Two days ago, something extraordinary happened. Something that has never happened before in the history of capitalism. In Britain, the news came out that the economy had suffered its greatest slump ever – more than 22% down during the first 7 months of 2020. Remarkably, on the same day, the London Stock Exchange, the FTSE100 index, rose by more than 2%. On the same day, during a time America has ground to a halt and is beginning to look like not just as an economy in deep trouble but also, ominously, as a failed state, Wall Street’s SP500 index hit an all-time record.
Before 2008, the money markets also behaved in a manner that defied humanism. News of mass firings of workers would be routinely followed by sharp rises in the share price of the companies “letting their workers go” – as if they were concerned with their liberation… But at least, there was a capitalist logic to that correlation between firings and share prices. That disagreeable causality was anchored in expectations regarding a company’s actual profits. More precisely, the prediction that a reduction in the company’s wage bill might, to the extent that the loss of personnel lead to lower proportional reductions in output, lead to a rise in profits and, thus, dividends. The mere belief that there were enough speculators out there thinking that there were enough speculators out there who might form that particular expectation was enough to occasion a boost in the share price of companies firing workers.
That was then, prior to 2008. Today, this link between profit forecasts and share prices has disappeared and, as a consequence, the share market’s misanthropy has entered a new, post-capitalist phase.
This is not as controversial a claim as it may sound at first. In the midst of our current pandemic not one person in their right mind imagines that there are speculators out there who believe that there are enough speculators out there who may believe that company profits in the UK or in the US will rise any time soon. And yet they buy shares with enthusiasm. The pandemic’s effect on our post-2008 world is now creating forces hitherto unfathomable.
In today’s world, it would be a mistake to try to find any correlation between what is going on in the real world (of wages, profits, output and sales) and in the money markets. Today, there is no need for a correlation between ‘news’ (e.g. a newsflash that some large multinational fired tens of thousands) and share price hikes. As we watch stock exchanges rise at a time of tanking economies, it would be a mistake to think that speculators hear that the UK economy, or the US economy, have tanked and think to themselves: Great, let’s buy shares. No, the situation is far, far worse!
In the post-2008 world, speculators – for the first time in history – don’t actually give a damn about the economy. They, like you and me, can see that Covid-19 has put capitalism in suspended animation. That it is crushing corporate profit margins while also the destroying lives and livelihoods of the many. That it is causing a new tsunami of poverty with long-term effects on aggregate demand. That it demonstrates in every country and every town the pre-existing deep class and race divides, as some of us were privileged enough to keep social distance rules while an army of people out there laboured for a pittance and at risk of infection to cater to our needs.
No, what we are living through now is not your typical capitalist disregard for human needs, the standard tendency of the capitalist system to be motivated solely by the needs of profit-maximisation or, as we lefties say, capital accumulation. No, capitalism is now in a new, strange phase: Socialism for the very, very few (courtesy of central banks and governments catering to a tiny oligarchy) and stringent austerity, coupled with cruel competition in an environment of industrial, and technologically advanced, feudalism for almost everyone else.
This week’s events in Wall Street and the City of London mark this turning point – the historic moment that future historians will undoubtedly pick to say: It was in the summer of 2020 when financial capitalism finally broke with the world of real people, including capitalists antiquated enough to try to profit from producing goods and services.
But let us begin at the beginning. How did it all begin?
Preberite več v Yanis Varoufakis, Something remarkable just happened this August