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Saturday, June 18, 2011
Current Affairs ... Economics/Business ... Politics ...

When Barack Obama caught fire in 2007, pro-government liberalism tried to make something of a come-back in the USA. To be honest, Obama’s new liberal movement didn’t thrill me, given that it built itself politically on the stale form of left-over liberalism from the mid-20th Century, fronted by worn-out leaders like Nancy Pelosi, Barney Franks, John Kerry and Harry Reid. It wasn’t a good sign that one of the newest lights in the liberal world is a clown named Al Franken. (Oh for a Robert Kennedy and a Theodore Sorensen). And its biggest cheerleader is Keith Olbermann, a media jerk just as jerky as the Fox News bad boys (Glenn Beck, etc.). Jon Stewart and Rachel Maddow also fail to inspire me.

So I got interested in the counterviews being presented, quite intelligently, by conservative writers such as Victor Davis Hanson, Charles Krauthammer, George Will and Thomas Sowell. I was just about ready to support the more thoughtful contingent of young, upcoming GOP leaders such as Paul Ryan, Rob Portman and Marco Rubio (oh yea, and Nikki Haley).

But it finally occurred to me that despite some serious grains of truth mixed in with the new Republican stew, most of it is also pretty stale and warmed over. In the end, the GOP is still the party of the rich minority, which builds majorities with the populist support of the wanna-be rich, the ‘frustrated we’re not rich’ (i.e., Tea Party), and the theocracy fringe.

It became clear to me not long ago that the GOP is using the on-going economic doldrums that plague our nation to further cut-off the poor and take away the gains and entitlements that the middle-class had won during and after the last Great Depression. All of the GOP’s proposed and actualized tax cuts and government program cuts and reductions in Social Security and medical care and abolition of regulation/oversight programs quite clearly accrue to the benefit of the rich, who still own most of the industrial capital propelling our economy.

Industrial profits are doing just fine, even though the labor market remains in the pits. Opposition to high speed rail systems and support for expanded oil drilling will continue to benefit those within the closed, gated communities where the rich congregate, while allowing the cities and environmentally sensitive resources affecting the masses to continue their decay. Breaking public worker labor unions and rolling back their benefits makes sure that the last hold-out of middle-class privilege is extinguished, as to keep the rest of the laboring class from getting ideas about demanding a better share of the expanding modern economic pie.

In sum, despite Obama’s new liberalism, the GOP reaction seems to be winning the day, repeating the message that government is bad and capitalism is good. Two recent articles map out the two poles of current attitudes about government versus capitalism. The first, by conservative writer Walter Mead, says that the many of the government programs that helped expand and support the middle class since the 1930s and 1940s have “jumped the shark”, a modern term applied to TV programs that were once entertaining and creative but go beyond their time and are ripe for cancellation.

But despite Mr. Mead’s clever analogy, government programs aren’t TV programs that you can cancel without consequence. In the 1990s the federal government canceled a lot of financial regulation programs that no longer seemed needed (so argued the capital owners and financiers).  And what happened? Looking back now, it’s clear that the financial sharks ran amok. As a result, the economy is still underwater bleeding.

There is still plenty of reason for government, if you believe in shared opportunity and providing a quotient of fairness in the economic realm. We definitely need government reform, as a lot of well-intended programs become antiquated or are perverted and exploited by the rich themselves. Think of all those farm subsidy arrangements, and the ethanol subsidy. However, we DO NOT need wholesale abolition of the programs that maintain fairness and keep the middle class and poor from being swallowed whole by the powerful, shark-like interests in our economy. 

Distribution of income trends keep on getting worse in our nation; we are tending toward a growing, fabulously privileged wealthy class. This segment of the populace is perhaps the biggest ‘upper class’ ever know to history; but it still is a minority. The balance includes scads of poor people living at subsistence levels; under GOP plans, they will be denied access to the health care that allow upper class members to live to 85 and beyond.  Mr. Mead complains that the original intent of Social Security was to support retirees for 5 years to around age 70, versus 20 years to 85 (and thus all the financial problems with it). But once the GOP manages to cut back middle and lower class access to the same standard of health care that the rich and privileged enjoy, the problem will take care of itself, as life expectancies will fall.

I myself feel that there are better ways to govern which balance the interests of incentive, entrepreneurship and freedom with social equity and stability objectives.  But I’m totally turned off by where the conservatives, neo-conservatives, and Tea Party movements are going today.  The rich are obviously tired of paying taxes to help sustain a middle class, obviously they no longer need the laborers and workers of our nation.  The economy can be run mostly by machines now, and whatever human labor input that is still needed can be farmed out to peasants anywhere in the world, based on who will work for the least.  The CAPITAL in capitalism seems to have triumphed, with help of the shrewd political maneuvering of the GOP.

Given the fading light of Obama’s new liberalism and the rising star of reactionary GOP political economics (or economic politics), it surprised me to actually see an anti-capitalism article in print! The article is entitled “The End of Capitalism and the Wellsprings of Radical Hope”. Sure, it’s in The Nation, which was always the liberal vanguard. But this article really spits into the hurricane-force winds now blowing in favor of the nation’s capital-controlling class. Personally, I don’t agree with Mr. McCarraher’s contention that capitalism is beyond reform and has to go. But I do sympathize with his contentions that capitalism is ultimately grounded in the more negative aspects of human experience, i.e. greed, accumulation, winner-take-all, winning-is-everything. Mr. McCarraher calls for “moral and spiritual imagination” to come up with something better than capitalism.

Unfortunately, the world’s track record in coming up with a better alternative is quite terrible. Capitalism has taken our nation’s political and social life to a very ugly place. But large scale cooperatist experiments that minimize personal economic incentive never seem to work. I think that we’re stuck with it, regrettably. We can only hope that Mr. Obama’s vision of a new liberalism will come back to life and somehow find renewed vitality through a more inspiring cast of supporters and interpreters and popularizers and enforcers. And that the capital controlling class will learn that it still does need the masses and somehow return to a more enlightened political stance, engaging with the dreams of a better America that Mr. Obama voiced back in 2007 and 2008.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:02 pm      
 
 


  1. Jim, I agree almost completely with everything you have said.

    But I would like to pull out one point and add something: the business about Social Security being meant to support people only to a certain age. Yes, there is a great debate about social security going on. But what drives me nuts about this whole discussion is this: I remember when Social Security was fully funded. I think it was during Regan’s time (forget when this happened, I plead old age) when the gov’t needed money and looked around for where they could find it. Oh, there it was: A huge pile of money right there sitting in the social security fund. Why not use that? We’ll just put it back when we get some more money. But, of course, it never was put back. That’s how this problem with Social Security started in the first place.

    That’s also how rich people spend money. It’s been the Regan’s and the Bushes–those who had money who tend to think that when you need some more, you just go out to the money tree and get some more money.

    And that’s exactly the same problem with a lot of the pensions around the nation. The money in them has been used for other things, like a money tree. Who cares if some poor guys and gals who worked for minimum wage most of their lives end up not getting what their money and the investment of their money they put into the social security fund is due them. (Hope that sentence makes sense.)

    I know I’m off the track of your point here, but I guess I can’t help myself. It drives me nuts when I hear that Social Security is considered an “entitlement”. No it is NOT! It is the money low(er) income people put into an investment fund for their old age. There’s nothing of “entitlement” about it. It is something due them in justice. The Social Security fund should be (and was originally intended to be) a fund that had fiduciary responsibilities regarding it.

    Instead it’s become a money tree where the gov’t goes when it wants some money to pay for bills–for example: the billions (yes billions) unaccounted for in Iraq. I read in the paper the other day that, incredibly, the U.S. Gov’t sent plane loads of pallets loaded with $100 bills that were intended for the reconstruction of Iraq. Now there’s a really twisted situation: We destroyed their infrastructure in a war that never should have happened, and then we send plane loads of money over there to rebuild that same infrastructure. Meanwhile, billions–with a B–disappeared, never to be accounted for. (And I realize I’m completely off track here. But it seems yet another example of how the rich see money–no accountability attached to it.)

    Yes, I do hope that Obama’s golf game the other day will lead, not to a change in his attitude regarding those who oppose him, but a change in how the GOP sees what he’s trying to do. But I’m afraid it may not.

    And one more small thing to note: Just today I read that John Stewart refered to himself on a Fox News program as a “comedian” not a political commentator and became almost irate when the right-wing interviewer seemed unable to either accept Stewart’s own designation of what it is he does or simiply could not see it. Seems the interviewer, whose name I don’t remember, insisted on calling Stewart a political commentator.

    And have you heard Ann Coulter lately? Another one of the “right” group with a truly hostile and mean attitude, who seems to be interested only in proving herself right and everybody else wrong.

    Sorry, I got off into my own rant on this. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — June 20, 2011 @ 2:44 pm

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