three weeks that were heard around the world

It isn’t exactly the week that changed the world – but the astute observer must find the last three weeks fascinating. It has long been the case that the states within the developed world have encouraged, at one and the same time, the conditions for plutocracy and the advance of the protector state. It is a double movement that is only reflected in a distorted way in the issues about ‘deficits’ or ‘deregulation’ – since the plutocracy could only arise, as it were, in conditions that hid it from the social order, which had temporarily pivoted, after WWII, on ‘democracy’. Of course, this talk about democracy is loose – you will hear Americans go on and on about their ‘democracy’ without the least awareness that, up until 1965, America was anything but a democracy – it was, in truth, one of the world’s worst apartheid states.

However, the very fact that myth disguised this fact is a significant indicator of the hegemony of the democratic reference.

It has been clear for some time that the double movement of encouraging both plutocracy and the protector state – middle class ‘entitlements’ – was eventually going to come up against the limit of its internal contradiction. The only question was whether the plutocratic element was strong enough to overcome the inertia of the democratic culture and the desire of the majority of the population to retain its ‘entitlements’.

2008-2009 should be known, in the future, as a sort of unveiling moment. It is here that the rhetoric about capitalism and free markets were calmly thrown into the garbage can, as the real goal of the state – maintaining the plutocracy – proceeded in defiance of all rules, and against all the surface ‘ideologies’ of the supposed opposite political sides. The most conservative of American Presidents, Bush, and the supposedly progressive Democratic presidential candidate, Obama, made common cause in saving the wealthiest. Of course, due obeisance was paid to democratic rhetoric, and we were told that saving the wealthiest was ‘saving the economy’. The economy was near a ‘meltdown’. In reality, it was only the plutocracy, which had long dispensed with the role of investing in real social goods and innovations in the developed countries and had engaged in an orgy of much more profitable rent-seeking that was truly in danger.

The Anglophone countries were at the heart of the rise of the plutocracies. Not all of them have nurtured the combination of plutocracy/entitlement to the same extent, but in the UK, Ireland and the U.S., this combination has become the template around which all political actors gather.

It is against this background that the three events of the past month – Ireland’s takeover by the IMF and the unprotesting submission of the population to the world’s first case of a nation run solely to pay off bank bondholders – the UK’s decision to slash funding for education to a level not seen since the 19th century, while simultaneously continuing to backstop the bankers –and Obama’s decision to continue the Bush tax cuts while beginning the policy of decimating the Social security fund, in preparation for its future ‘reform’ – take on their significance. A population that has grown comfortable under the entitlements regime is non-plussed by the fact that the plutocrats are openly shrugging off the accountrements of democratic culture. But the struggle that put in place the entitlements is so long ago, and the institutions that guided that struggle are in such disrepair, that the population is, as it were, disarmed. The index of that vulnerability is the fact that the population turns, as though naturally, to the parties.

The political class in all Anglophone countries have long been recruited from professions that are ancillary to the plutocrats – mainly lawyers – and, in their day to day lives, the political class of all parties sees and establishes personal relationships with other plutocrat ancillaries. The political class – whether Labour or Tory, whether Democrat or Republican – is united in the policy that binds together the alliance of the government and the plutocrats. Blair and Obama, insignificant suits in themselves, become potent historical symbols by having been both the recipients of ambient anxiety about the structure of the economy and the great pursuers of policies that were the opposite of what their followers presumed. Obama is, at the moment, subject to a very personal rage on the part of American ‘liberals’ who have reached a point at which they are beginning not to accept the dogfood poured out by the usual media propagandists – the host of media personalities, bloggers, talking heads, and think tankers. The dogfood – usually wrapped around meaningless phrases about the most ‘progressive’ president of the last seventy years, or other kinds of hype – is beginning to stick in the throat. This is the moment that Marx speaks of in the German Ideology – the moment of the ‘unbearable’.

Yet, it is hard to see what will reverse the trend towards plutocracy. I suffered the illusion, in the 00s, that the plutocracy was somehow Bush’s ‘fault’ – that the Bush regime, with its faint odor of an illegitimate coup, its corruption, its gathering together of the very worst of the media messengers and gray eminences, was somehow causing the plutocratic tilt. The salutary experience of watching a very different president, Obama, advocate for the same policies makes one think. Perhaps it doesn’t matter what pony you bet on if they all race around the same circular track.


Sarah said…
These two pieces, this and 'Busting the joint out', are really really excellent- spot on.

I tend to hold on to hope by remembering just how fast things can change- as someone from that era said, no one who lived through the fifties would have predicted the sixties. The collapse of communist governments at the end of the 80's and beginning of the 90's, too, was stunningly swift. Also, it seems like the Millenials are buying the propaganda of wealth less readily than the Xers.

In any case, thank you for these pieces- as well as your interesting posts on homo oeconomicus- They are a breath of fresh air in the sometimes rather stale blogosphere.
roger said…
Sarah, thanks. I've been a little sick over the weekend -meant to reply to you sooner.
I have that sense of a generational shift too. But we will see. The generation that came of age under Bush was plainly disgusted with Bush - I fear that it poured idealism into Obama, who is simply flushing it, and that the generational imprinting will be: change is impossible.