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Re: SC86

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February 23, 2009 09:02PM
http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=12418

Orwellian Doublethink: "Nationalize the banks." "Free Markets."
The language of deception

Banking shares began to plunge Friday morning after Senator Dodd, the Connecticut Democrat who is chairman of the banking committee, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television that he was concerned the government might end up nationalizing some lenders "at least for a short time." Several other prominent policy makers – including Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina – have echoed that view recently. (Eric Dash, "Growing Worry on Rescue Takes a Toll on Banks," The New York Times, February 20, 2009)

How is it that Mr. Greenspan, free-market lobbyist for Wall Street, recently announced that he favored nationalization of America’s banks – and indeed, mainly the biggest and most powerful? Has he "gone left"? Or are we dealing with the most recent exercise in Orwellian doublethink?

The answer is that the rhetoric of "free markets," "nationalization" and even "socialism" (as in "socializing the losses"winking smiley has been turned into the language of deception to help the financial sector mobilize government power to support its own special privileges. Having undermined the economy at large, Wall Street’s public relations think tanks are now dismantling the language itself.

The popular media should not let them get away with it.

Economic idealism from the left to the right wing of the political spectrum advocates a free market. But what does this mean? Is it what the classical economists advocated – a market free from monopoly power, business fraud, political insider dealing and special privileges for vested interests – a market protected by the rise in public regulation from the Sherman Anti-Trust law of 1890 to the Glass-Steagall Act and other New Deal legislation? Or is it a market free for predators to exploit victims without public regulation or economic policemen – the kind of free-for-all market that the Federal Reserve and Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) have created over the past decade or so? It seems incredible that people should accept today’s neoliberal idea of "market freedom" in the sense of neutering government watchdogs, Alan Greenspan-style, letting Angelo Mozilo at Countrywide, Hank Greenberg at AIG, Bernie Madoff, Citibank, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers operate freely enough to plunge the economy into crisis and then use Treasury bailout money to pay the highest salaries and bonuses in U.S. history.

Terms that are the antithesis of "free market" also are being turned into the opposite of what they historically have meant. Take today’s discussions about nationalizing the banks. For over a century nationalization has meant public takeover of monopolies or other sectors to operate them in the public interest rather than leaving them so special interests. But when neoliberals use the word "nationalization" they mean a bailout, a government giveaway to the financial interests.

We are dealing with an abuse of language of the kind that George Orwell described in 1984, a degradation of the vocabulary to mean the opposite of what it formerly meant in order to rewrite intellectual and political history along lines that serve the currently dominant vested interests: "The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became truth." Doublethink with regard to "nationalizing" or "socializing" the banks and other sectors is a travesty of political and economic discussion from the 17th through mid-20th centuries. Society’s basic grammar of thought, the vocabulary to discuss political and economic topics, is being turned inside-out in an effort to ward off discussion of the policy solutions posed by the classical economists and political philosophers that made Western civilization "Western."

Today’s clash of civilization is not really with the Orient; it is with our own past, with the Enlightenment itself and its evolution into classical political economy and Progressive Era social reforms aimed at freeing society from the surviving trammels of European feudalism. What we are seeing is propaganda designed to deceive, to distract attention from economic reality so as to promote the property and financial interests from whose predatory grasp classical economists set out to free the world. What is being attempted is nothing less than an attempt to destroy the intellectual and moral edifice of what took Western civilization eight centuries to develop, from the 12th century Schoolmen discussing Just Price through 19th and 20th century classical economic value theory.

Any idea of "socialism from above," in the sense of "socializing the risk," is old-fashioned oligarchy – kleptocratic statism from above. Real nationalization occurs when governments act in the public interest to take over private property. The 19th-century program to nationalize the land (it was the first plank of the Communist Manifesto) did not mean anything remotely like the government taking over estates, paying off their mortgages at public expense and then giving it back to the former landlords free and clear of encumbrances and taxes. It meant taking the land and its rental income into the public domain, and leasing it out at a user fee ranging from actual operating cost to a subsidized rate or even freely as in the case of streets and roads.

Nationalizing the banks along these lines would mean that the government would supply the nation’s credit needs. The Treasury would become the source of new money, replacing commercial bank credit. Presumably this credit would be lent out for economically and socially productive purposes, not merely to inflate asset prices while loading down households and business with debt as has occurred under today’s commercial bank lending policies..............

................The Treasury’s plan to "socialize" the banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions is simply to step in and take bad loans off their books, shifting the loss onto the public sector. This is the antithesis of true nationalization or "socialization" of the financial system. The banks and insurance companies quickly got over their initial knee-jerk fear that a government bailout would occur on terms that would wipe out their bad management, along with the stockholders and bondholders who backed this bad management. The Treasury has assured these mismanagers that "socialism" for them is a free gift. The primacy of finance over the rest of the economy will be affirmed, leaving management in place and giving stockholders a chance to recover by earning more from the economy at large, with yet more tax favoritism. (This means yet heavier taxes shifted onto consumers, raising their living costs accordingly.)

The bulk of wealth under capitalism – as under feudalism –always has come primarily from the public domain, headed by the land and formerly public utilities, capped most recently by the Treasury’s debt-creating power. In effect, the Treasury creates a new asset ($11 trillion of new Treasury bonds and guarantees, e.g. the $5.2 trillion to Fannie and Freddie). Interest on these bonds is to be paid by new levies on labor, not on property. This is what is supposed to re-inflate housing, stock and bond prices – the money freed from property and corporate taxes will be available to be capitalized into yet new loans.

So the revenue hitherto paid as business taxes will still be paid – in the form of interest – while the former taxes will still be collected, but from labor. The fiscal-financial burden thus will be doubled. This is not a program to make the economy more competitive or raise living standards for most people. It is a program to polarize the U.S. economy even further between finance, insurance and real estate (FIRE) at the top and labor at the bottom.

Neoliberal denunciations of public regulation and taxation as "socialism" is really an attack on classical political economy – the "original" liberalism whose ideal was to free society from the parasitic legacy of feudalism. A truly socialized Treasury policy would be for banks to lend for productive purposes that contribute to real economic growth, not merely to increase overhead and inflate asset prices by enough to extract interest charges. Fiscal policy would aim to minimize rather than maximizing the price of home ownership and doing business, by basing the tax system on collecting the rent that is now being paid out as interest. Shifting the tax burden off wages and profits onto rent and interest was the core of classical political economy in the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as the Progressive Era and Social Democratic reform movements in the United States and Europe prior to World War I. But this doctrine and its reform program has been buried by the rhetorical smokescreen organized by financial lobbyists seeking to muddy the ideological waters sufficiently to mute popular opposition to today’s power grab by finance capital and monopoly capital. Their alternative to true nationalization and socialization of finance is debt peonage, oligarchy and neo-feudalism. They have called this program "free markets."
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SC86

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