PLUTOCRACY: GLOBAL GIANT, DEMOCRACY: LOCAL MICROBE.
Many web sites just scavenge other people’s ideas, or, and, write short and superficial. The danger is that human brains degenerate into those of tweeting birdies: flashy, but all too light. I will appear to do this today, but not really. An article in The New York Times “G.O.P. Shift Moves Center Far to Right” exposes in concise form many of the themes I have rehashed for years. For example that Nixon, compared to Obama, was a leftist. So I will extensively quote the article (who invents the ideas first owns them).
All that article says can be found in essays of mine in the last 8 years, so I am quoting myself in a sense. I am not complaining: I wish the NYT, and the democratic party, had expressed themselves along these lines at the beginning of Obama’s residency.
Krugman had already done so a year ago (while quoting another pundit from the punditocracy, of course!). Krugman and company were all for mild measures when Obama was deciding and implementing such watered down measures, on their advice, while I was screaming that Obama was governing on the right of Nixon! Later, crude men and their kind admitted that they gave the wrong advice to Obama as they claim to have believed that there was time to correct things later… (As if they had never heard of elections, and throwing the incompetents out!)
My interpretation is much more cynical: they gave the wrong advice because they has interest to do so. After all, the chief of the democrats in Congress since 2006, is owner of a ski resort and her family in a famous political dynasty.
Obama has been a terrible disappointment, for an ardent supporter of change such as me. It happened in no small part because all too many were all too happy with the color of his skin, and other shallow, not to say racist, considerations. They forgot to look at what was really going on. If voters decide to throw out who does not matter, Obama, and replace him by someone else, who they may be led to believe (thanks to PACs, Super PACS, C4, etc.) may matter, they will have only themselves to blame.
So here is the business section of the New York Times, September 4, 2012:
To hear Republicans on the campaign trail, the United States could not have elected a more left-wing president than Barack Obama, one more hostile to business or more eager to expand government power. Left-wing Democrats, I’m sure, would disagree. If they had their druthers, they would probably make a more liberal, more pro-big government choice. Somebody, perhaps, like Richard Nixon.
That’s right. The Nixon administration not only supported the Clean Air Act and affirmative action, it also gave us the Environmental Protection Agency, one of the agencies the business community most detests, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to police working conditions. Herbert Stein, chief economic adviser during the administrations of Nixon and Gerald Ford, once remarked: “Probably more new regulation was imposed on the economy during the Nixon administration than in any other presidency since the New Deal.”
Nixon bolstered Social Security benefits. He introduced a minimum tax on the wealthy and championed a guaranteed minimum income for the poor. He even proposed health reform that would require employers to buy health insurance for all their employees and subsidize those who couldn’t afford it. That failed because of Democratic opposition. Today, Republicans would probably shoot it down.
So compare the achievements of Obama with those of Nixon (by the way, I used to dislike and despise Nixon). The New York Times’ Porter pursues:
“The difference between then and now is that Nixon — like most mainstream Republicans — accepted that government had a role to play guaranteeing Americans’ economic well-being. That consensus cracked around the time of Ronald Reagan’s inaugural speech in 1981. “Government is not the solution to our problems, government is the problem,” the president intoned. And the country’s political center set off on a long rightward migration.
Interestingly, Americans say their political ideology has changed little since the late 1970s. The share of voters who defined themselves as liberal was 20 percent in 2010, up slightly from 19 percent in 1980, according to polls by The New York Times and CBS News. The conservative share over the same time rose to 35 percent, from 30 percent.
But these polls ignore how much the meanings of the terms have changed. The rightward drift in economic thinking becomes apparent in surveys asking about specific issues. In surveys 25 years ago, 71 percent of Americans believed it was the government’s job to take care of those who couldn’t care for themselves, according the Pew Research Center. This year the share is down to 59 percent. And most of the shift reflects a decline among Republicans.
Republicans’ support for labor unions has fallen sharply since the late 1980s, according to Pew’s research, as has their support for protecting the environment. Their drift fits the position of Congressional Republicans, whose views on the economy have been shifting right for the last quarter-century while Democrats’ views have remained roughly still. And as Republicans have moved to the right, economic policy has followed. “
It’s all of course, about what I call plutocratic propaganda. But Mr. Porter, writing for the business section of the NYT, would not dare say such a thing. Instead he opts for the anything-but-plutocratic propaganda explanation:
Conservatives will say their ideas won simply because they are better. Social scientists have some alternative hypotheses of our great conservative shift.
The big government strategy from the 1940s through the 1970s produced a spectacular improvement in living standards. But many economists now say they believe the focus on full employment and income redistribution at the expense of everything else also contributed to the strategy’s demise, removing the fear of joblessness and encouraging excessive wage increases.
Combined with cheap money printed by the Federal Reserve, it produced a burst of high inflation and high unemployment that bedeviled the 1970s — discrediting government as an economic steward and letting a new belief take hold: the economy should be left to the market, which always knows best. The end of the cold war, which discredited central planning and other left-wing economic theories, probably helped solidify this stance.
I do not claim that what the factors Mr. Porter exhibits did not occur. They did. But the true full picture is much bigger, and not restricted to technicalities. First he forgot the giant waste of the Vietnam war, which exploded the entire economy. One can see that Mr. Porter does not believe that the picture he just drew is dominant, as he abstracts it in a completely different way, in a Freudian slip of sorts:
Economic philosophies could shift again, of course. Just as the big government policies of the New Deal emerged from the Great Depression and World War II, the financial crisis and recession just past might again persuade Americans of the perils of unfettered capitalism and cause the pendulum to swing back.
So, after all, it was all about the perils of unfettered capitalism, and not just the fact that living standards augmented spectacularly… Another problem has been “globalization“:
… a kinder, gentler economy in which American companies faced much less competition than they do today. Eastman Kodak could run a mini-welfare state through much of the 20th century —with profit-sharing, health benefits and pension plans — because it had fat monopoly-type profits. Detroit’s Big Three amounted to a cozy oligopoly.
Globalization and its attendant burst of competition put an end to the fairy tale. Companies squeezed costs to stay in the game, zeroing in on wages and working conditions. Unions, once politically powerful institutions fighting for workers’ share, became weaker and weaker.
Half a century ago, American employers might have accepted a higher minimum wage on the ground that they needed American consumers to be able to afford their products. They might have supported public education on the ground that they needed an educated American work force. They might have accepted financial oversight because they raised money from small investors in American markets.
But globalization freed businesses from the limitations of one nation and the clutches of the nation state. As businesses’ footprints extended around the world, these objectives became less important than assuring low taxes. Free to jump borders, businesses became much more difficult to tax or regulate. And in the current dismal economy, they don’t seem too eager for a return of the big government days.
The United States is in ideological flux. The Great Recession has given us both the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movement, and produced perhaps the most polarized government of the modern era. Liberal-leaning Democrats, often disappointed at the president’s compromises, will pine for a more aggressive champion of workers’ rights. But they may want to count their blessings. Americans today might not elect somebody as liberal as Richard Nixon.
Well, and why would not “Americans today not elect somebody as liberal as Richard Nixon”? Because Americans enjoy the suffering of Americans? Or is it because a herd votes with its hoofs? Wherever the cow boys wants it to go?
Frightened little minds need to be led by masters. Led by the nose. This is how fascism works. Thus, the instinct says, force comes. The oldest instinct of social animals: E Pluribus Unum. Out of the many small frightened ones, one big monster.
Democracy is local, and has become a microbe. Can it become virulent enough to master the global plutocratic giant? Maybe, but that is ever less obvious as the USA succumbs to the Dark Side of secret political financing.
Notice that we have seen that movie before: as the tiny Greek city states kept on fighting with each other, a plutocratic giant rose in the north: Macedonia. Macedonia was led by an oligarchy of wealthy horse owners. Macedonia organized itself as a plutocracy of lords.
Macedonia spoke Greek, and understood many of Greece’s greatest ideas (or at least Aristotle and his student Alexander did). But some of Alexander’s generals, who succeeded him, missed the biggest ethical ideas. Or, at least so did Antipater (who came to crush and rule Greece). In Egypt, it was different as Ptolemy, another senior general of the rebellious Alexander youth, made himself Pharaoh, and went for the promotion of thinking.
Overall, ethics is there to allow the weakest thing, the mind, to triumph above force, including the force of the multitude.
Obama did not understand that the minds had to be fed. Or, he was unable to feed with what he did not have. More probably, as someone who knew him well 40 years told me: “You know, Barry was just a regular guy.” Regular guys don’t lead the minds of the many up the right road.
And the pathetic comparison with that rabid anti-communist, Nixon, makes it all the clearer.