Friday, March 10, 2006

"The Commanding Heights"

I am very concerned that Doug Thompson, founder and publisher of the online news and opinion website Capitol Hill Blue, is being harassed by the feds for receiving information and publishing it. We have seen the peckerwood attitude of the "main-stream media" toward truth and honesty in reporting and have surmised that both corporate politics and a certain amount of browbeating by the administration have gone into the brew that creates the situation among the big media players. In this case, though, the question is leaks from the Administration and the illegal use of the Patriot Act to interfere with a free press.

I was all the more surprised (and annoyed) last week when channel surfing—and with 250 channels of nothing this is like being last at the ranch to surf in the Saturday-night tub—that I stumbled upon a PBS program about national and international economics. The program is called "The Commanding Heights" so named after an expression of V.I. Lenin's taken up by one or both of John Maynard Keynes or Austria-born Friedrich von Hayek, the ideas of whom are portrayed in a struggle for global hegemony.

The "commanding heights" are those perches in the world of commerce and finance from which the toggles of power can be manipulated, and by the implication of exclusion from no where else. The Keynesian idea is that democratically elected government is the most appropriate occupant of the catbird seats and Hayek's view is that corporations operating under the "unseen hand" of "market forces" should be making the decisions. Globalization, the realization of Hayek's theory as we have come to know it through the lenses of the PNAC and Neocon, is ostensibly a market-driven experience, but many of us think not.

Immediately before WWII the western world was at the mercy of a deep and trenchant depression, the very bottom of the well-known boom-bust cycle of capitalism. Lest this point go without further mention it should be stated for the record that "capitalism" in the western democracies was (and is) very much "state capitalism," with corporations dependent upon the largesse of the state for contracts, land, rights of way, and regulation of competitors. In other words, allusions to the idea that the so-called "mixed economy" emerged after the War are bunk; the economy had been "mixed" ever since the American Civil War and the Gilded Age of robber baron railroad and steel magnates, corporate financiers, and their toadies in Congress.

As for the well-known boom and bust cycle of capitalism, even the capitalists were (and are) at their wits end to solve the problem, given the investment imperatives of stock holders, antagonistic career imperatives of corporate elite, and the inelasticity of key markets (which by the way are now global and completely unfudgable by expansion to new markets ... unless we establish moon colonies, of course.)

The socialist theories of labor value and its relation to surplus value were abroad on the planet forcing a dichotomous view of economics that seethed below the consolidating industrialist surface during the first half and dominated the second half of the twentieth century. The contending theories were put on temporary hold by the necessity of socialists and western capitalist democracies to form alliances against Hitler, Mussolini, and the new corporate Samurai of Japan.

Following WWII these pacts of convenience broke apart and led by the U.S. on the one side and the U.S.S.R. on the other, the contending parties staged world-wide exhibitions of political and economic power, with the United States taking significant black eyes in Korea and Vietnam, with the Soviet Union taking big hits in Afghanistan and Africa, and with the outcome decided, some say, in Europe as American bourgoisie-genic capitalism proved to be the successful seductive purveyor of comfortable goods and services against which the opposition could not hope to compete.

The emergence of the United States as the preeminent economic power in the world was due to the mixed economy wherein modest governmental restraints on market forces were designed to create and nourish a large middle class of consumers, who in their turn would buy the automobiles, refrigerators, and so forth that spurred the capitalists in their turns to imagine endless production and reasonable profits under these restraints.

Thus, with the American system proving its mettle, the communist parties of Italy and France became the refuges of scoundrels and sloganeers, gradually fading from national or international importance. Meanwhile the Soviet puppet parties of the middle and eastern European countries gradually liberalized and/or crumbled, too. As the Soviet Union began to decay from within, "proving the ineptitude of statist economies," (or so said the Reaganauts of nascent neo-conservatism), they fell away from the colossus and were sucked into the gathering vortex of neo-capitalist globalism and unimagined realms of consumer comfort and dependence.

The process ever since then—1991—has been to remove the restraints and leave to "the market" those decisions that governments in their incompetence or lack of understanding could not make for themselves. "Leaving it to the market" is tantamount to special delivery to the board rooms of a double handful of corporations in each nation. And, so it goes, the conditions under which the rise of Mussolini and Hitler were made possible are replicated, but with the additional and exciting idea that the field is no longer the nation, but the international planetary economy ... with all of its distortions and imbalances and inexorable limits! The only thing missing at this point is a world depression to trigger the collapse of liberal democracy across the board. I have it on good authority that a depression to make the 1930's look like a Sunday school picnic now moves its slow thighs and soon slouches toward Wall Street to be born.

"The Commanding Heights" assumes uncritically much of the neocon cant and slogan. It obscures the truth with facile dogmas and swiftboating allusions to myth. I watched a former Civil Aeronautics Board Chairman describe the disestablishment of the ponderous over-regulation of airlines by his agency. He declared that "it got so bad ... we were even regulating the size of sandwiches on flights!" Well, goddammit, no! The CAB responded, as do all regulatory agencies, to the private lobbying and the public hoots and hollers of the competing airlines themselves, taking the opportunity to implement the loudest and richest complaints. As usual the airlines were regulating themselves. You will not see this explained in "The Commanding Heights," because it goes against the fundamental notion that capitalism can exist independent of government, which is after all the premise of the program.

Watch it, if you can, and tune in online if you find it difficult to break away from your reality television shows or competitive dancing extravaganzas. "The Commanding Heights" is wrong-headed and probably a dangerous commodity among poorly educated and even less critical thinking Americans. You need not worry that the citizens who voted for that cute cowboy George Bush are going to be watching with you, but the people who put stupid ideas into their heads on talk radio and "main stream media" will be. You should be ready, for this wad of crap has a lot of momentum right now.

James Richard Brett