You don’t have to be a Marxist to notice that tycoons are determined to continue destructive policies, for it is not toxic assets that are being rescued by so-called ‘quantitative easing’ but a toxic economic system too. Those who question the ‘magic of the market’ are shunted aside ~ KURT JACOBSEN and SAYEED HASAN KHAN
Politics’ usually refers to flashy yet carefully staged electoral contests between candidates, who ordinary citizens had no hand in choosing and whose policies are filtered through the status quo biases of suave media commentators. But politics encompasses the use and abuse of power in all spheres of life, not just the voting booth or parliamentary chamber. Politics in our mass media age crucially is the quest to control the difference between what is happening and what people can be persuaded to imagine is happening. If you can plunder the hapless citizenry while inducing them to believe you thereby protect them, you win. Propaganda is the old-fashioned word for all the mandarin machinations that create a profitably self-serving gap twixt reality and delusion.
So dazed and confused citizens are informed that joblessness is lower than it is, that inflation is slower than it is, that a few ragged jihadis are a threat worth wasting trillions to chase, that bailed-out banks are a social boon, and that a financier-caused downturn is over when plainly none of these daft assertions are true. Elites continue to bilk the population on the basis of messages they disseminate about the joys of savage capitalism, terrorists lurking under all our beds, and the virtue of universal surveillance. Why not? He who has the power to define the problem, after all, defines the solutions too. Privileged classes never miss a trick in steering the game their way. They triumph even when they fail, as the bailout, and the austerity-for-thee-and-not-for me regime accompanying it, demonstrate.
If you must work more hours then your parents and at less pay, and with fewer benefits, you have little time to find out for yourself what the implications of dubious policies are. So far as elites see it, the less leisure and fewer resources the citizenry enjoys, the better. In the 1970s, at the start of a ferocious corporate movement to erase every public benefit the US citizenry gained since the Great Depression, the Trilateral Commission, a club for global VIPs, issued a hand-wringing report on the ‘crisis of democracy,’ which rued the rise in the 1960s of nonconformist youth, meddlesome environmentalists, consumer advocates, and insolent minorities as all noxious forces interfering with elites’ wise manipulation of national politics. The ‘crisis of democracy’ was that unruly non-elites were taking democracy seriously by putting it into wider practice. The subsequent success of upper classes in achieving a self-enriching regressive agenda has been steady, cumulative, quiet and phenomenal, especially in the USA and UK. Politics also is about limits, about how far you can go in pursuing interests and what the costs and consequences are, and to whom.
The current US rulers believe no limits exist to a restoration of 19th century-style plutocracy. They are going for broke. Why? Because wrecking the system in 2008 worked out handsomely for them, with all benefits captured by the one per cent, with minor trickledown to the top 20 per cent, but no further down.
Since the 1960s the corporate contribution to total taxes fell from 20 per cent to under 9 per cent (with everyone else paying the difference in extra taxes or service cuts). A number of colossal firms pay little or no tax and, like especially oil companies, reap government benefits too. Taxes on the highest incomes steadily were slashed until they are a meagre third of what they were in the 1950s. Capital gains tax ~ a boon to the wealthy ~ is lower than personal tax. Few mainstream voices ask how this cunning arrangement can be justified as an incentive to invest in an economic climate starved of demand because wages are in decline for four out of five workers. Give investors everything they clamour for ~ deregulation, low wage conditions, offshore incentives ~ and you guarantee a breakdown in the system.
Wages were linked to productivity from World War II until the 1970s. Productivity rose over 80 per cent since 1983 while wages stagnated, guaranteeing an economic crisis. Workers did not have enough pay to buy the things they were producing. House inflation and easy borrowing filled the gap until the inevitable crash five years ago. Americans are missing an 80 per cent wage raise, and yet experts scratch their heads as to why the economy is stalled. You don’t have to be a Marxist to notice that tycoons are determined to continue destructive policies, for it is not toxic assets that are being rescued by so-called ‘quantitative easing’ but a toxic economic system too. Those who question the ‘magic of the market’ are shunted aside.
Thus far policy debates remain confined within elite assumptions and official strictures. The reliable rulers’ technique is to narrow the frame of reference. For instance, educational institutions, and aspiring students, are told to adapt meekly to soaring expenses that exclude or indebt most entrants. Few experts mention that restoration of taxation on the rich to the levels of the Sixties, and an accompanying reinstatement of state funding, would solve the problem overnight. Reining in militarism wouldn’t hurt either if the funds were diverted to infrastructure. Austerity is portrayed as if it were an act of nature, not a result of venal human schemes. This pattern stifles debate and is at work in every policy realm. Too many people believe they must submit to God-like “market reality” when the “market’ really is what powerful institutions make of it. Institutions can be changed. There has never been more wealth available to improve our daily lives. It&’s captured at the top and more folks are awakening to the problem.
Propaganda works only so long. When the strain grows untenable, and more people are harmed, then the more things stay the same, the more they have to change. Closing the gap between economic reality and market mirage is the nightmare of rulers who prosper in a world of chic despair.
The writers are authors of No Clean Hands and Parables of Permanent War