Debt is a form of social control.
A short doc by Astra Taylor
This sunny, profane satire centers on the 60th birthday party of a ruthless yet sporadically charming fashion industry billionaire, Sir Richard “Greedy” MacCreadie (Steve Coogan). David Mitchell plays Nick Morris, a shy, self-effacing but ultimately contemptible writer hired to act as Greedy’s hagiographer. The build-up is promising, layering flashbacks to Greedy’s rise into the oligarchy with Morris’s information gathering and the preparations for the party, an elaborate affair set against Greece’s pristine shores.
Greedy’s staff struggles to pull it off, particularly with regard to the decidedly unscenic presence of Syrian refugees camped out nearby. The fact that all of Greece’s beaches are public makes it ultimately impossible to legally eject them. This is but one obstacle among others, including a nauseated lion, EU labor regulations, and the reluctance of certain coveted celebrities to attend the celebration.
Without giving too much away, at the story’s climax writer/director Michael Winterbottom satisfies one of the audience’s vengeful desires only to pull his punches, denying us the knockout blow. This lackluster denouement has as much to do with the limits of realism in representing the enormity of global capitalism as it does with the film’s liberal politics, which are capable of condemning injustice while ultimately doing nothing about it. In this sense Nick Morris is Winterbottom, clearly aware of the savagery of the people and economic forces he describes yet lacking the wherewithal to intervene decisively against them.
A story of underclass vengeance against the system that fattens the .001% at the expense of the health and dignity of workers would necessitate a leap into the surreal, some means of representation that could give commensurable form to the incommensurable totality of the Free Market. Even so, Greed is funny and dark, and definitely worth watching.
Far from a question of liberal politics, today’s cultural liberalism is identified far more by a moral framework of consumer choices, consumption habits, personal behaviors, and an obsession with displays of multicultural tolerance and surface-level diversity than any of its overtly political positions, which in reality are a largely settled matter. In fact, pretending those liberal political positions haven’t been settled and are instead under some sort of constant threat tends to be another primary feature of today’s hegemonic cultural liberalism.
Capital favors conditions that support capital accumulation even at the expense of human flourishing.
“The rich are only defeated when running for their lives.”
Can anyone really imagine any American politician saying this out loud? Even as a metaphor– one of the ways James intended this statement– it’s impossible to envision the most “radical” political figures in national politics– an Ilhan Omar or a Rashida Tlaib– using such language.
One of the secrets of American politics is that both Democrats and Republicans share a common philosophy: they are Liberal in the broadest sense of that term, which is to say they are devoted to the notion of a Free Market as the foundation of political rights, the social order, and economic prosperity. Unified by this commitment, in the absence of any substantial disagreement on the basic principle, Dems and Reps have had to find other ways to distinguish themselves from one another. The easiest, most inflammatory and engaging means of doing so is to fight Culture Wars that focus on issues of identity and morality rather than on the structural violence of the inequality that is an unavoidable outcome of the capitalist system. Though they may quibble about specific policies, on the issue of political economy, as Barack Obama affirms, the two parties are fundamentally in agreement.
In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure.
The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalised the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief momenta of primitive accumulation. On their heels treads the commercial war of the European nations, with the globe for a theatre. It begins with the revolt of the Netherlands from Spain, assumes giant dimensions in England’s Anti-Jacobin War, and is still going on in the opium wars against China, &c.
The different momenta of primitive accumulation distribute themselves now, more or less in chronological order, particularly over Spain, Portugal, Holland, France, and England. In England at the end of the 17th century, they arrive at a systematical combination, embracing the colonies, the national debt, the modern mode of taxation, and the protectionist system. These methods depend in part on brute force, e.g., the colonial system. But, they all employ the power of the State, the concentrated and organised force of society, to hasten, hot-house fashion, the process of transformation of the feudal mode of production into the capitalist mode, and to shorten the transition. Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one. It is itself an economic power.
— Capital, vol. 1
From Capital, volume 1 (1867)
[P]rimitive accumulation plays in Political Economy about the same part as original sin in theology. Adam bit the apple, and thereupon sin fell on the human race. Its origin is supposed to be explained when it is told as an anecdote of the past. In times long gone by there were two sorts of people; one, the diligent, intelligent, and, above all, frugal elite; the other, lazy rascals, spending their substance, and more, in riotous living. The legend of theological original sin tells us certainly how man came to be condemned to eat his bread in the sweat of his brow; but the history of economic original sin reveals to us that there are people to whom this is by no means essential. Never mind! Thus it came to pass that the former sort accumulated wealth, and the latter sort had at last nothing to sell except their own skins. And from this original sin dates the poverty of the great majority that, despite all its labour, has up to now nothing to sell but itself, and the wealth of the few that increases constantly although they have long ceased to work. Such insipid childishness is every day preached to us in the defence of property…. In actual history it is notorious that conquest, enslavement, robbery, murder, briefly force, play the great part…. [T]he methods of primitive accumulation are anything but idyllic.
The HR-ification of BLM entails saying the right things while giving very little concrete, material support to the people who need it. Imagine if the focus was less on “Hire more Black admin” and more on “Abolish tuition. In fact pay students to attend school.” How many Black lives would be transformed by this kind of program?