Sunday, March 21, 2010

Capital can flow freely

On news of the conviction of Peter Watts (for "refusing to comply" with border police by asking what the problem was; I believe he was found not guilty of assaulting their fists with his head), many privileged white people have grown outraged (I'm looking at the comments, most of which are made by upper-middle class white people though there is some diversity there), as they should, though their surprise is a bit tiresome.

One privileged white person, the sci-fi writer Charles Stross (whose novels I have never read but whose blog posts tend to be fairly well-informed), wrote this. I think it's pretty useful:
Capital can flow freely, but labour is in shackles world-wide.

If you don't see a very specific political subtext here (being sold to the voting masses on the back of crude xenophobia and racism), let me be more explicit: labour wants to migrate where working conditions and pay are best. Capital wants to invest for growth where working conditions and pay are worst.

By penning us (the labour) in, capital can maintain, for a while, the wage imbalances that maximize profit. (Take raw material. Process as cheaply as possible. Sell for as much as possible.) In the long term, it's unsustainable -- labour in the high-cost developed world is taking a hammering due to being uncompetitive, and wages will be forced down until it is competitive, while labour costs in the developing world are skyrocketing. It'll end when American and EU wages meet in the middle with Chinese and Indian wages ... unless American, EU, Chinese, and Indian wage-earners are forced to recalibrate their expectations against the DRC or Somalia.

Welcome to the future that globalized capitalism has bought for us (and see also the vital, pressing need for election funding reform in the USA, which is the pivot on which this whole mess revolves). I'm beginning to think that, regardless of his prescription, Karl Marx's diagnosis of the crisis of capitalism was spot on the money.

Anyway, crap like this is going to keep happening as long as we're workers first and citizens last.
I feel about Stross about the same as he seems to feel about Marx. If you keep his MOR liberal audience (and, to a lesser extent, his own MOR liberal perspective) in mind, ignore the typical caveating about Marx and his implicit faith in electoral politics and the "rule of law" and all that, if you disregard his conclusions and his prescriptions, it's a very good diagnosis of the problem.

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