Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Jared Berstein on the End-Game Created by Concentration of Wealth and Its Handmaiden, Power

Jared Bernstein argues that  we have locked ourselves into a going-nowhere end-game in Western culture, because "the concentration of wealth and its handmaiden--power" in our culture assures that no paradigm-shifting new ideas about our economic malaise can come before the body politic.  In his view, there was a window of opportunity during the last decade, when recession loomed, to open the discussion to new ideas.  But "the concentration of wealth and power blocked the new ideas from a fair hearing." 

And so we are now involved in an end-game, in which those who have chosen to begin taking the spoils rather than mending social structures as our socio-economic systems are starting to fall decisively apart must assure, more than ever, that no new ideas come along to challenge their domination and their right to loot:

The narrow slice of winners, enriched beyond imagination by these forces [i.e., the forces that have allowed massive concentration of wealth in the hands of a few], use their wealth to insulate themselves from new ideas that threaten their position by purchasing not just political power but even "ideas," through bogus think tanks and media operations.

They and their representatives ensured that when history provided a unique, crystallized moment of clarity as to their fundamentally corrupt paradigm, too few would see it clearly and when those who did sounded the alarm, no one would listen.

When Francis Fukuyama prophesied the end of history as state socialism crumbled and Western capitalism appeared to be vindicated by the demise of communism, he implicitly imagined the universal extension of Western democratic values as a kind of utopian end-point to global historical development.  But the actual history through which we've been living since the final decades of the 20th century may be a far darker end-game than Fukuyama imagined--though precisely due to the "victory" of unbridled capitalism his thesis celebrates.

The end-game we may actually be seeing played out now is perhaps one in which Western democratic values ultimately succumb to the ruthless power of the "free" market, which inevitably serves the interests of the haves and exploits the have nots (and so it is not free at all).  Institutions like democracies (or churches) that seek to remain viable actively invite as many voices as possible into the dialogic space that makes their future.

We are in the process of doing the precise opposite in democratic societies today, as obscenely rich elites assert their control of everything that goes on in those societies--and as those same elites mute the prophetic voices of communities of faith and apply the same process of marginalizing all voices except officially authorized ones within those faith communities, with the willing complicity of many leaders of faith communities.  And of the public at large . . . .

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