Part 3: Noam Chomsky on Climate Change, Nukes, Syria, WikiLeaks & More

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AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we return to our public conversation with the acclaimed linguist and dissident Noam Chomsky. It was recorded in April at the First Parish Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of entities that President Trump doesn’t like, he calls the press the enemy of the American people, the enemy of the people. Can you assess, as the media assesses President Trump in his first a hundred days, the media’s behavior? NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, I think the media has fallen over backwards to try to give him some protection and leeway. I mean, you know, there are things that are so ludicrous and outrageous that a reporter simply can’t keep from saying something about them, like there’s one ridiculous claim after another that comes out of the tweets—you know, 3 million illegal undocumented refugees voted for Clinton, Obama wiretapped the Trump Tower, you know, one after another. My sense is—this is just a guess—that this is a media strategy, that it’s the Bannon-Trump-Spicer strategy to try to keep attention focused on one or another form of lunacy, but not look at what’s actually happening.

And what’s actually happening is that Paul Ryan and his associates behind the scenes are systematically and carefully dismantling every element of government that is of any benefit to people and that doesn’t maximize corporate power and profit. I mean, the dedication of the Republican leadership, especially the Ryan-type leadership, their dedication to slavish servility to corporate power and wealth is just phenomenal. I mean, read this morning’s business pages. Their latest step is to try to prevent exposure of complaints against banks that carry out improper activities. It is possible now, thanks to the Consumer Protection Act, for people to criticize when they think a bank has carried out some improper activity. But we’ve got to keep that silent, you know, because we have to protect corporations from any exposure of criminal activities they might carry out. I mean down to that level, in fact, everywhere you look. I mean, the healthcare proposal was so shocking that, I mean, it was a proposal basically to cut taxes for the rich and to ensure that poor and middle-class people—the people who voted for Trump, in fact—don’t get medical aid.

As you saw, of course, the Congressional Budget Office estimated 24 million additional people uninsured. There was an analysis of that by Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein, two health specialists, just studying the relationship between lack of insurance and deaths. There’s plenty of evidence about that. And it turns out that would have meant about 45,000 additional deaths a year. Well, that’s OK, as long as you cut taxes for the rich. And step by step, that’s what’s happening behind the façade of Trumpisms and, you know, Spicer antics before the press. And the press is pretty much falling for it. That’s what they focus on, not what’s being carried out. There is, of course, criticism—mild criticism—of outrageous lies, but I think that just plays the game. That’s what the lies are for.

Then you can yell about the liberal press that is trying to undermine us. It’s all a kind of a desperate effort to keep a con game going. Trump does have a base, a voter base. He’s kicking them in the face with abandon. And the idea is: How do you hold onto them while you’re doing this? Not an easy trick. And this, I think, is part of the con. And there are people in the press who are pointing it out—Paul Krugman, for one—but nothing like it should be. AMY GOODMAN: Which takes us to your latest book, Requiem for the American Dream, where you talk about the 10 principles of the concentration of power and wealth, how it’s happening, what to watch out for. NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, credit for the 10 principles should go to the producers of the film. What they did was take a lot of interviews and discussions about all sorts of things and put them in a coherent and, I think, pretty effective form, including formulating 10 principles—that’s their contribution—and including material that discusses them. And you can look at the film and see, or the book, but my feeling is they did a really good job.

I’m impressed by it. AMY GOODMAN: So the book is accompanying this film that is now out on Netflix. But you talk about, for example, principle one, reducing democracy; principle two, shaping ideology; and principle three, redesigning the economy. NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, all of those fall together, and they’re part of a pretty remarkable development that’s taking place in—actually, in human history. Humans, in the last 60 or 70 years, have succeeded in creating a kind of a perfect storm, literally. Two—there’s a kind of a pincers movement that we’ve created, two major attacks on the prospects for survival: global—global warming, nuclear weapons, the Anthropocene, the nuclear age. And the third is a set of socioeconomic policies designed to undermine the possibility of dealing with the problems. The problems could be dealt with only in a functioning democracy of engaged, informed people, who could make decisions, who would be informed and could make decisions to deal with the crises.

But the so-called neoliberal programs of the past generation, the sort of somewhat market-oriented programs, designed to undermine the institutions, the governmental and popular institutions, that might deal with these issues, it’s all a unit. One result is a very significant decline in democracy. You can see it in the—which is almost built into the policies. It’s perfectly built—you can’t carry out economic policies of the type that have been—that have been implemented in the past generation in a functioning democracy. That’s impossible. I mean, just take a look at the numbers. So, the neoliberal programs were basically taking off right around 1980. It escalated—started a little with the late Carter, escalated under Reagan, went on more under Clinton and so on. 2007 was the peak of supposed success.

This is right before the crash. A lot of euphoria among economists, political analysts about the great achievements of neoclassical economics, of the great moderation, you know, the neoliberal programs, a dismantling of regulations—all these great successes, 2007. What was happening to American working people at that time? In 2007, wages, real wages, were lower than they had been in 1979 when the experiment took off. In fact, for the majority of the population, it’s a period of stagnation or decline. Benefits have declined. People had been—some of the reasons were explained by Alan Greenspan, head of the Federal Reserve, who was in charge pretty much of managing the economy. He testified to Congress that part of the success of the economy, the low inflation and so on, was due to what he called growing worker insecurity. Working people were insecure. They were intimidated. They knew that they were in a dangerous situation, precarious situation.

As a result, they didn’t press for increase in wages and—for decent wages and benefits. They were willing to accept, in fact, an effective decline in their living standards. And Greenspan, who was a close observer of the economy, pointed out that this continued, even when jobs were increasing in the late Clinton period. It was deeply embedded in the nature of the policies being carried out, that working people are intimidated, they’re living precarious lives, many of them are part-time, they’re losing security, their unions are being destroyed, and their wages are declining. So it’s all great. The economy is wonderfully healthy. Can you carry out policies like that in a democracy? I mean, are people going to vote for it? Same in Europe, even worse in many ways. The so-called austerity programs, even the economists of the International—the IMF, International Monetary Fund, their own economists say—report that these policies make no economic sense.

But the IMF bureaucrats, the ones who are part of the decision-making apparatus, they vote for them. How do you—and the effect on Europe is the same thing, as far as democracy is concerned. Just like in the United States, there’s anger, contempt for major—for centrist—you know, for the major governing institutions. Here, it’s Congress; there, it’s the political parties. You just saw it in France yesterday: The two major parties were barely visible in the election. And it’s happening all over Europe, same kind of thing that’s happening here. I mean, here, it’s happening in a way which is almost farcical because of the—you know, the kind of actions carried out by the leadership. In Europe, it’s being—it’s being pursued in a way which is really ominous. I mean, you don’t have to look far back to find a time when fascist parties actually had power in Europe. And we know what happened. And now there are neofascist parties, with fascist roots often, which are pretty close to power, even in places like Austria and Germany, which have some memories about.

France, as well, was—under the Nazis, was a very pro-Nazi country, the Vichy government. It was rounding up Jews faster than the Germans wanted them. A really ugly record. And seeing these things come back, or just seeing a situation in which, according to recent polls, a majority of Europeans think there should be no more Muslims in Europe, I mean, that evokes some memories, not nice ones. And a lot of—you can’t attribute it all to the neoliberal economic policies, but a lot of it does follow from that. When you impose on people circumstances of this kind, you have to make sure that they have no way of responding politically. In Europe, it’s done pretty straightforwardly. The main decisions about socioeconomic policies are made by the so-called troika—IMF, European Central Bank and the European Commission, which is unelected.

So three unelected bodies, they make the decisions. They do listen to voices, the voices of the northern banks, mostly German banks. And the people suffer. And they get—they are angry, frightened, often reacting in dangerous ways. We see similar phenomena here. So, to go back to the pincers movement, what’s happened is we’ve created two huge threats to survival. We have systematically—not you and me, but the leadership has systematically created socioeconomic policies, which have as a consequence, almost immediate consequence, the undermining of functioning democracy—the one thing that might deal with the disasters. Like I said, it’s a kind of perfect storm. Real credit to the human species to have contrived something like this. AMY GOODMAN: Principle four is shift the burden onto the poor and the middle classes.

Principle five, attack the solidarity of the people. Six, let special interests run the regulators. Seven, engineer election results. Eight, use fear and power of the state to keep the rabble in line. NOAM CHOMSKY: Is it necessary to comment? I think you’re all familiar with it. AMY GOODMAN: Nine is manufacture consent, and principle 10 is marginalize the population. NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, in fact, that’s exactly what’s happening. And it’s the—and there’s a reason for it. You cannot carry out the kinds of policies that have been developed in the last generation, and have the population function democratically. In Europe, you can’t get people to vote for policies which are undermining their lives; which are leaving especially younger people without any hopes of decent employment; which are driving people to precarious existences; which are undermining wages, reducing benefits; in England right now, undermining, threatening what had been the world’s most—by far, the world’s most effective and efficient national health system. You can’t get people to vote for things like this. So what you have to do is marginalize them in one way or another, turn them against each other, aim—turn their anger against vulnerable people—that’s standard technique—get people to—don’t look at the people who are really doing this to you.

Look at the ones who are more vulnerable: immigrants, the poor, you know, Muslims, blacks—anybody. We’re familiar with that, too. There’s not a slight history about it. So, sure, that just—it’s like—it’s like an almost logical consequence of the socioeconomic policies, which have been imposed and lauded, in fact, by elites, including liberal elites. A lot of this was done by—say, by the Clinton administration. It was hailed, the deregulation, for example, which very quickly led to one after another financial crisis. That was initiated by liberal economists, who were telling us how wonderful it is. And there’s actually, you know, a theory, neoclassical economic theory, which says, "Yeah, it’s fine." Actually, there were people who warned against it.

There were people who knew, a lot of left independent economists, but even people right out of the mainstream, like Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate. Back around 1995 or so, he wrote an article, actually in a World Bank research journal, in which he warned against what he called the "religion that the market knows best." He says that’s the religion, as he put it, that’s being followed by economists. And he says you’ve got to take a look at that religion. Like a lot of religions, it just doesn’t work. Economic history and even logic show us lots of things that are wrong about it. But that was pursued with abandon on the basis of theories of efficient markets, you know, rational behavior, rational expectations and so on—none of which had any empirical basis or founding. But they were the—the doctrines were accepted for the very simple reason that they were highly beneficial to wealth and power. That makes them acceptable.

And you get the results that you have: the undermining of the only means possible to try to deal with the existential crises that we have created. So, again, it’s a kind of perfect storm, part—all sorts of sources, including just socioeconomic policies of a bipartisan nature. AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky, speaking April 24th at the First Parish Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His latest book, Requiem for the American Dream..

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