By ann summers
Whether it’s the amusing “deconstruction of the administrative state” or “reinstating Glass-Steagall” the realities of late capitalism are represented in Trump’s self-dealing using some time-honored tools of usury and the manipulations of money, value and data emblematic of #TrumpRussia.
The perfect Stormfront came from capitalism’s POTUS45* as the intersection of post-Reconstruction Jim Crow racist resentments, the success of PBO, and the fervor of some variant of post-Soviet post-fascism. Late capitalism embodies the ironies of the period, as postwar nuclear defense policies allowed for the expansion of hybrid/asymmetric warfare, whether for postcolonial ethnic liberation or hegemonic re-annexation.
It was Duke University’s Fredric Jameson who introduced the phrase to a broader English-speaking audience of academics and theorists. “It was a much older and more popular term in German,” Jameson told me. (Spätkapitalismus, for those wondering.) “It’s very interesting! It’s kind of—how should I say it—symptomatic of people’s feelings about the world. About society itself,” he said, a little surprised and a little chuffed to hear that the term was finding wider appreciation. “It used to be a sort of taboo outside of the left to even mention the word ‘capitalism.’ Now it’s pretty obvious that it’s there, and that’s what it is.”…
In his canonical 1984 essay and 1991 book, both titled Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Jameson argued that the globalized, post-industrial economy had given rise to postmodernist culture and art. Everything, everywhere, became commodified and consumable. High and low culture collapsed, with art becoming more self-referential and superficial. He told me he saw late capitalism as kicking into gear in the Thatcher and Reagan years, and persisting until today. “It has come out much more fully to the surface of things,” he said, citing the flash crash, derivatives, and “all this consumption by mail.”…
Those cerebral outlets helped to fuel renewed interest in Marx and critical theory, as well as late capitalism. David Graeber, a leading figure in Occupy and the coiner of the phrase “We are the 99 percent,” for instance, wrote a long essay for The Baffler that touched on Jameson, Mandel, corporate profitability, flying cars, and, of course, late capitalism. The novel A Young Man’s Guide to Late out to good reviews in 2011. Pop-scholarly uses of the phrase started showing up in more mainstream publications, soaked up, as though by osmosis, from these publications and thinkers on the far left.
- The same happened on social media, itself growing rapidly as the recession gave way to the recovery. There were just a handful of mentions of “late capitalism” on Twitter before 2009, a few hundred in that year, and perhaps a few thousand in the next, many referring to college coursework….
This usage captures the resurgent left’s anger over the recovery and the inequality that long preceded it—as well as the rage of millions of less politically engaged Americans who nevertheless feel left out and left behind. “I think it’s popular again now because the financial crisis and subsequent decade has really stripped away a veneer on what’s going on in the economy,” Mike Konczal, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, told me. “Austerity, runaway top incomes, globalization, populations permanently out of the job market, competition pushed further into our everyday lives. These aren’t new, but they have an extra cruelty that is boiling over everywhere.”
The current usage also captures the perceived froth and foolishness of Silicon Valley. The gig economy in particular provides plenty of late-capitalist fodder, with investors showering cash on platforms to create cheap services for the rich and lazy and no-benefit jobs for the eager and poor. At the same time, traditional jobs seem to be providing less in the way of security, stability, and support, too. “There’s this growing discussion about how work is changing,” Carrie Gleason of the Fair Workweek Initiative told me. “The idea of what stable employment is, or what we can expect in terms of stable employment, is changing. That’s part of this.”
- “Late capitalism” skewers inequality, whether businesses’ feverish attempts to sell goods to the richest of the rich (here’s looking at you, $1,200 margarita) or to provide less and less to the rest (hey, airlines that make economy customers board after pets). It lampoons brands’ attempts to mimic or co-opt the language, culture, and content of their customers. Conspicuous minimalism, curated and artificial moments of zen, the gaslighting of the lifehacking and wellness movements: This is all late capitalism….
Finally, “late capitalism” gestures to the potential for revolution, whether because the robots end up taking all the jobs or because the proletariat finally rejects all this nonsense. A “late” period always comes at the end of something, after all. “It has the constant referent to revolution,”
William Clare Roberts said. “‘Late capitalism’ necessarily says, ‘This is a stage we’re going to come out of at some point, whereas ‘neoliberalism’ doesn’t say that, ‘Shit is fucked up and bullshit’ doesn’t say that. It hints at a sort of optimism amongst a post-Bernie left, the young left online. Something of the revolutionary horizon of classical Marxism.”…
That it has strayed so far from its original meaning? Nobody I spoke with seemed to care, Jameson included, and the phrase has always had a certain malleability anyway. Sombart’s late capitalism differed from Mandel’s differed from Adorno’s differed from Jameson’s. “Late capitalism” often seems more like “the latest in capitalism,” Konczal quipped.
This late capitalism is today’s, then. At least until the brands get ahold of it.
Like a brand promoting a re-regulation of banking, that might seem superfically a good thing even as it corrects far too late, the neoliberal financial deregulation that has continued to sour the left on the 1990s history of Clintonian economic policy, and its possible return in 2016.
That dissatisfaction created the Sanders insurgency with the inevitable, stereotypical struggle within the Democratic party which allowed yet another celebrity GOP candidate to slither into the White House. Notwithstanding the other variables of #TrumpRussia and the incompetence of Democrats in district reapportionment, the Democratic party has a lot of work to do in 2018 and 2020.
A “new” Glass-Steagall would not be a freturn to “the old system” but simply be another sign of late capitalism. “Breaking up big banks” would only be a Trumpian branding strategy in a neoliberal economy that has used deregulation to expand money laundering among other crimes of financial commodities (see derivatives) and advancing information technology.
Banking and ancillary financial enterprises under a new Glass-Steagall would simply become recommodified with little effect on industry concentration, and the institutions could continue to be “big” much like multinationals under globalization.
During the presidential campaign, Trump called for a “21st century” version of the 1933 Glass-Steagall law that required the separation of consumer and investment banking. The 2016 Republican Party platform also backed restoring the legal barrier, which was repealed in 1999 under a financial deregulation signed by then-President Bill Clinton.
A handful of lawmakers blame the repeal for contributing to the 2008 financial crisis, an argument that Wall Street flatly rejects. Trump couldn’t unilaterally restore the law; Congress would have to pass a new version.
Trump officials, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, have offered support for bringing back some version of Glass-Steagall, though they’ve offered scant details on an updated approach. Both Mnuchin and Cohn are former bankers who worked for Goldman Sachs Group Inc.
Wall Street has repeatedly shrugged off politicians’ calls for bank breakups in recent years…
The Glass-Steagall law essentially split banking into two categories: deposit-taking companies backed by taxpayers that primarily made loans to businesses and consumers, and investment banks and insurers that trade and underwrite securities and create or focus on other complex instruments. Severing those businesses would prevent Americans’ nest eggs from flowing into more volatile capital markets, Congress reasoned at the time.
Large banks see little interest in Congress for reviving the prohibition between commercial and investment banking, especially since lawmakers are currently bogged down with more pressing issues like repealing Obamacare and passing a tax overhaul.Only one Republican in the Senate, John McCain of Arizona, has endorsed a proposal by Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts to reinstate Glass-Steagall. That signals that passing any legislation will be an uphill battle. During meetings with bank executives at the Treasury Department about Trump’s February executive order on financial rules, the topic of Glass-Steagall has rarely come up.
Problem is, it’s hard to imagine how the Fed could responsibly stick to such a promise. When, during the last crisis, the central bank provided emergency liquidity to vast swathes of the financial sector — including insurer American International Group Inc., numerous investment banks and the entire money-market mutual fund industry — it did so not because there was no more Glass-Steagall. It did so because those institutions were crucial to the economy and depended on short-term funding that, at a time when private investors were fleeing, only the central bank could provide.
The inevitable outcome of late capitalism could be in the further concentration of RWNJ autocratic power as fear makes an already unhinged Trump and his GOP cronies seek to further marginalize democracy.
The election of Donald Trump is a crisis for American democracy. How did this happen?
We asked for it by saying that history was over in 1989 [with the end of the Cold War]. By saying that nothing bad could [ever] happen again, we were basically inviting something bad to happen.
Our story about how nothing could [ever] go wrong was a story about how human nature is the free market and the free market brings democracy, so everything is hunky-dory — and of course every part of that story is nonsense. The Greeks understood that democracy is likely to produce oligarchy because if you don’t have some mechanism to get inequality under control then people with the most money will likely take full control.
With Trump, one sees the new variant of this where a candidate can run by saying, “Look, we all know — wink, wink, nudge, nudge — that this isn’t really a democracy anymore.” He doesn’t use the words but basically says, “We all know this is really an oligarchy, so let me be your oligarch.” Although it’s nonsense and of course he’s a con man and will betray everyone, it makes sense only in this climate of inequality…
In your book you discuss the idea that Donald Trump will have his own version of Hitler’s Reichstag fire to expand his power and take full control of the government by declaring a state of emergency. How do you think that would play out?
Let me make just two points. The first is that I think it’s pretty much inevitable that they will try. The reason I think that is that the conventional ways of being popular are not working out for them. The conventional way to be popular or to be legitimate in this country is to have some policies, to grow your popularity ratings and to win some elections. I don’t think 2018 is looking very good for the Republicans along those conventional lines — not just because the president is historically unpopular. It’s also because neither the White House nor Congress have any policies which the majority of the public like.
This means they could be seduced by the notion of getting into a new rhythm of politics, one that does not depend upon popular policies and electoral cycles.
Whether it works or not depends upon whether when something terrible happens to this country, we are aware that the main significance of it is whether or not we are going to be more or less free citizens in the future.
My gut feeling is that Trump and his administration will try and that it won’t work. Not so much because we are so great but because we have a little bit of time to prepare. I also think that there are enough people and enough agencies of the government who have also thought about this and would not necessarily go along.
We are apparently not yet at peak banana republican dog whistling.
— CNN en Español Radio (@cnneeradio) April 24, 2017