distressed company’s debt into equity or the acquisition by a company’s creditors of shares in that company paid for by the value of their loans to the company. Or, to put it more simply, debt-equity swaps transfer bank loans from the liabilities section of company balance sheets to common stock or additional paid-in capital in the shareholders’ equity section.

Let us imagine a company, as on the left-hand side of the below figure, with assets of 500, bank loans of 300, miscellaneous debt of 200, common stock of 50 and a carry-forward loss of 50. By converting 100 of its debt into equity (transferring 50 to common stock and 50 to additional paid-in capital), thereby improving the balance sheet position and depleting additional paid-in capital (or using the net income from the following year), as on the right-hand side of the figure, the company escapes insolvency. The former creditors become shareholders, suddenly acquiring 50% of the voting shares and control of the company.

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The first benefit that results from this is the improvement in the company’s finances produced by the reduction in debt. The second benefit (from the change in control) is that the creditors become committed to reorganizing the company, and the scope for moral hazard by the management is limited. Another benefit is one peculiar to equity: a return (i.e., repayment) in the form of an increase in enterprise value in the future. In other words, the fact that the creditors stand to make a return on their original investment if the reorganization is successful and the value of the business rises means that, like the debtor company, they have more to gain from this than from simply writing off their loans. If the reorganization is not successful, the equity may, of course, prove worthless.

The fourth measure they took was producing incentives like tax breaks, exemption from administrative fees and transparent evaluations norms. These strategic measures ensured the Chinese were on top of the NPA issue in the early 2000s, when it was far larger than it is today. The noteworthy thing is that they were indeed successful in reducing NPAs. How is this relevant to India and how can we address the NPA issue more effectively?

For now, capital controls and the paying down of foreign currency loans imply that there are few channels through which a foreign-induced debt sell-off could trigger a collapse in asset prices. Despite concerns in 2016 over capital outflow, China’s foreign exchange reserves have stabilised.

But there is a long-term cost. China is now more vulnerable to capital outflow. Errors and omissions on its national accounts remain large, suggesting persistent unrecorded capital outflows. This loss of capital should act as a salutary reminder to those who believe that China can take the lead on globalisation or provide the investment or currency business to fuel things like a post-Brexit economy.

The Chinese government’s focus on debt management will mean tighter controls on speculative international investments. It will also provide a stern test of China’s centrally planned financial system for the foreseeable future.

Global Significance of Chinese investments

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.

Conjuncted: Whats Right-Wing With Negri? Note Quote.

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Already with his concept of the socialised worker, Negri had rejected the central pillar of Marx’s economics – the relationship between value and labour. As the whole of society becomes a social factory, so the duration of labour becomes unquantifiable and it becomes impossible to reduce specific forms of labour into abstract socially necessary labour. As the 1980s and 1990s unfolded Negri underpinned his new politics with reference to two fashionable right wing theories – the idea of a ‘weightless economy’ developing out of a high tech ‘third industrial revolution’ and, more recently, extreme versions of globalisation theory depicting the death of the nationstate. Today Negri claims that ‘immaterial labour’ has taken the place of industrial labour as the hegemonic form of production that other forms of labour tend towards. Negri’s descriptions of contemporary production will seem unfamiliar to most workers: ‘A gigantic cultural revolution is under way. Free expression and the joy of bodies, the autonomy, hybridisation and the reconstruction of languages, the creation of new singular mobile modes of production—all this emerges, everywhere and continually’.

[Global corporations are anxious to include] difference within their realm and thus aim to maximise creativity, free play and diversity in the corporate workplace. People of all different races, sexes and sexual orientations should potentially be included in the corporation; the daily routine of the workplace should be rejuvenated with unexpected changes and an atmosphere of fun. Break down the old boundaries and let 100 flowers bloom!

Exploitation, in the Marxist sense of the pumping of unpaid surplus labour out of workers, has ended. Exploitation today means capturing the creative energies of a joyous, cooperating multitude – who may be inside or outside of the workplace. The domination of dead labour, such as machinery or computers, over living is finished because living (for Negri, intellectual) labour is now dominant. The tool of production is now the brain. Paul Thompson explains how Negri’s thinking parallels right wing accounts of the economic changes since the 1970s:

This appears to be remarkably similar to knowledge economy arguments, which we might briefly summarise in the following way. In the information age, capital and labour are said to have been displaced by the centrality of knowledge; brawn by brain; and the production of goods by services and manipulation of symbols. As a commodity, knowledge is too complex, intensive and esoteric to be managed through command and control. The archetypal worker in the new economy makes his or her living from judgement, service and analysis… As none of this is calculable or easily measured, it is the inherent property of the producer… This shifts the power balance to the employee, an increasing proportion of whom fall into the category of mobile, self-reliant and demanding ‘free workers’.

Thompson goes on to provide a detailed critique of the idea of immaterial labour. Even at the most immaterial end of the labour market, intellectual property regimes allow the commodification of knowledge. And such workers are still subject to exploitation and control centred upon the workplace.

Far from the workplace ceasing to be the centre of capital accumulation for the ruling class, it plays an increasingly important role in a world of labour intensification and tightening managerial control. The workplace is still the point at which fixed capital necessary for the production of most goods and services is centralised. And it is still the site where surplus value is extracted from workers – the central obsession of capitalists and states – and thus the point at which those opposed to the rule of capital should concentrate their efforts. Just like his vision of the weightless economy, Negri’s account of
globalisation is almost entirely unsupported by empirical evidence. He writes that:

large transnational corporations have effectively surpassed the jurisdiction and authority of nation-states…the state has been defeated and corporations now rule the earth!

Kōjin Karatani versus Moishe Postone. Architectonics of Capitalism.

Kōjin Karatani’s theory of different modes of intercourse criticizes architectonic metaphor thinking that the logic of mods of production in terms of base and superstructure without ceding grounds on the centrality of the critique of political economy. the obvious question is what remains of theory when there is a departure not from the objective towards the subjective, but rather the simultaneous constitution of the subjective and the objective dimensions of the social under capitalism. One way of addressing the dilemma is to take recourse to the lesson of commodity form, where capitalism begets a uniform mode of mediation rather than disparate. The language of modes of production according to Moishe Postone happens to be a transhistorical language allowing for a transhistorical epistemology to sneak in through the backdoor thus outlining the necessity of critical theory’s existence only in so far as the object of critique stays in existence. Karatani’s first critique concerns a crude base-superstructure concept, in which nation and nationalism are viewed merely as phenomena of the ideological superstructure, which could be overcome by reason (enlightenment) or would disappear together with the state. But the nation functions autonomously, independent of the state, and as the imaginative return of community or reciprocal mode of exchange A, it is egalitarian in nature. As is the case with universal religions, the nation thus holds a moment of protest, of opposition, of emancipatory imagination. The second critique concerns the conception of the proletariat, which Marxism reduced to the process of production, in which its labor force is turned into a commodity. Production (i.e., consumption of labor power) as a fundamental basis to gain and to increase surplus value remains unchanged. Nonetheless, according to Karatani surplus value is only achieved by selling commodities, in the process of circulation, which does not generate surplus value itself, but without which there cannot be any surplus value. Understanding the proletariat as producer-consumer opens up new possibilities for resistance against the system. In late capitalism, in which capital and company are often separated, workers (in the broadest sense of wage and salary earners) are usually not able to resist their dependency and inferiority in the production process. By contrast, however, in the site of consumption, capital is dependent on the worker as consumer. Whereas capital can thus control the proletariat in the production process and force them to work, it loses its power over them in the process of circulation. If, says Karatani, we would view consumers as workers in the site of circulation, consumer movements could be seen as proletariat movements. They can, for example, resort to the legal means of boycott, which capital is unable to resist directly. Karatani bases his critique of capitalism not on the perspectives of globalization, but rather on what he terms neo-imperialism meaning state-based attempt of capital to subject the entire world to its logic of exploitation, and thus any logic to overcoming the modern world system of capital-nation-state by means of a world revolution and its sublation in a system is to be possible by justice based on exchange. For Postone Capital generates a system characteristically by the opposition of abstract universality, the value form, and particularistic specificity, the use value dimension. It seems to me that rather than viewing a socialist or an emancipatory movement as the heirs to the Enlightenment, as the classic working class movement did, critical movements today should be striving for a new form of universalism that encompasses the particular, rather than existing in opposition to the particular. This will not be easy, because a good part of the Left today has swung to particularity rather than trying to and a new form of universalism. I think this is a fatal mistake.