Market and financial totalitarianism

Image: João Nitsche


Financial totalitarianism meets fiscal terrorism as a way of subjecting society to the satisfaction of the interests of the “market”

“Neoliberalism and mainstream media discourse leave us with the impression that the market explains everything”. This statement, by Eugenio Raúl Zaffaroni, an Argentine criminal jurist who is very far from being an unconditional defender of the State, was exposed in an interview given to journalist Fernanda Mena and published in the newspaper Folha de S. Paul, on March 14, 2020.[I]

The introduction to the interview begins with the assertion that “the world is reliving times of totalitarian drive”. Throughout the interview, Eugenio Raúl Zaffaroni is asked if it is even possible to speak of totalitarianism, and he, with the caution that his intellectual reputation earns him, makes distinctions between the totalitarianism of the XNUMXth century between the wars and contemporary financial totalitarianism. Adopting a vocabulary different from that of Eugenio Raúl Zaffaroni, in fact, one cannot imagine that the current totalitarian impulse produces or is the result of social relations of the same type as those observed in the XNUMXth century, such as phenomena such as German Nazism or Italian Fascism.

It is possible to take a few steps from the insight that we live a totalitarian drive and that the market is the explanation for all the absurdities practiced in the name of a financial order that would be the main element of the totalitarianism of our times.

First, clarifying better what totalitarianism is being talked about. Between the wars, in a very synthetic way, totalitarianism was a form of state organization, in which there were no limits to state action. Privacy and individual rights were suppressed and the division between public and private disappeared in the name of the ubiquity of the State: it was a total State. Much could be said about this concept, because in fact it seems to point to liberalism as the great antidote to a totalitarian society. Its trap is, in its formulation, forgetting that for the formation of a totalitarian State it is necessary to constitute a totalitarian society.

In favor of this argument, it is necessary to remember that the Nazi regime did not abolish capitalism or market society. One of the characteristics pointed out by theorists such as Hannah Arendt, Raymond Aron and Eric Voegelin, among others, was that it was only possible from the transformation of the people as a collective body into an amorphous and homogeneous “mass”. In this transformative operation, possible from terror, exercised by an unpredictable state power, the people would cease to be a plural entity composed of collectivities and individuals with a certain degree of freedom of manifestation and organization and the erasure of the boundaries between the State and individuality , in all that it comprises – memory, community and privacy.

To rule out the possibility of totalitarian state organization, many types of left and right theory were constructed. The theories further to the right – here understood as those that more intensely restrict state action – defend a market that can produce a more efficient society, insofar as it is more consistent with individual desires and offers citizens/competitors a wider range of options. possible competitions.

In these societies, although operating with clear rules, losers cannot complain, because the rules of the game were the same for everyone. And what the State can do is take care of those who, even with impartial rules in force, have lost and need some kind of help. That is, some kind of measure necessary to maintain a dignified life for the competitors and also so that one day they can compete again, or whose defeat becomes dysfunctional for society itself.

It turns out that not even those authors called neoclassical economists or neoliberal theorists, or anarcholiberals, it doesn't matter, do not go so far as to claim that the State is unnecessary. What they propose is that the State be reduced to its minimum dimension, especially in the domain of the economy and the regulation of activities in general. Some State is needed at least to guarantee the legal security of basic goods and the rules of the game. It is no coincidence that ultraliberal theories in the economic field can be quite restrictive from the point of view of punitive action by the State.

Also aware of the desirable limits of State action, mainly in its police, controlling and punitive power, leftist theorists defend certain limits to the State, with the difference that they place it as the main actor of social organization and protection of rights, of the dignity and good life of citizens.

What so many theorists who are critical of totalitarianism, in its liberal matrix, forget is that the “totalitarian drive” spoken of by Eugenio Raúl Zaffaroni, the starting point of this article, is a concern arising from an analysis of social psychology and concern with the set of social relations that this drive produces. If this concern makes sense, in today's societies, where the State is questioned as the main actor in social organization by various economic segments, thinking that the State will be the main or exclusive actor in channeling this drive will probably result in some analytical error.

Then let's see. A democratic state like the Brazilian one is maintaining itself with hard efforts and based on a competition – between parties, social actors and even members of organic collectives, such as families – fratricidal, not to say autophagic. This competition has not generated plural debates, on the contrary, among other dogmas, probably the most preponderant is the permanent discourse that the market has to be minimally pleased, or something very wrong will happen to the economy and social relations.

It turns out that behind the generic discourse about an entity like the “market”, there is a defense of the interests of a very specific group of hegemonic fractions of financial capital. When the Central Bank, for example, refers to the so-called “market expectations” to guide its action and define the SELIC, it is based solely on a survey carried out weekly among just over a hundred directors of banks and other financial institutions. .

Well, we live in a society that is so exclusive that it is difficult to imagine that even more exclusion can be produced. However, this imagination becomes possible when the president of the Central Bank says that Pix, a banking tool that really facilitated the movement of money across the country, revolutionized the life of a candy seller, and that he was moved by this stupendous change.

If we are in a society where this type of delirium is tolerated, what we have is a State that no longer functions as a result of a minimal social pact that allows people to live in peace, but rather as a mediator of the demands of an oligopolized market. that only promotes fear arising from collective whims whose actors are not responsible.

Thus, financial totalitarianism meets fiscal terrorism as a way of subjecting society as a whole to the satisfaction of the interests of financial representatives. The creation of a climate of blackmail and threats is widespread with the support offered by the major media, demanding that successive governments comply with fiscal austerity and monetary tightening guidelines, for example.

This particular type of totalitarianism has taken shape over the last few decades through the imposition, on the majority of society, of a set of economic policy measures, always in the interest of the financial system. This is the case of establishing primary surplus targets in public accounts, with the objective of ensuring the financial expenses associated with the payment of interest on the public debt. Or even the maintenance of the official interest rate at very high levels, in addition to the collusion of the regulatory body with abusive spreads and very high fees.

In addition, the totalitarian drive is manifested in the defense of the spending cap policy since 2016, as defined by EC 95/2016. On the revenue side, there is a permanent movement to avoid the end of the tax exemption for profits and dividends, as well as severe opposition to the regulation of the tax on large fortunes, as provided for in the Constitution since 1988.

In this sense, if this capricious entity is taken seriously, the financial rules end up obeying a set of actors whose ubiquity is paradoxical in relation to the absence of their responsibility. We are not here facing the expectation of an invisible hand that will regulate the behavior of political actors, but of a cantankerous entity that demands attention all the time and that acts by ventriloquists who benefit from its inconsistency.

The question that remains, in this scenario that is hard to believe, is: what is the status of this market? He has the privileges of not being a subject and also of being one. It is an entity that is talked about all the time and that the main political actors fear. His actions, when he becomes a subject, are erratic, irrational and capricious. He has the privilege of being feared, without needing to be respected or achieve legitimacy. With such a privilege, it has the luxury of producing fear, inequalities and, at the limit, fiscal totalitarianism.

*Maria Abreu is a professor at the Institute of Research and Urban and Regional Planning (IPPUR) at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ).

Paulo Kliass is a doctor in economics by UFR, Sciences Économiques, Université de Paris X (Nanterre) and member of the career of Specialists in Public Policy and Governmental Management of the federal government.



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