Sunday, December 07, 2008

Bigger Slump and Bigger Wars?

Like many people around the world, I'm trying to get my head round the 'credit crunch' financial crisis. Six months ago there was pretty much the same amount of people, needs, goods, houses, productive capacity etc. as today. So how come, without anything fundamental changing, we have moved so quickly from 'boom' to 'crisis' with thousands of people losing their jobs? Clearly there is an irrational element in the economy that is more or less beyond the control of the people who pretend to be in control, let alone the rest of us. But beyond platitudes about the inevitable cycle of crisis in capitalism, understanding how and why is not so easy. If you want to get into these debates you could do worse that start at Radical Perspectives on the Crisis, which has lots of different takes on the matter.

There's not a lot of musical guidance on this issue, but one exception is Stereolab's brilliant Ping Pong (1994):

The lyrics are a neat summary of a marxist take on the cycle of boom and slump:

it's alright 'cos the historical pattern has shown
how the economical cycle tends to revolve
in a round of decades three stages stand out in a loop
a slump and war then peel back to square one and back for more

bigger slump and bigger wars and a smaller recovery
huger slump and greater wars and a shallower recovery

you see the recovery always comes 'round again
there's nothing to worry for things will look after themselves
it's alright recovery always comes 'round again
there's nothing to worry if things can only get better

there's only millions that lose their jobs and homes and sometimes accents
there's only millions that die in their bloody wars, it's alright

it's only their lives and the lives of their next of kin that they are losing
it's only their lives and the lives of their next of kin that they are losing

Of course the scary thing about this particular take on crisis theory is the suggestion that slump is followed by war before recovery - an argument that is sometimes put forward to explain the mid-20th century (1930s depression - 1940s war - 1950s/60s - post-war boom). Since then there have been lesser crises which have not been resolved through war, so let's not get even more gloomy and start scanning the skies for missiles. Still there are tough times ahead, and competition between economically desparate global powers could fuel increasingly dangerous conflict - unless an international movement emerges to challenge this drift.

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