Friday, July 02, 2010


Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold and former investment banker for Sachs and Stearns Nomi Prins offer an incredibly sobering view of the financial reform bill now touted by mainstream media as the most radical overhaul of financial regulation since the Great Depression. Although the chassy of both analyses are grounded in a clear commitment to market systems (i.e. the belief that a few bad apples rather than the fundamental structure of capital steered us into the dirt), many of the insights Feingold and Prins offer seem especially salient. For a broader and weirdly digestible perspective, see the animated excerpt of David Harvey's lecture "Crises of Capitalism":

In thinking the present financial crisis (referred to by some now as the Great Recession), the Social Structure of Accumulation theory (SSA) developed by economists Samuel Bowles and David Gordon may be useful, however incompatible SSA may be with other theoretical models (i.e. World Systems Analysis).

Cf. Contemporary Capitalism and Its Crises, ed. Terrence McDonough, Michael Reich and David M. Kotz (Cambridge UP 2010) — Samuel Rosenberg's essay "Labor in the Contemporary Social Structure of Accumulation":

Excessive consumer debt and asset bubbles preceded the onset of the current recession, the most severe of the post World War II period. Debt and asset bubbles were the direct result of the "neoliberal" social structure of accumulation [which emerges in the 1980s with the Washington Consensus, etc]. Due to stagnating real earnings and declining employer-provided healthcare benefits, families were forced to take on excessive debt to maintain their desired standard of living or to meet unexpected medical expenses. The rise in profits relative to wages and the increasing concentration of household income at the top of the income distribution resulted in a large and growing volume of funds seeking investment opportunities, be they productive or speculative. With a shortage of available investment opportunities relative to available funds for investment, conditions were ripe for asset bubbles in real estate and securities. The collapse of these asset bubbles led to the current recession.

For anyone given to cultural politics what is missing is clear: the articulation of this — and generally any SSA — economic analysis with a thoroughgoing critique of ideology and subjectivity. On the other hand, what I often find desperately lacking in cultural criticism is precisely this type of economic analysis. And despite any difficulty I may at times have with critical work by, say, Ron Silliman or Barrett Watten, it is here, on the terrain of economics, that both offer models for thinking the cultural that can be developed much further and in a wide range of productive directions (i.e. the usefulness of the painstaking number-crunching Silliman performs in the mid-eighties essay "The Political Economy of Poetry" and in recent years on his blog; or the attention Watten often devotes to modes of production in his criticism).