By Noam Chomsky
…excerpted from Occupy
…150 years ago, in the mid-19th Century, during the onset of the industrial revolution, industrial systems were taking away freedom and liberty and imposing these ruthless, hierarchical, class-conscious structures. it’s what they called ‘the new spirit of the age: ‘gain wealth, forgetting all but self’. For 150 years, there have been massive efforts to try to impose ‘the new spirit of the age’ on people.
But as it is inherently inhumane, there is a lot of resistance and so it continues…
during the 1950’s and the 1960’s there was a sustained period of enormous growth, the biggest growth in American history, maybe in Economic history. But it was also egalitarian: the lowest quintile did as well as the highest quintile and it absorbed into the mainstream society. Groups that had been excluded from society, African Americans for example, could finally be integrated into society.
In the 1970’s, a dramatic shift in the economy began to take place, and with it, egalitarian growth came to an end.
One of the underlying factors was the falling rate of profit in manufacturing.
Production continued, but overseas, which was very profitable, but not good for the workforce.
You can have decent working conditions and production at home, but they made more profit that way.
Combined with this there was also a shift towards increasing the role of finance in society, hence wealth became concentrated heavily in those financial industries. The economy essentially went from producing things people needed or used to financial manipulation.
Before the 1970’s, banks were banks. They did what banks were supposed to do in a state capitalist economy: they took unused funds from your bank account, for example, and transferred to some potentially useful purpose like helping some family to buy a home or send a kid to college, or whatever it might be. Part of it was also deregulation. During the 1950’s and 1960’s, our great growth period, the banks were regulated and there was no crisis.
Starting in the 1980s, you started getting financial crisis, bubbles etc… (there were several during the Reagan administrations). this major shift escalated radically under Reagan, Thatcher in England, and just on from there.
Meanwhile, for the general population, it began to open a period of stagnation or even decline for the majority.
So there was a period of stagnation for the majority that continued alongside a period of sharp concentration of wealth. These major developments led to tremendous concentration of wealth in the hands of the financial sector but it did not benefit the economy- it actually harmed it overall, as well as society. In the US, inequalities have risen to historically unprecedented heights. When they talk about 80’s growth, it’s incorrect. Growth for the rich only should not be confused with growth, and will usually lead to unrest.
In 2006, the federal reserve, rather strikingly, had no recognition that there was a multi trillion dollar housing bubble that had no basis whatsoever and was going to collapse.
As a matter of fact they were congratulating themselves on how marvellously they were running the economy.
Well, of course, it collapsed as it had to, maybe 8 trillion dollars lost. For much of the population, that’s all they had. Many African Americans, and many others too, had their net worth practically reduced to nothing. It’s a disaster. This kind of thing is going to happen as long as you have unregulated capital markets.
Furthermore, most these major financial criminals have a government insurance policy called ‘too big to fail’: if you get in trouble, the taxpayer will bail you out. It’s a financial casino instead of a protected economy, and of course people get hurt who are not rich and powerful.
But it get’s worse.
concentration of wealth yields concentration of political power and gives rise to legislation that drives new fisical policies, tax changes, rules of corporate governance, and deregulation, all in favor of finical institutions.
Alongside of this began the very sharp rise in the cost of elections, which drives the political parties even deeper than before into the pockets of the corporate sector, and increasingly, the financial sector. There has always been a gap between public policy and public will but it has grown astronomically.
Take a look at the polls.
The public overwhelmingly supports higher taxes on the wealthy, which have declined sharply at this period of stagnation and decline – and preserve the limited social benefits. The big topic in Washington that everyone concentrates on is the deficit. For the public, correctly, the deficit is not regarded as much as an issue.
And it’s actually not really much of an issue. The issue is joblessness, not the deficit.
There is a deficit commission but there is no joblessness commission.
and the outcome of the deficit commission is probably going to be the opposite of what the public wants…
For the 1/10th of the 1%, they are richer than ever, more powerful than ever, controlling the political system, and disregarding the public, yet convincing them in many instances, through the politicians they finance, that they’re on their side.
As far as money in politics is concerned, it’s hard to beat the comment of the great political financier, Mark Hanna. About a century ago, he was asked what was important in politics.
He answered : ‘the first is money, the second one is money and I have forgotten what the third one is.’ That was a century ago. Today, it’s much more extreme.
The way primaries are carried out in the US is radically undemocratic. Candidates show up to a town — loads of publicity, a lot of ads and the money came from who-knows-where with all sorts of secret strings attached… They mostly talk about what they believe you’ll like to hear.
elections, as many of you probably know by now, have become bidding wars, usually between a few billionaires and corporations, with the public at times confused with all the propaganda they’re being fed and reluctantly choosing their fate without proper information or total understanding.
It’s not just elections. In the US, even within congress, if someone wants a position with a certain degree of power and authority, they literally have to buy it.
Committee chairs used to be granted by a political party on the basis of seniority, service and other factors. Now, you literally have to pay the party to be a candidate for a chair.
That has an effect, it drives members of congress into the same pockets if they want to get anywhere.
This is not 100% of the time but these are pretty widespread tendencies and are fragmenting whatever is left of functioning democracy.
Wealth will always try to use its wealth and power to take over the political system as much as possible. The public has to find ways to fight & struggle against this. rulers still can overcome the concept of democracy, and turn a democracy into basically a kingdom or dictatorship, and that’s by the controlling of opinions and attitudes. Methods like propaganda, consumerism and stirring up ethnic hatred will always go on but we have to find ways to resist it.
Conservatives are still a large section of the population and we should respect their natural beliefs and inclinations as all viewpoints should be carefully considered and respected. unfortunately most republican leaders are just using those beliefs to service a finacial or corporate agenda, one which commonly hurts the average person. democrats do it too to some extent but republicans are much more obvious about it.
The Republican party have abandoned the pretense of being a political party years ago. They’re uniformly committed, and with such dedication, to tiny sectors of power and profit that they’re hardy a political party anymore.
They have to do something to get a voting constituency so they’ve been mobilising sectors of the population that were always there, but not politically organised very well – religious evangelicals, nativists who are terrified that their rights and country are being taken away, and so on.
To understand someone fully, you must not only listen to their words but also watch their actions. most politicians in the GOP want you to only listen only to their words, and sadly, that works in convincing a lot of people.
But to those who dig deeper and analyse evidence and facts as well as monitor their actions and what they implicate, their actions tell a very different, specific and often terrifying story.
The good news is, we have a history of great success in getting policy changes. That’s the genius of the american system.
The new deal legislation, for example, didn’t come out of nowhere. That came out of very large scale popular activism, which reached the point where the business world and the government agreed to allow progressive legislation to pass. The business world quickly tried to undermine it, but they had to accept it.
The country is also a much more civilised place now, in many respects, than it was even as recently as the 1960’s.
Women still in many states, couldn’t serve on juries. In 1960, my university was almost 100% white male. Now it’s much more diverse and that’s the case over much of the country.
Well, that’s a big change in the nature of the society and the culture. It didn’t happen by magic.
It wasn’t a gift from above. It came from extensive organising activities and actions which finally broke down a lot of barriers. That’s the way changes take place.
The United States remains a very free country. You get a lot of opportunities.
It’s not like Egypt, where you’re going to get murdered by the security forces. Here, there’s repression, but by international standards it’s slight.
New York City’s city council passed a resolution against corporate personhood. It’s a very popular idea in this country, and if it’s pursued, it will dismantle a century of judicial decisions that have given corporations extraordinary rights.
There are many other possibilities for getting money out of politics, broader ways that involve legislation and so on. These things are not in conflict with one another.
General assemblies that can spread out into the broader community and retain their vitality, could be very important.
The educational establishment can also be influenced, in classrooms and different organizations and writings and all sorts of things.
A whole range of other things could be done, like addressing civic corruption and police brutality and the reconstruction of media. Some reach as far as organising for constitutional conventions.
You can speak out, you can write, you can organise, you can protest (sometimes), you can reach out to other people. and If you keep doing it, it will have an impact.
Take for example, the women’s movement. It began with very small groups of women getting together and talking to each other and coming to identify and comprehend that, first of all there is oppression, and that a better way is possible where we don’t have to accept oppression. If you had asked my grandmother if she was oppressed, she wouldn’t have known what you were talking about. Of course she was hopelessly oppressed, but identifying it is not always easy, especially if no one talks about it. So just getting to understand that you don’t have to accept oppression, is a big step.
There was bitter resistance; it wasn’t easy by any means. There was and, in fact, there still is a backlash. But you just keep struggling for it.
when it comes to worker rights, stake holders, meaning essentially the workforce, should have the right to takeover parts of the economy when they are unnecessarily being dismantled, and run them effectively.
These are the kinds of things, feasible things, that could have a big effect on society.
In Taunton, a manufacturing town outside of Boston, there was a small, reasonably successful manufacturing plant. It was producing hi -tech equipment for aircraft, and apparently it was doing ok; but it wasn’t making enough profit for the managers and the multinational corporation that owned it. So the corporation wanted to just dismantle it. The United Electrical Workers Union wanted to buy the operation and run it themselves, but the corporation wouldn’t agree. I suspect that they wouldn’t agree on class grounds: it’s not a good idea to let people own and manage their own work places- people might get the wrong idea. But maybe making a deal in the multinationals’ favour would have been a plausible compromise; workers get to keep their jobs, and corporations keeps making the profit without incurring any cost?
…These are the kinds of things, feasible things, that could have a big effect on society.
Obama is praised for having essentially nationalised the auto industry and reconstructed it. but there were two alternatives: One alternative would have been to hand the auto industry over to the workforce/the stake holders, in the the image of what the country really needs. Another possibility was to hand it back to the original owners- not the same names, but to the same banks, the same class, and so on. and of course, that’s what was done.
The population has a sensible attitude about what ought to be done, like for example, higher taxes for the rich and going back to the way things were during the big growth periods. Something like Occupy could help lead society on a more human course.
Lastly, The United States is the only major country that is not doing something constructive to protect the environment. And this is connected with a huge propaganda system, proudly and openly declared by the business world, to try to convince people that climate change is just a liberal hoax. It’s not going to be easy to proceed. There are going to be barriers, difficulties, hardships, failures- it’s inevitable. the human species face a very serious problem of whether even decent existence can be carried forward. We are coming close to the edge of a precipice of environmental destruction. Unless there’s a major force in the social and the political world, the chances for a decent future are not very high.
‘Growth’ is understood and accepted to include constant attacks on the physical environment that sustains life – like, for example, greenhouse emissions, destruction of agricultural land, destruction of the earth’s protective ozone layer and so forth. This isn’t what growth has to mean. It takes work and doesn’t come by itself; it takes development of a different kind (and the US can and should be on the forefront of this). A different way of living, which is not based on maximizing consumer goods, but on maximizing values that are important for life.
That’s growth too.
That’s real growth.
In conclusion, the more active public support there is the better defence there is against repression, corruption and violence.
If people don’t want to think about what’s going on, try and bring up the importance of understanding facts. In fact, even the Tea Party, they’re kind of social-democratic.
A considerable majority are in favour of more spending for health and more spending for education. They’re against welfare but not for more spending to help, say, women with dependent children. That’s the result of very effective propaganda. One of Ronald Reagan’s great successes was to demonize the concept of welfare. In Reagonite rhetoric, welfare means a rich black woman driving to a welfare office in a chauffeured cadillac so she can take your hard earned money and spend it on drugs or something. Well, nobody’s in favour of that.
But are you in favour of what welfare actually does? Well, yeah, that ought to be supported.
The same is true on health care, on the deficit. Special interests indirectly villainize certain things to be misunderstood when, in reality, most would support it.
2/3s of the population think that corporations should be deprived of personal rights. It’s not just Citizens United.
It goes back a century. And that’s against the will of about 2/3s of the population.
we have to make the people understand clearly what’s going on. The goal should be simply to educate.
And again, you can’t do anything unless there is a large popular base.
If something like the Occupy movement was a leading force in the country, you could push many things forward.
Remember, most people don’t know that this is happening.
Economists and Nobel Laureates think that austerity in a period of recession is guaranteed to make the situation worse. Growth is what is needed in a period of recession, not austerity. Europe has the resources to stimulate growth, but their resources are not being used because of the policies of the Central Bank. A rational way to judge purposes is to look at predictable consequences and who benefits. One consequence is that these policies would of course put more power in the hands of the corporate sector and the wealthy.
It’s also necessary to get people to understand what the consequences are of not doing anything about it.
The only way to mobilize the public is by going out and joining them. Getting involved with them and trying to learn from them, to bring about a change of consciousness among them.
One of the achievements of the Occupy movement has been people involved are in it for one another, for the broader society and for future generations.
Major organisations of ‘unknown people’, as Howard Zinn put it, created the grounds that enabled King to gain significant influence. This forced the country to honor the constitutional amendments of a century earlier which had theoretically granted elementary civil rights.
…No need to stress, there remains a long way to go.