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Economic Collapse Can do you Good

The other day, I listened to a Fresh Air interview with economist Paul Krugman, author of “The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century.”

Interview link: http://www.npr.org/display_pages/features/feature_1427001.html

Mr. Krugman painted a pretty “bleak” economic picture. I put “bleak” in quotes, because I’m starting to think that an utter collapse of the US economy might produce a number of beneficial consequences, e.g. an end to the US-led world war on some drugs.

The main point I took Mr. Krugman to be making was that Bush’s financial advisors know that their policies of cutting taxes for the top 1% (that handful of folks who control nine tenths of the wealth in the US) will result in an eventual fiscal meltdown. At that point it will be impossible to maintain all three of the following:

1) global military hegemony

2) social entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, and

3) service on the national debt.


Something will have to give, and Mr. Krugman thinks that the cheap labor conservatives (he didn’t use that phrase) are counting on social entitlements to play the sacrificial leading role.

He said that the Bushies (he did use that word) don’t expect rioting in the streets but that they could well experience a rude awakening if they attempt to dismantle the remnants of the New Deal. Only the gushiest of bleeding-heart big-government liberals complain about welfare “reforms” that leave the poorest of the poor and blackest of the black out in the cold, but Mr. Krugman thinks that significant “reforms” of white middle-class America’s social entitlements could well produce a social backlash like no living person has ever seen in the US.

I don’t want rioting in the streets, but I would like to see the US have to choose between 1, 2, and 3, and at this point I don’t much care which one gets the ax.

If the US has to bring the troops home, we’ll have a safer world. Anti-terrorist efforts will have to be conducted according to a law-enforcement model based on international co-operation rather than as an open-ended global war. The law-enforcement approach stands a very good chance of actually reducing the terrorist threat, whereas sending in the troops and installing puppet regimes in every country that fails to kowtow to the forces of global corporate feudalism invites terrorism as surly as collecting pizza boxes under the bed invites vermin to colonize your sleeping quarters.

Ending middle class entitlements will strip a huge section of the voting populace of their love of big government. "Hey, if you’re not going to take care of us," growl the stiffed Boomers, "What do you think you’re good for?"

I don’t hold out much hope of the Libertarian party ever flourishing in this country. Not unless they tone done the political TB (true believerism), and that seems unlikely, as they pride themselves on standing true as the only "party of principle," which I take to mean the only party who will never compromise their commitment to abstractions to enter into any good faith negotiation with the world outside their heads. David Brin gave a great speech in front of a national gathering of Libertarians in which he told them just that:
I get confused looks from some libertarian pals, when I say that I'm one of them. Oh sure, I send money to the LP and routinely vote Libertarian in primary elections. I appeared as a keynote speaker at the California LP Convention, in 1998, and here at the national convention in July 2002.

On the other hand, I admit turning around and often voting for Democrats in general elections! I send cash to Greenpeace and the ACLU and support my local public schools. So what the hell am I?

After serious thought, I can only conclude that I must be a . . . (shudder) . . . pragmatist.

Horrors. No word is better guaranteed to offend those who love the memic pleasures of ideology.


(All self-described Libertarians should read Brin's speech. Everyone who loves to poke fun at self-described Libertarians will have a blast reading it. If you follow just on link from this post...)

Link: http://www.davidbrin.com/libertarianarticle1.html

I’ve stayed a bit here, so let me re-cap and move on.

Recap: By gutting welfare payments to the people who actually vote and would take offense at the suggestion that they actually receive welfare benefits, many of those folks stand a better chance of discovering the benefits of liberty. Take away the carrot and many of them won’t tolerate the stick.

Finally, I wouldn’t mind seeing the US default on its debts. At present, the federal government can spend more than they take in because they have good credit. Uber-wealthy folks at home and foreign governments buy US bonds because the US federal government has a reputation for making good on its IOUs. If the cheap labor oligarchs (sorry, Conceptual Guerilla, I wish your meme luck, but I’m done propagating it,) squander the United States’ good credit rating, then the federal government will have to start living within its means.

Now, while I think that any of these three bitter pills would produce healthy consequences, we’ll never actually have the option of sacrificing one to save the other two. If we get to that point, we’ll discover that 1, 2, and 3 formed a mutually supporting apparatus which will not stand without any one of its primary struts.

The federal government does serve some useful functions, but were it to disintegrate in an orgy of bad decisions fueled by oligarchic greed, other entities would arise to fulfill the necessary functions of the defunct federal government. What entities? I don’t know. Call it an article of faith if you like.

Do I long for violence and dog-eat-dog social predation (the societal state that non-anarchists call “anarchy”)? Absolutely not.

Do I long for economic catastrophe? Well, sort of. If people started living in a healthy, sustainable, fashion; growing their own food, wearing the same clothes year after year, repairing damaged items rather than replacing them according to the latest fashion, developing useful skills and learning to barter, economists would call that a catastrophe. What I call frivolous over-consumption, economists call “consumer confidence.” I would like to see consumer confidence plummet. (After a day's consideration, I'd like to modify that statement. I'd like to see consumer confidence take a protracted and gradual decline. I really don't want to see the US population endure hardships on the scale of the Great Depression.)

Loose end: Up front, I mentioned that an economic "crisis" in the US could help end the drug war. I realize that I did not explicitly follow up on that. You can probably guess what I had in mind, but for those who don't feel like guessing and don't like to connect their own dots, I'll reiterate that the global drug war would soon run out of steam without the bullying intimidation, bribery, and corporate propaganda from the US. Anything that brings the US down from its hedgemonic throne and forces it to deal with the peoples of other countries as equal partners establishing sensible international policy brings us closer to drug peace.

From: The War on Drugs: It's not the drugs; It's the war
The War on Drugs has been going on for so long that most people can no longer imagine a world without it. And the rhetoric of war has been effective: there is a unspoken--and unquestioned--assumption that the alternative to fighting this war is defeat. But this is a war that we are fighting against ourselves. The alternative isn't defeat, the alternative is peace.


Link: http://world.std.com/~swmcd/steven/rants/war.html

That’s all for now, time for me to take the boy to Sonic for lunch (savor the irony but don't bother pointing it out to me), and then haul a truck-load of stones out to our property. I welcome your feedback.

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
sutut
Sep. 18th, 2003 01:36 pm (UTC)
Interesting idea
Though, I do remember my late Grandfather talking about the depression. He didn't much, except when asked about it. One thing that really sticks in my mind is "You could buy the best car or the best horse in the county for a DOLLAR, but that dollar didn't exist." That lightly touched on the absurdity of it all. It was a fiction, though a fiction so well believed that it was serious. Coal miners starving while farmers burned corn to keep warm.

I remember it said, most notably by Chomsky, that the current economic downturn is not mere stupidity, it is DELIBERATE. The elite are trying to turn the USA into a 3rd world country, so they can be actual monarchs and even richer in the process. Might be dismissed as a 'tinfoil hat' thing, but if the 'elite' are really as 'deserving' (smart, they claim) they would realize that no one will be able to buy their products if they hoard too much of the wealth.

If it happens sooner than later, there might be some social reform. The 'feeding frenzy' the rich have been on since our Son-Of-A-Bush got elected might trigger it. However, if this is managed over 2 more decades, we'll probably have people lulled into slavery.

There's a lot of propaganda going on. Two notable examples:
1. The "Will work for food" person. My local Mall Wart has one there every day. If anyone walked on with a protest sign, they'd arrest them in seconds, but these guys stay there all day. They just want cash, of course, they'll refuse or act crazy if actually offered work.
a. The state employment office is 1.5 blocks away! If they wanted work, they could find it easier.
b. Things like that 'scare' people. It makes them more afraid to not want to do extra hours at work, to protest poor conditions, to unionize.
c. It also breeds contempt for homeless people. Seeing someone actually buy them food and then they curse because they wanted money gives a bad image that hurts those that are truly nuts or down on their luck. Nope, they CHOOSE to live lives of uncertainty and FILTH because they are LAZY, which brings to point #2.


2. Ever turn on the radio? It seems FULL of these vile right wingers who talk like they believe Bush is ready to lead us to paradise and everyone against him is a communist who wants to slit our throats.

Nice, man, Micheal Savage. Don't wanna mock him, or he'll SUE me. Anyways, I honestly haven't seen Wolf Blitzer, so who knows.... Pretty nice thing to say, and that's an ordinary day for him.

The problem is that these shows are on constantly while people work. If someone listens to the radio, they usually get the choice of 'new' rock that caters only to young people, sometimes one 'oldie' station that recycles the same 'paylist' every week OR these right wing talk shows that are at least interesting. Thus, a good 1/3 (I think) of people in this country get flooded with millionare servants of billionares telling them mind numbing 'family values' and other right wing propaganda. (Cheap Labor conservative is a meme I do want to spread:-)
kmo
Sep. 19th, 2003 03:47 pm (UTC)
Talk Radio
Ever turn on the radio? It seems FULL of these vile right wingers who talk like they believe Bush is ready to lead us to paradise and everyone against him is a communist who wants to slit our throats.

Fortunately, my radio also has an FM band. In most areas in the US, generally somewhere on the left-hand side of the dial, say in the low 90s, one can generally find an NPR station. While NPR wouldn't dare present anything resembling the unvarnished truth, they do give their audience more respect than do the Michael Savages of the world.
prester_scott
Sep. 18th, 2003 01:47 pm (UTC)
I really wish we could back down calmly from the precipice, but I'm afraid you are completely right.

As to Libertarians: I, a libertarian (not necessarily a Libertarian; I vote my conscience, period), tend to agree that the LP, principled though it may be, is doomed to failure. But I think this not so much because of the True-Believerism, but because organizing libertarians is like herding cats, and because the wacko quotient is so high that it's very easy for them to shoot themselves in the foot when they do manage to get organized. However, the R and D parties never listen to their libertarian members either; so one way seems to be as good as another for the moment.
kmo
Sep. 19th, 2003 03:37 pm (UTC)
As to Libertarians: I, a libertarian (not necessarily a Libertarian; I vote my conscience, period), tend to agree that the LP, principled though it may be, is doomed to failure. But I think this not so much because of the True-Believerism, but because organizing libertarians is like herding cats...

Speaking from personal experience, I know that nothing fuels my True Beleiver mania like defending libertarian principles, and nothing turns off the un-converted as effectively as a wild-eyed True Believer.

As for cat hearding, yes, organizing a collection of self-styled rugged individualists into a cohesive group unified behind a clearly articulated agenda ranks up there with some of the world's more unlikely accomplishments.

...and because the wacko quotient is so high that it's very easy for them to shoot themselves in the foot when they do manage to get organized.

If the Libertarian Party repudiated the novels of Ayn Rand and drove all of her dyed-in-the-wool followers from their ranks, they would instantly slash the gross LP membership, but would, I think, ultimately raise the party's level of the credibility in the eyes of the population at large.

It might sound like I'm bashing the Libertarians. I voted for Harry Browne in 2000, and if Michael Badnarik makes it onto the ballot in Arkansas in 2004, I'll vote for him. If he doesn't appear on the ballot, I don't know how I will vote. Not for Bush. Certainly not for the likes of Lieberman or Dean.

I'd vote Kucinich, but as Jon Stewart put it, Kucinich has yet to detail what he would do about the monkey problem were he elected; as in "If Kucinich were elected, monkeys would fly out of everyone's butts." Substitute "flying pig problem" if the monkey formulation strikes you as too crass.

In any event, I don't know, right now, how voting my conscience would translate into selecting amoung the choices on offer.
mungojelly
Sep. 20th, 2003 12:07 pm (UTC)
up/down/left/right
it's giving into the game, i think, to say it would be a good thing for the economy to collapse.. that's just as foolish as it being a good thing for the economy to "grow"..

of course what would actually be a good thing is if we all stopped living our life by numbers.. but as long as we are stuck playing this game (at least a little) the options are much more complex than just To Buy Or Not To Buy..

for instance there are many services which don't require any physical materials.. massage, other bodywork, psychotherapy, various sorts of consulting, various kinds of medicine, prostitution, performance.. if the economy were to shift from physical goods to those kinds of services, it could stop consuming resources & still "grow" just as much by many standards

there are many physical objects, for instance pieces of art, which consume some resources but are much more valuable in proportion to the resources expended, so that the consumption becomes negligable relative to the value created

IOW there are only particular actions which destroy the environment & mechanize people's lives, & moving around pieces of paper with money on them is not necessarily one of them.. i am a strong beilever in consensus, and i believe that there is a way to resolve this mess which will satisfy everyone

after all there is no one -- save perhaps some truly insane people somewhere -- who actually wants to destroy the earth, who would go around digging up minerals & polluting & so forth even if there were no economic benefits

so the corporations & the power mongers are all doing what they're doing because we actively reward them for it.. i think it is actually very easy to take the legs out from under the whole system..

but it requires a real transformation of attitude.. & i think.. well i have never seen anyone who i would consider to be really actively opposing the dominant paradigm with their economic decisions.. people mostly start supporting The Beast a little less, supporting things that are slightly Less Bad, never does anyone construct a real alternative & start to commit energy to it

ideally i think the US economy should be not collapsed, but fragmented.. shattered into local economies with only weak occasional links between them.. local currencies could help that happen

perhaps i'm rambling! but that's what i think! whatever it is! thank you!
kmo
Sep. 20th, 2003 01:03 pm (UTC)
sideways/upside-down
of course what would actually be a good thing is if we all stopped living our life by numbers...

ideally i think the US economy should be not collapsed, but fragmented.. shattered into local economies with only weak occasional links between them.. local currencies could help that happen


I agree. If people stopped living life by numbers--focusing on the experience of abundance rather than the abstract metrics by which we hopelessly attempt to quantify abundance, I think those who evaluate the health of the ecconomy according to indicators like "consumer consequence" would view the results of the shift as "economic collapse."

As for local currency, there's already such a movement afoot.

http://www.zpub.com/notes/LocalCurrency.html

for instance there are many services which don't require any physical materials.. massage, other bodywork, psychotherapy, various sorts of consulting, various kinds of medicine, prostitution, performance.. if the economy were to shift from physical goods to those kinds of services, it could stop consuming resources & still "grow" just as much by many standards

Sure, we already spend a fair amount of money on materially non-intensive services like that. Insurance, cable, broadband internet, cell phone service, various memberships. With continued "growth" in that direction, we could all end up working 70 hour weeks, up to our eyes in debt, just making ends meet, without using up many physical resources other than our bodily health; truly a prescious resource.

I don't spend a lot of time in that mental space, but when lo
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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