Posts Tagged ‘film’

dracula5

Blood-sucking vampires are, of course, ubiquitous in contemporary film—from Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre to Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive (the most recent in a long line that stretches back through Christopher Lee’s various portrayals of the Transylvanian vampire to the 1909 silent film Vampire of the Coast).

Vampires are also, as it turns out, familiar as a critical trope within economics.

Terrell Carver (in Postmodern Marx) notes that Marx used the vampire motif three times in Capital—in the chapter on the working day:

“Capital is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks.”

“The prolongation of the working-day beyond the limits of the natural day, into the night, only acts as a palliative. It quenches only in a slight degree the vampire thirst for the living blood of labour.”

“The bargain concluded, it is discovered that he was no ‘free agent,’ that the time for which he is free to sell his labour-power is the time for which he is forced to sell it, that in fact the vampire will not lose its hold on him ‘so long as there is a muscle, a nerve, a drop of blood to be exploited’.”

As Carver explains, “Marx did not accept a commonplace distinction between literal and figurative language, and he did not attempt to avoid the latter in what is taken to be his most scientific work.” Why?

Marx’s critique takes political economy as a textual surface, and by means of a thorough, and thoroughly linguistic analysis he refigures, in a parodic text, a supposedly familiar and uncontentious world as strange (requiring explanation) and problematic (requiring political action).

A more recent example is Matt Taibbi’s reference to Goldman Sachs as “A great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

And now we have Pope Francis calling the people who take advantage of the poor “true bloodsuckers” who “live by spilling the blood of the people who they make slaves of labour.”*

When riches are created by exploiting the people, by those rich people who exploit [others], they take advantage of the work of the people, and those poor people become slaves. We think of the here and now, the same thing happens all over the world. “I want to work.” “Good, they’ll make you a contract, from September to June.” Without a pension, without health care… Then they suspend it, and in July and August they have to eat air. And in September, they laugh at you about it. Those who do that are true bloodsuckers, and they live by spilling the blood of the people who they make slaves of labour.

Vampires are central, then, to the ruthless criticism of mainstream economics, a critique that makes the supposedly common-sense world in which we live—the world of capitalist commodities and wage-slavery—both strange and ripe for fundamental change.

 

*The pope’s reference is to the reading for 19 May 2016, from James 5:

Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries.
Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten,
your gold and silver have corroded,
and that corrosion will be a testimony against you;
it will devour your flesh like a fire.
You have stored up treasure for the last days.
Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers
who harvested your fields are crying aloud;
and the cries of the harvesters
have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.
You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure;
you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter.
You have condemned;
you have murdered the righteous one;
he offers you no resistance.

Rosebud

Posted: 18 May 2016 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

I happened to see Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane the other night and immediately noticed the parallels between the quintessential American saga about a giant who brings ruin to all and the Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump—from the inherited wealth and the creation of an empire to the desire to be seen as the defender of “the workingman” and the retreat to an opulent Florida palace.

Why, I asked myself, had no one else made the connection to Citizen Trump?

Well, as it turns out, they have. Chris Matthews, in a clear attempt to grab some ratings, created a four-part series titled Citizen Trump back in December (here’s the link to part 4).

The connection has also been made by the Daily Beast:

even though a scandal proves Kane’s immediate undoing, the film makes clear that his political aspirations were ill fated from the start. After the returns come in, Kane receives a visit from Jed Leland (Joseph Cotten), his old friend and surrogate conscience. In spite (or perhaps because of) being plastered, Leland cuts to the heart of Kane’s misplaced ambition:

You talk about the people as though you owned them … As long as I can remember, you’ve talked about giving the people their rights, as if you could make them a present of liberty… When your precious underprivileged really get together… oh, boy. That’s going to add up to something bigger than your privilege, then I don’t know what you’ll do. Sail away to a desert island, probably, and lord it over the monkeys.”

Leland recognizes the absurdity of a man who’s never had to work a day in his life appointing himself the defender of “the workingman.” With all the power at his command, Kane has crafted a compelling narrative, in which the people are victims and he’s their savior. But he can’t save them, because they’re not his to save. Sooner or later, Leland predicts, they’ll figure out they don’t need him. And then they’ll turn on him.

And, I discovered, Citizen Kane is Trump’s favorite movie.

No points for me, then, for originality. But the connection, along with the insights it reveals, stands.

I continue to teach Michael Moore’s Roger & Me (along with other classics, including Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, Barbara Kopple’s Harlan County, U.S.A., and Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job) in my Topics in Political Economy course.

Apparently, Moore’s film inspired François Ruffin’s new film, Merci Patron! (“Thanks, Boss!”).

In the film, Mr. Ruffin stages a number of slapstick efforts to reach Bernard Arnault, the chairman and chief executive of LVMH, similar to the ways Mr. Moore tried to chase down Roger B. Smith of General Motors. . .

“Merci Patron!” follows Mr. Ruffin’s efforts on behalf of Jocelyne and Serge Klur, a couple in the northern town of Forest-en-Cambrésis who lost their jobs in 2007 with the closing of a factory that had been subcontracted to make suits for LVMH brands. Production was moved to Eastern Europe.

Mr. Ruffin coaches the Klurs, who are now destitute and whose home is threatened with foreclosure. Posing as their son, with dyed blond hair, he guides them on a quest to demand 35,000 euros, about $40,000, to settle their debts and to win a minimum-wage job for Mr. Klur from LVMH and Mr. Arnault.

Good for Manhola Dargis [ht: bn]. She certainly does a much job reviewing La Loi du Marché (bizarrely rendered into the English-language version as The Measure of a Man) than Jordan Hoffman.

I especially appreciated her conclusion:

It’s too bad that the movie’s blunt original title — “La Loi du Marché,” or “Market Law” — was traded in for something prettier and blander. “The Measure of a Man” suggests stirring possibilities (“Of all things the measure is man,” as the philosopher once put it), but it doesn’t convey the ordinary cold brutality of what it means to be defined by the unpaid and the radically underpaid hour. Mr. Brizé, who wrote the script with Olivier Gorce, doesn’t break ground here. Yet, with Mr. Lindon’s help and in several extraordinary scenes in the market’s back office — a white hell in which people are pushed to sell out one another — Mr. Brizé transforms one individual’s story into a social tragedy.

That final comment on the movie is actually a perfect characterization of capitalism: it turns individual stories (whether of an unemployed worker or capitalists who make rational decisions not to reinvest the surplus they appropriate) into social tragedies.

That unemployed worker not only loses the ability to sell their ability to labor, in order to receive a wage that allows them to purchase the commodities they need to survive; their situation also imperils their psychological and physical health as all as that of their family, not to mention the economic and social health of the community in which they live. All are placed on a shakier footing because one worker who loses their job is often accompanied by many others in a similar situation within capitalism—whether because enterprises reorganize, industries collapse, or entire economies enter into recessions and depressions.

The same is true of capitalists: they often make individually rational decisions not to invest (because, for example, future expected profits are low, since wages might be rising or other businesses are slowing down). But, when they do, the workers they let go and the contractors from whom they were making purchases now can’t make their own purchases from still others and so on, thus multiplying the effects of the original decision. That’s how individually rational decisions can become social disasters.

In both cases, under capitalism, one individual’s story is transformed into a social tragedy.

I haven’t seen “Boom Bust Boom,” the recently released Monty Pythonesque documentary about capitalism’s periodic crises and the failures of mainstream economics.

However, I have read Andrew O’Heir’s [ht: ja] piece in which he argues the film “finds itself a little behind reality.”

It’s a curious development, and an index of how fast public perception and imagination have shifted. To most regular people in most parts of the world, the thesis that unfettered capitalism is unstable, empowers predatory behavior and worsens inequality is not merely uncontroversial but empirically obvious. We appear to be entering an era of political history when socialist or social-democratic reforms are once again in play. . .

it took more than 20 years after the Clinton-Blair rebranding of the electoral left (as, in effect, the squishier, friendlier right) for large swaths of the public to realize how thoroughly they’d been conned. Now Hillary and payday-lender BFF Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the rest of the compromised Democratic Party apparatus find themselves in a tough spot. . .

Of course Clinton is now walking back her decades-long support for heartless neoliberal policies of austerity, privatization and free trade. At least in the Democratic campaign, she has slid right past the friendly, center-left Keynesianism of “Boom Bust Boom” to position herself as the decaf Bernie, with more hardheaded practicality but only 20 percent less passion. I understand why she thinks that’s the right strategy; I don’t know whether she expects anyone to believe it.

O’Heir also notes the curious omissions in Terry Jones and Theo Kocken’s whimsical documentary:

I honestly can’t tell you why John Maynard Keynes, the father of interventionist macroeconomics and the intellectual avatar of the entire tradition embodied in “Boom Bust Boom,” is never mentioned by name. Have the right-wing attacks on Keynesianism since the Reagan-Thatcher years really rendered him untouchable? I do understand, more or less, why Karl Marx is not mentioned — although it’s time to get over that, for God’s sake.

It’s an old American saying, “If you steal a loaf of bread you’ll surely go to jail, but if you steal a railroad you’ll be made a senator.”

Or, as Melvin B. Tolson (Denzel Washington) puts it, “A hungry Negro steals a chicken, he goes to jail. A rich businessman steals bonds, he goes to Congress.”

Most recently, there’s Elizabeth Warren (pdf):

If justice means a prison sentence for a teenager who steals a car, but it means nothing more than a sideways glance at a CEO who quietly engineers the theft of billions of dollars, then the promise of equal justice under the law has turned into a lie.

Warren and her staff have issued the first in what they promise will be an annual series on enforcement. “Rigged Justice” highlights twenty criminal and civil cases in 2015 in which the federal government failed to require meaningful accountability from either large corporations or their executives involved in wrongdoing.

The purpose of this annual report is to highlight examples of the most egregious enforcement failures from the previous year. Sometimes these weak enforcement cases are the result of laws – such as OSHA, and the federal mine safety law – that give the agencies only limited authority and allow only limited punishment.

But in most instances, these cases are a result of failure by regulators to use the tools Congress has already provided to impose meaningful accountability on corporate offenders. Whether as a result of limited resources or a lack of political will, this limp approach to corporate enforcement, particularly in response to serious misconduct that cost Americans their jobs, their homes, or, in some cases, their lives, threatens the safety and security of every American.

As the examples in this report demonstrate, federal regulators regularly let big corporations and their highly paid executives off the hook when they break the law.

Chart of the day

Posted: 30 November 2015 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

cc math

The math behind the chart starts with the “carbon budget“:

Noting that the relationship between the amount of carbon dioxide we put in the atmosphere and the eventual global temperature is “near linear,” the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calculated the maximum amount the world could emit for a one-third, 50 percent or two-thirds chance of keeping warming below two degrees.

The resulting headline: As of 2011, the world had about 1,000 gigatons, or billion metric tons, of carbon dioxide left to emit in order to have a two-thirds or greater chance of staying below two degrees. After that, net emissions must go to zero.

From here you simply do the math. Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions alone were 32.3 gigatons last year, according to the International Energy Agency, and that does not include other sources, such as deforestation. Based on such numbers, the remaining carbon budget is already under 900 gigatons of carbon dioxide. . .

once you take future deforestation and cement-related emissions between now and 2100 into account, the remaining budget is just 650 gigatons of energy-related emissions. That’s about 20 years at current rates — but emissions are still rising. That trend is currently expected to continue out to 2025 or 2030, despite countries’ recent carbon-cutting pledges, in large part because of growing demand for energy in coming decades.

The UNFCCC recently acknowledged that these pledges, on their own, would hold warming to perhaps only 2.7 degrees Celsius — other analyses are still more pessimistic — and, therefore, that much more must be done in Paris and beyond to ensure attainment of the two-degree goal.

And here’s a link to Charles Ferguson’s new film, Time to Choose, which readers can view for the next 48 hours.