Peoples' movements and protests




The world is ruled by compromises - thank God



Any suggestion for improvals can be mailed to the author


By Jan Wiklund



- No thanks, it's not possible to sell books about economics, said the clerk at Rönnell's antiquarian when I tried to exchange books the last time I was in Stockholm. Thus, it can be assumed to be proven that the knowledge of economists is worthless according to the criteria they themselves recommend, if they belong to the mainstream: that value is the same as demand.

Now one of the books I wanted to get rid of – a duplicate of Susan Strange's States and markets – was the least mainstream of all. But neither Rönnell's clerk nor his customers could know that.

Strange looks beyond supply and demand and treats the economy as a power game between four different kinds of power centers:
- protection power, the power that comes from being able to offer protection – against violence, against natural disasters, against misfortune in general. Nowadays mostly states/municipalities, but in large parts of the world also clans or private mafias.
- production power, the power that comes from being able to offer products. Nowadays, the greatest power resides with companies, mainly large worldwide companies, but nothing says in and of itself that companies could not be governed at least as democratically as states/municipalities.
- credit power, the power that comes from being able to offer other people's money to those who want to make a profit by producing, so they don't have to use their own.
- knowledge power, the power that comes from being able to answer questions, which only becomes more important the more uncertain the future becomes. Here you can sort in both those who make an effort to come up with these answers and those who pass them on, the so-called media. Of course, nothing says that the answers need to be relevant to everyone or that they even need to be connected; as long as there is a demand for them, they mean a power.

There is also a power that Strange has for some reason forgotten:

- people's power, the power that comes from being able to defend the common man against these four. That power is organized in popular movements, which, however, you can read more about elsewhere on this website.

All of these – not to mention the individual power players within them – are on their own unable to bring about the world as they wish. They therefore have to make compromises where they give and take.

The bargaining power of the parties may vary; for example, the actors of credit power have gained in bargaining power since 1980 because there has been a recession; most have had less of their own money, and companies, the state and households have been forced to borrow. Correspondingly, people power actors have lost because its core has been trade unions which have seen their power diminish as industries have closed and unemployment has grown.

Of course, all categories of power are mutually fragmented and may have different agendas. Now in covid times, the medical industry has obviously had completely different interests than the travel and entertainment industries. But everyone still has to participate in the negotiation and compromise game, they can't do anything else.

The end result is usually something that no one really wants, but which the best mobilized negotiators can still live with. During the period 1945-75, it was the dismantling of the colonial powers and the Keynesian welfare state that was the compromise solution; not perfect for anyone, but still reflected that the independence movements and trade unions were strong and needed to be reckoned with. Today, it is the rentierization of the economy that is the compromise solution; probably few are satisfied with it, but the credit power is, as I said, strong.

Compromises also have a tendency to linger many years past the best-before date. This because institutions and bureaucracies are created around them, to uphold them and punish those who violate them. To get rid of old useless compromises may require years of new negotiations between the centers of power above.

Strange's view of the economy is valuable, not least as a corrective to all the conspiracy theories that abound. There is no one in charge, or rather there are an insane number of people who are in charge in different directions and the end result is a resultant vector of everyone's wishes, in relation to how much power the negotiators can mobilize for their support.

This is, of course, much more encouraging than the hopeless defeatist mentality of the conspiracy theorists. Instead of a small coterie having total power over everything and everyone, we all have as much power as we can mobilize.

But we must do this before we become someone to be reckoned with.

Published by Folkrörelsestudiegruppen: