For whom is this financial crisis? For us and everyone else in this world, definitely. During this meltdown, hardly any nation is left to flourish by itself, not impacted by the crisis. Then, why ask this question? Is it not already obvious?
Surely, people are losing their jobs, prices are rising, and so on. But what does it all mean? What does it mean, a “$700 billion bailout”? What is exactly $700 billion, do we even naively understand it? Does it not, instead, belong in the same realm of hermeneutics as the distance between stars or the age of the universe — numbers too great to integrate to our stupid daily existence? I am not only speaking for us, the idiotic common people having nothing to do with all the great economic system, but also for the very players of economy themselves — do they not able to understand these numbers, the prices of their stocks, government funding, etc, only through office desks, formal letters, and computer screens?
Such is precisely the point. Do we not, today, rather consider this entire financial crisis as a marvelous tragic spectacle happening before our very eyes? A fascinating common reaction today to this news is how we struggle to relate it to our daily lives: yes, we are suffering from this crisis, yes, prices are going up, yes, people are getting fired, so this must all be a real thing. This spectacle of financial crisis takes effort to relate to, especially because not many of us understand how the economy works. The crisis today is so big and marvelous that the only way to integrate it to our symbolic existence is to take it as an awesome spectacle. There is hardly any other hermeneutics. It feels like a war without a bad guy, a natural disaster without the embarrassing trees falling down. A virtual disaster, a disaster of numbers, a real-life interactive movie.
But what does this all mean?
So many people today talk about this crisis as the so-called “end of capitalism.” Indeed, the first thing we relate to when dealing with the notion of some global system of important numeric entries we never really understand is this vague blur called capitalism. We talk of its limits, as everybody today champions Keynes over Hayek and Friedman. But at the same time, we have of course all these discussions that all the while we have never really been a true free market capitalist, we have always been state-controlled (“military-imperialistic Keynesian”), etc.
We all know perfectly well that today’s global capitalism runs precisely on its self-distantiation — the you-can-only-get-rich-if-you-do-not-want-to ideology, the spiritualization of global capitalism so trendy even for the Left today. And what better way to strengthen such ideological workings than pretending it no longer works for us, that the system no longer exists, and all that is left to do is to work out a way to do a more humanitarian and spiritual economics? Let us have no illusions: capitalism is a system that thrives on its very crisis. It will emerge stronger than ever. And we know it will.
Yes, of course we do. Is that not why we blindly trust all the government, the big companies, and the banks? Is that not why we take this whole crisis as some kind of (pseudo-)natural disaster without being able to clearly blame people? Is that not why we do not question why the government suddenly has $700 billion to save capitalism, while all these years, as Alain Badiou put it, “at the least demand from the poor, the same characters responded by turning their pockets inside out, saying they hadn’t a cent”?
What is the economic system, really? What do we understand of it? It is a giant system of non-people, of desires turned objective numbers, and that is it. It is a system of no clear bad guys and no exact scientific tools. Even the best advice Naomi Klein — today’s possibly most popular icon of the Left — gives is for us to brace ourselves as disaster comes, to be able to resist exploitation. Alain Badiou calls for a politics of grassroots economics, while Mario Tronti suggests us to focus on the problem of worker exploitation. But what to do? Do we understand anything at all? For whom is this financial crisis? Because for those who suffer most, the crisis is not a financial one — it is, first and foremost, a crisis of true democracy, a lack of a system that truly engages.