The crisis, the total market and the “law shopping”

There is not much to add to what Alain Supiot writes in the last issue of the International Labour Review, just published by the ILO. The issue is about the global crisis and Supiot’s article makes a deep historical analysis of the utopia of the Total market, in which “people, signs and things can all be rendered commensurable and be mobilized in the cause of globalized competition, i.e. they can all be “liquidated” in the legal sense of this term“. By liquidation he means making something fungible by converting it into cash. However, he cannot but remind Zygmunt Bauman’s and even before Bauman, Karl Marx’s vision of the way everything can be turned, converted into cash.

Supiot quotes Jünger’s definition of Total market: “The Market then becomes total in the sense that Ernst Jünger gave to that adjective in the aftermath of the First World War when he used it to describe a form of organization based on the total mobilization of human, technological and natural resources to produce armies that were “sent to the battlefield both day and night, where an equally mechanical bloody maw took over the role of consumer”.

By the way, the most interesting part is the one about “Law shopping versus the rule of law”, in which he writes:

“The notions of “person” and accountability are not the only ones that Total Market has deprived of meaningful content. The law itself along with religion, ideas and art, has come to be seen as just another product competing on the global market. Legal systems better suited to the pursuit of financial profitability outcompete the rest. So instead of competition being subject to the law, the trend is towards making the law subject to competition (brillant, but it reminds Marx again…)”.

And yet, despite the evidence of this contradiction, “The latest report from the OECD (…) published some 18 months after the crisis broke (…) recommends intensifying policies aimed at flexibilizing labour markets and “reaping efficiency gains on spending, especially in the areas of education and health, and avoiding large increases in harmful labour and capital taxes” Supiot comments.

And he comes to an end: “The issue is thus not about “regulating markets”, (…) It is about bringing them under effective control with hard-and-fast rules to serve the interests of society (…) In other words, it means reconnecting with the spirit of the Declaration of Philadelphia which, towards the end of the Second World War, aimed to harness the economy and finance in furtherance of the principles of human dignity and social justice. What this implies for the International Labour Organization today is not to give up on its “core business”, but to promote labour standards suited to the state of the world today”.

“Lasting peace – Supiot states – can be established only if it is based upon social justice: this statement, reiterated in the Declaration of Philadelphia, was first made at the time of the ILO’s post-war establishment in 1919. Yet it is more relevant than ever in today’s world”.

How could you disagree?


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