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Critisticuffs 2. Sovereign Debt (open)
February 6, 2014 @ 7:00 pm - 10:00 pm GMT
With the advent of the financial crisis of 2008 and the following world-wide general economic crisis living conditions for many people deteriorated. Furthermore, this crisis and the reaction to it by capitalist states led to a sovereign debt crisis which governments responded to with further large scale but this time planned impoverishment: austerity.
In this series of three evening workshops we want to give an introduction to how the state finances itself – and what for – in order to explain why the state implements austerity and how this economic system presupposes and reproduces poverty in boom and bust.
## Taxes – 7pm-10pm, Thursday, 23. January 2014 ##
That austerity is somehow related to how the state finances itself is well known. It then presents a bit of a riddle how someone with the power to raise taxes – i.e. chooses how much money to earn – can be in trouble with paying the bills. Indeed, one response to austerity – by groups like UK Uncut and beyond – is to remind the state of its tax raising powers and to demand “tax the rich” to plug the hole in public finances. So why isn’t this happening?
To answer this question we have to look at what taxes actually are. The state collects taxes in the form of money which its citizens earn in motley competition against and with each other. This – we claim – expresses that the
state watches over a rather peculiar society. It wants its subjects to compete against each other – following their own economic calculations – and it wants to provide them with the conditions to do so successfully, overall. This
presents a comfortable dilemma to the state: to provide the conditions of national economic success it has to deprive the competitors of the means and purpose of their economic activity, i.e. their money. This dilemma – we claim – explains tax loopholes, on the one hand, and tight budgets for the provision of social services, on the other.
Furthermore, we want to present our critique of tax justice campaigns of which there are two radically different varieties. The first takes the standpoint of the tax payer who demands “value for money” and misunderstands the act of direct appropriation – taxation – as a form of exchange: the tax payer feels entitled to government services and good governance by virtue of having money taken from her by force. The second – radical – standpoint demands that the state use its tax raising powers to alleviate poverty instead of escalating it. On this, we want to present and discuss how this critique instead of offering a way out of socially produced poverty, depends on it: taxing capitalist corporations presupposes their success.
## Sovereign Debt – 7pm-10pm, Thursday, 6. February 2014 ##
States found a way out of their self-made dilemma that taxing companies, on the one hand, provides them with the conditions of their economic success and, on the other hand, takes from them the very means of this success: money. Contrary to popular belief the growing mountain of debt is not a result of incompetent politicians and frivolous spending. Instead, with sovereign debt states made themselves independent from the confines of wealth already earned in their societies to provide the conditions of future growth.
For many years this worked. States owe debts, lots of it and on an increasing scale. Now, sovereign debt is in crisis and countries compete against each other to convince investors that their respective national economies are still worthy and secure investments.
In this workshop we don’t want to focus directly on the current crisis but ask what is in crisis. We want to present and discuss what sovereign debt is, how it works, who the investors are and what makes sovereign debt an interesting investment to them.
Based on this we want to critique two common misconceptions. The first one is the notion of an “objective constraint” which posits that states have no choice but to fulfil the demands of finance capital against them. This notion misses that the premise of these demands is that states furnish and maintain a world where such demands can be made. Secondly, we want to show that criticising sovereign debt and bailouts as a redistribution from the bottom to the top trivialises how our lives are subjected to the calculations of profit – in and outside the financial sphere.
## Austerity – 7pm-10pm, Thursday, 20. February 2014 ##
In a first step the state makes itself dependent on the money earned by private competitors in its society by taxation. In a second step it deals with the dilemma that this deprives these competitors of the means of their success by issuing debt. The people who bought and sold this debt for decades have recently come to the conclusion – in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008 and partly due to some criticisms that they were too loose in their definition of a good investment – that the levels of debt held by successful capitalist states is unsustainable; a verdict concerned states understand. In a third step, then, they respond to this concern by implementing austerity measures. Austerity measures which, on the one hand, ought to reduce the cost of their populations and, on the other hand, ought to make their economies “more competitive”; more competitive against other states and their national economies, which do the same.
In this workshop we want to present and discuss what the bedroom tax has to do with the UK’s AAA rating, why benefit cap is an apt austerity measure even though it only affects a small minority of people, why the government puts pressure on people to find work in a time of mass unemployment and why the government’s agitation against “benefit scroungers” is agitation not only against people on benefits but also against other workers.
Based on this we then want to critique various responses to austerity. Criticising austerity for its harshness and proposing alternative ways for the state to save money is missing the point: mass impoverishment is not a side-
effect but a deliberate goal of these policies. Austerity is not a numbers game where a certain level of debt ought to be reached but a weapon in international competition to convince “the markets” that the UK means business – and business means an able and submissive work force. We also want to show that explaining austerity as a merely ideological project by the Tories fails to realise that the subjection under the rule of capital is systematic and not a funny idea of some nasty people.
## Practical Information ##
All workshops will take place at
88 Fleet Street
EC4Y 1DH London
and are open to all. In particular, no prior knowledge of finance or political jargon is required.