Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, January 23, 2012

False consciousness

It's not exactly a news flash that we're living in a new gilded age. As human civilization reaches ever greater heights of accumulated wealth and power, it concentrates in fewer and fewer hands. This essay in the NYT by Chrystia Freeland puts our present plight in the perspective of economic history. The technological revolution in the developed world eliminates many of the white collar and pink collar jobs that kept the middle class afloat despite de-industrialization. At the same time, the industrial revolution in the formerly poor countries, combined with the rise of global transportation and information infrastructure, has allowed many of the remaining jobs that would have been stuck here to move to those emerging economies.

While our working and professional classes have suffered from this double whammy, our politics has turned in precisely the wrong direction. Market forces have created the decline of the middle class and the grotesque inequality we now endure; yet the public has turned against the activist government it desperately needs to correct the problem. The wealthy don't care about "creating jobs," and certainly not for people in the United States. On the contrary, it is precisely their decisions over the past 30 years which are to blame.

I won't go into the whole argument here about the fiction of the Free Market, I've been there before. But assuming readers are with me on this -- that we need to tax the rich and invest the money so as to give our people, not to mention our planet, a future -- the question is why so many Americans of modest means have been convinced to vote against their own interests and to direct their rage and precisely the wrong targets.

Or I might better say, non-existent targets. Who or what are the "liberal elites"? Elites are not liberal. Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and the Koch brothers are elites. They are also not liberal. But they are the very people who are screwing you.

College professors do tend to be more liberal than average -- I maintain that's because reality has a liberal bias -- and we are kind of elite in that it takes a lot of luck and effort to get one of these jobs and keep it, but believe me we a) aren't rich and b) aren't running things. All we do is blather. You can dislike my philosophy and values if you like, but I'm not causing you any problems and I certainly don't have any way of forcing you to think the way I do.

I don't know if doctors and lawyers and other professionals particularly tend to be liberal but again, they only way they get to be elites in any sense other than a bit of social status is if they become fabulously wealthy, and those examples, I'm pretty sure, are not generally liberal. (Viz. Bill Frist.)

Nevertheless, the right wing propaganda machine has managed to channel people's cultural resentments and insecurities against this mythical "establishment," and thereby insulate the real establishment from popular wrath. That Newt Gingrich, the ultimate Washington insider and wealthy grifter could become a populist champion is truly bizarre. But there you have it -- the real, shadowy establishment will spend a billion dollars this year on television advertising to drive that transparently ludicrous lie deep into the collective consciousness. They just might succeed.

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