Obama as Gorbachev: a Regime in Crisis

Click to listen to Chris’s conversations on the global crisis. (37 minutes, 17 mb mp3)

1. Unless the West suddenly gets a new act together, China wins the global crisis — because it has cash, a production machine, an orderly, top-down system co-designed by Milton Friedman and Stalin, and a domestic market of customers if and when export demand collapses.

2. The turmoil in finance capital has also the dimensions of a “civilizational” crisis (what do we stand for after greed and consumption… of such things as a new Paris Hilton line of apparel, for dogs?) and an advancing crisis of the human habitat, our lifeline with nature.

3. One way to see Barack Obama in this situation is as “our Gorbachev”: the designated captain whose assignment is to save the crumbling pillar on our side of the old Cold War, or surrender the regime.

By the old rule that the trick in life is to locate three main points (in anything), there’s my free translation of a fascinating Watson Institute conference last weekend. Between the lines, most of it, but clear enough.

Ugo Mattei is the “color” man in this conversation. He’s a law professor in Turin and Los Angeles, a Gramscian lefty, who contributed the Obama-Gorbachev connection and said that what the world really wants from the United States at this point is “a declaration of intellectual bankruptcy.”

Ugo Mattei: historic proportions

You can’t transform human experience into a technological game. There has been a complete distortion, I think, in the way of thinking in these last 25 or 30 years in the United States: that just because they were enjoying a technological advantage, that meant that they were intellectually superior to the others. So either there is now a humble declaration of bankruptcy of this kind of attitude, and all the rest will follow, or we’re back to the beginning. There is so much to be done in dismantling the military apparatus, and nothing is happening on this side. Talking about the “greening” of capitalism and all this kind of stuff while the world is infected by American military bases, with nuclear weapons, with consuming a lot of energy, creating a disaster wherever they are (socially, morally, intellectually) is only once again talking of all these things as if they can be understood in terms of numbers. This thing has to be understood politically. It requires a new humanism. It requires a vision of the long-term. It requires a real transformation. This is why I hope the crisis is going to go really, really bad, so that then we can restart.

Ugo Mattei in conversation with Chris Lydon, March 14, 2009 at the Watson Institute.

Alfred Gusenbauer is the credentialed heavy-hitter here. A Socialist former Chancellor of Austria, he sounds troubled by the Obama team’s emphasis on a unilateral re-stimulation of an overfed American economy.

Alfred Gusenbauer: rebalance or fall

In history, a crisis of this size normally led to revolution or war. Our task nowadays is to handle the crisis, overcome the crisis at least without war, but with a revolution of our minds. I think it is utterly necessary…

I think that there are still three options: one is the fundamental crash of the world economy. The second is what we call the Japanese experience: more or less stagnation for the next ten years. And the third is that we will be able to solve the crisis within the next two or three years. But this only will be possible if there is an international management that is trying to reconcile some of the fundamental imbalances that are inherent in the world economy. Without balancing those, there is no way out of the crisis…

The pursuit of greed will not help to solve the crisis. There will not be recovery without redistribution… If nations or social classes pursue what they have done, and what led to the crisis, there will be no way out. One has to understand that the key to the recovery is the abandonment of the concept of greed and to adopt a concept of sharing.

Alfred Gusenbauer in conversation with Chris Lydon, March 14, 2009 at the Watson Institute.

The other strong contributors here are sociologist Ho-fung Hung of Indiana University, Bloomington; journalist and documentarian Nandan Unnikrishnan of the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi; and the Indian businessman Samir Saran.

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  • druthers

    This discussion is really one of the most fascinating I have listened to in a very very long time but seems to ignore the problems posed by an explosing world population that our planet cannot sustain.

    What can be done if the solutions are consumed like food crops that never catch up with the problems? Does this imply violence rather than co-operation and sharing?

  • wmcduff

    At a time when so many are disillusioned and blinded by Plato’s shadows, Chris has gathered together some wise voices whose collective wisdoms paint a coherent description of the planet we inhabit- where it’s been, where it is, and where it’s going. Thanks for the podcast.

  • mr_sensitive

    Dear Sirs, I have tried twice to download the extremely interesting talk with asdfaafasdf, but both times I just got about 17 minutes of it. Can you fix it please?

  • mr_sensitive

    sorry about the “asdfaafasdf”, I was going to substitute that with “the extremely interesting talk Obama as Gorbachev: a Regime in Crisis”

  • Excellent conversation. Provocative, inspiring, intriguing. Thanks out Open Source, gratitude and appreciation to the participants for their keen perspectives well articulated.

  • fascinating conversation…I like the connection between this crisis and the end of the Soviet Union – it does seem like the NAFTA free-market, economic liberalization, and virtual capitalism models that attempted to fill the post cold war geopolitical space somehow postponed a recognition that the superpower system would collapse. Maybe like the Soviet Union, the U.S. cannot maintain it’s status as both a superpower and a nation-state, like pre-1914 European ’empire states’ which unraveled in the world wars and postwar decolonization. I see a recognition that the U.S. is experiencing a transition from a sort of retrograde cold war nation state / global superpower hegemony to something else…maybe both the nation-state and superpower models will have to be adjusted to fit a post-cold war space that cannot be contained and ordered by either.

  • bft

    “One evil empire down … one to go!” Michael Moore, The Big One

  • For Mr. Sensitive (above): Are you hearing the full conversation now? I am. Lemme know. CL

  • In reflecting on orangescissor’s comment:

    “…the U.S. cannot maintain it’s status as both a superpower and a nation-state…”

    I was reminded of something I read once (I can’t seem to recall the source at present). However, the concept was essentially that throughout the history of the development of the nation-state, there have been three critical technological innovations that signaled periods of unprecedented dramatic change, radically redistributing the balance of power, and consequently re-defining geopolitical realities and socio-economic systems. Indeed the very conception and constitution (composition) of the nation-state.

    The three (if I recall correctly): the stirrup, permitting an armor clad warrior to remain in the saddle while engaging forces on foot; gunpowder; and nuclear weapons. Perhaps the affects of the printing press, the steam engine and internal combustion ought to be considered as well.

    I wonder if now we ought not to number the Internet as yet another? This argument is predicated upon the idea that the nation-state and its mode of governance (optimal organizational structure) emerges as a function of the means of production it must preserve, serve and administer. Whenever, you have radical technological innovation or change in the means of production, you would expect corresponding change in the mode of governance, and the geopolitical realities determined by the mode.

    I wonder if the current global crisis is not inherent in the tension between the compulsion and need to adapt to new realities emerging as a consequence of innovation on the one hand, and the natural inclination towards resistance to change within the current power structures — the institutional will to survive — on the other?

    If, as a consequence technological innovation (the emergence of the personal computer and the Internet), our mode of governance has been rendered obsolete or anachronistic, what ought or might the emergent mode look like? Something more distributed and networked as opposed to the centralized, hierarchal structure of the federal bureaucracy perhaps? If there is any validity to this theory, the critical question seems to hinge on whether we are able to anticipate the need for change and effect a deliberate, peaceful transition, or whether catastrophe, collapse, and decay are required to clear the field for the emergent. Within the creative-destructive cycle, must the destructive function always entail chaos, violence and mass blood letting?

  • potter

    The conversation ended before I was ready for it to end.

    When this financial collapse started becoming more serious, though we lost some retirement funds, part of me was relieved. I have had a discomfort for quite awhile that this level of consumption we love, we push, we need, we demand, is not sustainable- especially not for the whole world. So I thought this will be good for us all.

    Perhaps some real changes could happen somehow with some unusual consensus brought on by further fears. This seems distant. The idea there should be more consumption on the part of those who need to consume more in order to live better than very poor is good but it escapes dealing with the ultimate problem of too much consumption. So elevating those that live lives that are substandard is also unsustainable in the end. This planet can’t sustain itself the way we have been going. We are not now making those kind of drastic changes we need to make. Mostly all I hear, except those on this panel, those who are awakened ( and thank you for it) is the antsy desire that this “thing” that we have that may be a depression, would somehow go away like a bad cold, if we either wait it out patiently or inject the right remedy- if only the stock market would again rise and more cars and homes would be bought again, more could be made, built, sold.

    I get the sense that mere end of the notion and practice of unfettered capitalism won’t do it. It is not the end of capitalism either. There still will be fettered capitalism practiced very broadly and surely with not enough regulation force or foresight/wisdom to contain the selfish cleverness of individuals which we depend on for our growth habit.

    We should worry. Thank you.