4 April 2008
“Britain, a touchstone for democracies around the world.” – BBC ‘reporter’ commentating on the state visit by president Sarkozy of France to the UK, BBC1 6pm news, 26 March, 2008
The great Polish writer, Stanislaw Lem (he wrote the novel ‘Solaris’) developed a theory of fiction writing based upon the idea that no matter how far-fetched the story or how wild the setting, that it should nevertheless be internally consistent down to the tiniest detail. Then and only then, will the far-fetched or even the impossible not only become believable, but also make a world we could live in.
The same thing may well be said about corporate/state media coverage of events as the BBC quote above so amply illustrates and, as the oscillations of a broke-down capitalist system grow ever more extreme, so too does a compliant media strain credulity as it attempts to reconcile the ‘plot’ with the total lack of continuity (as they say in movie circles) between scenes. Thus as the Channel 4 News email notice demonstrates:
“Economy: age of easy regulation over: Mervyn King has made significant comments as governor of the Bank of England to the Treasury Select Committee — the age of easy regulation is over. The regulator, the FSA, has come in for significant criticism over Nothern Rock. Interest rates are up in Iceland to 15 per cent. Icelandic owned companies, many with significant Russian participation, own a significant slab of the commerce on the British high street. There’s lots more to throw into the financial cooking bowl. The mixer has churned and Faisal Islam has a considered account of where we are now. ” — Channel 4’s daily email, 26 March, 2008
‘Easy regulation’ is the corporate media’s way of saying no regulation whatsoever, and the fantasy continues. And to reinforce the illusion, on BBC’s Radio 4 News (3 April, 2008), we heard a’commentator’ tell us that one year ago nobody could have predicted the financial meltdown caused by the complete lack of regulation of the finance ‘industry’, or as it is so innacurately described, the ‘credit crunch’. Of course it depends who the BBC spoke to one year ago but obviously whoever it that person was, they were both reading from the same script.
Thus the universe the BBC and the rest of the corporate media live in doesn’t obey the same laws as the ones you and me have to live by. So for example, I heard another ‘law’ of capital yet again regurgitated on the Beeb yesterday (3 April, 2008) telling me that the “invisible hand of the market” had failed us, though who this ‘hand’ actually belongs to was not mentioned nor why this magical potion failed so dramatically to do its stuff. Come to that, it’s not as if we haven’t lived through these events many, many times before and every time it’s been the ‘invisible’ but publicly financed bank account that’s bailed out Private Capital. So Public Ownership is okay on Planet Bail-Out as long as it benefits Private Capital.
So it’s not merely the outright lies used by the Beeb and the rest of the ‘Street of Shame’ as Private Eye so accurately describes the mass media, as the fact that the devil himself lives in all the details of the ‘reality’ created by them.
Is it any wonder therefore that for most of us, it’s not merely the miraculous workings of the ‘market’ that are kept invisible eg, the fantasmagorical hand but the entire damn thing!
Now you may well wonder how and why the Beeb and its cohorts get away with perpetrating such outlandish fantasies but simple fact is that no other interpretation of events ever gets a look in and when in doubt a swift retreat to 19th century musings about ‘invisible’ this and ‘invisible’ that fills in all the embarrassing gaps in the ‘news’.
Then you realise that ‘investors’ (in reality, mostly gigantic stock portfolios owned by insurance companies and administered by accountants) are no more than crude gamblers dependent on that other fantasy, ‘sentiment’. Forget the computer programs and the army of ‘analysts’, at the end of the day, it’s a bunch dead heads, hooked on money, working the ‘invisible’ market. ‘Sentiment’ is newsspeak for total subjectivity, in other words the entire ball of wax, the so-called global economy is total chaos, with every component–the banks, insurance companies et al–all competing in a complete free-for-all.
Hanging it all together ‘for us’ (unless you look very closely) are the corporate media who reinforce the chaos at every step of the way through their use of the ‘small details’. They’re not lies exactly but they might as well be, for they no more explain events than the fabled ‘invisible hand’ does. But what they do achieve is to fill in all the embarrassing ‘gaps’ in the picture as for example the BBC comment about the UK being the world’s “touchstone” for all those other ‘democracies’.
Taken collectively, it resembles one of those painting by numbers kits: ‘Market Meltdown?’ Use #7; ‘Credit Crunch?’ Use #11; ‘Bankruptcy?’ Use #13 and so on. They’ve been doing it for decades so they know what number to use without even thinking about it.
The ’29 Crash’ was ‘explained’ using the same painting by numbers approach but it followed on from an almost identical process as the ‘sub-prime’ mortgage crisis which triggered the latest crash, namely speculation (or to use a word we all know, gambling). And it’s interesting that the BBC for example, never compares the ’29 Crash to the current disaster afflicting capitalism, a crash which was followed by the complete overhaul of the finance ‘industry’ through regulation or Roosevelt’s New Deal.
Yet its cause was identical (see for example leverage) or to give it another word we understand all too well, debt. The difference however with today’s debt is that it is all hidden away inside complex packages invented by a bunch of greedy business school whizzkids and sold the world over, so complex in fact that no one, and I mean no one, has any idea how much, where or who holds these billions in debts.
The process of covering up causes is never-ending, thus the BBC Website (4 April, 2008) describes the sub-prime mortgage crime as follows:
“After a fresh writedown of $19bn earlier this week, UBS said it planned to raise 15bn Swiss francs ($15bn; £7.5bn) in capital by issuing new shares to replenish the funds lost in soured investments linked to the US housing slump. [my emph. WB] ‘Investor calls for UBS break-up’, BBC News Website, 4 April, 2008.
So the crime has been renamed, according to the BBC it’s now simply a “housing slump”, well that’s much easier for us dummies to understand isn’t it? And I love the choice of the word “soured”, so much more innocuous than greed and definately a step up from fraud.
‘Writedown’, means writing off the vast losses caused by burying the debts in those weird and wonderful financial packages, but in turn ‘writing down’ those incalcuable losses has meant that the very visible hand of government bail-out had to be used to save these userers from going belly-up.
So Lem’s concept found a home not in the novel but in the novel reinvention of our collective reality.
1. It’s worth remembering that this phrase was first used in the 18th century by Adam Smith (1723-1790) and used to describe what Smith held was the so-called “self-regulatory” spect of the ‘free market’. But clearly the ‘market’ is no more ‘self-regulating’ today than it was over two hundred years ago. If it was, there would be no need for governments to inject billions of our money into the ‘free market’, now would there? Nor indeed, the fundamental paradox, which is never addressed by our ‘experts’, namely that either, they admit to the inevitability of the appalling ‘ups and downs’ of the capitalist market (and their tragic impact on millions of citizens around the world) or, they admit to the fundamental ‘guiding hand’ of the state as being an admission that there’s no such thing as the guiding hand of the ‘free’ market, invisible or otherwise.
The ‘free market’ is described thus:
“An economy in which goods and services are freely exchanged without obstruction or regulation and where decisions about production and consumption are made by many separate individuals each seeking satisfaction of specific needs and desire.” Source: Online Dictionary of Social Sciences.
Right now, it’s simply a question of the ‘free’ market working great when it does work the way the theory says or, being beyond our control when it doesn’t? Brilliant isn’t it! The point however, is that to sell such a crackpot idea to the public it is necessary to fill all the cracks, crevices, never mind the gaping holes, with a host of ‘touchstones,’ ‘democracies’, ‘guiding hands’, ‘sours’, and especially the word ‘slump’, and all manner of verbiage to hide the essential truths. It’s Lem’s theory in action except it’s all taking place in a fictional landscape, okay for a book but not for running an economy, let alone the state.