Ill Fares the Land by Tony Judt (2010)
The title comes from a quote that also appears on the book jacket:
Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.
— Oliver Goldsmith, The Deserted Village, 1770
Please use the title link to Goodreads to see the jacket flap copy that offers a good summary of the book. Also note, the author has a PhD. in history from Cambridge (England).
This is an EXCELLENT book. A must read as you will probably be able to tell because I have felt compelled to quote from it so extensively. The author makes my beliefs and thoughts plain with his writing.
He begins on a dismal note, and the terror of the U.S. presidential election of 2016 was not yet known. Is not yet known to me, but I have lost all hope with the cheating of Hillary Clinton and her minions that stole the primary from a better man all for her own ambition.
Something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today. For thirty years we have made a virtue out of the pursuit of material self-interest: indeed, this very pursuit now constitutes whatever remains of our sense of collective purpose. We know what things cost but have no idea what they are worth. We no longer ask of a judicial ruling or a legislative act: is it good? Is it fair? Is it right? Will it help bring about a better society or a better world? Those used to be the political questions, even if they invited no easy answers. We must learn once again to pose them.
The materialistic and selfish quality of contemporary life is not inherent in the human condition. Much of what appears “natural” today dates from the 1980s: the obsession with wealth creation, the cult of privatization and the private sector, the growing disparities of rich and poor. And above all, the rhetoric which accompanies these: uncritical admiration for unfettered markets, disdain for the public sector, the delusion of endless growth.
We cannot go on living like this. The little crash of 2008 was a reminder that unregulated capitalism is its own worst enemy: sooner or later it must fall prey to its own excesses and turn again to the state for rescue. But if we do no more than pick up the pieces and carry on as before, we can look forward to greater upheavals in years to come. (pp. 1-2)
There was an interesting post by one of my favorite writers, indeed a personal hero of mine because of his writing and speaking, Chris Hedges. He suffers no fool gladly, or even at all. Another of my favorite writers, Thomas Frank, who has praised Hedges’ writing and Hedges has said good things about Frank’s books. Today’s post featured an over-the-top criticism of one of the best books I have ever read, Thomas Frank‘s Listen Liberal. Hedges describes the book as having a “fatal flaw” in his use of the word “liberal” because it is true that today’s liberals aren’t what they used to be; that’s why people switched to saying “progressive” instead. In my opinion, Hedges is right about the Death of the Liberal Class but is wrong to denunciate Frank’s use of the term as it is generally understood.
The reason I was reminded of this “debate” is because this book too has issues with liberals.
And yet we seem unable to conceive of alternatives. This too is something new. Until quite recently, public life in liberal societies was conducted in the shadow of a debate between defenders of ‘capitalism’ and its critics: usually identified with one or another form of ‘socialism’. [sic] By the 1970s this debate had lost much of its meaning for both sides, all the same, the ‘Left-Right’ served a useful purpose. It provided a peg on which to hang critical commentary about contemporary affairs. (pp. 2-3)
He goes on to discuss the variations of liberals, social democrats, and other variations, like libertarianism. Unfortunately, especially in America, socialism is still ignorantly confused with communism and those that cry the loudest are sheeple who watch Faux news and believe the lies that are repeated over and over. If they say it on TV it must be true! Sigh.
In short, the practical need for strong states and INTERVENTIONIST GOVERNMENT is BEYOND DISPUTE. But no one is ‘re-thinking’ the state. There remains a marked reluctance to defend the PUBLIC SECTOR on grounds of COLLECTIVE INTEREST or PRINCIPLE. It is striking that in a series of European elections following the financial meltdown, social democratic parties consistently did badly; not-withstanding the collapse of the market, they proved conspicuously unable to rise to the occasion.
If it is to be taken seriously again, the Left must find its voice. There is much to be angry about: growing inequalities of wealth and opportunity; injustices of class and caste; economic exploitation at home and abroad; corruption and money and privilege occluding the arteries of democracy. But it will no longer suffice to identify the shortcomings of ‘the system’ and then retreat, Pilate-like: indifferent to consequences. The irresponsible rhetorical grandstanding of decades past did not serve the left well. (p. 8)
PRIVATE AFFLUENCE. PUBLIC SQUALOR
No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.
— Adam Smith
Poverty is an abstraction, eve for the poor. But the symptoms of COLLECTIVE IMPOVERISHMENT are all about us. Broken highways, bankrupt cities, collapsing bridges, failed schools, the unemployed, the underpaid and the uninsured: all suggest a collective failure of will. These shortcomings are so endemic that we no longer know how to talk about what is wrong, much less set about repairing it. (p. 12)
One way he phrases the issue of wealth inequality and the government’s obligation to do something about it is:
But each in its own way was affected by the growing intolerance of immoderate inequality, initiating public provision to compensate for PRIVATE INADEQUACY. (p. 13)
He is talking about the programs of FDR and labor laws, and social services, and progressive taxation. Private money does not want to share. As Chris Rock once said, “Minimum wage means they would pay you less if they could!” The neoliberals have destroyed the obligation to take care of your neighbors and changed it into “Your mortgage is not my problem.” and other excessively dog eat dog social Darwinism policies instead of help those who have the least. “Not with MY tax dollars!”
The greater extremes of PRIVATE PRIVILEGE and PUBLIC INDIFFERENCE have resurfaced in the US and the UK: epicenters of enthusiasm for deregulated capitalism. . . . [no other country] has matched Britain or the United States in their UNWAVERING thirty-year commitment to the UNRAVELING of decades of social legislation and economic oversight. (p. 13)
What drives me crazy is that, as an idealist and a compassionate human being, this hatred and cruelty knows no bounds and is embraced by people who would actually benefit from more and better programs for social justice. Republicans seem to have some genetic predisposition to misanthropy.
Statistics and studies show over and over that the wealthy are getting all the benefit of increased wage worker productivity. They are also parking their money offshore to avoid taxes that would benefit society as a whole and do not even feel shame for doing so (after all it is “legal”). Of course, corporations aren’t really people so they cannot in fact feel shame, and any whistleblower who attempts to disclose abuse is thrown to the dogs of homelessness and hunger. It is in the managers’ self-interest to cheat their employees and reward themselves. Even when they gain more money than they can spend in a lifetime and live in protected bubbles without fear of want, homelessness, or medical care, much less food, they do not want to share more than the minimum they can get away with, even when that means actual wage theft and paying everyone less than a white man.
In 2005, 21.2 percent of US national income accrued to just 1 percent of earners. Contrast 1968, when the CEO of General Motors took home, in pay and benefits, about sixty-six  times the amount paid to a typical GM worker. Today the CEO of Wal-Mart earns nine hundred  times the wages of his average employee. Indeed the wealth of the Wal-Mart founders’ family that year was estimated at about the same ($90 BILLION) as that of the BOTTOM 40 percent of the US population: 120 MILLION people.
The consequences are clear. There has been a collapse in intergenerational mobility: in contrast to their parents and grandparents, children today in the UK as in the US have very little expectation of improving upon the condition into which they are born. The POOR STAY POOR. Economic disadvantage for the OVERWHELMING MAJORITY translates into ill health, missed educational opportunity and — increasingly — the familiar symptoms of depression: alcoholism, obesity, gambling and minor criminality. The unemployed or underemployed lose such skill as they have acquired and become chronically superfluous to the economy. Anxiety and stress, not to mention illness and early death, frequently follow.
Income disparity exacerbates the problems. Thus the incidence of mental illness correlates closely to income in the US and the UK, where as the two indices are quite unrelated in all continental European countries. Even trust, the faith we have in our fellow citizens, corresponds negatively with differences in income: between 1983 and 2001, mistrustfulness increased markedly in the US, the UK and Ireland — three countries in which the DOGMA of UNREGULATED INDIVIDUAL SELF-INTEREST was most assiduously applied to PUBLIC POLICY. In no other country was a comparable increase in mutual mistrust to be found. (pp. 14-16)
INSERT CHARTS HERE
Conversely, the United States, despite its huge AGGREGATE WEALTH, always comes low on such measure. We spend vast sums on healthcare, but life expectancy in the US remains BELOW BOSNIA and ALBANIA.
Inequality is corrosive. It rots societies from the inside. The impact of material differences takes a while to show up: but in due course competition for status and goods increase; people feel a growing sense of superiority (or inferiority) based on their possessions; prejudice towards those on the lower ranks of the social ladder HARDENS; crime spikes and the pathologies of social disadvantage become ever more marked. The legacy of unregulated wealth creation is bitter indeed. (pp. 20-21)
He cites a book by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better (London, Allen Lane, 2009) for much of the material in this section.
. . . thirty years of growing inequality have convinced the English and Americans in particular that this is a natural condition of life about which we can do little.
To the extent that we do speak of alleviating social ills, we suppose economic ‘growth’ to be sufficient: the diffusion of prosperity and privilege will flow naturally from an increase in the cake. Sadly, all the evidence suggest the contrary. Whereas in hard times we are more likely to accept redistribution as both necessary and possible, in an age of affluence economic growth typically privileges the few while accentuating the relative advantage of the many. (pp. 22-23)
There is even a method to measure economic disparity: it is called a ‘Gini coefficient’ and the United States’ Gini number is equal to China’s and yet the US is a more developed nation. The author also nails it when he quotes Adam Smith: “The great mob of mankind are the admirers and worshippers [sic], and, what may seem more extraordinary, most frequently the disinterested admirers and worshippers [sic], of wealth and greatness.” [Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, (2006, original publication 1759)].
Our moral sentiments have indeed been corrupted. We have become insensible to the HUMAN COSTS of APPARENTLY RATIONAL social policies, especially when we are advised that they will contribute to overall prosperity and thus — implicitly — to our separate interest. Consider the 1996 “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act” (a revealingly Orwellian label), the [Bill] Clinton-era legislation that sought to gut welfare provision here in the US. The stated purpose of this Act was to shrink the nation’s welfare rolls. This was to be achieved by withholding welfare from anyone who failed to seek (and, if successful, accept) paid employment. Because an employer could thus hope to attract workers AT ALMOST ANY WAGE HE OFFERED — they could NOT decline a job, however distasteful, without risking exclusion from welfare benefits — not only were the numbers on welfare considerably reduced but wages and business costs fell too.
Moreover, welfare acquired an explicit stigma. To be a recipient of public aid, whether in the form of child support, food stamps or unemployment benefits, was a mark of Cain: a sign of PERSONAL FAILURE, evidence that one had somehow fallen through the cracks of society. In the contemporary United States, at a time of growing unemployment, a jobless man or woman is thus stigmatized: they are not quite a full member of the community. (pp. 23-24)
What Bill Clinton did to us, with his pretense of being a “liberal” by any definition, but absolutely certainly a neoliberal to right winger in effect, was devastating to many families, the extent to which we will never know because no one gave a damn to monitor and adjust the plan based on adverse impact. Yes the roles went down, so it achieved the objective. But the objective was not what was good for the citizens since POVERTY did not go down, and actually so much got worse. Single mothers, forced to give birth by Republican and religious zealots, were castigated as lazy sluts and were required to work for less than a man’s pay AND half of that more or less was necessarily spent on PAYING ANOTHER WOMAN to take care of the children.
If Republicans actually had any family values, they would be paying mothers a basic income enough to feed and house the family so that mothers could do their job which is to be MOTHERS and take care of their children themselves.
Morality of the deserving poor and the undeserving poor is at the heart of the hatred of the “takers” who see fit to judge others. There have been proposals akin to the Victorian poor houses. One might even say our prisons are our poorhouses these days. The rich white boys do not get 10 years for their cocaine use, but pity the 10 year sentence handed out to a young black man with a bag of weed. [Which should be legal anyway for fuck’s sake, as long as tobacco can be sold commercially, when we know it costs millions and billions of healthcare dollars, then marijuana should be legal, like alcohol to for that matter.]
The author has a nice discussion relating the workfare law (personal responsibility my ass) reminded him of the New Poor Law of 1834 in England, vividly described by Charles Dickens, who had experienced being trapped in a poor house with his entire family when he was a young boy. They had to pay rent, as I recall, and pay for their own food and all kinds of bribes to their keepers. Since they could not leave, how the hell they were supposed to do so devolved to begging from relatives or others. Republicans have proposed a return to the poorhouse days; they want to go back so far!
The New Poor Law was an outrage. It obliged the indigent and the unemployed to choose between work AT ANY WAGE, however low, and the humiliation of the workhouse. Here, as in other forms of 19th-century public assistance (still thought of as “charity”), the level of aid and support was CALIBRATED so as to be less appealing than the WORST available alternative. The Law drew on contemporary economic theories THAT DENIED the very possibility of UNEMPLOYMENT in an efficient market: if wages fell low enough and there was NO ATTRACTIVE ALTERNATIVE to work, EVERYONE WOULD EVENTUALLY FIND A JOB. (pp. 24-25)
I would argue here that there are so many underlying assumptions that are not reality based in this presumption. First, people lived where they lived and what they could afford to pay. They could not afford transportation, either public (if it even existed) or private. Any job they had required them to be able to walk to the place of business. Certain jobs may have required a particular quality of clothing. Many tenements did not have running water, much less — ha ha — washing machines for laundry, or even private toilets. The hours were long, 10 hours a day or more, plus maybe an hour walk each way? And no sick pay, no unemployment, no medical care, nothing, not even or especially not even any safety laws so the workers might have a limb cut off and just be tossed out of work.
People do not seem to remember HOW BAD THINGS CAN BE when unregulated profiteering capitalists run society without government laws and regulations to protect citizens. They benefit from low wages, and crummy unsafe working conditions. You don’t like it, you have the right to leave “at will” — one of the greatest lies of all time. Along with the workfare, with a lifetime CAP, the servants of the people (the corporate kind), also put a cap on unemployment. Again, not based on reality, but simply based on kicking people off so they had to “choose between work at any wage” and under any conditions and not to make any complaints about it either.
This doesn’t even begin to address the issues of women and mandatory work while in the Victorian days they were denied education and most kinds of work. There was no birth control, women servants were frequently raped by their “betters” and tossed out for becoming pregnant, and left to seek an illegal abortion, or become a prostitute to support herself and her child.
Then like now, there were all kinds of policies (means testing, drug testing, bed checking) that are deliberately calculated to “catch” cheaters — and everyone getting assistance is presumed guilty and lazy. The pittance of assistance is deliberately kept low because rich politicians and the corporate overlords believe that people WILL NOT WORK unless they have to, so anything that helps them up the ladder must not be too much because that would encourage “a culture of dependency” and that is morally unacceptable to conservatives.
Reality is that even with a universal basic income that guaranteed you could feed and clothe your family, you would still probably want to work to make more money. You just wouldn’t have to give your boss a blow job once a week and swallow to keep food and shelter. It is not that there may not be an “attractive” alternative: there might, in fact, be no alternative, no work to be had at all.
For the next 150 years, reformers stove to abolish such demeaning practices. . . .
Instead, the ethic of Victorian voluntarism and punitive eligibility criteria [like mandatory impoverishment to $2,000 in assets to qualify for assistance] was replaced by UNIVERSAL SOCIAL PROVISION, albeit varying considerably from country to country. The inability to work or to find work, far from being stigmatized, was now treated as a condition of occasional but by no means dishonorable dependence upon one’s fellow citizens. Needs and rights were accorded special respect and the idea that unemployment was the product of bad character or insufficient effort was put to rest.
Today we have reverted to the attitudes of our early Victorian forebears. Once again, we believe exclusively in incentives, “effort” and reward — together with PENALTIES for inadequacy. To hear Bill Clinton or Margaret Thatcher explain it, making welfare universally available to all who need it would be foolish. If workers are not DESPERATE, why should they work? If the state pays people to be idle, what incentive do they have to seek out paid employment? We have reverted to the hard, cold world of Enlightened economic rationality, first and best expressed in the Fable of the Bees, Bernard Mandevilles’s 1732 essay on political economy. Workers, in Mandeville’s view, “have nothing to stir them up to be serviceable but their wants, which it is prudence to relieve but FOLLY TO CURE”. [sic] (pp. 25-26)
One aspect of American “exceptionalism” is the hostility towards socialism.
This suspicion of the public authorities, periodically elevated to a cult by Know Nothings, States’ Rightists, anti-tax campaigners — and, most recently, the radio talk show demagogues of the Republican Right, is uniquely American. It translates an already distinctive suspicion of taxation (with or without representation) into PATRIOTIC DOGMA. Here in the US, taxes are typically regarded as UNCOMPENSATED INCOME LOSS. The idea that they might (also) be a contribution to the provision of COLLECTIVE GOODS that individuals could never afford in isolation (roads, firemen, policemen, warships, and weapons) is rarely considered.
In continental Europe as in much of the developed world, the idea that any one person could be completely ‘self-made’ evaporated with the illusions of 19th century individualism. We are all beneficiaries of those who went before us, as well as those who will care for us in old age or ill health. We all depend upon services whose costs we share with our fellow citizens, however selfishly we conduct our economic lives. But in America, the ideal of the autonomous entrepreneurial individual remains as appealing as ever. (pp. 31-32)
The screams of outrage when Elizabeth Warren denounced the notion that there were any self-made men was hysterical:
“There is nobody in this country who got rich on their own. Nobody. You built a factory out there – good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory… Now look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea – God bless! Keep a hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”
He makes the point that public policy in America basically becomes a narrow economic “calculus” today. He quotes a Marquis from France two centuries ago as having identified the problem of this narrow consideration for policy decisions: “liberty will be no more, in the eyes of an avid nation, than the necessary condition for the security of financial operations.” Banksters will rule, in other words.
The revolutions of the age risked fostering confusion between the freedom to make money. . . . and freedom itself.
We are all, it [economic reasoning] asserts, economic beings. We pursue our self-interest (defined as MAXIMIZED ECONOMIC ADVANTAGE) with minimal reference to extraneous criteria such as altruism, self-denial, taste, cultural habit or collective purpose. Supplied with sufficient and correct information about ‘markets’ — whether real ones or institutions for the sale and purchase of stocks and bonds — we shall make the best possible choices to our separate and common advantage. (pp. 35-36)
I took a writing break and just read more of the book. It is really good.
The chapter titles are somewhat amusing with a touch of sorrow.
Introduction: A guide for the perplexed
Chapter One: The Way We Live Now
Chapter Two: The World We Have Lost
Chapter Three: The Unbearable Lightness of Politics (obviously a riff on the book and the movie The Unbearable Lightness of Being)
Chapter Four: Goodbye to All That?
Chapter 5: What is to be done?
Chapter 6: The Shape of Things to Come (a reference to the H.G. Wells book and movie of the same title)
Conclusion: What Is Living and What Is Dead in Social Democracy?
Rats rats rats. I just realized that *I* easily got these references but I would guess zero people born say, after 1970 would get either of the references, and a majority of people older would not either. Because I am a reader, always have been. That’s how I know this stuff apart from living through a bunch of it. Bookaholic is a term invented for people like me, though I quit my addiction to buying books (having had at least 3,000 at one point, mostly nonfiction). Now I just rely on the library, which is why I get so backed up in reading and writing here. So many books, so little time indeed. It is to my everlasting sorrow that all people do not enjoy reading — or the alternative, listening to books on CD or even online.
OMG now that I look back at some of the others, I realized that others have profound meanings by reference as well: Goodbye to All That sounded familiar, because of course, it is the title of a book as well. The book about the experiences of being in the trenches in WWI. Another thing that I am confident is not being described in all the brutal detail in any history class today. Wars are always glorious according to the winners who prosecute them, never to the fighters who come home maimed, traumatized, or dead.
And the title The Way We Live Now takes on many more layers of meaning when I realized it to refers to a book by Anthony Trollope. See the link to Wikipedia, but the first part of the entry was too good so I have included it here:
The Way We Live Now is a satirical novel by Anthony Trollope, published in London in 1875 after first appearing in serialised form. It is one of the last significant Victorian novels to have been published in monthly parts.
Comprising 100 chapters, The Way We Live Now was Trollope’s longest novel, and is particularly rich in sub-plot. It was inspired by the financial scandals of the early 1870s; Trollope had just returned to England from abroad, and was appalled by the greed and dishonesty those scandals exposed. This novel was his rebuke. It dramatises [sic English English] how that greed and dishonesty pervaded the commercial, political, moral, and intellectual life of that era.
The World We Have Lost is also a reference to a book of the same name. The Goodreads blurb is also too good to risk any readers of this post not checking the link out.
The World We Have Lost is a seminal work in the study of family and class, kinship and community in England after the Middle Ages and before the changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution. The book explores the size and structure of families in pre-industrial England, the number and position of servants, the elite minority of gentry, rates of migration, the ability to read and write, the size and constituency of villages, cities and classes, conditions of work and social mobility.
What Is To Be Done is an even cooler chapter title because it references three different authors, but the first one to use it was Leo Tolstoy.
What Is To Be Done? (sometimes translated as What Then Must We Do?) is a non-fiction work by Leo Tolstoy, in which Tolstoy describes the social conditions of Russia in his day. Tolstoy completed the book in 1886, and the first English language publication came in 1887 as What To Do?. A revised translation with the current title was published in 1899.
The English title was also used for two better-known works by Nikolai Chernyshevsky and Vladimir Lenin; Tolstoy’s Russian title is similar but not identical to Chernyshevsky’s (and Lenin’s), both of them sharing the same Biblical reference (Luke 3:10–14).
The text of the Biblical reference is as follows:
10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
11 John [the Baptist] answered,”Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked,”what should we do?”
13 Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
15 He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely — be content with your pay.”
Oh this is hysterical, so while I was looking up the text of this verse, naturally lots of Christian Bible sites came up. This one includes a lovely interpretation of the verse, right up until the last sentence, which is the basis for the post-Jesus Christians of today’s hostility to the poor.
Of course such words as these of the Baptist are to be understood in the light of common sense: men are not to give, to enable others to be idle. (M.F. Sadler)
I am pretty sure that when I read the Bible, Jesus did not say, help the poor but only after means testing them, drug testing them, and bed checking women to make sure they aren’t having sex with a man who should then be paying for her ability to live (aka marriage/sex/payment, hmm sounds like prostitution to me). Nor does this verse say, share food except for steak and seafood. Or check someone’s closet to make sure they do not have ANY shirts before giving one of your own.
This commentator’s “common sense” is actually mean spirited greed and is morally judgmental in the extreme. Not very Christian, more like what I have taken to calling Xtian. Judge not lest ye be judged, eh?
I am sure that the “be content with your pay” would be cherry picked to denounce minimum wage increases as un-Christian. But the first part, “Don’t extort money” could mostly be leveled against the capitalists and financiers who extort money for themselves on the backs of the workers.
Sorry this is all out of order, but I am too lazy to reorder the references in chapter order.
Oh no, I just Googled the conclusion title and learned that the author died in 2010. This link is a tribute to him on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman, one of the last good journalists and commentators in the country.
Here is a link to a piece based on a lecture he gave in 2009. It has a lot of the content I have included but more too I think, so he probably used that for the lecture. Go read the article although I think some of the text appears in other chapters that I have already quoted. Here is an interview on YouTube he did with NPR. And his last interview (almost an hour long) he did on Charlie Rose.
Now I really wish I could remember where I got the tip to read this book. Probably BookTV.
The book has a number of books cited in footnotes that will probably cause me to add to the endless chain of references and more. Under the subhead of “The Politics of Fear” in The Shape of Things To Come, he quotes Karl Popper, a name I have seen time and time again, so will have to read his books eventually. OMG, no wonder he is cited so often: ” he is generally regarded as the greatest philosophers of science of the 20th century.”
The alleged clash between freedom and security. . . turns out to be a chimera. For there is no freedom if it is not secured by the state; and conversely, only a state which is controlled by the free citizens can offer them any reasonable security.
The lead in paragraph before The Politics of Fear section describes the rampant individualism and the denial of any common good or benefit of sharing the wealth.
If we cannot see the case for expending our collective resources on trains, it will not just be because we have all joined GATED COMMUNITIES and no longer need anything but PRIVATE CARS to move around between them. It will be because we have become gated INDIVIDUALS who do not know HOW TO SHARE public space to common advantage. The implications of such a loss would far TRANSCEND the decline or demised of one system of transport among others. It would mean we had done with MODERN LIFE ITSELF. (p. 216)
PUBLIC TRANSIT & employee born costs to work
The discussion about trains reminds me of the other major issue we have in my hometown. Parking. There is virtually none. The transit system is ill conceived and inadequate. The major employer downtown has to have outlying parking lots for its workers who then have to take a bus into the heart of downtown to go to work. This is replicated everyday in most cities these days I think. It is so common, so routine, and so unquestioned that we when I protested it wasn’t right that a downtown business could be built without ANY requirement to provide parking, street or otherwise, for employees much less customers. When I questioned the fact that employees are expected to pay for ramp parking at $12 a day (or try to illegally feed the meter — they mark the tires with chalk so they can tell — and the law also requires that your car be moved a minimum of two blocks from previous spot on the street), I was told “it’s always been that way!”
My reply was, “That doesn’t make it right!” Think about it, not only do employees have to then work (if at minimum wage) for over an hour, in fact nearly for two hours a day for the privilege of working! How can anyone think this is right?
Another response was, well we don’t want the whole downtown taken up with ugly parking lots. A decent architect could manage something; maybe even do a mixed use, parking garage below and stores or businesses above. Places for employees and customers to park FOR FREE. Why are the workers expected to be responsible for all transportation costs? Because it has always been that way! NOT GOOD ENOUGH.
Transit has so many issues that it would take a whole other theme read to cover it, but I will say this: it is primarily a problem of poor people, because everyone else has cars, and usually cars with garages for those miserable snowy days. No standing at the bus stop in -24 degree Fahrenheit for them! No need to get to the stop at least 10 minutes early lest you miss the bus and be late for work and get docked or fired for being late. No zippy 5 minutes to cover 5 miles (or whatever). No, you get to go painfully slow, stopping every few blocks, and then waiting for dozens of cars to zoom by to avoid being stuck behind a bus. Plus, what happens when you have a dentist or doctor appointment? And then there are the food deserts where people live but have no nearby grocery stores accessible without a car. The bus system here basically requires you to go downtown and switch to another bus to go out to another section of town, and not necessarily to a grocery store. Plus hard to carry groceries for a week on the bus for a family of four. So it means more time waiting for transit, more trips, more costs, and more time wasted.
There is a proposal for light rail between my city and the biggest cities in the state. That would be nice, except when you get there, you need a car to go anywhere else. Buses never run continuously, often require transfers, and are never certain to be on time or to even have room for more passengers.
As is always the case, the rich get to live downtown or in the city where their job is (San Francisco, Manhattan) and all the minimum wage workers get to live at the farthest reaches of public transportation. Their lives, their time has no value to employers (who don’t cover the cost of transit, and certainly will never PAY FOR THE TIME it takes for a worker to get to work. When I lived in Brooklyn, I had to take a bus to the train and it was 1 1/2 ride to Manhattan. At least there the day was 9-5 with an hour for lunch, so that was something. However, after accepting my first job there for a particular salary, I was told that oh no, that salary was going to be prorated because I “only” actually would be working a 7-hour day. A detail that came to light only after irrevocable events had happened.
My point is that until PUBLIC TRANSIT done right will require drastic and massive changes in attitude, structure, and commitment. But it is a PUBLIC GOOD and as the author notes, the last thirty years have been dedicated to eliminating all government spending on projects for the public good.
I am sorry but my posts will likely be a lot darker now because I have lost hope. First, Bernie was cheated. Now even sane, decent, apparently otherwise intelligent and nice people have told me (a) they are going to vote for Trump because they hate Hillary that much, and (b) that I can “believe” we are a secular nation” but another woman denied this reality. For reasons that escape me, she no doubt believes that tax payers should get a line item veto of budget items –like abortion funding for poor women — but never ever question the validity of dropping bombs and destroying entire cities and countries and killing children of other nations. Unless, maybe they were Christian, maybe then they would have some compassion.
WILL THERE BE ANY COMMON GOOD FUNDING IN THE FUTURE?
The case for reviving the state does not rest uniquely upon its contributions to modern society as a collective project; there is a more urgent consideration. We have entered an age of fear. Insecurity is once again an active ingredient of political life in Western democracies. Insecurity born of terrorism, of course; but also, and more insidiously, fear of the uncontrollable speed of change, fear of the loss of employment, fear of losing ground to others in an increasingly unequal distribution of resources, fear of losing control of the circumstances and routines of our daily lives. And, perhaps above all, fear that it is not just we who can no longer shape our lives but that those in authority have also lost control, to forces beyond their reach.
We in the West have lived through a long era of stability, cocooned in the ILLUSION of indefinite economic improvement. But all that is now behind us. For the foreseeable future we shall be DEEPLY ECONOMICALLY INSECURE. We are assuredly less confident of our collective purposes, our environmental well-being, or our PERSONAL SAFETY than at any time since World War II. . . .
In 2008, 43% of American voters favored the election of Sarah Palin to the Vice Presidency of the United States — a heart-beat away from what is still the most powerful political office in the world. Like Dutch demagogues playing on local fears of Muslim immigrants or French politicians exploiting anxieties over the dilution of French ‘identity’, Palin and her ilk can only benefit from rising confusion and anxiety in the face of apparently unmanageable change. (pp. 217-218)
Imagine if this poor author were alive today to see the elevation of The Donald, bankrupt, adulterer, narcissist, and exploiter of all who cross his path.
The more exposed the society, the weaker the state and the greater the misplaced faith in ‘the market’, the higher the likelihood of a political backlash. In former Communist countries, a generation has been raised to believe in the free market and the minimal state: not just as ends in themselves, but as the OPPOSITE OF EVERYTHING THAT WAS WRONG with the old regime. Where ‘klepto-capitalism’ has succeeded corrupt socialist regimes with alarming transitional ease, surviving an age of unprecedented insecurity is likely to pose a difficult challenge to fragile democratic structures.
Young people in eastern Europe have been led to suppose that ECONOMIC FREEDOM and the INTERVENTIONIST state are mutually exclusive — a dogma they share with the American REPUBLIC Party. [he was wrong, the neoliberal Democrats are just as bad] Ironically, this echoes the Communists’ own view of the matter: a retreat to authoritarianism may thus prove seductive where that tradition retains considerable subterranean support. (pp. 219-220)
Given the resurgence of fascism and alt-right types winning elections in governments from Germany to England, BrExit, and all that, he was all too right about that. Plus even in America the rise of the man who would be king, Trump, has a damn good chance of winning the presidency. Un-fucking-believable. Oh the sadness of the rest of p. 220:
North America and western Europeans fondly suppose that there is a necessary relationship between democracy, rights, liberalism and economic progress.. But for most people, most of the time, the LEGITIMACY and CREDIBILITY of a political system rests NOT on liberal practices or democratic forms but upon ORDER and PREDICTABILITY. A stable authoritarian regime is a lot more desirable for most of its citizens than a FAILED DEMOCRATIC STATE. Even JUSTICE probably counts for less than administrative competence and order in the streets. If we can have democracy, we will. But above all, we want to be safe. As global threats mount, so the attractions of order will only grow.
Given the madness of terrorism, the irrationality of suicide bombers and simple mad dogs like the men who planted bombs in New York this past weekend and the one with the knife at a mall in Minnesota (9 people injured!), stopping the madness is going to be next to impossible while maintaining any of our freedoms. This is proven by the current election climate of “ship the Mexicans back to Mexico” (even though some were actually born in America) and “ban all Muslims from entering the country” to the obese white woman who told me she didn’t have a problem with Muslims just so long as they weren’t on the Supreme Court.
Speaking for myself, I learned early on not to give my trust to anyone too easily or too quickly, so maybe my worldview is a little tainted. Years in New York in the bad times didn’t help; I was warned never to follow a helpful stranger to a “shortcut” to my destination since it was likely a ruse to get me alone in an alley to mug me (or worse). More from page 220:
The implications for even the best-established democracies are significant. In the absence of strong institutions of COMMUNAL TRUST, or reliable service furnished by a PROPERLY FUNDED PUBLIC SECTOR, men and women will seek out PRIVATE SUBSTITUTES. RELIGION — as faith, community and doctrine — is likely to undergo a measure of revival even in the secular west. [!!!!] Outsiders, however defined, will be seen as threats, foes and challenges. As in the past, the promise of STABILITY risks merging with the comforts of protection. Unless the Left has something better to offer [Bernie], we should not be surprised to find voters responding to those holding out such promises.
The next part is particularly depressing since it perfectly describes what we are experiencing in 2016, the unimaginable is actually happening and I do not see how, since the Hillary campaign destroyed all hope of progress for millions of people who filled stadiums to hear him speak out against the corporatocracy and the oligarchy. It is an especially bitter irony that they are putting their trust in The Donald, who is a self-proclaimed billionaire but refuses to prove it. There is more than a faint suspicion that he actually is not wealthy, that he is seriously in debt to Russia for $600 MILLION by one guess, and poor white trash and Xtians and ammosexuals are mad for him. Like he gives a shit about them.
Few in the West today  can conceive of a complete breakdown of liberal institutions, an utter DISINTEGRATION of the DEMOCRATIC consensus. But what we know of World War II — or the former Yugoslavia — illustrates the EASE with which any society can descend into Hobbesian nightmares of UNRESTRAINED ATROCITY and VIOLENCE. (p. 221)
Recent news reports prove we are fast approaching atrocities as everyday life. The Muslim woman set on fire in the street. The police shooting anyone black just because they are so afraid for their own lives, that even children terrify them. The incredible waste that is and has been the futile “war on drugs” while the respectable corporations of Big Pharma are killing us one way or another and dictate their profits supersede the needs of the people whose tax dollars paid for the research they now make private profit on, protected by the very government that theoretically is looking out for actual living human beings.
Another fun diversion: Hobbesian is named after Thomas Hobbes, a famous political philosopher living from 1588-1679 in England. He wrote the famous book Leviathan in 1651 “which established SOCIAL CONTRACT THEORY, the foundation of most later Western political philosophy.” OMG the Wikipedia link for Leviathan got to me a website with full text books!!!! Here is a link to the titles online related to political theory. Wow wow wow. Here is a link to its contents under “Classics of Liberty.” Well I had to bookmark that site. I will be spending considerable time there, but I do think it is going to be biased because one phrase that caught my eye was something like “Liberty and Free Markets” and one of the citations was to a commentary that claimed (when proof to the contrary now exists) that government intervention CAUSES monopolies rather than capitalism creating monopolies.
In a similar way, the anger of early-19th century radicals in France and Britain was driven in very considerable measure by the belief that there were MORAL rules in economic life, and that these were being trampled underfoot by the new world of INDUSTRIAL CAPITALISM. [which of course, they were] It is that sense of LOSS — and the revolutionary sentiments it stoked — which fired the political energies of early socialists. The Left always had something to conserve.
We take for granted the INSTITUTIONS, LEGISLATION, services and RIGHTS that we have inherited from the great age of 20th century reform. It is time to remind ourselves that all of these were UTTERLY INCONCEIVABLE as recently as 1929.We are the fortunate beneficiaries of a transformation whose scale and impact was unprecedented. There is much to defend. (p. 222)
Actually, the rights we enjoy today, albeit chipped away at by merciless Republican theocrats, were as recent at the Civil Rights Act, The Voting Rights Act (recently gutted before he died by Scalia and his cadre of repulsive demigods), and abortion rights (i.e. the right of women to bodily autonomy and to not be compelled by the State into forced birth).
Moreover, ‘defensive’ Social Democracy has a very respectable heritage. In France, at the turn of the 20th century, the Socialist leader Jean Jaurès urged his colleagues to support small shopkeepers and skilled artisans driven under by the rise of department stores and mass production. Socialism, in his view was not merely a forward projection into a post-capitalist future; it was also and above all a PROTECTION FOR THE HELPLESS and those threatened with ECONOMIC EXTINCTION. (p. 222-223)
He was, sadly, assassinated by a fanatic French Nationalist. Jaurès was opposed to the influence Russia had over France and was an advocate for peace denouncing the potential advent of a world war that became World War I. What a terrific mind and heart Jaures had. I had a song lyric going through my mind at reading the name, and sure enough Wikipedia mentions that his name is in a line of an Al Stewart song (from an album I used to own, it was good too): “on the day they buried Jean Jaurès, World War One broke free…” from the song Trains.
The democratic Left has often been motivated by a sense of loss: sometimes of idealized pasts, sometime of MORAL interests RUTHLESSLY OVERRIDDEN by PRIVATE ADVANTAGE. It is doctrinaire MARKET LIBERALS who for the past two centuries have embraced the relentlessly optimistic view that all economic change is for the best.
It is the Right that has inherited the ambitious modernist urge to DESTROY and innovate in the name of a universal project. From the war in Iraq through the unrequited desire to DISMANTLE PUBLIC EDUCATION and HEALTH SERVICES, to the decades long project of FINANCIAL DEREGULATION, the political Right — from Thatcher and Reagan to Bush and Blair — has ABANDONED the association of political conservatism with social moderation which served it so well from Disraeli to Heath, from Theodore Roosevelt to Nelson Rockefeller.
If it is true, as Bernard Williams once observed, that the best grounds for toleration are “. . . the manifest evils of toleration’s absence”, then much the same should be said of social democracy and the welfare state. It is difficult for young people to appreciate just what life was like before them. But if we cannot rise to the level of a justificatory narrative — if we lack the will to theorize our better instincts — then let us at least recall the well-documented cost of abandoning them. . . .
If we have learned nothing else from the 20th century, we should at least have grasped that the more perfect the answer, the more terrifying its consequences.
Incremental improvements upon UNSATISFACTORY circumstances [Hillary] are the best we can hope for, and probably all we should seek. [no! a thousand times no!] Others have spent the last THREE DECADES METHODICALLY unraveling and destabilizing them: this should make us much angrier than we are. It ought also to worry us, if only on prudential grounds: why have we been in such a hurry to tear down the dikes laboriously set in place by our predecessors? Are we so sure that there are no floods to come? (pp. 223-224)
DON’T BLAME ME! I VOTED FOR BERNIE SANDERS!
Social democracy does not represent an ideal future; it does not even represent the ideal past. But among the options available to us today, it is BETTER THAN ANYTHING ELSE TO HAND. (p. 225)
In his conclusion, he reiterates that our view of what the future should be depends on our definition of usefulness.
. . . can we still [never available in America] afford universal pension schemes, unemployment compensation, subsidized arts, inexpensive higher education, etc., or are these benefits and services now too costly to sustain? Which of them — if any — is dispensable?
The broader question, implicitly raised by their more ideologically-motivated critics, is whether such social service states ought to continue in their present form or whether they have outlived their usefulness. Is a system of ‘cradle-to-grave’ protections and guarantees more ‘useful’ than a MARKET-DRIVEN society in which the role of the state is kept to the minimum?
The answer depends on what we think ‘useful’ means: what sort of society do we want and what sort of arrangements are we willing to tolerate or seek in order to bring it about? As I hope I have shown in this book, the question of ‘usefulness’ needs to be recast. If we confine ourselves to issues of ECONOMIC EFFICIENCY and PRODUCTIVITY, ignoring ETHICAL considerations and ALL REFERENCE to BROADER SOCIAL GOALS, we cannot hope to engage it.
Does social democracy have a future?
. . . Even in Scandinavia, where social democratic institutions were far more culturally ingrained, membership of the EU — or even just participation in the World Trade Organization and other international agencies — appeared to CONSTRAIN locally-initiated legislation. In short, social democracy seems doomed by that same internationalization which its early theorists had so enthusiastically adumbrated as the future of capitalism.
From this perspective, social democracy — like liberalism — was a byproduct of the rise of the European nation-state: a political idea keyed to the social challenges of industrialization in developed societies. Not only was there no ‘socialism’ in America, but social democracy as a working compromise between radical goals and liberal traditions lacked widespread support. . . (pp. 232-234)
Before I digress to a few paragraphs earlier in the book, I must recount a paragraph spanning p.234-235, just because it starts with George Orwell:
George Orwell once observed that ‘[t]he thing that attracts ordinary men to Socialism and makes them willing to risk their skins for it, the ‘mystique’ of Socialism, is the idea of EQUALITY.” This is still the case. It is the growing inequality in and between societies that generates so many social pathologies. Grotesquely unequal societies are also UNSTABLE societies. They generate internal division and, soon or later, internal strife — usually with UNDEMOCRATIC outcomes.
This is what I expect to see as a result of the 2016 presidential election. There is a tiny sliver of hope that the Senate might be taken back by the Democrats, in which case, theoretically, given the Republican refusal to hold a hearing for Obama’s SCOTUS nominee, the Democrats could stop The Donald from elevating more Xtian bigots and forced-birthers and anti-union, and anti-people (actual humans) demigods to the bench.
To finish this post off, I must go back and include the real crux of the Left/Right problem. (pp. 142-143)
Even if every conservative and reactionary regime around the globe were to implode tomorrow, its PUBLIC image hopelessly tarnished by CORRUPTION and INCOMPETENCE, the politics of conservatism would survive INTACT. The case for ‘conserving’ would remain as viable as it ever had been. But for the Left, the absence of a historically-buttressed narrative leaves an empty space. All that remains is politics: the politics of interest, the politics of envy, and the politics of re-election. Without IDEALISM, politics is reduced to a form of SOCIAL ACCOUNTING, the day to day administration of men [sic] and things. This too is something that a conservative can survive well enough. But for the Left it is a catastrophe.
While marching confidently forward into a better future, it was constantly glancing nervously over its left shoulder. We, it seemed to say, are not authoritarian. We are for freedom, not repression. We are democrats who also believe in equality, social justice and regulated markets. . . .
There are very few European politicians, and fewer still in positions of influence, who would dissent from CORE SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC assumptions about the DUTIES OF THE STATE, however much they might differ as to their scope.
He goes on to point out that part of the hostility toward State supported social and economic justice is that it is perceived by all too many to come at the expense of their labor. by providing the tax base for the unemployed or other needs for assistance.
What had once been implicitly accepted as a RECIPROCAL arrangement came to be described as ‘unfair’: the benefits of the welfare state were now ‘excessive’. (p. 147)
What makes me crazy is the fact that social services take up only a tiny fraction of the Federal tax dollar. Corporate welfare (billions in subsidies to freaking OIL companies? Really?) takes a bunch, not to mention their tax dodging ways and off-shore accounts. The military-industrial complex is what is really stealing from a fully funded citizenry of medical care, university educations, and a myriad of other potential uses for that money. For example, we would not have a bunch of Syrian refugees coming here because maybe we would not have bombed them back to the Stone Age to try to hit the odd terrorist or two.
From a pessimistic perspective, the social democratic ‘moment’ thus failed to outlast its founding generation. As the beneficiaries aged and memory faded, the appeal of expensive etats providentiaux [roughly translates to tax districts] waned accordingly. This process accelerated over the course of the ’80s and ’90s as the neo-liberal REGIMES of the age selectively taxed universal benefits: a surreptitious reintroduction of the means test that was calculated to diminish middle class enthusiasm for social services now perceived as benefiting only the VERY POOR. [Instead of helping them as well.]
My core beliefs are that everyone deserves a chance to live a reasonable life without constant anxiety and sucking up to rotten bosses who take unreasonable payment for “managing” the work of the people who actually do the work. Work that the managers are all too often incapable of doing themselves to cover when an employee is sick. For this “burden” they receive an outsized award for the “responsibility” they take. What a joke. Most managers in my experience are callously indifferent to reality when they set the objectives for workers. Downsizing is a perfect example. They fire a bunch of people but the same amount of work remains, so the remaining employees have to work harder, longer, or somehow juggle (aka the sainted “multitasking” skill) competing demands on their time.
Fuck the unregulated “free” market. Pass a law that forces a salary grid on corporations etc. that do business in the United States so that CEOs cannot make more than some number (6?) times the lowest paid employee. That would truly raise all boats. The same applies to intermediate management layers: all salary is based on the least paid worker. All employees automatically become shareholders, and the CEOs and other management people are limited to the highest amount any employee has in stock options. That would curtail their shameless risk-taking and stock buy-backs and other chicanery. Every worker gets the same amount of vacation as the CEO, with 4 weeks minimum. Sick days are unlimited with a verified doctor’s note. Family leave and employer-paid day care are mandatory worker rights. Plus all businesses MUST PAY employees for their commute time and their PARKING.
Alas not in my lifetime and probably never ever given the core basic uniform attribute of humans is greed.