January 27, 2009

Destroying the United States and proud of it

William Kristol wrote his last column for the New York Times. He will be sorely not missed.

In that last column, he wrote

Since Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, conservatives of various sorts, and conservatisms of various stripes, have generally been in the ascendancy. And a good thing, too! Conservatives have been right more often than not — and more often than liberals — about most of the important issues of the day: about Communism and jihadism, crime and welfare, education and the family. Conservative policies have on the whole worked — insofar as any set of policies can be said to “work” in the real world. Conservatives of the Reagan-Bush-Gingrich-Bush years have a fair amount to be proud of. (NYT)

When malcontents such as we come to the people with a slate of radical change and hope to warmly received, we can do worse than acknowledging first that "conservatism" has an inherent appeal. Every society has something good in it, something worth conserving. Every society has what Walter Benjamin called "weak messianic power." American society between 1945 and 1980, while full of blemishes, and chiefly among them a persistent racism and a growing imperialism, successfully built an edifice with some appealing features, among them a growing respect for diversity, an ethos of inclusion, a celebration, often overdone, of individual freedom, an incipient social democratic economy that produced high growth and recognized social needs, and above all, a work world in which ordinary people could grow, not rich, but decently prosperous just by working diligently. They called it the American Dream. To be sure, it left many people out. That is one reason they called it a dream. But it also allowed more people in than many other social orders. It fell way short of the full realization of human potential. It even fell short of other existing social democracies. But it wasn't by far the worst of places. Poorer countries could look forward to the day when their citizens would enjoy that American lifestyle.

What William Kristol calls conservatism had nothing to do with conserving any of that. It was a giant wrecking ball directed at the whole edifice. This wrecking ball was not invented by Ronald Reagan. Since 1929, the share of income that went to the rentier class at the very top of the social order kept falling, and the rentiers were bidding their time. After 1945, the decline was locked into economic policy. The wars of Korea and Vietnam were the first attempts to wreck the building, by sucking out the money from the social programs that defended the power of organized labor and by breaking the WW-II legacy of formal and informal price controls. But only the inflation of the seventies, partially the result of these wars, created the crisis that would be "solved" by putting the wrecking crew, a.k.a. "conservatives," in charge. For 20 years, until the end of the NASDAQ bubble, they have been looting the building, not only emptying the safes and cleaning the jewlery drawers, but also pulling apart the upholstery and cutting the window frames. Their greatest achievement was dismantled the U.S. manufacturing base and sending the factories to the four corners of the world, replacing it with McJobs and day trading, shrinking wages and prisons. By 2000, the building of the "American Dream" was an empty shell, sitting on a pile of debt. And then the wrecking crew started pulling the copper wires out of the electric installation and ripping the tiles and fixtures from the bathrooms. That was the Bush presidency, during which blown up home prices and easy credit kept the behemoth economy running one last mile on the fumes of Wall-Street. When that to reached the limit, and only the walls stood naked, they finally let it all come crushing down.

Over the last 28 years, everything, absolutely everything of value, even the much vaunted national security, was sacrificed in order to restore the income of the rentier class. And it worked. See the graph on the left. Note the two big inflection points, 1929 and 1980. That graph tells you everything you need to know about "conservatism," a movement as rooted in "conservative values," whatever these values are, as Mussolini's fascism was rooted in the glory that was Rome.

Can we say "heck of a job, Billy!"? You did good by your friends. You earned your thirty pounds of silver. Now be gone.


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