from fareed zakaria in time mag:
"But this misses the broader point. The Harvard historian Niall Ferguson, who has just written a book, Civilization: The West and the Rest, puts things in historical context: 'For 500 years the West patented six killer applications that set it apart. The first to download them was Japan. Over the last century, one Asian country after another has downloaded these killer apps — competition, modern science, the rule of law and private property rights, modern medicine, the consumer society and the work ethic. Those six things are the secret sauce of Western civilization." U.S. Decline in Global Arena: Is America No Longer No. 1? - TIME
i have to laugh -- it's a repressed laugh -- at how the US fares in the secret sauce categories enumerated by this writer.
it's the great lie about modern crony capitalism that there's competition and consumer choice. the fact is closer to the opposite. only a few giant players in any industry, with ever-increasing consolidation, provide the choices we labor over. and what differentiates one item from the next is quality and price. those who can afford goods of value will have the best, while the rest settle for cheap, cheaply made crap. ever shopped for, say, a computer monitor? the truly good ones aren't sold at best buy. instead, the choices are for which bargain brand will do you for a couple of years, only to end up in the landfill as worthless junk.
modern science, on the other hand, is the basis for rising levels of productivity, as machines obsolete the human worker. this makes those with lots of capital to invest wealthy, while driving wages ever lower for "working" people -- if they can find meaningful work. in the US, we no longer make things, of course, with the notable exception of killing and state-security implements. we are somehow, as a consumer-driven economy, expected to generate 70 percent of the nation's GDP on a mcdonald's salary. this will not work long term, not to mention there's not much dignity for an adult in his/her prime working as career counter help.
the flip on the science thing is peoples' increasing dependence on the palliative of religion for sustenance in this period of economic and social upheaval. it's inevitable, i guess, that folks will turn to god and guns, as one politician quipped, when nothing else is going for them. the irony is that while the elites use technology to obsolete the working class, the working class abandons science for superstition, as if a hand will descend from a cloud to bestow goodies upon the elect. add to this the generalized irrational appeals to emotion these people are bombarded with from FOX news to explain their dire straits, and you see a general abandonment of enlightenment ideals, in favor of incitements to lash out against pointy-headed intellectuals who might have some understanding of their predicament and what policies might be beneficial.
rule of law and property rights should be split apart, since one is thriving while the other has ceased to function where it really counts.
we tend to think of the law applying to street-variety criminals, the guy with a handgun who holds up a liquor store. that aspect of the law still functions, though thoroughly sold out to the legal-judicial-prison industrial complex. the real criminals, on the other hand, the ones who are trying to crucify bradley manning and julian assange, are allowed to go about business as usual. whether it be war crimes and crimes against humanity, or the fraudulent, worldwide ponzi-scheme of the banking system, the people who ruin lives and poison the planet for personal gain have no fear of being called to account for their actions. they will without hesitation claim they're doing "god's work," which, were there a god, they'd be struck down for their impudence. read matt taibbi's work for rolling stone on how the banksters avoid accountability for their perfidy for a window into the law-less world they inhabit.
property rights, on the other hand, as sacrosanct. ditto contract law which enforces property rights. you may perceive property as your car or your house, but to the worldwide swindlers who've got real money in the game, the ability to go into a developing country, ravage the local economy and then exit with the spoils is a necessity in the racket we call the global economy. it is also the underlying cause of the worldwide insurrection we're now seeing being played out. in the US you see how bankers get bailouts, while they prepared for the collapse of the housing bubble when they rewrote the bankruptcy law in 2006, and congress obligingly passed it -- no questions asked.
consumer society and the work ethic are seen as the final pieces of the formula that brought about western domination of the world. this is an affront to people all over the world who work much harder than the bulk of lazy and corpulent americans to feed their families. the US has no great work ethic -- that was simply hungry foreigners, like my grandfather, who left the old country looking for a better deal. if he, and his mexican counterparts today, worked their asses off, they had a chance to rise above poverty, and could eventually achieve a relatively comfortable, middle-class existence. nowadays, the ass-busting immigrant is seen as an affront to the less-driven american worker who buys the exceptionalism propaganda they see on FOX news, that assures them they deserve a cushy lifestyle by maxing out the credit card and voting republican.
you see where this is going to end, right? the lazy american, given the once-over twice or cubed, gets left with crumbs while all the action shifts to asia -- where there's more to steal at the moment, and people haven't been raked over yet by the capitalists. thanks for the memories, fareed!