Swans Commentary » swans.com May 3, 2010  



There ARE Alternatives


by Gilles d'Aymery





(Swans - May 3, 2010)  One should recall former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's aphorism that "There is no alternative," known as TINA. It was all about free markets, free trade, globalization, and the triumph of neoliberalism. It still very much is the rule of the day. Let the markets choose the winners and losers, a leitmotiv of Ron Paul's libertarian cohorts and their Tea Party associates who are being financed by corporate America, which in turn depends on the largesse of government subsidies and friendly legislation to make a killing on the broken back of hoi polloi -- including those protesters that are angrily demonstrating in fear of losing their social status (white, privileged, at the top of the food chain, etc.). But, of course, there are real alternatives like socialism and communism. That these alternatives have been defeated through ideological and real warfare does not make them less alternative. They do exist to this day and will keep existing in the future, whatever their namesake. (1) In short, it boils down to two opposite visions: The welfare and wellness of the whole versus that of the few -- and well-known policy tools to achieve one or the other result do abound. Nothing's new here: When communist and socialist ideas and workers' struggles threatened personal wealth of the few in the 1920s and '30s, the well-to-do financed and supported fascism (Mussolini) and national socialism (Hitler). This is historically documented. Still, alternatives linger in the consciousness of the many. That they become reality depends on people's actions and external circumstances.

The equitable distribution of the economic pie -- no one rich, no one poor, or if you will, "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" (2) -- remains the cornerstone of social justice based, in the words of Louis Blanc, "in the equal development of [people's] unequal faculties." Policies instituting maximum wages and earnings may not be in the current stack of cards, but the redistribution of wealth remains for the taking (progressive taxation, big estate sequestration...) as it was from the 1930s to the '70s, even if it appears to be a losing proposition in the reactionary climate of capital accumulation that has overwhelmed the world for over 40 years. (3) That the Tea Partiers rant against taxes, all the while clinging to their benefits (Medicare, Social Security) like an eagle to its prey, shows the contradiction and the confusion that the elites face. The call to deeper reaction and its venue are evidence of their desperate scheme. Yes, indeed, alternatives exist, and the elites are worried. They may well prevail in the foreseeable future, but their long-term prospects look rather bleak, as they will lead the whole to either revolution (red or brown) or sheer ecological destruction.

However, the subtle notion that the "other" counts in the greater scheme of human endeavors is taking stride slowly though unevenly, and, accordingly, is fought tooth and nail by those who benefit from the destruction of the commons. People, nevertheless, in the midst of uncertainties and incurring drastic changes, sense the wrongfulness of the narrative. Many instinctively pull for reverting change and getting back to yesteryears when they felt more secure, but they also long for alternatives, which, again, exist.

Nationalizing the too-big-to-fail banks will go a long way toward taming a financial system that has turned into Frankenstein's monster. Cutting down property rights to size so that only modest businesses and homes remain in the hands of individuals, but large properties, including land, natural resources, and corporations, are brought back in the ownership of the commons where they belong will bring a societal balance to the challenges all societies are facing. Espousing a command economy based on a careful central planning of societal and ecological goals will allow the rational and reasonable development of those "unequal faculties" to form more "perfect unions." Divesting from the business of war and reinvesting the savings into productive endeavors will both end wars and increase wellness.

There are many more tools and policies that people can use and implement to reach the chosen outcome -- the betterment of the commons. This is not utopia, just an accessible, objective reality that can be achieved when people get together and bend their will toward the goals. Whether they do is obviously a different story. The main obstacles to the realization of such systemic changes, aside from the current dominant neoliberal ideology, lie in the interconnection among, and integration of the world economies (aka, globalization), which render any successful outcome within a nation-state highly improbable. It means that actions must be taken on a supra-national basis with a worldwide scope -- a seemingly insurmountable hurdle. But as the economic, ecological, and social crises worsen all over the world, the current order may disintegrate and open the door to these alternatives.

After all, it is not forbidden to dream.


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1.  While deeply attached to the notion of social justice, the betterment of the commons, and the sense of communality, which are far nobler ideals than exploitation and greed that underpin capitalism, I've never had a fixation on the words themselves -- socialism or communism. Not that I shy away from them, for they deeply resonate in my consciousness, but I do not find them useful to advance a vision with its subsequent policies and social order. For all I care one could name a new system "ecofism," to embrace the interdependence between the ecology and our social and economic choices, or simply "humanism," or, again, the more prosaic "functionalism" that blends utility and function. (There are plenty more "Isms" one can find on this list, courtesy of phrontistery.info.)  (back)

2.  In what I understand was an address to the Left Forum by Noam Chomsky, whose text was posted on Znet on April 20, 2010, Chomsky told an amusing, but quite telling tale about the "Communist creed" ("From each according to his ability, to each according to his need."). According to Chomsky: "Some of you may recall a poll in 1976, on the bicentennial, in which people were given a list of statements and asked which they thought were in the Constitution. At that time, no one had a clue what was in the Constitution, so the answer 'in the Constitution' presumably meant: 'so obviously correct that it must be in the Constitution.' One statement that received a solid majority was ... [the] 'Communist creed.'" If this tale is factual, it shows that people had an inherent sense of fairness and an understanding of the meanings of socialism and communism, until, of course, these two dreaded and much-debased words were pronounced. Nowadays, one wonders, do people still have an inherent sense of fairness?  (back)

3.  People who rail against redistribution of wealth from top earners and rentiers to the general population in the name of some esoteric Randian myths and free-market ideologies that only exist on paper and in the figment of one's imagination but which have never, ever been existent in actuality fail to notice that a real redistribution of wealth has taken place for the past 40 years, from the bottom four quintiles to the top one, especially the top 5 percent of the polity. These very same people, consequently, are ignorant of the fact that incomes have been remaining flat, if not decreasing, for that same period in spite of huge gains in productivity -- an ample representation of the redistribution of wealth that has taken place upward. More riling is the arguing fallacy that so many make when they posit that they are making much more money than 40 years ago. One startling case was made to this author a couple of years ago when a soon-to-retire local individual asserted that he was making almost $80,000 a year while, in 1970, he was making only $15,000. Upon asking him whether he had checked an official CPI calculator, this good, yet utterly ignorant man, declared that he did not know what the CPI was. Once he was told about the Consumer Price Index, he said he would check it. Let's hope for his emotional life that he did not and for his knowledgeable life that he did. The CPI, as skewed downward as it is, shows that he should have made over $83,000 in 2008 to match his 1970 $15,000 income! Asked whether he was financially indebted, that man answered that he had only about $150,000 in debts, nothing to fret much about, he considered, in light of his income and the value of his home. No further comment needed...  (back)


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Published May 3, 2010