Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Noam Chomsky, Occupy = A Decent Future

Noam Chomsky delivered this year's Howard Zinn Memorial Lecture to Occupy Boston.  He stressed that the Occupy movement may be our last, best hope for a decent future and that it's vital the movement grow within the United States and around the world.   He contrasted America today with the situation in the Great Depression.

"...although the situation was objectively much harsher than it is today, the spirit was quite different. There was a sense that we're going to get out of it, even among unemployed people. It'll get better. There was a militant labor movement organizing, CIO was organizing. It was getting to the point of sit-down strikes, which are very frightening to the business world.

...It’s quite different now. Now there’s kind of a pervasive sense of hopeless, or, I think, despair. I think it’s quite new in American history and it has an objective basis. In the 1930s unemployed “working people” could anticipate realistically that the jobs are going to come back. If you’re a worker in manufacturing today -- and the unemployment level in manufacturing today is approximately like the Depression -- if current tendencies persist, then those jobs aren’t going to come back.

America radically transformed beginning in the 70's.  "We turned to a process of deindustrialization and de-development. Of course, manufacturing production continued, but overseas (it’s very profitable, but no good for the workforce). Along with that came a significant shift of the economy from productive enterprise, producing things people need, to financial manipulation.

 The 1970s set off a kind of a vicious cycle that led to a concentration of wealth increasingly in the hands of the financial sector, which doesn’t benefit the economy. Concentration of wealth yields concentration of political power, which, in turn, arrives to legislation that increases and accelerates the cycle. The physical policies such as tax changes, rules of corporate governance, deregulation were essentially bipartisan. Alongside of this began a very sharp rise in the costs of elections, which drives the political parties even deeper than before into the pockets of the corporate sector.

A couple years later started a different process. The parties dissolved, essentially. [Does that sound familiar?] It used to be if you were a person in Congress and hoped for a position of committee chair or a position of responsibility, you got it mainly through seniority and service. Within a couple of years, you started to have to put money into the party coffers in order to get ahead. That just drove the whole system even deeper into the pockets of the corporate sector and increasingly the financial sector--a tremendous concentration of wealth, mainly in the literally top 1/10th of 1 percent of the population.

Meanwhile, for the general population it began an open period of pretty much stagnation, or decline for the majority. People got by through pretty artificial means -- like borrowing, so a lot of debt. Longer working hours for many. There was a period of stagnation and a higher concentration of wealth. The political system began to dissolve. There’s always been a gap between public policy and the public will, but it just grew kind of astronomically. You can see it right now, in fact.
Take a look at what’s happening right now. The big topic in Washington that everyone concentrates on is the deficit. For the public, correctly, the deficit is not much of an issue. The issue is joblessness, not a deficit. Now there’s a deficit commission but no joblessness commission.

...For the general population -- the 99 percent in the imagery of the Occupy movement --it’s really harsh and it could get worse. This could be a period of irreversible decline. For the 1 percent, or furthermore 1/10th of 1 percent, it’s just fine. They’re at the top, richer and more powerful than ever in controlling the political system and disregarding the public, and if it can continue, then sure why not?

...A couple of years ago [Citibank] came out with a brochure for investors. They urged investors to put their money in what they call the “plutonomy index.” The world is dividing into a plutonomy, the rich and so on. That’s where the action is. They said their plutonomy index is way outperforming the stock market, so put your money into it. And as for the rest? We set them adrift. We don’t really care about them and we don’t need them. They have to be around to provide a powerful state to protect us and bail us out when we get into trouble, but they essentially have no function. It’s sometimes called these days the “precariat,” people who live a precarious existence at the periphery of society. It’s not the periphery anymore...

...when Alan Greenspan was still “St. Alan,” hailed by the economics profession as one of the greatest economists of all time (this is before the crash for which he is substantially responsible for), he was testifying to Congress in the Clinton years explaining the wonders of the great economy. He said much of this economy was based on what he called “growing worker insecurity.” If working people are insecure, if they’re “precariat” and living precarious existences, then they’re not going to make demands, they won’t make wages, they won’t get benefits and we can kick them out if we don’t like them, and that’s good for the health of the economy.

...Well, now the world is indeed splitting into a plutonomy and a precariat, again in the imagery of the Occupy movement, the 1 percent and the 99 percent. The plutonomy is where the action is. It could continue like this, and if it does, then this historic reversal that began in the 1970s could become irreversible. That’s where we’re heading. The Occupy movements are the first major popular reaction which could avert this. It’s going to be necessary to face the fact that it’s a long hard struggle. You don’t win victories tomorrow. You have to go on and form structures that will be sustained through hard times and can win major victories.

...There are very dangerous developments in the international arena, including two of them which are kind of a shadow that hangs over almost everything we discuss. There are, for the first time to human history, real threats to peace and survival of the species. One has been hanging around since 1945 and it’s kind of a miracle we’ve escaped it and that’s the threat of nuclear weapons. That’s a threat that’s being escalated by the administration and its allies. Something has to be done about that or we’re in real trouble. The other, of course, is environmental catastrophe. Every country in the world is taking at least halting steps toward trying to do something about it. The US is also taking steps, namely to accelerate the threat. The US is now the only country that’s not only not doing something constructive…it’s not climbing on the train. It’s pulling it backwards.

Congress is right now reversing legislation instituted by the Nixon administration. (Nixon was really the last liberal president of the United States, and literally, this shows you what’s been going on!) They’re dismantling the limited measures the Nixon administration took to try to do something about
what’s a growing and emerging catastrophe. This is connected with a huge propaganda system, perfectly openly declared by the business world, that it’s all just a liberal hoax. Why pay attention to these scientists? We’re really regressing back to the Medieval period. It’s not a joke. If that’s happening to the most powerful and richest country in history then this crisis is not going to be averted and all of this we’re talking about won’t matter in a generation or two. All of that’s going on right now and something has to be done about it very soon and in a dedicated and sustained way. It’s not going to be easy to succeed. There are going to be barriers, hardships and failures along the way. Unless the process that’s taking place here and around the world, unless that continues to grow and kind of becomes a major social force in the world, the chances for a decent future are not very high. 

Chomsky makes a convincing argument for the expansion of the Occupy Movement everywhere, including Canada.  It's easy to watch a couple of very selective clips on a corporate news station and dismiss it as so much street theatre staged by whiny kids looking for handouts.  That's exactly what the rich and powerful, who now pretty much have a complete lock on the mass media, want you to think.

Sure, some of these young protesters may come from relatively affluent homes but that's irrelevant.  What matters is what lies ahead for them in the future, a promise that's rapidly collapsing.  At least they're turning out to demand an end to inequality - of wealth, incomes and opportunity.

Chomsky said  it, twice, politics is dissolving.  That process extends to Canada.  Ignatieff steered the Liberals to the right, transforming the party into a Conservative-Lite travesty.  Parliament itself has devolved into a gaggle of petro-pols on both sides of the aisle quite happy to see Canada turned into a hapless, corrupt petro-state.  Here's a hint - they can't work for you and be indentured servants of Big Oil.  The gap between public policy and public will is widening rapidly under Harper.  This has to be stopped and the Liberals and any other party can go to Hell if they won't stand up for Canada.

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