Friday, October 10, 2008

The End of the Consumer Economy

I think Robert Reich gets it. Our financial meltdown is very largely the result of 30 years of Republican free-market policy, and the vast theft of wealth away from the nation's middle class, but I think our problems go deeper. The very core of the modern American economy, this notion of the "consumer economy," was always doomed. It was the greatest of all the bubbles, and sooner or later, it had to burst.

I've been thinking long and hard on the state of the economy and what it means for the Republic, or the Empire, whichever form America has become. I think we can trace it back three decades, to the stagnation of the 1970s, when the vast post-WWII boom finally ended under Nixon. The weight of the Empire eventually brought down the gold standard, but Nixon was brilliant in tying the Dollar to oil, creating a new standard and guaranteeing American supremacy for the next generation. But this was never for the benefit of the middle class; it was always about maintaining and propping up the Empire. Everything revolves around the Empire.

Sometime in the '70s, the wealth began to dry up, and you saw that in your economic stagnation and falling wages, which have been falling steadily to today. It's no coincidence that the Republican right, with its radical assault on the New Deal, has been in charge most of this time. This was their era, the era of the "free-market," of "government is the problem," of Marie Antoinette and let 'em eat cake. The Empire consumed the wealth of its own citizens to thrive, and waged war on the middle class that gave it life.

I'd suggest the availability of easy credit, easy loans, home financing, credit cards, whatever, allowed the Empire to mask this trend. It enabled Americans to maintain their lavish lifestyles without accepting the growing reality. There were economic booms, and as long as everyone could buy all their toys and feel good about themselves, what was the problem? Nobody wanted to hear stories of how the wealthy was stealing all the money. Nobody wanted to be reminded of those old tales of class warfare, of the ruling class against the workers. You preferred the fantasy instead, the one that said you could be one of the wealthy. All you need is the right house, the right car, the right clothes. You were sold possessions instead of prosperity, and confused one for both.

Jello Biafra was right. The American Mantra, "Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death," burned into the consciousness of every citizen. You were sold on materialism, of consumer fetishism. Ignore the fact that you were growing poorer and poorer with each passing season. It was a slow drain, and subtle, but consistent and clear to anyone who would look for it.

When Jimmy Carter left office, the US held $1 trillion in debt. Then Reagan exploded it. Then Daddy Bush, the world's worst absent father, exploded it further. Bill Clinton, somehow, miraculously, managed to patch the holes up. By the end of his tenure, he erased the deficits and set this nation back on a course to true prosperity. Can you believe that? Can you believe we were within sight of paying off the national debt forever? Did that really happen? It all feels like another world, a long, lost dream. The dream where the candidate with the most votes gets to be President, and the dream where the people rise up in anger as criminal syndicates steal their elections away.

Give me convenience, or give me death. Don't bother me with politics. I'm watching tv. I have some more credit cards.

Now we've had eight years of organized crime under Bush, Cheney, and the whole rotten Republican bunch. They chewed the walls apart like rabid termites. They did more damage than everyone who preceeded them. Perhaps they knew the scam couldn't work forever; sooner or later, the house of cards would fall, and the mass of drugged-out, dumbed-down stupids would rise up and hurl them into the abyss. The Bush Wrecking Company always had one eye on the clock, desperate to strip away every last piece of paint from the walls, before skulking away to their mansions and fiefdoms.

9/11 struck, and what was Preznit Stupid's mantra to the public? Go shopping. Spend more. Consume, consume, consume. For years, you've been fed this line, that somehow you and those damned plastic cards in your pocket where the one thing responsible for keeping the economy fueled and intact. It was a collosal pile of bullshit, heaved and dumped on your front lawns, your laps, and your dinner plates. You were fed the greatest swindle in history, and you bought it hook, line and sinker.

Can't let the terr'sts win. Spend, spend, spend. Buy a new car, buy a new house. Take out $20,000 for college, and never ask why the price tag is so high. Never ask why those jobs were shipped overseas. Never ask what happened to the factories, to the plants, to the mills. Never ask why this nation, with its vast wealth and resources, couldn't build those things here. Never ask just who pockets the money from all that slave labor in the third world. Never ask just why those poor people down south are crossing the border, trying to escape the corporatist looting of the lands.

Just turn on the teevee, get lazy and fat, and be a nice, safe, mindless consumer. Spend more money. Spend it all. Spend money you don't even have, or will never earn. Spend out of laziness, spend out of fear, spend out of jealousy for those other suckers who have more toys than you do. Spend out of patriotic ferver, because the suits on the tv told you to. Consumer spending drives the economy. Consumer spending drives the economy. The economy will collapse if you stop spending. America will collapse if you stop spending. And then the Terr'sts will win. Or the Communists. Or the Socialists. Or the Libruls. Or those brown-skinned people. They'll take your jobs. Hate them. Fear them. Blame them.

Just refinance your home. We've got a sweet deal for you. It's just like getting free money. Your home can become an instant cash machine. Just sign on the dotted line. Just do what you are told. You are in the land of the free. You are do what we tell you. Consume, consume, consume. Strip the forests, burn the oceans. Saw the mountains in half and steal the candy jewels inside.

Burn the skies with your smoke and gas and oil. Melt the glaciers and poison the seas. You are not a part of nature. You are not connected to the Earth. "The Earth" is some far away, legendary place. No, your world is the world of the teevee, of the shopping mall, of your crumbling job and crumbling family. You have become death, the destroyer of worlds. You are become the living dead.

Everything goes onto the credit cards. The Empire itself goes on credit, whether it's the oil standard or the federal debt, your children and grandchildren. Doesn't matter. The Empire is all that matters. For those on the inside, the Iraq War was a smashing success. The vaults to the treasuries were opened wide, and the criminals could steal as much as they could carry. All they had to do was keep you scared, play on your fears, your insecurity. It's that insecurity they built and maintained by stealing the nation's wealth, a steady drain of what was once the middle class. Now the middle class has become something else. You have become far poorer, but you are drowning in affluence. You are drowning in the consumer fetishism you were sold. And you were told this was prosperity. All the while, the wrecking crew smashed the vaults and smashed cities, home and abroad.

Osama Bin Laden never escaped. He was released. George W. Bush held the door open for him, with a gleeful snicker on his face. And why shouldn't he? He and his family was helped by the Bin Laden family for thirty years. It was Osama's brother who put up the money for Stupid's first, failed business venture. Now it was time to repay the favor. With the September 11 attacks, both got what they wanted. Bin Laden fueled and lived out his fantasies of mass murder. Bush and the wrecking crew fueled America's fear and loathing, the perfect cover for the massive heist, for the Empire. In their wake lay broken building, bombed cities, human lives smashed. In their wake lay the power of the Empire, torture, murder.

And the fallen American middle class paid for every cent. Every cent on the credit cards. Sooner or later, the creditors will come knocking. The bills will be due. And now, at long last, the house of cards, the whole damned illusion, is crashing down. Terence McKenna warned you long ago: culture is not your friend. Now you will see for yoursef. This illusion is ending, the credit cards are maxed out, the glaciers are gone. The forests and the animals are gone. The Ole Republic, the democracy itself; this too is gone, broken beaten and scarred. This is the end, beautiful friend.

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