Monday, September 15, 2008

The financial crisis explained

Here's Naomi Klein putting it in ordinary English:

I'll have to say that when I first read of Junior Caligula uttering the phrase "ownership society" I immediately figured that a few of his cronies would make out like bandits and that the rest of us would be owned once all was said and done, and the scope of the ensuing damage was evident. Here we are a few years later, with Junior's reign drawing to a close, getting our first semi-clear view of the carnage.

It is certainly tempting to, as Jim Kunstler and others are wont, to use this as a moment to rebrand the Republicans as the party that wrecked America. There are enough grains of truth there to fill up a few of our local grain elevators. That's a bit too easy. I'm more likely to guess that we're looking at the consequences of practicing neoliberal dogma for somewhere close to three decades - one that seemed to be some deranged melding of free market rhetoric and welfare for the CEO class; one whose high priests resided in the University of Chicago's Economics Department, and whose most prominent parishioners included both Republicans and Democrats in the House, Senate, and White House. The only thing that I can see that Bush and his henchmen did differently was that they were more orthodox in their execution of that dogma, and had sufficient numbers of orthodox practitioners in Congress to get away with it for as long and as extensively as they did. True believers in dogma - even those not quite orthodox - aren't likely to accept criticism of their beliefs or the consequences of their beliefs lightly. Oh no! They'll come as close as they can to burning the heretics at the stake as they can. In our presumed "civilized" age, that means labeling even mild critics of dogma as "socialists" and "extreme leftists" (which I do find amusing, I might add), and simply shut them out of the usual media within which political "discourse" is supposed to occur.

As an avowed heretic, here's the skinny as I see it: everywhere neoliberal policies have been imposed, there has been mass impoverishment, displacement, and repression. Look at Chile under Pinochet and Indonesia under Suharto as notorious examples. Our situation is not qualitatively different. The US just happened to be arguably at the top of the heap economically (even with the problems of the 1970s and early 1980s) when "voodoo economics" was imposed here, and hence it's taken a bit more time for a critical mass of us to feel the pain (and if you think it's bad now...).

What to do? I don't know, other than to recommend against looking for saviors. There aren't any. Why? One observation of Kunstler's that seems plausible enough should do:
At issue now will be the question of legitimacy in all its human social dimensions. Is our money legitimate? Is the authority of our elected officials legitimate? Are our values and ideas legitimate? These are the things that will determine what kind of future we find ourselves in.
In times like these, there are plenty of false prophets who will claim to have all the answers. They tend to do an enormous amount of damage once in charge.

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