[OPE] Krugman 's great illusion

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@tiscali.nl)
Date: Sun Aug 17 2008 - 22:01:29 EDT

Just to be perfectly clear - I don't consider Mr Krugman an "old woman" as such, I just thought he was talking as one in this article, as I explained. I suppose he is entitled to that in a column written in the spirit of the moment. Generally I consider Mr Krugman, a respected liberal economist, is on the side of human progress, and if e.g. Mr Obama became president he would try to be no less objective or critical than he has been of the Bush administration. It's just that I think we should not pander to intellectual philistinism and intellectual illiteracy, which is becoming a serious problem in Western culture - a fashionable nihilistic pastiche of associations and easy metaphors substitutes for cogent argument based on critically assimilated theory and genuine grasp of the facts. Which is to say people cannot think clearly anymore about what's really at stake. The destruction of good education in favour of a psychotherapeutic mishmash plays a significant role in this.

The same people who blurt about "democratic values" usually haven't got the foggiest idea about what the conditions of a healthy democracy are, or indeed what democracy is about, what its principles are, why democracy is important, and what its limits and possibilities are. The philistine tripe gets so bad, that people think democracy means the right to meddle in other people's affairs without their consent, and this kind of idea becomes a justification for imperialist interventions, the invasion of privacy, the restriction of personal autonomy, and the abrogation of civil rights.  

The Western haute-bourgeois project of "establishing democracy in the Middle East" is an abomination, firstly because in reality it seeks to subvert the internal political processes in these countries from within and without, with bribes, spies, assassinations, military and legal means. Instead of setting a good example, they invite others to copy their murders and swindles, and then they feign surprise or allege immorality when the local people give them a dose of their own medicine. The bloody history of the Middle East could never have existed, without an endless supply of Western weaponry and military interference.

Secondly, in treating democracy with utter contempt despite the lofty rhetoric, they make it perfectly clear by their actions that they are really after something else: business deals aiming to secure trade routes and natural resources, and their biggest deals are often with countries which aren't democratic anyway. Many MidEast countries are in fact democracies already - you might not like their systems, they might have faults, but it is hubris to pontificate about this with ethnographic illiteracy in view of the bad shape Western democracies are in, and it is hypocritical in view of the Western anti-democratic subversion of already existing MidEast democracies. 

In any case, "democratic values" aren't a panacea, in particular because you cannot eat democracy, it doesn't prevent you from being killed or suffering disease, it doesn't spontaneously generate a good social and physical infrastructure, it doesn't automatically provide social security, and it doesn't automatically safeguard human rights on some or other definition. This being the case, you can hardly blame the working population (those who really do the work, not managerial louts) for not regarding democracy as a prime concern - and if they don't, you can discourse about democracy a long time, but people will not take any notice, because their needs and requirements are of a different order and kind. 

In reality, the catch-all slogan of "democratic values" is just a cover for a complete inability to envisage what is necessary to realize the real conditions of a better society, or even just to encourage a cogent public debate about it. It's the "warm fuzzies" which provide cover for a ruthless struggle for property rights and command over strategic resources, and the establishment of advantageous market relationships. The rhetoric is "democratic" but the substance is that "we know better what's good for you, than you do yourself". Since this means effectively denying the popular will and people's real concerns, "democratic" rhetoric masks a completely anti-democratic project, and the alienation of the elite from the real aspirations and concerns of the masses.

A Marxist (if there still are any) would point out that this alienation of the elite from the real aspirations and concerns of the masses is a direct result of developments in the political economy. You cannot expect that, if the profit-share constantly rises while real wages stagnate or fall, investors extract profits at a remote distance from their investments, social-economic inequality constantly grows, social security is eroded, real unemployment rises, and public facilities decline, that the majority of the population is going to like your "market paradise" and that they are going to share your concerns about "values". Increasing class polarization creates a situation where different social classes acquire entirely different concerns and live in a different world, creating political fragmentation and the inability to generate political unity, other than with the crassest populist slogans derived from opinion polls. 

The final hypocrisy of the system is that while it emphasizes "individualisation", "individual responsibility and initiative" and "individual freedom", it ends up denying those very things more and more for the majority. The whole thing is riddled with contradictions, but those contradictions follow a specific pattern: the more freedom for capital, the more unfreedom for the working classes. And thus the odious dribble about "human rights", "democratic values" and suchlike is just an elitarian sleight-of-hand, which provide cover for a trend which in reality goes in the exact opposite direction.


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