Matthew Boudway February 28, 2013 - 5:27pm
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 countrys 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. Berlusconis 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 Americas 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 wouldnt be possible if the United States werent organized as it is. Just about every aspect of Americas 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. Its 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 hustlingbecause they are unable to find a jobis 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. Thats 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 its 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 Americafrom 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 themselvesa scaled back social safety net, precarious employment, rising debts and uncertain incomesthat have producedwhatever increase in anomie and isolationwe experience. The answer to that is not more work but more protection from lifes unpredictable risks, more income, more equality, more democracyand more time beyond work to take advantage of all of it.
About the Author
Matthew Boudway is an associate editor of Commonweal.