THE BULL IN THE CHINA SHOP: OR HOW DEMAGOGIC NEO-CONSERVATISM IS RE-SHAPING WESTERN CIVILIZATION BY ATTACKING THE VERY FUNDAMENTALS OF NEW DEAL KEYNESIAN SOCIETY AND ECONOMIC TRIPARTITISM BETWEEN BUSINESS, LABOUR AND GOVERNMENT.
Today being Sunday, I went to Mass, as per my usual routine, taking in a Spanish Mass at a Church in a town nearby since I went to bed late last night after going to see a show the night before and had trouble rousing myself for my usual 8:30 a.m. ‘early bird special’ at my Church just down the road, and what do you know, I took a pass on the 10:00 a.m. service as well. ‘What the heck’ I said to myself, cut yourself some slack, Peter, it’s summer vacation, time to mix things up a little and change your routine a bit and to do things a bit differently to shake the cobwebs out of my sense of moribund established patterns of behaviour, which have a tendency to jam up twice a year around vacation time, when I need to get away and ‘changer le mal de place’, as the French-Canadians say, to literally ‘banish the ill feeling to another location’, hopefully somewhere outside of myself to some distant corner of the universal realm where it can dwell in solitude for a spell, whilst I grapple with changing my headspace and re-oxygenating my psyche with fresh ideas and fresh ways of doing and thinking and a new outlook on things by stepping back from the line of fire for a bit and catching my breath to take stock of ‘what’s goin’ on’ as Marvin Gaye said, as I head further into the summer.
One thing which struck me as I sat on the couch meditating upon my return from Mass, was just how perilously close we have come, if we have not done so already, of utterly destroying and discrediting the political and socio-economic ideological framework upon which western civilization was edified in the lead-up to WWII and the ultimate validation of said ideology with the enacting of the Roosevelt and Bennett New Deal legislation in America and Canada in the prelude to the War and the ideological legitimization of the Keynesian notion of deficit financing by governments on public works projects to ‘prime the pump’ of the private sector economy to get economic activity going again, create jobs where workers can then inject purchasing power into the economy with other businesses, who then can invest in producing more goods and services , which produces more spending. All of this then generates more economic activity with more taxes flowing into the government Treasury to pay off the debt which was incurred in the first place to get the economy going. This is known as the Keynesian Multiplier effect.
Of course neo-conservatives attacked this model because it did not exactly work out as planned. Government debt kept piling up, not just because governments were arbitrarily raising taxes to oppress people because ‘that’s what governments do’, or ‘because they felt like it’, but also because America was pursuing an aggressive foreign policy agenda simultaneously to pursuing an aggressive ‘War on Poverty’ during the Johnson Administration’s Great Society period, with big outlays on domestic policy initiatives such as Medicaid and Medicare, which were designed to improve the standard of living of the average person, and therefore help them better reach out to get out of poverty and become prosperous. Neo conservatives have also argued that governments kept raising taxes and issuing debt bonds as well as inflating the currency to pay off the debt, which reduces purchasing power, which often nullified any advantages gained from the increased spending by citizens in the economy.
They argue that saving and investing have a multiplier effect at least equal to that of deficit spending, without the debt downside. They argue further that in their opinion, leaving things in the hands of private individuals as opposed to governments to spend their money wisely is the better way to go. What they ignore or refuse to acknowledge is that private individuals actually have more money to save and invest when governments intervene in the economy to manage things in conjunction with the private sector and unions, which puts an upward pressure on wages and levels of aggregate employment throughout both the private and public sectors, thereby increasing aggregate as well as individual levels of savings and investment, thereby attenuating, but not nullifying the tendency towards long term government debt accumulation and maintains robust levels of economic activity at the level of the family unit and at the local community level, which helps to maintain the integrity both physically, socially, culturally, spiritually, morally and politically of local community infrastructure. This in turn prevents the degradation of the social fabric of local communities, prevents municipal bankruptcies, and degradation of such things as waterworks, electrical utilities, and helps maintain law and order by preventing the social fabric of communities from eroding, causing rampant and chronic issues of crime and gang violence, including narcotics and prostitution.
Neoconservatives totally ignore that their insistence on deconstructing the role of government and trade unions in society has, far from permitting ‘private individuals’ from ‘saving and investing’ so as to ‘spend their own money wisely’, has instead permitted the ‘private individuals’ writ large of the multinational and transnational corporation, which, after all are ‘private individuals’ before the law, to arrogate to themselves heretofore unheard of levels of money in the form of profits and shareholder value, much of which has been concentrated into the hands of their CEOs and Boards of Directors and unit holders and pension fund holders, whilst offshoring hundreds of thousands of jobs overseas or to Mexico, thereby making more people than ever poor.
This has taken more purchasing power out of the economy than ever before and has created a new debt monster, that of personal and household debt, whereby private individuals and families can no longer afford to live on the pitifully low wages paid in the non-unionized facilities which now operate on our soil, with little or no benefits, paid vacations or pensions, then blaming them for a lack of virtue, thrift or worse yet, of moral laxity or deficiency that they are not capable of ‘making due’ with a more economically Spartan lifestyle when the entire edifice of consumer society, driven by corporate greed and aided and abetted by government, is exhorting the common citizen to always want ‘more’ and always for ‘free.’ More food, more furniture, appliances, electronics, newer and ever shinier mobile devices which get outdated ever faster, but do ‘more and more stuff’, and have ‘more apps than ever so that you can do more stuff.’
It’s as if the neoconservatives have done it on purpose to delegitimise the Roosevelt New Deal at its very core and to barge in like a gang of union busting goons with two by fours and baseball bats and to start desecrating the sacred halls of Liberalism by smashing to pieces every icon or every statue representing every element of previously accepted conventional wisdom which helped our society rise like the phoenix out of the ashes of the slaughter and carnage of the two world wars, the Crash of 1929, and the Great Depression.
They have attacked the very fundamental notion that FDR actually did our continent a good turn by intervening on behalf of the ordinary citizen to attenuate some of the most egregious disparities caused by the lack of regulation and control of the so-called ‘free market’, which often left the common working person with no recourse against their employer if they were aggrieved and no proper workplace health and safety measures to protect working people against noisy or dangerous machinery.
Of course all these measures which FDR put in place cost money. That money had to come out of the pockets of those who least appreciate being taxed and who constitutionally feel entitled that they should somehow pay as little or no tax whatsoever, by virtue of their putatively sacrosanct status as ‘wealth creators’, which in their books somehow should give them a free pass to do as they please, including ‘regime change’, which the captains of industry of America actually seriously entertained at one point upon finding out that the New Deal was actually going to go through and that their costs and complexity of doing business in America was going to increase somewhat.
They approached an American Army officer whom had a long history of overthrowing Latin American governments so as to satisfy American investors, and they offered him thousands of troops and equipment if he would overthrow FDR and protect their moneyed interests. He said no and the New Deal went through. The regulations which harmonized the coordination of production and consumption of goods and services between business, labour and government which the New Deal initiated in 1930s America, and which had an admittedly mixed bag of positive and negative effects on the North American economy and society in general, nevertheless served as the template for the massive amount of cooperation and coordination and a genuine sense of purpose in the pursuit of defeating the common enemy of Fascist Germany and Japan, which was undertaken in WWII, and which resulted in a most glorious victory for the Allied Powers.
However, the cost in material damage to property and the ecology, and of course the massive scope of human carnage engendered by such a systematically mechanized form of human butchery on a worldwide scale, essentially galvanized public opinion to an elemental consensus that indeed, the state, which had been such a determining factor in organizing the successful outcome of the war, needed to also take a leadership role in re-establishing some sense of reconstructive social and economic peace and well-being in the aftermath of the war. Therefore, indeed, there was a strong consensus that the secular state should and must take the lead in re-sanctifying the edifice of western civilization, and to do this, it must utilize the same technological, scientific and technocratic methods of organization of human and material resources that had been utilized to successfully prosecute the war.
The fact that this consensus is now being torn apart, explicitly challenged and fundamentally re-visited from a sort of almost Orwellian ‘Ministry of Truth’ form of historical backdating or aggressive attempt to re-write or at least to re-appropriate the legacy of our most recent historical episode of dialectical evolution, is in my mind proof positive of just how dangerously close we have come to essentially destroying the fundamental principles upon which North American and western civilization writ large in the Pax Americana period were predicated. The most distressing thing in my mind is that I do not currently see any master plan being put into place to re-construct the industrial base of the Quebec/Windsor Corridor, nor the American Northeast or Midwest.
All I see is a continued drift of jobs and capital offshore or nearshore to Mexico and a continued insistence from neo-conservative demagogic ideologues, who seem to have monopolized the dominant hegemonic discourse in the print and electronic media, that somehow, we just have to magically, ‘cut taxes’, ‘deregulate’, and voila, magically the panacea of ‘wealth creation’ and ‘prosperity’ will return, like the cows somehow instinctively coming home from being out in the pasture all day grazing. Blows my mind. The Temptations in their song ‘Ball of Confusion’ sang of the tormented state of American society in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when desegregation, Vietnam, urban squalor, women’s liberation, and the imminent fear of mutually assured destruction from atomic warfare drove them to write a song about the seemingly pitiful state of the world, where, according to the song’s assessment of the state-centric political ideology of the day, they sang that ‘…politicians say more taxes will solve everything…and the band played on.’
I find it ironically curious, even painfully deterministic, that about 45 years on, that the same song sung by a similar postmodern band who would be bemoaning the state of today’s world, would simply reverse the lyrics and sing simply ‘…less taxes will solve everything…’, and add the caveat that it is not only the politicians who are saying this, but the corporate mouthpieces and their moneyed lobby groups who are all touting this current party line, yet all still lining up at the public feed trough with undiminished alacrity to feed off of the benefits of government largesse, albeit with fewer tax dollars being dispensed to provide publicly financed and delivered government services, but increasingly more tax dollars being disbursed to private corporate service providers to deliver the same government services, except with non-unionized workers earning a fraction of the wages they did before, with few if any benefits or pensions or paid vacations, and the corporate service provider keeping the lions’ share of the profits for themselves. I think this is the new definition of ‘wealth creation’ if I’m not mistaken.
I’m not sure where all this is leading, but it does not appear to bode well for the public good, much less for the sanctity of the social fabric of North American society. I’m sort of wondering once again who is to gain from all of this, and what, if anything is to be improved or what of any sort of collectively salutatory nature is to come out of willfully destroying the entire social fabric of and way of life of the upper half of the North American continent so as to build a society to the south and east of us which is predicated upon the perpetration and perpetuation of the notion that those who are labouring to produce the goods in question, by the sweat of their brow, are being compelled once again to be reduced to the status of industrial proletarian quasi serfs or peasant peons, who are not capable, by all accounts to earn enough money being engaged in such forms of employment, to accede to the sanctified status of being able to save or invest their money so as to create a multiplier effect which is supposedly ‘… equal to that of deficit spending, without the debt downside…’, thereby supposedly enabling ‘…private individuals to spend their money wisely…’
I guess it all depends who the neo-conservatives are planning on enabling to accede to this sanctified status of ‘…private individuals…’ who have enough money to ‘…spend wisely…’ to begin with, or are they planning on returning us (or U.S.?) to the days of the Eugenics and Social Darwinist ideology of pre-WWII, which dictated that factory workers were essentially ‘not worthy’ of earning high enough wages to actually become consumers and to accede to the ownership of private property and to engage fully in the democratic process?
This, by the way actually contributed greatly towards the chronic oversupply of goods and chronic debt problem in the 1920s, which contributed to the Crash of 1929, and which was essentially all caused by a lack of purchasing power in the economy. Basically it boiled down to there not being enough working people with high enough wages to be able to afford to own their own home and to furnish it with goods such as furniture, appliances, a vehicle, and to have enough money to be able to engage in savings to be able to engage in recreation such as travel, or to save for retirement so as to be secure.
The post war period solved that by the adoption of the New Deal and Fordist principles adopted before the war and applied in peacetime to various sectors of the economy where unions were able to penetrate so as to raise the aggregate level of individual and national income and thus purchasing power. Where it fell apart is that the process of upwardly spiraling wages and standard of living seemed to have no end and unions got greedy, employers got fed up and governments got caught in the middle of a culture of entitlement which they themselves had been instrumental in creating and could now no longer control.
Now that we are paring it back, the corporate interests who are behind all of this seem to be insisting that we lower the playing field all the way back down to zero, that we dumb down the levels of entitlement as far back to the Stone Age as they can get them to go and to see just how much of the Welfare State they can dismantle without anybody protesting too much. They just love it when the people are divided and apathetic and are conditioned to think that ‘what can you do, it’s never going to change, so why bother?’ As long as the corporations can continue to blame the unions and the government continues to listen to the corporations, and as long as people continue to not vote in large numbers because they are convinced it won’t change anything, then nothing will change.
I never thought that a guy like FDR would get so savagely attacked and his legacy to society so utterly smeared from an ideological point of view. We are truly witnessing a re-writing and re-appropriation of history by people whose motives are dubious at best regarding their genuine desire to improve the standard of living of the average working person in Canada or America. This is the heart of the matter. I’m no Communist, but Karl Marx truly had it right when he said that ‘the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle.’ Meaning that the history of civilization has always been a struggle between the haves and the have nots, between the exploiters and the exploited.
Where civilization has achieved some measure of redemption, in my estimation, is when a vibrant and prosperous, not to mention numerous middle class has emerged, such as we had after WWII, which has been able to attenuate the disparities between the upper and lower echelons of the income scale and bring a certain measure of elemental justice and temporal as well as spiritual well-being to any society. Where I believe this has gone off track is that our insistence on always ‘growing’ and always making things ‘bigger and better’, which has dysfunctionally and pathologically equated increased size and quantity with being ‘better’, or being ‘more desirable’, or being ‘an attribute equated with the attainment of perfection’, has led us to being grossly overweight, driving vehicles which are way too big, having way too much stuff in houses which are way too big, with not enough kids, if any, and basically succumbing to the pursuit of material consumption as a desirable end unto itself, as opposed to a means to the end of family cohesion, conjugal bliss, and increased procreation.
Well, I’ve said enough. I grow weary of the struggle often, but cannot back down for fear of losing track of what truly matters: That we are all Children of the Light and were born to bear witness to the Light, not to produce or consume more stuff. I think FDR and Lord Keynes would agree with me if they were still here. Amen.