Friday, October 10, 2008

The Invisible Hand is a Actually a Destrucive Three-Year-Old's Fist

Watching the 'economic crisis' in London has been a bit of a trip. On one hand, I feel strangely distant from what's happening in the US, but on the other hand we're feeling its effects along with the rest of the world. Yesterday, the entire nation of Iceland - considered one of the strongest economies in the world not six months ago - declared bankruptcy, taking £20 billion in UK assets with it. Today, the UK is using anti-terror laws to seize as many assets as it can so it's not a total economic loss.

It would be an error to state that this is 'all America's fault,' but seeing how all the world markets affect each other has been an eye-opening experience. News is reported differently here, and seeing the Asian markets affecting the EU's markets, and in turn the effect that the American market has on all of it is sobering to say the least. I'm no economist so I'll save my opinions about what this all means, whether a 'bail out' will work, and whether it will get better or worse for my own personal musings. I will however copy and paste this paragraph from the Wikipedia article on the Great Depression, which I feel is extremely relevant, especially considering the recent announcement that consumer goods purchasing is at its lowest levels since the early 1990s:

    The Great Depression was not a sudden total collapse. The stock market turned upward in early 1930, returning to early 1929 levels by April, though still almost 30 percent below the peak of September 1929.[6] Together, government and business actually spent more in the first half of 1930 than in the corresponding period of the previous year. But consumers, many of whom had suffered severe losses in the stock market the previous year, cut back their expenditures by ten percent, and a severe drought ravaged the agricultural heartland of the USA beginning in the northern summer of 1930.
    In early 1930, credit was ample and available at low rates, but people were reluctant to add new debt by borrowing.[citation needed] By May 1930, auto sales had declined to below the levels of 1928. Prices in general began to decline, but wages held steady in 1930, then began to drop in 1931. Conditions were worst in farming areas, where commodity prices plunged, and in mining and logging areas, where unemployment was high and there were few other jobs. The decline in the American economy was the factor that pulled down most other countries at first, then internal weaknesses or strengths in each country made conditions worse or better. Frantic attempts to shore up the economies of individual nations through protectionist policies, such as the 1930 U.S. Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act and retaliatory tariffs in other countries, exacerbated the collapse in global trade. By late in 1930, a steady decline set in which reached bottom by March 1933.
My point with all of this isn't necessarily a post about the economy, but the effect that American policies, be they economic, social or otherwise, has on the rest of the world. Many conservative Americans take a 'who the hell cares what Europe, Asia, or anyone else thinks' approach to politics (and I'm not really sure many American liberals are any better, to be fair.)

This attitude is not just inherently ignorant, it's downright dangerous in a world economy where so many things are linked, as I see played out day after day in the media and online. Simply put: we can no longer afford an ill-informed, ignorant and provincial view of the world. The last eight years under Bush have been, as Green Day rather un-poetically put it, a 'redneck agenda' signified by pandering to this exact kind of ignorance. It's the same agenda that leads to cowboy international relations ('you're either with us or against us!') and it's disastrous consequences in Iraq. It is the same agenda that gave the Bush administration and the Republican Congress of its first six years a blank check to get rich from a false economic 'bubble.' And it is the agenda that lead McCain to cynically choose a running mate thinking she'd syphon votes from former Clinton supporters simply because she was a woman despite the fact that most any woman who would vote for Hillary wouldn't vote for someone who is on record as saying dinosaurs and cavemen existed at the same time.

Don't misunderstand. I'm not saying that Americans should vote based on what the world will think, or how the rest of the world will respond. I believe firmly in Jeff's view that all politics is local. But the image of America as a flailing toddler woefully ignorant of the destruction it can cause as it flails its arms without regard to its surroundings is an apt one. It's not that they necessarily mean harm to their surroundings, but when you look at their motivations, they are as infantile as possible. Not mature. Underdeveloped. Child-like. Example:

The only way to reconcile these two things is that Americans (and the rest of the world) need to rethink policies at the local level with an awareness of how they might affect things at the national and global level. The simple fact of the matter is that nothing exists in a vacuum anymore - no town, no state, no county, no country, no matter how much people might like to pretend otherwise. I'm not even saying that Obama is the answer to this, or that McCain wouldn't be. I'm saying that something fundamental needs to change at the most basic of levels in order to avoid a potentially scary scenario should the world plunge into a major economic depression, which seems like more and more of a possibility with each passing day. As I typed this, the Beeb announced that Vienna's stock exchange has suspended trading. Things are literally happening by the minute now.

It is only if economy and policy are re-examined and more importantly redefined at the local and community levels - with full awareness of how policies affect those around us - that we can avoid the abyss now open before us. To cop a line from Clinton's campaign in 1992, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. The era of trickle-down Reaganomics, neoconservatism, ignorance of fact, unawareness, whatever you want to call it is over. It was tried, and it failed so spectacularly that it has dragged the world to the precipice and is continuing to do so as I punch the keys on my keyboard.

Something's gotta give, one way or another. Let's hope it's the good way.

Update: Another excellent proof point:

Update 2: I want to clarify that I do not necessarily believe that the majority of the American right are a bunch of ignorant, mouthbreathers. Nor do I believe that people who are religious should be in any way barred from holding office. (I do however have an issue with someone who ignores fundamental scientific principles controlling science budgets, and someone who cannot pronounce 'nuclear' with the ability to fire nuclear weapons - that should be a basic prerequisite.) I have the utmost respect for people of all faiths, and liberalism has a proud history of being associated with religion, be it the liberation theology of South America; The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's own pseudosocialist - yes - vision for a united America; or the Founding Fathers' own preservation of religious freedoms.

I do feel that the American right, specifically the majority of the religious right, has been summarily manipulated and cynically controlled by elements within the Republican party who have used religious principles to ensure their candidates are elected and can pass legislation that benefits no one but the elite that drafted it. In fact, I find it doubly abhorrent that Republicans have repeatedly abused the goodwill of the American religious right to gain votes and win elections.

Update 3: I just can't help myself, these videos are gold. I'm not sure what's more telling, that Obama is a terrorist himself and a Muslim according to these people, or the guy just yelling 'Commie faggots' at the Obama supporters.


Simon said...

If I may fall back on my nation-state pyschology again here, perhaps a reason the US is acting like "a flailing toddler" is because in the development of nations the US is the equivilent of a toddler compared to older, countries. Just a thought.

Jason said...

In terms of actual age, sure, but in sophistication of development I'd have to disagree. American liberalism (classic liberalism, mind) was a direct offshoot of similar movements in Europe, so while it may eventually have developed independently it was strongly influenced by the European experience at the time.

Simon said...

I see your point, but I wasn't thinking to hard about my statement. Now I am though and.... I agree, however, liberalism (or any ideology for that matter) is argubly an independent entity shaped by the society it is applied in/to.

So if you give the same toy to a teenager (old world) and a toddler (new world) they'll use it differently. You could argue that Australia is even younger and is still in the childish innocence phase.... or maybe I;m taking this analogy too far ;-)

grey_zealot said...
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