Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Krugman - America's "Cult of Selfishness" - Updated.

Paul Krugman writes that irresponsible behaviour is killing America.  He says Trump and Congressional Republicans fostered an attitude among many Americans, a sense of entitlement, that has and will continue to cost the U.S. and its people dearly.

America’s response to the coronavirus has been a lose-lose proposition. 
The Trump administration and governors like Florida’s Ron DeSantis insisted that there was no trade-off between economic growth and controlling the disease, and they were right — but not in the way they expected. 
Premature reopening led to a surge in infections: Adjusted for population, Americans are currently dying from Covid-19 at around 15 times the rate in the European Union or Canada. Yet the “rocket ship” recovery Donald Trump promised has crashed and burned: Job growth appears to have stalled or reversed, especially in states that were most aggressive about lifting social distancing mandates, and early indications are that the U.S. economy is lagging behind the economies of major European nations.
Krugman argues that the Republicans have spawned - and nurtured - a 'cult of selfishness' that is now playing havoc across America.
So what was going on? Were our leaders just stupid? Well, maybe. But there’s a deeper explanation of the profoundly self-destructive behavior of Trump and his allies: They were all members of America’s cult of selfishness. 
You see, the modern U.S. right is committed to the proposition that greed is good, that we’re all better off when individuals engage in the untrammeled pursuit of self-interest. In their vision, unrestricted profit maximization by businesses and unregulated consumer choice is the recipe for a good society. 
Support for this proposition is, if anything, more emotional than intellectual. I’ve long been struck by the intensity of right-wing anger against relatively trivial regulations, like bans on phosphates in detergent and efficiency standards for light bulbs. It’s the principle of the thing: Many on the right are enraged at any suggestion that their actions should take other people’s welfare into account.

This rage is sometimes portrayed as love of freedom. But people who insist on the right to pollute are notably unbothered by, say, federal agents tear-gassing peaceful protesters. What they call “freedom” is actually absence of responsibility. 
Rational policy in a pandemic, however, is all about taking responsibility. The main reason you shouldn’t go to a bar and should wear a mask isn’t self-protection, although that’s part of it; the point is that congregating in noisy, crowded spaces or exhaling droplets into shared air puts others at risk. And that’s the kind of thing America’s right just hates, hates to hear. 
Just to be clear, I’m not saying that Republicans are selfish. We’d be doing much better if that were all there were to it. The point, instead, is that they’ve sacralized selfishness, hurting their own political prospects by insisting on the right to act selfishly even when it hurts others.

What the coronavirus has revealed is the power of America’s cult of selfishness. And this cult is killing us.

I have repeatedly described Americans today as "groomed." They are a people conditioned, skilfully divided, rendered too feeble to defend their Constitution or their society. Ralph Nader touched on this in 2018 in what sounded like a post mortem on America.
The U.S. has developed a society with an almost indeterminate absorptive capacity for injustice, abuse and degradation,” Nader said. “There is no civic education in the schools. They don’t know what the Constitution is. They don’t know what the law of torts is. They don’t know where the town hall is. They’re living in virtual reality, swinging between big screen TV and their cellphones. They’re wallowing in text messages. To an extent, they’re excited by the workings of the minds symbolized by Wall Street and Silicon Valley. That’s the young generation. Great changes start with people in their 20s. But look what you’ve got now. You’ve got 10 years of internet connection, cellphones available to any child. That’s one. The second is 24/7 entertainment. The third is the abandonment by the elderly generation. They’ve sort of given up. They don’t know the gadgetry. They don’t know the language. They have their own economic insecurity. They’re not extending any kind of historical experience to the young which contains severe warnings. Watch out. You don’t think it can happen again, [but] it can happen again and again. There’s no verbal, oral tradition between the generations. Less and less. Then you have the political system, which is deep-sinking the society. How are people going to mobilize themselves? Is there a strong union, a labor movement? No. A strong consumer movement? No. They’re losing their privacy.
Compounding the decay is the collapse of the legal profession, a problem exacerbated by Trump’s stacking of the federal courts with incompetent and far-right judges selected by groups such as The Federalist Society. The courts, Nader said, have already destroyed the freedom of contract and the law of torts. They have repeatedly revoked constitutional rights by judicial fiat, ruling, for example, that unlimited campaign contributions by corporations is a form of free speech and the right to petition the government.
Nader worries that as long as “10 to 15 percent of the American people are well-off” the elites will have enough support to continue the assault. 
“Societies have been repressed by far smaller members of well-instituted upper classes,” he said. “That’s what we forget. Eighteenth-, 19th-, 20th-century Europe. A tiny clique controlled them. When there’s any problem it flips over to dictatorship. As long as the contented classes are not upset, the system of control is in lock, like connecting gears.”
It should come as no surprise then that Krugman's 'cult of selfishness' should respond to the Covid pandemic as they have, plunging America into a public healthcare crisis. What could be more predictable? How will it manifest next?


Northern PoV said...

Just follow the 'prosperity gospel' and all is well.

Anonymous said...

It would have been nice for Krugman to have credited the great Canadian-American economist John Kenneth Galbraith who got there first:

The modern conservative is not even especially modern. He is engaged, on the contrary, in one of man’s oldest, best financed, most applauded, and, on the whole, least successful exercises in moral philosophy. That is the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness. It is an exercise which always involves a certain number of internal contradictions and even a few absurdities. The conspicuously wealthy turn up urging the character-building value of privation for the poor. The man who has struck it rich in minerals, oil, or other bounties of nature is found explaining the debilitating effect of unearned income from the state. The corporate executive who is a superlative success as an organization man weighs in on the evils of bureaucracy. Federal aid to education is feared by those who live in suburbs that could easily forgo this danger, and by people whose children are in public schools. Socialized medicine is condemned by men emerging from Walter Reed Hospital. Social Security is viewed with alarm by those who have the comfortable cushion of an inherited income.


the salamander said...

.. its the old Stephen Harper 'Dominionism' uber alles..
Its a big tent.. come one come all.. !! We're off to see the lizard..
The wonderful lizard of OZ !

The Disaffected Lib said...

Let's go easy on Krugman, Cap. He does come through as a voice in the wilderness in his time. But, yes, JKG did discuss a great many of America's vices and failings in his historied career. His son, James KG, is also an economist and plainly inspired by his father's writings. James has written a couple of fine books, "The Predator State" and "The End of Normal," that are well worth a read. Apparently he has 36 books in all.

In further corroboration that the apple never falls far from the Tree, Galbraith's other son, Peter, was a career Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer who, in the aftermath of Desert Storm, worked with Iraq's Kurdish authority to draft their own constitution. Baghdad was compelled to incorporate it into the national constitution. The document contains a "poison pill" that assures Kurdish autonomy within the Iraqi state and asserts Kurdish control over the rich oil fields of Kirkuk.

For all three of those Galbraith fellows, I think America owes us a debt of gratitude. Did you know John KG was born in one of those "four corners" hamlets in agricultural Ontario? A real nowhere. Fascinating biography.

The Disaffected Lib said...

Harper was a true believer in "every man for himself" Social Darwinism, Sal. It must have caused him enormous pain to conceal those instincts from the Canadian public on his rise to power. Then again many of his caucus were closeted when it came to their bigotry and ideologies.

The Disaffected Lib said...

NPoV. I have a terrific book for you, "One Nation Under God" by Kevin Kruse. It reveals how the unholy alliance between the titans of industry and Christian evangelicals was forged in the wake of the Great Depression as a foil to FDR's New Deal reforms and how it was a contagion that spread into the bowels of today's Republican Party (and a good bit of the Dems too). There's a symbiosis to it that emerges in how these TV evangelists can so shamelessly manipulate and fleece the American public on the national airwaves with complete impunity, untouchable by the Department of Justice or communications regulators. Very creepy stuff.