The uprisings in the Middle East, the unrest that is tearing apart nations such as the Ivory Coast, the bubbling discontent in Greece, Ireland and Britain and the labor disputes in states such as Wisconsin and Ohio presage the collapse of globalization. They presage a world where vital resources, including food and water, jobs and security, are becoming scarcer and harder to obtain. They presage growing misery for hundreds of millions of people who find themselves trapped in failed states, suffering escalating violence and crippling poverty. They presage increasingly draconian controls and force—take a look at what is being done to Pfc. Bradley Manning—used to protect the corporate elite who are orchestrating our demise.
We must embrace, and embrace rapidly, a radical new ethic of simplicity and rigorous protection of our ecosystem—especially the climate—or we will all be holding on to life by our fingertips. We must rebuild radical socialist movements that demand that the resources of the state and the nation provide for the welfare of all citizens and the heavy hand of state power be employed to prohibit the plunder by the corporate power elite. We must view the corporate capitalists who have seized control of our money, our food, our energy, our education, our press, our health care system and our governance as mortal enemies to be vanquished.
Adequate food, clean water and basic security are already beyond the reach of perhaps half the world’s population. Food prices have risen 61 percent globally since December 2008, according to the International Monetary Fund. The price of wheat has exploded, more than doubling in the last eight months to $8.56 a bushel. When half of your income is spent on food, as it is in countries such as Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia and the Ivory Coast, price increases of this magnitude bring with them malnutrition and starvation. Food prices in the United States have risen over the past three months at an annualized rate of 5 percent. There are some 40 million poor in the United States who devote 35 percent of their after-tax incomes to pay for food. As the cost of fossil fuel climbs, as climate change continues to disrupt agricultural production and as populations and unemployment swell, we will find ourselves convulsed in more global and domestic unrest. Food riots and political protests will be inevitable. But it will not necessarily mean more democracy.
The refusal by all of our liberal institutions, including the press, universities, labor and the Democratic Party, to challenge the utopian assumptions that the marketplace should determine human behavior permits corporations and investment firms to continue their assault, including speculating on commodities to drive up food prices. It permits coal, oil and natural gas corporations to stymie alternative energy and emit deadly levels of greenhouse gases. It permits agribusinesses to divert corn and soybeans to ethanol production and crush systems of local, sustainable agriculture. It permits the war industry to drain half of all state expenditures, generate trillions in deficits, and profit from conflicts in the Middle East we have no chance of winning. It permits corporations to evade the most basic controls and regulations to cement into place a global neo-feudalism. The last people who should be in charge of our food supply or our social and political life, not to mention the welfare of sick children, are corporate capitalists and Wall Street speculators. But none of this is going to change until we turn our backs on the Democratic Party, denounce the orthodoxies peddled in our universities and in the press by corporate apologists and construct our opposition to the corporate state from the ground up. It will not be easy. It will take time. And it will require us to accept the status of social and political pariahs, especially as the lunatic fringe of our political establishment steadily gains power. The corporate state has nothing to offer the left or the right but fear. It uses fear—fear of secular humanism or fear of Christian fascists—to turn the population into passive accomplices. As long as we remain afraid nothing will change.
Friedrich von Hayekand Milton Friedman, two of the major architects for unregulated capitalism, should never have been taken seriously. But the wonders of corporate propaganda and corporate funding turned these fringe figures into revered prophets in our universities, think tanks, the press, legislative bodies, courts and corporate boardrooms. We still endure the cant of their discredited economic theories even as Wall Street sucks the U.S. Treasury dry and engages once again in the speculation that has to date evaporated some $40 trillion in global wealth. We are taught by all systems of information to chant the mantra that the market knows best.
It does not matter, as writers such as John Ralston Saulhave pointed out, that every one of globalism’s promises has turned out to be a lie. It does not matter that economic inequality has gotten worse and that most of the world’s wealth has became concentrated in a few hands. It does not matter that the middle class—the beating heart of any democracy—is disappearing and that the rights and wages of the working class have fallen into precipitous decline as labor regulations, protection of our manufacturing base and labor unions have been demolished. It does not matter that corporations have used the destruction of trade barriers as a mechanism for massive tax evasion, a technique that allows conglomerates such as General Electric to avoid paying any taxes. It does not matter that corporations are exploiting and killing the ecosystem on which the human species depends for life. The steady barrage of illusions disseminated by corporate systems of propaganda, in which words are often replaced with music and images, are impervious to truth. Faith in the marketplace replaces for many faith in an omnipresent God. And those who dissent—from Ralph Nader to Noam Chomsky—are banished as heretics.
The aim of the corporate state is not to feed, clothe or house the masses, but to shift all economic, social and political power and wealth into the hands of the tiny corporate elite. It is to create a world where the heads of corporations make $900,000 an hour and four-job families struggle to survive. The corporate elite achieves its aims of greater and greater profit by weakening and dismantling government agencies and taking over or destroying public institutions. Charter schools, mercenary armies, a for-profit health insurance industry and outsourcing every facet of government work, from clerical tasks to intelligence, feed the corporate beast at our expense. The decimation of labor unions, the twisting of education into mindless vocational training and the slashing of social services leave us ever more enslaved to the whims of corporations. The intrusion of corporations into the public sphere destroys the concept of the common good. It erases the lines between public and private interests. It creates a world that is defined exclusively by naked self-interest.
The ideological proponents of globalism—Thomas Friedman, Daniel Yergin, Ben Bernanke and Anthony Giddens—are stunted products of the self-satisfied, materialistic power elite. They use the utopian ideology of globalism as a moral justification for their own comfort, self-absorption and privilege. They do not question the imperial projects of the nation, the widening disparities in wealth and security between themselves as members of the world’s industrialized elite and the rest of the planet. They embrace globalism because it, like most philosophical and theological ideologies, justifies their privilege and power. They believe that globalism is not an ideology but an expression of an incontrovertible truth. And because the truth has been uncovered, all competing economic and political visions are dismissed from public debate before they are even heard.
The defense of globalism marks a disturbing rupture in American intellectual life. The collapse of the global economy in 1929 discredited the proponents of deregulated markets. It permitted alternative visions, many of them products of the socialist, anarchist and communist movements that once existed in the United States, to be heard. We adjusted to economic and political reality. The capacity to be critical of political and economic assumptions resulted in the New Deal, the dismantling of corporate monopolies and heavy government regulation of banks and corporations. But this time around, because corporations control the organs of mass communication, and because thousands of economists, business school professors, financial analysts, journalists and corporate managers have staked their credibility on the utopianism of globalism, we speak to each other in gibberish. We continue to heed the advice of Alan Greenspan, who believed the third-rate novelist Ayn Rand was an economic prophet, or Larry Summers, whose deregulation of our banks as treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton helped snuff out some $17 trillion in wages, retirement benefits and personal savings. We are assured by presidential candidates like Mitt Romney that more tax breaks for corporations would entice them to move their overseas profits back to the United States to create new jobs. This idea comes from a former hedge fund manager whose personal fortune was amassed largely by firing workers, and only illustrates how rational political discourse has descended into mindless sound bites.
We are seduced by this childish happy talk. Who wants to hear that we are advancing not toward a paradise of happy consumption and personal prosperity but a disaster? Who wants to confront a future in which the rapacious and greedy appetites of our global elite, who have failed to protect the planet, threaten to produce widespread anarchy, famine, environmental catastrophe, nuclear terrorism and wars for diminishing resources? Who wants to shatter the myth that the human race is evolving morally, that it can continue its giddy plundering of non-renewable resources and its profligate levels of consumption, that capitalist expansion is eternal and will never cease?
Dying civilizations often prefer hope, even absurd hope, to truth. It makes life easier to bear. It lets them turn away from the hard choices ahead to bask in a comforting certitude that God or science or the market will be their salvation. This is why these apologists for globalism continue to find a following. And their systems of propaganda have built a vast, global Potemkin village to entertain us. The tens of millions of impoverished Americans, whose lives and struggles rarely make it onto television, are invisible. So are most of the world’s billions of poor, crowded into fetid slums. We do not see those who die from drinking contaminated water or being unable to afford medical care. We do not see those being foreclosed from their homes. We do not see the children who go to bed hungry. We busy ourselves with the absurd. We invest our emotional life in reality shows that celebrate excess, hedonism and wealth. We are tempted by the opulent life enjoyed by the American oligarchy, 1 percent of whom control more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined.
The celebrities and reality television stars whose foibles we know intimately live indolent, self-centered lives in sprawling mansions or exclusive Manhattan apartments. They parade their sculpted and surgically enhanced bodies before us in designer clothes. They devote their lives to self-promotion and personal advancement, consumption, parties and the making of money. They celebrate the cult of the self. And when they have meltdowns we watch with gruesome fascination. This empty existence is the one we are taught to admire and emulate. This is the life, we are told, we can all have. The perversion of values has created a landscape where corporate management by sleazy figures like Donald Trump is confused with leadership and where the ability to accumulate vast sums of money is confused with intelligence. And when we do glimpse the poor or working class on our screens, they are ridiculed and taunted. They are objects of contempt, whether on “The Jerry Springer Show” or “Jersey Shore.”
The incessant chasing after status, personal advancement and wealth has plunged most of the country into unmanageable debt. Families, whose real wages have dropped over the past three decades, live in oversized houses financed by mortgages they often cannot repay. They seek identity through products. They occupy their leisure time in malls buying things they do not need. Those of working age spend their weekdays in little cubicles, if they still have steady jobs, under the heels of corporations that have disempowered American workers and taken control of the state and can lay them off on a whim. It is a desperate scramble. No one wants to be left behind.
The propagandists for globalism are the natural outgrowth of this image-based and culturally illiterate world. They speak about economic and political theory in empty clichés. They cater to our subliminal and irrational desires. They select a few facts and isolated data and use them to dismiss historical, economic, political and cultural realities. They tell us what we want to believe about ourselves. They assure us that we are exceptional as individuals and as a nation. They champion our ignorance as knowledge. They tell us that there is no reason to investigate other ways of organizing and governing our society. Our way of life is the best. Capitalism has made us great. They peddle the self-delusional dream of inevitable human progress. They assure us we will be saved by science, technology and rationality and that humanity is moving inexorably forward.
None of this is true. It is a message that defies human nature and human history. But it is what many desperately want to believe. And until we awake from our collective self-delusion, until we carry out sustained acts of civil disobedience against the corporate state and sever ourselves from the liberal institutions that serve the corporate juggernaut—especially the Democratic Party—we will continue to be rocketed toward a global catastrophe.
Chris Hedges’ column appears every Monday at Truthdig. Hedges, a fellow at The Nation Institute and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, is the author of “Death of the Liberal Class.”
AP / Jacques Brinon
Demonstrators carry an effigy of Ronald McDonald.