Friday, June 27, 2008

I keep saying the neoliberal birds are coming home to roost

Have I not? Damn straight I have. There are others who keep sounding off similar warnings. Richard over at American Leftist had a good one yesterday - the news itself is dire, but the articles, coupled with his analysis paint the picture as well as anyone could. Here's the shakedown: folks who never dreamed they'd be on the margins of existence are facing it for the first time - including requiring both public and charitable assistance as their paychecks no longer cover even basic costs, and finding themselves in the position that those in poverty have been for a while (e.g., dealing with utilities shut offs, etc.). Welcome to my world. I've mentioned before that we country folks have been hit pretty hard as energy costs in particular have soared. Once fuel costs start eating up a tenth of one's paycheck, even basic activities such as commuting to and from work become excessively difficult. I figured the long commutes in the 'burbs would do likewise to its denizens before too long.

So, what are your elected "leaders" doing? Next to nothing. Aside from that "stimulus" check (I don't know about y'all but mine went to paying bills and sending my wife to see her dad one last time before he died), there's been practically nothing. The safety net that was put in place during the New Deal era has been largely gutted, as members of both anointed parties in the US fell under the sway of neoliberalism (the product of Friedman and the boyz of University of Chicago), including the great "progressive" hope, Obama. Instead of tending to needs of constituents, politicians tend to the wants of their corporate cronies. An astute observation of the Zapatistas' Marcos that political offices nowadays amount to nothing more than managerial positions seems apt, and as such these managers follow a customer service model of governing for the only clientele that matters. For the rest of us, who are not on the list of CEO clients, a different model is used. Just to give you a taste, here's what Richard says:
Meanwhile, we continue to see reports of an imminent attack upon Iran by either the US or Israel, with Israel allegedly carrying out a rehersal earlier this month. And, how does Congress respond? By pushing through a bill that imposes sanctions upon Iran and encourages the US to interdict Iranian shipping on the high seas.

Instead of dealing with the deepening economic crisis that is impoverishing more and more people, the President and the Congress accelerate towards a military conflict with the Iranians. At first glance, it seems irrational, but upon further reflection, there is a perverse logic.

Neither political party is willing to mobilize the public around an agenda that would provide meaningful relief, as that would entail an abandonment of neoliberal policies that substitute the market and the decisions of finance capitalists for the government in the making of economic policy. It would require a level of government intervention for people, instead of banks and brokerage houses, that would be unprecedented since the Great Society, and possibly the New Deal.

So, what is the alternative, when the political elite isn't willing to address growing poverty amongst the populace? The answer is obvious: war. In this instance, a war with Iran would provide an after the fact explanation for the hardship that many Americans are already experiencing. It would also have the grotesquely salutary effect of expanding this hardship across most socioeconomic groups, creating the accurate impression that almost all Americans are in this together.

Of course, there is a downside, most notably the prospect that a lot of Americans would be killed in such a conflict, and that it could spiral out of control. Social conditions could deteriorate so much that it becomes impossible to maintain order. But the President and the Congress have already put measures in place to deal with that, haven't they? And, when someone exposes a gap, like the legal exposure for telecommunications companies when they carry out the President's request for illegal wiretaps, Congress fills it.

Has this been conscious and deliberate? That is a question for future historians. But the practical consequences are clear. As I have said before, it appears that the only people preventing the politicians from leading us over the cliff are high ranking generals within the Pentagon. It's a funny thing for an anti-imperialist, anti-militarist leftist like me to say. The ability of anyone within the political system to resist the march towards war is non-existent.

Expect more violence at all levels: interpersonal, organizational, structural, and intrapersonal as stressors mount in the coming years. Two features of the US of the early 21st century that distinguishes it from the Depression era of the 1930s (really for those who were in the slums or on the farm, that era started far earlier, but I digress). First, the US no longer has the manufacturing or energy infrastructure that was in place back then. As a consumer and debtor nation, recovering from the next economic meltdown will be much more daunting, if it's even possible. Second, today there are fewer inhibitions to simply imposing an overt dictatorship to deal with the inevitable social unrest caused by economic hardship. Wars can always be used as a form of distraction - even if they end in disaster. As Richard duly notes, the groundwork has already been laid to take that particular path. It's possible, I suppose, that the elites, from their secured compounds in America's Green Zones will see fit to once more employ New Deal or Great Society style reforms in order to sufficiently pacify the masses. I wouldn't want to bet on that happening. The potential leaders for that sort of reformist approach have been marginalized as "radical leftists."

In the meantime, chaos reigns supreme, and chaos is good for business. While the victims of neoliberalism try to figure out what the hell is going on, the corporate looters will clean out the place practically undetected. Remember: you were warned.

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