Monday, May 30, 2016
The Banality Of Neoliberalism (As Exemplified By The Clintons) And Why Americans Never Saw Its Evil (Until Occupy, Bernie Sanders And Donald Trump Alerted Us)
If it hadn't been for the disaster that was George W. Bush, the worst president of our time would be that arch-neoliberal serial philanderer Bill Clinton.
Clinton was almost as crappy an a-hole as W.
George W killed hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi women and children in a monstrous war crime. Bill Clinton merely made the lives of millions of Americans utterly miserable.
1. How Bad Was Bill Clinton?
Breath in the stench from the pile of crap that Slick Willy stuffed up our nostrils.
He destroyed thousands of good American jobs by exporting them with NAFTA.
He created the 2008 Wall Street crash and the Great Recession when he signed the two laws that repealed Glass-Steagall and removed financial derivatives from all oversight — the two worst laws signed by any president ever.
Internationally, he refused to intervene in Rwanda, and allowed 800,000 Tutsis to be brutally genocided.
He exploded the size of our Black and Latino prison population with his harsh 1994 crime bill and the building of many privatized prisons.
He doubled the number of our poor with his welfare reforms (today 47 million Americans live in poverty, and over 20% of our kids are poor, a higher rate than any other developed nation).
Clinton's presidency left Americans jailed, poorer, and brutally screwed in every sensitive orifice. He forced many of us to eat an eternal shit sandwich, a record of destruction topped by George W. only because W committed the satanic war crime of the Iraq War.
2. What made Bill Clinton so bad?
It's all because Clinton was a consummate neoliberal, whose agenda favored anti-labor-union big business (via the right-leaning Democratic Leadership Council), with its faith in a fundamentalist global "free market" ideology that wants to privatize all economic activity and drown government in the bath tub. This fundamentalist global religion, devoted to a "free market" God, comes down to a peculiar un-christian heartlessness: cut government regulations to the point that corporations are free to screw us every which way.
Few Americans know that in concert with the abominable Newt Gingrich, Clinton was secretly getting ready in 1997 to privatize Social Security, before he got distracted by America's discovery that when he pulled his stiffie from Monica Lewinsky's luscious mouth, he splooged presidential pearl jam all over her dress. (Just like Obama, another neoliberal, was getting ready to give up Social Security benefits to make a grand deficit-cutting bargain with the Republicans, only to be frustrated by their unwillingness to work with him on anything.)
But who today would even admit that Bill Clinton was a close second to George W. Bush as a piece-of-crap president?
And why is that? Why do Americans still love the man who slathered our faces in fecal matter?
3. The Banality Of Neoliberalism
It's because Clintonian neoliberalism has become the sea in which we swim: so much a part of us, we don't know it exists.
Neoliberalism has become what's normal. Big business rules. Neoliberalism is what's accepted. Wall Street pays fines instead of going to jail. Neoliberalism is the status quo. Our wages have remained stagnant since 1970. Neoliberalism is the natural order of things. Congress doesn't listen to ordinary folks, only to the 1% rich.
Neoliberalism: an everyday commonplace quotidian banality.
Neoliberalism: what unregulated capitalism has turned into.
Neoliberalism has become what we are, how we live, how we think the world is, our humdrum selves. As per Fredric Jameson, the literary Marxist scholar: "It is easier for people to imagine the end of the earth than it is to imagine the end of capitalism."
In short, neoliberalism is our current banality of evil.
As Margaret Thatcher remarked: "There is no alternative."
And nary a single mind of our many public intellectuals has ever told us that there is any alternative. Instead, they've sold us a bunch of hooey. They've swallowed neoliberalism whole, like a slavish sub swallowing her dom's insults along with his jism.
As Joe Bageant, the deceased red-neck philosopher and pundit blogger extraordinaire put it:
"The brutal way Americans were forced to internalize the values of a gangster capitalist class continues to elude nearly all Americans. Most foreigners too. This is to say nothing of how our system replaced our humanity with ideology, our liberty with money, and fostered fascist nationalism through profound degeneration of the people's mind and spirit. It's not as if one can ever escape that sort of thing. We are made in America's image, whether we admit it or not, and America's image is the face on a ten-dollar bill."
4. A Walmart economy instead of a Ford economy
Neoliberalism is why instead of a distributive Ford economy, who paid his workers double the going rate so they could afford to buy the cars they made, we have a predatory Walmart economy, who pay their workers so little they need food stamps to survive on their slave wages (your taxes subsidize the profits of the Walmart family to the tune of $6 billion a year).
It's why today, labor unions only represent 10% of our workers, when they represented 30% in 1971. The last three Democratic presidents — Carter, Clinton and Obama — didn't care a hairy testicle about labor unions or the working class (Obama dropped labor's wish for card-check like a used condom). As neoliberals, these presidents favored white-collar professionals over blue-collar workers. They preferred the meritocracy to the proletariat. Limousine liberals.
That's why Obama did not prosecute Wall Street fraudsters, because, like him, they were white-collar professionals, and because his administration was stacked with their pals (Summers, Geithner et al).
A kid can go to jail for years if he smokes a joint, but a Wall Street crook gets rewarded with a big bonus for committing massive fraud.
President Obama has been the worst lackey of the 1% we've ever had. Under Reagan, some 800 senior executives went to jail because of the Savings and Loans scandal. Today, after a far bigger fraud that led to millions of jobs and homes lost -- with banks shorting their own fraudulent products, ripping off homeowners, hiring trucks to drive bags of drug lord cash over borders, investing funds for terrorists, rigging the Libor rate — not a single big bank executive has gone to jail. The crooks have kept their blood money. Sometimes the banks pay a fine, but that's the cost of doing business, and it's a small percentage of their criminal profits. The fact that Wall Street can steal, con, commit fraud, cheat pensions funds, screw little old ladies and tank the economy with impunity proves that the 1% has become untouchable. The fix is in. We the 99% are powerless to change it.
You might want to call all this neoliberalism terribly unfair to regular folks, but I want to call it straight-up evil.
This only sounds shocking because we're so used to the banality of its existence.
5. Wage Stagnation And Other Neoliberal Evils
Take wage stagnation. Our wages are what they were in 1970. Stuck in the remote past. Yet worker productivity has sky-rocketed since then. The average household income of Americans today is around $50,000 a year. However, if we were paid for how much more productive we have become, the average household income today would have been $92,000. Imagine what a thriving economy we'd have today if that were our median household income. Where did that extra $40,000 a year go that we should have been earning for our improved productivity? To the top 1%. To CEOs, who used to make maybe 20 times what an average worker makes, and now make between 300 to 500 times that.
But how many Americans know this? No one except me and a few other progressives (probably no more than the readership of that most excellent publication, The Nation).
The banality of evil neoliberalism, and its unthinking acceptance by our corporate-owned media and pundits, have shielded us from the truth.
Take the boondoggle of the Pentagon budget. It's the biggest item in government spending, and it's totally unnecessary. We can easily get by with a defense capability at least a hundred times smaller than what we pay for. Who is going to attack America? Nobody. To guarantee our security, we need no more than say a hundred thousand drones (useful little critters), ground troops of maybe two thousand Navy Seals teams, a thousand nuclear-tipped rockets tops, at most five hundred jet fighters, and perhaps a dozen aircraft carriers. That about covers it.
Shut the Pentagon down; turn it into an assisted-home facility. Spend our defense billions on free pre-K for all our kids, and free college tuition for all our students. Not on defense — a euphemism for corporate welfare. Or on homeland security, another billion-dollar boondoggle. The entire Pentagon — which takes our tax dollars to support manufacturers of weapons (can you think of a more evil occupation than this business of mass killing?) — is corporate welfare at its most pernicious.
Meanwhile, we suffer. According to a 2014 study by the Social Progress Index, among similar countries, the US ranks 31st in personal safety, 34th in access to water and sanitation, 39th in basic education, 69th in ecosystem sustainability, and 70th in health.
6. Capitalism on steroids
Neoliberalism is capitalism on steroids. It believes in free-trade arrangements that give corporations the right to sue states for causing them any loss in profits. For example, if a government legislates against the dangers of tobacco, free-trade arrangements want to give tobacco companies the right to sue that government for their loss of profits. Not in a court, but in arbitration presided over by corporate representatives.
Capitalism on steroids whelps monopolies like rabbits. Today our economy is dominated by them. Amazon, Google, Facebook and Wall Street banks (now bigger than they were before the crash) are monopolies that would have made the hands of trust-busting Teddy Roosevelt itch. But today these monopolies are untouchable, because they exist safely in the banality of neoliberalism.
Neoliberalism means shifting the tax burden from corporations to individuals. After WW2, for every dollar that individuals paid in taxes, corporations paid $1.50. Today it's 25 cents. Corporations used to pay more taxes than people, but now people pay more taxes than corporations. Goldman Sachs often pays less than 2% in taxes, and GE often nothing. Us hard-working regular folks (Romney's notorious 47%) are not the takers who mooch off the government tit -- our big corporations are. So are our 1%. Since 1997 the 400 richest Americans have more than tripled their average annual income to $345m, while their taxes have gone down by 40%. A billionaire like Romney pays 13% in taxes, far less than you and I.
And take Wall Street. Its job used to be to lend money to businesses — to start businesses, to expand businesses, to fuel business. Now only 15% of its money goes to funding businesses with productive lending (that's why startups — which is how new jobs get created — have declined by 44% from 1978 to 2012). Wall Street uses the other 85% to make money for itself from debt-fueled speculation. Financialization: the corroding worm inside the apple of neoliberal capitalism.
And don't forget that neoliberalism started under president Carter. He deregulated the railroads, airlines and, most importantly, interest rates (which led to financial "innovations" and shifted banking from lending to trading). And he cut the top marginal tax rate from 90% to 70% (and then Reagan cut it to 28%).
7. We Don't Know How Buggered We Are
We have gone from a democracy to a plutocracy without us being aware of it — like the frog luxuriating in slowly warming water until the poor fellow is boiled alive.
The 1% has stolen $40,000 a year from our workers and we don't know it.
Big business steals our tax dollars with the defense budget and we don't know it.
Corporate welfare is bigger than social welfare and we don't know it.
Monopolies run our lives and we don't know it.
There has been a relentless attack on the New Deal since the Powell Memo inspired big business to start think tanks and siphon neoliberalism into our lives … and we don't know it.
Our democratic government operates for the rich and against the average American and we don't know it.
We don't know it because the banality of neoliberalism has inculcated a banality of psychology into our minds. This psychology makes of us not human beings, but consumers. We are surrounded by products and advertising. Our lives and status are determined by what we buy. Marxist analysts call this commodity fetishism. When the iPhone came out, people lined up around the block for it. Commodity fetishism rules us: we're more attached to our iPhones than to our pets.
And we don't know any of this. We live mute and deaf in the banality of neoliberalism. A kind of soft totalitarianism. While we're hooked on our iPhones and our Game of Thrones and our diabetic-inducing soda pop and our GM food and our Prozac and our opoids and our social media and our superhero movies (the reverse coin of consolation to our helplessness), we forget that there is a big neoliberal dick up our asses, shoving away till we bleed out.
It wasn't always like this. There was a time when the Democrats, and even corporate leaders, weren't neoliberals. That most essential of pundits and investigatory journos, Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi, puts it like this:
"There was a time in this country – and many voters in places like Indiana and Michigan and Pennsylvania are old enough to remember it – when business leaders felt a patriotic responsibility to protect American jobs and communities. Mitt Romney's father, George, was such a leader, deeply concerned about the city of Detroit, where he built AMC cars.
"But his son Mitt wasn't. That sense of noblesse oblige disappeared somewhere during the past generation, when the newly global employer class cut regular working stiffs loose, forcing them to compete with billions of foreigners without rights or political power who would eat toxic waste for five cents a day.
"Then they hired politicians and intellectuals to sell the peasants in places like America on why this was the natural order of things. Unfortunately, the only people fit for this kind of work were mean, traitorous scum, the kind of people who in the military are always eventually bayoneted by their own troops. This is what happened to the Republicans, and even though the cost was a potential Trump presidency, man, was it something to watch."
8. Four Hopeful Chinks In Neoliberal Armor
Perhaps the prime function of any democratic government should be this: to stop the elite from stealing everything.
In this, the American government has failed us miserably. In fact, they've encouraged the elite to steal everything. Made it easy for them.
And why was it possible for our government to do this? Because nobody knows what the hell is going on. We're as clueless as a Texan evangelist about the transgendered.
That cluelessness is how the banality of evil neoliberalism has had its way with us. We and our corporate-owned media and our intellectuals accept neoliberalism without giving it a moment's thought.
We're as blind as plankton in a whale's gut.
But now there are four chinks in the banality of neoliberal armor:
1. Occupy Wall Street, which brought income inequality into the national conversation.
2. Elizabeth Warren, who tells us that the economy is rigged in favor of Wall Street.
3. Donald Trump, who explains how free trade punishes our workers and our economy.
4. Bernie Sanders, who tells us that Washington does not regulate Wall Street, but that Wall Street regulates Washington, and who has presented us with the first effective plan of attack on the evil of Clintonian neoliberalism. His agenda aims to subvert neoliberalism with the following: a living minimum wage of $15-an-hour; free community college tuition; getting big money out of politics; higher taxes on the rich; breaking up the big banks; a financial transaction tax; Medicare for all; infrastructure spending that will create millions of good jobs; fighting climate change (the destruction of our planet being the final evil outcome of neoliberalism); and wrapping all this up in his call for a political revolution. Because that's the only thing that will topple neoliberalism: a revolution. In thought and in action. Clarity must upend banality.
(Some other chinks to be noted: Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, and the activists who waged the Battle of Seattle.)
9. Our Youth Sees Through The Banality of Neoliberalism
It's a pity that Bernie, the democratic socialist outsider, has not been able to hijack the Democratic Party the way Trump, the billionaire outsider, has hijacked the Republican Party. Unfortunately a neoliberal champion, Hillary Clinton, stands in Bernie's way, with the formidable backing of Wall Street, The New York Times, and the entire neoliberal establishment behind her.
But at least Bernie's voice has been heard, and 80% of our voters under 30 are on his side.
Which means the future of neoliberalism is doomed. All that has to happen is for the old neoliberal Kool-Aid drinkers to die off. We could change like Iran will when their old mullahs die off.
Unlike their elders, our educated young people — saddled with massive college debt, suffering through the Great Recession, unable to get the good jobs their education prepared them for — clearly see through the banality of neoliberalism and capitalism to the evil it has veiled. In fact, in a recent YouGov survey, folks under 30 rated socialism more favorably (43%) than capitalism (23%).
In another 15 years — when Republican gerrymandering has been corrected so Nancy Pelosi can preside over a productive Democratic Congress again, and when a liberal Supreme Court reverses the money out of politics, and when President Elizabeth Warren enters the final year of her second term — America will be firmly set on a progressive course now presaged by Bernie's advent.
We will have capitalism with a human face.
And the banality of Clintonian neoliberalism will finally be a forgotten evil.
Posted by Evert Cilliers at 12:50 AM | Permalink