"Immersion in the life of the world, a willingness to be inhabited by and to speak for others, including those beyond the realm of the human, these are the practices not just of the bodhisattva but of the writer." --Jane Hirshfield

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Another God That Failed

As markets tumble and prices soar, and especially as the wages of ordinary workers lag inflation, the free-market dogmas that have governed the country over the last generation are increasingly under fire. If markets are so good, how come we’re paying almost $4 for gas? If private enterprise does the work of the angels, what happened to all the good jobs?

NY Times review of The Predator State, by James K. Galbraith.

...Galbraith argues that the Reagan revolution and all that followed was essentially a fraud. What remains of it? Nothing. Who still believes in it? Outside academia: no one.

Galbraith says Reaganism was founded on three policies: deregulation, monetarism and low taxes. He declares that the first was an artifice so that lobbyists could extract “more money from those who can afford to pay — and sometimes from those who cannot.”

Monetarism (the tactic used, successfully, by the Federal Reserve in the 1980s to nip inflation) he depicts as a tool to kill off labor unions and elevate the power of Wall Street. And low taxes failed to achieve their supposed purpose — encouraging saving. They were merely a sop to the wealthy.

I'm happy to see a book like this get reviewed in the NY Times. Even if it's saying what many people knew all along, that Reagan economics, and certainly the policies of the Bush administrations, favor the rich and ignore the long-term effects on the working people who provide the economy's foundation. Rhetoric still influences many people. Reagan's did -- his senile optimism and pure fantasy view of the economy is still "trickling" down, along with standards of living, although I think it would be simplistic to say that that is all there is to it. The world is a different, more crowded place now, but the false optimism and willful selfishness of our leaders in those years kept us from being prepared as a country for the problems we have now. And it's not over yet. I live in the expensive Northeast. I'm wondering just how many of my neighbors can afford their fuel bills this winter, or if I can.


Kay Sexton said...

There is something bigger here though about how the 'American Dream' fed this simplistic view - the enshrined idea of 'pursuit of happiness' and that your children will be better off than you has given a rather narrow view of the reality of economic behaviour to an awful lot of Americans, in my opinion.

Those whose national boundaries bang up against volatile or staid neighbours have much more experience of different ways of looking at the world; French people don't tend to buy property, Scandinavians don't have student debt, Italians live in relative penury, apartment-wise, to have money for clothes, food, art and holidays ... I suppose we Europans have something more realistic in our understanding and know the world is harsher because we compare ourselves a lot to our neighbours.

Zen of Writing said...

Your neighbors are a lot closer, too. Economic reality is different here, or maybe I should say was. It's a bigger country, more undeveloped spaces and resources, and if the American Dream consists of owning a house, unlike the French ideal, it's partly because the tax laws were structured to make home ownership a wise financial decision. The people who drafted the tax laws might well have had other goals than just keeping the citizenry happy -- there's a lot of money to be made in construction, and a lot of jobs created as well. But yes, sooner or later, we'll run out of developable land, and have to alter the dream a bit. But I certainly hope we won't be living with our parents so we can spend money on clothes etc.