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They have lost control

The trouble with conspiracy theories is the impression given that “they” – bankers, politicians, the military etc – are always in control of events and will thus determine their outcomes to suit themselves. How wrong-headed and disarming this approach is.

Take the United States. Is President Obama in command of the environmental and economic disaster resulting from the BP oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico? Clearly not. The White House can’t even find out how much oil is actually leaking from the ruptured well a mile below the surface.

What about the economy then? Obama’s government has spent countless billions of dollars trying to stimulate the economy, to no avail. Over 84,000 public sector jobs alone have been lost this year and unemployment overall is 10% and rising.

Now Obama insists another $50 billion is needed to save the jobs of thousands of teachers, fire fighters and police officers. Even fellow Democrats are expected to join Republicans to block the plans in Congress. The ability of a powerful government like America’s to determine the course of the economic crisis is patently absent. Not much control there then.

In Britain, you couldn’t say that the Lib-Dem coalition is “in control”. Its very formation was hardly a planned event but the result of circumstances beyond Clegg and Cameron’s control. We are talking about two things here – the result of the general election and the impact of the global financial crisis on Britain.

To appear to be in control, both coalition parties have had to marginalise their own rank and file and claim to be ruling in the “national interest” to save Britain from state bankruptcy. The coalition could flounder over the scale and impact of the spending cuts that are being prepared or as a result of any number of external events.

Surely someone out there must be in “control”, you would think? If it’s not the state and politicians, it’s got to be the bankers and the heads of the handful of transnational corporations that are the dominant forces in the global economy? They only wish they were, especially the CEO and chairman of BP!

The bankers thought they had command as they built the most far-reaching financial empire the world has ever seen. Ultimately, the line between reality and fantasy became so blurred that they lost what little control they possessed. It all went belly up in 2008 as fiction overwhelmed fact. With a huge overhang of debt still waiting to be accounted for, nothing will persuade the bankers to start lending again.

Now people say that financial markets are “in control”. But a market like this one is not some defined group of men and women sitting in known locations who can be told what to do or who will act in a rational way. Financial markets are greater than the sum of their many, many parts. That’s what makes them so unpredictable, prone to herd instinct and fear, rumour and gossip.

The essence of the capitalist beast in times of crisis like these is that far from being in control, there are many indications that it is actually out of control. Global warming, for example, is proceeding without any apparent political capacity to halt it. Recession is turning to slump and spending cuts will only make that more certain.

We shouldn’t conclude, however, that it is impossible to have a rational politics and economics in place of the chaos and turmoil that is global capitalism. For that to happen, we just need to exert our own potential power in new, democratic ways, putting the present elites out to grass.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
14 June 2010

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