- The eviction of demonstrators last week is an ominous
metaphor for ruling elites, whose own days are surely numbered, ponders
- As protesters fed up with the increasing injustices of
the global economic system get chucked out of their latter-day Hoovervilles,
Euro-American elites might consider when their turn will come. For the
financial crisis facing Greece, Ireland, Italy, Spain and who-knows-where
next is really about who pays for the past three decades of largesse.
- The popular perception is that the ordinary people have
been living "beyond their means", a false and invidious conventional
wisdom which masks the real nature of the crisis. For it is the elites
across Europe and the Americas who have benefited most from the European
Union, built on Reaganite neoliberalism, which in turn was fashioned to
meet the needs of business. The neoliberal policies of all Western governments,
"left" or "right" during the past three decades are
the direct cause of the current highly skewed income distribution
by some accounts, worse than in any previous era of human history.
- The supposed generous patriarch of this big happy family
is Germany, with its hard workers and tidy streets. But while the Aesopian
Greek hares are told they must tighten their belts and make do with less
health and education, the fact that the Greek arms imports continue to
grow -- importing German weapons and "defence" systems (against
what threat?) -- is not mentioned. And it is not only weapons, but consumer
goods from Germany that have displaced Greek products in the anonymous
Euro-market, as Greece increasingly becomes northern Europeans' decadent
playground, albeit with more than its fair share of un- and under-employed.
- As long as banks were lending freely to governments to
finance this fool's paradise, the lower classes were not made to feel the
pinch, and the system kept chugging along. Now that government debts and
bank reserves have approached their limit and reckless banks are going
bankrupt, the struggle is on over who should pay for the untenable system.
Since the economic elites are also the political elites, naturally they
want the broad people to pay with social service cuts, reduced and delayed
pensions, regressive sales taxes and the like. The intense propaganda campaign
now underway is to convince the poor in the Euro-laggards that they are
the guilty ones, not their own elites or the Euro-elites in Frankfurt or
Berlin or wherever.
- The EU was a project to end the prospect of war in Europe
and to gather the broken pieces of shattered empires into a workable collective
economic-political force in the world. To a surprising extent it succeeded,
but without facing hard choices and a frank debate about who benefits.
As the problems sharpen, any sense of collective goodwill evaporates, and
chauvinist, even racist parties gain rapidly in popularity, hearkening
back to faux-halcyon days of distant imperial privilege. But as history
shows, the ability of individual European countries to extract surplus
from colonies is not guaranteed indefinitely. The same goes for the ability
of Germany to lord it over its Euro-partners. As the knives come out, the
very existence of the European project comes into question.
- The rich standard of living that Europe has enjoyed over
the past few decades is directly a result of first the import of Third
World workers (to a large extent Muslim) and then the incorporation of
the ex-Socialist bloc after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. As
the financial crisis plays itself out, these immigrant workers, the very
ones who have served Europeans so well, are now targeted and racially profiled,
as the elites try to deflect attention from their own hidden role in the
ongoing crisis. This is the First World/ Third World extension of the above
argument about Euro-laggards, with the victims no longer the Greek hares,
but Nigerian and Egyptian immigrants.
- A similar tale can be told for the US, with its large
immigrant population, its Tea Partiers and Islamophobes, unable or unwilling
to face the underlying problems resulting from decades of neoliberal policies.
In the Americas, it is China that provides the manufactured goods which
are paid for by US treasury bonds piling up in Chinese bank vaults, and
no one in particular is accused of being the carefree Aesopian hare --
state governments merely use their deficits as the deus ex machina -- but
the pattern is the same.
- As the people who have woken up to the reality are arrested
and booted out of Trafalgar Square, Zuccotti Park, Chapman Square (Oakland)
and dozens of other city commons around the world, the long cold winter
of discontent sets in. However, the problems are going nowhere and the
people are just waiting for the next opportunity to express their outrage.
- The toppling of governments means nothing in this scenario.
Italy's Silvio Berlusconi and Greece's George Papandreou only handed over
power on the explicit understanding that the "fresh faces" would
carry out the austerity plans imposed by the EU heavyweights. Berlusconi's
replacement is 68-year-old ex-EU commissioner Mario Monti, an economics
professor steeped in the dogmas that brought Italy to its current impasse.
Papandreou's replacement is ex-European Central Bank vice president Lucas
Papademos who immediately announced, "Our membership of the euro is
our only choice." Not much thinking outside the box from these folks,
the very ones who got their people in their present fix.
- Some Americans at the top are already awake. The 138
members of "Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength" (0.005%
of all US millionaires) have been lobbying President Barack Obama and congressional
leaders for a year now pleading with them: "Please do the right thing,
raise our taxes." Not surprisingly, no response from a president and
Congress beholden to the 3.1 million other millionaires -- the proverbial
- Occupy Washington DC published their no-brainer proposals
17 November: redistribute income through progressive taxation, end the
wars, expand health care, democratise business. This will end the budget
deficit overnight, create full employment through stimulating local demand,
eventually ending the foreign trade deficit, making America strong and
once again the envy of the world. But of course Congress is captive of
the current military industrial complex, and can and will do nothing.
- The slow-motion drift into oblivion is surreal. Clearly
momentous changes are in store for both Europe and America, and the sooner
thinkers and actors get to work coming to grips with hard, cold reality,
the better for the people -- and for the elites, who are living on borrowed
time, too. How long before the revolution?
- Eric Walberg writes for Al-Ahram Weekly <http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/>http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/
You can reach him at <http://ericwalberg.com/>http://ericwalberg.com/
His Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics and the Great Games is available