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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Transforming America, Part I

For the past few months, this blog has featured this quote:

He didn’t know what was defeating him, but he sensed it was something he could not cope with, something that was far beyond his power to control or even at this point in time, comprehend –Hubert Selby Jr.

Let’s start this year with a meditation about one transformative idea. Not something that is peddled by the DC think tanks, but an idea that lurks just below the surface.

All of us have wondered, like the characters in Selby’s “Requiem for a Dream” (and maybe, with increasing frequency) “hey, something is wrong here”. Maybe you accept mainstream logic, but now you’ve come to realize that things are getting out of control, despite the constant messaging from your ideological god of choice that tries to pull you back to conventional thinking.

Here is the transformative idea for today: The free market isn’t a beautiful self-correcting machine. Instead, it is consuming our society and our environment for the benefit of a very few.

And it isn’t an orderly process; the trajectory is more like a slow free-fall in which the market system moves downward devouring everything, unless it is met by real opposition. In fact, the globalized version of the free market makes life horrible for lots of people, creating a constant need for intervention.

For a couple of examples, you don’t get the Russian Revolution(s) without the Czar trying to play ‘catch up’ with the West. You don’t get the Cuban Revolution without the crimes of the Batista regime.

When there is a backlash against corporatism, especially on the periphery, capitalists come up with a solution. Anyone is better than a bunch of reformers who want society to pay attention to people’s well-being rather than to profits.

With globalization, local thugs became very useful. Folks like Shah Reza Pahlavi of Iran, the Saud family in Saudi Arabia, Mubarak in Egypt, Suharto in Indonesia, and Hussein in Iraq. Most of the time, these folks did the job big business wanted done (even if it was messy). And the American government protected US corporate assets in-country, and propped up the compliant local politicians. The profits got privatized, and the losses socialized, since our taxes paid for the military aid to the dictators, while the corporates skimmed the profits. And much of those profits remained offshore, out of reach of our taxing authorities.

Today, the useful thugs working on behalf of the American Empire are in Washington DC. They have made our political system a self-replicating support system for free market capitalism. We have retained only a veneer of our democracy, while moving rapidly in the direction of an authoritarian business-state combine, an improved version of Mussolini-style corporatism.

Oswald Spengler, who’s “Decline of the West” argued in the 1920’s that the urban culture of Northern Europe was a “Faustian” world, (his term for one of 8 global cultures) characterized by bigness and rationality, eventually to be dominated by the soldier, the engineer, and the businessman.

Doesn’t that seem particularly relevant to today’s America? Spengler thought that democracy is simply the political weapon of money, and that the media is the means through which money operates a democratic political system. Importantly, he said:

The ‘tragic comedy of the world-improvers and freedom-teachers’ is that they are simply assisting money to be more effective.

So here we are. One day, it was 2014, the next day, 2015. What has changed? Nothing. What will change? Nothing, unless you begin a process of thinking about one transformative idea:

The free market doesn’t self-correct. Therefore, it is an ideology that must be changed.

The struggle between market forces and societal needs has always existed. In the 20th Century, we evolved a series of social democracies that kept the rights of the people balanced against the rights of the corporations, with some of the pushback actually coming from businesses themselves.

But today, well-funded efforts to roll back New Deal and New Society social welfare programs are well advanced. And there are only so many times that this blog and others can point out that many Americans have been unemployed since 2008.

The political question is what happens to this great new underclass in America? An underclass that has grown large because of the past 7+ years of economic disparity. Since the free market system that is grinding up our society is a utopian fantasy, we should be able to turn to our democratic system to help solve the real failures of our economic system.

But, our democratic system has been co-opted by the free marketers. So, who can ordinary people turn to for help AGAINST the market?

The corporatists and their captured politicians have a term, “there is no alternative” or TINA. It has come to mean that “there is no alternative” to free markets, free trade, and globalization, if our society is to prosper. They stress TINA to keep ordinary people from seeing that we need to constrain the worst of free market excesses.

The unbridled free market has to die.

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  • Terry McKenna says:

    If we can accept that the public sector makes mistakes (and get over it, all institutions do) we ought to recognize that the public sector gave us teaching hospitals, libraries, museums and free medical clinics. the private sector gave us potato chips (and an entire grocery store aisle to chips; 64 ounce bottles of soda, reality TV, the duck dynasty, and fins on cars. (for youngsters, look up cadillacs from the late 1950s you won’t believe it.).

    January 3, 2015 at 7:17 am
  • Terry McKenna says:

    here is another book exploring the same idea, that the free market as a self correcting mechanism is a myth. Seven Bad Ideas: How Mainstream Economists Have Damaged America and the World

    January 3, 2015 at 7:19 am

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