AND THE RISE
OF SOCIAL BIGOTRY
is a celebration of life and happiness. Justice is unrelenting.
Creative individuals and undeviating purpose and rationality
achieve joy and fulfillment. Parasites who persistently avoid
either purpose or reason perish as they should. - Federal Reserve
Chair Alan Greenspan, writing in 1957 to the NY Times about a
critical review of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.
THE ECONOMIES OF DEVELOPED countries no longer demand the amount
of work by most of their citizens that helped to create the myth
of modern capitalism. Changes in technology, outsourcing, and
labor intensiveness have made and will continue to make a growing
percentage of the American population superfluous to the needs
of the country's capitalists, a phenomenon that is being dramatically
reflected in our politics but not in our understanding of it.
You have to read between
the lines to see it. For example, a remarkable article published
by the Washington Post just in time for the State of the Union
borrowed heavily from right wing analyses of the Brookings Institution
and the Center for Strategic & International Studies to paint
a picture of older Americans as a looming crisis just this side
Wrote Jonathan Weissman:
"From untamed health
care programs to military pensions, housing and heating assistance
to coal-miners' benefits, programs for the elderly have proliferated
and grown more generous, even in the face of an aging trend that
demographers have long seen coming. In that light, the fight
over Social Security marks only the beginning of a national debate
over the cost of a graying society -- and the inevitable reallocation
of resources that is sure to produce winners and losers, in the
United States and around the world. "The question is whether
we can support the elderly with a decent standard of living without
imposing a crushing burden on the young," said Richard Jackson,
director of the global aging initiative at the Center for Strategic
& International Studies. "Whether we can is a real concern."
In short can we afford
to have old people or should they, in Greenspan's phrase, be
considered "parasites who persistently avoid either purpose
or reason [who must] perish as they should?"
The Weissman article, far more than most of the debate over Social
Security, reveals the rotten core of such arguments: a growing
social bigotry, reminiscent in many ways of ethnic prejudice,
by the successful and comfortable against those considered parasitical
To be sure, Weissman, well down in his piece, gets around to
interviewing a progressive economist writing that "technological
progress will continue to make workers more productive, even
as their numbers diminish relative to retirees, said Dean Baker,
co-director of the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research.
'Previous generations had sacrificed to build our infrastructure,
to invest in technologies' that help current and future workers,
Baker said. 'If they're paying a larger amount of taxes to help
their parents, I don't see where the harm has been done.' But
such arguments are held by a minority."
Weissman provides no polling
data for the claim that Baker is in the minority, or of what,
but he immediately quotes what he falsely describes as the "liberal"
Brookings Institution which is like calling Ohio a west coast
state because it doesn't border the Atlantic.
Weissman's piece is badly
misleading in other ways. A large chart shows expenses for elders
soaring between now and 2015 but defense spending barely rising.
It uses only federal figures to compare senior and child spending,
ignoring the huge local costs of the latter.
But worst of all, as with
much discussion of the cost of older Americans, is the implicit
assumption that the country owes them little for their part in
making the economy and that they serve no useful purpose at present,
ignoring completely, for example, the huge non-quantified economies
of child-care and volunteer work.
The standard used is that
of the social bigot Greenspan: they are no longer "creative
individuals" with "undeviating purpose and rationality"
and thus deserve to fail. Send them to the ice flow and let them
freeze to death.
The attitudes that propel
such bigotry are not limited to the Republican right or to the
Bush regime. They infect our media, including public radio which
only this morning featured a piece about Arthur Laffer, the godfather
of modern economic selfishness, who has discovered that socially
responsible corporations don't do quite as well as greedy ones.
The fact that corporations might, as they once did under law,
have social responsibilities beyond profit was never even considered
by the news broadcast. Even the liberal media has accepted the
lie that all we need in life anymore is money and profits.
This is a pathologically
dangerous assumption because it not only rewrites American history
but human history: it denies the significance of community, cooperation,
decency, fairness, and commonwealth. One ends up sharing the
sick myth of Margaret Thatcher: "There is no such thing
as society. There are individual men and women, and there are
But beyond this, it also creates the justification for massive
social bigotry because once one has defined the only good as
that one provides the economy everyone who fails the test becomes
an economic nigger.
This bigotry has been
growing unnoticed for some time. We would never have had large
scale urban ghettos if we had adequate employment for black men.
We would not have had "welfare reform" whose major
purpose has been to place blame on the poor for the effect on
them of the economy. We would not be obsessed with the presumed
dangers of immigration in a country that owes its very existence
to immigration. We would not be sending young non-college educated
males to prison in large numbers for smoking marijuana instead
of using the drugs of choice of "creative individuals."
We would not be starting on a similar isolation of persons considered
too heavy and the drugging of children considered too noncompliant
The war now declared against
seniors fits a pattern in which we find a socially acceptable
reason for prejudice against segments of the American public
for the sole reason that they not considered employable or reliable
There is no more justification
for this than there was to exclude people on the basis of their
skin color or religion. It is plain bigotry that we refuse to
Trade is a social act.
Whoever undertakes to sell any description of any goods to the
public, does what affects the interest of other persons, and
of society in general; and thus his conduct, in principal, comes
within the jurisdiction of society. - John Stuart Mill