Monday, February 21, 2011

Is Krugman America's New Revere?

It was encouraging to read the top columnist at The New York Times sounding the alarm at the decline of democracy in America at the hands of the emerging oligarchy.  Paul Krugman is absolutely right.  Union busting in America isn't really an economic issue, it's political.  It's a vehicle for the transfer of political power from the middle class to America's emerging aristocracy.

America is a nation where the powerful have turned on their own people.  Income inequality has been their weapon of choice.  The gap between rich and poor has never been as wide and what lies between has turned stagnant.

A vibrant, robust middle class is the beating heart of any viable democracy.  It operates as a buffer against the excesses of the right and the left alike.   It is the progressive center.  The stronger it is, the broader it becomes.   It once spanned the gamut from unionized workers through white collar occupations and on into the professions.  It was the middle class that assured the prosperity of the middle class.  It was the middle class that served as the vehicle for social mobility.  It was the ladder that people could climb to better themselves, to lift themselves out of poverty, sometimes to even become wealthy.  It obviously had to be crushed.

And then came along the crushers, guys like Mulroney and Reagan, the architects of globalization and outsourcing.   They talked about freedom, the free movement of capital.  They lied.  Capital always moved freely.  The snake oil they were selling had very little to do with capital and almost everything to do with surrendering our markets to capital using cheap labour abroad.  It was about liberating their own from having to employ the same people they needed to buy their products.  You're not going to sell a hundred dollar pair of sneakers to a guy who makes two bucks a day and has five mouths to feed.   Globalization was always about surrendering sovereignty over our markets, the elixir that makes outsourcing so terribly rewarding - for the very few.

Outsourcing led to wage stagnation for America's working classes, blue and white collar.  Wages stagnated despite decades of steadily increasing productivity.  More women entered the work force just to keep the family afloat.  More parents took second jobs.   And, when that no longer kept them afloat in their middle class lifestyles they turned to debt.  A nation became insane enough to believe that their houses were bank machines.   The middle class was sinking without even realizing it.

So now they're turning on government unions.  I watched an interview with the governor of New Jersey who wanted to scrap the state employees' pension plan.  It was the usual, "we're broke and can't pay it" crap.  Later it came out that for something like eleven out of the previous thirteen years, the state had defaulted on its obligation to contribute to the employees' pension fund.   That was money the state owed these people.  They took that money and spent it on something else and then blamed the workers for their pension crisis.  Those awful pinkos and their "entitlements."

Chris Hedges has a new book out, "The Death of the Liberal Class," in which he argues that American liberalism has been dead for almost a century.  He maintains that while modern liberals talk a good game they always give in to right wing and corporate pressure.   Quite frankly that sounds like the recipe for what passes for liberalism in Canada, especially big "L" liberals, in the 21st century.  Faux liberalism today that nitpicks about day care and arts funding while ducking entirely the critical issues confronting our country is just what Hedges is talking about.  But I digress.

A further, chilling account of the transformation quietly underway in America is documented by Andrew Bacevich in his book, "The New American Militarism."
Bacevich is  no pinko.  He's a retired, career US Army officer turned professor.  He contends that the American republic cannot survive the new American militarism.  He chronicles the marriage of the US military with neo-conservative ideology, religious fundamentalism, and the military/industrial/corporate warfighting complex into an entity that now even challenges its civilian masters.  Bacevich laments the death of the "citizen soldier" and argues that the historic bond between the army and the civilian population has been broken.  Even more troubling, Bacevich explores how military force has come to displace diplomacy as the main instrument of American foreign policy.

What drives a country riddled with debt at national, state, municipal and individual levels to spend more on its military than every other nation combined?  What conceivable democratic purpose can that possibly serve?  Today's Republicans are demanding that Obama cut $60-billion from his government's budget.   They could get that by simply trimming a mere 8 per cent from the Pentagon's bloated budget.   This year the Pentagon is expecting just under $700-billion and that doesn't include the cost of the war in Afghanistan or military operations in Iraq.   It doesn't include the military aspects of Homeland Security nor does it include the cost of America's nuclear arsenal which is picked up by the Department of Energy.

When you put Krugman's warning atop the alarms already sounded by people like Bacevich, Chalmers Johnson and Howard Zinn it's pretty clear that its not just Arab countries that are overdue for a revolution.   Then again, as I've written so often before, we do appear to be entering the Century of Revolution.


Lorne said...

Thanks for your incisive and informative post. I'm going to put the books by Hedges and Bacevich on my reading list.

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi Lorne. I was so taken with the Bacevich book that I put together a 3-part review of it. You can find it on this blog by searching "America's Cancerous Militarism."

What I find most troubling is that all of these seismic changes have gone on virtually undetected. It's quite bewildering.

Recall that, during the Bush years, Republicans repeatedly castigated Dems claiming they were trying to spark a "class war" when in reality there was a class war indeed underway, only it was being waged by the right against America's working classes. And the Dems did virtually nothing to push back. Breathtaking.