Winston Churchill Was Right

By Brian Sahd

I have come to the belief that DeRienzo is more conservative as time goes by.  In his latest musings DeRienzo suggests that the prognosis for the United States is not bright; America is in a state of decline.  He paraphrases Rousseau to argue that the state is rotting from the inside and it will not be long before the state will dissolve under the weight of the corrupt individual. Glenn Beck would be proud.

America is indeed in a state of decline, but the individual is not totally to blame for this decline.  Yes, as individuals we have become more self-absorbed and the intensity of our sense of entitlement is even more disturbing.  Americans —  at all levels on the economic scale —  feel that they deserve a better job, a higher salary, more government subsidy simply because they exist, not because they have earned it.

Much of the blame for this recent decline rests with our elected officials from the President  to our senators and representatives to our local officials.  The venomous narrative coming from this White House and Congress is only matched by the complicit media.   But DeRienzo seems to coyly use this dysfunctional nature of our current political state as a diversion from his main point: that the pursuit of profits and lowest prices has destroyed America’s formerly diverse and decentralized economy, which in turn, destroys our democracy.  As he argues in his book,  The Concept of Community:  Lessons from the South Bronx, politics is a function of economics.  If there is a centralized, top-down, concentrated economy, we get a centralized, top-down, concentrated political system, hence a dysfunctional democracy.

The dysfunction does not evolve from the current predicament in which our democratic form of government finds itself, however.  I am reminded of what Winston Churchill is quoted as saying: democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the other forms of government.  Our political system is the best in the world, perhaps the best in history. But too much credit is given to our centralized, top-down democratic form of government, and its neo-liberal economic policies.  Perhaps before the tectonic shift in the global political/economic system the United States might have been able to break down trade barriers, establish trade rules unilaterally throughout the entire global economy in an efficient manner.  However after the changes to the world economic structure that occurred in the 1980s, the US lost its hegemony and control of much of what occurs economically within its borders.  The current global system dominates and dictates what any individual country can do in the global theater.

In her writings, the brilliant urban sociologist and economist Saskia Sassen sheds insight into the current world economic system, and theorizes that today’s global economy takes place largely inside “thick national environments and institutions. This makes globalization partly invisible because it is dressed in the clothes of the national even as it denationalizes what was historically constructed as national.”

Nations, even the United States, are less and less capable of regulating or controlling the economy that functions within their borders.  When folks attempt to explain away the greater income and wealth disparity by blaming the dysfunction of our democracy, even one in which DeRienzo believes the economy is creating the political dysfunction in a political system that is supposed to be a democracy,  they are using pre 1980 global economic formations instead of present day reality.

I do agree that our society has become overly consumerist as well as obsessed with making a big of a profit as possible. (See earlier post in this blog). However, is it somewhat misguided to endow too much power and influence into a political and economic systems based in Washington DC.  It should be obvious that real power and economic control does not reside in Washington, perhaps it never did.

Economic power resides in networks that transfer information and technologies associated with the increase of mobility of capital.  Yes, economic power, as has always been the case, resides in those who control resources.  And yes, since resources are common to us all, but require initiative, work and talent to exploit, government’s role is to regulate their use and, hopefully, create a balance between personal gain and common benefit.  But what is also true is that in today’s global economic system national governments ability to regulate those who control the resources has greatly diminished, tipping the balance of power.  These circuits of exchange exist in a world that has witnessed the dismantling of nation-state borders and has given rise to what Sassen terms “sub-national” entities most notable mega cities and regional metropolitan areas as well as “supra-national entities, i.e., global digitalized markets and free trade blocs.

Nations, even ones that are as powerful as the United States, no longer have complete control over  what occurs economically within their borders. We can no longer live under a false premise that the United States can return to an economy that is decentralized.  That train has left the station.  We are not killing millions of hogs annually and destroying millions of bushels of corn and grain because Burger King can sell $1 meals.  We are killing the hogs and burning the grain because that is what the global economy is increasingly structured to do.

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