Saturday, June 27, 2009

June 18, 2009

Dear Sis~

Just got called down to the clinic for a "physical exam" which consisted of my having my weight, temperature and blood pressure taken and recorded, the same "comprehensive" physical I've been getting for the last 37 years. My blood pressure was 113/77, which is par for the course for me, almost too low, especially considering my circumstances. But, besides being blessed with a sound, healthy body and working out a lot, I long ago learned to accept things with equanimity, rather than let stress, tension and/or anger manifest itself in my physical aspects. Meditation, and lots of inner reflection, helps a lot...

Anyway, I just finished reading a good essay in Vanity Fair magazine by Joseph E Stiglitz, the well-known and highly regarded economist (he's in fact a Nobel laureate), titled Wall Street's Toxic Message, which analyzes the economic and social fallout of the current financial crisis. Of course, there are thousands of articles and essays floating around on the subject of the crisis - how it happened, who's to blame, how to fix it - covering the political and economic spectrum, etc... no small number of which are attempts to cover their own asses. Sadly, most Americans (Hell, most people worldwide) have little or no knowledge or understanding of basic economic theory, and are at the mercy of the talking heads, and have no real clue as to what happened, much less what to do about it (that feeling of utter helplessness, being at the mercy of forces beyond our control which was the hallmark of the national psyche over the last 8 months - and which helped propel Obama into the White House). What's interesting about this article by Stiglitz is how he frames it in the historical context, how the Western capitalistic nations, over the last 200+ years, exploited the rest of the world and imposed our "free market" system upon undeveloped countries, convincing them it was the world's best economic system (convincing them through force of arms). We Americans grew up, blindly believing (because we were taught this in our schools) that the capitalistic system , especially in the extreme (i.e., Market Fundamentalism) was the best, and anything else was a threat to freedom and democracy (that alleged link between capitalism and freedom was always crucial, it made it your patriotic duty to accept capitalism and view any other system as not just foreign, but an enemy to be defeated). What we are rarely taught is how we (America, Britain, France and other western industrial powers of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries) raped and exploited the undeveloped world, brutally and by force, to enrich ourselves, and impose our version of market fundamentalism on the world (always, of course, so it worked to our advantage). Anyway, it was refreshing to read an economist of Stiglitz's stature acknowledge the history. The point he was making in his essay was how this recent crisis is teaching the rest of the world to really question the basic premise of our version of capitalism, the now quaint notion that unfettered markets, left to themselves (free of regulation and government "interference") will ensure economic growth and prosperity, the idea that markets are automatically "self-correcting" and that we can rely on the self-interested behavior of market participants to guarantee that everything works honestly and properly. The world now sees that "the emperor has no clothes" and that we've succeeded, like the Pied Piper, into leading the world over the cliff. I'm certainly no Marxist, but I'm not blind to history and I know human nature well enough to question the whole premise of market fundamentalism (Yeah, let's just let the Donald Trumps of the world order the universe, right? What could possibly go wrong?). I wish more Americans truly understood the history of our country (and the Western Industrial powers in general) over the last two centuries so they can understand why we (and our systems which we insist on foisting upon the world) are viewed as we are by the rest of the world, why countries don;t believe us when we claim we are invading them for their own good, to impose "democracy" and "freedom" upon them, why they don;t believe it is not all about the oil (hint: it's always about the oil). We'd be a lot more intellectually honest if we'd just be open and above-board about it, "Yes, we're doing this because it's in our economic and strategic self-interest, and because we are stronger than you are". It's the lies and hypocrisy, wrapping all the bullshit up in the American flag, that pisses me off (and does not fool anyone except our own deluded citizens who drink that Kool-Aid).

I didn't mean to go off on a tangent, or get my blood pressure up! Give the doggies a tummy rub for me (and some Milk-Bone biscuits if you've got some!)

Love, Bill