Monday, 1 November 2010

Politics and the Economics of Deception (Jon Kofas, Greece)

Posted on October 28th, 2010
With two global wars and many more regional ones, with many recessions and a Great Deception, with mass education designed to provide a learned workforce for the public and private sector, and with mass communications, the 20th century has created a population cynical about societal institutions, especially political and economic; or is it that political and economic institutions of deception have created a cynical population riddled with anxieties and frustrated with a modern world successful at the material level for a minority of the people but failing humanity at every other level? The recent global recession ushered in declining living standards for the middle class and workers and also brought widespread frustration among the majority of the population, mostly in Western countries. Just as the 1920s, the decade of prosperity appeared to hold the promise of endless economic growth with the possibility of upward social mobility, proved that prosperity and upward mobility was limited to a small segment of the population, similarly the 1990s failed in its promise to deliver the miracle of sustainable middle class living standards for all generations to come.
At least, the prosperity decade of the 1920s and its pro-business politics, followed by the decade of depression ushered in structural changes that resulted in various social safety nets–social security and stronger trade unions with collective bargaining, greater state regulation of the predatory and high-risk finance sector, and the state as an agent of growth and protection for all classes. Today, almost three years after the recent global recession, the worst contraction since the 1930s, politicians, mostly among the G-7, have conveniently forgotten promises they made at the start of the crisis about launching more rigorous measures to regulate financial institutions so that there is no repeat of a similar crisis a few years down the road. Where are the rigid measures against multi-million dollar bonuses, salaries, and fraudulent corporate practices that were too large for governments not to bail them out? People see rewards for those responsible for the global financial crisis and punishment for the victims at the lower end of the social scale. At G-7 and G-20 meetings in the past year, the talk is mostly of how to coordinate better fiscal, monetary and trade policy. Of course, there have been some regulations designed to prevent the system from destroying itself, but they are very modest, despite the massive bailouts that financial institutions received and despite the sacrifices that governments asked and continue asking workers and the middle class to make. Evidence of widespread frustration with the status quo abounds, not by looking at public opinion polls, but observing how strikes and demonstrations whether in Paris, London, Madrid, etc. have no impact in convincing government to alter the course of chipping away at middle-class and working-class living standards in order to strengthen the “business as usual private sector,” especially finance capital that is clearly back in the driver’s seat driving government policy. People express political frustration in different forms–apathy among the most significant, usually combined greater self-indulgence, or some form of nihilism. Apathy actually furthers the interests of the financial and political elites that know a segment of the population is outside the opposition public zone. Mainstream media and institutions in general reinforce conformity, though to some degree they also reinforce apathy, but then present the apathetic individual as lacking positive personal character traits, thus deserving of the “bad politicians, bad institutions.” A segment of the population frustrated, mostly confused with the politics and economics of deception, gravitates to fringe political groups or parties, realizing that Republican or Democrat in the US, for example, or varieties of center-right, center, or center-left in Europe basically represent the same system that provides funding to their political campaigns. Critical intellectuals not on the payroll of an employer demanding conformity and self-censorship express frustration with the political establishment by trying to analyze the degree to which the system is subject to change, likely to remain stagnant, or perhaps beyond the realm of change for an indefinite period of time. Alain de Benoist’s well-stated: “Optimists learn English; Pessimists learn Chinese, Realists learn to use Kalashnikov” exemplifies very succinctly frustration by today’s intelligentsia critical of the status quo. Alain’s comment reminded me of Georges Sorel, Nikolai Chernyshevsky, or other pre-WWI intellectuals confronting seemingly insurmountable obstacles to social change. Millions of people demonstrated and rioted in Paris this month, but to no avail (before them millions of others in other European cities); only to be subjected to a system that will continue eroding their living standards, benefits, and social safety net as they know it, only for the sake of strengthening finance capital with no promise of a better tomorrow for the majority of the people in what we call “democracies” and take pride to defend them as ideal! The utility and intellectual value of learning Chinese or any other widely use language notwithstanding, is the solution to structural problems of a modern society becoming a linguist? What was the result of all these mass strikes, demonstrations and riots across Europe? Was there any change in policy, any change to the politics and economics of deception? On the contrary, more to come in the future, and perhaps much worse than what we have seen against the background of the global economic pie divided into more slices in an increasingly poly-centric world power structure. At the beginning of this century the world economic and military power structure appears more poly-centric than it has been since 1914, with power shifting from West to to the East, at least, power shared in an inter-dependent unified economic world-system separated by disparate regimes in nation-states linked by regional and international integration systems (economic and strategic). In short, the nation-state is a mere extension as is the economy of something larger, so what can the individual do, what can the French trade unions do, what can three million protesters do, what can ten million European protesters do to have a voice in government about their future against the reality that their nation is part of larger entities (NATO, EU, UN, WTO, etc.)? The dynamics of human identity have changed and become more complex today owing largely to the fact that transnational entities–corporations to government and non-government organizations–have continued to erode the role of the nation-state and the national institutions in which the “democratic process” is to work for all citizens. If society is an extension of an increasingly interdependent world with transnational institutions in the age of mass communications (and web), institutions outside the nation are enjoying more power than national ones where the democratic process presumably takes place; and if identity is forged from the individual’s interactions with society, then human identity either at the conscious or subconscious level is inexorably linked to the entire world. To some degree, this accounts for the sense of apathy, fatalism, nihilism of people who believe that while institutions are trying to convince the public that individual voice matters in a democracy, when in reality it means absolutely nothing.

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