By MANIFESTO JOE
I'll only be 53 on my next birthday in late July, yet it already seems like I've lived a tiring amount of history. Only 20 years ago, the world saw the meltdown of Soviet-style communism -- and many observers, largely neo-conservatives, interpreted that as an ideological culmination, "the end of history." There was even an influential book written with that title. (Does anyone remember that author now? And, does he want to remember that book? Yeah, I know -- Francis Fukuyama.)
It appears that reversals of fortune can happen quickly. Now it looks like the allegedly venerable ideology of "free-market" capitalism is on the ropes, and in serious danger of going down. Who would have thought it?
Die-hard Marxists did. I've never been one of them, even as a long-ago radical all of 23 years old. I still know three people who have continued to call themselves Marxists in total defiance of dismissal or ridicule, and they are probably gloating a lot now. The economic train wreck they kept dogmatically predicting finally seems to be in front of us.
But even as America sleepwalked through our Second Gilded Age (circa 1981-2005), I grew skeptical of the Marxist vision. "Historical inevitability" always sounded like a religious tenet, without the pure superstition; and Marxism itself, a sort of quasi-religion for embittered atheists.
We should be as cautious about awarding hard-line socialists a victory here, as much as "we" (in the editorial sense) should have checked for our wallets the minute Reagan started talking about trickle-down and Phil Gramm started talking about deregulation. The past century should have taught us that the answer lies in between.
Starting with the excesses of laissez-faire: America has, for the past 30-ish years, seen the roller-coaster ride that happens with that sort of economic policy. An elite grows very rich, a minority near the bottom slips much further down, and most people tend to stagnate in the middle.
There are cycles of boom and bust. The booms are good for most people, but especially good for a few. The latter group inevitably forms a "Why Should I Have To Pay Taxes?" lobby and gets bonanzas from lawmakers eager to please. And since these are the people of ostentation and material success, their influence is great among fashionable "thinkers" of the day.
Now the big bust is upon us. It's a bit like 1933 all over again -- not as grim or total in devastation, but it's likely to get worse. President Barack Obama has warned us that this is so.
But history, with its entire lesson, should be heeded, and it seems like Obama is one who will do so.
There were very good reasons for the meltdown of the Soviet empire 20 years ago. Contrary to right-wing mythology, Reagan and his military buildup had little to do with it. Post-Soviet Russian economists recall the problems as internal, and any intellectually honest person knew what they were. There's no need for me to recite the litany here -- Americans heard it all for decades.
But let's face it, die-hard socialists out there -- state-run enterprises have a poor track record. The employees seem to lack incentives to produce. Cooperatives tend to degenerate into personal conflict, power struggles and chaos. And as for the concentration of power in the hands of "vanguard revolutionaries" -- the horrors and enormities of that have been abundant just in the past century.
I don't think it's hard to argue for a sense of balance and measure. In America, it seems like the compromising wheeler-dealers -- the FDRs, the Trumans, the LBJs, the Ted Kennedys -- got more done for working Americans than any of our homegrown radicals ever did.
But there is little doubt that there's been a sea change, and it's been back toward socialist thinking. The Nobel Prize committees have not been known for their sympathy toward socialist-leaning economists, yet Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz has more or less come out in favor of the nationalization of U.S. banks. That would be a major step toward socialism of some fashion. Why not? We've just given the bastards $700 billion in taxpayer money to keep them in business. Here's a link to the interview with Stiglitz.
And, it appears that such state power would be the only thing to force the shameless swine who run these enterprises to behave themselves. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., made a speech on the Senate floor about the Wall Street oinkers who had themselves awarded $18.4 billion in bonuses while their enterprises got in on the aforementioned $700 billion, because of reckless and disastrous mismanagement. Here's another link to reports on this issue, and to a video of McCaskill's speech. Be patient, the video seems very rough.
So, what should be the ultimate American destination, in an era of "capitalist" meltdown? The Swedes, with a hybrid socialist-capitalist system, don't seem to do badly, with avowed Socialists predominantly in power since 1929. Their booms are smaller, but so are their busts. Their people don't live in fear of homelessness or inability to afford basic health care. Right-wing humorist P.J. O'Rourke, when asked about the Swedes' seeming happiness with their stable system, said that they are all insane -- but that their insanity is distributed equally among the people.
It's a funny line. But there's nothing funny about facing a mortgage foreclosure, or about the welfare rolls shrinking even as joblessness is rapidly expanding. With a growing U.S. underclass, it may be time to take a second look at the socialist mind-set -- despite the old Marxist baggage. Nobody requires us to go to extremes.
Manifesto Joe is an underground writer living in Texas. Check out his blog at Manifesto Joe's Texas Blues.
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