Zizek On The Financial Collapse – and Liberalism

by John Holbo on December 17, 2010

In First As Tragedy, Then As Farce [amazon], Zizek claims that “the only truly surprising thing about the 2008 financial meltdown is how easily the idea was accepted that its happening was an unpredictable surprise which hit the markets out of the blue” (p 9). He cites the following evidence that people could and, indeed, did know it was coming.

Recall the demonstrations which, through the first decade of the new millennium, regularly accompanied meetings of the IMF and the World Bank: the protester’s complaints tool in not only the usual anti-globalizing motifs (the growing exploitation of Third World countries, and so forth), but also how the banks were creating the illusion of growth by playing with fictional money, and how this would all have to end in a crash. It was not only economists such as Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz who warned of the dangers ahead and made it clear that those who promised continuous growth did not really understand what was going on under their noses. In Washington in 2004, so many people demonstrated about the danger of a financial collapse that the police had to mobilize 8,000 additional local policemen and bring in a further 6,000 from Maryland and Virginia. What ensued was tear-gassing, clubbing and mass arrests – so many that police had to use buses for transport. The message was loud and clear, and the police were used literally to stifle the truth.

The first examples are tendentious, as allegedly successful predictions of market movements tend to be. (Many predicted a crash. They always do. How many predicted the one that actually arrived, and when it would?) But I’m more curious what the last bit is about. What protest was this? The Million Worker March is all I can come up with. But that didn’t involve any far-sighted demands that financial collapse be forestalled. “Organizers have issued 22 demands, a broad array of grievances that go far beyond workers’ rights. Organizers call for universal health care, a national living wage, guaranteed pensions for all working people and an end to the outsourcing of jobs overseas. They also are demanding a repeal of the Patriot Act, increased funding for public education, free mass transit in every city, a reduction of the military budget and cancellation of what they consider pro-corporation pacts such as the North American Free Trade Agreement.” Nothing about the dangers of mortgage-backed securities. Also, so far as I can recall – and Google seems to back me – the Million Worker March was relatively small and peaceful. So is that even what Zizek is talking about?

Also, Zizek has odd ideas about how the bank bailouts were supposed to work. [click to continue…]

Feasible utopia for 20 year olds, Part II

by John Quiggin on December 17, 2010

My previous post on the options society should offer 20-year olds got a big and useful response. But unsurprisingly, given the CT roster and readership, it was very university-centric, and, within that, focused on issues around elite institutions. A sentence and footnote about Oxford and Cambridge got as much attention as the rest of the post put together. And the same is true, more subtly, of other points that were raised in repsonse. So, I want to point to some neglected aspects of the post, and ask commenters to focus primarily on the issues as they affect the majority young people who will not go to top-ranked universities, even in a system with greatly expanded access.

[click to continue…]