Monday, May 24, 2010

"shape the way Americans think"

First of all, there is a very pessimistic essay in the Financial Times (21 May) by historian Simon Schama that looks at our current economic predicament:
On the brink of a new age of rage

Far be it for me to make a dicey situation dicier but you can’t smell the sulphur in the air right now and not think we might be on the threshold of an age of rage.

... in Europe and America there is a distinct possibility of a long hot summer of social umbrage. Historians will tell you there is often a time-lag between the onset of economic disaster and the accumulation of social fury. In act one, the shock of a crisis initially triggers fearful disorientation; the rush for political saviours; instinctive responses of self-protection, but not the organised mobilisation of outrage. ...

Act two is trickier. Objectively, economic conditions might be improving, but perceptions are everything and a breathing space gives room for a dangerously alienated public to take stock of the brutal interruption of their rising expectations. What happened to the march of income, the acquisition of property, the truism that the next generation will live better than the last? The full impact of the overthrow of these assumptions sinks in and engenders a sense of grievance that “Someone Else” must have engineered the common misfortune.

... the survival of a crisis demands ensuring that the fiscal pain is equitably distributed.

... any emergency budget needs to take stock of this raw sense of popular victimisation and deliver a convincing story about the sharing of burdens. To do otherwise is to guarantee that a bad situation gets very ugly, very fast.
Over at Naked Capitalism, Yves links to Shama and provides commentary (22 May), which included quoting James Lardner: (emp add)
As James Lardner pointed out in the New York Review of Books in June 2007, even before the wheels started coming off the economy, the social contract in the US was pretty frayed, but a concerted propaganda campaign PR effort promoted the fiction that it was the best of all possible worlds:
To gain their political ends, the robber barons and monopolists of the Gilded Age were content with corrupting officials and buying elections. Their modern counterparts have taken things a big step further, erecting a loose network of think tanks, corporate spokespeople, and friendly press commentators to shape the way Americans think about the economy…. the new communications apparatus wants us to believe that our economic wellbeing depends almost entirely on the so-called free market—a euphemism for letting the private sector set its own rules. The success of this great effort can be measured in the remarkable fact that, despite the corporate scandals and the social damage that these authors explore; despite three decades of deregulation and privatization and tax-and-benefit-slashing with, as the clearest single result, the relentless rise of economic inequality to levels so extreme that since 2001 “the economy” has racked up five straight years of impressive growth without producing any measurable income gains for most Americans—even now, discussions of solutions or alternatives can be stopped almost dead in their tracks by mention of the word government.
As if on cue, Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute gets published in the Washington Post (23 May) with an essay that Kevin Drum calls out as crankery. In it, Brooks mentions favorably "free market" or "free enterprise" twenty-five times, attacks redistributionist safety nets, and dismisses concerns about income inequality. Excerpts:
... by wide margins, Americans support free enterprise ...

Free enterprise brings happiness; redistribution does not. The reason is that only free enterprise brings earned success.

Money is not the same as earned success but is rather a symbol, important not for what it can buy but for what it says about how people are contributing and what kind of difference they are making. Money corresponds to happiness only through earned success.

Not surprisingly, unearned money -- while it may help alleviate suffering -- carries with it no personal satisfaction.

If unearned money does not bring happiness, redistributing money by force won't make for a happier America -- and the redistributionists' theory of a better society through income equality falls apart.

We know that income inequality by itself is not what makes people unhappy ...
Kudos to the Washington Post for helping "shape the way Americans think" by giving a platform for a free-market think tank spokesman.


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