WHAT IF MONEY MISFIRES?
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a video by MARINA HEINTZE
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Abstract: In year two of the global recession triggered by the pandemic, central banks have continued to keep interest rates down while pouring money into the economy. The goal is to encourage borrowing and spending in order to drive up demand. In this essay, however, Franco Berardi argues that while in the 20th century such injections of money succeeded in stimulating economic recovery and expansion, present conditions undermine the ability of monetary policy to mobilize society in the same way. The social organism itself, aging and weary from decades of economic and political disappointment, has grown less receptive to the “monetary enunciations” on which an ever-increasingly financialized, deindustrialized economy depends. At the same time, the capitalist imperatives of endless expansion and profit-maximization have unleashed irrational processes—environmental, virological—uncontrollable by financial mechanisms or political will.
DEPRESSION IN THE HEART
Forecasts about the future of the economy sound scarcely reliable today. The central banks are injecting huge amounts of money to revive demand, downsized by lockdowns and pandemic anxiety, but it is far from certain that the success story of the Roosevelt New Deal will be reenacted.
In the maps of financial futurology something crucial is missing: the evolution of social subjectivity, which is something that escapes the economist’s understanding.
Central banks are investing billions, thousands of billions. Will it be enough to revive social welfare? It depends on the effectiveness of the monetary enunciation.
According to Robert J. Sordello, “Money makes things happen. It is the source of action in the world.” And according to Christian Marazzi, the accumulation of capital is more and more an effect of language. In fact, the production of physical things is more and more replaced by the exchange of information, in the contemporary sphere of semiocapitalism. Furthemore, financialization implies that injunctions, conjectures, predictions, and similar acts of language are shaping the cycle of accumulation.
We assume that language and money have something in common: even if they are nothing, they move everything. This is the lesson we have learned during the past modern age, when language and money used to be powerful tools for mobilization, and money was surrounded by an aura of omnipotence.
Social forces were expecting those stimulations before acting: they expected the rhetorical stimulation of a promise of prosperity and of expansion, and the monetary stimulation of salary, the retribution that gives a meaning to the meaningless act of working.
We should not underestimate a second similarity between language and money: they are both tools for comparing, measuring, and controlling the surrounding world. Now I’m wondering if we can expect that money and politics will still work in the present situation.
The performativity (practical effectiveness) of an act of language does not depend only on the will of the agent of enunciation. It also depends on the ability of the receiver to decode the message and to act in a consistent way. If, suppose, the receiver is deaf, incapacitated, or dead, the message won’t get the desired results.
Economists think that the accumulation cycle is determined only by economic factors, despite the suggestions of Daniel Kahneman, who is not an economist but a psychologist who won a Nobel Prize in Economics for the investigation on the psychological basis of economic decisions.
In the ’20s of the past century, social subjectivity was recovering from traumas more serious than those that we are now going through: the First World War and the so-called Spanish pandemic that killed fifty million people.
Nevertheless in the Western countries, fresh from winning the world conflict, society reacted positively to the injections of money proceeding from the central banks, and also from the German war reparations, from the development of new technologies, and from the military investments.
It’s true that the Roaring Twenties prepared the way for the ’29 crash and the following Depression. However, in the meantime the capitalist engine was restarted, and for decades the global economy went on expanding. The average Western population was young, and despite war tragedies, the ideological prospects helped to mobilize social energies in the opposite directions of communism, toward fascism and liberal democracy.
Neither the demographic landscape nor the ideological prospects are similar today: the Western population is old and mentally exhausted, and political promises have disappointed those who have trusted the ideals of democracy.
Depression is deep in the heart, even if the economists know little about the ethereal oscillations of the human unconscious.
In this condition money may be losing its strength, and simultaneously language may be losing its persuasiveness. The social organism, once mobilized by the craving to have more goods, more power, more sex, is losing energy and mutating in a way that will hardly be reconciled with the acquisitive regime of desire. Furthermore, something strange is happening to the act of measuring, counting, and exchanging as this act presupposes the measurability of things and the controllability of processes.
END OF MEASURE
Modern humanism was based on the Protagoras principle: “Of all things the measure is man: of those that are, that they are; and of those that are not, that they are not.”
Humanism transformed this principle into a methodology for action. Reason (Ratio) means measure in Latin, and there is no possibility of governing society if you cannot reduce social relations to measurability standards.
According to the Protagoras principle politics was the art of consciously governing things and events which unfold in historical time.
Well, it seems that in the post-modern century the Protagoras principle does not work anymore; we have exited the sphere of measurability.
Let’s consider the kind of phenomena that we are facing right now: not the force of human actors, not the methodology of political decisions, but the proliferation of sub-visible agents (nuclear radiations, pandemic viruses) that cannot be reduced to exhaustive knowledge, and the spread of natural events (climate change and ensuing catastrophes). These phenomena are triggering irreversible dynamics over which political will has no grasp.
The tools of political reason are irrelevant at this level of sub-visible smallness and of super-visible greatness. So, squabbling about different forms of governability is no use, because will and political decision cannot change the evolutionary drives that have been unleashed by the accelerated expansion of production, consumption, and destruction.
At this point the rationality of political action has grown so impotent that madness, falsehood, and dementia are presiding over the political landscape: it does not matter anymore if the bus driver is sober or drunk when the bus has already veered off the highway and is plummeting down a five-hundred-meter ravine. Before crashing out of the highway it would have been better if the bus driver hadn’t been drunk, but as we are now in free fall, the sobriety of the driver is no longer important.
Excessively small and extraordinarily large actors have invaded Protagoras’s laboratory, and the laboratory has exploded. The tools and methodologies of politics are useless at this point, as our will is unable to get a reversal of these phenomena, which tend to feed on themselves and to become irreversible.
Voluntary action seems only to amplify the processes of devastation: in fact the probability of a war approaches when politics is impotent and the environment goes out of control. The psychotic reaction to impotence of will is nationalism: as the coasts are invaded by sea and forests burned by fire, masses of destitute people are nomadically migrating from one territory to another. Subsequently, territorialized people defend their territory where fire has not yet arrived.
Panic is the form that will takes when experiencing impotence: the final stampede.
THE ETHEREAL FORCE OF MONEY
The game of finance is based on semiotic simulation, and it’s impossible to understand its rules, because these rules are continuously changing. They are not natural rules, but rather the effect of a never ending negotiation: a linguistic projection that is based on force.
Power can be defined as the imposition of rules of (linguistic) exchange. As I said already, money and language are both nothing, nevertheless they move everything. Money is a sign without meaning whose potency is based only on a linguistic act, one imposed by the force of the agent of enunciation.
The volatility of financial markets should not be attributed to the discrepancy between the monetary-financial economy and the “real economy” (material goods produced and exchanged), but should be attributed to the indeterminacy of the mental oscillations that preside over social and economic behavior.
The distinction between the real and monetary economy dissolved in 1971 when Nixon cancelled the convertibility of the American dollar, thereby breaking the link between monetary markets and the “real” market, and establishing a new order of so-called reality.
Nixon’s act abruptly disclosed the semiotic nature of money, paving the way to the free floating relation between sign and signified. After 1971, the financial market ceased to be a representation of the “real” economy, or a monetary support for the needs of the “real” investors. The stock exchange turned into a factory that creates money from nothing, and exchanges nothing for nothing, while generating real effects in the social distribution of wealth. The very concept of “reality” at that point became frail and uncertain and the relation between signifier and signified began to float.
The 2008 financial crash was the effect of an accumulation of acts of monetary simulation—derivatives, credit default swaps, and, on a larger scale, deficits and debt. All of a sudden the simulated construction crumbled and society was forced to pay the bill: impoverishment, precarity of labor, privatization of public services, and so on.
Debt was and is the linguistic device that forces humans to submit their life to exploitation.
What is the deciding factor in a regime of floating values? Who decides the price of an asset? Who decides the meaning of an enunciation when the relation between signifier and signified is aleatory? The answer is: force. Since the fixed regime of exchangeability between signifier and signified was canceled and replaced by a regime of floating attribution of meaning, the rationale of the financial market (and of the market in general) has been violence: the violent assertion of supremacy.
But now it seems that both language and money have lost much of their potency and effectiveness.
Think to the radioactive particles that the Fukushima explosion has unleashed, which are spreading all over in the planetary atmosphere. Money and language can do nothing, or very little, because those particles will not disappear for millions of years. Think to the fires that are burning the forests of the Pacific Coast and of Siberia. Money and language can do very little or nothing, because the air has gotten drier, so next year fires will burn a larger area.
The ethereal force of money can do nothing against the material force of unchained Nature.
The pandemic reveals that we cannot always buy with money what we need, and what we can buy is scarcely useful. The economists say that the demand will rise when the pandemic is over. Maybe.
I think that this expectation is ill founded because it does not take into account the emerging mutation.
Since Nixon declared the end of the fixed system of exchange and replaced it with a floating regime of monetary exchange, the financial sphere has grown more and more independent from the sphere of production, distribution, and consumption.
Once a tool for productive investment, finance has turned into a purely speculative space for plundering social resources, and this fosters a paradoxical redistribution of wealth from those who have little to those who have more and more.
Now, in the second pandemic year, we see that workers are being fired, regular jobs are disappearing, wages are decreasing, and precarious labor is turning into slavery. However, the financial markets are euphorically exuberant.
The divergence between money and life gets larger and larger because language and money are less and less able to mobilize useful energies, less and less able to govern chaotic processes, less and less able to provide what we need.
– July 2021
Freeman, Kathleen. Ancilla to the Pre-Socratic Philosophers: A Complete Translation of the Fragments in Diels’ “Fragmente der Vorsokratiker.” Blackwell, 1948.
Marazzi, Christian. Capital and Language: From the New Economy to the War Economy. Translated by Gregory Conti, Semiotext(e), 2008.
Sordello, Robert J. Money and the Soul of the World. Pegasus Foundation, 1983.
feat. the original artwork #SCRTW
#SCRTW (#SOCIAL CAPITOL RULES THE WORLD)
“The Salutations: Hello … Applications. Hello, Mundo. Hello, Anthropologists. Hello My Dolly. Hello, My Friend. Hello, Pangea Amasia. Hello, Labels, Hello, Census. Hello, Immigration. Hello, Fire. Hello, Hi. Hello, Water. Hello, Skin. Hello, Vote. Hello, Food. Hello, Media. Hello, Body. Hello, Numbers. Hello, Life. Hello, Death. Hello, Hell. Hello, Human. HELLO, WHO AM I? Hello, Goodbye.”
play money paper, money bank bands, tape, target stickers, target silhouette paper, guerilla tape, fluorescent stickers.
87″ W x 86″ H
2020 (COVID-19 PANDEMIC ERA)
“I make green art. not always but sometimes more than not.
Studies have shown most people hate green art.
Some think of it as lucid color but I’m busy in a dream.
Let’s talk Green.
Did you know Picasso’s Paintings sell less at Auction if there’s green in the picture? Fun Fact.
It’s the Green in the Machine.
Not the Ghost.
Now go ahead and eat your Broccolini. That’s the iron of the green.
The Salt of the Saline. It’s all in the Gene. Unless you’re missing a spleen.
Don’t forget the Air. I swear it’s never fair.
That’s the eco fresh put to the test. Contrast to Compare. Barely hidden, roads are paved to nowhere. Dirt on top green never to be seen.
The Trees are tall. Simple and strong, long and mean, and always very very green. Beep beep.
Green says Go. Do not stop at Red. Did I mention the Gwop?
Get The Bands, The Bills, The Cabbage, The Broccoli, The Frog Skin, and The GreenBacks.
All is Green. That third eye shockwave to the toenail tip.
From the words of Wall Street and Mr. Michael Douglas himself. How could we forget: …
‘The point is, ladies and gentleman, that Greed — for lack of a better word — is good.
Greed is right.
Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms — greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge — has marked the upward surge of mankind.’
and that is the Money Speech.
No nuts, no bolts. Just blokes, and old folks. Green tints on glasses full of envy. Heavy on the cream. Extreme Nature World mold hues in full effect. Take it down a notch. Little Gordon Gekko. The little train that ran green full of steam. He tried and he tried. But little did he
know that he was already at the top.
Pop pop pop
Head underwater. Let’s see if you can float? If we take away all your toys and the brand new boat.
All or nothing.
Fuel in a tin ready for the win.
Popeyes snacks will rid you of the good old plaque. Cartoons with gravity. Come one. Come all. And see the:
Money Pit, Money Hole, Money patrol. it never grew on trees. bringing you to your knees. it’s still green, it’s always green, that’s The Power of the Green.
Let me introduce you to your Rods & Cones. The rods, those are in your eyes. The Cones are the cells. It’s all up there in your head. So Get well. Soon. Before the dial reads noon. Time clicks on.
The things inside you distinguish more shades and hues of green than any other color. Tell that to your mother. But she sees more variations than your pop.
Stop holding back. That anxiety attack! It’s gonna be green non-stop. Full circle for the win. Little late on the debate.
Sticky Guns, Target Talk, Ready to walk the walk.
Here now. Green eyes and all. No, Not Chartreuse. slighted by a boost.
I’m that 2% rarity. with a dash of Denisovan.
Explosion sticks, cue the florescent. Cut the wicks. sticker intermix.
pause. Handle. perceive. Press play. scroll back. regurgitate the bait. Wait, Take a bow. How do You Like these Green Apples, Now?”
– Marina Heintze
FRANCO ‘BIFO’ BERARDI writer
Franco Berardi, aka “Bifo,” founder of the famous Radio Alice in Bologna and an important figure of the Italian Autonomia Movement, is a writer, media theorist, and media activist. He currently teaches Social History of the Media at the Accademia di Brera, Milan.
MARINA HEINTZE artist
Marina Heintze is a Jewish New Yorker born and raised in NYC. She is a graduate of CalArts and Parsons School of Design. Heintze has shown at Kerry Schuss Gallery, The Knock Down Center, ArtShare LA, Spring/Break Art Show, and Field Projects gallery. She has been published in Vast Magazine, Hyperallergic, and ArtNet. Her practice and job experience are in the area of research and development in medical science, production, graphic design, and as a tattoo artist. Marina Heintze lives and works out of her studio, Minutiae, in Los Angeles, California.
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