NEVER ENOUGH May 9, 2013Posted by wmmbb in Social Environment.
The rich it seems just want to be richer. There is never enough. We all seem to be caught up in the politics of more, the politics of growth. To criticize the few is to criticize the many, who will not be denied the opportunity to be rich.
Insanity when it is engaged by the majority, when it becomes the unspoken and conditioned assumption and primary motivation ceases to be crazy, even if it results in the progressive destruction of the biosphere, which luckily our species, unlike all others, is not dependent upon because we are so adaptable and have such creative capacity for new technology. The notion of survival of the fittest and the reward for ingenuity and innovation is deeply imbued in the finest among the homo sapiens, who in one of those odd quirks of history just happen to live in the richest countries – or what were the richest countries.
The whole idea is that economic inequality is a good thing. It provides economic incentive. Otherwise people would find other things to do, and they may even chose not to be employed in the corporate sweat shops that they pledge their lives.
Ha-Joon Chang at The Guardian reflects:
Once universal suffrage was introduced, [the rich] could not openly oppose democracy. So they started criticising “politics” in general. Politicians, it was argued, would adopt policies that maximised their chances of re-election but damaged the economy – printing money, handing out favours to powerful monopolies, and increasing social welfare spending for the poor. Politicians needed to be prevented from making important policy decisions, the argument went.
On this advice, since the 1980s, many countries have ring-fenced the most important policy areas to keep politicians out. Independent central banks (such as the European Central Bank), independent regulatory agencies (such as Ofcom and Ofgem) and strict rules on government spending and deficits (such as the “balanced budget” rule) have been introduced.
In particularly difficult economic times, it was even argued, we need to insulate economic policies from politics altogether. Latin American military dictatorships were justified in such terms. The recent imposition of “technocratic” governments, made up of economists and bankers who have not been “tainted” by politics, on Greece and Italy comes from the same intellectual stable.
What free-market economists are not telling us is that the politics they want to get rid of are none other than those of democracy itself. When they say we need to insulate economic policies from politics, they are in effect advocating the castration of democracy.
The conflict surrounding austerity policies in Europe is, then, not just about figures on budget, unemployment and growth rate. It is also about the meaning of democracy.
As José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European commission, has recently recognised, the policy of austerity has “reached its limits” in terms of “political and social support”. If European leaders, including the British chancellor, keep pushing these policies against those limits, people will inevitably start asking: what is the point of democracy, when policies serve only the interest of the tiny minority at the top? This is nothing less than crunch time for democracy
George Monibot observes the very rich. Even their baubles do not make them happy. Very strange indeed.
In order to grant the rich these pleasures, the social contract is reconfigured. The welfare state is dismantled. Essential public services are cut so that the rich may pay less tax. The public realm is privatised, the regulations restraining the ultra-wealthy and the companies they control are abandoned, and Edwardian levels of inequality are almost fetishised.
Politicians justify these changes, when not reciting bogus arguments about the deficit, with the incentives for enterprise that they create. Behind that lies the promise or the hint that we will all be happier and more satisfied as a result. But this mindless, meaningless accumulation cannot satisfy even its beneficiaries, except perhaps – and temporarily – the man wobbling on the very top of the pile.
The same applies to collective growth. Governments today have no vision but endless economic growth. They are judged not by the number of people in employment – let alone by the number of people in satisfying, pleasurable jobs – and not by the happiness of the population or the protection of the natural world. Job-free, world-eating growth is fine, as long as it’s growth. There are no ends any more, just means.
In their interesting but curiously incomplete book, How Much is Enough?, Robert and Edward Skidelsky note that “Capitalism rests precisely on this endless expansion of wants. That is why, for all its success, it remains so unloved. It has given us wealth beyond measure, but has taken away the chief benefit of wealth: the consciousness of having enough … The vanishing of all intrinsic ends leaves us with only two options: to be ahead or to be behind. Positional struggle is our fate.”
They note that the nations with the longest working hours – the United States, the United Kingdom and Italy, in the graph of OECD nations they publish in the book – are those with the greatest inequality. They might have added that they are also the three with the lowest levels of social mobility.
Four possible conclusions could be drawn. The first is that inequality does indeed encourage people to work harder, as the Skidelskys (and various neoliberals) maintain: the bigger the gap, the more some people will strive to try to close it. Or perhaps it’s just that more people, swamped by poverty and debt, are desperate. An alternative explanation is that economic and political inequality sit together: in more unequal nations, bosses are able to drive their workers harder. The fourth possible observation is that the hard work inequality might stimulate neither closes the gap nor enhances social mobility.
Nor, it seems, does it make us, collectively, any wealthier. The Dutch earn an average of $42,000 per capita on 1,400 hours a year, the British $36,000 on 1,650 hours. Inequality, competition and an obsession with wealth and rank appear to be both self-perpetuating and destined to sow despair.
Can we not rise above this? To seek satisfactions that don’t cost the earth and might be achievable? The principal aim of any wealthy nation should now be to say: “Enough already”.
Despite the evidence to the contrary, we can expect the next Government, while nominally Liberal, to pursue the politics of violence and austerity. Violence is such a good thing, why leave just for the external others. We will join in with the American Empire in the murdering fields when we get our fleet of drones, which simultaneously increase the profits of their military-industrial complex. Austerity is violence by another name, which when properly enacted will finally insulate the few good people among us, by imposing structural violence to keep in place the rest abetted by careful conditioning and mindless advertising for greed supported by news management.
Exaggerated? Consider the United States. Bill Moyers reports on The United States of Inequality:
Warren Buffet who was reported to have gained $16 million on a bet on the decision by the Reserve Bank on interest rates:
If there was a class war, my class won.
- Human beings still conform to Aristotle’s observation that they are social animals. Of course, he said proper human beings, lived in a polis, were thereby political animals.It is human nature to think and communicate, and so be concerned with fairness and morality. Otherwise, he or she would be as a bird that flys alone.
- Austerity has been tried elsewhere with results, at least in Western countries, that gave pause to the IMF. Democracy is more important than austerity. Austerity should be understood for what it is – a violent internal class war.
- No doubt there are structural issues associated with the budgetary policy, for example relating to demographics, but too much can be made of deficits.
- Joe Hockey is to be commended for introducing a long term strategic approach to budgeting and economic policy that foresees the end of the mining as the principal economic mainstay and the need to develop other aspects of economic activity, such as services.
- He is right to acknowledge that the economy and the budget cannot be understood in isolation.
- The principle failure evident in the Liberal proposals, and probably Labor’s as well, is the failure to fully acknowledge the continuing and probably increasing impact on climate change, and the need to develop a long term response. What would be the point of investing in infrastructure for example without envisaging the possible direct impact of climate change, and indirect effects such as changes in behavior, made more possible by the NBN.
- The unthinking adherence to the American Empire and increased “defence ” spending, albeit annoying, is very ingrained in the paradigm of viewing and understanding the world.
- Nick Cater has never heard of contradictions, and if he has he does not care. Don Arthur provides unbiased review while noting in passing the following:
In Cater’s account the conservatives’ defence of nationhood was half-hearted. They failed to challenge Knowledge Class doctrines like diversity, historical injustice and compassion – “ideas that subvert the democratic principles of an ordered society.”
Good to know what Rupert requires his minions to oppose, but it would be of perhaps passing interest to understand why. Otherwise, rivetingly funny.
- Gary at Public Opinion reviews Nick Cater’s, The Lucky Culture and the Rise of an Australian Ruling Class. Nick Cater speaks for corporate power, espousing neoliberalism and austerity. The major project is to dismantle the welfare state. He writes:
His book continues the culture wars–it promotes climate change denialism, winding back mass university access, funding state-led economic development through the construction of dams, highlights the cultural divide and attacks the impractical, progressive cosmopolitan inner city elites as being out of touch with suburban Australia and favours endless economic growth.
Cater argues that in the first decade of the 21st century, a new “self-appointed ruling class” emerged in Australia, comprising university graduates who were “cosmopolitan and sophisticated”. These powerful inner city elites did not simply feel better off but held that they were better than their fellow Australians. Australia is under threat from the elitism of a “morally snobbish intellectual class”. Labor is part of a new social and political elite, a class of tertiary educated progressives who sneeringly look down their noses at ‘ordinary Australians’.
- The Tyranny of the One Percent (counterpunch.org)
- Why the politics of envy are keenest among the very rich | George Monbiot (guardian.co.uk)
- Watch Out, George Osborne: Smith, Marx and Even the IMF Are After You (cepr.net)