Chris Hedges – The corporate state, faux liberalism & the sham of democracy

A fantastic interview with Chris Hedges (somewhat long – the first 60 minutes is the best). Hedges is a prolific author(9 books) and New York Times journalist with an interesting CV including training in a seminary and a long period as foreign correspondent.

He reiterates many points I have made in previous posts, that it doesn’t really matter which party holds office in the US (or New Zealand). There is a bipartisan commitment to maintaining a system which has failed but “they only know how to serve a dead system not critique it”. In the US Hedges describes it as a slow motion corporate coup d’état where the citizen is rendered impotent and both major parties are hand maidens of corporate interests.

We see it here in the committment of both Labour and National to freemarket ideology and the desire to lock New Zealand into multi lateral agreements that serve trans national corporates and financial flows and are virtually impossible to withdraw from. This allows both Labour and National to absolve themselves of responsibility (its the market!) and remove the major economic levers from democratic control and oversight. This is aided by the mythology of globalisation and the utopian idea that unregulated free trade and investment will bring prosperity to all. Well little old New Zealand has been more willing to indulge this fantasy than any other nation on earth, to play by all the rules but is still waiting for the promised rewards. They have never arrived and never will. You have to ask at what point we get sick of being told to try a bit harder, to wait a little longer. If the economic theory and the academic and political systems that sustain it are dishonest, that day will never arrive.

Here a a few gems from Hedges interview including passages from his books.

“The election of Obama was one more triumph of illusion over substance. It was a skillful manipulation and betrayal of the public by a corporate power elite. We mistook style and ethnicity – an advertising tactic pioneered by Calvin Klein and Benetton – for progressive politics and genuine change.”

Hard to argue with. The President elected on a wave of desire for change has changed nothing. The same guys who caused the GFC are still in charge of the economic system including the reptilian Larry Summers. None of the banks or their executives have been prosecuted and they’re still making out like bandits. Gitmo is still open. Most troops have been withdrawn from Iraq but many bases remain, as do private contractors. The war in Afghanistan was escalated and widened to Pakistan and other countries through assassination by aerial drone. He has not rolled back the attack on civil liberties under Bush but extended them to include indefinite detention of US citizens.  He has the cool body language, the slow deep voice and dark skin but he is as establishment as Bush and deeply attached to the status quo. As Hedges points out even Obama Care is a corporate welfare scheme for the pharmaceutical, insurance and healthcare industries. It remains light years from the public health systems of every other western democracy.

“The creed of ‘impartiality’ and ‘objectivity’ that has infected the liberal class teaches, ultimately, the importance of not offending the status quo. The ‘professionalism’ demanded in the classroom, in newsprint, in the arts or in political discourse is code for moral disengagement.”

In other words if you want to work in certain jobs at a certain level, don’t rock the boat! It’s bad for your income and promotional prospects. You may even lose your job if you are too critical and draw too much flak. Charles Ferguson did a great job of exposing the intellectual dishonesty of the economic academic elite in Inside Job (2010). Watching Glenn Hubbard in particular hang himself was a highlight of the documentary.

Nick Davies in Flat Earth News pillories the media for its churnalism and the myth of objectivity, that the

“unwritten and unstated rules of production tend to generate an account of the world which, while claiming the virtues of objectivity, generally suffers from three weaknesses which are fatal to truth-telling: an arbitrary selection of subjects, which fundamentally distorts reality by systemic omission; routine use of  host of factual claims which are frequently unreliable and sometimes false; and the steady imprint of a political and moral consensus which tends to reflect the values  only of the most powerful groups in the surrounding society.”

Voices of dissent or purveyors of non mainstream ideas are generally omitted from the MSM as too difficult to explain or potentially antagonising to the elites the media rely on for their staple coverage.

“Our elites – the ones in Congress, the ones on Wall Street, and the ones being produced at prestigious universities and business schools – do not have the capacity to fix our financial mess. Indeed, they will make it worse. They have no concept, thanks to the educations they have received, of how to replace a failed system with a new one. They are petty, timid, and uncreative bureaucrats superbly trained to carry out systems management. They see only piecemeal solutions that will satisfy the corporate structure. Their entire focus is numbers, profits and personal advancement. They lack a moral and intellectual core….The democratic system they believe, is a secondary product of the free market – which they slavishly serve.”

Hedges is describing the US situation but the above equally sounds like a description of John Key and his government, wedded to a system that has served him well personally, openly amoral on making money and bereft of innovative and original ideas.

“We watch impassively as the wealthy and the elite, the huge corporations, rob us, ruin the environment, defraud consumers and taxpayers and create an exclusive American oligarchy that fuses wealth and political power. We watch passively because we believe we can enter the club….It is greed that keeps us silent.”

In an earlier post I quoted Brian Easton’s comment on why Rogernomics was so attractive to many New Zealanders.

“The pursuit of self interest became the central ethical principle in public policy of the rogernomes….It is an enormously attractive principle for what it says is ‘do what feels good for you and that’s good for society’. At a stroke most of the great ethical dilemmas are resolved.”

Many New Zealanders have proven themselves as greedy as the best of them. Talking about the 1987 sharemarket crash, but he could equally be commenting on the current housing market, Bruce Jesson said:

“One of the things I found astonishing at the time was how the entire country was sucked into a speculative whirlpool. It should have been obvious to anyone who could read a balance sheet that what was occurring was a destructive madness….But generally speaking, New Zealand society moved in unison, with business, politicians and the media all shouting the market up and contributing to the ultimate debacle….Middle class New Zealand revealed itself to be greedy and gullible. The financial press showed itself incompetent.”

Hugh Fletcher said this in 1998. It could well be argued 14 years later, after 9 years of Labour and 4 of National, that New Zealand remains as distant as ever from a solution to its economic malaise.

In the 15 years since the Lange government was elected and New Zealand opened up to the forces of globalisation, we have performed dismally, both economically and socially….Prospering in an age of globalisation requires us to determine simply and clearly what is really important to us, and then to focus on insightful and unconventional strategies which will deliver success on these matters. That requires us to exploit not only the spirit and drive of competitive individual entrepreneurship but also the power of co-operative endeavour. Both must be harnessed to make New Zealand residents the ‘owners’ of unique capabilities, so that overseas customers and capital are dependent on us.”

Surely after nearly 30 years it is time to try something new. Faithfully tagging along with the big boys agenda, scrambling desperately for the fewer and fewer crumbs falling from their table, is not a winning long term strategy.

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