The Capture of the State


By Antonio Sales Rios Neto*

Will the Coronavirus pandemic, with all its destructive power, provoke the necessary reflection on the urgency of changing the civilizational model that has the market as its centrality?

In times of a pandemic caused by Covid-19, we realize that the editorial line of the various opinion makers, even those more focused on critical reflection in the face of the destruction sponsored by capitalism, follow a tone similar to those adopted in past economic crises. Fulfilling its objective of systematically evaluating the movement of financialized capitalism and seeking viable alternatives to the crises that are taking place, we observe a daily flood of articles, opinions and interviews examining the current situation caused by the Coronavirus around the world.

As a rule, the predominant point of view of the analyses, to which I associate myself, is that capitalism without a strong State proves to be unfeasible as a hegemonic way of life and that we need, therefore, to resort to Marxist and Keynesian recipes to make viable, for through State intervention, containment of the crisis or at least mitigate the devastating consequences that afflict a large part of humanity and the Earth system already seriously compromised. Therefore, we need to deepen our analyzes and, consequently, the alternatives for thinking and articulating another way of functioning of societies.

Contrary to what is commonly observed in many analyzes that argue that there is a crisis of capitalism (sometimes even announcing its end and claiming State action even with its intrinsically authoritarian bias), in fact what exists and always What existed was a capitalism of crises and, nowadays, a capitalism of disasters that generate dystopias. Who would have thought that one day the dystopian vision of Raul Seixas, in music The Day the Earth Stood Still, would it come true?

With each upheaval of the world economy, history has shown that the market reinvents itself, capturing mental models, directing them towards individualism, consumerism and unbridled accumulation, and thus it becomes more sophisticated and increasingly consolidates its hegemony. Neoliberalism, which was born out of globalization and the financialization of capital, starting in the 1980s, is just the culmination of this long process that has generated increasingly overwhelming crises and an unprecedented gap between rich and poor in history, to the point where the leader of the greatest economic power in the history of capitalism, President Barack Obama, having stated on the occasion of his farewell speech at the UN General Assembly in September 2016, that “a world in which 1% of humanity controls a wealth equal to that of the other 99 % will never be stable”.

However, the most worrying element in capitalism's mode of operation in the face of the successive crises it provokes is the systematic capture of the State. Therefore, what we are witnessing is not the end of capitalism, but the end of the marriage between the market and the State, that is, the end of market democracy. The market, by capturing the State, transmutes it into its own image. In recent article, Marilena Chaui, when identifying in neoliberalism a new form of totalitarianism, described well the severity of the current scenario: “instead of the State absorbing society, as happened in previous totalitarian forms, we see the opposite occur, that is, the form of society absorbs the state. In previous totalitarianisms, the State was the mirror and model of society, that is, it instituted the nationalization of society; neoliberal totalitarianism does the opposite: society becomes the mirror for the State, defining all social and political spheres not only as organizations, but, having the market as a central reference, as a specific type of organization: the company – the school is a company, the hospital is a company, the cultural center is a company, a church is a company and, of course, the State is a company.”

In the myriad of analyzes surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic, which in some cases even overshadow our ability to read the transformations in the world, it seems to me that a good part of the analyzes are still too limited to point out more consistent ways out of this condition of permanent crisis, which is inherent to the functioning of the capitalist system. We have to look at and question the mental models that support the hegemonic worldview, that is, the conditioning lock that prevents us from changing our way of relating to the world. In this sense, the theologian Leonardo Boff, days ago, expressed well what are the ways to get out of the crisis: “I support the thesis that this pandemic cannot be fought only by economic and health means that are always indispensable. It demands another relationship with nature and the Earth. If, after the crisis has passed, we do not make the necessary changes, the next time may be the last, as we make ourselves the staunch enemies of the Earth. She might not want us here anymore.” That is, the solution involves revising the current mental model that established a relationship of domination and utilitarianism rather than one of care and integration with nature.

Ladislau Dowbor, in his last book The Age of Unproductive Capital (Editora Op), unveils with irrefutable sources of information and research how financialized capital without borders set up a structure of global governance whose regulation became impossible even within the capitalist system itself. Dowbor's work provides us with the real dimension of how a handful of stateless financial corporations and their intermediaries accumulated phenomenal economic power and political appropriation that hampered the productive economy, devastated the world of work and public investments, generating social damage and environments on a global scale.

On the one hand, tax havens imprison a stock of assets on the order of 25% to 30% (The Econimist rounds to 20 trillion dollars) of the world GDP which is around 80 trillion dollars. The global public debt reaches 50 trillion dollars, yielding interest to the holders of these assets. On the other hand, in the face of the Coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing financial crisis, the States, many of them already weakened, are being called upon to inject more financial resources into their economies, both to mitigate the tragedy of the pandemic and to “save” financial institutions. That is, the gigantic figures that were once drained for the rent of 1% of humanity do not return to save lives of the 99% in times of global calamity like the current one, which has the potential to amplify the humanitarian crisis already underway. There is a dispute between capital, which is anti-life by nature, and the life of the entire Earth system.

If the XNUMXth century, with its two world wars and a cold war, with its nuclear warheads risking putting an end to civilization, was not enough to question the mental models that support the economic world view, I fear that the Coronavirus, with all its its power to destroy human life, is not capable of provoking the necessary reflection to change our model of civilization, which has the market as its centrality. The Chilean neurobiologist Humberto Maturana, one of the greatest scientific authorities in the biology of knowledge, that is, in the science of how we perceive the world, said that “a culture is, for the members of the community who live it, a sphere of evident truths that do not require justification and whose foundation is neither seen nor investigated, unless, in the course of this community, a cultural conflict arises that leads to such reflection. The latter is our situation”. I fear that we have not yet reached a level of cultural conflict capable of bringing about the necessary metamorphosis to prevent the collapse of civilization. It scares me to think what's to come.

It seems that, based on the experiences of past and present humanitarian crises, the tragic effects of the Coronavirus will be mitigated to a large extent once again by human solidarity. There are few countries capable of adequately dealing with the pandemic and, in cases where the State already finds its economy almost collapsed due to the harmful effects of its capture by the market, all that remains is the spirit of solidarity of the people that naturally emerges in dramatic situations like this.

Evidently, the level of this emergence depends on the worldview of each individual and each community. Here is an invitation to reflection in order to reevaluate our mental models, at least at the individual and local level, since we are still very far from a society of cooperation, care and appreciation of life: what each of us, as a person or as a company, are you doing to help those around you, who were already in a situation of extreme vulnerability before the Coronavirus and who are now inevitable targets of the pandemic that haunts the world?

*Antonio Sales Rios Neto, a civil engineer, holds a postgraduate degree in Organizational Consulting from FEAAC-UFC.

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