Erle Frayne Argonza
At this moment, I’m sipping coffee contained in a pack that is sold for worth P130, or $3.00. The pack is one of the domestic brands of brewed coffee blends, ready for the drip coffee maker, of the Arabica and/or Robusta varieties. In economic parlance, this coffee is a commodity because (a) it was intended for exchange and not for the coffee producer’s consumption alone, and (b) money was used to acquire (purchase) it.
I have such deep fondness for coffee, as I acquired my coffee-drinking behavior as a childhood habit yet. In my hometown of Tuguegarao (city), Cagayan province (North Philippines), coffee beans were grounded into powder form and sold right inside the ‘wet’ market, was brewed using the local decoction techniques, and was consumed by people of all ages from pre-school to senior’s age. That was then, and that was how I learned to drink this beverage at age 5 more or less. I was hooked to the habit since then, even as I continued to drink milk that I still do till now. Both coffee and milk are among my health formulas, and both are commodities.
The question I’m asking now is, will commodity-based economics survive the times ahead? Both coffee and milk will survive for sure, but will the money economy that underpins them survive as well? As to the broader world system of capitalism, will it survive too or is it in fact on its death knell today?
Capitalism was the last of the world systems that embodied the ‘money economy’ to which it properly belongs. With the opening of the 20th century, the socialist world system appeared on the social landscape and attempted to serve as an alternative to capitalism, but this experienced its early demise as its implementers found out that it cannot be sustained after all. Both capitalism and socialism are embodiments of the ‘money economy’ as it later turned out to be, they are just but two sides of the same coin: the ‘money economy’.
Socialism is gone, and no matter what attempts there may arrive to survive it in some other forms, this variant of the ‘money economy’ is gone. Now capitalism is all alone, and it is getting more real than virtual that it too is bound to crash a catastrophic end, and with its demise, the “last of the (economic) Mojicans” is bound to disappear (my apologies to Mojicans if my note sounds ethnically incorrect). And with capitalism’s demise, the whole of the ‘money economy’ folds up like unto a book that had reached its last chapter, and deserves more to be consigned to the archives of history.
The Frankfurt school thinkers, notably Jurgen Habermas, cogitated that capitalism’s life span was extended somehow, and was dubbed as ‘late’ capitalism in this last phase of the world system. In this phase, state planning and interventionism were infused into the system to extend its life. Before ‘late’ capital came the mercantile, free enterprise, and monopoly phases of this world system. Will there be another phase to capitalism after ‘late’ capital?
Before I answer that extension of life span, let me stress that ‘late’ capitalism shall end in the following process and manner:
• The re-introduction of liberalization—of free market and free trade principles—into ‘late’ capital shifted engagements away from production, the real foundation of the economy, to the sphere of predatory finance, thus producing the gargantuan ‘bubble economy’. The ‘physical economy’ of production transmogrified into the ‘virtual economy’ that produces no real value other than imaginary or delusional values. It is ‘mad economics’ in operation, no longer the ‘rational economics’ of mercantilists, classicists and neo-classicists.
• The ‘mad economics’ led to the yawning gap between actually produced values and the aggregates of financial derivatives and debts combined, to the extent that the former shrinks at a rapid rate relative to the latter. As bubbles burst from one commodity sector to another, leading eventually to a crisis of gargantuan proportion, all the more will production shrink, unable to produce values that can input into the demand functions for fresh money to pay for aggregate credits, primary debts, secondary debt obligations, and so on.
• The crisis will then move on to the further shrinking of production, tightening of credit sources, and hyperinflationary situation in utilities (notably gas & power), food, base metals and other vital commodities. Total economic collapse results from the foregoing.
• The economic collapse then leads to social unrests, turmoil, upheavals, civil wars, food wars, water wars, and possibly intercontinental wars such as another 3rd world war. The clash of world powers and their surrogate emerging markets will become the flames of a possible long war akin to the 30 Years War (c.1618-48).
Let me now end at that instance. Suffice me to proclaim that the death knell of ‘late’ capitalism and the whole of the ‘money economy’ of the last 2000 years or so are ending. The ‘non-cognitive economics’ of the Roman to feudal era, the ‘rational economics’ of the Renaissance to monopoly capital era, and the ‘mad economics’ of ‘late’ capital were markedly the underpinning mediation processes of that entire 2000-year epoch. The epoch and its last phase of capitalism is rapidly drawing to a close.
[Writ 22 August 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila.]