"...it's not the training to be mean but the training to be kind that is used to keep us leashed best." ~ Black Dog Red

"In case you haven't recognized the trend: it proceeds action, dissent, speech." ~ davidly, on how wars get done

"...What sort of meager, unerotic existence must a man live to find himself moved to such ecstatic heights by the mundane sniping of a congressional budget fight. The fate of human existence does not hang in the balance. The gods are not arrayed on either side. Poseiden, earth-shaker, has regrettably set his sights on the poor fishermen of northern Japan and not on Washington, D.C. where his ire might do some good--I can think of no better spot for a little wetland reclamation project, if you know what I mean. The fight is neither revolution nor apocalypse; it is hardly even a fight. A lot of apparatchiks are moving a lot of phony numbers with more zeros than a century of soccer scores around, weaving a brittle chrysalis around a gross worm that, some time hence, will emerge, untransformed, still a worm." ~ IOZ

May 7, 2010

Crisis Speculations

(Thanks to C.F. Oxtrot for linking the Orlov article which got me a'thinkin' - and to the essayists outlined in several posts below.)

Over the last several weeks we've had the opportunity to see crisis government in action, in two separate fields of action, spanning two different continents, in two different political and economic environments. Over the past year and a half, we've also had the ability to study how the TARP bail outs, and associated book cookings,  have managed to transfer billions of dollars of debt from private ledgers to the public account (see Michael Whitney's series of essays at Counterpunch), protecting the network of perpetrator firms from their own toxic ramifications, whilst socializing their costs.

As the Invisible Committee opined, in 2009*: "Our governors themselves increasingly consider it [the state, specifically the French welfare state] as a useless encumbrance because they, at least, consider the conflict for what it is - militarily. They have no complex about sending in elite anti-terrorist units to subdue riots, or to liberate a recycling center occupied by its workers. As the welfare state collapses, we see the emergence of a brute conflict between those who desire order and those who don't."

An order, we should understand, that requires continuous Emergency - peripheralized insecurity which must of necessity threaten the comforts and complacencies of the well governed interiors. An order resembling everyday corporate structure, and its political analog, the garrison state. As long as threats, seemingly perpetual, emerge at this expanding periphery, the state offers a validation to the program of militarization which must appeal to the ruling, creative and managerial beneficiaries of its powers.

They continue, further on, "Crisis is a means of governing. In a world that seems to hold together only through the infinite management of its own collapse."

This process, outlined in greater detail by Naomi Klein, in The Shock Doctrine, and hinted at by John Perkins, in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, depends upon a catalog of manufactured instabilities.

These destabilizations do not arise from unintended glitches within the firm and government based management of capitalist accumulation, but from the specific, necessary and ongoing transfer of national welfare state capacity towards police-military control.**

As the primary resource fueling later order capitalism - oil - approaches its revaluation as a luxury commodity, the surviving managing states must look for a new approach to stability; it must look to what populations it will protect, and which ones it will exploit and control. If international currencies can no longer depend on trade in fungible petroleum for their exchange value, then one of the final necessities of the modern nation state, and the international system of loans, debt financing and trade agreement, no longer acts as a pervasive bond between it and subject populations, losing its ability to discipline the citizenry with monetary policy. Without this oil based international order, the ruling factions must re-conceive the disciplinary nation state, configuring it to protect the wealth and welfare of a smaller class of beneficiaries, while retaining the power to police externalized populations.

Oil will not remain a widespread commodity into the next generation. If disciplinary states cannot retain their hegemony over captive populations their usefulness as delimiting organizations ends, setting into motion a period of intense competition for contested resources, as newly unrestrained actors search for advantages without enduring systems for conflict mediation. No longer assisted in conflict management by nation states, and the application of captured labor receipts to the military gelding of underdeveloped populations who happen to sit on resources, finance and extraction firms lose the capacity to shield their actions under the aegis of national interest and public security, exposing themselves as direct agents of alienation, violence and systematic oppression.

Exposing their operational logic to the immediate pressures of rebellious populations.

The modern nation state, understood in this light, remains vital as a buffer against direct opposition to exploitation, absorbing the violence, outrage and justified anger of laborers and the dwindling classes of petty small holders. For an American example, see the Tea Party. Or liberal political advocacy organizations.

But, for the nation state to serve this function, and with any degree of efficiency, it must shed either its excess populations, its welfare capacity or some of both. In the US, we have a very successful prison industry, as well as the marginalization of foreign and "illegal" workers, to provide a species of population shedding, since institutionally alienated populations (poor blacks, immigrant Asians and Latinos), subject to the control of prisons or deportation, do not immediately threaten the state's field of operation. They instead provide a justification for it, and for the increasing police-militarization of social life. In Israel, see Palestinians. In France, the residents des banlieuses. In Germany, Turks and other immigrants.

Returning to a theme first announced above, the dismantling of the welfare state must either proceed at an increasing pace, so that the state can return to direct management of populations through isolation and violence, thus safeguarding the accumulated assets of the ruling class, or it risks collapsing before those same ruling classes can properly corral subject and captive populations into new zones of control, buffer and instability.

In this light: Greece. As Michael and Richard have outlined in a series of excellent essays - the pillaging of Greece, and the subsequent collapse of the Greek economy, has forced the German dominated EU to consider how to manage this crisis to the benefit of the Euro zone capitalists, and towards the preservation of domestic standards of living within the central powers. They must do this, though, while continuing to defer the chaos engendering collapses of Portugal, Spain and Italy, if not France. If the expansion of the Greek condition to Portugal, Spain and Italy runs ahead of efforts to manage domestic populations, and runaway devaluations, the European experiment may end abruptly, leaving the denuded states of the South and Eastern Europe without any hope but default and unmanageable destabilization. Government by crisis becomes, in short order, government dissolved in crisis. Enter Turkey, the US and Russia - which powers have the capacity to extend military hegemony and which also control the major sources and transfer points of European energy (exempting France in the short term, which has its nuclear buffer; see the current US state transfer of public assets towards the re-invigoration of the domestic nuclear industry).

A Europe so denuded, we ought to understand, exposes Germany and France as the unwilling guarantors of a security they cannot maintain or project, surrounded by weak neighbors to the east and south, and the Russian hydrocarbon state beyond them. Without contractual or military access to the petroleum of the Middle East, the European central powers (including Britain) cannot sustain a prolonged defense against insurrectionary populations or foreign invasion, since the police-military complex more than almost any other depends upon oil. Without oil, no modern military machine.

Without the police and military, no armed staffers for the capitalists. Hence, the crisis managed deconstruction of the welfare state.

Which brings us to the British Petroleum-Halliburton-Transocean Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Even more than Germany, France and Britain, the US capacity to project power rests on oil. On top of this fact, the petrodollar provides the US government with a liquidity and stability it could otherwise not possess. The Gulf Oil crisis has exposed the necessary leniency of the US state towards oil producing corporations. If the State does not offer this benign neglect, its own ability to accumulate petroleum comes into immediate question, since petroleum producing firms, and their FIRE guarantors, can satisfy alternative demands in less regulatory environments. Furthermore, the entire American economy (and of those manufacturing nations which supply its foodstuffs, ersatz goods and component parts) requires the maintenance of an oil platform which becomes an unsustainable burden the moment it terms of use become negotiable. As long as the US state can project its power within national confines (by dismantling the welfare state, militarizing the commons and with the now decade long delegitimization of civil rights and obligations) and onto resource producing populations, the relationship between extraction/finance firms and government serves all concerned parties.

The federal state will not and cannot make anything but symbolic gestures towards regulation of the oil industry, in much the same way that its predominant actors will not and cannot reign in insurance, banking or real estate combines without risking the rapid decomposition of its domestic authority - its capacity to enact systemic and immediate violence against those who threaten the transforming order. Its power derives not from the imaginary consent of citizen producers, but from the wealth of the corporate ruling class.

As we noted above, oil will not long remain a common use commodity. Too vital to the maintenance of police-military power, states will either reserve the use of oil for enforcement and force projection, especially over laboring and resource extracting populations, as well as towards the sustenance of ruling class health and luxury production, or it will lose its self-defining justification.

The ruling class - represented in this age by corporations, military hierarchies, academia and managerial service institutions - has already cast its lot against the Commons as shared public space. It has begun the revaluation of the state, and therefore of social relations, towards the preservation of economic and social advantage in the face of oil contraction, resource scarcity and rising population. Towards this end, deconstructive crisis hastens the project of redefining the Commons as a policed military space, and away from three centuries of construction and agitation for the Commons as commonweal and social amelioration.

In this light, then, perhaps we can better tackle how to oppose this process, and how to transform the emerging period of crisis into our own social revaluation.

Or, and this possibility I readily admit, I've only offered my own catalog of errors...All flaws and errors belong to me, and in no way reflect upon those persons, essays and thoughts I've quoted or read.

* - The Coming Insurrection, 2009, Semiotext(e)

** - Forty-five miles from my own home, in just the last twelve hours, the police militarized a "crisis situation" which amounted to a man who did not want to get off a bus, bringing in the FBI, the state police, DHS, biological-nuclear sniffers, bomb robots and neighborhood evacuation.


JM said...

I beg to differ on Peak Oil-from a pretty well versed energy expert via e-mail

"I don't put much stock in doomer predictions of oil supply crashes - there is plenty out there - I'd say the peak is still a decade off and the decline will be relatively slow (and there are plenty of ways of filling the gape, regardless)."

the guy runs a blog here:


Jack Crow said...

It's a neat trick to treat "supply" as a magic commodity independent of extraction and production.

It allows the opining party to ignore EROEI, and pretend that the possibility of a resource immediately equals its refined and commoditized final product.

Jack Crow said...



h/t SAR via lambert @ Corrente

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

1) JM's job is to dissemble around the InterWebToobz. Nice work Jenny. Seriously. Your masters would be proud. First-rate lying there! Chip Berlet salutes you! You almost got a sleepy-eyed reader, or half thereof, to think this is only about whether "experts" agree on oil's remaining locations and extent. Given that oil takes millions of years to make and we've run through nearly all accessible usable oil, I suppose you and your "expert" intend to be here another million years to reap the benefits of what will be there then? Yes, thought so. Nice work!

2) Jack -- Dmitry is worth reading regularly. His brand of dry humor is unmatched in my travels and his insights and forecasts haven't been shaken once, as far as I can tell. I appreciate the nod in my direction, but I don't mind if you skip that part and instead give the high-sign to Dmitry instead.

3) The most difficult theme to crack among Americans is the idea that financial system collapse, or the collapse of segments of a system, is due to "mismanagement" or "lack of oversight," or "deregulation." Nope. Not at all. It's merely a matter of people being scared & greedy, and using a "get it while the getting's good" approach, conducted in a way to create a wide divide between haves and have-nots, to enhance "security" or some sense thereof, in the haves. That is the theme playing out on Earth right now in "developed" countries -- the knowledge that shell-game economies premised on confidence scams (manipulation of hypothecated interests, etc) cannot last forever, and that the global oil-based systems are nearing the endpoint of their primary source of energy.

Apart from the problem of oil resource finitude spelling a lack of energy, there's also the problem of so many modern "products" being created synthetically by fractioned petroleum byproducts, material created through cracking, refining, distillation. To borrow from The Graduate -- Plastics, in other words.

JM said...

Jokes on you all-Saudi Arabia's been expecting the oil peak:


Charles F. Oxtrot said...

Jenny can claim that "a joke is on me" but she hasn't shown what the joke is, nor why it is "on" anyone. Another nice try but resultant failure, Jenny. Say hi to Chip Berlet for me!

Jack Crow said...


I think Jenny thinks she's trumped our argument, missing entirely that in comment #3, I already linked her link, which corroborates both the theme of the essay, and your comment, at number 5.