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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense and Stick You with the Bill

How brutally funny to find the crowd who crowed "there ain't no such thing as a free lunch" as a way of looting the collaborative accomplishments of a democratic civilization they were too stupid to understand or too selfish to enjoy as peers, now drunkenly swerving through the crumbling bombed-out ballroom they devastated so pointlessly and recklessly and wantonly and screaming for free lunch after free lunch, squealing for one more hot fix of the deadly junk they've squandered as the world around them goes to hell.

When I say this is brutally funny, I don't mean to suggest that the current guns-to-our-heads bailouts of Wall Street's crooks and liars is a matter of hypocrisy. This isn't a matter of rugged individualists changing their tune at the eleventh hour as the bills come due. The free marketeers have been demanding a free lunch all along, and demanding it in the name of foreswearing it, mistaking their looting-spree as spontaneous order, mistaking their thefts as personal accomplishments, mistaking their wealth-capture as individualism, mistaking their self-promotion and debt-ballooning as innovation, mistaking their lawlessness as self-interest, mistaking their exploitation as competition, mistaking their celebration of neglect and isolation as personal responsibility, and mistaking their cruelty as simply the way things are. Hypocrisy isn't the word for this.

I recommend you follow this link to watch Bill Moyers' interview David Cay Johnston, author of the book whose title also entitles this post. I read the book when it came out, but was reminded of its relevance to our current circumstances from a post by Paul Rosenberg this morning on OpenLeft (his post includes nice selections from the transcript of the Moyers interview).

Even knowing the libertopians as I do, I must say it is still rather flabbergasting to find that some of the more psychotically Randroidal and Friedmanian market fundamentalists in the full froth of their True Belief see in the current financial cataclysm the signs that we must slash at our own throats even more forcefully in the name of the Free Market Fairy.

To this benighted brigade of brigands it doesn't matter that the drumbeat of deregulation with end, lowering taxes without end, privatization without end, corporate welfare stealthed as Defense without end, and austerity and market discipline without end for everybody but the richest few was the self-styled "revolutionary" beat that drove us all to this place that gave us this devastation -- from Mr. Hayek's Mt. Pelerin minoritarian cabal bemoaning FDR's good-government triumphs, through to its stunning redemption of Goldwaterian extremity in the fiscal and moral disaster of popular Reaganism, through to its deep technocratic consolidation in Clintonian DLC corporate-militarism, and now in its utter consummation in the warmongering state-bloating anti-statist crony capitalism of the killer clown administration of George W. Bush -- nor does it matter that all this played out precisely as the ridiculed critics across the democratic left always said it would for precisely the reasons they said it would and in precisely the ways that they said it would.

Now across the cyberspatial sprawl the free marketeers whine and howl that it is because we did not deliver our hearts to the Free Market Fairy with devotions pure and full, that their market pieties have been besmirched by the hypocrisies of unworthies who sought only to exploit the system for their own gain, and on and on and on. Well, duh. What part of "greed is good" didn't you understand when you were repeating it a hundred times a day thinking it was the most devastating bon mot ever?

Already demonstrated as a complete failure by the Reagan years themselves, nevertheless the libertopian "theorists" enthused like lip-smacking locusts upon the post-Soviet polities after the Wall fell and before the inevitable mafiosi-archipelago crystallized, then glommed immediately thereafter onto crypto-anarchic cyberspace to spin their free marketeer fancies when that didn't pan out on the ground, and then off to the races in the Middle East when virtuality didn't bring the righteous revolution either, and when the free-market laboratory of Iraq under Libertopia Czar Bremer turned out to be yet another complete earthshattering disaster, hey, there was always post-Katrina New Orleans reconstruction to fuck up in the name of the free market faith, and now, just when that catastrophe started to get boring for the faithful, now a complete deregulated orgy of shit investments yield a Wall Street meltdown, a perfect occasion to steal another trillion and throw it at the latest complete failure of market ideology.

Where to next, True Believers? Is there more blood you can squeeze from this stone? Are you still so sure you know it all and that all those who oppose you are just ignorant of the relevant economics, overcome by our irrational biases as compared to your cool computer-like mastery of the facts at hand?

Look, honestly, how is a sensible progressive person to respond to such dot-eyed dead-ender types at this point when flaming shit is literally raining down around our ears upon the field of corporate-militarist scorched earth while they handwave still about how the free-market ideology that has brought this country to the literal brink of complete catastrophe is the only thing that will save us now but to say, simply, calmly, quietly, you know, fuck you all with a chain saw you unspeakably stupid sociopathic jackholes, or something to that effect?

Retire now before you do still more harm. Please. Learn to garden. Enjoy the pleasures of family life. Get a kitten. Read the great novelists of the nineteenth century. Volunteer to help needy people in your communities and discover what real dignity is about. And if you have become rich through your fraudulent ministrations on behalf of corporate-militarism, expect to be taxed to within an inch of your life while the people you fucked try to build a world worth living in here in the shattered aftermath of that looting and killing spree you obscenely denoted as "libertarian."

Just to make the contrary perspective clearer here at the end let me say a few things more. There simply is no purer devotion available to connect neoliberal market fundamentalism's simplistic axioms and pie charts to actual reality. "The Market" is a congeries of laws backed by force, by prices articulated by historical contingencies, by social and cultural norms, by infrastructural barriers and facilitations and so on, every single detail of which has historically been otherwise than it is now, could be otherwise now, and will be otherwise indefinitely often in the future. Treating this historically situated utterly contingent dynamism as a natural monolithic and as a practically personified Force in whose name you presume to speak like a gang of silk-skirted priests pimping the Word of God to the rubes for cash and tail, endlessly promising natural efficiencies, spontaneous orders, cheap pleasures, and political liberalizations that inevitably (except, you know, actually almost never) follow from market liberalizations and all the rest of your tired tattered puppet theater, all of that arrant nonsense has always been either a fraud enacted cynically on the vulnerable for personal gain, or a matter of facile faith among those too stupid to face complicated facts. The "violations" of your ideals that endlessly frustrate their realization are not violations but expressions of the actual underlying realities at hand. There is no purer implementation of free market ideology that will circumvent the actual disasters of corruption and exploitation and lawlessness that actually eventuate from every successful epoch of libertopian advocacy, the failures are the failures of the ideology not betrayals of it.

There are simply straightforwardly some services indispensable to democratic societies that cannot be provided except by governments attentive to the longer-term and beholden to the general welfare. The scene of informed nonduressed consent must be legitimate in a way that for-profit enterprise cannot ever be (to produce such legitimacy is not the proper function of for-profit enterprise), general welfare secures liberty through its indifference to short term or parochial advantage, and that means that providing basic healthcare, education, and income for citizens is not made more "efficient" through competitive provisions of services that exclude or undermine access of any citizen from that provision but violated in its essence by such expedients. Recourse to the law must be legitimate and equal and universal as well, else the basic function of democratic governance to provide nonviolent alternatives for the resolution of disputes will likewise fail. It is an indication of the most basic imaginable incomprehension to speak of profitability or competition in such matters.

Governments are differently accountable to the people than for-profit enterprises are, because, among other things, the taxation on which democratic government depends for its maintenance is yoked to representation by the people affected by its decisions. Fortunately, throughout long centuries of democratic experimentalism progressives have also hacked together some reasonably good breaks on the real vulnerabilities inhering in any institutional legitimation of coercion in states, like civilian control of the military, like repudiations of state secrets, like general welfare provisions to ensure consent is better insulated from duress, like bills of rights that are enormously difficult to undermine once they are constituted, like separations of powers that redirect the desire for personal power that might otherwise lead to consolidations of authority into the jealous self-policing of such consolidations from within the site of authority itself, and so on.

If you want to point out that here in the United States all of these breaks on authoritarian concentration have failed us since 2000 and seem on the brink of total failure in 2008, you can be quite sure that am alive to these facts. It remains to us to determine whether or not that failure achieves nightmarish totality here and now.

Elect Obama in November. Elect and support more, and better, democrats at every level of government now and in the years to come. And make your progressive opinions known loudly and often to those who would represent you, hold their feet to the fire, take back your democratic government from the corporatists the militarists and the theocrats.

There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.


JD Tuyes said...

Here, here, brother. If only they had retreated to their fucking Gulch and left the rest of us in peace! Watch as the shock magic works once again. As a rhetorician I am sure you will appreciate the repetition of the "put aside partisan politics and act now" once again spewing from our president's lips. If it ain't obvious by now, there's no point expecting it ever to be. We're too bound up in buying coffee capsules to ever get it. Now back to "Small is Beautiful" to ease my humanist distress.

Dale Carrico said...

Hey, Jules! "As a rhetorician I am sure you will appreciate the repetition of the "put aside partisan politics and act now" once again spewing from our president's lips." Yes, indeed. Especially if by "appreciate" you mean -- as I am sure you do -- pulling my hair out, poking forks in my own eyes, ranting glossolaliacally, and projectile vomiting all over the teevee screen.

If you are reading Schumacher to restore sanity, btw, you may derive some real pleasure from the vital peer-to-peer sustainability wiki called "Appropedia." Check it out, lots of real people doing real ground level work and creation there.