, February 17, 2010
(view all comments by OneMansView)
Can the current economic situation continue? (3.5*s)
Despite this book being disjointed, uneven, repetitious, and perhaps overstated in places, it is hard to disagree with its main sentiment that American society is living a lie; fantasy, illusion, and escapism infuse our society, economy, and political system. The most pernicious illusion is that corporate capitalism, including the shift to a dominating financial sector, if left unregulated and allowed to expand at will across the globe, will produce undreamed of benefits for all. For the last one hundred and fifty years, the massive, periodic meltdowns of the economy, including the recent financial crisis triggered by the irresponsibility of Wall St. executives, have hardly impacted this fiction. In spite of that willful obliviousness, the social costs to tens of millions of people, due to the machinations of corporations solely concerned with profits, buttressed by government enablers, have become so significant that the author is alarmed that not only is our society dying a slow death, but along the way is likely to descend into fascism or totalitarianism.
How can the United States have gotten to this deleterious situation with an open, democratic society and political system? A democracy requires knowledgeable citizens and hopefully altruistic elites. Sadly, huge portions of our society are in thrall or susceptible to mind-controlling diversions and propaganda that effectively conceal the true nature of our society and economy. The author notes the inordinate hours devoted to corporate-produced entertainment, spectacles, and non-stop images – none of which are remotely concerned with reality. Ironically, some of those distractions, such as rancorous wrestling shows or xxx-rated images, provide an outlet for frustrations without threatening the real source of hardships. And then there is the pseudo-academic community that promotes the power of positive thinking, as though one can simply will away, or even reverse, the devastation of being unemployed with no health insurance. Supposedly bastions of reason and free thought, universities have become corporate research arms and training grounds for future corporate employees who have no interest in upsetting that order. Both students and professors interested in social inquiry are marginalized. Journalists and elected representatives, who in theory dig beneath the superficial and do what is best for the citizenry, have become mere “courtiers” for the power elite. The author is adamant that democracy and corporate capitalism cannot co-exist – powerful elites will always overwhelm the less powerful, directly or indirectly.
The author brings to bear relevant insights from any number of individuals: C. Wright Mills, Sheldon Wolin, Ralph Nader, Karl Polanyi, Jared Diamond, and the like. In an interesting exchange, the author replicates an interview conducted by Bill Moyers of Tim Russert, the moderator of Meet the Press, in his interview of Dick Cheney concerning the justification for going to war with Iraq. Russert, in complete abdication of journalistic credibility, allows Cheney to refer to a story that he planted in the NY Times as evidence that Hussein was engaged in pursuing nuclear material – a perfect example of the sycophancy of those entrusted to keep the public informed.
He addresses somewhat the hopes that some may have of the Obama administration making a difference. Clearly, virtually all of his high-level appointees are former members of the very corporations that have caused so much destruction. There is no possibility of them advocating for needed structural changes. Obama undoubtedly has as much ability as any president in history, yet his elitist ties, both educational and professional, preclude his attempting to take on the monumental project of revamping the economy.
The author notes that Jared Diamond in his book “Collapse,” invariably pins the collapse of civilizations on elites who fiercely hold onto the status quo if there is any change that their status could be undermined in tackling a crisis at hand. In addition, the author speaks to the kind of reactions that could be spawned if personal and economic despair do not abate. He suggests that corporate elites will “seek to make alliance with the radical Christian Right and other extremists, will use fear, chaos, the hatred for ruling elites, and the specter of left-wing dissent and terrorism to impose draconian controls to extinguish our democracy. And while they do it, they will be waving the American flag, chanting patriotic slogans, promising law and order, and clutching the Christian cross.” (189) Given trends over the last thirty years, that scenario is not as far-fetched as may seem at first glance.
As stated, the book has some unevenness. For one, the author wants to believe that America once had some sort of golden era, referring to the calm, prosperous 1950s. He should know that era was an anomaly in our history. He had it right when he notes the incompatibility of democracy and capitalism. Furthermore, in the end, he clings to a belief that love will prevail, even if “darkness has swallowed us all.” And that is comforting? The book has some interesting bits. But it would seem that he is preaching to the choir. Those who would appreciate this book don’t need convincing. Others are likely to see the book as little more than a tirade against the deserving.