The god that sucked: How the Tea Party right just makes the 1 percent richer
Business won on welfare, taxes, regulation, then sat silent as the crazies took over the GOP. Now we're all screwed
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Topics: Dinesh Dsouza, Bill Clinton, Alan Greenspan, Tom Frank, Thomas Frank, Editor's Picks, George Gilder, Barbara Ehrenreich, Thomas Friedman, Business News
Jim Cramer, Dinesh D'Souza, Thomas Friedman (Credit: AP/Edouard H.R. Gluck/Reuters/Lucas Jackson) This Independence Day weekend let’s uncork some vintage Jeremiad. I wrote “The God That Sucked” for Baffler magazine in 2001; the title (for those who don’t remember the Cold War) refers to The God That Failed, an anticommunist tract that had been ubiquitous in the Fifties. My target, however, was a different god, and my setting was the tail end of the “New Economy” boom of the 1990s, during which the worship of “free markets” had become a kind of mania, a millennial revival, even. It was an age of extraordinary consensus on matters economic; everyone believed they had seen the light, that history’s great problems had been solved. And nothing could persuade them otherwise. The market god would punish us again and again as the years passed, but its followers could not be shaken from their simple faith. Today the situation is different, of course. The financial disaster of 2008 put a permanent dent into the reputation of the deity. The public came to despise Wall Street and the One Percent. Weirdly, however, our leadership class still chatters on as happily and obliviously as before. For them nothing has changed, the god’s benevolence has never dimmed, all’s still right with the world—and the stern accountability of the marketplace only applies to others. The original version of this essay appeared in Baffler #14 in 2001 and was later reprinted in the magazine’s anthology, Boob Jubilee; this version has been slightly edited. Read more at TheBaffler.com
Despite this, many economists still think that electricity deregulation will work. A product is a product, they say, and competition always works better than state control.
“I believe in that premise as a matter of religious faith,” said Philip J. Romero, dean of the business school at the University of Oregon and one of the architects of California’s deregulation plan. — New York Times, Feb. 4, 2001
Time was, the only place a guy could expound the mumbo-jumbo of the free market was in the country club locker room or the pages of Reader’s Digest. Spout off about it anywhere else and you’d be taken for a Bircher or some new strain of Jehovah’s Witness. After all, in the America of 1968, when the great backlash began, the average citizen, whether housewife or hardhat or salary-man, still had an all-too-vivid recollection of the Depression. Not to mention a fairly clear understanding of what social class was all about. Pushing laissez-faire ideology back then had all the prestige and credibility of hosting a Tupperware party.
But 30-odd years of culture war have changed all that. Mention “elites” these days and nobody thinks of factory owners or gated-community dwellers. Instead they assume that what you’re mad as hell about is the liberal media, or the pro-criminal judiciary, or the tenured radicals, or the know-it-all bureaucrats.
For the guys down at the country club all these inverted forms of class war worked spectacularly well. This is not to say that the right-wing culture warriors ever outsmarted the liberal college professors or shut down the Hollywood studios or repealed rock ’n’ roll. Shout though they might, they never quite got cultural history to stop. But what they did win was far more important: political power, a free hand to turn back the clock on such non-glamorous issues as welfare, taxes, OSHA, even the bankruptcy laws, for chrissake. Assuring their millionaire clients that culture war got the deregulatory job done, they simply averted their eyes as bizarre backlash variants flowered in the burned-over districts of conservatism: Posses Comitatus, backyard Confederacies mounting mini-secessions, crusades against Darwin.
For most of the duration of the 30-year backlash, the free-market faiths of the economists and the bosses were kept discreetly in the background. To be sure, market worship was always the established church in the halls of Republican power, but in public the chant was usually States’ Rights, or Down with Big Gummint, or Watch Out for Commies, or Speak English Goddammit. All Power to the Markets has never been too persuasive as a rallying cry.