Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Guess Who

See if you can guess who this quote is from, Michael Moore, Thom Hartman or Steve Bannon?

"Middle-class taxpayers, people that are working-class people, right, people making incomes under $50,000 and $60,000, it was the burden of those taxpayers, right, that bailed out the elites. And let’s think about it for a second. Here’s how capitalism metastasized, is that all the burdens put on the working-class people who get none of the upside. All of the upside goes to the crony capitalists."

It could have come from the "People's Mic" at Occupy Missoula but actually it is Trump's special advisor and Breitbart News impressario Steve Bannon. What intrigues me is the overlap between this Tea Party intellectual and "progressives" on this issue of Crony Capitalism. I can imagine Bill Moyers interviewing Bannon and nodding along. In a panel discussion at the Vatican back in 2014, Bannon lashed out against the "greed of the investment banks", against so-called conservatives "binding with corporatists" and the fact that no one from the financial sector has gone to jail for the global economic collapse of 2007-8. Sound familiar? It should because it is the same line we heard from Michael Moore, Rachael Maddow, Thom Hartman, and that ilk. Remember Sarah Palin back in 2011, calling out the crony capitalism of "connections and government bailouts...and influence peddling and corporate welfare"? Though they never identify it as such, it is "progressive neoliberalism" (see Nancy Fraser in Dissent Magazine) that these New Conservatives have united against.

Capitalism is frequently described with an attached adjective, be it "late" or "corporate" or "predatory". That addition often indicates a desire to either reform or scrap capitalism altogether. So that when Bannon speaks of the "crisis of crony capitalism" he is referring to what he perceives as a turning away from a glorious, if wholly imagined, past, a previous period of efficient, just, victorious capitalism based on an "enlightened...underlying moral and spiritual foundation of Judeo-Christian belief." Here he is thinking of World War II production and the post-war settlement of labor peace that followed, which he calls "Pax Americana". This nostalgia is remarkably similar to that of progressives who look to those decades, as well as the period of the New Deal, as models for what could be. But of course this is magical thinking for both.

Here is Bannon from the same conference- this time channeling Chris Hedges- criticizing Objectivist precepts which: "...make people commodities and objectify people, use them..under the rubric of 'personal freedom'". Trumps new advisor went so far as to call for a cap on wealth creation and distribution, something not even Bernie, much less Clinton, ever dared to say. He believes his own alt-right/international Tea Party to be part of a "global, center-right populist movement..of working men and women... that is tired of being dictated to..by the party of Davos." Almost Naomi Klein if you ignore the center-right part. They are fine being dictated to by The Market, I guess, maybe because the Market is close to God (or is God!).

The irony- of course there is always the irony of a post-ironic age- is that all these "revolutionaries" also worship at the Tomb of Reagan, who, along with Thatcher, put a dramatic end to the Golden Age they so celebrate by crushing unions, continuing Volker's deflationary monetary policy, gutting social provision and lowering taxes on the rich. Their appeals to an amorphous working/middle classes mash-up put "traditional values" and nationalist pride front and center and tuck the Hayekian economics into the fine print. If Sarah Palin could memorize the mantra of "free men and free markets, of innovation and hard work and ethics, of sacrifice and risk", the struggling folks of the rust-belt can absorb the bumper-sticker version and trust a virile, flame-throwing leader to work out the details. Tying this proposed "new settlement" to Judeo-Christian prosperity gospel is a brilliant touch, adding affect, an emotional, even tactile connection, in a way the Left never seems to.

As with identity politics and political correctness, the Right has executed another ju jitsu move with crony capitalism. By exploiting feelings of victimhood and co-opting progressive strategy and language to build a coalition, they get some time in the sun. Because they so totally and completely mis-diagnose the crisis of capitalism, it will be fleeting, as all things are these days, when "all things solid melt into air", but it is fascinating to watch. Just banish greed and work hard and be good. Simple.

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