I ‘ll let you in on a secret. Please don’t tell anyone.
Everything that we are going through, and I mean EVERYTHING, has happened before. All of our social and economic ills were perfectly predicted in a book published twenty years ago. Here are a few quotes (I’ve made a few changes in order not to give away the surprise).
What’s needed is a “moral cleansing” and a “change in mentality.”
Judges easily adopted the new phraseology, labeling certain types of people as “terrorists.”
We created ghettos that lasted for years. There was absolutely no contact with people who thought differently; they became phantoms who had no face.
The government swiftly suppressed all traces of political life.
I grew up believing all of our myths. I never questioned my values.
They elevated their economic theory to the level of religion, neglecting the fact that the economy is at the service of man, not the other way around.
During the boom, economic gains had been privatized; now, in an economic downturn, the country’s losses were socialized.
When you told the economists that there were people behind the numbers, you crashed against a wall of technocratics. They never heard the voice of suffering.
Most economic victims were small investors caught up in a whirlwind they were ill equipped to handle.
Said one worker, ‘We can survive on odd jobs, but we are left in the air. We live with a permanent worry inside.’
They turned education from an intellectual experience into a marketable merchandise.
Virtually the entire school system was transferred to municipal governments who turned over facilities to private owners.
The book explains how free market economics completely turned a society upside down. Suddenly a small segment of society was getting extraordinarily wealthy. Teachers — once a well-respected profession — found themselves driving taxicabs. Factories that employed thousands of people were either shut down or a two-tier wage system was imposed, so that new employees would make less, and get less benefits, than current employees. Unions were either destroyed or turned into paper tigers. Education was seen, not as a way to make more intelligent human beings, but simply as a means of stuffing knowledge down peoples throats so that they could parlay their “education” into a good job, so that its prestigious universities became, in many respects, simply career institutes. People were lured into accepting variable-rate, sub-prime mortgages. Services provided by the federal government were “freed” from the burden of oversight and given to the individual municipalities that, in turn, privatized most services. All of this, and much more, created a society where many people lost their trust in their country and their fellow countrymen.
Still sound familiar?
I’ve summarized the salient points of the 1991 book, A Nation Of Enemies: Chile Under Pinochet. Under Pinochet, The Chicago Boys, as they were called by Chileans, was a group of economists trained at the University of Chicago. Milton Friedman had visited Santiago and someone from the university would go to Chile to hand pick students for the economics program at the university. Pinochet admired the free market economists. They spoke with the confidence and conviction of military officers. He gave them the authority to undo decades of social democracy, and to impose free market principles: austerity programs; privatization of publicly owned resources, etc. As the social fabric was ripped apart and an overwhelming number found their lives and livelihoods crumbling, a number within the new generation of Chileans learned how to prosper under the economic rules and thereby became some of its most ardent supporters.
Still sound familiar?
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There’s a cowboy museum somewhere out west, maybe Arizona, maybe New Mexico. (Remember. I’m a New Yorker. Anything west of the Poconos is “out west.”) What made it special was that they had cowboy poetry written by contemporary cowboys. I don’t remember how many visitors they got at the museum because the important part of the story was that this museum was losing its funding. Couldn’t have been much more than $250,000 dollars. They might have had other sources of funding but, losing the government dollars meant the end of the museum. It’s these small amounts of money that can make an enormous difference in the lives of thousands or tens of thousands of people. It doesn’t take that many government dollars to build new parks and play areas for children and yet these relatively small expenditures can have a long lasting impact on peoples lives. We got a taste of this “targeting of the visible” during the recent presidential debate when Governor Romney said he would fire Big Bird. Let’s dwell on this a bit longer. Though I did not watch the debate, I’ll bet he didn’t say “I’ll eliminate all spending on PBS because that money should really be going to our war veterans.” I’ll even bet that he didn’t say, “I’ll eliminate all spending on PBS because that money should really be going to rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure.” Instead, he targeted something that’s highly visible while ignoring the $450 billion dollar per year elephant in the room known as the defense budget.
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On October 6, 2012 at 7:45pm, I got a first hand look at participatory democracy in the age of high technology. I went to the “Big Rumble” website, paid my $4.95, switched my flat screen to the Roku box, and logged into the O’Reilly versus Stewart debate. Well, tried to log in. By 8:20pm I gave up trying to log in. I went to the Big Rumble website to make sure that I had the right username and password. The site was down. I was angry. Really angry. The first time I ever did one of these pay-per-view events and the only thing that worked successfully was my payment.
There’s an important lesson here. Modern-day democracy is really about taking your money, slamming the door in your face, and leaving you screaming and helpless. It’s the same impotent rage you might have had during the days of broadcast television when you paid for your shows indirectly by buying advertised products. In our NEW & IMPROVED!!! democracy, you pay for the show directly but never get to see the show. However, at least you are free to pay for it and they are free to take your money so, yes, this still is the land of freedom and democracy.
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I finally realized why I am voting for Barack Obama in November. When you compare his policies with those of Mitt Romney, the difference is one of delivery. Romney will ruthlessly slash social programs in order to balance the budget. He will cut the tax rates even further so that the job creators can do whatever it is that job creators are supposed to do with their financial windfall. He will privatize more government services, he will maintain or increase the defense budget, and in terms of foreign diplomacy, he will be like George H. W. Bush, verbally throwing up in other peoples laps. President Obama, on the other hand, will gently slash social programs in order to create bipartisan support for his budget. President Obama will not drastically alter the tax rates or the defense budget. However, in terms of foreign policy, he will be eloquent.
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I should have signed up earlier for the Big Rumble and logged in well before the starting time. But that means that high-tech democracy has nothing to do with participation but everything to do with getting to the event earlier than everyone else. However, getting there first didn’t do much good for the Cherokee, Sioux, Chippewa, et al.
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There’s an eerie parallel between Chicago-style free market economics and Chicago-style mobster economics. There’s little difference between an economic theory that rules with the iron fist of austerity and the famed Chicago mobsters who ruled with their Tommy guns. In both cases, they do not hear the suffering of the lives they have destroyed. That means Milton Friedman and his henchmen are the intellectual equivalent of Al Capone and his henchmen. Perhaps Chicago is the only city where that style of economic theory could flourish.
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So why am I voting for Barack Obama if, in many respects, there is little difference — in outcome — no matter who is president? The answer is simple. President Obama will not arrogantly smile as he sticks in the knife and slowly twists it back and forth. Mitt Romney, like George W. Bush before him, will gladly smile as he sticks in the knife, swiftly pulls it out and then plunges it in again and again. He will gladly circle overhead in Air Force One like a buzzard eying its prey, watching the flood waters of disaster rise up and envelop us all.
So why am I voting for Barack Obama? I think there’s a part of me that’s not ready to face the reality of a corporate-run “democracy.” I’m not ready for Bain-style slash and burn economics. I’m not ready for Romney’s cold, Mengele bedside manner. I want the personal warmth and intellectual acumen of Barack Obama. Like another president who exuded personal warmth and intellectual acumen, he too will embrace the same slash and burn economics and, like a president who preceded them both, it will be delivered in a style that will make me feel good about myself and my country, even as millions of us are screaming as we plunge over the edge of the economic cliff into the fires below.
So why am I voting for Barack Obama? I believe human nature compels me to do so. It’s part of that willful ignorance we impose on ourselves when we know we shouldn’t be smoking that cigarette or having one more drink “for the road.” Our hearts compel us to do what our mind knows is wrong. Our heart tells us we can avoid the inevitable, that everyone else’s fate — but not ours — is swept along by the forces of history. Our heart believes we are John Galt. Our mind knows we are really John Henry.