The Moment of Truth — January 9, 2004

Casino Kapital

Welcome to the Moment of Truth, the pain that warns you to remove your hand from the flame, though a cacophony of voices repeats that keeping it there will give you the dexterity of the yoyo master you are destined to be.

Wanna hear a funny story? There is this country called Argentina. And this country had an economy. Their main export was topics for Broadway musicals.

You might remember that there also used to be a country called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or USSR for short. Their main export was heavy-set, apoplectic poets. Sometimes they liked to pretend they could perform scientific miracles, like grow corn in the icy wastes of Siberia. They would report it in the paper, and everyone would have to pretend it was true.

The architects of the Soviet economy, and the economies of many other societies in which people were forced to wear ugly clothes and eat cabbage and believe that corn could grow in ice, had this great idea. Their idea was that a handful of drunk gluttons would decide how many cabbages, articles of ugly clothing, and apoplectic poets each sector of the country would produce for domestic consumption as well as for export.

Basically, the drunk gluttons were betting each year that the decisions they made about the economy wouldn’t turn out to be dumb enough to make their society fall apart. What they didn’t realize was that the very process of betting like that year after year was creating enough cumulative dumbness that by the end of the 1980s their entire house of cards came tumbling down like a lead zeppelin. Or rather like a zeppelin that was already pretty shaky when it was launched but which gradually turned into lead during the course of its journey. And then came tumbling down. Like a house of cards.

Anyway, after the whole Soviet thing went up in smoke, there was joyful I-told-you-so-ing in the countries that had always criticized the Soviet Union’s system of allowing a handful of drunk gluttons to decide everything, and for not providing its citizens with any public services beyond a cumbersome secret police state and an economy-crippling military, and for foisting their grotesque system on poorer nations. These enemies of the former Soviet Union said, “Hey, now that the Soviet Union’s gone, let’s give free reign to OUR great ideas, let them take wing, and see where they fly. Let’s allow a handful of drunk gluttons to decide everything and not provide our citizens with any public services beyond a cumbersome secret police state and an economy-crippling military, and foist this system on poorer nations.”

So a handful of drunk gluttons at the World Bank and the IMF went looking for a country to try out their ideas on. Just about every country in the world needed SOME help from the two greatest international financial institutions.

So they spread their gospel everywhere. Everywhere they went, governments cut services for poor and working people and gave the money as tax cuts to the richest, most selfish and gluttonous drunkards they could find. The theory was that the more money these drunk gluttons had, the more money they would wager on things like the stock market, which is a complex indicator of the degree to which decisions made by selfish drunks are dumb enough to make society fall apart.

The project began in the early nineties. By the end of the century, there was slower economic growth, more poverty, and more inequality than when they started, in just about every country in the world. And the more a nation adhered to the neo-Soviet—I mean, compassionate-conservative—I mean neo-liberal economic program, the worse things got. In China they resisted many of the measures, out of inertia or dumb luck, and somehow a mixture of the old dumb system and the new dumb system worked out for them.

The country that adhered closest to the neo-Soviet model was Argentina. Remember them?

Argentina did everything the economic geniuses of the World Bank and the IMF and the rightwing Washington think tanks told them to do. They got rid of tariffs protecting their domestic industries, which put their people out of work. They cut government services, so that whatever problems their people had from being out of work would be that much worse. They gave big tax cuts to big corporations, so that the handful of people who owned those corporations would have a lot of money that used to go to working people when they were out of work and to the public services the working people used when they couldn’t afford the private kind. They sold off government-owned land and businesses, just to make sure the government had no resources whatsoever, so that even if they wanted to stimulate the economy by giving their people work, they would be too broke to do it. Until finally Argentina was the perfect model of the free-market-style Soviet society.

Such a close resemblance did Argentina bear to the old, NON-free-market-style Soviet society, that it too broke down—just a couple years ago! Up in smoke like a cardboard zeppelin. Food riots, banks bankrupt, government overthrown—just a good old-fashioned societal collapse.

So that made people everywhere begin to question the neo-Soviet economic program of the World Bank, the IMF, and the rightwing Washington think tanks.

Everywhere except the United States. We’re going forward with it. We think it’s just great. We’ve got a selfish drunk in the White House who’s just going all out with the cutting services and the giving everything to the wealthiest gluttons and the pauperizing the public sector and the destruction of every possible avenue of economic stimulus except stock market gambling. And the best thing is, he’s also building us a Soviet-style secret police network and dumping whatever money’s left into the military. He’s really trying to make the U.S. over into the Soviet Union, with societal collapse the logical extension of his policies. He even had himself installed, rather than elected, by a handful of solemn lackeys of “The Party,” just to lend that extra zing of Kremlin flavor to his administration.

One thing you can say about George W. Bush and his policy makers: they’re tenacious; they’re not willing to give up on a bad idea just because millions of quitters in the Soviet Bloc got tired of it.

Anyway, the funny part of the story is this: on the cover of the January 12 issue of U.S. News and World Report, you will see the words, “HOW HIGH CAN THE ECONOMY FLY?” No, not the January 12, 1997 issue. This year’s. 2004. Apparently the editorial staff at U.S. News and World Report are under the impression that if you were on the roof of a 40-story building, then plummeted into the basement, and then struggle to drag your mangled frame up to the first floor, you’re “flying.”

It’s good to know someone’s keeping Soviet-style journalism alive, too. Fortunately, unlike the citizens of the original Soviet Union, WE live in a democracy, so WE don’t have to believe their line of cow pie filling.

I mean, we don’t. Right? We’re just believing it because we feel like it.