- Nemesis:From the Cruelest of Aprils to the Most Unpredictable of May Days
Whatever the outcome of the "Greek crisis," all current discourses seem to be announcing a new era. Despite their obvious differences in culture, in tactics, and in style, political leaders and bankers, economists and analysts, bureaucrats and activists seem to agree on the explosive unpredictability of the situation. It would seem that the new universal specter haunting the actual developed world is not communism—or even terrorism—but financial speculation. Is capitalism in danger of being devoured by its own offspring? Are we obliged to reconsider the actual situation in the light of Karl Marx's contention that the only real limit of capital is capital itself? Obviously, the debate must remain inconclusive. But there can be no doubt that it is open.
Of course, the ubiquitous signs of alarm may be interpreted in a narrower "technical" sense. Indeed, to the extent that mismanaged national economies always run the risk of falling into the clutches of the extortionist interest rates of the free market, all prospective emulators of Greek practices, by now seen as the epitome of disgraceful irresponsibility, must be unanimously discouraged. And in this respect, the pitiless capital market and the even more ominous International Monetary Fund may well function as the most effectively deterring of scarecrows. It is by now openly maintained that if governments do not conform to the rules, it is their countries and people who will have to pay the price. In this sense, regardless of their effects, the decisions of the free market are seen as theodicies. Even if they are unpredictable, they always remain "rational" and "just."
However, the very vehemence of anti-speculative discourses seems to indicate that much more than market rationality and justice is at stake. Indeed, by now it would seem that even the established and "responsible" political systems feel increasingly vulnerable when facing the unpredictable activities of capital markets. Not more than two years ago, [End Page 311] the operations of U.S. financial capital had serious destabilizing effects all over the world. And at present the situation looks even more risky. The combined and unpredictable influence of international financial consortia, stock markets, evaluating houses, and speculative "bets" on national fiscal entities, national or even on transnational currencies like the Euro, and on the dynamics of the international economy seem to be leading to a second and even more uncontrollable round of capitalist instability. A general crisis of public debt on a wide scale may constitute a threat for the entire capitalist system. And for the time being at least, there seem to be no plausible ways out of this nightmare.
Moreover, such an eventuality seems to be inscribed in the central logic of current developments. It should be kept in mind that what has been referred to as irresponsible "casino-type" activities are not exclusively confined to maverick speculators specializing in money laundering and short-term turnovers within their well-protected off shore havens. It would seem that by now, most "serious" banking investing houses and institutions from the infamous Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sacks to the once venerable Deutsche Bank or the proverbial Zurich gnomes tend to have abandoned all remnants of their in-built conservatism. The quest for maximizing immediate profits whatever the consequences is by now not the exception but the rule. Unrestricted and instantaneous capital mobility inevitably increases market uncertainty and enhances speculative competition. In this context, rapid structuration and de-structuration of all forms of entrepreneurial activities are organized in view of flexible liquidation of assets, immediate capitalization, and swift returns. Thus, short-term concerns tend to displace long-term investments. Gresham's law seems eminently applicable. In the same way that "bad" money tended to drive out "good" money, it would seem that "good" and sound banking investments are increasingly being driven out by their wildly speculative counterparts.
This is far from being new. Indeed, by definition, profit maximization must always provide the overarching blueprint for all rational economic actions. In this sense, the only conceivable limit of entrepreneurial profit making initiatives is always external to the "economic sphere." Profiteering is a rational "bet" where...