Tag Archives: Afghanistan

Debt, gimmicks and the right

The right loves its gimmicks. First, the brains trust behind the disastrous Rally Against Debt paraded their “Debt Clock” around the streets of London. They were trying to tell us that “time was running out” and that the government had to “cut deeper and faster”. They thought that if they drove a massive clock on the back of an articulated lorry around Westminster’s streets on a Saturday afternoon, with the city full of people shopping on their credit cards, spending money they don’t have on things they d0n’t need… would somehow convince these people, some of them tourists, of  the merit of their argument, they were sadly mistaken. They just looked like a bunch of rich Ayn Rand-reading nerds with too much time on their hands who could afford to hire a truck for a stunt. Whoopee-do.

In a classic example of monkey-see/monkey-do, Hammersmith & Fulham Council has come up with its own version of a gimmicky debt gauge. It’s called the “Debtometer” and the ‘device’, so our overlords tell us,  is meant to measure the debt “going down”. Shepherds Bush blog has the story.

The council website says,

Millions of pounds are being freed up for vital frontline services as the council looks set to hit its target of halving its historic debt mountain by 2014.

Hammersmith & Fulham (H&F) Council’s debt reduction strategy, which includes moves to sell under-used council buildings, is set to wipe another £12million off the town hall’s debt burden by April 2012.

The news comes as the council launches a new quarterly online ‘debtometer’ so that residents can keep a track of the progress made in reducing municipal debt.

You’ve got to love the way LBH&F’s Tories dissemble the facts. All councils run up debts; that’s how they survive. I mean, have you ever heard of a council being forced to shut down because it had no money? No, I haven’t either. Hackney is  poor borough that often finds itself in massive debt but it hasn’t shut down. The entire article about the “debtometer” is reproduced verbatim on the H&F Tories site .

These cute little gimmicks that are dreamt up by the right are distractions and nothing more. They are PR confidence tricks designed to divert attention away from the fact that they have no real ideas beyond cutting public services.  Why? Because they tell us that don’t use them (so who empties their bins?) and they think that the rest of us are ‘addicted’ to the state. It’s the old new classical liberal idea of deserving and undeserving poor revivified under the neo-Hayekian aegis of ‘freedom’ and ’empowerment’.

But those who claim these stunts are more than the sum of their parts are deluding themselves. These are the people who come out with snappy lines like “the nation had maxed out its credit card” and “we need to live within our means”. In their arrogance, they have convinced themselves that no one understand economics like they do. They talk a good talk but like a cheap jumper, their argument soon unravels when it is scrutinized.  They can only “speak in maths”, as the Radiohead song goes. Yet without people – a society – there is no economy. No people, no need for commodities.

But try and tell them that.

Not to be outdone by Gordon Brown’s “quantitative easing”,  Hon Gid introduced his own idea of economic interventionism at the Conservative Party Conference. He called his concept gimmick, “credit easing”.

But credit is debt.

Ask anyone who has a credit card, a bank loan or a mortgage.

But people with credit cards don’t have access to the international bond markets. They can’t sell their junk in the same way as a nation-state. In fact, while this government talks about reducing debt, it raises money on the bond markets to continue its costly wars in Libya and Afghanistan. This is something that our slash and burn Tories won’t tell you about. Instead, they’ll tell you that cuts are “necessary” and will beg the question with a “But surely you realize how important it is for the government to reduce the nation’s debt”?

The Taxpayers Alliance loves to claim that its “our money” that’s being “burnt” but what they won’t tell you is that most of the nation’s wealth is concentrated in a small number of hands and those people (including the entire membership of TPA) are well insulated against economic hardship. If you put that point to them, they’ll start flailing about and will regurgitate the usual neo-Hayekian drivel about “responsibility”.

The cuts to public services, especially those to education, is a form of de-investment. That is to say, the Tory-led government is not investing in the economy – as it should at this time. Instead, it is sucking money out of the economy and diverting some of those funds to those pet projects that are run by its supporters – the free schools, for example. It has no interest in investing in people…unless they come from a privileged background. In which case, there is no need to invest in them because they will, by dint of their circumstances of birth, reproduce the same selfish, dimwitted values that were espoused by their parents.

No wonder we’re in the shit.

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Filed under Economics, Hammersmith & Fulham, London, neoliberalism, Rally Against Debt, Spiv capitalism

Nation-building and imagining nationhood: is Afghanistan being fattened up for neo-liberal exploitation?

“Nations” as Benedict Anderson observed are “imagined communities”. They are socially constructed spaces that only a small group of people have a hand in building  This group is, for all intents and purposes, the dominant class. They commission national anthems, flags and compile the histories. They are also responsible for the way in which myths are incorporated into the story of the nation or conscripted for use in war-making campaigns. There are always legends of heroes fighting against the odds to create the nation that we all know today. There is also the lie that is told each time someone criticises the nation-state – “I fought a war to give you your freedom”.

As we have witnessed in the last 70 years, the construction of nations is not always the responsibility of the inhabitants of that nation; rather they are constructed by an outside nation – usually a more powerful nation that has either invaded or occupied the geographical space that people think of as their country. We have some recent examples of this tendency of the powerful to build states or nations in their own image. Iraq is one place and Afghanistan is another.

Before the 18th century, nation-states were dominated by a sovereign who was the physical embodiment of the state. As Foucault argues, any crime that was committed was considered to be a slight on the body of the sovereign (who was also His ‘representative’ on Earth) and the punishments could be brutally severe – even for the slightest crime. Nation-states exist to make wars; they invade other countries, lay siege to its cities, kill its denizens and cart home the booty – this was the case in the Classical and Medieval periods and it still the case today but rather than use Deuteronomy as a means of legitimation, the cry of ‘free-trade’ is now employed to achieve the same effect – this is a product of Enlightenment thinking. Therefore today’s wars are ostensibly waged either for the ‘defence of liberty/freedom/democracy’ or to ‘open up markets’. Iraq and Afghanistan provided cover for the latter in the guise of the former. The ‘opening’ of  Iraq’s markets in the aftermath of the invasion is a modern version of carrying home the spoils of war.

Today, we still have vassal states that are yoked to more powerful countries rather than vast empires . These are the states that have been destroyed and rebuilt with mainly US money. The principle of humanitarianism in the case of Iraq does not apply; it was seen as ripe for conquest and colonization by the free-market – a lab for the extended free-market ideas of Friedman. The memory of Chile was still fresh in the mind of the war’s planners who had high hopes for Iraq’s resources.

In the early days of the occupation, the US exarch in Iraq, L Paul Bremer, issued a series of executive orders all designed to lay claim to as much of Iraq’s wealth as possible. Executive Order 39 for example says that “all sectors of the economy except oil and gas are open to foreign investors on terms no less favourable to an Iraqi investor”. Bremer instituted a flat tax rate under Order 37 –  flat tax rates are often portrayed by proponents as ‘fair’, when in fact they benefit big business and the rich.  Order 17 grants immunity to certain contractors and persons associated with the Civil Provisional Authority immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law. So any foreigner could quite literally get away with murder.

So what is in store for Afghanistan, that other site of Western nation-building? I saw an item on yesterday morning’s BBC Breakfast where the journalist was reporting from inside the mine. He pretty much said, ‘Afghanistan has a lot of natural resources: iron, copper, gold’…. It wasn’t so much a news report as a marketing message to would-be opportunists, ‘Come to Afghanistan and claim your share’!

The Globalrealm says that the war in Afghanistan is a profit-driven one and US geologists have discovered plenty of mineral booty under the ground. It argues that these vast mineral deposits will pay for cost of the war  I am sure that Karzai’s  government has already bent over backwards to assist foreign investors.  Here’s what the Cato Institute said in 2002

The real long-term answer to Afghanistan’s development lies with free trade and the internal pro-market reforms that trade helps bring about. The Bush administration should therefore pledge to negotiate a sweeping free-trade agreement with Afghanistan’s newly formed government once the Senate passes trade promotion authority (TPA)–something that needs to happen soon.

The TPA expired in 2007 but USAID (US Agency for International Development)are still deeply involved in the country – as one would expect. USAID produced a document in 2002 that provided the blueprint for the mass privatization of Iraqi assets. Has it done the same for Afghanistan? USAID does not dole out aid as such, it doles out reconstruction contracts to companies like Bechtel and Dyncorp. It is deeply involved in the liberalization of state economies to not only re-form them in the economic image of the parent but to create systems of exploitation that benefit the occupying power(s). As US General Smedley Butler once said “War is a racket“. Here’s what he said in his pamphlet written about World War I but it could be about any war.

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

A YouTube version of Butler’s speech can be viewed here.

Another example Butler’s thoughts on war and nation-building can be found in this clip from The Corporation.

 

A group of US industrialists and others tried to persuade Butler to participate in a coup plot against the White House but he refused to become, in his words, a “gangster for capitalism”. Shame that lesson hasn’t been learned by other military leaders.

We were told that the war in Afghanistan was being waged to ‘protect us’ and to defend ‘our way of life’. The plain truth is that the world is not a safer place and the bodybags are still coming home in their hundreds (the British death toll  stands at 308 at the time of writing). Yet, there are those who would applaud the nation-building efforts in Afghanistan precisely because they have something to gain from the adventure. The Afghans, on the other hand, have nothing to gain from any of this – except, perhaps, for Karzai and the various warlords who are allied to the NATO occupiers.

Nation-building is fine if it is done by those who live in the country or region but national identity is a different matter and one that I shall cover at a future date on this blog. Creating nations in order to serve the interests of a more powerful nation can only lead to one thing: exploitation.

UPDATE:

I found this while looking for something else. It’s about rentier state-building in Afghanistan.

http://www.cigionline.org/blogs/2010/5/rentier-state-building-afghanistan-political-economy-view

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Filed under Afghanistan, Government & politics, National Identity