- Date published:
10:19 am, May 23rd, 2016 - 25 comments
Categories: capitalism, class war, Deep stuff, democracy under attack, Economy, Politics, Privatisation, Unions - Tags: neo-liberalism, noam chomsky, requiem for the american dream
Reflections on Noam Chomsky’s ‘Requiem for the American Dream.’
A Guest Post by Tony Veitch.
In his powerful 2015 documentary, Requiem for the American Dream, Noam Chomsky delineates 10 principles that motivate the Neo Liberals in the United States and, indeed, all over the world. These principles echo Adam Smith’s warning in The Wealth of Nations, where he wrote:
“… all for ourselves and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.”
It seems to me, while watching the film, that we have seen ample evidence of the vile maxim since the 1980s. Most, if not all of these principles, have been applied by the neo-libs in New Zealand over the last 30 or so years. Many people have commented on how we have become a mean, self-centred society. This is how that neo-liberal aim has been achieved:
1. Reduce Democracy
Nearly a million New Zealanders didn’t bother to vote in the last general election. People feel disenfranchised and powerless, as if their single vote cannot make any difference. And, always, a low voter turnout favours the right. The right want a passive, disillusioned and accepting population; passionate about rugby and cricket and Lotto, but indifferent to the plight of the homeless or the inequalities in our society.
The left needs to have feet on the ground next election, door knocking and reminding people of their democratic rights and their democratic obligations.
2. Shape Ideology
To my mind this ties in with the first principle. We have been fed the mantra (or the myth) that the the free market model is the ideal, that business knows best. Yet business, being a hierarchical model, is actually inimical to democracy, or the participatory ideal. We have been subtly fed anti-democratic ideas by successive governments since the 1980s. However, business, as is so often proved, does not always know best.
3. Redesign the Economy
Jane Kelsey termed the New Zealand economic model the FIRE economy. Finance, insurance and real estate. This, coupled with the off-shoring of jobs, has transformed our economy in the last 30 years, to the extent that it is hardly the same country I grew up in.
Everything now is expressed in terms of cost, but little attention is paid to value in a social sense. Real wages have not increased in proportion to productivity and worker insecurity has been deliberately increased because it keeps the lid on workers’ wages. Capital is free to move in search of better returns; labour is not so easily moved.
4. Shift the Burden
GST, perhaps more than any other tax, shifts the burden from the wealthy to the poor. Coupled with tax cuts for the top earners, and the fact that corporates Apple and Compass can effectively pay little or no tax, this puts the burden for social amenities on the precariat.
5. Attack Solidarity
The vile maxim again. We have also seen a vilifying of the ‘losers’ on various forms of welfare, which is an attack on the solidarity of society. Government services have been systematically defunded, which largely hurts the poor most. Defunding also leads to calls for privatisation, because the last big untapped reservoir of income for corporates is the government tax take. So, looking at it this way, charter schools, for example, are just a form of corporate welfare.
6. Run the Regulators
Crony capitalism. National, ACT and Labour ex-MPs being given sinecures in organisations whose task it is to lobby government to secure corporate welfare and turn a blind eye when regulations are ignored or transgressed. A good recent example is the fishing industry.
The market prevails for the poor, but the rich have quite another set of rules.
7. Engineer Elections
Corporate donors mean National has much more money to employ focus groups and spend on shaping policy. In fact, corporates are influencing and interfering in the democratic process of this country. And do they expect a payback? Of course they do and the recent Scenic Hotels scandal is a classic example.
Where elections cannot engineered, simply remove the democratic mandate, as National have done with Canterbury’s ECan.
8. Keep the Rabble in Line
One of the most pervasive actions of the neo-libs has been their sustained attack on the union movement in this country. From a peak membership of about 48% in the 80’s, the movement has declined to about 16% in 2014. There is a direct correlation between social equality and high union membership. We feel uncomfortable in New Zealand talking about class, but, make no mistake, the wealthy have been engaged in class warfare for the last 30 years.
9. Manufacture Consent
I can recall Peter Ustinov (I think) quipping that he came to New Zealand in the 1960s, arriving on a Sunday, found the country was closed, so went home again. Now we have become a consumer society, where retail chains demand the ‘right’ to open over Easter and until midnight before Christmas. We have been trained by the PR, marketing and advertising industry to focus on the superficial things in life. Extend the ‘buy, buy, buy,’ without serious thought about need, to the general elections and you get voters motivated by greed and fear rather than by a rational discussion of the issues.
The vile maxim again. Divide and conquer. Demonise large sections of the people, the poor, the ‘bludgers’, the different, while lauding those few who are successful.
Looking at the principles Chomsky has identified, it’s easy to see the blueprint in operation in New Zealand. The documentary is available on Netflix and online. It’s well worth your time to watch it, because it will show you that those things you always suspected were going on really are going on. It’s not random, it’s not coincidence. It’s part of a plan.
To end, a quote from Noam Chomsky:
“There are . . . serious flaws in our society . . . which are going to have to be corrected by operating outside the framework of what is commonly accepted.”
If that is not a call for civil disobedience on a massive scale . . . well, I don’t know what is!