Continued from last post . . . You know, one of the things that bugged me about how philosophy was done in universities was that disciplinary boundaries, even within disciplines, were very difficult to cross credibly. There were interdisciplinary departments, but the methods of research and writing in these programs very quickly settled into disciplinary norms themselves. Even the attempt to do interdisciplinary research quickly became a discipline itself.
I say this because it’s an interesting parallel from my old career to the way the Greek crisis is understood. Analyze it through a communications lens.
|Because a country isn't a family. It's a society.|
The right-leaning messages that emerge from coverage of the debt crisis emphasize:
1) that Greece is a country that had let its house get out of order, and
2) that the country and government must impose a harsh discipline on themselves to make anything like a welfare state or even basic public services feasible again.
The country is just like a person or a household, and the crisis is an economic matter alone. These messages come from European Union institutions themselves, and the analysis of pundits in the right-leaning media.
Contrast this with the left-leaning messages emerging more from online and traditionally renegade sources, or else from the Greek Syriza government itself and from intellectuals, like Slavoj Zizek writing in The New Statesman this week. The International Monetary Fund admitted two years ago that austerity didn’t help Greece at all, and sent the country into an economic tailspin.
Amartya Sen wrote in The New Statesman last month that austerity strangles a country by throwing too many people into poverty and destroying aggregate demand. When no one has any money, no one can afford to buy anything. With no one able to support businesses, businesses fail and more people lose their jobs. Repeat ad nauseam until suicide.
That the foundation of a strong economy is a weak state, a balanced budget, and a strong corporate elite is the scientific conclusion of Friedrich Hayek and the Austrian School. This was the idea he expressed in Road to Serfdom that we’re powerless to escape or control the global fluctuations of supply-demand forces. Growing wages drives inflation as people have more money to spend, and inflation drives prices and interest rates up so high that debts become unpayable.
|When Amartya Sen speaks, people should listen.|
So the only solution is to depress wages as far as employers are willing to shrink them to the levels a depressed economy can sustain. The prices of goods will eventually adjust to the levels that the populace can afford. Until then, people will starve and die, but there’s nothing to be done.
If the government were to print more currency to pay people, it would just start the cycle of inflation over again. If the government were to increase production through public works, it would subsume too much of the economy under its own ownership, and that’s a totalitarian economy.
The disaster of Greece shows that John Maynard Keynes and Amartya Sen are right. And at some point, institutional means to address the problem become inadequate. I’d say we hit that point now, thanks to #OXI.*
* When I use the hashtag, I’m referring to the movement, organized largely online, of global solidarity with Greek resistance to the imposition of austerity on a country whose people are already in horrifying poverty and economic depression.
The institutions of Europe today are the legacy of the era when we fought the most intense militarized state totalitarian governments in human history. The European Union was a means to build peace between cataclysmic enemies by integrating them economically. With everyone dependent on everyone else, war becomes impossible.
The economic orthodoxy that’s come to dominate European institutions and its technocracy come from the political ideas of Hayek, the Austrian School of economics, and the Mt. Pelerin Society. Hayek, Milton Friedman, and other anti-Keynes and anti-state thinkers founded that think tank network to educate a generation of people in their ideology:
1) that dependence on the state for any kind of income or services whatsoever bred a vulnerability to totalitarian co-optation, and
2) that humans are impotent before the dynamics of supply and demand, and
3) that collective action erodes freedom because unifying a population around common goals and strategies yokes people to abandon their individual identities and desires to conform to the group.
The takeaway message from #OXI is that political organizing for aggregate action among the population of an entire country (or Western civilization more generally) is a force of liberation. It doesn’t regiment a population into a strict, unified dogma, as Hayek and his like take all collective action to do.
It’s the fluctuating, dynamic unity of people to look for and implement better solutions to their problems. When institutions dance to the music of a social movement, they’re no longer authoritative centres of power, but tools that people organize to direct so that those in power listen to their voices and follow their orders.
We educate ourselves, organize ourselves, inform our elites who’s really in charge in a democracy, and free ourselves.