Friday, September 26, 2008

Gloom fatigue and disaster capitalism

When I started reviewing books for The Nation magazine in my twenties, a former professor of mine - a much older and wiser man - with whom I remained friendly would never recognize that publication by name. He would only say that I wrote for "one of those gloomy magazines."

David Hadas was a New York Jew who had forgotten more about leftist thought and politics than I will ever know, and I knew that, so I tried to allow his mellowed perspective to ease my annoying enthusiasm, even then.

Now I am entering middle age, I suppose, and I understand much more about what David Hadas might have called "gloom fatigue." I also have entered a world of practical politics in Missouri, where it is often said the game gets played between the 45-yard lines - where the best candidate is the one who can move the ball five yards in the desired direction, because that's all the further it's likely to move.

It's a delicate art - you try to meet people closer to where they are, and try to take them not nearly as far as you would like them to go, because that's just about the only way to get them to budge at all. That's pretty far from writing incendiary book reviews for The Nation magazine.

Intellectually, however, my instincts remain with the left. Every atom of my brain looks at the present financial collapse and sees the failure of free-market capitalism. Just like all of my brain looked at the Olympics in China and laughed bitterly.

I didn't hear a single soul point out that we were gleefully participating in a party thrown by an ostensibly Communist nation. When I was in the U.S. Navy in the mid-'80s, the only parties we were throwing for "Communist" nations were covert wars, and they weren't invited until it was too late. And they didn't survive the party.

Of course, there is a big difference between a "Communist" nation whose "Communism" is likely to make coffee and bananas more expensive in middle America and a "Communist" nation that has emerged as our Capitalist nation's most crucial creditor and investor. But economics and ideology have always been shamelessly mishmashed in political rhetoric in this country, with "Communism" falsely opposed to "Democracy," rather than to capitalism.

Really, we have been keeping the world safe for capitalism, not democracy, and look where it has gotten us? We privatize the profits and socialize the losses. That's the big, loud message of the latest bailout.

That's what I think, anyway. I wonder what Naomi Klein thinks? She is The Nation writer who originated the telling and, at this point, undeniable phrase "Disaster Capitalism." My friend Brett Underwood (bartender, agitator, writer) is trying to organize some sort of magic bus to see her speak on "Disaster Capitalism: Milton Friedman and the Chicago Boys" at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 1 at the University of Chicago, The International House, Assembly Hall, 1414 East 59th St. (A free event, and Brett says gas is on him.)

I'll be putting out a newspaper that day. As Brett would say (he has kept more of the edge on than most of us), "What's your excuse?"

Brett shared a link to a very recent Klein essay that looks at the proposed bailout in the context of Disaster Capitalism. (Gloom fatigue alert!) Her core advice: "It would be a grave mistake to underestimate the right's ability to use this crisis - created by deregulation and privatization - to demand more of the same."

Her argument: "The dumping of private debt into the public coffers is only stage one of the current shock. The second comes when the debt crisis currently being created by this bailout becomes the excuse to privatize social security, lower corporate taxes and cut spending on the poor."

VideoNation has also posted a clip of Klein explaining the background of her concept. Warning to anyone susceptible to female beauty: she is disarmingly beautiful.

p.s. Local hook: The critique the public school activists in St. Louis have been offereing regarding Mayor Francis G. Slay's alleged/apparent destruction of the public school district perfectly fits Klein's critique of a "Shock Doctrine."


Illustration of Naomi Klein in the context of her ideas by Evgeny Parfenov.

1 comment:

Brett Underwood said...

Alas, I do indeed have a meeting on Wednesday. However, if anyone is interested in going up, they should contact my man, Michael Franklin.
Check out his other efforts as well.
The cat is righteous!