Monday, August 5, 2013

Good news, bad news

I wrote the following in a letter to my father in 1996. I count it as the  prescience of common sense.


         I believe that you need to contemplate two dates in history if you are to understand current events in America. The dates are 1989 and 1973; respectively, the good news and the bad news.
         The good news is: in 1989 the Soviet Union collapsed, and the Cold War has been called off. We are no longer on the very edge of nuclear holocaust; we've backed off a bit. Maybe we've going to live after all!
         The bad news is: since 1973 the average American's real wages have been in a gradual but steady decline.
         Both of these events can be traced to one cause; the triumph of global capitalism. Capitalism, hence the Soviet State had to fall; global, hence the American middle class had to shrink.
         In a sense I regard these two dates as linked in a kind of trade-off. Consider the situation before 1973; we, as Americans, had economic security along with nuclear anxiety. The contract seemed to be: eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we fry. (Truly a Faustian bargain, if ever there was one!) Now, in the '90's, we find all guarantees gone; both our guaranteed lives, and our guaranteed deaths. It appears that Faust can reject his pact, if he can stand the consequences.
         So now the bargain seems to be; a 1989 for a 1973. The trouble is that this violates a prime rule of Machiaviellian politics. Machiavielli advised the prince to let the bad news out all at once, and the good news out gradually; thus the people will remember mostly the good, the bad being too great to encompass. This sound advice has been defied by our plutocratic masters; they have let the good news out in one huge disorienting burst (1989) and the bad news out with grinding slowness (1973-?). I therefore (regretfully) predict political instability in the 21st century.
         Plato, at the end of his Republic, described how his ideal Utopia degenerated. At one step a generation of "timocrats"  (honor-bound men) gave way to "oligarchs" (money-driven men). That describes the present scene well, I think.
         My own prediction is that the 21st Century will be the Century of the Global Market, just as the 20th has been the Century of the National State. In the end the Market shall disgrace itself as thoroughly as both Church and State have. None of those three is, by itself, capable of creating a society fit for human habitation.

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