Slippery Sisters

1.If the bourgeoisie were an imaginative bunch, they would imagine themselves to be nostalgic, fondly focusing forever backwards on the golden era, that market and marketable Eden, when private property, growing profits, and expanding reproduction of all of capital existed all at once, co-joined head and toe. Memory persists for the bourgeoisie, but it persists as delusion, as shared madness, the collective hallucination of the class of private proprietors. History doesn’t exist for the bourgeoisie, since capital is the end, the goal, of all history. Memory exists for the purpose of denying current conditions. Just like propaganda. Like advertising.

So, whether looking backward twenty years to the regime of that pitchman for the soap trade and death squad capitalism, or backward ten years to that of the spokesman for globally positioned, krispy-kremed, digitally enhanced overproduction, the bourgeoisie are engaged in product placement– as if there were happy days to be had, good times to roll by purchasing this or that commodity.

Everything the bourgeoisie have ever produced, marketed, dreamed, hustled — from pharmaceuticals to philosophy to science is the result of fear and greed.

2. If after 30 years of dismissal and disregard, the Mal(en)thusiastic peak oil theorists now find themselves in hot demand, sought ought by Wall Street journalists, government ministers, on-line dating services, primitive communists and anti-communists alike, it’s not because the pseudo-science of “peak production” has become more accurate, it’s not because the prospects for a permanent non-nuclear winter have replaced global warming as the number one apocalyptic theory. It’s because fear is the hand maiden to greed. The sounds of these two hands, fear and greed, clapping, is the snap of fifty dollar bills being added to the bankrolls of the petroleum majors. Grant’s new tomb is a 42 gallon drum.

The Malenthusiasts have altered their theory, putting a little smiley face of their hydrocarbon die-off symphony, changing it from the end of petroleum dirge, to an up-tempo, apocalypso limbo. “How low can you go?” is the sub-text of their new music, proclaiming not an end to oil, but an end to cheap oil. Suddenly or not so suddenly, cold hard physical science has given way to economic categories of price and cost. Big surprise. Or not. Fear and greed.

3. Market economics and pseudo-science reach mutual accommodation, more or less, in references to capacity constraint, demand growth, and accelerating consumption. Oil, like bourgeois politics, can then pretend to be all things all at once– abundant and scarce, cheap and dear, more important and less essential, post-peak and pre-dawn.

But “the economy,” global and national, is not growing dramatically; petroleum “productivity,” dollar output per BTU is not declining; transportation demand is not soaring.

For the past three years, US real private non-residential fixed investment, the real bell-weather, non bell-shaped curve measuring the success of capital’s self-expansion, its reproduction, has been below its 2000 peak. Annual spending on industrial equipment has declined each year since 2000. In 2003, the spending was 14 percent below the 2000 mark. Spending on transportation equipment, and petroleum provides 95 percent of the energy consumed in transportation, was 25 percent below the 2000 mark. Total net new non-residential fixed investment for 2003 was only 40 percent of its 2000 measure.

Capacity utilization rates for industry remain below the 2001 level. While industrial output for 2002 and 2003 measured approximately 12 percent above the 1997 mark, once high-technology production is removed for the analysis, industrial output is actually below the 1997 level.

Between 2000 and 2003, overall US energy consumption declined 1 percent. Per capita energy consumption, however, has declined 4 percent, and consumption per dollar of GDP has fallen 5 percent. In three years, total petroleum consumption has increased by 3.5 percent, hardly a spectacular rate of growth.

The global economy likewise has not surpassed rates of growth recorded prior to 1997. World trade did grow between 2002 and 2003, but almost 70 percent of that growth was an accounting adjustment for the decline of the US dollar. Real trade grew at 4.5 percent, below the rate of increase recorded in the 1990s, while manufacturing grew only 2.5 percent. None of this growth has exceeded pre-existing capacity in transport or production.

China? China is not so much an economic miracle as it is the force fed goose, about to explode from an enlarged liver.

4. Hubbert the king based his analysis on a single, critical assumption– that all oil production would follow the pattern of a single oil field. The critical assumption has been taken over, uncritically, by the little Hubbertist knaves. But the history of production has not followed this single field pattern. Indeed, even the US, with its steadily declining production has not shown the same steady decline in proven reserves and proved recoverable amounts. Between 1977 and 2002 US cumulative production increased 68.2 billion barrels, 56 percent, to 189.6 billion barrels. Proven reserves, which measured 33.6 billion barrels in 1977 declined only 25 percent to 24.0 billion barrels in 2002. Proven ultimate recovery increased in this period from 155.0 billion barrels to 213.6 billion. Proven reserves actually increased between 1998 and 2002. The disparity between cumulative production and remaining reserves is itself a product of replacement at the drill-bit– where production has led to more accurate estimates of remaining reserves. This is the pattern that is being repeated right now in Russia, Colombia, Mexico, Nigeria, Sao Tome.

5. However great the utility of oil, its necessity to production and circulation, oil is not the universal solvent, nor the ultimate source of value, neither the aqua regia nor aqua vitae, of capital. Labor time, more precisely, the expropriation of labor time is all that and more, the royal river transporting all the bourgeoisie’s goods to market. The bourgeoisie’s rate of success in realizing that expropriation becomes manifest in the mass and rate of profit; in the dedication of profit to reproducing the expropriation of labor-time through the application of greater technical inputs– into expanding production.

1997 stands as the critical year in that process of reproduction, that success and failure in the reproduction of capital, as 1997 saw the collapse of the newly-emerging economies of Asia, a collapse triggered by overproduction; a collapse pre-figured in the overproduction of the semi-conductor industry; overproduction made manifest in the destruction of the former Soviet Union; overproduction reproduced in the collapse of oil prices a year later.

All that has occurred since 1997 has been the manifestation of this overproduction, this failure of reproduction. Today the future is upon us and it looks just like Afghanistan, Iraq, Jenin. It is a future of where the reproduction of capital consists of the destruction of the prospects for any future at all.

S Artesian

9 October 2004

address all comments to:

sartesian@earthlink.net


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