Fast Food, Fast Capitalism, Fast Politics
As Eric Schlosser suggested in Fast Food Nation, fast food-or the serving and consumption of food with as little nutritional value as possible to the greatest numbers possible, is apiece with fast capitalism-or the extraction of profit from processes that generally add little to no value to the real economy. The fast food industry is a metonym for fast capitalism; it is both a part of it and a figure that stands for it. Fast capitalism is the slop du jour produced by a corporate class unable and/or unwilling to extract sufficient profits from the production of real value. In the U.S., the center of capitalism in the Western world, capitalism has been converting piece by piece into fast capitalism. And fast capitalism leads to fast politics. Obama is the epitome of fast politics.
To understand the conversion of capitalism to fast capitalism, consider the percentage of the GDP represented by the financialization of the U.S. economy. The financial sector has grown from 10% to 40% of the economy over the past forty years. That is, 40% of the U.S. GDP is the production of nothing-but speculation on the other 60%. The current economic crisis is based on the fact that the financialization of the past forty years has reached the point where the claims of finance vastly outweigh the available units of surplus value.
Why does the economy tend toward financialization? The production of goods of real value proceeds too slowly for the kinds of quick returns expected by investors. Fast capitalism thus seeks to make money on speculation-and adds speculative layer upon speculative layer in order to provide bigger markets for more fast venture capitalists. Regulation will never be able to keep up with fast capitalism, because fast capitalism invents itself as it goes along.
Celerity provides one important motivation for fast capitalism. But the limit of exploitative production provides the ultimate motive. With the out-sourcing of exploitation to the Third World nearing a certain limit, speculation necessarily becomes a path of least resistance for investment that sees no easier or better way for maximizing returns. It's more profitable to invest in speculation about production than it is to produce anything of real value. That's fast capitalism.
So to recap, fast capitalism is needed by investors because other modes of investment are less potentially rewarding and surely much less expedient. Additionally, the rate of profit tends to fall with the improvement and speed of productive capacities. Thus, fast production leads necessarily to fast capitalism. And fast capitalism leads inevitably to crisis, because it depends largely on the production of promise rather than the production of real value. The production of promise is the production of fast capitalism.
Capitalism has hit a crisis of short-term, fast capitalism. Capitalists in the U.S. are no less addicted to fast capitalism - a deadly and unsustainable form of economy - than the majority of the nation's workers are addicted to fast food, an unsustainable form of eating. Fast food provides a short-term fix to hunger while sacrificing nutritional value and long-term well being to expediency. Similarly, fast capitalism provides a short-term fix to the capitalist hunger for quick profit to the detriment of long-term economic well being and the necessity to create real value for actual people living in the world.
And the fun does not stop there. As the relations of production - of fast capitalism - conflict with the social relations, or the arrangements between various members of the social body, a state of disequilibrium results. The productive relations press upon the social relations and demand their adjustment. Adjustment means that the social relations will accurately reflect the productive relations.
Off-shoring and the de-industrialization of the past forty years leaves the U.S. with a fast capitalism that has less and less need for workers that produce real value, and yet more and more need for new avenues of profit. Such workers are driven into temporary piece-work, and partial or full unemployment. (The fast food industry is one avenue of such employment.) As they lose their power as producers, their political and economic dead weight is felt by the system. Parts are sloughed off into poverty, homelessness, terminal illness, and death. Politically, surviving parts become masses of disaffection that are either cast out or offered political asylum according to chance-often by the forces of political reaction because the system of 'enlightened capitalism,' otherwise known as liberalism, merely disclaims them as a residue resistant to or incapable of benefitting from the benevolence of its 'reforms.' Meanwhile, because of the crisis of capitalism, reforms are impossible. Thus, the promise of reforms passes as reform. An example is the health care "reform" legislation, which amounts to cuts and rollbacks in addition to the reshuffling of benefits.
As the system needs less labor producing real value at home and reaches the limits of exploitation in the Third World, fast capitalism needs more outlets for fast capital investments-often ultimately depending on the very same minimized workers who have been economically debased by fast capitalism itself. Thus the banking industry's investment in home mortgages of workers who could not or cannot afford them, especially given the interest rates-interest rates needed for capitalism to produce its promised profits.
Fast capitalism also includes the military and intelligence industry whose production is destruction, detention, political intervention, and ultimately the illegitimate appropriation of geo-political assets. The crisis of capitalism - fast capitalism - and not the mostly empty threat of terrorism - accounts for the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and soon possibly, Yemen. Diminishing returns on capital and fast capitalism's need to acquire assets using tax payer money and thus at low investor cost leads to wars. This is capitalism's natural tendency toward imperialism. Likewise, instead of ending, these wars have been intensified and extended under a new administration, regardless of fast promises.
The body of fast capitalism - of capitalism itself - is in critical condition. This body's damaged state reared its ugly head in the fall of 2008 with the failure of the finance industry, based as it was on layers and layers of speculation greatly outweighing the available surplus value beneath. But behind the ugly head lay the effects of the crisis - a huge lumbering and palsied body. All of this coming after promises of change. But with little reason to invest in anything but fast capitalist bandages, a body emerges little by little, to the terror of some and the dismay of others. It slouches revealing continued bleeding: job loss, extended unemployment, record foreclosures, along with the knowledge that any sure-fire fast fix is unlikely. Fast capitalism has no answers for these effects of the crisis other than to promise change and deliver nothing- like a fast food industry that promises nutrition and delivers mostly empty calories. So what is it that it offers? Fast politics. Obama is the fast talker of fast capitalism. He promises 'reform' but the body politic has no reforms in it. He promises a new New Deal, but can deliver only a Raw Deal.
Fast politics is the promise of quick political fixes to critical socio-political and economic conditions. This scenario explains the appearance, promise, and necessary failure of Barack Obama. Yes, Obama has said that the change would only come from those voted for him. But what does this mean when neither he nor they can under the current condition do anything to change the system of fast capitalism, which system made his very appearance possible, even necessary?
Obama can do nothing to change fast capitalism because he was funded by and represents fast capitalism and fast capitalists. He is their very political face! His supporters can do nothing to change fast capitalism because as long as they are his supporters they are relying on fast politics and fast capitalism for the change they want. And as long as the system of fast capitalism is in place, fast politics will be the only politics on offer!
What is the face of fast politics? It is the face of desperation. It is the face of fear and the hope in the heroic efforts of individual leaders. It is a hope that campaign speeches have a magical effect and make the changes that cannot be made as such. It is a belief in magic. It believes in laying on of the invisible hand, the wave of Obama's magical wand and poof, the reforms will appear. But nothing of the sort promised is going to appear under fast capitalism.
The only alternative to both fast capitalism and fast politics is to completely revolutionize the political processes and the productive processes. To eliminate the elements of fast capitalism, underlying cancer must first be removed; fast capitalism is the inevitable excrescence of the diminishing returns of capitalism. But to eliminate fast capitalism, fast politics must first be surrendered. Magical thinking must be abandoned. Belief in heroes with fast action possibilities must be disavowed completely.
Rec, The Rec Report
Michael D. Rectenwald, Ph.D.
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