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Hullabaloo


Saturday, July 11, 2015

 

Revenge of the Midas cult

by Tom Sullivan

The troika didn't take well to Greek voters telling them where they could stick their austerity. Rebels from the country that invented democracy last week seemed poised to jump into their X-wing fighters and ... okay this is really going off the rails. Or maybe not.

Creditors counterattacked and tightened their grip. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras now seems ready to accept more austerity with no write-down of his country's debt, something voters soundly rejected just last Sunday:

“Each one of us shall be confronted with his stature and his history. Between a bad choice and a catastrophic one, we are forced to opt for the first one,” Tsipras said in a speech before his party’s lawmakers, according to local media. “It is as if one asks you for your money or your life.”
It's just slightly less than Bond-villianish. The Washington Post reports that the deal includes "phasing out a subsidy for poor pensioners and privatizing sprawling state industries." The voters have spoken and were ignored.

At the Guardian, George Monbiot examines how the financial powers have built a colonial empire that essentially renders democracy moot. (Throughout, I'm citing the referenced version of this piece from Monbiot's blog.):

Consider the International Monetary Fund. The distribution of power here was perfectly stitched up: IMF decisions require an 85% majority, and the US holds 17% of the votes. It’s controlled by the rich, and governs the poor on their behalf. It’s now doing to Greece what it has done to one poor nation after another, from Argentina to Zambia. Its structural adjustment programmes have forced scores of elected governments to dismantle public spending, destroying health, education and the other means by which the wretched of the earth might improve their lives.

The same programme is imposed regardless of circumstance: every country the IMF colonises must place the control of inflation ahead of other economic objectives; immediately remove its barriers to trade and the flow of capital; liberalise its banking system; reduce government spending on everything except debt repayments; and privatise the assets which can be sold to foreign investors.

Politically, the conservative political project of the last several decades has been to roll back the 20th century: those advances that helped the middle class grow more comfortable and minorities marginally more politically powerful. (In the U.S.: Social Security, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, etc.) Financially, the conservative project seems to be to mine the middle class and public assets to reclaim what the world's financial elite believes is rightfully theirs. Not only wealth and assets, but control. Monbiot continues:

Consider the European Central Bank. Like most other central banks, it enjoys “political independence”. This does not mean that it is free from politics; only that it is free from democracy. It is ruled instead by the financial sector, whose interests it is constitutionally obliged to champion, through its inflation target of around 2%. Ever mindful of where power lies, it has exceeded this mandate, inflicting deflation and epic unemployment on poorer members of the eurozone.
For some time I have used "economic cult" to describe their perspective. It is a little bit Midas, a little bit Ayn Rand, a little bit multi-level marketing. Like the real estate bubble and the financial crash. Those who got in early made out like the bandits they are. Day to day, there are the rigged markets for which no one seems to go to jail. The players are not only too wealthy for that, but too well-connected to be punished by the political system. They are the system. Monbiot:

The Maastricht treaty, establishing the European Union and the euro, was built on a lethal delusion: a belief that the ECB could provide the only common economic governance that monetary union required. It arose from an extreme version of market fundamentalism: if inflation was kept low, its authors imagined, the magic of the markets would resolve all other social and economic problems, making politics redundant. Those sober, suited, serious people, who now pronounce themselves the only  adults in the room, turn out to be demented utopian fantasists, votaries of a fanatical economic cult.

All this is but a recent chapter in the long tradition of subordinating human welfare to financial power. The austerity now imposed on Greece, brutal as it is, is mild by comparison to earlier versions. Take, for example, the Irish and Indian famines, both exacerbated (in the second case caused) by the doctrine then known as laissez-faire, but which we now know as market fundamentalism or neoliberalism.

Or the Midas cult. It is a group driven by an avaricious compulsion to turn everything it touches into gold. Members only. Others it keeps on a short leash, as I've written before:

Post-Reagan, deregulated capitalism has long looked like something out of Mary Shelley or science-fiction films, a creature we created, but no longer control. Billionaires and their acolytes see only its benefits, but as Jeff Goldblum's Dr. Ian Malcolm says in The Lost World: Jurassic Park, "Oh, yeah. Oooh, ahhh, that's how it always starts. Then later there's running, and then screaming." Where once We the People held capitalism's leash, now we wear the collar.

Whether it's turning your child's education from a shared public cost into a corporate profit center; or turning the principle of one-man, one-vote into one-dollar, one-vote; or carbon tax credits and accounting tricks for addressing rising sea levels; questioning the universal application of a business approach to any human need or problem prompts the challenge, "Do you have something against making a profit?" A more subtle form of red-baiting, this ploy is supposed to be a conversation stopper. Yes? You're a commie. Game over.

Maybe not. This game hasn't played out yet. (Now where did I park my X-wing?)