Sunday, April 19, 2009

Cultural Roots of the Economic Crisis

Insight about the cultural roots of the economic crisis is finally making the rounds of some big-city papers. Gail Collins gets at the heart of the cultural problem with the bailouts, though here she's talking about the governor of Texas:

Perry, who is the sort of person who calls other guys “dude,” used to be a cotton farmer, a group that seems to have a special talent for combining rugged individualism with intransigent demands for government assistance.
I call this psychological structure submissive individualism. It's an old US tradition (I first identified it via readings of Ralph Waldo Emerson work from the 1830s). It's tied up with fear and American Christianity - salvation finally coming only from God and not from You. But the core is that individual agency needs strong social systems to be effective economically, US social systems have always been weak, individual agency is therefore a weak and fragile thing for most Americans, and yet the obligation to have big agency is absolute. The endless attacks of the US Right on government only makes the psychological contradictions worse. The result is hypocrisy and double-standards.

Collins continues.
The big mystery here is why the tax-protest crowds were behaving as if the world was coming to an end when all Obama’s infant presidency has done is lower taxes for a vast majority of the public. And why people like Perry seem to feel compelled to egg them on.

The answer is that what’s left of the Republican Party is intent on cutting off the knees of the administration before it actually manages to fulfill any campaign promises on reducing the huge economic gap between the top 5 percent of the country and the rest of the populace. In pursuit of that mission, fortune favors the hysterical and rewards politicians who behave like gerbils that just bit into an electric wire.
Yes. And what is the link between submissive individualism and the obsessive pursuit of inequality? Because the only psychologically plausible solution to submission is superiority - especially superior wealth, either achieved or imagined for one's future. Imagined superiority drives out individuality. That combination of inequality and repression is the whole history of the modern Republican party.

So we get simultaneously the culture wars and the budget wars. The latter take the form of endless ongoing cuts at the state and city level even as the banks are flooded with public money. And they are driven by the sheer unilateralism of financial rules in the US - the banks decide, we take it, even now after they have ruined everything.

1 comment:

Gerry Barnett said...

The tea party folks were booing Republican speakers as often as others, and in the non-MSM the bit was about how the GOP failed to co-opt these protests.

This stuff may be tied to the forces you identify, but it's not a Republican thing, much as they might wish it so. It's not particularly religious, either. And it doesn't appear to be about shifting wealth, but rather about how government functions (passing laws no one has read, putting federal strings on state behaviors, handing out a bunch of earmark $$$ to friendly organizations under the guise of adjusting the balance of wealth--all in the name of dealing with an economic crisis). The spending comes off as looting, and the moralizing arguments to cover it come limping along behind. Witness the quips by federal and state officials along the lines that a crisis is "a terrible thing to waste".

I don't see that the folks presently supporting power have any inkling of the cultural roots you point to. They know they are grossly on the outside of a growing populist movement and are working overtime to turn it into something they can contain--so blaming the GOP, or Fox News, or the Right--when it doesn't appear that any of these are any better off knowing what to make of it.

If it truly is a libertarian revolt, then it might warrant a different analysis than the coastal media is willing to give it.

Not saying the tea party movement doesn't have its flaws, but it doesn't appear to be Right, or GOP, or "conservative"--unless "conservative" now means any opposition to the present administration.