February 28, 2013, 5:27 pm
Posted by Matthew Boudway
It is the constant impression of people outside Italy that Mr. Berlusconi is some kind of evil buffoon and that the vast majority of Italians repudiate him. They cannot understand how a man so constantly on trial for all kinds of corruption, a man with a huge conflict of interest (he owns three national TV channels and large chunks of the country’s publishing industry), remains at the center of power.The answer, aside from the extraordinarily slow and complex judiciary and a distressing lack of truly independent journalism, is that Mr. Berlusconi’s political instincts mesh perfectly with the collective determination not to face the truth, which again combines with deep fear that a more serious leader might ask too much of them.
[I]f the poor are dependent on the state, so, too, are America’s rich. The extraordinary accumulation of wealth enjoyed by the socioeconomic elite — in 2007, the richest 1 percent of Americans accounted for about 24 percent of all income — simply wouldn’t be possible if the United States weren’t organized as it is. Just about every aspect of America’s economic and legal infrastructure — the laissez-faire governance of the markets; a convoluted tax structure that has hedge fund managers paying less than their office cleaners; the promise of state intervention when banks go belly-up; the legal protections afforded to corporations as if they were people; the enormous subsidies given to corporations (in total, about 50 percent morethan social services spending); electoral funding practices that allow the wealthy to buy influence in government — allows the rich to stay rich and get richer. In primitive societies, people can accumulate only as much stuff as they can physically gather and hold on to. It’s only in “advanced” societies that the state provides the means to socioeconomic domination by a tiny minority. “The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other,” the writer John Berger said about the 20th century, though he might equally have said it of this one: “It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich.”
An economy in which people must get by on some combination of scant public benefits, charity, and hustling—because they are unable to find a job—is very different from a world where people are able to make a real choice to either cut back their hours or drop out of paid work entirely for a period of time. That’s why, in different ways, Maisano, myself, and Seth Ackerman have all emphasized that full employment is central to the project of work reduction, because tight labor markets give workers the bargaining power to demand shorter hours even without cuts in pay. And it’s why I have especially emphasized the demand for a Universal Basic Income, which would make it possible to survive outside of paid labor for a much larger segment of the population.[...][Ross] Douthat sees the decline of work as part of “the broader turn away from community in America—from family breakdown and declining churchgoing to the retreat into the virtual forms of sport and sex and friendship.” It seems more plausible that it is neoliberal economic conditions themselves—a scaled back social safety net, precarious employment, rising debts and uncertain incomes—that have produced whatever increase in anomie and isolation we experience. The answer to that is not more work but more protection from life’s unpredictable risks, more income, more equality, more democracy—and more time beyond work to take advantage of all of it.