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The real costs of a culture of greed

by Jerome a Paris Tue Sep 6th, 2005 at 04:04:03 PM EST

promoted from the diaries ~ whataboutbob

A great article in today's Los Angeles Times, by Robert Scheer (the title says it all):

WHAT THE WORLD has witnessed this past week is an image of poverty and social disarray that tears away the affluent mask of the United States.

Instead of the much-celebrated American can-do machine that promises to bring freedom and prosperity to less fortunate people abroad, we have seen a callous official incompetence that puts even Third World rulers to shame.


For half a century, free-market purists have to great effect denigrated the essential role that modern government performs as some terrible liberal plot. Thus, the symbolism of New Orleans' flooding is tragically apt: Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and Louisiana Gov. Huey Long's ambitious populist reforms in the 1930s eased Louisiana out of feudalism and toward modernity; the Reagan Revolution and the callousness of both Bush administrations have sent them back toward the abyss.


It is the result of a campaign by most Republicans and too many Democrats to systematically vilify the role of government in American life. Manipulative politicians have convinced lower- and middle-class whites that their own economic pains were caused by "quasi-socialist" government policies that aid only poor brown and black people -- even as corporate profits and CEO salaries soared.

For decades we have seen social services that benefit everyone -- education, community policing, public health, environmental protections and infrastructure repair, emergency services -- in steady, steep decline in the face of tax cuts and rising military spending. But it is a false savings.


Watching on television the stark vulnerability of a permanent underclass of African Americans living in New Orleans ghettos is terrifying. It should be remembered, however, that even when hurricanes are not threatening their lives and sanity, they live in rotting housing complexes, attend embarrassingly ill-equipped public schools and, lacking adequate police protection, are frequently terrorized by unemployed, uneducated young men.

In fact, rather than an anomaly, the public suffering of these desperate Americans [a permanent underclass of African Americans living in New Orleans ghettos] is a symbol for a nation that is becoming progressively poorer under the leadership of the party of Big Business.


For those who have trouble with statistics, here's the shorthand: The rich have been getting richer and the poor have been getting, in the ripe populist language of Louisiana's legendary Long, the shaft.


No, these folks are supposed to be cruising on the rising tide of a booming, unregulated economy that "floats all boats."

They were left floating all right.

Read it all. and again.

Great catch, Jérôme. This article really says it all, placing things in their historical economic and political context. Which needs to be done because Katrina and its sequel are a great big whack of reality in America's midriff. (There's no schadenfreude in my feelings, just hope that enough Americans will, as the saying goes, wake up and smell the coffee).

On the inherent racism that is part of the problem, because of:

  1. the historical creation of a permanent underclass of African Americans living in ... ghettos, ie descendants of slaves who have never received adequate reparation;

  2. the speedy propagation of urban legends, rumours, and lies based on racial prejudice, aided by the media, and built into a spin-filled narrative about what was happening in New Orleans;

there's an excellent post here by Digby at Hullaballoo. Go read.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Sep 6th, 2005 at 03:16:40 PM EST
Oh, and by the way folks, this is the kind of economy they want to export here too! (Too social...)

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Tue Sep 6th, 2005 at 04:05:26 PM EST
Keen suggests that this ideological zealotry about the (alleged) inherent inefficiency and undesirability of the State evolves naturally from the 19th century quality of neoclassical economic theory:  static, reductionist, oversimplified and devoted to one essential concept of Equilibrium, without which the whole house of cards collapses.  Without the equilibrist article of faith (the keystone concept) the anti-Statism has to go, because unregulated markets would not guaranteed to reach a pareto-optimised equilibrium (maximisation of social good).

But I can't help noticing that a State-less society, i.e. the destruction of all social insurance and of the commons, is a very, shall we say, fortuitously advantageous ideology for a wealthy elite... who just happen to profit greatly from the inefficiencies of privatisation, and to loot at lower risk when policing agencies are starved of funds and have their teeth pulled (EPA, FDA, GAO, etc).  Keen touches only tangentially on this theme, i.e. that neoclassical econ theory is ideology tailor-made to the interests of a capitalist ruling class and that this as much as anything guarantees its perdurability -- much as St Paul plus the Divine Right of Kings was pretty durable ideology when hereditary kingship was in vogue.  I think the NOLA tragedy illuminates the connection pretty clearly.

Anyone familiar enough with US history to recall the Harding (mal)administration?

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue Sep 6th, 2005 at 06:40:18 PM EST

This will be the death of the bullshit idea that the private sector is a save all, and could very well be the turning point in the drive to global neoliberalism.  In so much as the US is the trend setter, and the rhetoric of the "Third way" and the blind embrance of markets has been flowing from the US to the continent (If you know that baclkstory abut expat Brits exporting failed economic dogma to the States this is truely ironic.)

Who remembers the Harding adminstration, maybe not the best question.

I thought that the single biggest slap in the face to the Bush administration was not Kanye West's comments, but the choice of Randy Newman's Louisiana 1927.

Like the old spirituals told the story of how to get North, I think that the lyrics of this song are a subtle, and soulful fuck you to the Bush administration and the neoliberal horse it rode in on.

What has happened down here, is the winds have changed
Clouds roll in from the north and it started to rain
It rained real hard, and it rained for a real long time
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline
The river rose all day, the river rose all night
Some people got lost in the flood, some people got away alright
The river had busted through clear down to Plackermine
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline
Louisiana, Louisiana
They're trying to wash us away, they're trying to wash us away
Oh Louisiana, Louisiana
They're trying to wash us away, they're trying to wash us away
President Coolidge come down, in a railroad train
With his little fat man with a note pad in his hand
President say little fat man, oh isn't it a shame,
What the river has done to this poor farmer's land
Oh Louisiana, Louisiana
They're trying to wash us away, you're trying to wash us away
Oh Louisiana, oh Louisiana
They're trying to wash us away, oh Lord, they're trying to wash us away
They're trying to wash us away, they're trying to wash us away

Searcing for the lyrics for this I came across a piece by Greg Palast that asks where our Huey Long, the populist governor of Louisiana during the Depression (Hugo Chavez is of the same type) is at.

There is nothing new under the sun. In 1927, a Republican President had his photo taken as the Mississippi rolled over New Orleans. Calvin Coolidge, "a little fat man
with a notebook in his hand," promised to rebuild the state. He didn't. Instead, he left to play golf with Ken Lay or the Ken Lay railroad baron equivalent of his day.
In 1927, the Democratic Party had died and was awaiting burial. As depression approached, the coma-Dems, like Franklin Roosevelt, called for balancing the budget.

Then, as the waters rose, one politician finally said, roughly, "Screw this! They're lying! The President's lying! The rich fat cats that are drowning you will do it again and again and again. They lead you into imperialist wars for profit, they take away your schools and your hope and when you complain, they blame Blacks and Jews and immigrants. Then they push your kids under. I say, Kick'm in the ass and take your rightful share!"

Huey Long laid out a plan: a progressive income tax, real money for education, public works to rebuild Louisiana and America, an end to wars for empire, and an end to financial oligarchy. The waters receded, the anger did not, and Huey "Kingfish" Long was elected Governor of Louisiana in 1928.


Huey Long was called a "demagogue" and a "dictator." Of course. Because it was Huey Long who established the concept that a government of the people must protect the people, school, house, and feed them and give every man or woman a job who needs one.

Government, he said, "We The People," not plutocrats nor Halliburtons, must build bridges and levies to keep the waters from rising over our heads. All we had to do was share the nation's wealth we created as a nation. But that meant facing down what he called the "concentrations of monopoly power" to finance the needs of the public.

In other words, Huey Long founded the modern Democratic Party. Franklin Roosevelt and the party establishment, scared senseless of Long's ineluctable march to the White House, adopted his program, called it the New Deal, and later The New Frontier and the Great Society.
America and the party prospered.
America could use a Democratic Party again and there's a rumor it's alive -- somewhere.

And now is the moment, as it was in '27. As the bodies float in the streets of New Orleans, now is not the time for the Democrats to shirk and slink away, bleating they can't "politicize" this avoidable disaster.

Seventy-six years ago this week, Huey Long was shot down, assassinated at the age of 43. But the legacy of his combat remains, from Social Security to veterans' mortgage loans.

So we're back at it again, and I do believe Mayor Nagin ma be the man that raises hell from all this, I think the Kingfish (Huey Long) would either be dismayed or amused to see a black man tell the President to get of his ass.  Yet again they're trying to wash us away, and it isn't just the folks down in New Orleans that are getting take advantage of, they're just the most obvious.  Katrina is an massive indictment of the failure of the current administration and the "free market" dogma to act in the public interest.  I believe President Bush is about to reap what he has sown.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Wed Sep 7th, 2005 at 01:55:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Those economic cycles, up and downs, are nothing but cycles of greed ;-)
by das monde on Tue Sep 6th, 2005 at 08:46:13 PM EST

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