Sunday, September 04, 2005

A Breaching of the Political Levees? 

Breaching the Political Levees?

Ian Buchanan of the Charles Darwin University in Darwin, Northern Australia, has written an interesting account of the fascinating book, "After the New Economy" by Doug Henwood. The Tom Frank to whom he refers was an off-stage character in "Uncle Rupert". Frank has a feeling for what is happening in the United States and to our present society, that is sensitive and compelling.

I'm reminded by all this - and Katrina - of stories that go back to the early years of the twentieth century - stories, including those on "Oil", told by Upton Sinclair; the tragedy of the scapegoat unionists, Saccho and Vanzetti; and, I suppose, stories told by Richard Wright when now we have poor blacks trapped in the chaos of New Orleans and orders of "shoot to kill" are made to sound like those of decent, reasonable people protecting the innocent from thuggery.

My friend, Jozef Imrich, knew double-speak at first hand before he swam the "Cold River" twenty-five years ago to escape from Stalinism; but that double-speak wasn't as sophisticated and as compelling as that with which the "democracies" wash our brains today. Bush and Blair - and Howard! - are spreading "freedom" everywhere, they're making the savage and the heathen in the darker continents familiar with our brand "democracy" and they're fighting a war against "terror" at home and abroad that will enable a great many of their people to live on the edge of misery - and on the edge of "terror" about what the future might hold.

It's an interesting coincidence that Huey Long came to prominence after floods hit New Orleans in 1927. There seems little doubt that he was assassinated, at the age of 42, because he was determined to install economic and social arrangements that would be more equitable and would offer more stability than the speculative prosperity for the rich that America enjoyed in the run-up to the Great Depression.

I know of no Huey Long equivalent today - in America or anywhere else. Huey wasn't all pure goodness but at least he had a program - and one that had some of the basic features of what became Roosevelt's New Deal. I see nothing of that today.

There is complaint, there is some analysis of the economic and political situation; but there is no practical program of what we should do. Indeed, there is no effective analysis of how, in economic terms, we got to where we are today with the massive instabilities which - quite apart from disasters like Katrina - are likely to be so destructive for all of us, not necessarily in years but perhaps even in days, weeks or months.

There is still a horrifying irrelevance in what our policy-makers are talking about right now. In Australia, the whole thing is hilarious and at the same time tragic. We're obsessed, for example, with the petty struggle between two mighty political gladiators, Howard and Costello, for the prime-ministership. They belong to the same party; their contest is one, not of principle or policy but of personal ambition and gratification. We talk about tax reform in terms of lowering the rate that billionaires like Kerry Packer will have to endure - if they pay any tax at all. We talk about privatising Telstra - and whether we'll now manage to get the $30 billion or so that the government expected when it set off on this visionary enterprise. What is assured is that, like other privatisations, it will creatively distribute the worth that the society has laboriously created over the decades to create more millionaires, even billionaires, from the "disposal" of our public assets.

Of course, Australians are not the first to fiddle while Rome burns - nor are they the only ones, south of the Equator or north.

In a matter of days, German voters will be required to choose between Angela Merkel and Gerhard Schröder - a choice that, in terms of the "New Economy", is hardly a choice at all. Angie says Gerhard didn't try hard enough and didn't go far and fast enough. She boasts that she'll bring on what could be a thoroughgoing economic and social disaster more quickly and more efficiently than Gerhard ever could. There is also a "Party of Democratic Socialism" and Lafontaine and other "leftist" groups might get something like 12% of the national vote. One commentator describes the lefties' effort as "an embittered ex-politician's attempt to stage a political comeback with a scratch alliance of left-wingers, ex-communists and globalisation critics."

I suppose it would be stupid and remiss of us to speak in any more favourable terms of those who are hostile to the Angies and Gerhards who are set on delivering another but rather different and probably excruciating "Wirtschaftswunder" to the German people.

The situation is really too menacing to write in those light-hearted terms. I do not think that the German electorate will, in the poll this month, head off down the path that destroyed Weimar; but, on the other side of the Atlantic, New Orleans has demonstrated that anger is mounting and could become difficult to control.

That applies anywhere.

So far, protest around the world - going back several years - has been unfocussed or has "focussed" on too many discomforts to result in any effective political campaign.Bush might be the catalyst that is needed. In the 1920s, the president famous for his "active inactivity", Calvin Coolidge, proclaimed that "What this country needs is a good five-cent cigar". Hoover, who had said, in 1928, that "We in America today are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land", could not contain the gathering storm that, so soon after, broke in 1929.

Were those presidents - with their cohorts of supporters inside and outside government - anything like as unsavoury and incompetent as the lot we have now? The 1920s policy-makers brought forth Huey Long and eventually a more effective Democratic Party and FDR. Are Bush and his crowd what was needed to perform the same service for the United States - and for many other countries, including Australia - today?

All of that skates over the fundamental errors of economic policy that have brought us to the brink of what I have called "The Multiple Abyss". I have explained so many times how we have got to our present pass that it would be grossly redundant for me to go over it all again. However, the analysis of Henwood and his like, important as it may be, still does not explain the economic process that we must correct and how we must go about correcting it.

Sadly, that suggests a latter-day Huey Long and FDR, even if they turn up, may - as so often happens; we did not need Katrina's reminder - be able to offer us much too little, much too late.

James Cumes
Only Five Things Worth Writing About
The fastness of friendship; the treachery of one's nearest; the destruction of good by good. Passion which overrides reason.

And you James always write about them be it in essays or books and now blog as well ...

Thank you for sharing your thoughtful insights with one and all ...
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