Francis Fukuyama, that prodigious fraud and dilettante has again risen to his hind legs to declaim the End of Something or Other. It is his specialty. This time it's in Newsweek magazine, in The Fall of America, Inc.
Born in the genteel confines of Hyde Park, Barack Obama's adopted home, Fukuyama would go on to hobnob with the early Neoconservatives. Allan Bloom his mentor once said: "There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative." If ever there was a Relative Truthiness, it is to be found in the bromides and jeremiads of Fukuyama, though he would loudly deny it. Let us examine his article in further detail.
America's chief export is not ideas but grain. There are no Fundamentally American Ideas, that's pernicious nonsense. Good ideas, like the laws of physics are universal in nature and are often the product of many minds in many countries. Which idea is so fundamentally American that no other nation may lay equal claim to it? Only one such idea comes to mind: the Establishment Clause: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion". Neoconservative thinking has done much to undermine this clause, all its much-speaking and firm talk of Traditional Moral Values and Free Markets, though in truth they believed none of it.
When the going was good, none was more vociferous in support of these fuzzy thinkers and dangerous doctrine-mongers, viz. Ronald Reagan than Francis Fukuyama. Every intelligent observer of geopolitics in the Reagan Era saw what was coming when Reagan first caved in to Hizb'allah in Lebanon and later did business with their masters in Iran. If ever there was a betrayer of the only Fundamentally American Thought ever worthy of that title, it was Ronald Reagan's treacherous dealings with the theologians-become-politicians of Iran. Let us not forget Ronald Reagan's unwholesome cuddling up to the Moral Majority in the Land of the Free.
The debacle of Iraq and the collapse of Neoconservative geopolitics might have sealed Fukuyama's fate and consigned him to the dustbin of philosophy forever, except as one of those Bad Examples of Bad Thinking found in philosophy textbooks next to the alchemists, advocates of eugenics and the casuistry of the Crusades. Nothing of this sort was in store for Fukuyama: the Road to Baghdad was his Road to Damascus: When the Apostle Paul was converted on that Road to Damascus he spent some period of time blinded thereafter. No such period of dependence and reliance on the mercy of his erstwhile enemies for Fukuyama, no infusion of grace, no casting-away of error, no repudiation of the slings and arrows he had cast at all of us who warned of disaster upon the advent of that prescriptive war. Like the disgraced Marxists once the stench of Joe Stalin's cruel predations could no longer be hid, Fukuyama simply changed his tune. Even now, he says in this article: "Reagan-ism was right for its time". We must suppose Reagan-ism is wrong for this time, though he does not publicly admit exactly that much. Reagan's role in the wholesale dismantling of regulatory powers is somewhat glossed-over, a triumph of intellectual push-up brassiere making.
"The Reagan-Thatcher revolution made it easier to hire and fire workers, causing a huge amount of pain as traditional industries shrank or shut down. But it also laid the groundwork for nearly three decades of growth and the emergence of new sectors like information technology and biotech."
Let us set things straight, here and now. The Reagan Era was floated on the rivers of capital flowing from the melting glaciers of capital stored in the Savings and Loan institutions Fukuyama dismisses upstream. It could not last: eventually all those office parks and screwdriver barns built on spec would pile up on the non-performing side of the balance sheets. Charles Keating (and many others), would bribe his way into a few more months of looting, saved from regulatory oversight by his friends in the Congress. The Reagan Era was a one long colossal drunken binge and Bush the Wiser would manage the gargantuan economic hangover which followed.
Nor did the Neoliberal "Washington Consensus" really push developing countries to open up their economies in any benign sense of the verb To Open. The World Bank and IMF pried open the economies of the third world like an oysterman's knife. The proposition was simple: we will give you dollars in exchange for hardwood logging and mining rights. The money went straight to the dictators who promptly deposited it in Swiss banks, the forests were felled, the strip mines tore open the landscape, the dams generated power for the aluminum smelters and when it was all gone, so were the money and the jobs. Like the Savings and Loans they looted, the Neoliberals gave no thought to what would follow the ruddy-faced loud-mouthed drunken jollity they enjoyed, nor at whose expense that prosperity was bought.
It is the supremest of ironies that Fukuyama would use the centrally planned economies of the Soviet Union as the example of Falling Behind. The USSR always had a hard currency: everyone who ever went to the duty free shops knew of this currency. Though the true Gold Ruble was not available to ordinary Soviet citizens, it was readily available to foreigners. The USSR's chief economic obstacle was its lack of a truly convertible currency on the open market. Though central planning badly hobbled the regime, other countries such as Singapore have always been able to combine central planning with capitalism. As for the condemnation of Welfare States, our own soi-disant Free Markets subsidize our petroleum and farming industries to such an extent I cannot conceive of our taxation policy using any other metaphor than a colander.
Fukuyama preaches against Aid to Families With Dependent Children, saying "they created disincentives for poor families to work and stay married, and families broke down." I might press Fukuyama to deny the assertion that Tax Breaks for Political Donors created powerful disincentives to innovation and honest work. The purblind Merger Mania of the Reagan Era sanctified the incestuous marriages of firms once strengthened by genuine competition. These bloated banks and corporations would give birth to a generation of subsidiaries and holding corporations, little lantern-jawed hemophiliac cretins featuring the expression of many a recessive gene unseen since royal monopolies and letters of marque in the Age of Empires. The executives would drift around in a tiny gene pool, and like the equally incestuous Habsburg Dynasty, they would preside over the end of empires they never built and rewarded handsomely for the destruction they wrought. Unlike the Habsburgs and Romanovs, it is a great pity these executives were not led down like Nicholas II and his terrified family into the basement and shot, a fate the executives deserved if the Romanovs did not.
The Reagan Deficits had little to do with taxation policy. Reagan went on a spending spree. Had he merely cut taxes, the story would end quite differently. Of course the confiscatory tax policy up to and including the Carter Era was bad for business. After every war comes a period of economic turmoil as the defense industries retrench into actual market-driven economics. Consider the Eisenhower years after WW2. The Ford and Carter years were our wind-down from the profligacy of Vietnam. Reagan reinvigorated the Cold War and in the words of Kurt Weill showed us the way to the next whiskey bar. Oh, don't ask why. Oh, don't ask why.
Globalization, like religion, is non-existent. It is a belief structure, supported by customs and traditions. All commerce has been "globalization" in one form or another. The archaeologists of North America tell us of a vast trade in seashells and turquoise. The Silk Road crossed some of the most hostile terrain on the planet and sustained several intermediate empires along its long route. The rise of the modern Europe is predicated on the voyages of Henry the Navigator, Vasco da Gama, Captain Cook and many another mariner who looked over the horizon for credulous natives who would trade glass beads and iron axes for beaver pelts. In the course of this pattern of trade, Europe converted whole tribes from hunter-gatherers into fur trappers. In our day, we trade paper promises for ready cash. As with the natives of North America who wised up and demanded rifles and gunpowder for their goods, the foreign markets also want more useful artifacts: America has become the world's largest exporter of weapons and ancillary technology, all to support its bad habits at home. But this is old news: when Reagan was selling arms to Iran, Fukuyama could not sing his praises loudly enough.
Fukuyama would tell us of the Core of this Current Crisis. In the words of Katherine Hankey the hymn writer he would "Tell me the old, old story of unseen things above," Any idiot can see the problem was not the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act but the continuing meddling of the Federal Reserve which created this crisis. Every time the money supply got tight and the economy got constipated, the Fed would dose it with the laxative of lower Fed Funds rates, lubricating the bowels of borrowing. The bankers knew credit was being extended to unworthy borrowers (most notably themselves) and created a private form of insurance for their dodgy loans. The collateralized debt obligations were and are only the tip of the iceberg. Below the waterline are all the closed lines of credit card debt, the Shylock student loans and the national debt, the true elephant in the room. These are the dirty secrets of this crisis. The CDOs are only a smoke screen. The filthy lies we are told about Victory in Iraq: that war has been financed entirely on borrowed funds, much of it from China.
The Chinese are holding our debt, and have good reason not to sell at this point, for as this credit crisis has developed, the value of the dollar has soared.
Fukuyama commences the last movement of this Silly Symphony with the leitmotif of Unscrupulous Companies like Enron. Phil Gramm and his wife, that pair of Judases, neatly eviscerated the gambling house rules and allowed the dealer to play both sides of the gaming table. The topology of electrical transmission lines allowed Enron and Duke Energy (another villainous gang who never appeared on the regulatory radars of the time) to quite literally turn out the lights on California. Much of California's current fiscal predicament can be traced back to the predatory pricing of the Enron era and Duke Energy figures large in that story. Duke Power wisely avoided going the IPO route, thereby avoiding Enron's fate. Where Enron lost, Duke gained, often at the expense of Enron. Completely shameless, Duke Energy (DUK) now argues it should get a share of the subprime bailout money for its "research and development" into coal gasification. Perhaps Duke Energy's share of any such bailout should be sent directly to the treasurer of the State of California as partial repayment for Duke Power's rapacious looting during the heyday of energy transmission contracts.
There is no condemnation so sincere as faint praise, and no apology so insincere as partial stipulation to the facts. Fukuyama says "All this [downside of deregulation, Enron et. al. ] suggests that the Reagan era should have ended some time ago. It didn't partly because the Democratic Party failed to come up with convincing candidates and arguments, but also because of a particular aspect of America that makes our country very different from Europe." This is precious nonsense. The Democratic Party did come up with convincing candidates. Bill Clinton was swept into office, following the ancient pattern of electing Democrats to do the dirty work of rebuilding shattered economies. Once things were good again and the whiskey bars were open, America went on another colossal toot. America returned to its idol-worshipping ways, electing our current feckless Idiot-in-Chief preferentially to thoughtful men like Al Gore and John Kerry. These men were not rejected because they were not convincing candidates. They were rejected because their messages were shouted down by the meretricious Bush Brigade. Well, we see now what the Connecticut Cowboy hath wrought. It is a bit late for Fukuyama to wring his hands and bemoan the choices of our less-educated working citizens and their predilections. The coalminers and car builders of Europe prefer socialism which operates on their behalf, not the American Neoliberal version of Corporate Socialism which provides subsidies, deregulation and tax evasion schemes for the executive class, the tormentors of the working man here in the Land of the Free.
The fact is, the poor of this country do not vote at all. The average voter in this country has a mortgage and makes more than 65,000 USD per year. It is therefore unsurprising to find our politicians have no incentive to toil on behalf of the poor. The poor have disenfranchised themselves. This process of disenfranchisement has always been assisted by various Republican-backed schemes to keep motor-voter laws off the books. Moreover, the insanity of our Electoral College ensures only a few states are genuinely swing states: the vast majority of rural America is unabashedly GOP, in no small measure due to the magnificent subsidies afforded them by our Free Market Republicans.
Mercifully we come at last to the finale of Fukuyama's symphonic disaster, where we are admonished in paragraphs of disjointed platitudes to remember Democracy has become a dirty word in the Middle East. He disingenuously inserts a nasty little lie, asserting Americans can "better identify with" Sarah Palin: the mob has always identified with its ringleaders, for ringleaders are merely the most rabidly vocal members of the mob who grab the megaphone. Sarah Palin is not in the conversion business, earnestly demonstrating the virtues of rural America. She is merely a rabble-rouser, in the pattern of Danton and Peter the Hermit. Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, they cry, one and all, and summary justice shall be dealt out swiftly to all who dare question our patriotism and faith. Sarah Palin is the apotheosis of Voltaire's Noble Savage, an entirely mythical creature, as the early trespassing settlers of the Ohio Valley would find out as they were scalped and burned alive. George Washington's Indian fighter Tanacharison (a prodigious liar who would claim the French boiled and ate his father) would commit the first atrocity of the French and Indian Wars, tomahawking a French ensign in the midst of parley. Sarah Palin is John McCain's Tanacharison, to the letter, an unscrupulous self-serving ally quite capable of uttering any lie and tomahawking any enemy when it serves her purposes.
Fukuyama, reaching into his copious sack of clichés, treats us to a repetition of the old Choice Before Us business, of the Harvard-educated Obama and the pedestrian education of the Republicans. George Bush was a Yale Skull and Bones legacy man and John McCain is no different: a Naval Academy legacy who only graduated (near the bottom of his class) because he was manifestly immune from expulsion by virtue of his illustrious forebears. In this, it really is the same old tiresome Choice Before Us, the Legacy Man wearing the Common Man clown suit, or the Scholarship Boy.
Here it gets a bit personal. Having been that Scholarship Boy both in prep school and university, I remember the Legacies and the scorn they heaped upon me for my old tweed jacket and JCPenney shoes. Now it seems the Legacy Boys have found their way to the same outlet stores in which I clothed myself in those days. The disguise is never convincing: they give themselves away with those Ferragamo loafers, as the Soviet-era spies posing as refugees always gave themselves away at the border processing station in Coburg: their hair-raising tales of political oppression and ragged clothing were belied by their shoes. It was almost too easy to spot them: for only the elites got the good leather shoes.
We never supported democracies, as Fukuyama tells us. No country truly supports another, for both are sovereign entities. Far more pragmatic considerations apply. When a two bit autocrat such as Emir Sabah of Kuwait, a man in possession of 300 chattel slaves from Sudan, was invaded by the regime of Saddam Hussein, we could not do enough to liberate him. So earnest was our prosecution of that war, we annoyed a shy Muslim man who detested our presence in his country. Though that boy had fought bravely against another secular tyranny, the Soviets in Afghanistan, and offered his services to his country against Saddam Hussein, he was politely refused: the Americans could do a better job. That shy man was Osama bin Ladin and his mujahideen would later fly a passenger aircraft into the Pentagon and perfect the art of the Improvised Explosive Device against moving targets in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our much-vaunted fight for democracy has produced two new Islamic Republics.
America does not need much more re-regulation. Even to an unreconstructed old Liberal like me, it seems quite obvious this burning house cannot be saved. It must burn down and be replaced. John McCain, an inveterate craps player, talks out of both sides of his mouth but this much can be said for certain: the bailout itself is an abstraction. The practical details of how this pile of largesse shall be distributed have not been worked out. Already, the Duke Energies of this wicked world are lined up, clad in rags, (doubtless procured at the same resale shops where the Connecticut Cowboy found his Common Man jeans and flannel shirts) but their costly Tony Lama boots are still on their unwashed and unrepentant feet. America needs more than a rebranding. A Maverick is an unbranded cow.
America's influence in the world will be restored anon, but only after a period of repentance and brutal self-examination. This is not a bit of cosmetic surgery or a gastric band tightened around the gullet of some obese patient. What's needed now is a period of spiritual repentance, what the Greek theologians called metanoia, a change in direction. Oh I do not mean spiritual in any specific religious sense: this repentance of which I speak is roughly analogous to the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, which begins with a heartfelt admission we are powerless over our addiction to credit and our lives have become unmanageable. We must see ourselves as we are seen, Good Time Charlies, hubristic poseurs with an entirely undeserved reputation as the World's Savior. All else is indeed lipstick on a pig.