Friday, 2 December 2011

I Can Feel An Internal Contradiction Coming On....

Blimey - blast from the past time: Etienne Balibar (yes, that one - I'd forgotten about him too if it makes you feel any better) comments on the various risks involved in this latest attempt to hold together the Euro. He lists three main possible risks to Merkel's plans for a revised Treaty and a fiscal union.Details of these plans are sketchy at the moment, but apparently centre around giving technocrats in Brussels and/or the ECB a decisive say on national budgets.

Two of the risks Balibar identifies are summarised easily enough: 

1. The risk of the EU and Eurozone falling apart into a 2,3 or 4 stage Europe. In fact this is almost certain to happen I'd have thought, and may even be a feature rather than a bug given all the wonky chatter we've heard over the last few months about the creation of a smaller, Northern European led 'hard' Eurozone.
2. The risk that the peoples just revolt against. Suspension of democracy, 'revolutions from above' as Balibar so traditionally puts it, can't go on forever, and public opinion  may yet simply tell the elites to take a running jump via whole scale rejection of austerity and/or any new Treaty.

So far, so straightforward. These potential problems have not exactly  gone unnoticed elsewhere.

But his third major identified risk is a corker. In essence, he asks whether the the whole system is actually institutionally mad primed for self destruction:

" institutional configuration can, by definition, reassure the markets – code words for a halt to speculation, since speculation itself feeds on risks of bankruptcy and the possibility of short-term gains. This is the principle behind the proliferation of derivatives and yield spreads on sovereign bonds. The investor institutions that feed the shadow banking system need to push national budgets to the brink, while banks need to count on states (and taxpayers) in the event of a liquidity crisis. But all of these players constitute a single financial circuit. As long as the debt economy, which now regulates our societies from top to bottom, is unchallenged, there will be no viable solution. However, contemporary governance excludes this possibility, even if it results in the sacrifice of any prospect of growth for an indefinite period."
Knock about stuff, perhaps - its only journalism after all, even if he is a proper LEFT BANK INTELLECTUAL. Certainly, on the surface, it's closer to  mechanically determinist 2nd International thinking from the back end of the C19th than all that sophisticated (well, hyper-wordy anyway) structuralist Marxism I remember him for from my undergraduate years.

 But paradigm shifts do occur: I lived through one shortly after last reading Balibar, given that Thatcher came to power a month before my finals. It took me three or fours years to conceive of it as such, mind you.  So what if  he's actually right?  What if the model our Euro elites - and by extension, our Transatlantic and global elites - are trying so very desperately to shore up is the problem which can't be solved in their own terms?

Now, leftists are traditionally rather too keen to jump to this conclusion in my view - usually with a bit of hand waving about 'internal contradictions' and even ( god help us) 'dialectics'.  I rather tend to the opinion that nothing is 'inevitable' until it has happened, the Owl of Minerva being noted for not flying backwards. So I certainly don't rule out the elites finally finding a way to put humpty-dumpty together again for a few years at least.

But I'll give Balibar this much: he's asked a question which seems to me to be a real one, not just a rhetorical reflex, and which I really wouldn't be surprised to see re-emerge in other parts of the political spectrum as Merkel et al's plans take shape.


  1. It's been quite a while since Balibar said anything new.

    This strikes me as left version of the French pro-EU commentator Bernard Guetta (France-Inter) has said about technocratic domination of the union, with internal contradictions of the Euro larded on the top, for the last few weeks. Plus name-dropping about Schmit and Habermas.

    Thanks for signaling it though!

    Would have missed it otherwise.

  2. Hi Andy, thanks for dropping by.

    The technocratic domination of Greece and Italy is real enough I'd say - though, ironically, I've heard people of impeccable leftwing persuasion argue that in the specific case of Italy it is probably the only thing that could have broken the hold of Berlusconi and should be offered a qualified welcome in the very short term if only for that reason. But whatever the local logic in Italy, such considerations can hardly be the basis for a more generally applicable leftwing attitude towards this development.

    It's not at all clear to me whether fiscal union on the terms Merkel and Sarkozy envisage is possible, as it would imply a much deeper implantation of the technocratic principle in the heart of the EU.

    But, hey, what do I know? Those super-bright elite types keep trying all sorts of clever things and perhaps sooner or later one of them will actually work.

    It is in this context that I find the quoted Balibar paragraph interesting. He's saying the intrinsic logic of the financial system the technocrats represent itself makes it more difficult for anyone, including those same technocrats, to stabilise national state budgets.