Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Sunday, February 03, 2008

"The Anglo Disease" Critique of Neoliberal Hyper-Financialization

Jerome Guillet, known as "Jerome a Paris" on dKos, EuroTrib, and Energize America is one of my favorite bloggers for sustainable energy policy and against neoliberal policy. For years now, he has been critiquing the disastrous neoliberal financialization of North Atlantic economies, which he has called "The Anglo Disease."

Together with the indispensable engaged scholarship of Mike Davis and Naomi Klein, as well as the more conventionally published writing of David Harvey on the topic of Neoliberalism, the periodically updated posts on "The Anglo Disease" at EuroTrib have been most indispensable to my own sense of the political economy of contemporary corporate-militarism.

A summary of the articles by Guillet and a few other like-minded folks anthologized mostly on European Tribune that together are delineating "The Anglo Disease" Critique is available on the other end of this link. I mention all this, just because Guillet has posted a new short introduction to the topic this morning, providing a nice point of entry for newcomers to the critique.

It's all here, but I'll post a few short grafs in the hopes of drawing you in deeper:
In the 70s, the Economist coined the label "Dutch Disease" to describe the economic travails of the Netherlands as the country's export-oriented industrial sector struggled with the increased exchange rates caused by the rapid growth in gas exports that followed the discovery and development of the massive Groningen field. The extractive sector was so profitable that it captured a large share of new investment, and its export volume was large enough to alter the trade balance and boost the currency, further rendering other activities less attractive.

Today, we can observe a similar phenomenon on a large scale around the financial industry, whose high profitability for many years has also caused weakness for other sectors of the economy. As this has developed around the money centers in New York and, in an even more concentrated way, London, I would propose to label this the "Anglo Disease"…

Financiers, with their ability to monetize today future revenue streams, are able to generate instant profits which can be captured by them and, to a lesser extent, their clients and employers. That capacity to create apparent wealth out of thin air cannot be matched by any other sector in the economy, and sucks in talent, resources and money. Meanwhile, the investors that have made those immediate profits possible will want to ensure that the future flows that underpin them do materialize, and will impose their rules and discipline on the underlying economic activity.

Thus the financial world imposes its unrelenting focus on profits and shareholder value on all economic activities; the domination of "return on capital" criteria ensures that many activities outside finance are in decline, as they struggle to reach the required returns on potential investments. Financial analysis sees labor as a cost, reducing profits, and pushes for its reduction, either via outsourcing, off-shorization or wage stagnation. Similarly, government regulations are seen as restrictions on profit to be fought and eliminated, as, naturally, taxes.

To boost domestic demand in the face of flat incomes, debt has been pushed on households as the way to keep on increasing their spending, to the further benefit of the industry that provides the loans.…

The model of financial capitalism is thus all-encompassing, not only grabbing an increasing share of the economic pie, but also dominating all political and economic discourse.

The reality, unfortunately, is a massive inequality, declining or stagnant living standards for the majority, who spend more than they earn, and, as a consequence, a massive bill pushed out into the future. Well, that future is now….

If… policies are focused on propping incomes for the poor and the middle classes rather than profits, on investing in the real economy rather than in monetizing its existing activities (for instance via plans to boost energy efficiency in the household sector and renewable energies), on taxing today's wealthy rather than tomorrow's citizens, then there is a chance to limit the crash.

Just like the Dutch disease was caused by a new sector providing temporary windfalls, the Anglo disease was made possible by the combination of technological progress in the financial world, the long bond bull market created by Volcker's successful fight against inflation and the successful promotion of the ideology of greed by the right (with the timely fall of the Berlin Wall providing an additional boost by discrediting the other extreme of the ideological spectrum). The great middle classes created by the Keynesian policies of the New Deal have now been exploited for the past 30 years, and they are depleted. The economy will need to find another, more real, way to grow and prosper.

Quite apart from importance of this critique on its own terms, quite apart from the usefulness of its recommendations and rhetorical framing here and now, I will remind the technoscience-focused readers of Amor Mundi that I have proposed in the past that it is the instability and the displacements of real impacts enabled and exacerbated by the reckless financialization decried by the "Anglo Disease" Critique here that provides much of the actual lived substance (as seen from the perspective of the relative winners and those who identify with the winners) of the "dynamism" crowed about by many corporate futurists and other technophiles when they go on idiotically about the so-called "acceleration of acceleration" of technodevelopment in the various Superlative Technology Discourses I regularly decry here.

1 comment:

gf said...


Thanks for the links; the summary is a great read that reaffirms the stark reality that I have come to know, that most large financial corporations are simply there to hurt you, the client, and you the employee.

When everything blows over with my situation (read: class action lawsuit, and other possible future litigation), I'll give you some good gossip.