America is grappling with the predicament of this the strangest of all election years. Something old is over, something new is beginning; this requires examination. Articles, tweets, podcasts; vitriol, rage, humiliation sometimes. Sadness. Excitement. I entertain them all, unwelcome though some may be, while sitting as I am on the sidelines accompanied by my own quiet musings. Occasionally something sticks out as particularly perceptive – and I write about it. Enter Anis Shivani – and in Salon of all places; not an outlet I frequent often.
The essence of Anis’s reflections center on his impressions that this year – of all years – people are looking for something new; well perhaps something old really. Something they can feel and touch. Something natural.
An entity with earthly allure with whom they can identify: who builds buildings they can admire, who rages when they are angry, who speaks common sense when others cannot even classify gender. Who finally turns the tables to bully their tormentors.
Somebody who does not inhabit the murky world of power as a “dark force the market cannot account for”: an invisible hand that seems somehow to control the invisible hand these days. Folks who produce – well nothing really but yet feed on something in the darkness until they grow wealthy, obese. People have had enough of an economic system that exists outside their understanding, outside their control – outside their access.
It has the fragrance of nostalgia – Anis’s article does – pining for an era before the great soulless mega-corporations provided identical if inferior products to gender-neutral clientele; reassuring us with consistency – the consistency of plastic when what the people want is something wooden, handcrafted and time-honored with texture and history. Something from the earth around where they live, taken and molded with them in mind to serve their needs alone, to make their lives better. This is ironic (given the article’s publishers), because those emotions are conservatism’s calling card, to return to times before the madness. While the progressives usually allude to a Utopian tranquility beyond the turmoil; after the little tin gods have all been dethroned.
Both however are, unfortunately, illusions – eternal and persistent; and no ideas can inflame without a bête noire.
Which is where Anis stumbles; angst fixated as it is upon a bogeyman: “neo-liberalism”. Anis’s article used the word ‘globalization’ four times; ‘neoliberal’ eight times; ‘capital’ 18 times and ‘market’ 34 times. Capital, most egregiously, as some sort of nefarious entity that exists outside the power dynamics of the greedy – with its own personality and motivations. The main thesis is, “For the market to exist, as classical economics would have it, there must be free buyers and sellers, competitive prices, a marketplace that remains fixed and transparent, and none of these elements exist anymore in the neoliberal economy, which seeks to stamp out the last vestiges of resistance in the most forgotten parts of the world.” That the market – in its current form – exists beyond our consent, that people understand this, and that they are looking for somebody to wrestle it back under their dominion.
Nevertheless what Anis has said, perhaps inadvertently, does ring true: this isn’t free market capitalism. The “neo-liberalism” vilified has become a specter, a scapegoat. What he is talking about has another name though, crony capitalism, and an older name: mercantilism. The use of state coercive power to advance industries which have themselves become para-state enterprises; blessed as they are by the “dark forces the market cannot account for” who at the service of their greed want to deny people the right to choose. Because the only possible control for greed is competition – something the dark powers know well.
The article goes on, and you should read it; because it is indeed a remarkable year and we should all try to understand it. I end my quiet musings here; until the next time I encounter something particularly perceptive.