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The Conservative Agenda
The Surplus Population
Part III - Click Here
The new year opened auspiciously with the announcement of the revolutionary agenda of the "conservatives," responding to the "popular mandate" conferred by their "landslide victory" -- in which they gained 50.5 percent of the votes of the minority who took part and were overwhelmingly opposed by non-voters, while one-sixth of those who did vote regarded the outcome as "an affirmation of the Republican agenda" and one out of nine saw "a more conservative Congress" as an issue. Meanwhile large majorities, as usual, favored more government spending for domestic programs and more help for the poor, reduced military spending, and other traditional parts of the "liberal agenda" that the population had overwhelmingly repudiated, according to standard doctrine.1
1. The Conservative Agenda
The "conservatives" -- I'll adopt the term, reluctantly -- cannot be faulted for concealing what they have in mind. Their agenda hews closely to the traditional double-edged conception of markets, personal responsibility, freedom from government interference, and so on. The slogans are to be interpreted literally and harshly for everyone -- apart from the rich minority, who are exempt from such strictures. Quite the contrary. The interests of the privileged are to be enhanced by a powerful and interventionist "nanny state," which transfers vast public subsidies to them and otherwise caters to their whims. Newt Gingrich's conservative constituents in their wealthy Atlanta suburb cannot be expected to face market discipline. They must maintain their lead among recipients of public subsidies, so that they can bask in self-praise for their "independence" and "entrepreneurial values," and indulge in their "visceral distaste" for the federal government that fills their pockets with public funds -- without which, they would soon join the laggards and spongers they despise.2
Clinton's first response to the "conservative landslide" was to increase Pentagon spending, already high even by Cold War levels. He announced an increase of $25 billion over the next six years, directly contravening the public will; the Gingrich "Contract with America" calls for $60 billion. As well understood within the business community, the Pentagon is a central component of the "nanny state" -- for the rich, Gingrich's constituents in particular.
The new Republican leadership opened their campaign with plans for "welfare reform." The proposals are fine-tuned to the principles of class warfare. By far the largest entitlements (among those that are mentionable, that is) are Social Security and Medicare. But benefits under these programs are not class-based: not only the poor reach retirement age. Furthermore, funding of Social Security is sufficiently regressive to make it more tolerable. These huge and rapidly growing programs are therefore not on the "conservative agenda" -- for now; as policy marches on from containment of human rights and democracy to rollback, they too are unlikely to survive, since the wealthy can prosper without them. The programs that face radical cuts are food stamps, AFDC, and Medicaid. AFDC reaches 14 million people who are destitute, 9.7 million of them children; it has declined sharply since 1970, particularly since the Reagan years. Medicaid provides health care for 33 million people who cannot afford it. Though a small fragment of officially-recognized "welfare," these programs are designed to help people who are weak and defenseless, therefore subject to market discipline and the demands of "personal responsibility."
The reforms are still more finely honed. The food stamp program is likely to survive, the New York Times reports, because it has a "middle-class constituency that includes farmers, grocers, and the food industry generally." Agribusiness, great marketing chains, and the transnationals that dominate the food industry are a "middle class constituency" with human rights. But AFDC lacks these merits. Over five million children are to be deprived of its meager support, though they "would not be harmed" by losing their subsistence, Republican House leaders assure us, because "adults on welfare will protect their children by working or getting married" -- taking jobs that do not provide a living wage (if they even exist), and marrying men who can join the surging prison population when they fail to find work.3
The planned tax cuts reveal the same refined sensibility. They are designed to benefit "the truly wealthy," the Times editors accurately comment, including "capital gains tax cuts and depreciation write-offs for business" that will "run the deficit up even higher," and that should properly be called transfer payments from the poor to the rich. Other tax cuts are supposedly intended to benefit "the middle class." The category includes people who earn up to $100,000 a year (more than 96 percent of taxpayers) as the President defines the term, and up to $200,000 a year (more than 99 percent of taxpayers) under the Republican definition. That means "there is almost no one left to pick up the tab," so the burden is placed overwhelmingly on the shoulders of those least able to bear it. The major "middle class" tax cut a credit for dependent children, a regressive measure that offers little or nothing to people too poor to take advantage of it. That aside, it benefits primarily the rich: "Generally, the more income that taxpayers have, the more likely they are to have dependent children," the Times reports: "For instance, 55 percent of taxpayers with incomes from $100,000 to $200,000 in 1991 claimed at least one exemption for a dependent," as compared with 42 percent in the $30,000-$35,000 range (close to the actual "middle class").
The tax cuts too are hailed by their bipartisan advocates as a response to the popular will, which was revealed by a Harris poll after the elections. Two-thirds felt the state of the nation was not good. Their reasons varied, including high taxes -- selected by three percent.4
The "hidden welfare state" for the rich, with its huge entitlements concealed by tax deductions and other devious means, scarcely enters the debate over welfare reform. But it is by no means unaffected. "Buried in the House Republicans' `Contract with America' is a very sweet deal for the nation's big capital-intensive companies," the Wall Street Journal reported in December, reviewing an array of tax breaks and other devices that will "provide a sizable subsidy" to corporations, possibly eliminating taxable income entirely for large firms, and increasing the deficit in accord with the Reaganite version of "fiscal conservatism." The program is carefully crafted so that its impact will not be felt until 1997 -- coincidentally, after the presidential election, something we are not supposed to notice. IRS officials predict a cost to the taxpayer of over $14 billion a year by the end of the decade.
Reacting to the Gingrich Contract, Labor Secretary Robert Reich gave a speech last November in which he suggested ending "Corporate welfare as we know it"; it was reported in the business press abroad, and received a few words in the Wall Street Journal as well. The Journal returned to the topic a few weeks later in an article by Alan Murray on the tax breaks that "shower billions in benefits on the oil and gas, timber, cattle-breeding and real-estate industries and others," one minor component of the "nanny state" for the rich. Murray referred to "Mr. Reich's broadside against corporate welfare," noting that it "was quickly shot down by friendly fire" from the White House and Cabinet. The Administration had discussed cutting back the "$114 billion of spending over the next five years that benefits specific industries, as well as $110 billion in tax subsidies," some for single industries, some aimed at public funding of advertising and purchase of mansions (through tax subsidies). All such ideas are "going nowhere," however, and "already have been taken off the table."
The mood was symbolized at the first triumphal session of the new Congress, with the Gingrich army in charge. In a "half-hearted" gesture, House Democrats sought "to embarrass Republicans for declining to include a ban on lobbyists' gifts in the new rules," the Wall Street Journal mentioned on p. 16. There was also brief notice in the Times, quoting the reaction of the Commander-in-Chief himself. Gingrich said he'd "heard rumors that imply that they're just into sort of a fairly stupid strategy of cheap and nasty," which "makes one wonder just how dumb they think the American people are." Imagine how the public would react to the idea of making it harder for corporations to purchase votes in our model democracy.5
State governments are responding to the "popular mandate" the same way. In New York, a draft proposal of Governor-elect George Pataki's administration calls for a cut of over $1 billion in Medicaid, while Mayor Rudolph Giuliani proposed a 25 percent reduction in Medicaid and other help for the poor. To better comprehend these measures, one may bear in mind that in Manhattan the income gap between rich and poor is greater than in Guatemala, and within the U.S. is surpassed only by a group of 70 households in a former leper colony in Hawaii. The gap widened in the 1980s more than in any other county with over 50,000 people.6
The justification for such budgetary proposals is dual: the "popular mandate" that overwhelmingly opposes them, and the lack of funds. The mandate is beyond challenge: "Americans Like G.O.P. Agenda," a lead story is headlined in the New York Times, citing data showing that 65 percent of the public believe "the Government has a responsibility to take care of the poor" while 9 percent think "programs for poor children" should be decreased. Support for a balanced budget amendment is equally impressive: "22 percent, if it would require cuts in spending on education," and comparable figures if other cuts in social spending are contemplated.
Equally beyond challenge is the "fact" that there just isn't enough money available in this "lean and mean" age. Times are tough all over, particularly for the great corporations that are enjoying "dazzling" profits, Fortune magazine exults. Meanwhile Business Week worries over "The Problem Now: What To Do With All That Cash" (headline), as "surging profits" are "overflowing the coffers of Corporate America" and dividends are booming, thanks in large measure to profits from overseas operations (in the interest of "jobs for Americans"). Meanwhile the Census bureau reports that 95 percent of the population has lost income since 1989, with a 7 percent decline in median family income, continuing through the "Clinton recovery." Real hourly pay (including benefits) has fallen 1 percent a year for the median male since 1979, including the 1991-93 recovery years, labor economists Jared Bernstein and Lawrence Mishel report.7
Less delighted are city governments, which will face the problems created as federal government and the states shift benefits towards the wealthy even more than under the prevailing norms. Meeting in December, the U.S. Conference of Mayors reported that requests by needy people increased by 12 percent in 1994, requests for emergency shelter even more. 15 percent of requests for emergency food aid had to be denied, along with almost 1/4 of requests by homeless families, who remained homeless an average of 9 months. The Mayors' Conference called for an increase in federal assistance programs, responding to a different "popular mandate" than the one that is perceived by the political class and media elite: the popular mandate reflected consistently in polls but irrelevant to policy, which is "insulated from politics," to borrow a useful phrase from the London Economist.8
Another target is foreign aid, "already by far the lowest of any major industrialised country as a proportion of gross domestic product," the Financial Times observes, and virtually non-existent if we eliminate the grants to the primary recipient (Israel, a rich first world country, thanks to unprecedented subsidy from abroad) and the secondary beneficiaries, to make sure they play their role in guaranteeing U.S. control over Middle East energy reserves. Senator Mitch McConnell, who will chair the Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, announced that aid should be restricted to advancing "America's security and economic interests." That is overwhelmingly true already, but the principle must be implemented more harshly still. The pennies that go to Africa, for example, serve almost no useful purpose, merely helping human beings. While aid to most countries should be cut, McConnell announced, aid to the Middle East should be increased: primarily to Israel, then to other Middle East gendarmes.9
Also facing the axe are regulatory measures, mostly unenforced by the criminal state during the Reagan years, a primary reason for the collapse of unions and the sharp rise in industrial accidents, Business Week reported in an important cover story. New proposals aim to reduce or eliminate such "market distortions," which merely save lives at the cost of profits. These December 1994 announcements were exquisitely timed, coinciding with new disclosures about the effects of the failure to control predatory profit-seeking. On December 19, the Boston Globe reviewed the destruction of the Georges Bank fishing grounds off the New England coast, formerly one of the world's richest. Parts had to be closed completely in mid-December, with more drastic actions anticipated, in the hope that the fish population, virtually depleted, might recover -- a vain hope, many scientists fear. After the area was closed to foreign boats by a 200-mile fishing limit declared in 1976, U.S. fishing operations nearly doubled, spurred by government tax credits. The predictable result of state subsidy and lack of regulation was to decimate populations of cod, haddock, and other major stocks. Cod may become "virtually extinct," the Northeast Fisheries Science Center predicted. New England, the traditional home of codfish, is now importing its cod from Norway. The government of Norway "took strong measures to stop overfishing years ago," following a "different philosophical tradition from North America," one that allows the government, in the public interest, to place some controls on "economic actors" (Kare Bryn, director of the resources department in Norway's fisheries ministry). The "philosophical tradition" here is quite different, allowing the government only to offer massive protection and public subsidy to business interests in accord with our deep-seated libertarian commitments.
"In the 1980s," the vice-chair of the government Fishery Management Council concedes, "there was not enough conservation and too much concern about the impacts it would have" (on short-term profit, to be precise). "I think everybody regrets that now, but that's like crying over spilled milk." The regrets are revealed by the passionate dedication to dismantle what is left of the regulatory apparatus so as to maximize the scale of future tragedies.10
The day after this report was published, President Clinton announced his plans to implement the "conservative program," with cuts in government spending (apart from the Pentagon subsidy to the rich, which is to increase). The major cuts are to be in the Energy department, slowing down cleanup of nuclear waste, cutting research, and turning management of the petroleum reserve to "private enterprise" -- the term is even more of a joke than usual, in reference to the energy industry. The same day, the New York Times reported new scientific evidence on the depletion of the ozone layer and global warming. Satellite data revealed that industrial gases are the primary factor in depletion of the ozone layer, which scientists fear might spread over northern areas; and satellites also provided the most precise data yet available on rise of the sea level, showing it to be within the range predicted by global warming models. The potential threat to human life is not trivial.
Also on the same day, the staff of the House Health and Environment Subcommittee released a report reviewing tobacco industry data purporting to show that secondhand smoke is not a significant hazard in workplaces. The data had been a "significant element" in industry campaigns to bar regulation, the report observed. The data were "faked," according to workers who took the measurements. The conclusion was supported by the House committee's research staff and an independent review by a chemist at the Naval Research Laboratory. When the fakery is corrected, the hazard proves to be considerably higher. Is that a surprise, when an industry "regulates" itself? Perhaps to really dedicated commissars. Incoming chair Thomas Bliley of Virginia, "an industry champion" (Business Week), refused to comment.
Other efforts to save lives from depredations by the rulers are also to decline under the conservative regimen. Among other consequences, the Environmental Protection Agency and Occupational Safety & Health Administration are likely to lose much of their limited effect, and pharmaceutical prescriptions may not have to provide information about safe drug use. The basic plan is to impose conditions on any regulatory statute that will be almost impossible to meet: for example, largely meaningless "cost-benefit analyses" that can be extended without limit by corporate lawyers of even limited intelligence.
The human consequences are not hard to predict, but short-term profit will increase for the publicly-subsidized "private" sector of the economy. Civilization marches on.
Other proposed measures lead in the same direction. One component of the current crusade is to shift such government funding as remains to the states (outside of the expanding "nanny state" for the wealthy). It is anticipated that state governments will be much more susceptible to the influence of private tyranny, which overwhelms local populations in resources and can play one against another in the time-honored fashion. An illustration, reported just as the crusade was launched, is the effect of the decision by Congress in 1991 to transfer control over transportation funds to the states. Of the $35 billion that has gone to them so far, 96 percent was used for highway projects, in violation of the intent of the legislation to support mass transit, according to the chair of the House Committee on Public Works and Transporation, Norman Mineta, one of its authors. Some attribute this "massive institutional civil disobedience" to pressures from "entrenched highway construction interests," but a look back to the huge federal social engineering projects that destroyed public transportation and "suburbanized America" in the interests of dominant components of the corporate sector suggests broader goals. President Clinton's first proposed reductions should accelerate the process. "One such cut would reduce Federal spending for highway, bridge, airport and rail infrastructure for $5 billion and give the states more discretion on spending the rest" (NYT): "The end result could be more potholes and higher fares for many taxpayers." One can guess, perhaps, that mass transport will end up being the primary target, as plans reach practice.
The basic principles have long been familiar, and are sometimes articulated plainly enough. After a recent series of ferry disasters in the Baltic with hundreds of lives lost, the former president of Britain's Royal Institution of Naval Architects pointed out that measures to overcome the problems are well understood, but owners won't follow them "unless they are forced. You choose whether you have regulation or let thousands more people die." The stakes here are far greater, but the principle is the same. Short-term gain for the privileged few might be impaired if the welfare of the general population and future generations is taken into consideration, and under the "civilized values" that Newt Gingrich and other rollback advocates seek to instill, the relative weights are clear.11
2. The Surplus Population
When the doctrines of contemporary "neoliberalism" were crafted in early 19th century England, the message to the population was clear and simple: under capitalism, you have no rights, apart from what your labor will bring in the market. A person without independent wealth "has no claim of right to the smallest portion of food, and, in fact, has no business to be where he is," Malthus proclaimed in highly influential work. It is a "great evil" and violation of "natural liberty" to mislead the poor into believing that they have further rights, David Ricardo held, outraged at this assault against the principles of economic science, which are as immutable as the principles of gravitation, he held, and against the moral principles on which the science rests, no less exalted. The message is simple. You have a free choice: the labor market, the workhouse prison, death, or go somewhere else -- as was possible when vast spaces were opening thanks to the extermination and expulsion of indigenous populations.12
The doctrines are being revived, but under radically different conditions. Ricardo's "science" was founded on the principle that capital is more or less immobile and labor highly mobile. We are enjoined today to worship the consequences of Ricardo's science, despite the fact that the assumptions on which they are based have been reversed: capital is highly mobile, and labor virtually immobile -- libertarian conservatives lead the way in rejecting Adam Smith's principle that "free circulation of labor" is a cornerstone of free trade, in keeping with their contempt for markets (except for the weak). Other assumptions of the "science" are so radically false that the whole topic is hard to take seriously: among them, the abstraction from severe market distortions resulting from the centrally-managed transactions of the huge corporate structures that dominate the international economy, and the reliance on the "nanny state" that has been such a decisive factor in economic growth and the specific forms it has taken throughout history, and remains so.
The science originated as a weapon of class warfare, has been adapted for similar ends over the years. It is returning to its origins today as the prospects for rollback improve, narrowing substantially the choices for the growing population who lack rights by doctrinal decision -- termed "science" or "natural law."
The surplus population has to be kept in ignorance, but also controlled. The problem is faced directly in the Third World domains that have long been dominated by the West and therefore reflect the guiding values of the masters most clearly: here favored devices include death squads, "social cleansing," torture, and other techniques of proven effectiveness. At home, more civilized methods are (still) required. The superfluous population is to be cooped up within urban slums that increasingly resemble concentration camps, or if that fails, sent to prisons, the counterpart in a richer society to the death squads we train and support in our domains. Under Reaganite enthusiasts for state power, the number of prisoners in the U.S. almost tripled, leaving our main competitors, South Africa and Russia, well behind -- though Russia has just caught up, now that they are mastering the values of their American tutors.13
The bipartisan crime bill should facilitate the process of controlling the unwanted population, with its vast new expenditures for prisons, sharp increase in the death penalty, and much harsher sentencing procedures. Again, this is an acceptable form of state action, serving the social function of population control and providing yet another Keynesian stimulus to the economy: to the construction industry, lawyers, security personnel, and so on. The public subsidy of the "crime industry" is coming to approach the scale of the Pentagon, though it is less favored: its benefits are not so sharply skewed towards the wealthy. Nonetheless, it's reasonable that Gingrich's Contract should call for expanding this aspect of the war against the general public.
The crime rate has not changed significantly for twenty years, and recently has declined, if official figures can be taken seriously. The FBI reported in early December that crime rates in 1994 decreased to the lowest level since 1986 for overall crime, since 1990 for violent crime, and since 1985 for property crime (though white collar crime is only sporadically reported). But punishment has gone up fast, as the rate of incarceration shows, and in highly restricted ways, targeting the most vulnerable sectors, mainly Blacks and Latinos; the close race-class correlation in the U.S. makes the procedure only more natural. These sectors are regarded as a criminal population, one leading criminologist, William Chambliss, concludes from recent studies, including direct observation by students and faculty in a project with the Washington police. That's not exactly correct. Criminals are supposed to have constitutional rights, but as his on-the-scene studies show, these communities do not. They are effectively under military occupation. "Young Black and Latino men living in America's ghettos and barrios are under siege from, and at war with, the police," Chambliss writes.
The 1994 Crime Bill is designed to increase the prison population and the costs of maintaining it, with little if any effect on crime. The "three strikes" provision ensures that people will remain in prison long past the age when criminal actions are likely, as has much research has shown; and the aging population will either require minimal (and costly) care or be left to die, in keeping with expansion of the right to kill granted to state authority under contemporary libertarian doctrine. The Crime Bill also ends funding for vocational and other training (Pell Grants), slight expenditures that markedly decrease recidivism and prison violence. Such measures make no sense as part of a "war against crime." They make a lot of sense, however, as part of a war against the population, with two aspects: removal of people superfluous for profit-making, and control of the large majority targeted for reduction of quality of life and opportunity, who must be somehow frightened into submission to authority.14
The largely fraudulent "drug war" has served as an effective device for this population control program. Criminalization of drugs has increased crime -- including crime by government agencies from local police to the CIA -- though studies show no effect on drug availability or use, and decriminalization, where it has been tried, seems to have increased neither. In 1992, nearly 30 percent of state and over 55 percent of federal prisoners were convicted on drug charges (a third for marijuana). Two-thirds of these arrests were for possession, not sale or manufacture. One finds few executives of banks or chemical corporations in prison, though banks are surely involved in money laundering -- a banking subsidiary of American Express just paid $32 million in a settlement in a money-laundering case, with no criminal charges15 -- and the government estimates that more than 90 percent of the chemicals used to produce cocaine come from the United states. A Reagan-era CIA study concluded that U.S. exports of such chemicals to Latin America far exceed amounts used for any legal commercial purpose, concluding that they are diverted to heroin and cocaine production.
It has been well-documented that the drug business has trailed U.S. subversive and counterinsurgency activities quite closely since the CIA helped re-establish the Mafia-run heroin racket in France after World War II as part of the program to undermine the labor movement and the anti-fascist resistance. The reasons are also too well known to recount. The latest phase, unsurprisingly, involves Afghanistan, where the U.S. spent billions of dollars through the 1980s in support of the Islamic fundamentalist extremist Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who has taken the lead in tearing to shreds what remained of the shattered country after the Russian invaders withdrew. The Far Eastern Economic Review reports that 1994 opium production in Afghanistan is the biggest crop the world has ever seen, enabling Afghanistan and Pakistan (the base for the CIA operations) to win first place in world heroin-production, overtaking the Golden Triangle that gained that status as a by-product of U.S. subversion and aggression a generation ago.
"It is now widely accepted," the Review reports, "that the U.S. deliberately played down heroin production by the mujahideen during these years" (1980-89), causing at least one DEA agent to resign in disgust because of the CIA's protection of known druglords. One consequence is that Pakistan, with no significant drug problem in 1980, now has perhaps as many as 2 million heroin addicts, while heroin-export earnings amount to about 20 percent of its formal exports, a UN report estimates. Most of the heroin produced ends up in the United States.
The leading drug-producing center in the Western hemisphere, Colombia, gives more insight into the nature of the "drug war." The leading human rights violator in the hemisphere, Colombia also receives the most U.S. military aid, now more than half of what goes to the entire hemisphere, increasing under Clinton. The Jesuit-based Justice and Peace Bulletin just published a study of human rights abuses during the last year of the administration of Cesar Gaviria, Washington's favorite, recently imposed as Secretary-General of the OAS in a Washington power-play that was much resented. The general picture is horrendous, as before, but the "anti-drug strategy" is particularly relevant here. Colombia had two major cartels: Medellin and Cali. The Medellin cartel, the Bulletin reports, "evolved out of popular low class origins with a marked tendency to show off its wealth ostentatiously and act in a `Robin Hood'-like manner, implementing social projects in poor areas of the city and with a military apparatus separate from and threatening and aggressive towards the government," which is regarded as an enemy by much of the population. The Cali cartel, "with aristocratic upper class roots, discreet and careful to camouflage and blend its wealth in with that of the country's well-to-do industrialists and businessmen, infiltrated into all of the government's spheres of influence and power with a military apparatus allied and coordinated with government armed forces."
The two cartels were accorded very different treatment. The Gaviria administration destroyed the Medellin cartel in military operations that involved massacres, large-scale torture, disappearances, and illegal arrests. The Cali cartel has had a more pleasant fate, including leaders who were "involved in horrible massacres carried out in alliance with members of the armed forces." It now enjoys "absolute territorial domination and control" in major drug-producing regions, where paramilitary groups allied with the military have established "veritable strongholds."
Nevertheless, the Cali cartel is harshly treated in comparison to the leading narcotrafficking mobsters. It is conventional and convenient to externalize the issue, focusing attention on evil creatures in foreign lands who poison our children and destroy our cities. A useful corrective is offered in a study by the OECD (the organization of the wealthy industrial societies), reviewed in Mexico's main journal Excelsior by Apolinar Biaz-Callejas of the Andean Commission of Jurists and the Latin American Association for Human Rights. The OECD study found that "the money produced by drug trafficking throughout the world reached $460 billion in 1993, of which the U.S. received $260 billion, which is circulated through its financial system, in contraband, and through other ways. Colombia, as a producer-exporter, gets only $5 to $7 billion, or 2 to 3 percent of what remains in the U.S. The big business is, therefore, in that country," veiled in anonymity and beyond reach of law.16
At home, both criminal law and police practice are "blatantly racist," Chambliss concludes. Blacks constitute two-thirds of prisoners in state prisons convicted of drug offenses and 40 percent of all drug arrests, though more Whites than Blacks use illegal drugs and more than 80 percent of the population is White. Possession of a small amount of crack cocaine, the drug of choice in the ghetto, "carries a mandatory five-year prison sentence without the possibility of parole but possession of a hundred times that amount of cocaine powder (the drug of choice of the white middle class) has no mandatory sentence."
While crime has not changed much in scale or character in the last twenty years, perceptions have. The perceptions did not precede and motivate government crime laws, as has been claimed by James Q. Wilson and other conservative scholars. Rather, as polls show, concerns were stimulated by right-wing political elements, primarily from the 1960s. In that period, Chambliss points out, crime could serve as "a smokescreen" to conceal other issues "as well as legitimation for legislation designed primarily to suppress political dissent and overturn Supreme Court decisions."
Blacks are particularly targeted because they are defenseless and have little influence. And engendering fear is, of course, a standard method of population control, whether the chosen targets are Blacks, Jews, immigrants, homosexuals, or whatever. These are the basic reasons, it seems, for the growth of "the crime control industry." Not that crime isn't a real threat to safety and survival. It certainly is, particularly for the poor. But the problem is not being addressed; rather, used as a method of population control, in various ways.
Children are also vulnerable and defenseless, hence another fit target for conservatives-on-the-march. The matter has recently been addressed in several important books, one a 1993 UNICEF study by U.S. economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett that deals with child care in rich societies, another by the Canadian writer Linda McQuaig, the #1 bestseller in Canada for 23 weeks.17 Studying the past 15 years, Hewlett finds a sharp split between Anglo-American societies and those of continental Europe and Japan; McQuaig finds the same effect, and focuses on the consequences for Canada as it shifts towards the Reagan-Thatcher model. This model, Hewlett writes, has been a "disaster" for children and families; the European-Japanese model, in contrast, has improved their situation considerably. Both authors attribute the Anglo-American "disaster" to the ideological preference for free markets. That's only half true: whatever one chooses to call the reigning ideology, it is unfair to tarnish the good name of "conservatism" by applying it to this form of violent, lawless, reactionary statism, which despises markets almost as much as it does democracy and freedom.
Causes aside, there isn't much doubt about the effects of the free market for the weak, what Hewlett calls the "anti-child spirit [that] is loose in these lands" subjected to the "neglect-filled Anglo-American model," which has largely privatized child-rearing while making it effectively impossible for most of the population. The result is a predictable disaster for children and families, while in the "much more supportive `European' model," social policy has strengthened support systems for families and children.
It's no great secret. A Blue-Ribbon Commission of the National Association of State Boards of Education and the American Medical Association concluded in 1990 that "Never before has one generation of children been less healthy, less cared for or less prepared for life than their parents were at the same age" -- though only in the Anglo-American societies, where an anti-child, anti-family spirit has reigned for 15 years under the guise of "conservatism" and "family values." This is yet another triumph of the "bought priesthood," as the independent working class press referred to the intellectual servants of power a century ago, before free expression was overcome by state repression and market forces.
Conservatives are not devoted only to children and families, but also to the "middle classes," which have declined under their rule to levels well below those of comparable countries (Japan, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, etc.) as society is split more sharply into rich and poor. The gap has so widened that the director of the respected Luxembourg Income Study, U.S. economist Timothy Smeeding, shocked Congress with data showing that the U.S. tolerates "a level of disadvantage unknown to any other major country on earth."18
New York City, mentioned earlier, happens to be an extreme case, but the pattern is quite general, and even extends to U.S. domains. Latin America is the region of traditional U.S. influence. It also has the most extreme inequality in the world, thanks in large measure to specific policies designed to prevent a form of "economic nationalism" which, it was feared, would lead to more egalitarian and independent development. The current favorites are typical in that regard, from Mexico to Argentina.
Mexico's neoliberal achievements were lauded effusively until the bubble burst in recent weeks. The achievements included slow economic growth despite a huge flow of foreign assistance to make the miracle work, falling real wages, and growing inequality. The Mexican government concedes that "the number of citizens living below the poverty line has increased from 13 million in 1990 to 24 million in 1994." Closely tracking this impressive record, the number of billionaires rose from 13 in 1993 to 24 in 1994 (as compared with one in 1987). So Forbes magazine reported in its annual review of the "swelling roster of global billionaires" in the global economy, so short of capital that the great mass of the population must be crushed. The Mexican billionaires achieved their exalted status mostly in league with the state authorities. The biggest gift horse has been "privatization": the giveaway of public resources, "under very generous terms for investors," political economist John Summa observes with cautious understatement. Economist David Barkin adds that "the privatization of Mexico's government holdings was systematically channeled to President Salinas' `cronies,' to use Business Week's expression, in a cynical abuse of the process in which it is rumored that the President himself is a major participant enjoying enormous wealth as a result of his private holdings." There is also a great inflow of foreign capital, most of it going into "short-term speculative holdings rather than into directly productive investments."
In Argentina, also highly praised for its progress under World Bank tutelage, real wages dropped 30 percent since 1980, income inequality increased radically, and "the social expenditures by the public sector benefit more the upper levels of the social pyramid than the lower levels," a confidential World Bank study reported. As in Mexico, the laws of neoliberal science, still as immutable as the principles of gravitation, are functioning as they have throughout history.
Among the developed societies, the top-ranking U.S. client and by far the leading recipient of U.S. aid is Israel, which also has extreme economic inequality (by First World standards). It is increasing under the neoliberal policies of the Labor government. In 1992, the number of families below the poverty line increased by over 14 percent, almost 6 percent more in 1993, now reaching about 650,000 people, 280,000 of them children. The figures include only 45 percent of Palestinian citizens, of whom over a third were below the poverty line. Uncounted also are the poor in agricultural settlements and those considered to be self-employed.19
The consistency is difficult to miss, though not to explain.
Within the ideological system, it is claimed that equality and economic growth are in conflict: we choose one or the other, and our commitment to growth along the lines pioneered by our hero Adam Smith has the unfortunate consequence of engendering inequality, though all ultimately gain as wealth increases. There are a few problems with the theory. One is that equality is a significant factor contributing to growth, as is conceded even by the World Bank, despite its dedication to anti-egalitarian policies. Another is that the model that U.S. leaders have imposed abroad, and seek to duplicate as far as possible here, has led to extreme misery and impoverishment even after long "experiments" -- a rather consistent effect of the "experiments" conducted by the masters, over centuries. A third problem is that the hero at whose shrine we worship would have been appalled by the argument. A pre-capitalist thinker with roots in the Enlightenment, Smith based his argument for markets on the belief that under "perfect liberty" there would be a natural tendency towards equality, a condition for efficient market function. One can hardly say that his argument has been empirically refuted, given the extreme remoteness of "really existing capitalism" from liberty, as understood by classical liberalism.20
A symbolic expression of the disaster for families is the fate of the International Convention on Rights of the Child, adopted by the United Nations in November 1989 and ratified by 162 countries, but not the United States -- though for fairness we should add that contemporary conservatism is catholic in its anti-child spirit. A decade ago the World Health Organization voted 118 to 1 to condemn the Nestle corporation's aggressive marketing of its infant formula in the Third World. Well aware of the likely toll in infant disease and death, the Reagan White House cast the sole negative vote, leading the way in the noble cause of free market capitalism and family values.21
Another symbolic expression is a new line of Hallmark Greeting Cards. One, to be placed under a cereal box in the morning, reads: "Have a super day at school." Another, placed on the pillow at night, says: "I wish I were there to tuck you in." Parents aren't home, one effect of the "anti-child, anti-family spirit" engendered by double-edged "conservatism."
In part, the disaster for families and children is a direct consequence of falling wages. For much of the population, both parents have to work 50-60 hours a week merely to provide necessities. And the elimination of "market rigidities" means that you work extra hours at lower wages -- or you may watch your children starve: all strictly voluntary, of course, in our free society. It doesn't take a genius to predict the consequences, and the statistics show them. Stanford University economist Victor Fuchs estimates that U.S. children have lost 10-12 hours of parental time per week between 1960 and 1986. Total contact time dropped 40 percent in the past generation, leading to deterioration of parent-child relations and family identity and values; increased reliance on TV for child supervision; "latchkey children" with rising child alcoholism, drug use, and criminality; violence by and against children; and other obvious effects on health, education, and ability to participate in a democratic society -- even survival.
The conservative war against children and families is taking on a still more bitter cast with the reduction of government support for low-income housing, which declined 80 percent in real terms from 1979 to 1988, becoming "the main cause of an acute housing shortage that now stretches across the nation," Hewlett observes. The U.S. is also unusual among developed societies in not providing health care for mothers; about half of the 40,000 deaths of infants before their first birthday is attributed to lack of adequate prenatal care, more difficult to obtain today than in 1975. The U.S. "is unique in its lack of provision for childbirth," Hewlett continues, one reason why infant mortality rates are so much lower elsewhere. Rights and benefits for working parents when a child is born are also sharply restricted as compared with other rich nations. Approximately 30 percent of babies in the U.S. and 20 percent in Britain "are deprived of that precious time" that most specialists assume to be "the minimally adequate period of time for a parent to bond with a new child." Lack of job protection after childbirth is "a large part of the reason why working mothers in the United States lose from 13 to 20 per cent of their earning power after giving birth to a first child," a catastrophe for many parents in an era of falling wages, benefits, and security, and ever more onerous work demands. Day care and pre-school arrangements are also minimal by comparative standards.
But things are sure to improve now that Mr. Family Values is in charge. Gingrich has not yet announced legislation to authorize state kidnapping of children of the undeserving poor for placement in orphanages, but he will "reaffirm the importance he places on family life," he said, by forming a committee that will include children and spouses of some House members "to figure out a legislative schedule more compatible with family life."22
Some of the consequences of the war against children and families do receive a huge amount of attention, in a most enlightening way. As the 1994 election approached, major journals were lavishing attention on several new books expressing deep concern over (alleged) declines of IQ and scholastic achievement. The New York Times devoted an unusually long lead article in the weekly book review to several books on the topic, primarily the The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, a book that is "being seriously compared" to Darwin's Origin of Species, a reviewer in Forbes magazine breathlessly proclaimed. The Times reviewer was its science writer Malcolm Browne, who opens by warning that a "government or society that persists in sweeping their subject matter under the rug will do so at its peril." There is no mention of the UNICEF study (nor have I seen one elsewhere); or of any of the numerous studies that deal with the war against children and families waged under the banner of conservatism and family values.
What, then, is the question that we ignore at our peril? It turns out to be quite narrow. IQ is claimed to be genetically determined in significant measure, which will lead to a "hereditary meritocracy"; and still more ominous, linked to race, with the less intelligent breeding like rabbits and fouling the gene pool. Perhaps Black mothers don't nurture their children because they "evolved in the warm but highly unpredictable environment of Africa," the author of one of the books reviewed suggests. This is real hard science, which we ignore at our peril. But we may -- indeed must -- ignore the social policies based on free markets for the poor and state protection for the rich -- the fact, for example, that in the city where such articles appear, the richest in the world, 40 percent of children now live below the poverty line, with little hope of escape from misery and destitution. Could that have something to do with measures of IQ and achievement, or the other consequences of the war against children and families discussed in many unmentionable studies? Such questions we may readily ignore: a natural decision by the rich and powerful, addressing one another and seeking justifications for the class war they are conducting and its human effects.23
The intensity of the effort to lend credibility to the preferred conclusions, particularly on the part of those who profess to be appalled by them, is an intriguing phenomenon. The editors of the Times Book Review, mostly committed liberals no doubt, selected three books on science in their annual list of "Best Books" for 1994, all devoted to a single science. The choices were so obvious that there was little dispute, they report. "The science is, broadly, evolutionary biology or specifically, sociobiology, which, once it gets into your brain, can really spook you about genetics." What "spooks you" is human sociobiology, not the study of complex molecules and ants, about which science actually has something to say.24
One choice is a memoir by Edward Wilson, "one of the founders of sociobiology" with "his seminal 1975 book `Sociobiology'" -- which has interesting material on simpler organisms, and ends with a few pages of speculations on human sociobiology. The field was actually founded 85 years earlier by the leading anarchist thinker Peter Kropotkin, also a natural scientist, in seminal work that led to his classic Mutual Aid: a Factor of Evolution, published in 1902. His studies criticized the conclusions on "struggle for existence" drawn by the noted Darwinian T.H. Huxley, who never responded publicly, though in private he wrote that Kropotkin's prominently-published work was "very interesting and important." Kropotkin's Darwinian speculations about the possible role of cooperation in evolution, with their implications for anarchist social organization, remain about as solid a contribution to human sociobiology as exists today. But somehow this work has not entered "the canon"; one can hardly imagine why.25
The editors' second choice is Robert Wright's Moral Animal, which relies on "the science of evolutionary psychology" in an effort to show that "the source of human morality is genetic." The general thesis is sure to shock anyone who thought that humans are indistinguishable from rocks and birds. Specific versions of the thesis could be interesting and important, though what evolutionary psychology has to say of any substance would hardly "spook" any rational reader.
The most illuminating of the choices of the editors is the one they list first: Steven Pinker's Language Instinct, "which seems to doom the liberal notion that human behavior can be made better by improvements in culture and environment," a frightening conclusion indeed. What exactly is it that "dooms the liberal notion" that culture and environment influence behavior? The book reviews evidence supporting the thesis that the capacity for human language appears to be a species-property in essentials, surprisingly independent of other cognitive abilities, and a common human possession over a very broad range. As for the use of these apparently common human abilities, nothing is known beyond environmental factors (you speak English or Japanese, etc.). It is hardly in doubt that such factors also lead to striking differences in ability to make use of the abilities with which we are genetically endowed, though again, it would surprise no sane person if some genetic factor were discovered that has a detectable effect in distinguishing me from a poet -- or violinist, or quantum physicist, or auto mechanic, or anyone with skills I lack. How the editors draw their conclusions from work that offers them no particle of support, indeed undermines them to the extent that anything is understood, they unfortunately do not tell us.
Also intriguing is the way the editors seek to buttress their imaginative constructions. The book, they say, "gathers data from many fields -- including cognitive neuroscience, developmental psychology and speech therapy -- to demonstrate that the roots of language are in our genes," which again will come as a great shock to everyone who thought that humans were indistinguishable from rocks and birds. The author places this conclusion "firmly...in the framework of Darwinian natural selection," which has nothing to say about the topic: simply try to draw some conclusion about language from the theory. The other subjects mentioned, particularly developmental psychology, do make a contribution, but the evidence comes overwhelmingly from linguistics, as the book makes clear. That, however, lacks the proper panache for the ideological purposes at hand.
It's hardly necessary to review once again the misrepresentation and elementary fallacies in the work on IQ that we ignore "at our peril," exposed years ago when the game became popular and now repackaged for today's purposes -- always eliciting much praise for the courage of the authors in lining up with the powerful and "breaking the censorship" imposed by the radical extremists who run the universities and the press. Even if we grant every factual conclusion for which some shred of evidence is claimed, nothing of interest follows, except on assumptions that reflect ideological fanaticism, not science. Specifically, the topic of "meritocracy" is not even addressed unless we grant the tacit assumption that there is something "meritorious" about the particular array of traits, perhaps partially inherited (though nothing relevant is known), that confer power and prestige under particular social arrangements: in some societies, a penchant for torture and murder; in ours, some combination of greed, cynicism, obsequiousness and subordination, lack of curiosity and independence of mind, self-serving disregard for others, and who knows what else, as reflected quite vividly by income distributions and the contributions to society at the high end.
These trivialities aside, one striking finding of the studies reviewed is how poorly IQ correlates with socioeconomic status, possibly a consequence of the fact that it is designed to measure academic success, which is probably correlated only weakly with whatever it is that leads to wealth and privilege under the particular conditions of state capitalist society. If the real factors were studied, possibly better measures could be designed.
One conclusion drawn is that IQ is heritable; according to Bell Curve author Charles Murray, 60% heritable, which means that "60 percent of the I.Q. in any given person" is "heritable." Murray's statement is meaningless, but presumably he is intending to convey the idea that 60 percent of the I.Q. of a particular individual is determined by the genes. Many others have drawn the same conclusion, based on an elementary error that has been repeatedly pointed out, among others, by Robert Wright. He correctly observes that a trait can be highly heritable whatever its genetic component; say, 100% heritable with no genetic component (whatever that means exactly; it is not a clear notion of biology). To borrow an example from Ned Block, "some years ago when only women wore earrings, the heritability of having an earring was high because differences in whether a person had an earring was due to a chromosomal difference, XX vs. XY." No one has yet suggested that wearing earrings, or ties, is "in our genes," an inescapable fate that environment cannot influence, "dooming the liberal notion."
The case for group differences is no stronger, not that it would matter in a non-racist society were it true. Take the famous 15 percent deficiency in Black I.Q., which results from some interaction of genetic endowment and environment. About genetic factors that might conceivably be involved, science knows nothing. About environments, a good bit is known, in particular, about the effects of adverse and supportive environments, from the pre-natal stage on. In the absence of any relevant information about unknown genetic factors, or any serious way to measure how such factors (were they to exist, and become known) might interact with environmental conditions, the evidence presented in the Bell Curve is entirely compatible with the conclusion that IQs of Blacks are 15 points higher than those of Whites, or any other number one prefers on ideological grounds. Furthermore, still accepting all the factual claims, nothing follows about long-term social tendencies unless we assume that the natural state of a person is to vegetate, unless driven by transmittable material reward.26
As for Malcolm Browne's great fears, they are readily alleviated. Suppose again we grant the most ominous facts he conjures up about decline of IQ and achievement, and its causes. There's an easy solution to the problem: simply bring here millions of peasants driven from the countryside in China under the "reforms," and radically reduce Browne's income and that of his friends and associates, making sure to deprive their daughters of opportunities and education, while Black mothers are placed in Manhattan high rises and granted every advantage. Then the Asian influx will raise the IQ level; and as serious inquiry demonstrates, the fertility rate of Blacks is very likely to drop while that of the children of the journalistic elite, Harvard psychology professors, and associates of the American Enterprise Institute will rapidly rise. The problem is solved; there is nothing to fear.
In part I of this series, last month, I quoted two medical researchers on the well-known fact that "development of the brain is strongly influenced by the quality of the nourishment and nurturance given to infants and children," among other effects of "adverse environments" early in life that can lead "to permanent defects in memory and learning." The scale and character of such effects is scarcely understood, but there are all too many illustrations. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FA0) predicts that "Nicaragua's next generation will be smaller, weaker, and less intelligent than today's population," Oxfam reports. Is that a sudden genetic malady? Or the effects of policies designed by people at the peak of the income distribution, exercising the high intellectual and moral standards of the "meritocracy"? Those too are questions that we may readily ignore.27
The only interesting question about the fascination with these topics is what function it serves, a question that is -- again -- not to hard to answer.
These are some of the uglier forms of population control. In the more benign variant, the rabble are to be diverted into harmless pursuits by the huge propaganda institutions, half-American, which spend hundreds of billions of dollars a year to convert people into atoms of consumption and obedient tools of production (when they are lucky enough to find work) -- isolated from one another, lacking even a conception of what a decent human life might be. That's important. Normal human sentiments have to be crushed; they are inconsistent with an ideology geared to the needs of privilege and power, which celebrates private profit as the supreme human value, demands that all submit to "economic laws," except for the wealthy, who merit special protection and care from the powerful state that they control -- a truism to Adam Smith, a "Marxist obscenity" in the intellectual world concocted by the self-styled "cognitive elite" today.
I'll return in the next installment to more general commentary on background for the rollback crusade, its prospects, and the internal problems it faces.
|Go to Part III. Go back to the archive.|
1 Counterpunch, Dec. 1; Thomas Ferguson, Nation, Dec. 26, 1994. See "Rollback I," Z, Jan. 1995 for references not given here or below.
2 Ibid. Newsweek, Nov. 28, 1994.
3 Ann Devroy and Bradley Graham, WP weekly, Dec. 11, 1994. Robert Pear, NYT, Dec. 30, 1994; Jan. 2, 1995. Ian Fisher, NYT, Dec. 26, 1994.
4 Editorial, NYT, Dec. 21; David Rosenbaum, NYT, Dec. 14, 1994.
5 Alan Murray, WSJ, Dec. 5, 1994. Phil Kuntz and Jackie Calmes, WSJ; Adam Clymer, NYT, Jan. 5, 1995.
6 Lucinda Harper, WSJ, Dec. 5; Sam Roberts, NYT, Dec. 25, 1994.
7 Maureen Dowd, NYT, Dec. 15; BW Dec. 12, 1994. Robert Kuttner, BG, Jan. 2, 1995. Clay Chandler, WP weekly, Dec. 26, 1994. Bernstein and Mishel, State of Working America, 1994-95 (EPI); URPE Newsletter, Fall 1994. The 13 percent decline I reported in the January issue and the source cited was an error; thanks to Ed Herman for correction.
8 AP, NYT, Dec. 20, 1994.
9 George Graham, FT, Dec. 14; Steven Greenhouse, NYT, Dec. 13, 1994.
10 BW, May 23, 1994; see my articles in Lies of Our Times, August 1994; Index on Censorship, July/August 1994. Scott Allen, BG, Dec. 19, 1994.
11 Todd Purdum, Reuters, Malcolm Browne, NYT, Dec. 20; Philip Hilts, NYT, Dec. 21; BW, Nov. 28; Scott Pendleton, CSM, Dec. 13; Editorial, NYT, Dec. 21; Marshall Meek, quoted by Andy Coghlan and Charles Arthur, New Scientist, Oct. 8, 1994.
12 Rajani Kanth, Political Economy and Laissez-Faire (Rowman and Littlefield, 1986); see my World Orders, Old and New (Columbia 1994), for further discussion.
13 Chicago Sun-Times, June 2; AP, NYT, Sept. 13, 1994.
14 AP, BG, Dec. 4; Keith Bradsher, NYT, Dec. 5, 1994. Chambliss, "Policing the Ghetto Underclass: the Politics of Law and Law Enforcement," Social Problems 41.2, May 1994; "Don't Confuse Me with Facts: Clinton `Just Says No'," New Left Review, Spring 1994. Jill Brotman and John Treat, Criminal Justice Program Coordinators at the AFSC New England Regional Office, RESIST, Dec. 1994.
15 NYT news service, Nov. 22, 1994.
16 Ahmed Rashid, FEER, Dec. 15, 1994. Fr. Javier Giraldo, director of Justice and Peace, Colombia Bulletin, 2.13, Aug. 1994. Biaz-Callejas, Excelsior, Oct. 14, 1994; Latin America News Update, Dec. 1994.
17 Hewlett, Child Neglect in Rich Societies (UNICEF 1993); McQuaig, The Wealthy Banker's Wife (Penguin 1993).
19 John Summa, Multinational Monitor, Nov. 1994. AFP, Pagina (Buenos Aires), Sept. 21, 1994 (Latin America News Update, Nov. 1994). The Other Front (Jerusalem), Nov. 15, 1994.
20 David Felix, Industrial Development in East Asia: What are the Lessons for Latin America, UNCTAD No. 84, May 1994; Oxfam UK/Ireland, Structural Adjustment and Inequality in Latin America: How IMF and World Bank Policies have failed the Poor, Sept. 1994. Smith, see World Orders.
21 Physicians for Human Rights Medical Action Alert 46, Sept. 26, 1944. Iain Guest, Behind the Disappearances (Pennsylvania, 1990), 530, 535.
22 Katharine Seelye, NYT, Nov. 15, 1994.
23 Browne, NYT Book Review, Oct. 16; Peter Brimelow, Forbes, Oct. 24, 1994.
24 NYT Weekly Book Review, Dec. 4, 1994.
25 Kropotkin, Mutual Aid: A Factor in Evolution, reprinted by Horizon Books, Boston, nd., with an introduction by Ashley Montagu.
26 Wright, New Republic, Jan. 2, 1995, citing Murray, whose misunderstanding of his book is common. Block, "Fallacies Shared by the Bell Curve and its Critics," MIT, Nov. 1994; to appear in Cognition. My own reactions appear in 1972 reviews of Herrnstein's earlier efforts in Cognition 1.1, 2-3, 4; Social Policy 3.1; Ramparts, July 1972; expanded in For Reasons of State (Pantheon, 1974).
27 Oxfam, op. cit.
This article was originally published in Z Magazine, an independent magazine of critical thinking on political, cultural, social, and economic life in the U.S. It sees the racial, gender, class, and political dimensions of personal life as fundmental to understanding and improving contemporary circumstances; and it aims to assist activist efforts for a better future.
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