A massive hat-tip to long-term Newshoggers reader and news aggregator Kat for pointing me to the Democracy Now! transcript of a portion of Naomi Klein's speech at a recent conference entitled "Is Another World Possible?" Go read the whole thing - it might even make up for the lost minutes reading Rudy's warmongering foreign policy.
I want to be very clear that I don't believe the problem is a lack of ideas. I think we’re swimming in ideas: universal healthcare; living wages; cooperatives; participatory democracy; public services that are accountable to the people who use them; food, medicine and shelter as a human right. These aren't new ideas. They’re enshrined in the UN Charter. And I think most of us still believe in them.Right there Klein puts her finger on one of the reasons conservative policymakers and speechwriters hate "nuance". It lets them decide which
I don't think our problem is money, lack of resources to act on these basic ideas. Now, at the risk of being accused of economic populism, I would just point out that in this city, the employees of Goldman Sachs received more than $16 billion in Christmas bonuses last year, and ExxonMobil earned $40 billion in annual profits, a world record. It seems to me that there’s clearly enough money sloshing around to pay for our modest dreams. We can tax the polluters and the casino capitalists to pay for alternative energy development and a global social safety net. We don't lack ideas. Neither are we short on cash.
And unlike Jeffrey Sachs, I actually don't believe that what is lacking is political will at the highest levels, cooperation between world leaders. I don't think that if we could just present our elites with the right graphs and PowerPoint presentations -- no offense -- that we would finally convince them to make poverty history. I don't believe that...That’s because elites don't make justice because we ask them to nicely and appealingly. They do it when the alternative to justice is worse.
The real problem, I want to argue today, is confidence, our confidence, the confidence of people who gather at events like this under the banner of building another world, a kinder more sustainable world. I think we lack the strength of our convictions, the guts to back up our ideas with enough muscle to scare our elites. We are missing movement power...Do you want to tackle climate change as much as Dick Cheney wants Kazakhstan’s oil? Do you? Do you want universal healthcare as much as Paris Hilton wants to be the next new face of Estee Lauder? If not, why not? What is wrong with us? Where is our passionate intensity?
I think that what lies at the root of that lack of confidence is that we’re told over and over again that progressive ideas have already been tried and failed. We hear it so much that we accepted it. So our alternatives are posed tentatively, almost apologetically. “Is another world possible?” we ask.
This idea of our intellectual and ideological failure is the dominant narrative of our time. It’s embedded in all the catchphrases that we’ve been referring to. “There is no alternative,” said Thatcher. “History has ended,” said Fukuyama. The Washington Consensus: the thinking has already been done, the consensus is there. Now, the premise of all these proclamations was that capitalism, extreme capitalism, was conquering every corner of the globe because all other ideas had proven themselves disastrous. The only thing worse than capitalism, we were told, was the alternative.
Now, it’s worth remembering when these pronouncements were being made that what was failing was not Scandinavian social democracy, which was thriving, or a Canadian-style welfare state, which has produced the highest standard of living by UN measures in the world, or at least it did before my government started embracing some of these ideas. It wasn't the so-called Asian miracle that had been discredited, which in the ’80s and ’90s built the Asian “tiger” economies in South Korea and Malaysia using a combination of trade protections to nurture and develop national industry, even when that meant keeping American products out and preventing foreign ownership, as well as maintaining government control over key assets, like water and electricity. These policies did not create explosive growth concentrated at the very top, as we see today. But record levels of profit and a rapidly expanding middle class, that is what has been attacked in these past thirty years.
What was failing and collapsing when history was declared over was something very specific in 1989, when Francis Fukyama made that famous declaration, and when the Washington Consensus was declared, also in 1989. What was collapsing was centralized state communism, authoritarian, anti-democratic, repressive. Something very specific was collapsing, and it was a moment of tremendous flux.
And it was in that moment of flux and disorientation that several very savvy people, many of them in this country, seized on that moment to declare victory not only against communism, but against all ideas but their own.
Now, what was interesting and never quite stated...was that you basically had two streams: you had democracy, which you can use to vote for your leaders, and then you had a single economic model. Now, the catch was that you couldn't use your vote, you couldn't use your democracy to reshape your economy, because all of the economic decisions had already been decided. There was only -- it was the final endpoint of ideological evolution. So you could have democracy, but you couldn't use it to change the basics of life, you couldn’t use it to change the economy. This moment was held up as a celebration of victory for democracy, but that idea, that democracy cannot affect the economy, is and remains the single most anti-democratic idea of our time.Klien was supposed to debate Jeffrey Sachs but just before the conference he withdrew.
...We who say we believe in this other world need to know that we are not losers. We did not lose the battle of ideas. We were not outsmarted, and we were not out-argued. We lost because we were crushed. Sometimes we were crushed by army tanks, and sometimes we were crushed by think tanks. And by think tanks, I mean the people who are paid to think by the makers of tanks. Now, most effective we have seen is when the army tanks and the think tanks team up. The quest to impose a single world market has casualties now in the millions, from Chile then to Iraq today. These blueprints for another world were crushed and disappeared because they are popular and because, when tried, they work. They're popular because they have the power to give millions of people lives with dignity, with the basics guaranteed. They are dangerous because they put real limits on the rich, who respond accordingly. Understanding this history, understanding that we never lost the battle of ideas, that we only lost a series of dirty wars, is key to building the confidence that we lack, to igniting the passionate intensity that we need.
You can watch more of Klein's speech here. It's about 21 minutes in.
There will no doubt be those who accuse Klein (and me for posting this) of empty-headed idealism. I would respond "What exactly do you think the last six years of neo-conservative pipedreams have been all about?"