One of the fascinating things about the ideological struggles of the last century is that no one has ever bothered to refute the claim that capitalism is inherently self-destructive. The destruction of exchange value combined, with the preservation of use value, presents opportunities for new capital investment. The successful business attracts competitors by the nature of its success. Eventually, the market is saturated and profits reach the absolute minimum. The value of the original business is destroyed by its own success.
Marx was, of course, was observing the boom and bust cycles of the English industrial revolution. Much later, Joseph Schumpeter, drawing on Marx, wrote “the process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one. ” It is a famous line known as Schumpeter’s gale, which is just a clever way of saying that the destructive forces unleashed by capitalism are the cost of progress.
That came to mind reading this post on the comic book industry. According to people who read comics and follow the business, it has been overrun by howling at the moon social justice warriors. Comics are no longer about Superman vanquishing the bad guys for “Truth, Justice, and the American Way.” Today it is a “half-black, half-Hispanic Spider-Man” lecturing the honkies about their backpack of invisible privilege. Maybe it is more subtle that that, but that seems to be the general direction of the business.
The article he links to assumes the nose dive in sales is due to the lurch into progressive lunacy by the comic book business. There’s no question that there is little to no market for the social justice warrior stuff. It’s why it always has to be imposed. Still, comic books have been in decline for decades. It is not a dying business, but a dead one. In fact, this SJW phase is what happens to the carcass of an industry or business that has already been pillaged by the money men and grifters of the credit age.
In the industrial age, the cycle Marx first observed was tied to the currency arrangements of the age. Societies still dealt in hard money so capital only seemed to appear and disappear like a magic trick. When a company folded, it felt like the money was gone, but in reality, it had just moved somewhere else. The cyclical nature of hard money, it rushes into a market or industry in good times, then rushes out at the peak, is the underlying cause of the booms and busts common in the industrial era.
We live in a a credit money era, where capital can be conjured out of thin air and just as quickly be made to vanish. Money is not the store of labor value. It is the store of intellectual and social capital. The banker is not worth a billion dollars because his labor sold for a billion dollars. He is worth a billion because his social connections and knowledge of the financial system places him at a highly valuable node in the system, allowing him to skim from the traffic on the network, like a highwayman.
What’s happening in the comic book business is emblematic of the credit money age. Into the 1970’s a comic book was cheap entertainment for boys. It encouraged reading and imagination. At the peak, there was something like 15 million comics printed a month. That meant it was an industry of maybe $10 million in annual sales, including revenues related to publishing. By the 70’s they probably made more from licensing than the comics. More kids experienced Superman on TV than through comic books.
By the 70’s it was a mature business with little in the way of growth. Then, clever money men of the credit era decided it was time to bust out the industry and strip away the remaining value. That’s how we got the great comic book bubble. The guy who chronicled this period, the source for the The Weekly Standard article, still has his blog up here. Even if you have no interest in comics, it is an interesting read because it helps explain the phenomenon of social justice warriors in the credit age.
What’s happening in the comic book business is a systematic strip mining of the value created in the golden age of comics. The first stage was to use credit money to blow a massive bubble, drawing in stupid money that the smart money players then ran off with before the bubble burst. That’s the essence of a credit bubble. Credit fuels artificial growth, which attracts real money looking for a quick return. Instead, the sharps take out the real money leaving the credit money behind, which is back by the worthless assets.
There’s another stage though. After the crash, another class of parasites comes in to feed off the carcass. In the case of comic books, there was the old characters developed in the zenith of American culture. In this case, it is the propaganda value of the comic book heroes. Instead of selling cheap fantasy entertainment to boys, they use the super heroes to promote the New Religion. Those social justice warriors now writing for Marvel did not infiltrate the industry. They were recruited.
This seems to be a feature of the credit money era. The ability to conjure money from thin air not only allows for the unnatural growth of industries, it allows dead ones to stagger on like zombies, re-purposed as propaganda. The reason Twitter is worth $10 billion, and Gab is worth $10, is credit money and the utility of the former to be one of the megaphones of the managerial class. At the same time though, the arrival of the SJW’s means the business or industry is dead, just shuffling along on fumes.
If you are a fan of comic books, this is not much solace, but it does suggest that the appearance of SJW’s is a late-phase phenomenon. It only happens when the end is near for the business, industry or movement. In J. B. S. Haldane’s The Inequality of Man, fanaticism is listed as one of the four great inventions of early civilization. It is what allows a society to grow and break out of its natural bindings. When a society is dead, it is the one thing that remains. It is the last to go.