Thursday, 13 October 2011

The 1960s and Now

The social movements in the 1960s should be an important reminder for the current wave of discontent, whether it is the anti-globalization, Spain’s “yes we camp” or the “Occupy Wall Street” movements.

Then we had the anti-Vietnam War protesters, the hippies and the students’ revolts of May 68 in Paris and elsewhere. Then, like now, various political forces and trade unions tried to profit from the discontent, namely the Maoists who tried to export their “cultural revolution”. My generation was at that time one of the most radical and generous generations - demanding unconditional peace, free love and absolute equality.

My generation is now one the most disillusioned generations, having created just the opposite of what we dreamed then. We have now the greatest inequality, declining social mobility and rampant corporate kleptocracy. How did we replace generosity by greed and fairness by indifference? Why could we get it so wrong?

Partly, as is common in revolutions, because we used slogans and demonstrations instead of intelligent debate. But mostly because we ignored what was happening to the capitalist system and wanted to replace it by XIX century utopias who were failing everywhere but that we choose to ignore or excuse.

We did not anticipate that the simultaneous rise of big government and big corporations without controlling owners would create the conditions for collusion between the two and generate a new plutocracy in society made up of managers and politicians. Progressively we began accepting that management compensation was more important than paying dividends to the capitalists (shareholders).

While in the past the “robber barons” would consider that paying managers more than 40 times the average worker was a steal in their pockets we lost the notion of fairness and began accepting in the 1970s compensation ratios of 60 and more and kept quite while their compensation continued escalating to the current 200 to 400 times over average pay. Meanwhile, we ignored that due to the growth of pension funds and share ownership workers were now part of the capitalists being robbed by the corporate kleptocrats.

Outrageous state growth led to outrageous tax rates and inefficient public services. Instead of rolling it back we introduced tax breaks and privatized the government monopolies. Guess who benefited from these? It was the incumbent insiders in big government and big corporations.

From time to time a new generation feels blocked or despaired about the future and believes that revolution is the only way out. It is understandable. But what should true reformists do? Stand aside and let them learn with their own naiveté and errors? Fight left and right wing prophets and demagogues who are manipulating their discontent into their utopian solutions of the past? Or, join in to explain why market capitalism is the solution not the problem?

I hope many take the last road.

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