The United States is headed for a plutocratic dystopia where a few gated communities sit like islands amidst a sea of bitterness, misery, and want.
Because the country is running on lies, myths, deceptions and distractions. Not surprisingly, they aren’t working very well for us.
Let’s run through a few of the most destructive lies and myths.
- Corporations and the uber rich are the job creators: Uh, no. Corporations are sitting on over $2 trillion dollars in un-invested profits. What jobs they are creating are in China and other countries – which, by the way, engaged in huge government funded stimulus programs when the Great Recession first hit. Which brings us to our next myth...
- Government can’t create jobs: This particular whopper is just plain counterfactual. Obama’s much maligned stimulus program created some 3 million jobs and would have created more if he hadn’t caved to Republicans and limited its size and agreed to put 40% of it into unproductive tax cuts. In short, government does create jobs – no one else can or will when there’s not enough consumer demand to justify corporate expansion. And as long as the middle class’s wealth is getting siphoned off by the 1%, there will not be enough demand.
- The deficit is our main problem, therefore we need an austerity budget: The story line from deficit hawks is that a deficit will spook bond markets and make it difficult for the US to borrow. But that hasn’t happened. In fact, demand is so high for our bonds, we’re able to borrow at record low interest rates. And while folks are practically lining up to buy our debt instruments, they’re eschewing investments in countries which instituted austerity plans. Yet the Obama Administration continues to join with the Republicans in insane hand wringing over deficits. Yes, we must bring down the deficit eventually, but not in the midst of a jobs crisis. In the long term, there are two ways to cut the deficit: grow our way out of it, or cut spending to the bone, and face a stagnating economy for the foreseeable future. If we’re to avoid the latter, right now we need government investment to stimulate growth.
- Republicans actually care about deficits: Let’s put a stake in the heart of this one right now. Reagan and the two Bushes created more than 66% of the country's debt -- an amount equal to more than twice as much as all other President's combined (including Obama). Did you hear any complaints while this record breaking debt was being wracked up? Not a word. Clinton, it’s worth remembering, had a surplus.
- Republicans favor small government: In fact, the size of government exploded under Reagan and Bush II, and we didn’t hear a peep out of Republicans. In the last thirty years, only Clinton reduced the size of government significantly, and he did so while declaring “the era of big government” to be over. What they really favor is weak government, which brings us to …
- Regulations stifle the economy; deregulation unleashes economic growth: The fact is, laissez-faire, free market policies have failed miserably every time they’ve been tried. They have a nasty habit of causing grotesque income inequalities, huge market volatility and severe financial collapses. In fact, the Great Recession we are now climbing out of should have been strike 3 for the Free Marketeers. Strike 1 was the Panic of 1893 and the depression which followed it. Strike 2 was the Great Depression of the 30’s. In all three cases, these collapses were preceded by conservative, laissez-faire policies featuring deregulation, low taxes and weak governments.
Three tries – each resulting in severe income inequality and the catastrophic economic meltdowns they inevitably cause. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out this strategy doesn’t work.
- Climate Change is “just a theory” and we can’t afford to address it: Leaving aside the fact that in the pantheon of science, “theories” are reserved for issues that are about as certain as the scientific method allows, the scientific consensus on global warming is as strong as it gets. And we know that the costs of not acting to prevent it are going to be far more than the cost of taking action, and it goes up with each year we delay. Thanks to Republican denial, Democratic complicity and press malfeasance, we’re literally sleepwalking into the worst catastrophe the human race has ever faced.
- Republicans want to protect your freedom. Except when they want to tell you who you can sleep with, who you can marry, whether or not you can use birth control; when and whether you can choose to die; or when they want to tap your phone or detain you without due process, of course.
So why is it that these myths and lies – so easily disproven – persist. Indeed, why have they become conventional wisdom for many Americans, and why do they shape the national debate?
Here’s where the Democrats, distractions and the press’s malfeasance comes in.
Republicans throw up a lot of flack to keep people from focusing on the fact that they’re basically getting screwed by the 1%. Red meat issues like gay marriage, abortion and contraception, family values, and immigration do their part. Bald-faced lies like “Obama apologizes for America,” or he was born in Kenya contribute as well. But it only works because Democrats are too wimpy – or too complicit – to confront this bait-and-switch bullshit.
It doesn’t help that Democrats are feeding at the same corporate trough. No doubt that explains why they act like the class cowards and cringe in the last stall in the bathroom every time one of these faux issues get raised.
But the real culprit is the press – they’ve simply abrogated their responsibility to give people accurate, truthful information. Several weeks ago, New York Times “reader’s representative” Andy Brisbane actually asked readers whether reporters should be concerned with the truth. Honestly. He did.
We are now stuck with a media that puts “balance” or “objectivity” before truth. As Eric Sevareid said:
“Our rigid formulae of so-called objectivity … have given the lie the same prominence and impact that truth is given; they have elevated the influence of fools to that of wise men; the ignorant to the level of the learned; the evil to the level of the good.”
This is more true today than it was then. And without a press devoted to honesty and accuracy, our ship of state runs on yarns, myths and the modern day equivalent of “bread and circuses,” and we are at the mercy of the evil, the foolish and the ignorant.
As long as that’s the case, the whims of the 1% will rule and your pay will continue to erode, or your job will exported to China or India or Honduras or anywhere the plutocrats are free to exploit workers and the environment. Or to places like Germany, where they don’t buy into the myths, and an active government role assures high-wage jobs and general prosperity.
At the end of the day, trying to run a country according to the rules of fantasy island isn’t a recipe for success. But it does serve the interests of the 1%.