A bad economy, a crisis clearly caused by the elites and spineless and corporate-bought governments are imposing the ultimate shock therapy on to the rest of the populations have created conditions that I would call “nasty times” that have also facilitated the emergence of “nasty movements”, of which the Tea Party in the US is a perfect example. Nasty movements are these movements that are based on exclusionary politics, eliminationist rhetoric, and reactionary views anchored in resentful racial and class privilege (they include fundamentalist religious political of all tripes).
Such movements have invaded the general political discourse where these movements are treated as legitimate social actors. At the same time, mainstream political parties, faced with a massive crisis of legitimacy are trying to latch on to the nasty movements either in rhetoric or in policies. For instance:
France adopts a new immigration law that includes the withdrawal of citizenship to naturalized citizens accused of certain crimes, in effect creating a double standard in the law: one law for born citizens and one for naturalized citizens, no more equality under the law.
France, of course, has made itself also infamous for its indiscriminate deportation of Roms (some of them French citizens) more as a publicity coup than anything else. After all, it is a common trope of right-wing politicians: when things go wrong (like the economy), get nasty against minorities and other groups who are not likely to fight back. But France has not been the only one getting nasty against the Roms. As Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, stated:
“The Council of Europe is uniquely positioned to help its 47 members respect the human rights of nearly 12 million Roma living with difficulty in Europe. This is not a French problem or a Balkan problem or a Romanian problem, it is a European one. Public spats and vitriolic rhetoric should be avoided as they serve no purpose. We need to work together: governments, European organisations, local communities and civil society, especially those representing Roma and Traveller populations.”
Then, of course, there are the infamous comments made by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, forgetting how much she had cheered for the very multicultural German football team at the World Cup:
“The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has courted growing anti-immigrant opinion in Germany by claiming the country’s attempts to create a multicultural society have “utterly failed”.
Speaking to a meeting of young members of her Christian Democratic Union party, Merkel said the idea of people from different cultural backgrounds living happily “side by side” did not work.
She said the onus was on immigrants to do more to integrate into German society.
“This [multicultural] approach has failed, utterly failed,” Merkel told the meeting in Potsdam, south of Berlin, yesterday.
Her remarks will stir a debate about immigration in a country which is home to around 4 million Muslims.
Last week, Horst Seehofer, the premier of Bavaria and a member of the Christian Social Union – part of Merkel’s ruling coalition – called for a halt to Turkish and Arabic immigration.
In the past, Merkel has tried to straddle both sides of the argument by talking tough on integration but also calling for an acceptance of mosques.
But she faces pressure from within the CDU to take a harder line on immigrants who show resistance to being integrated into German society.”
Here again, a politician in trouble gets nasty on immigrants. It is a quick and easy way distract the masses, by emphasizing supposed (and often imaginary) immigrant criminality and deviance and general “other-ness”.
Add to this the current massive cuts that the British government is engaging that will unavoidably create a nastier society for the most vulnerable categories:
“Margaret Thatcher is lying sick in a private hospital bed in Belgravia but her political children have just pushed her agenda further and harder and deeper than she ever dreamed of. When was the last time Britain’s public spending was slashed by more than 20 per cent? Not in my mother’s lifetime. Not even in my grandmother’s lifetime. No, it was in 1918, when a Conservative-Liberal coalition said the best response to a global economic crisis was to rapidly pay off this country’s debts. The result? Unemployment soared from 6 per cent to 19 per cent, and the country’s economy collapsed so severely that they lost all ability to pay their bills and the debt actually rose from 114 per cent to 180 per cent. “History doesn’t repeat itself,” Mark Twain said, “but it does rhyme.”
George Osborne has just gambled your future on an extreme economic theory that has failed whenever and wherever it has been tried. In the Great Depression, we learned some basic principles. When an economy falters, ordinary people – perfectly sensibly – cut back their spending and try to pay down their debts. This causes a further fall in demand, and makes the economy worse. If the government cuts back at the same time, then there is no demand at all, and the economy goes into freefall.
David Cameron and George Osborne have ignored all this. They have ignored the warnings of the Financial Times, the newspaper most critical of their strategy. They have dismissed the warnings of Nobel economics laureates like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, who have consistently been proved right in this crisis. They have refused to learn from the fact that the country they held up as a model for how to deal with a recession – “Look and learn from across the Irish Sea,” Osborne said – has suffered the worst collapse in the developed world. They have instead blindly obeyed the ideological precepts they learned as baby Thatcherites: slash the state, and make the poor pay most.
Osborne galloped through his Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) speech, failing to name almost any of the services that will be slashed or shut down. It’s revealing that he doesn’t want to name them while the nation is watching.
But beneath the statistics, there was a swathe of human tragedies that will now unnecessarily unfold across Britain. PriceWaterhouseCooper – nobody’s idea of a Trotskyite cell – says that a million people will now lose their jobs as a direct result.
For the private sector to get all these people into work, as Osborne claims, there would have to be the most rapid business growth in my lifetime. Does anyone think that will happen? Osborne has chosen the weakest people to take the worst cuts. The poorest 16-year-olds were given £30 a week to stay on in education, so they could afford to study – until Osborne’s team dismissed it as a “bribe” and shut it down. The frailest old people depend on council services to wash them and feed them – yet Osborne just slashed their budget by 30 per cent, which service providers say will mean more pensioners being left to die in their own filth. Every family living on benefits is set to lose an average of £1,000 a year – which, as I’ve seen from living in the East End of London, will mean many poor kids across Britain never getting a birthday party, or a trip to the seaside, or a bed of their own, or a winter coat. This isn’t just On Yer Bike, it’s On Yer Own.
The irrationality of this approach is perhaps plainest when you look at housing. We badly need more affordable housing in Britain. Some 4.5 million people are stuck on waiting lists, and the average age of a homebuyer is now 37. It’s a cause of constant stress to the real middle class and despair for the poor. By a happy coincidence, house-building is one of the best stimulators of the economy: it employs a lot of people on average wages, who then spend their money quickly in a “multiplier” effect.
Yet Osborne has chosen the opposite. There will be on average one new home built per week in the whole of London and the south-east. That’s one. Indeed, instead of building homes, he’s driving people out of them. By slashing housing benefit, London councils alone say 83,000 people here are going to be forced to leave their homes, with 1.3 million ending up in more debt. Cameron has revealed that his baby daughter sleeps in a cardboard box decorated for her by her big sister. Thanks to him, a lot more people are going to be sleeping in cardboard boxes soon.
It can’t be coincidental that this is being done to us by three men – Cameron, Osborne, and Nick Clegg – who have never worried about a bill in their lives. On a basic level, they do not understand the effects of these decisions on real people. Remember, Cameron said before the election: “The papers keep writing that [my wife, Samantha] comes from a very blue-blooded background”, but “she is actually very unconventional. She went to a day school.” Osborne is a beneficiary of a £4m trust fund he did nothing whatsoever to earn and which is stashed offshore to avoid tax. Clegg actually thought the state pension was £30 a week, a level that would kill pensioners.
These attitudes have real consequences. We’re not in this together. Who isn’t in it with us? Them, their friends, and their families. They were asked to pay nothing more in this CSR. On the contrary: they are being let off left, right and centre. To pluck a random example, one of the richest corporations in Britain, Vodafone, had an outstanding tax bill of £6bn – but Osborne simply cancelled it this year. If he had made them pay, he could have prevented nearly all the cuts to all the welfare recipients in Britain. You try refusing to pay your taxes next time, and see if George Osborne shows the same generosity to you as he does to the super-rich.
There is one stark symbol of how unjust the response to this economic disaster caused by bankers is. They have just paid themselves £7bn in bonuses – much of it our money – to reward themselves for failure. That’s the same sum Osborne took from the benefits of the British poor yesterday, who did nothing to cause this crash. And he has the chutzpah to brag about “fairness.””
And that is precisely the reality we are not supposed to be paying attention to. While we are being distracted by shiny objects of hatred, immigrants, minorities, etc., the application of the shock doctrine continues apace. In the United States, this has taken the form of refusal to extend unemployment benefits, cutting of food stamps and the predicting butchering of Social Security but the next stage is to shred the last bastion of relatively protected labor: public school teachers. The dismantling of public schools is spearheaded by billionaires and media celebrities (all education experts!) and a propaganda film.
“Meanwhile, as the foreclosure racket clanks back into motion, critics are beginning to make their points more cogently, none better than below (emphasis mine).
Some analysts are not sure that banks can proceed so freely. Katherine M. Porter, a visiting law professor atHarvard University and an expert on consumer credit law, said that lenders were wrong to minimize problems with the legal documentation.
“The misbehavior is clear: they lied to the courts,”she said. “The fact that they are saying no one was harmed, they are missing the point. They did actual harm to the court system, to the rule of law. We don’t say, ‘You can perjure yourself on the stand because the jury will come to the right verdict anyway.’ That’s what they are saying.”
In other words, they’ve committed crimes; crimes for which imprisonment is justified.
And people have been harmed. Tens of thousands have been illegally evicted from their homes. I can’t think of a more violent form of corporate crime than that.”
The fraud is so extensive that we can speak of, as Todd Krohn calls it, foreclosure-industrial complex:
With 2 million homes in foreclosure and another 2.3 million seriously delinquent on their mortgages – the biggest logjam of distressed properties the market has ever seen – companies involved in the foreclosure process were paid to move cases quickly through the pipeline.
Law firms competed with one another to file the largest number of foreclosures on behalf of lenders – and were rewarded for their work with bonuses. These and other companies that handled the preparation of documents were paid for volume, so they processed as many as they could en masse, leaving little time to read the paperwork and catch errors.
And the big mortgage companies overseeing it all – including government-owned Fannie Mae – were so eager to get bad loans off their books that they imposed a penalty on contractors if they moved too slowly.
The system was so automated and so inflexible that once a foreclosure process began, homeowners and consumer advocates say, there was often no way to stop it.
Which is usually what happens once a white-collar criminal racket clanks into motion: victims have no idea what is happening, and no way of organizing to push back against the goons in suits and ties.
And remember, these weren’t “errors” being made because of the onslaught of delinquent mortgage borrowers: this was foreclosure as a form of graft and fraud, being perpetrated on homeowners in good standing as well.”
And for all the idiots who think it is just irresponsible homeowners who took on loans they could not afford. go read this, and especially this passage:
“Thing is, this isn’t a paperwork error. It’s gross negligence, on the bank’s part, that materially altered the relationship between you and the new owner of the loan. Once the collateral was removed from the loan, it can’t be reattached. Your home’s title can’t be attached to a loan willy nilly and without your consent. To do otherwise is theft, and that’s exactly what every lawyer from here to Timbuktu will be arguing.
Of course, that’s not going stop the banks from trying to “fix” this. They’ve already tried fraudulently manufacturing paperwork via fake, backdated signitures to claim the title was properly sent to the reserve. They got found out and foreclosures were stopped across the country. Expect similar behavior in Congress and in the press.”
Or maybe not. It seems the political world has accepted that some entities are not subject to the rule of law. And don’t count on the media to sing anything other than the moralistic mantra of irresponsible borrowers.
This is the end of a game that started at the end of the 1970s, the full unraveling of 40 years of neoliberalism that created extensive inequalities (which is why the Cloud Minders in the media and the political world do not get it). At the same time, the masses were pacified by a lot of cheap consumer goods and easy credit.
And these increasing inequalities also increase the nasty:
“The middle-class squeeze has also reduced voters’ willingness to support even basic public services. Rich and poor alike endure crumbling roads, weak bridges, an unreliable rail system, and cargo containers that enter our ports without scrutiny. And many Americans live in the shadow of poorly maintained dams that could collapse at any moment.
ECONOMISTS who say we should relegate questions about inequality to philosophers often advocate policies, like tax cuts for the wealthy, that increase inequality substantially. That greater inequality causes real harm is beyond doubt.
But are there offsetting benefits?
There is no persuasive evidence that greater inequality bolsters economic growth or enhances anyone’s well-being. Yes, the rich can now buy bigger mansions and host more expensive parties. But this appears to have made them no happier. And in our winner-take-all economy, one effect of the growing inequality has been to lure our most talented graduates to the largely unproductive chase for financial bonanzas on Wall Street.
In short, the economist’s cost-benefit approach — itself long an important arrow in the moral philosopher’s quiver — has much to say about the effects of rising inequality. We need not reach agreement on all philosophical principles of fairness to recognize that it has imposed considerable harm across the income scale without generating significant offsetting benefits.
No one dares to argue that rising inequality is required in the name of fairness. So maybe we should just agree that it’s a bad thing — and try to do something about it.”
If I were Durkheimian, I’d be mentioning the dismantling of all the social mechanisms that produce social solidarity, of which the nasty is the opposite. But the nasty is useful for embattled politicians, it provides enough resentment that billionaires can exploit to push their own ideas either through founding and funding a nasty movement like the Tea Party or to promote their policies or buy elections. Either way, that is why not letting the rich getting richer is not entirely a matter of social justice, it is a matter of democracy.
In my social problems class, students have just finished working on peak oil and its social consequences. One canot help but think that between very clear environmental stress, the collapse of the economic system and the rising tide of nasty movements, we have reached a major crisis point and, apparently apart from the French, no one seems ready to fight back.