Sunday, July 06, 2003

I’m currently rereading "One Market Under God" by Tom Frank. The book was written in 2000, before the Bush regime and 9/11 and the recession, and I thought it would be interesting to revisit a cynical view of the Greatest Economy Ever Where Everyone Gets Ice Cream!!!! now that the economy is in the shitter and the naïve predictions about how technology and globalization were going to create a Perfect Economy Forever look more than a little ridiculous.

Frank’s central thesis concerned “market populism,” the prolonged media and political campaign that reached its zenith in the late 1990s. This PR blitz was designed to convince the American public that deregulation and globalization would benefit everyone. The market populists argued that since people choose what they want to purchase in the marketplace, that automatically implies consent of the current economic system. And if something went out of whack, people would automatically punish it by altering their purchasing decisions, thus eliminating the need for democracy or regulations or government. The market populists charged the government with being an large, elitist institution standing in the way of the People’s Market, and by eliminating this burden, we would have prosperity and everyone would get an IPO and get to go to work in their jeans and buy ergonomic chairs and be happy all the time forever. Forward progress (ie, the market‘s domination of every aspect of life) was inevitable. (Does this sound like old fashioned 30’s style Marxism in reverse? That’s the point.)

Since the economic downturn, the nation’s PR and media monoliths haven’t changed their script too much. Sure, the pie in the sky stock market bubble inflation has been toned down somewhat, and there was a brief, perfunctory public flogging of a few corrupt execs after Enron imploded, but the central theme is clear: the market will solve everything, if that darn pesky government will just get out of its way. Despite the fact that the liberal/left critiques of the "New Economy" (that it wasn't the job-creating engine it made itself out to be, that it was based on ridiculous, hyper-inflated views of stock prices and the potential of technology, that almost all of the wealth went to a handful at the top) have been proven to be pretty accurate, no one outside of those same liberal/left circles is proposing any sort of structural change.

The depressing thing is that despite the fact that the marketeers’ gospel has proven to be massively flawed, at best, not much has changed about the American political or social landscape in the past three years. Unlike other times in this country’s history, the American public has sort of placidly accepted their fate. There’s no public outcry, no calls for massive change. Whether this is due to the 9/11 aftershocks (and the Bush regime’s subsequent FLAG = US campaign) or whether it’s been caused by the public internalization of the market populist mindset, it’s a massive change from prior, similar incidences. Most people are okay with the idea of tax cuts that will only benefit people who own massive amounts of stock. The hue and cry over criminal CEOs has mostly evaporated, except for petty thieves who portray cold, patrician bitches on national TV. American liberals are rallying around Howard Dean, a guy who labels himself a "fiscal conservative". The national economic debate is embarrassingly shallow, centering as it does around tax cuts for wealthy people versus “stimulus packages” of little import that are too small and significant to make a dent in the current situation. It’s embarrassing to think that a country which once had long and intensive struggles for worker’s rights, which became righteously pissed off when a recession happened (even as recently as ten years ago) has lowered its expectations to this point, where during economic hard times we just sort of sit around hoping not to get laid off and voting in people who shower cash on the people who need it least.

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