Immanuel Wallerstein on surplus capital

“The key to hiding this central mechanism lay in the very structure of the capitalist world-economy, the seeming separation in the capitalist world-system of the economic arena (a world-wide social division of labour with integrated production processes all operating for the endless accumulation of capital) and the political arena (consisting ostensibly of separate sovereign states, each with autonomous responsibility for political decisions within its jurisdiction, and each disposing of armed forces to sustain its authority). In the real world of historical capitalism, almost all commodity chains of any importance have traversed these state frontiers. This is not a recent innovation. It has been true from the very beginning of historical capitalism. Moreover, the transnationality of commodify chains is as descriptively true of the sixteenth-century capitalist world as of the twentieth-century. 

How did this unequal exchange work? Starting with any real differential in the market, occurring because of either the (temporary) scarcity of a complex production process, or artificial scarcities created manu militan, commodities moved between zones in such a way that the area with the less ‘scarce
item ‘sold’ its items to the other area at a price that incarnated more real input (cost) than an equally-priced item moving in the opposite direction. What really happened is that there was a transfer of part of the total profit (or surplus) being produced from one zone to another. Such a relationship is that of coreness-peripherality. By extension, we can call the losing zone, a ‘periphery’ and the gaining zone a ‘core’. These names in fact reflect the geographical structure of the economic flows.  

We findunmediately several mechanisms that historically have increased the disparity. Whenever a ‘vertical integrationof any two links on a commodity chain occurred, it was possible to shift an even larger segment of the total surplus towards the core than had previously been possible. Also, the shift of surplus towards the core concentrated capital there and made available disproportionate funds for further mechanization, both allowing producers in core zones to gain additional competitive advantages in existing products and permitting them to create ever new rare products with which to renew theprocess.  The concentration of capital in core zones created both the fiscal base and the political motivation to create relatively strong state-machineries, among whose many capacities was that of ensuring that the state machineries of peripheral zones became or remained relatively weaker. They could therebypressure these state-structures to accept, even promote, greater specialization in their jurisdiction in tasks lower down the.,hlrerarchy ,of commodity chains, utilizing lower-paid work-forces and creating (reinforcing) the relevant houTehoİd structures to permit such work-forces to survive. Thus did
historical capitalism actually create the so-called historical level of wages which have become so dramatically divergent in different zones of the world-system.”

Historical Capitalism, Immanuel Wallerstein, pg. 31-32, 2011, Verso.


Dostoevsky on reason versus desire

Notes from the Underground, F Dostoevsky, Oxford Classics, 1999.

I, for instance, quite naturally want to live in order to satisfy the whole of my for living and not just in order to satisfy my rational capacity, which is about one-twentieth of my capacity for living. What does reason know? Reason knows only what it has managed to find out (the rest, perhaps, it will never discover; that’s no comfort, but why not say it?), whereas
human nature acts as a whole, by everything that is in it, consciously and unconsciously; and even if it lies, it still lives. I suspect, gentlemen, that you’re looking at me with pity, you will tell me again that an enlightened and educated person, in short, the sort of person man will be in the future, cannot
knowingly desire something disadvantageous to himself, and that’s mathematics. I’m in complete agreement, it really is mathematics. But I repeat to you for the hundredth time, there is only one instance, just one, when man may deliberately, consciously desire something injurious, foolish, even extremely foolish, namely: in order to have the right to desire even something very foolish, and not to be bound by an obligation to desire only what is intelligent. You see, this very foolish thing is your caprice, and in actual fact, gentlemen, it can be more advantageous to us all than anything else on earth, especially on certain occasions. But in particular it can be more advantageous than any other advantage in a situation where it leads us to obvious harm and contradicts the soundest conclusions of our reason on the subject of advantages—because in any case it preserves the thing that is most important and
precious to us, which is our personality and our individuality. Some people assert that this is the most precious thing of all to man. Desire may, of course, if it wants, coincide with reason, especially if it is not misused but used in moderation; that’s useful and at times even laudable. But very often, perhaps more often than not, desire completely and obstinately disagrees with reason and. . .and. .. and do you know that this too is useful and sometimes even very laudable? 

Swiss Railway System

Swiss Railways from Diccon Bewes book, Swiss Watching:

“Gravity-detying mountain trains might be the most famous part of the Swiss railway network, but they actually make up only 150 of the 5000 kilometres of lines nationally. Trains are the workhorses of the Swiss economy, transporting not just tourists and commuters but cargo as well. An impressive 63 per cent of transalpine heavy goods vehicles travel by rail through Switzerland, twice as much as in neighbouring Austria.Loading those mammoth trucks on to trains means less pollution, less traffic and less noise, so everyone wins. But the wonder of the Swiss railway system is not the cargo routes through the mountains, or the big-name rides, such as
the Glacier Express, or even the intercity lines packed with the customers. The wonder of the Swiss transport network is the local services.

Decades after Dr Beeching cut such lines in Britain, the Swiss still regard them as an essential part of the national infrastructure, no matter if they aren’t so well used. The crowded routes bring in the cash to subsidise the less-used ones so that the whole network survives. All very forwardthinking, anti-Darwinian and anti-capitalist to someone brought up on privatisation for profit. For the Swiss it’s local services for local people, and occasionally the odd tourist, to ensure that no community is left off the transport map. To achieve that goal there are buses as well, designed to complement the railways, not replace them. A spidery network of 798 routes with over 2100 Postbuses, all of them bright yellow, carries 121 million passengers a year11 to places the trains can’t reach. But, this being Switzerland, the timetables are coordinated, so that passengers can change quickly from train to bus and back again. The Swiss make it all look so simpie, as if that’s the natural order of things. As if that’s the only way public transport should be. Such coordination is only possible because the Swiss plan the whole system as one.”

Housing in Switzerland

From Swiss Watching, by Diccon Bewes.

“Ironically, the recent economic crisis affected the Swiss far less than many G20 members, mainly because the housing market is as stable as the franc. No big booms or crashes because most people rent not buy. Only 35 per cent of Swiss own their own home, a figure that drops to 11 per cent in cities like Bern,25 almost exactly the opposite of the British market. It’s partly a cultural thing – owning property is not the be-all and end-all of life – but it’s also practical, as you need a 20 per cent deposit. Some people rent the same flat all their lives, but that’s seen as a risk-free, sensible option not a waste of money.  

Everyone renting has its advantages. No property ladders mean no snakes, so while you might not make a fortune in houses, you’re unlikely to lose one either. Negative equity, what’s that? Estate agents are not ten a penny on the high streets, newspapers are not full of property ads and television isn’t packed with endless variations ofmakeover, developing or relocation programmes. You have to watch German TV for those. To buy or not to buy is a question the Swiss ask about lots of things but rarely houses. 
The best thing is that roads are not blighted by a forest of For Sale signs. Instead, you can see what look like four anorexic Martian spaceships sitting in vacant plots of land. These giant wooden or metal tripods show the dimensions of any new building, with their height and position corresponding exactly to that of the proposed building. This rule applies  to every construction project in Switzerland, including highrises, which need special Meccano-style pylons tethered with wires to show how tall they will be. It might look odd, but it gives everyone a good idea of what’s planned and a chance to complain if they object. Planning permission not just by committee but by common consent.”

Edward Luttwak on the logic of peace leading to war in late 19th century 

“Peace can be the origin of war in different ways, even though peace is only a negative abstraction that cannot contain any s elf-destructive phenomenon, as war contains the destruction that eventually destroys war itself. Nevertheless, the condition of peace, that is the absence of war, can create the precondition of war, for example by dissuading the peaceful
from maintaining persuasive defenses, encouraging potential aggressors to plan war. Often in history, peace led to war because its conditions allowed demographic, cultural, economic, and social changes that upset the balance of strength that had previously assured peace. Having no substance of its own, the state of peace cannot disturb anything, but it does indifferently favor the diverging evolution of human capacities and inentalities, without regard to the factors that inhibited war. It was thus that
the famously pacific Germans came to regard themselves as a warrior nation by 1870, in unfortunate symmetry with the French, who had yet
to outgrow their martial self-image. In the crisis of that year, Bismarck’s German government wanted war in confidence of victory, while the French government of Napoleon III could not avoid war, because it could not admit that Germany had become the stronger power.”

Edward Luttwak, Strategy: The Logic of Peace and War, Harvard University Press, 2001, pg 67.

Tony Judt and the liberation of the will

“But at least war, like racism, offers clear moral choices. Even today, most people know what they think about military action or racial prejudice. But in the arena of economic policy, the citizens of today s democracies have learned altogether too much modesty. We have been advised that these are matters for experts: that economics and its policy implications are far beyond the understanding of the common man or woman—a point of view forced by the increasingly arcane and mathematical language of the discipline. 

Not many ‘lay people’ are likely to challenge the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Secretary of the Treasury or their expert advisors in such matters. Were they to do so, they would be told—much as a medieval priest might have advised his flock—that these are questions with which they need not concern themselves. The liturgy must be chanted in an obscure tongue, accessible only to the initiated. For everyone else, faith will suffice. 
But faith has not sufficed. The emperors of economic policy in Britain and the US, not to mention their acolytes and admirers everywhere from Tallinn to Tbilisi, are naked. However, since most observers have long shared their sartorial preferences, they are ill-placed to object. We need to re-learn how to criticize those who govern us. But in order to do so with credibility we have to liberate ourselves from the circle of conformity into which we, like they, are trapped. 
Liberation is an act of the will. We cannot hope to reconstruct our dilapidated public conversation—no less than our crumbling physical infrastructure—unless we become sufficiently angry at our present condition.”
Tony Judt, Ill Fares the Land, Penguin, 2010. 

Tony Judt on conformity

“It is tempting to conform: community life is a lot easier where everyone appears to agree with everyone else, and where dissent is blunted by the conventions of compromise. Societies and communities where these are absent or have broken down do not fare well. But there is a price to be paid for conformity. A closed circle of opinion or ideas into which discontent or opposition is never allowed—or allowed only within circumscribed and stylized limits—loses its capacity to respond energetically or imaginatively to new challenges.”
Tony Judt, Ill Fares the Land, Penguin, 2010.