Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Chomsky on the Recent Election

Outrage, Misguided

By Noam Chomsky

November 09, 2010 "-----The U.S. midterm elections register a level of anger, fear and disillusionment in the country like nothing I can recall in my lifetime. Since the Democrats are in power, they bear the brunt of the revulsion over our current socioeconomic and political situation.

More than half the “mainstream Americans” in a Rasmussen poll last month said they view the Tea Party movement favorably—a reflection of the spirit of disenchantment.

The grievances are legitimate. For more than 30 years, real incomes for the majority of the population have stagnated or declined while work hours and insecurity have increased, along with debt. Wealth has accumulated, but in very few pockets, leading to unprecedented inequality.

These consequences mainly spring from the financialization of the economy since the 1970s and the corresponding hollowing-out of domestic production. Spurring the process is the deregulation mania favored by Wall Street and supported by economists mesmerized by efficient-market myths.

People see that the bankers who were largely responsible for the financial crisis and who were saved from bankruptcy by the public are now reveling in record profits and huge bonuses. Meanwhile official unemployment stays at about 10 percent. Manufacturing is at Depression levels: one in six out of work, with good jobs unlikely to return.

People rightly want answers, and they are not getting them except from voices that tell tales that have some internal coherence—if you suspend disbelief and enter into their world of irrationality and deceit.

Ridiculing Tea Party shenanigans is a serious error, however. It is far more appropriate to understand what lies behind the movement’s popular appeal, and to ask ourselves why justly angry people are being mobilized by the extreme right and not by the kind of constructive activism that rose during the Depression, like the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations).

Now Tea Party sympathizers are hearing that every institution—government, corporations and the professions—is rotten, and that nothing works.

Amid the joblessness and foreclosures, the Democrats can’t complain about the policies that led to the disaster. President Ronald Reagan and his Republican successors may have been the worst culprits, but the policies began with President Jimmy Carter and accelerated under President Bill Clinton. During the presidential election, Barack Obama’s primary constituency was financial institutions, which have gained remarkable dominance over the economy in the past generation.

That incorrigible 18th-century radical Adam Smith, speaking of England, observed that the principal architects of power were the owners of the society—in his day the merchants and manufacturers—and they made sure that government policy would attend scrupulously to their interests, however “grievous” the impact on the people of England; and worse, on the victims of “the savage injustice of the Europeans” abroad.

A modern and more sophisticated version of Smith’s maxim is political economist Thomas Ferguson’s “investment theory of politics,” which sees elections as occasions when groups of investors coalesce in order to control the state by selecting the architects of policies who will serve their interests.

Ferguson’s theory turns out to be a very good predictor of policy over long periods. That should hardly be surprising. Concentrations of economic power will naturally seek to extend their sway over any political process. The dynamic happens to be extreme in the U.S.

Yet it can be said that the corporate high rollers have a valid defense against charges of “greed” and disregard for the health of the society. Their task is to maximize profit and market share; in fact, that’s their legal obligation. If they don’t fulfill that mandate, they’ll be replaced by someone who will. They also ignore systemic risk: the likelihood that their transactions will harm the economy generally. Such “externalities” are not their concern—not because they are bad people, but for institutional reasons.

When the bubble bursts, the risk-takers can flee to the shelter of the nanny state. Bailouts—a kind of government insurance policy—are among many perverse incentives that magnify market inefficiencies.

“There is growing recognition that our financial system is running a doomsday cycle,” economists Peter Boone and Simon Johnson wrote in the Financial Times in January. “Whenever it fails, we rely on lax money and fiscal policies to bail it out. This response teaches the financial sector: Take large gambles to get paid handsomely, and don’t worry about the costs—they will be paid by taxpayers” through bailouts and other devices, and the financial system “is thus resurrected to gamble again—and to fail again.”

The doomsday metaphor also applies outside the financial world. The American Petroleum Institute, backed by the Chamber of Commerce and the other business lobbies, has intensified its efforts to persuade the public to dismiss concerns about anthropogenic global warming—with considerable success, as polls indicate. Among Republican congressional candidates in the 2010 election, virtually all reject global warming.

The executives behind the propaganda know that global warming is real, and our prospects grim. But the fate of the species is an externality that the executives must ignore, to the extent that market systems prevail. And the public won’t be able to ride to the rescue when the worst-case scenario unfolds.

I am just old enough to remember those chilling and ominous days of Germany’s descent from decency to Nazi barbarism, to borrow the words of Fritz Stern, the distinguished scholar of German history. In a 2005 article, Stern indicates that he has the future of the United States in mind when he reviews “a historic process in which resentment against a disenchanted secular world found deliverance in the ecstatic escape of unreason.”

The world is too complex for history to repeat, but there are nevertheless lessons to keep in mind as we register the consequences of another election cycle. No shortage of tasks waits for those who seek to present an alternative to misguided rage and indignation, helping to organize the countless disaffected and to lead the way to a better future.

© The New York Times News Service/Syndicate


Comments [On the Information Clearing House website]:
Abraham Weizfeld · 2 hours ago
Looking for leverage.. use ideas.

sam · 5 hours ago
Given the widespread and blatant anti-semitism on this web site I find it rather curious that it would be publishing something that criticized Nazi Germany. I would think that today's nazis would be great fans of their predecessors. Also rather curious that Chomsky would criticize the Nazis when he himself openly supports violent attacks on Jews and questions their right to defend themselves against such attacks.

Personally I'll take the Tea Party over the anti-semites any day.

GlobalCitizen · 5 hours ago
You better get used to "widespread and blatant anti-semitism", as you call it: people are no longer fooled by these accusations.

You wonder why?

Because you 'chosen people' show each and every day that you have learned absolutely nothing from the drama of WWII: you imprison an entire population in what is by right their own country. You bomb it into oblivion, you murder, torture, and abuse as you see fit. You stop the most basic necessities of being imported. You terrorize anyone who dares to speak out.

In short: you behave just like the nazis did.

With that you have completely wasted the goodwill that you used to have: people around the globe are disgusted with your fascist tendencies.

You can ignore this, as you have so far. But at the end of the day you are not alone in this world and you will face the consequences of that.

ALI · 2 hours ago
hahaha the magic word "anti-semi" is now shit.. has no magic any more..
yeah.. look at the "chosen people" yourself and what do you see?
Look at the "nation" they created called ISRAEL and what do you see?
A bunch of thieves and murderers of all kinds.

Thomas O. Anderson · 5 hours ago
You've become part of the problem, Mr. Chomsky. You could have helped lead the world into a new age of enlightenment; a world free from our deceitful tyrants and their corporate media cheerleaders. But like an unbelievably gullible rube from River City, you stay silent on the controlled demolitions of 9/11, helping "manufacture consent" for the American/Israeli Death Machine.

Bill Duke · 4 hours ago
When Chomsky starts taking 911 truth seriously, I'll pay him some mind...until then...F off Gnome!

Scott Lindsay · 2 hours ago
This is for Sam who speaks of the poor defenseless Zionists and the attacks they have endured by those awful stone throwing teenagers that have chipped the paint off their military hardware or even worse those katusha rockets that have killed so many, what was it four in the last 12 years, so much for homemade rockets, but then the Zionists get there bombs from the good ole USA and are loaded with phosphorus to burn those women and children for being Arabs.Yes Sam your letter breaks my heart for those poor defenseless Zionists.

Telemachus · 2 hours ago
The solution is always the same - "organize". What does that mean exactly? You can't "organize" the terminally stupid until they pull Rush Limbaugh out of their ass. Good luck with that!

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