Monthly Archives: November 2011

It’s Everybody’s Business

I saw clips from this chamber of commerce cartoon in the documentary on the Greek crisis, Debtocracy, and found it in its entirety on youtube. It’s probably safe to say that the version of capitalism asserted by the cartoon– and its vision of US history as a Horatio Alger-style narrative of “struggling upward” completely purged of chattel slavery and the theft of indigenous lands– remains compelling for some people. In that sense what we have here is fantasy in its most active sense– the indispensable “screen” filtering out the Real of history. Yet it’s also instructive that the cartoon essentially defends the necessity of taxation in order to provide a bare minimum of social welfare. Made in 1954, It’s Everybody’s Business can’t imagine the changes in capitalism that will arise in just a few years. By the mid-70s global capital was in crisis, oil prices (the blood of production) had quadrupled, profits were falling, and postFordism was beginning to de-industrialize the US and other leading economic powers. The Golden Age was over and new means of accumulation had to be located. One of these was the burgeoning use of credit by workers, a compensation for wages which have remained stagnant throughout the Neoliberal Era.

Sinking Argentina (HUM415/HUM455)

One of the questions we could ask about the 2001 economic collapse in Argentina is to what extent that event is related to 1) neoliberalism as a general set of policies and 2) Argentina’s historically specific political culture. Generally speaking, when developing nations perform poorly in economic terms, global financial institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank locate blame in the corruption of local elites. We would probably be foolish to argue that what happened in Argentina was purely a product of neoliberalism in the abstract. Instead, we ought to acknowledge the extent to which political figures such as Menem and Cavallos actively participated in and abetted corrupt practices.

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Argentina’s Economic Crisis/ Death as a Side Effect (HUM415)

I updated the on-line documentaries page with two recent films about Argentina’s 2001 economic crisis. The events leading up to the crisis are fairly complicated, and they can be said to begin with the military coup of 1976. Under dictatorship (1976-1983) many new economic policies were put into place, including the borrowing of newly available petro-dollars, a development which would have long term effects. The dictatorship consciously modeled itself after the Chilean experiement, reversing ISI (import substitute industrialization) and initiating the sale of SOEs (state owned enterprises). Yet it took a neo-Peronist to unravel what the Peronist party had accomplished. By 1994, during the second term of Carlos Menem, fully 90% of the SOEs had gone onto the auction block.

When democracy returned to Argentina in 1983, a rising interest rates made Argentina’s foreign debt increasingly unmanageable. Managing that debt became an end in itself, and the resulting austerity measures visibly and meaningfully worsened social life for many Argentines. There was also the problems concerning monetary policy and the effect of the economic crises in Mexico (1995) and Southeast Asia (1997) . As I said, the history of these events is quite complex. In any case, by the time Ana Maria Shua wrote Death as a Side Effect income disparities had deepened and Argentina’s economy was edging closer to full collapse. By 2001 the nation had defaulted on its debts.

With DSE we confront another dystopian text. As with all dystopian fiction there is a pronounced satirical aspect to Shua’s work, one that functions to criticize contemporary society. Yet you’ll notice that DSE also focuses on human relationships, in particular the connection between the narrator, his absent lover, his father, etc. To what extent are these relationships symbolic? Can we read beyond the denotative level and discern a deeper connotative message at work?

Argentina 2001 (HUM415/ HUM455)

EZEQUIEL ADAMOVSKY: I think the most important thing to take into account was that Argentina, during the 1990s, was the most extreme experiment in neoliberal transformation. We had the most radical program of reforms at that time, which ended up in massive unemployment, impoverishment of more than half of the population of the country, and in 2001, finally, the collapse of the whole economic system. At the same time, we had a crisis of credibility in the political system. Since every single political party was proposing the same types of measures, neoliberal measures, population lost confidence in all politicians at the same time. So we — in 2001, we had the vast majority of the population rejecting neoliberal measures and not having any political alternative in the established political parties as to how to continue ruling this country.

So that was the moment in which the rebellion happened. And the rebellion was basically, at the same time, a rejection of austerity measures and also a rejection of the political system. The main slogan of the rebellion was “They must all go,” meaning that all politicians should leave the political scene. So, up until this, there was no political alternative then. But the most interesting aspect of the rebellion was that precisely at that moment, large social movements started to experiment new forms of political representation, new political slogans and programs.