JR'S Free Thought Pages
Our Beneficent Government
Who do they really “serve and protect”?
By Johnny Reb
Footnotes indicated by *
Democracy has become a sham; perhaps it always has been. And, as is generally the case, to understand what inspires government policy, just follow the money and who has it. Many ordinary citizens, small business people and wage earners now realize that the mainstream parties do not represent and have never represented their interests and don’t even show up to vote. In the recent British Columbia provincial elections fewer than 50% showed up at the polls.
And now as never before - not even during the Great Depression - has the country inherited such a daunting, intractable set of economic problems: a debt burden so crushing; inequality so vast; a loss of financial sovereignty so constricting; an intellectual apparatus so bankrupt; a private economy so uncompetitive; or an opposition so callously self interested in its own recovery and so cavalierly disinterested in the democratic process or common good. The economy and the dreams of prosperity, equality of opportunity and justice for all has been eradicated by the same “mainstream” conservative parties of power and privilege alluded to in the first paragraph. If you examine who conservatives have been throughout history – monarchs, land barons, popes and priests, feudal lords and dictators– this ought to come as no surprise.
So how did this corrosion of any semblance of democracy we once had and the decline of our (always tenuous) economic position over the past several decades come to pass and create such an appalling state of affairs?
The seemingly endless imperialistic wars and general erosion of public services and the recent sell-out of Medicare to mega-corporations in the United States are just two of countless instances demonstrating that what the working classes and masses of ordinary citizens yearn for is inconsequential to those who hold power in government. It’s patently obvious now that the huge run ups in government debt is just part of the grand scheme of regressive conservative administrations to dismantle the public sector and privatize everything including health care, education, the heat and electricity to our homes, our water supplies and other public services. Like the conservative oligarchs in Germany after the First World War*, their strategy is two-fold: first, provoke the resentment of the population about the calamitous state of its living conditions by blaming either the victims or the new incumbent president - no matter that those conditions had been created by the very right-wing regressive oligarchs who now pretend to befriend the working classes. It’s the familiar ruse by ruling conservatives who have throughout history never cared a whit about the desires or conditions of working people. Our rage has to be directed somewhere and memories are painfully short and since rage is often visceral and blind, once catalyzed, it is easy to turn on any subject.
*World War I, a war caused primarily by colonialism, militarism, power and greed, left Germany utterly devastated. Like the Republicans in the United States by 2008, the landed aristocrats, industrial magnates, wealthy financiers, weapons makers, and the officer corps of the military that formed the locus of right wing power in Germany were completely discredited. Their failure in provoking and prosecuting the War was catastrophic, undeniable, and complete.
Conservatives and the devious counterfeit Liberals only exist to serve their real masters, the 1% of privileged elites and big corporations with their powerful lobbies that finance their campaigns, control the media and own 90% of the wealth of this country. It’s always been that way, and, as history has demonstrated, any threat to this status quo has been dealt with ruthlessly. Any pretense or claim by these prevaricating demagogues to be votaries of the working classes is, as it always has been, a cruel joke played on the voting public. The neo-conservative resurgence of anti-intellectualism, militarism, union bashing, and the train wreck of democracy, the hollowing out of services to the public and any sense of the common good that started with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in 1980s has finally reached its nadir in the demolition of the global economy. How did it take so long to unravel? If these regressive neo-conservatives continue to have their way, soon everything including the air we breathe will be in the hands of their pals in the private sector. Under these conservative governments public debt at all levels has risen to astronomical levels. Despite their never ending sermons on fiscal responsibility, Reagan and Bush I quadrupled the national debt in only twelve years. Bush II doubled it again in only eight. It is now ten times higher than it was in 1980 when Reagan was elected. Yes, Blow Job Clinton was a slick elitist Machiavellian asshole and a total fraud, but he did at least balance the budget. Total public and private debt now exceeds 300% of GDP, half again higher than it was in 1929. Thanks to Republican policies of massive debt, imperialistic wars and shipping jobs abroad, the U.S. has destroyed its industrial base and technically become a colony of China. Britain, a victim of similar reactionary policies under Margaret Thatcher, is in even worse shape. The Labor Party in Britain has now become more Conservative than the Conservative Party. The political labels have taken on an insidious Orwellian flavor and mean very little to any thinking person any longer. They are about as ludicrous and vacuous as Hitler’s brand of fascism being funneled through the laughable party label “The German Workers National Socialist Party” or totalitarian North Korea under Kim Jong Il being called “The People’s Democratic Republic of Korea”.
The new orthodoxy of Reagan and Thatcher wrapped itself in the cult of individualism and personal responsibility – atomizing and freeing its advocates from any sense of social obligation and engagement with larger social forces that animated the political movements of the 1960s. As Noam Chomsky pointed out, at the heart of Reagan's uplifting rhetoric and demagoguery to remake America was a market-driven ideology designed "to ensure that isolated individuals face concentrated state and private power alone, without the support of an organizational structure that can assist them in thinking for themselves or entering into meaningful political action and with few avenues for public expression of fact or analysis that might challenge approved doctrine." Participating in the heady optimism that saturated the Reagan rhetoric came at considerable intellectual cost. Only "adherence to doctrinal truth," as Chomsky concluded, "confers substantial reward: not only acceptance within the system of power and a ready path to privilege, but also the inestimable advantage of freedom from the onerous demands of thought, inquiry and argument." [Noam Chomsky, "The Culture of Terrorism" (Boston: South End Press, 1988), p. 21.]
But under these conservative ideologues, free markets clearly do not reconcile risk and reward, allocating capital to its most productive uses, as its promoters advertise. The industrial economy that once drove our prosperity in the three decades following the Second World War and created the middle class has been gutted and replaced by “paper shuffling”, a casino house of cards environment that resembles a massive crap shoot and Ponzi scheme driven primarily by investment banks and their nefarious “investments of mass destruction” as Warren Buffet called them. The risk-reward balance clearly does not automatically return to equilibrium, but must be initially kick started with billions in government incentives and write-offs and then ultimately, when they fail, bailed out with trillions of dollars of injections from the shrinking coffers of the public to the ever-bulging coffers of a private plutocracy and priesthood of pillage and plunder. The recent multi-trillion bailouts have been nothing more than grand larceny - a heist of taxpayer money that has bankrupted government at all levels. The future for our children and grandchildren looks bleak indeed.
Free markets have long been the basis for a legitimate - though rightly debated - economic policy framework. But they have become little more than a robotically-recited cultural catechism, a mindless mantra mumbled to mask the looting of the nation's resources that is the true purpose of conservative economic policy as demonstrated by the staggering public debt and upward transfers of wealth that inevitably occur under Republican or Conservative regimes in both Canada and the US. Profits are privatized while risk and loss are socialized and assumed by the taxpayer. We fondly call it “free enterprise” but it’s neither “free” nor “enterprising”, but rather an inverted socialism for the already wealthy and the big corporations. A more complete, conspicuous, catastrophic, and irrefutable repudiation of right wing leaders, right wing policies, and right wing ideology could not possibly be conceived. In fact many intellectuals such as Sheldon Wolin and Chris Hedges have persuasively argued that what we are experiencing is “creeping fascism”. Others argue we’ve already arrived.
In our so-called globalized economy, free market or not, any part of the natural world that is amenable to exploitation, entails a profit for someone somewhere will either be domesticated, enslaved or exploited to extinction. The odious free market agreements such as NAFTA and GATT are nothing but facilitators for large corporations to exploit labor and resources with impunity and at the least cost to them throughout the world. But it's actually far worse than this. As statistics have shown, these agreements have been a disaster for working people throughout the world. Nevertheless, it's not a free market and capitalism is nothing but a façade, a delusion, and would collapse in a heartbeat without government largesse and manipulation. Let’s face the truth; there's not one iota of anything in the world that is sold in the “free” market. The only place you see a free market is in the duplicity and empty rhetoric of politicians.
As producers and employees many of us live in an economy that is better thought of as a corporate economy, an economy of what Noam Chomsky rightly calls state capitalism whereby arrangements of economic activity are organized and rigidly directed by the hands of bosses, managers and their minions in government, rather than one in which the pattern of activity emerges spontaneously by any other than the market's invisible hand. As the multi-trillion dollar taxpayer bailouts and “stimulus packages” have shown, Adam Smith’s invisible hand is not so invisible. Yet another way to say all this is to note that, as alluded to above, all sectors of the economy, in fact the economy as a whole, would collapse almost immediately without huge government incentives, subsidies, tax concessions and outright gifts to business. That’s what the real welfare state is all about; it’s got little or nothing to do with helping the poor and disadvantaged and ought to be referred to in terms that describe what is really is: the conservative corporate welfare state. For example, if every person in the country suddenly decided to somehow boycott the massively subsidized, corrupt and polluting oil industry - which of course will not happen, for any number of obvious reasons - the Canadian, U.S. and other governments would merely increase the already massive subsidies to that sector of the economy, and probably for good measure arrest the organizers of the boycott on sedition charges. They do the same thing with protestors who try to stop the catastrophic environmental devastation in places like the Alberta Tar Sands and the hacking down of the few remaining old growth forests.
It’s difficult and disconcerting to admit, but these revelations are the classic hallmarks of fascism. The strategy is to obstruct recovery, facilitate collapse, and then incite the faux-populism of public resentment to re-install a corporatist plutocracy which has failed, but which will not abide a reduction of its privileges or a diminution of its control. It is a fetid, subversive agenda, awaiting only its own latter day goose stepping messiah for its final fulfillment. In fact Mussolini described his brand of fascism as corporatism in which the state operates and colludes as a willing partner with big business. Under fascist states capitalism flourished as it had during its glorious infancy in the hundreds of years of slavery, robber baron and brutal conditions for workers before the advent of hard fought for labor laws and unionization.
In British Columbia over the past 9 years we have had the lowest minimum wage and highest child poverty rate in Canada. We have suffered under a labor bashing neo-conservative government that promotes greed and profit over all else and which has nothing but contempt for working people. Shortly after being elected in 2001 they introduced huge tax concessions to Big Business in concert with oppressive anti-labor legislation (Bill 29) that was a few years later declared a blatant violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights by the Supreme Court of Canada. The legal costs for this heartless boondoggle cost the Canadian taxpayers $350,000,000 while the thousands of victims of the legislation who lost their careers in the process got a total of $85,000,000 in compensation. Gordon Campbell, the Premier of the province was charged with impaired driving In Maui shortly after his first term of office and his corrupt government promotes gambling casinos and hunting of Grizzly Bears that are on the endangered species list. He ought to have been forced to resign on multiple occasions. As long as there’s a profit for someone in an endeavor it’s given the government’s blessing. They also sold off a profitable public railway, BC Rail, to Canadian National Railway in a scandal plagued transaction several years ago that is still being dragged through the courts. This shameless corrupt government wants to privatize anything and everything including our highways, education, health care system, water supply and probably the air we breathe. To these conservative philistines, power, profit and the accumulation of money is more important than life itself. They know the price of everything but the value of nothing. When they look at a beautiful pristine old growth forest or river, they don’t stand in awe of its grandeur, magnificence and reverence for its qualities of sustenance as have the native Canadians for centuries, but, only how fast they can clear cut it or build a hydro power facility for profit. Sadly, most people born in the last 40 years have likely never experienced what it’s like to live in a healthy community where sharing, mutual aid and a sense of the common good is placed ahead of profit and hyper-competitive narcissism.
But let’s step back a little further in time to more fully understand the genesis of this phenomenon….
Adam Smith, deemed the founding father of capitalism, clearly had no illusions about the nature of his system and who was served by it, concluding that the "principal architects" of policy in England were "merchants and manufacturers," who ensured that their own interests are "most peculiarly attended to," however "grievous" the effects on others, including the people of England. Smith's maxim still holds, though today the "principal architects" are multinational corporations and particularly the financial institutions whose share in the economy has exploded exponentially since the 1970s.
The claim that any genuinely progressive social reform has been dispensed as a gift from above courtesy of Liberals and Conservatives flies in the face of the entirety of our recorded history. Canada and the USA are countries whereby every significant social reform has been the outcome of over a century and a half of the most bitter and bloody struggles against a ruling class that savagely resists social progress and justice. The enactment of such reforms has always followed brutal state repression and been associated with martyrs to the cause who were hunted down, jailed or murdered. This is a history that has, for obvious reasons, not been taught in our schools, but rather a history written by and about the powerful, not the people they have manipulated and oppressed.
Slavery in the US was abolished only by a Civil War that raged for four years and cost the lives of 620,000 soldiers and an undetermined number of civilians. The eight-hour day was the result of mass strikes in the 1870s and 1880s that culminated in the Haymarket Massacre and the hanging of key leaders of the eight-hour movement. The suffragettes endured repeated beatings and incarcerations in their battle for the right of women to vote. Official recognition of the right to form labor unions in America was the outcome of a 60-year struggle that began in the 1870s and continued even after Franklin Roosevelt was forced to recognize the right in 1934. It involved general strikes in major US cities, including the 1934 strikes in Toledo, Minneapolis and San Francisco.
In struggles such as the Flint sit-down strike, workers occupied factories and faced off against police and troops in industrial battles that verged on civil war. Ten workers were gunned down in cold blood and many others were wounded by Chicago police in the 1937 Memorial Day massacre. It was in the context of such mass working class struggles fueled by the Great Depression that Roosevelt enacted Social Security. The history of labor and oppressed minorities followed the same pattern in Canada. The police have always been there to serve and protect – their elite masters of power, privilege and wealth. Nothing has really changed.
The enactment of Medicare in the 1960s was the byproduct of the mass mobilization of African-Americans and their allies in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, in which hundreds of thousands marched in the face of killings and terror by vigilantes backed by the state. By the time of the passage of Medicare, the civil rights struggle had been joined by an upsurge of militant labor struggles and the initial eruption of the most oppressed sections of the working class in urban uprisings. In Canada the courageous efforts of social democrat Tommy Douglas* in bringing universal government health care is, or at least ought to be, well known in Canada.
* It was Douglas and most of his caucus who stood alone in protesting Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s invocation of the War Measure’s Act during the 1970 Quebec crisis. The sight of tanks rolling in Ottawa immediately reminded him of the police incited riots during the Winnipeg General Strike in 1919 when he was still a young boy and as a young pastor, the carnage left in Saskatchewan in 1931 during the Estevan miner’s strike in which the RCMP along with company thugs rode into town and opened fire on defenseless strikers with automatic weapons during a peaceful demonstration, killing three innocent strikers and injuring over twenty others. It was this incident that moved him from the pulpit to politics. He was also reminded by what he witnessed during the 1930s in Germany during a visit, of goose stepping, saluting and flag waving Nazis. He was aghast and deeply disturbed at what was happening there. Tommy deplored the kidnappings by the FLQ of course and supported government action to deal with the situation. But he told the House of Commons, as cries of “shame” emanated from the conservative opposition of Liberals and Tories, the government “is using a sledgehammer to crack a peanut.” The NDP, he said, was “not prepared to use the preservation of law and order as a smokescreen to destroy the liberties and freedoms of the people of Canada.” His courageous stand on the crisis even caused sharp divisions within his own party and he was the target of endless abuse from the corporate controlled media and other conservative forces within the country. But history has vindicated Tommy for his courageous stand and as a documentary on Douglas years later recounted, the Quebec Crisis in 1970 was perhaps “his finest hour, certainly his loneliest.” Douglas was also a vehement critic of racism and the huge social inequities especially within the United States and an equally harsh critic of the country’s imperialistic foreign policy, especially the Vietnam War, long before it became a mass protest movement. If Tommy were alive today he would be stunned and outraged at the two imperialistic wars in Afghanistan and Iraq following 9-11 as well as the subsequent removal of basic civil liberties by the Bush administration such as the infamous “Patriot Act.”
In the United States the right of 18-year-olds to vote was secured as a result of the mass movement against the Vietnam War and in Canada indigenous people didn’t get the right to vote until 1960. In every case, the victories for social reform represented the paranoid response of the ruling class to mass movements from the underclass. And in every case, these victories were partial and limited, diluted with all sorts of caveats, and containing the seeds of their eventual undoing - due in part to the limited political perspective and compromises imposed on the insurgent movements by their reformist leadership.
The moment the working class relaxed its pressure or it was perceived their gains had gone too far, those gains were diluted or eliminated. And when they really let their guard down like we did after credulously electing regressive proto-fascists like Ronald Reagan, Brian Mulroney ( a common thief) and Margaret Thatcher they let us have it in the groin with full force, assaulting us with neo-conservative unfettered free market casino capitalism, regressive labor legislation, union bashing, huge deficits, vast concessions to the wealthy investor classes and real owners of the country and the privatization of anything and everything within their sights. I reiterate; these are people who know the price of everything - but the value of nothing.
All these events have been coterminous with a steady erosion of income for working people, rescinding of civilized working conditions and public services. Greed and profit are now the primary driving forces of our culture, well ahead of family, friends and any modicum of the common good. Figures released by the US Commerce Department the other day highlight and confirm the continuing decline in living standards for wide layers of the working class population who are suffering from the highest unemployment and worst economic conditions since the Great Depression.
The Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) reported earlier this month that personal income in the US declined 1.7 percent in 2009. The Associated Press noted that this was “the weakest showing since the Great Depression year of 1938, when incomes had fallen 7.7 percent.” The decline in personal income is the first in the US since 1949. Meanwhile, the financial and corporate elite continue to plunder the economy, becoming ever wealthier. Income inequality is at its highest point in decades, and the US is now home to 403 billionaires, according to Forbes magazine, who between them control 8 percent of the national wealth, while representing 0.00014 percent of the nation’s population.
All this happens while licentious Wall Street financiers and managers wallow in huge bonuses courtesy of the massive taxpayer bailouts and our lying conservative government leaders promote the delusionary bullshit that an economic recovery is imminent.
As the late great George Carlin said in one of his insightful skits, “It’s called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.” Wake up everybody – it’s been a nightmare.