Sunday, May 17, 2020

The Death of Electoral Politics in the United States of America - Part III


So, continuing from Parts I and II, I'm starting with the 1990s. Ronald Reagan served two terms from 1980 to 1988 and this period was marked by the decline of the US auto industry (as well as steel, consumer electronics, and other older industries) but also saw the massive increase in spending on weapons, and semi-conductors. The rise of Japanese industry made Japanese management methods popular among their North American and European rivals. Europe's stronger labour movement was more successful at resisting the callous "restructuring" of labour relations that was imposed in the USA, Britain and to a lesser extent, Canada. (This resistance was blamed for the slow-growth "Eurosclerosis" that Anglo-American management laughed about during their occasional bursts of economic growth as inequality increased along with poverty.) The decade also saw tax-cuts, neoliberal deregulation of capitalism and increased "financialization" of the economy.

This was the beginning of the end of elected governments pretending to care about doing things for the majority of the population. During the 1990s we would see governments crowing about how they were going to do LESS THAN NOTHING for their populations. Instead the were going to SAVE US from the ruinous impacts of deficits and debts that their own policies created. They were offering us AUSTERITY to save us from "welfare dependency." And, of course, the usual suspects (right-wing shit-head chumps) ate it all up. Previous generations of fedora-wearing chumps and their airhead racist princesses lectured all us "libtards" n' "leftards" about how we were to blame for whatever was wrong with the world as they dragged us to this point in time where a travesty of a human being like Donald Trump is advising them to ingest bleach to kill a lung infection and they're fucking doing it!!!

The 1990s: The AGE of AUSTERITY

Alan Greenspan and Paul Martin. There's two names to conjure with! As I begin this section with only the haziest idea of how I'm actually going to write it, it occurs to me that these two guys really epitomized the era for me. Both of them were the most enthusiastic proponents of neo-liberal austerity; Greenspan and the Federal Reserve from 1987-2006, and Martin as Canada's Minister of Finance from 1993-2002 and the Prime Minister from 2003-2006.

Greenspan was infamous for a) being a devotee of half-wit pseudo-philosopher Ayn Rand, b) being an advocate of tight money during the 1990s, c) celebrating how "worker insecurity" was keeping the inflation rate low. Workers were feeling insecure because their unions were under concerted attack from the start of the Reagan presidency, all through the 1990s, and up to the present day. Workers were insecure because "globalization" of labour markets were forcing them to compete with low-wage labour in LDC's. Workers were insecure because automation was taking increasing amounts of jobs in manufacturing. Workers were insecure because the Federal Reserve kept interest rates high to stifle inflation at the expense of jobs.

Paul Martin was the Liberal Party finance minister under Jean Chretien beginning in 1993. At the time there were ridiculous fears being expressed (sometimes cynically, sometimes not) of Canada being handed over to the IMF because of our federal government's debt problem. This wasn't because of our "generous" welfare state. Canada's debt exploded when (as detailed in a previous post) the world's central bankers engineered high-interest rate monetarist recessions in 1980 to destroy the economy and nip inflationary pressures in the bud. Greenspan in the USA and Bank of Canada Governor John Crow here, engaged in further high interest rate policies at the end of the 1980s. In the Bank of Canada's case the target was an inflation rate of ZERO PERCENT. "Price Stability." This shit-for-brains policy caused Canada's debt-to-GDP ratio to explode. (Linda McQuaig demolishes the whole edifice of anti-inflation zealotry and debt hysteria in her book Shooting the Hippo.)

When the Liberals took power again after two L-O-N-G Tory majority governments under Brian Mulroney, there was talk of "Liberal times are good times!" The Liberals' reputation was of national public health insurance, unemployment insurance, spending on the public service, etc. Not the stuffy Bay Street, penny-pinching, Scrooge-like Conservatives. But, just as would be the case with the return to power of the Democrats under Bill Clinton after three terms of Republican presidents, the "left-wing" Liberals and Democrats had changed from their 1970s incarnations. (Although not by much. Those images had been mostly mythical anyway.)

Chretien and Martin dedicated themselves to deficit reduction. They took an axe to the federal public service and federal contributions to national healthcare spending and contributions to education budgets. Martin bragged about reducing federal government spending to 1950s levels. So what if the federal housing department was entirely abolished? (Subsequent homelessness and affordability crisis anyone?) Paul Martin wasn't always taking things away. He had a touching devotion to give back to one group in society "come hell or high water," ... the wealthiest. It's actually pretty disgusting. Besides spending cuts, the Chretien-Martin Liberals paid down the debt by tightening eligibility for unemployment insurance (UI, which Martin moronically rechristened "employment insurance" or EI) and raising premiums, and using the double-digit billion dollar annual surpluses to pay down the debt. This gave Chretien-Martin supposed wiggle room to cut personal and corporate taxes. And this depletion of revenues supposedly isn't a problem because wealthy people and corporations always use savings from tax-cuts to "invest" in "job creation." (Twenty-five years later we now know that what these selfish parasites did was to "invest" in fraudulent financial products that blew-up in their faces and that they were only rescued from the results of their imbecility through government bail-outs that were paid for with still more austerity on the working class.)


I'm going to make a brief digression to focus on the disastrous impact of this history on social democracy in Canada. Specifically, that of the NDP government in Ontario from 1990-95. For the longest time during the post-1945 period, Ontario had been governed by Progressive Conservatives. But these were PC's who were part of the postwar consensus of governments implementing programs to shield workers from the worst shocks of capitalist economies and to reduce the most destructive levels of social-economic inequality created by capitalist political-economy. One of the longest serving conservative premiers in Ontario had been Bill Davis, who attributed his four straight electoral victories to his having been a boring mainstream centrist. "Bland works."
Phrase used by Ontario Premier Bill Davis (1971-85) – originally in response to a question from a journalist – to describe his political success and longevity, which he attributed to a stable, predictable (if unexciting) public image. Backed by the legendary Big Blue Machine, “bland works” helped lead the Progressive Conservatives to four straight victories under Davis. Yet his long tenure was hardly bland – Davis established Ontario’s college system, Canada’s first environment ministry & TV Ontario and played a pivotal role in patriating the constitution and passing the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Though a PC, Davis was a pragmatist and highly attuned to public opinion, positioning himself as a centrist. He worked closely with union leaders, implemented rent control and stopped the Spadina Expressway. Many suggest that the “bland works” style gave Davis political cover to pursue an ambitious (but not ideological agenda) while remaining palatable to most Ontarians.
Do you see how far we have fallen? The Ontario PC dynasty came to an end when their minority government was toppled by an Ontario Liberal/ONDP coalition, followed by an Ontario Liberal majority government, followed by the fluke majority victory of the Bob Rae ONDP in 1990.

In books like Rae Days: The Rise & Follies of the NDP, or Giving Away a Miracle, the story is told how, unexpectedly in power during a worldwide recession, the ONDP under Rae went from being hopeful about increasing social welfare spending and social justice to trying to placate Bay Street and the capitalist media through "fiscal responsibility."

Rae's situation was made worse because after the monetarist-induced recession, the Chretien-Martin Liberals came to power and focused on deficit-reduction. Which meant severe unilateral cuts to federal-provincial programs across the board. Provincial governments were faced with the choice of either immediate savage cuts or massive deficits. Most (including Ontario) compromised with limited, gradual spending cuts and large deficits.

I have always maintained that the Rae ONDP government was probably the best we could have had during such a difficult time. Whatever his faults, Bob Rae was a humane man and he and his colleagues tried to mitigate the damage caused by their spending cuts and they ran larger deficits to limit the social impact of an impossible situation. But in so doing, the ONDP bought into the narrative that 1) the crisis wasn't the direct result of the ruinous monetarist policies of the anti-inflation zealots and 2) Ontario's deficits weren't the direct result of the federal Liberals unilateral slashing of their contributions to provincial programs. Continuing the narrative, the Rae ONDP contributed to the notion that the public welfare and social justice are merely frills, that can indulged only when "affordable." And that the way to make them "affordable" is by appeasing the capitalists with tax-cuts and deregulation and etc., so that they'll have more money to "invest" in "job creation."

In the end, Bob Rae unilaterally tore-up contracts with public sector workers to impose "Rae Days," criticized the NDP grassroots for being unrealistic, got some nice pats on the head from the Glib n' Stale's editorial board, and got turfed from power in 1995. His deficits were portrayed by the assholes and fools of the Canadian media and political establishments as being the result of "socialist" incompetence rather than an attempt to humanely manage neo-liberal crises. He alienated his based and pleased no one and set the cause of social democracy back by a generation at least.


The depressing story of the 1990s continues with the coming to power of Democratic Party President Bill Clinton in 1993 and the majority government of PC Mike Harris's "Commonsense Revolution" in 1995. I suppose I should also inform my younger readers that the Cold War ended in 1991 and that there had been talk in progressive-faggot-leftard circles of a "peace dividend." Also, using that words that live in infamy, neo-conservative political-scientist pronounced that the end of the Cold War meant "The End of History."

Very briefly, the Soviet Union imploded for a number of reasons. Under Lenin the resources of the former Russian Empire were devoted to mass education, hydro-electric projects and other forms of basic industrialization. Before this, much Russian capital was devoted to conspicuous consumption, building palaces, exploiting the peasantry, and profit-taking. Under Stalin the USSR pursued a monstrous form of second-wave industrialization and embraced Fordism in the pressure-cooker of World War Two. Emerging in 1945 with a devastated nation and a massive military-industrial-complex, the Soviet Union would eventually pursue reconstruction, a nuclear weapons race, and incompetent attempts at the development of an economy serving human needs.

Unfortunately for them, the demands of the third industrial revolution required investments beyond the capabilities of central planners, and the ossified system began to buckle under the strain. The expenses and destruction caused by the Soviet war in Afghanistan, plus the deadly debacle of the Chernobyl nuclear accident revealed the hollowness of the Soviet political edifice. Premier Gorbachev attempted political and economic reforms but all they really achieved was chaos. The USSR collapsed and the society and the economy went to hell under the tutelage of pro-capitalist economists from the West and super-corrupt stooges like Boris Yeltsen. Living standards collapsed and suicide rates soared and lifespans shrank. It was a human tragedy.

Fukuyama's "The End of History" posited that the demise of the Soviet Union represented the end of the dialectical progress of history first dreamed up by Friedrich Hegel and further developed by Karl Marx. For Fukuyama and other stunted minds, the travesty of corruption, greed, consumerism, ecocide, death squads, and oligarchy that is capitalist society, is humanity's end point. It doesn't get any better than this! In fact, it's impossible to conceive of a better society because the possibility of there being one doesn't exist! Eventually the ridiculousness of Fukuyama's thesis would become evident to even the most starry-eyed New York Times columnist, but for a number of years they were all positively agog with it.

The fall of Soviet communism also removed any mental barriers against capitalists letting their freak-flags fly high and proud. "Fuck unions! Fuck social programs! Fuck socialism! The USSR died therefore public health care is a failure! The working class can suck my dick! I rule!" Self-evident failures of capitalism were deflected with idiotic cries of "Go to Russia you like it so much!"

But what about the "peace dividend"? Couldn't we now use all the money spent arming against the defunct USSR for the public good? Shouldn't we "beat our swords into ploughshares and never know war anymore"? Such delusions failed to recognize that the arms industry was a cost-plus, super-profitable, dependable source of revenue. Also, the US military (and lesser ones like the UK and France) are helpful for bashing in the faces of people in poor countries who try to step out of line. So, no, ... there wasn't a "peace dividend."

Still, when a Democrat named Bill Clinton won the 1992 US Election, after 12 years of Republican Rule (and, since 1968, Republicans occupied the White House for twenty of the twenty-four years to 1992), people thought there would be a return to the "golden age" of vague memory of the Kennedy-Johnson years. Alas, t'was not to be. Bill Clinton was a "New Democrat." A "Democratic Leadership Council [DLC]" Democrat. A "third-wave" Democrat. (Oh fuck! In the UK, the formerly socialist Labour Party embraced something called the "Third Wave" under asswipe Tony Blair.)

I guess you can see, ... there was a massive ideological shift towards oligarchic capitalist bullshit and away from socialism. And it's brought us nothing but increased inequality and economic disaster and right-wing extremism and continued moral and intellectual bankruptcy.

So, just like Tony Blair took over from the Conservatives who were all Thatcherists, and maintained her policies, Bill Clinton abandoned the centre-left and tried to out-do the Republicans. He pushed for and got the approval of NAFTA which managed to devastate the working populations of all the "Three Amigos" of Canada, the USA and Mexico. His "Three Strikes" legislation maintained the mass incarceration/racist policies of Nixon's "War on Drugs." And he slashed welfare spending which devastated poor communities just as the manufacturing sector was collapsing. And, finally, he tried to destroy Social Security (and we have the Monica Lewinsky scandal to thank for distracting him from achieving that).

There was something called the "Clinton Boom" and stupid assholes who call themselves "Democrat" or "Republican" or "Rush Limbaugh Butt-Hole Lickers" can debate whether it was caused by Clinton or the Repugnian-dominated Congress, but what really happened was that neo-liberalism was allowing the capitalists to have a lot of money to slosh around. Corporations profited from shifting labour costs to poor, low-wage countries. New industries in Silicon Valley made billions. There WAS economic growth. But the benefits were increasingly concentrated at the top. Wages for the majority stagnated as the costs of services previously provided by the state (or employers) increased and were placed on the shoulders of the workers themselves.

Essentially, the 1990s were a shit-show. Capitalist governments were getting increasingly good at deluding their electorates into thinking that governments had been the problem and that they were finally getting out of the way of capitalists so that businessmen could provide us with the Heaven on Earth that is the inevitable end result of all the inhuman policies they demand. Right-wing dumb-fucks became increasingly emboldened and the left-wing began in earnest the doomed tactic of "lesser-evilism" that some are still stupidly practicing to this very day.

As we'll see NEXT TIME, ... the bankruptcy of those moral compromises became increasingly clear as oligarchy's own behaviour became increasingly degenerate.

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