Guns, Caviar, and the Elusive Peace Incentive

March 28, 2008 at 7:19 pm (Free Market Capitalism, The War on Terror)

war-and-peace.jpgEver heard of the “guns-to-caviar index”? Here’s how it works….

To determine the effects of war on the economy, this index tracks the sales of fighter jets (which carry guns) and executive jets (which, apparently, carry caviar). Now, it has been universally true for as long as this data has been measured (seventeen years) that selling more fighter jets means selling less luxury jets, and vice versa. This has always meant that you couldn’t expect to have a booming economy in the midst of violence and instability.

Until now.

Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the sales of both kinds of jets began to rise at the same time. The meaning of this is obvious: The world is becoming more and more violent, and more and more profitable (at least for those who stand to gain from the waging of war).

And to make matters worse, the very people who stand to gain from war are those who have pushed us toward it in the name of “homeland security” and “fighting terror.”

Kind of makes you wonder where, in a market economy fueled by disaster capitalism, we can ever hope to find a strong enough incentive to maintain peace.

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O Canada!

March 23, 2008 at 9:57 pm (Free Market Capitalism, Health Care)

health-care.jpgWhenever health care is being discussed, and a progressive says something like, “I wish we had universal health care like they do in Canada,” it usually takes approximately four seconds before a well-meaning patriot retorts, “Yeah, but they have to wait forever to be seen by their doctors!”

Some thoughts, if I may:

1. Have you ever been to Canada?

2. Your tax dollars are being spent, make no mistake, they’re just being spent on services that benefit Halliburton, not you.

3. If this country didn’t have 47,000,000 uninsured Americans who are therefore unable to visit the doctor, then our waiting rooms might be a bit more crowded as well (or would you rather keep health care limited so you don’t have to wait while poor people get treated?).

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O the Irony!

March 14, 2008 at 7:47 pm (Free Market Capitalism)

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In The Onion‘s “What Do You Think?” section a couple days ago, the question asked to the person on the street concerned the Federal Reserve’s annoucement that they would be setting up a $200 billion program to assist struggling banks. One of those surveyed responded: “Giving money to institutions that failed at their only job, which was to have money, may not be the best strategy.”

After a hearty chuckle, I was reminded of a section in Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine where she quoted (Ari’s brother) Michael Fleischer, who explained to Iraqi business owners whose livelihoods were in jeopardy due to the mass influx of foreign companies that “protected businesses never, never become competitive.” Klein adds:

“He appeared to be impervious to the irony that Halliburton, Bechtel, Parsons, KPMG, RTI, Blackwater and all the other U.S. corporations that were in Iraq to take advantage of the reconstruction were part of a vast protectionist racket whereby the U.S. government had created their markets with war, barred their competitors from ever entering the race, then paid them to do the work, while guaranteeing them a profit to boot — all at taxpayer expense.”

Who says the rich are against a welfare state?

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On Slavery Symbolic and Actual

March 2, 2008 at 2:59 pm (Free Market Capitalism, Music)

wage-slavery.jpg

In the song “Soul Singer in a Session Band,” Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst sings about the pitiful state of the person (in this case the soul singer) who sells his art for wages. He sings:

“See the soul singer in the session band,
Shredded to ribbons beneath a microphone stand;
Saw the conflict of interest, slipping cash in the hand
Of the soul singer in the session band.”

The lyric reminds me of what the German libertarian Wilhelm von Humboldt said about the man who labors as a wage slave at the behest of a master: “We may admire what he does, but we despise what he is.” Like the singer bearing his soul while keeping one eye on the clock, to perform solely for the enjoyment or enrichment of another is little different from prostitution. Hence the line from the same song:

“I had a lengthy discussion about The Power of Myth
With a postmodern author who didn’t exist;
In this fictitious world all reality twists:
I was a hopeless romantic, now I’m just turning tricks.”

There was a time in this country when “wage slavery” (working for wages) was considered almost as dehumanizing as actual slavery. Both entail working for a master (either in a manor or a boardroom) who profits from the worker’s output, and who controls the conditions of the workplace.

Is this all overstated? Have we grown so used to “wage slavery” that it doesn’t bother us anymore? Should it bother us today, or should we just bite our tongues and make the best of it?

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When Democracy Gets in the Way of Reform

February 22, 2008 at 4:36 pm (Free Market Capitalism)

pickpocket.jpgAs a follow-up to my previous post, consider these words from John Williamson, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, during a speech on economics given in 1993:

“One will have to ask whether it could conceivably make sense to think of deliberately provoking a crisis so as to remove the political logjam to reform.”

A couple things are noteworthy here: First, according to the model Klein has dubbed “Disaster Capitalism,” things such as the will of the people playing a role in how their societies are run (or, “democracy”) are seen as “political logjams.” This is precisely why Friedman advocates keeping neocon ideas alive until a moment of crisis or disaster — after a shock, people are less able to resist such “reforms.” I mean, it was kind of hard for the 4000 or so members of the New Orleans teachers union to do anything about their union being busted and their jobs stolen away since they had been evacuated to other parts of the country after Hurricane Katrina.

And secondly, the metaphor Klein uses to describe this economic policy (i.e., pickpocketing the stunned victim of a car accident) is only half correct in many cases. Before you can slip your fingers in and grab the wallet, you’ve gotta first run them off the road.

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The “Shock Doctrine”

February 20, 2008 at 11:27 pm (Free Market Capitalism)

milton-friedman.jpgWhen Milton Friedman died, we were reminded again of the mythological tale he supposedly spun. You know, the one about how democracy and free markets go hand in hand, and if we only liberate people to make their own choices, they’ll choose capitalism as a matter of course.

The problem is, Friedman didn’t always see the need to whitewash and euphemize his own views the way his biographers do.

In point of fact, Friedman understood the context in which capitalism inevitably takes hold not as democracy but as crisis. He writes:

“Only a crisis — actual or perceived — produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”

In other words, it takes a 9/11, a Hurricane Katrina, or a CIA-sponsored coup to bring about the psychological shock necessary to implement the economic shock of deregulation, privatization, and the cutting of social services. And if there is resistance, then there’s always the physical shock of torture to keep the rabble in line.

Just ask las madres de los deseparecidos.

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