Belaboring the Obvious

Monday, August 17, 2009

A few musings on "change"....

It's not easy to make sense of much of anything these days. All the craziness can be defined, but not explained nearly as well, and it always seems as if one has to fall back on some alternative ideology to counter the ideological nature of the insanity. Sure, it's easy to say that it makes good sense to come up with some means of equitable health care for all, even if a necessary element of such a program is limiting the profits of the for-profit health care industry.

That sounds quite reasonable to anyone who's not of the opinion that God and his minions mandated profitability for the strong and perdition for the weak. And, sure, it's anathema to those crazies who think that denying corporations the right to ravage society is clear and compelling evidence of creeping communism, and to them, that's a far worse outcome than their mere selves being sacrificed in the process. Inevitably, all arguments fall back upon basic opposing political philosophies.

In the United States, one side has a very small (and I do mean small) inclination to see some aspects of the nation's resources as part of the common wealth which ought to be shared. The other side, particularly over the last thirty or forty years has conflated Friedmanite free market" economics with democracy, in part because Friedman did the same himself (how odd it is, then, that Friedman's free market" worked only to move wealth upwards and then mostly did so only in economies that were run by dictators--one has to assume that he was intentionally blind to these anti-democratic flaws in his theories).

One can argue that so many Americans embrace a political philosophy that is ultimately damaging to them because they've been propagandized about big government" and have not had much of an education in economics. One can also say, with some cause, that the Horatio Alger myths were and are powerful cultural icons--that hard work and industry and a little luck can bring extraordinary wealth to anyone. (I suppose the proof of that power is to be found in the corollary myths about small businesses being the stepping-stone to great wealth and upward mobility, when the unvarnished statistics suggest the precise opposite, that four out of five small businesses fail within five years, and that upward mobility in the United States is now even worse than in class-bound Great Britain.) That one would give up a decent, comfortable life for a decreasingly likely wealthy future unmolested by taxes and regulation seems an odd bargain, indeed, but it is one made every day in the United States by tens of millions.

But, that doesn't explain all the craziness, nor does the invocation of racism (although, surely, that plays a part, as in I don't want my tax money going to ...."). Millennialism might explain some of it, but, not all. As belief in the Rapture" grew in the years before the turn of the century, so has the desire to make world events conform to the mythology after the turn of the century, in order to hasten its eventuality, thus legitimizing the belief. As the decades pass, though, this sort of deus ex machina thinking will go into decline, until the next Millennium. No, what's got a lot of people crazy is the possibility--remote as that possibility is in their world view--that the scientists might be right, that global warming and the climate change it brings might just be devastating, and that, against all human desire, oil might really be running out. There's no willingness on their part to accept the evidence at face value--in fact, they're doing everything they can to deny that these possibilities even exist, with lots of help from industry-supported astroturf groups--but, that doesn't mean that the possibilities have been refuted. Far from it, they still exist in the imagination, buried, but still alive. All around the lefty blogs in the last week or two, there's been a general outcry that can be summed up as, I can't figure out why these people are so `I've got mine, so fuck you' lately." It just might be that, subconsciously, they're coming to the conclusion that their lives are going to change, and rapidly, and not for the better. Let's not forget that the essence of conservatism has always been to resist change. If the status quo is crumbling, their natural and expected reaction is to grab hard onto the things they perceive as most emblematic of the status quo, and every sign of change, whether it's gay marriage, or acknowledging the existence of endangered species, or attempts to modify the health care system, or breaking up the power of Wall Street megabanks, or talking to one's international adversaries instead of maintaining the military hegemony of the United States by aerial bombing, is like fingernails raking across the blackboard of their sensibilities.

Which might be why Obama stirs such fears in them--after all, the word, change," has done yeoman duty in his campaign and presidential rhetoric--and might be why Obama is destined never to win them over with promises of bipartisanship," a concept that was never very firm in American politics and is little more than a caricature of cooperation after the last thirty years.
This is not to say that Obama has the slightest clue about what his bipartisanship" is actually doing, but, it's safe to say that his constant invocation of it sparks annoyance in his base that knows conservatives of both parties will use it to disable or destroy any good policy initiative he attempts, and equally safe to say that the wackos in society see it as a means of either co-opting or enslaving them.

Ultimately, though, this tension will result in stasis, rather than a change from within that is equal to meeting the demands of the challenges from without, and the challenges from without will occur--and more rapidly--without the single organizing force of government addressing them. The invisible hand" of the markets won't do anything but make existing problems worse over time, and a government seeking to accommodate those markets (and their managers looking for big bonuses) is probably destined to fail--if not at the ballot box, then certainly at solving the real problems.

The great problem to be solved now is that the dominant macroeconomic model--exporting jobs to countries that make cheap shit for U.S. consumers to buy with borrowed money and then throw away when the cheap shit breaks--has collapsed, and yet, the current administration is, seemingly, doing everything it can to revive that model. This will inevitably result in another--perhaps bigger--crash, since the model itself is drastically flawed. Add in an economy that depends upon many hundreds of billions of dollars of military expenditures to keep oil companies' profits high (and then hundreds of billions of dollars in debt maintenance each year on top of that because the oil companies and others aren't paying their share in taxes) and there's no money left for the intensive research required to maintain that economy when it becomes pointlessly expensive to try to get the last few barrels of oil out of the ground. We will have pissed away many trillions of wealth trying to maintain the status quo, when just a small fraction of that might have realized the technological gains necessary to forestall disaster.


Post a Comment

<< Home