Archive for October 25, 2008

“Staring into the awful face of God…”

October 25, 2008 Leave a comment

Thank you Jehu for taking the time and thought to outline the answer to my question.

Yet, Francis Phalen’s reply to Rudy in the graveyard remains, “Don’t count on it.  Guys like him don’t let go of a good thing.”

Since the paradigm you describe is so counter to the present day paradigm that keeps all the people Francis is talking about in the only position from which to pull the levers of power, how do they begin to see your message as a Golden Path?  My guess is we all “stare into the awful face of God” together before anything like this is even considered.

Do you see this way of life being demanded from the bottom up?  I mean, all those who tuned into the latest episode of Survivor last night, will they see the wisdom or even necessity of this radical thought?  How does this changeover begin?

This is an excellent question – one which reveals not simply the conceptual requirements of a post-economic society, but also the key to understanding the very core of our own times as we stand on the event horizon between the epoch of scarcity and that of abundance.

It is precisely this radical view of our future which has been the driving force of American politics for the last thirty years. That we have not recognized it as such is, above all, symptomatic of the profound grip fascism has on the political and economic discourse.

(NOTE: I would say here, I apologize for returning to the idea that the Party of Washington is the party of fascism. I use it, however, not as a pejorative, but as an accurate description of its ideology. We have come to associate fascism as a rightist ideology, but in fact, if historians are to be believed, it began with the defection of its leaders from the left-wing parties of Italy. The Wiki features an interesting outline of the central economic tenets of fascism, among which is the idea of a “Third Way,” the uncanny resemblance to which you will immediately find in ideology of the Clinton Democrats, right down to the self-given label.)

Americans have been fighting for the reduction in working time for the last forty years!

Why this movement has never been recognized is simple: Americans’ attention has been focused on the chief form a too long work week takes, not on the problem itself.

As we stated earlier, government has expanded to monstrous proportions feeding on the superfluous working hours of society, and driving us to this present crisis. The chief symptom of the expansion of working time has been the expansion of government, and of taxes. Thus, we read this piece in a Massachusetts newspaper:

For years, Massachusetts was known derisively as “Taxachusetts.” But voters could help shed that label in November by completely eliminating the state’s income tax in a single stroke.

If approved, the ballot initiative would wipe out 40 percent of state revenues and give back to each taxpayer an average of $3,600.

The Massachusetts proposal is the most notable of several tax-cutting questions that will appear next month on ballots around the nation.

Others include a North Dakota initiative to cut individual income tax rates in half and trim corporate rates by 15 percent; an Arizona measure to mandate that any initiatives requiring spending or tax increases be approved by majority of all registered voters, not just those casting ballots; and a Maine plan to repeal new taxes on beer, wine and soda.

For forty years now, since well before the so-called Reagan Revolution, Americans have been waging a determined, if blind and unconscious, battle to push back against the ever lengthening work week, beginning, perhaps, with the Jarvis amendment against soaring property taxes in California in 1978. (There may have been earlier examples of this, but we are – we confess – mostly ignorant, and ignorant of them.)

The standard interpretation of the Jarvis campaign is that Republicans don’t like poor and minority people – which probably is true, since it spawned a whole generation of activists who targeted welfare queens and immigrants as the sole cause of all economic difficulties experienced in white suburbs.

However, contemporaneous explanations which relied on the racist ideology shared by the movement’s participants are entirely beside the point, since, as we know, the movement reflected not the economic pain caused by the coloreds but by the collapse of Bretton Woods, and the impact National Security Council Memorandum 68 had on deindustrializing the country.

And, we also know, black people and immigrants have always been blamed, in every period of American history, for every social disorder which has descended upon us, since the outbreak of witch hunts in Salem.

Blaming the coloreds is what Americans do.

Accepting this racism as the explanation for the actual political response of Americans to very real impact of economic events in their lives is what ignorant assholes on the left do.

A tax, of whatever form, and, by whatever level of government, is nothing more than the indirect extension of the working day. When government takes 20 percent of your paycheck you are forced to offset it by working longer hours, if you are to maintain your previous standard of living despite this loss.  How you accomplish this – by working longer hours directly, or adding new members of your household to the work force – is, of course, up to you – the politician doesn’t care one iota.

Likewise, the accumulation of government debt, in the form of bonds and notes, has this same effect. So, we read this in the above mentioned article on the Massachusetts income tax elimination proposition:

The state’s “Taxachusetts” label dates back to the 1980s, when Massachusetts had some of the highest tax burdens in the country.

Then-Gov. Michael Dukakis won the 1988 Democratic Party’s presidential nomination on the success of the so-called “Massachusetts Miracle,” but after his loss, the economy tanked.

Dukakis floated bonds to pay off the deficit, forcing lawmakers to hike the income tax rate from 5 percent to 5.95 percent in 1989, then to 6.25 percent in 1990. It later fell back to 5.95 percent.

The relentless incremental upward creep of taxes, and of public debt – which latter frees the incumbent politician from the political embarrassment of a sudden and massive rise in taxes while building into future budgets ever greater tax increases if they are to finally be repaid – exerts relentless downward pressure on the living standards of working families, leaving them vulnerable to the loss of their homes, living paycheck to paycheck, even forcing them into their own private debtors’ prison of credit cards, kited checks, and revolving accounts – making it impossible for them not to just achieve their modest dreams, educate their children, and retire with some level of comfort, but compelling them to sacrifice each current day in vain hope of someday simply breaking even, or, at the very least, not so broken as to end their days eating dog food.

And, it is right in this midst of this nightmare, this violent vision of our senior years, as we struggle to keep our families together, educated, housed, and fed, Washington comes to us and requests to borrow $700 billion from the Chinese government to bail out its retainers on Wall Street, who have all this time profited handsomely from the swollen public debt – gorging themselves on it to the point of insensibility and euphoria – and from our descent into the status of impoverished wage slaves standing the merest paycheck or illness from financial disaster.

Is it any wonder that, in response to this insult, working families of every political persuasion, without exception, flooded Congress with the singular demand to vote the request down? And, that the promise to reduce taxes is a necessary part of every political candidates platform?

So, in answer to your question: How does this changeover begin?

My answer is this: it has always been there. The first steps American working families took to express their separate interests were the establishment of organizations to demand shorter working time in this country in the 1800s.

As Robert Whaples observed:

[W]ith the continued rise of merchant capitalists, the transition from the artisanal shop to the early factory, and an intensified work pace had become widespread by about 1825. These changes produced the first extensive, aggressive movement among workers for shorter hours, as the ten-hour movement blossomed in New York City, Philadelphia and Boston. Rallying around the ten-hour banner, workers formed the first city-central labor union in the U.S., the first labor newspaper, and the first workingmen’s political party — all in Philadelphia — in the late 1820s.

Our failure has been not to realize that, since NSC-68, this became an immediately political demand – a demand aimed not at employers, who never let down their own fight against the idea of shorter working time, but against government which filled this superfluous working time with its own demands on the wallets and budgets of ordinary Americans, and, thus, on their time away from work.

This has been the single unconscionable failure of those who can imagine a life without work, and a society no longer organized by the requirements of scarcity.

Frankly, there has been no political force to put these two separate threads of the same movement together – tax reduction and shorter working time – and, it is unlikely that any will emerge in the near future – at least until such time as the Democratic Party’s candidate and likely next president, Barack Obama, crashes to earth in this ongoing crisis.

What isolated supporters of shorter working time there are, are wholly under the thrall of more taxes for programs they believe are necessary to the public space – mostly silly pie-in-sky projects to rebuild the infrastructure, improve schools, health care insurance, or to promote environmentally friendly methods of producing energy – none of which requires a dime more in public spending than is available today, and all of which could be done with the merest fraction of current public expenditures.

The leaders of the anti-tax movement, such as Carla Howell in Massachusetts, are hopelessly under the thrall of libertarian delusions that a reduction in the size of government can be realized while ignoring the fate of millions of working families who would be tossed into the streets, as they are summarily shoved off government payrolls and into unemployment – provoking the most astonishing cascade of mortgage and personal debt defaults, and a mass floating population of unemployed families easily eclipsing that of the Great Depression.

Nevertheless, the present crisis will do precisely both of these things: shorten the work week and reduce the size of government.

Unfortunately, it will probably do them both in the worst possible way as has already begun: through the bankruptcy and default of one after another national, state, and local government, and the accelerating layoffs of millions of working families, bankruptcy of the biggest industrial and commercial giants, and an impending tsunami of personal debt defaults. Perhaps in the middle of all this a bulb will pop on above someone’s head.

Until then, as you point out, we will all be “Staring into the awful face of God…”.