samedi 16 août 2008

Rollback; The Return of Predatory Capitalism

Class Warfare: Noam Chomsky Interviews with David Barsamian

January 31 and February 3, 1995

DB: You just came back from a trip to Australia. Was it your first visit to the country?

It was indeed my first visit to Australia. I was there for eight or nine days, a pretty constant schedule of talks and interviews, the usual stuff.
There was the usual range of topics with enormous and very interested audiences. There was a lot of radio and television. The main invitation was from the East Timor Relief Association. There is a substantial Timorese community there. I gave talks primarily on East Timor. That was one major focus. And of course on Australia’s policies towards East Timor and other things, also domestic economic policies.
The timing turned out to be very propitious. A major case opened at the World Court yesterday. I haven’t seen it reported here, but it’s being reported widely in the world press and of course extensively in Australia.
The case involves Portugal and Australia. It has to do with the robbery of the oil of East Timor in a treaty signed between Australia and Indonesia.
One primary reason (we know from leaked diplomatic cables and so on) for the Western support for the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, which was sort of near genocidal, was the fact that they thought they could make a better deal on robbing the oil resources with Indonesia than they could either with Portugal, which was the administering power, or an independent East Timor. That was stated very explicitly in diplomatic cables during the period when the governments were pretending that they didn’t know that the invasion was imminent. But of course they did know. So that’s a big issue now. Both the World Court hearing and the very fact that this is taking place, which is kind of as if Libya had made a deal with Iraq to exploit Kuwait’s oil when they hadn’t been driven out.
It’s roughly like that. So that was one big issue. And since it is just coming up to the World Court, that was timely.
The other thing was that, in fact as I landed at the airport, the first headline that greeted me in the national newspaper, The Australian, was that Australia agreed to sell advanced assault rifles to Indonesia, which of course are not to be used to defend Indonesia from China.
They’re being used for internal repression and the military occupation of East Timor, where the fighting is still going on and the repression is very severe. The point is that Australia found a niche market, because the U.S. had backed away from that, finally, under lots of pressure here, Congressional and popular pressure. The U.S. finally got to the point of withholding some arms, at least small arms, from the killers. Australia instantly moved in. The cynicism of that is a little hard to miss. You have to remember people in Australia know, even if they don’t read about it in schoolbooks, but they remember, that about 60,000 Timorese were killed during the Second World War. The island of Timor was divided, half was a Portuguese colony and half was Dutch. The Portuguese part would have probably remained neutral through the war, like Macao, which was another Portuguese colony. Japan never violated its neutrality. Portugal was a fascist country. It was a semi-ally. So chances are Timor would have remained neutral. Anyhow, Australia invaded, and about ten days after Pearl Harbor the Japanese counter-invaded. There were a couple hundred Australian commandos there.
They were able to survive, the ones that did, mostly because ofassistance from Timorese. Otherwise they would have been wiped out instantly. Then they finally were withdrawn, but of course the Timorese were left. The ones that the Japanese thought had supported them were totally slaughtered. That fighting on Timor—if you look at the geography you’ll see how it works. The Japanese might well have gone on to invade Australia. In fact they were going to. They never did. They bombed, but they never invaded. And probably the fighting on Timor stopped them.
So 60,000 Timorese dead certainly saved a lot of lives of Australian commandos, and may have saved Australia from being invaded.
To repay that debt by being the only country in the world to officially recognize the occupation, to steal their oil, to arm the murderers, doesn’t go over very well in the population. And there’s also been tremendous cynicism in the government in justifying this. There’s a kind of backlog of resentment and concern, plus the fact that it’s right next door, so they get Timorese refugees. So it’s a big issue.

DB: You also gave a presentation on anarchy. Is there a lively anarchist movement in Australia?

I’m not in much of a position to say. The meeting was at the town hall in Sydney. There were a couple of thousand people there, and it was overflowing. They had had an all-day conference with plenty of people, so something’s lively. You know what these trips are like, you run from one talk to another. I can’t really comment on what the movements are like.

DB: I had a glimpse of what you go through. In November l was in Seattle and Olympia. I gave three public talks, three interviews, and a workshop in a day and a half. At the end of that time, my brains were completely fried. I had no idea what I’d said to whom. l was wondering, how do you keep not just your equilibrium and equanimity, but that separation of what you said?

As far as I know, I have only one talent. I’m not trying to be modest. I think I know what I’m good at and what I’m not good at. The one talent that I have which I know many other friends don’t seem to have is I’ve got some quirk in my brain which makes it work like separate buffers in a computer. If you play around with a computer you know you can put things in different places and they just stay there and you can go back to them whenever you feel like it and they’re there. I can somehow do that.
I can write a very technical paper in snatches: a piece on an airplane, another piece three weeks later, six months later finally get back to it and pick up where I left off. Somehow I don’t have any problem switching very quickly from one thing to another. I have some other friends like this. I had one, a well-known logician in Israel, who was a very close friend. We would see each other every five or six years. We would always just pick up the conversation where we had left it off, without any break, without even noticing it, particularly. We didn’t even notice it until people seemed to find it strange.

DB: Did your thoughts while you were in Australia ever turn to Alex
Carey, the man you dedicated Manufacturing Consent to?

Very much so. In fact, I was there for a book launch. His book of posthumous essays, Taking the Risk Out of Democracy, was published by the University of New South Wales, where he taught. I wrote an introduction to it, in fact. One of the things I did was to go to the launch of the book and talk about it a bit and meet the family. I also met some old friends who I knew through and with Alex when he visited here years back, so there was a lot of personal stuff, too.

DB: What’s memorable about his work? What was his contribution?

Alex Carey did the pioneering work in an extremely important field which in fact has yet to be investigated. That’s the field of corporate propaganda, which is a major phenomenon in the modern world and almost unstudied. His most important essay “Changing Public Opinion:
The Corporate Offensive,” which has been circulating underground for years (I’ve duplicated and circulated endless copies myself) was never published in his lifetime. It’s in the new collection. It opens by pointing out—he says it better than this—that there have been three major phenomena in the twentieth century with regard to democracy. One is he extension of the franchise, which was broad. The second was the growth of corporations. The third was the growth of corporate propaganda to undermine democracy. And he’s exactly right. That’s why we have a public relations industry. It was established approximately at he time that corporations reached their current form early in the century. It was created in order, as they put it, to “control the public mind,” because they recognized that the public mind would be the greatest hazard facing industrialists, and they understood that democracy is a real threat to private tyranny, just as it’s a threat to state yranny. Now, we are in a system of private tyranny, which was being established early in the century, and very consciously so. In fact it was consciously established as an attack on individual liberty. That’s a part of corporate law which is only known in scholarly circles.
Part of this was to ensure that democracy couldn’t function. And ince you have some degree of state violence, but limited degrees, especially with the increase in the franchise and participation, it was understood right off that you have to control opinion. That led to the huge public relations industry and massive propaganda campaigns, efforts to sell Americanism and harmony and to sell American capitalism. People are deluged with propaganda on this through the Advertising Council and radio and television and other media. It’s very conscious. Carey is the first person to have seriously studied it, and almost the last person. Now there’s a little literature on it coming along, primarily an excellent study called Selling Free Enterprise, by Elizabeth Fones-Wolf published by the University of Illinois Press, focusing on the post-World War II period. Fones-Wolf adds a great deal of new material on the extraordinary scale of the propaganda efforts “to indoctrinate people with the capitalist story,” and the dedicated self-consciousness with which “the everlasting battle for the minds of men” was pursued.
It’s a topic of such incredible significance in the twentieth century that it ought to be a major focus. We are immersed in it all the time. It explains a lot. The U.S. is different from other countries in this respect. It has a much more class-conscious business community, for all kinds of historical reasons. It didn’t develop out of feudalism and aristocracy. So there weren’t the conflicting factors you had in other places—the highly class-conscious business community, very Marxist in character, vulgar Marxist, fighting a bitter class war, and very aware of it. You read internal publications and it’s like reading Maoist pamphlets half the time. They don’t spend billions of dollars a year on propaganda for the fun of it. They do it with a purpose. For a long time the purpose was to resist and contain human rights and democracy and the whole welfare state framework, the social contract, that developed over the years. They wanted to contain it and limit it. Now they feel, in the current period, that they can really roll it back. They’d go right back to satanic mills, murdering poor people, basically the social structure of the early nineteenth century. That’s the situation we’re in right now. These huge propaganda offensives are a major part of it.
The real importance of Carey’s work is that it’s the first effort and until now the major effort to bring some of this to public attention. It’s had a tremendous influence on the work I’ve done. Ed Herman and I dedicated our book, Manufacturing Consent, to him. He had just died. It was not intended as just a symbolic gesture. He got both of us started in a lot of this work.

DB: You just mentioned “rollback.” It’s also the title of a series of essays in Z magazine that you just wrote. That was originally a Cold War term.

I picked it up from there. The standard line, if you read the Clinton Doctrine as announced by Anthony Lake, the intellectual in the administration, is that for years we’ve been involved in containment of a threat to market democracy. Now we’re going to enlarge it. So he’s picking Cold War imagery. And I think that Cold War imagery is appropriate, except that he’s got it backwards. For years we’ve been involved in containment of democracy, freedom, human rights, and even markets, and now we’re going to be able to roll them back. “Rollback” is another Cold War term, as you mentioned. The traditional Cold War policies were that we oscillate between containment and rollback.
Containment is Kennan’s policy. You prevent the Soviet power from expanding. That’s containment.
Rollback has been, in fact, official U.S. policy since 1950. NSC-68, the core Cold War doctrine, is an advocacy of rollback. That’s when Kennan was thrown out and Nitze and others came in. Rollback meant we undermine and destroy Soviet power and we reach negotiations with “a successor state or states,” as the NSC put it. These traditional international Cold War notions are, I think, very appropriate, except that they’re misplaced. Containment is in fact correct, but it wasn’t containment of a Soviet threat. It was containment of the threat of freedom, democracy, human rights, other threats to authority. And now they feel they can move on to roll back and unravel the entire social contract which developed through large-scale popular struggle over a century and a half, which did sort of soften the edges of predatory private tyranny, and often softened them a lot. In Germany, for example, workers have fairly reasonable conditions. So that has to be rolled back, and we have to go back to the days when we had wage slavery, as it was called by working people in the nineteenth century. No rights. The only rights you get are the rights you gain on the labor market. If your children can’t make enough money to survive, they starve. Your choices are the workhouse prison, the labor market, whatever you can get there.
Or, if you go back to the early days of the 1820s, the line was, “Or go somewhere else.” Meaning, go to the places where white settlers are massacring the indigenous populations and opening them up, like the U.S. and Australia, for example.
Of course, now that option is gone. You don’t go somewhere else. So the choices are limited to the other two, as the founders of modern economics, like Ricardo and Malthus and others, pointed out: workhouse prison or starvation, or whatever you can gain on the labor market. You don’t have any rights on the labor market. It’s just a market. That in fact is the foundation of the intellectual tradition that is called classical economics now, neoliberalism, and so on.
The idea is to go right back to those choices, with one crucial difference. There’s a little secret that everybody knows but you’re not supposed to say, and that is that nobody who advocated this believed a word of it. They always wanted a very powerful state which intervenes massively, but it’s a welfare state for the rich. That’s the way the U.S. was founded. In fact, the U.S. pioneered that development. It’s been the most protectionists of all the industrial societies. It’s a well-known fact.
Alexander Hamilton is the one who invented the concept of infant industry protection and modern protectionism. The U.S. has always been a pioneer and a bastion of protectionism, which is why it’s a rich, powerful country. Another slight secret of economic history, again well known to scholars, is that the free market policies have been an utter disaster. Anyone who is subjected to them gets smashed, which is why the Third World looks the way it is. They were forced on the Third World. And every single developed society has radically violated those principles, the U.S. more than most. That’s closely correlated with growth. If you look historically, protectionism is actually correlated with trade, even. The more protectionism, the more trade, for a simple reason: protectionism enhances growth, and growth enhances trade.
That was generally true over quite a long period. And protectionism is only one form of state intervention.
For poor people and working people, they have to be subjected to market discipline. That part is true. But the other side, which is less said, is that rich people are going to have a nanny state protecting and subsidizing them, and a powerful one.

DB: One of the heroes of the current right-wing revival—I’m not going to use the term “conservative”—is Adam Smith. You’ve done some pretty impressive research on Smith that has excavated, as the postmodernists would say, a lot of information that’s not coming out.
You’ve often quoted him describing the “vile maxim of the masters of mankind: all for ourselves and nothing for other people.”
I didn’t do any research at all on Smith. I just read him. There’s no research. Just read it. He’s pre-capitalist, a figure of the Enlightenment.
What we would call capitalism he despised. People read snippets of Adam Smith, the few phrases they teach in school. Everybody reads the first paragraph of The Wealth of Nations where he talks about how wonderful the division of labor is. But not many people get to the point hundreds of pages later, where he says that division of labor will destroy human beings and turn them into creatures as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human being to be. And therefore in any civilized society the government is going to have to take some measures to prevent division of labor from proceeding to its limits.
He did give an argument for markets, but the argument was that under conditions of perfect liberty, markets will lead to perfect equality.
That’s the argument for them, because he thought equality of condition (not just opportunity) is what you should be aiming at. It goes on and on. He gave a devastating critique of what we would call North-South policies. He was talking about England and India. He bitterly condemned the British experiments they were carrying out which were devastating India.
He also made remarks which ought to be truisms about the way states work. He pointed out that it’s totally senseless to talk about a nation and what we would nowadays call “national interests.” He simply observed in passing, because it’s so obvious, that in England, which is
what he’s discussing—and it was the most democratic society of the day—the principal architects of policy are the “merchants and manufacturers,” and they make certain that their own interests are, in his words, “most peculiarly attended to,” no matter what the effect on others, including the people of England, who, he argued, suffered from their policies. He didn’t have the data to prove it at the time, but he was probably right.
This truism was a century later called class analysis, but you don’t have to go to Marx to find it. It’s very explicit in Adam Smith. It’s so obvious that any ten-year-old can see it. So he didn’t make a big point of it. He just mentioned it. But that’s correct. If you read through his work, he’s intelligent. He’s a person who was from the Enlightenment. His driving motives were the assumption that people are guided by sympathy and feelings of solidarity and the need for control of their own work, much like other Enlightenment and early Romantic thinkers. He’s part of that period, the Scottish Enlightenment.
The version of him that’s given today is just ridiculous. But I didn’t have to do any research to find this out. All you have to do is read. If you’re literate, you’ll find it out. I did do a little research in the way it’s treated, and that’s interesting. For example, the University of Chicago, the great bastion of free market economics, etc., etc., published a bicentennial edition of the hero, a scholarly edition with all the footnotes and the introduction by a Nobel Prize winner, George Stigler, a huge index, a real scholarly edition. That’s the one I used. It’s the best edition. The scholarly framework was very interesting, including Stigler’s introduction. It’s likely he never opened The Wealth of Nations. Just about everything he said about the book was completely false. I went through a bunch of examples in writing about it, in Year 501 and elsewhere.
But even more interesting in some ways was the index. Adam Smith is very well known for his advocacy of division of labor. Take a look at “division of labor” in the index and there are lots and lots of things listed. But there’s one missing, namely his denunciation of division of labor, the one I just cited. That’s somehow missing from the index. It goes on like this. I wouldn’t call this research, because it’s ten minutes’ work, but if you look at the scholarship, then it’s interesting.
I want to be clear about this. There is good Smith scholarship. If you look at the serious Smith scholarship, nothing I’m saying is any surprise to anyone. How could it be? You open the book and you read it and it’s staring you right in the face. On the other hand, if you look at the myth of Adam Smith, which is the only one we get, the discrepancy between that and the reality is enormous.

This is true of classical liberalism in general. The founders of classical liberalism, people like Adam Smith and Wilhelm von Humboldt, who is one of the great exponents of classical liberalism, and who inspired John
Stuart Mill—they were what we would call libertarian socialists, at least that’s the way I read them. For example, Humboldt, like Smith, says,
Consider a craftsman who builds some beautiful thing. Humboldt says if he does it under external coercion, like pay, for wages, we may admire what he does but we will despise what he is. On the other hand, if he does it out of his own free, creative expression of himself, under free will, not under external coercion of wage labor, then we also admire what he is because he’s a human being. He said any decent socioeconomic system will be based on the assumption that people have the freedom to inquire and create—since that’s the fundamental nature of humans—in free association with others, but certainly not under the kinds of external constraints that later came to be called capitalism.
It’s the same when you read Jefferson. He lived a half century later, so he saw state capitalism developing, and he despised it, of course. He said it’s going to lead to a form of absolutism worse than the one we defended ourselves against. In fact, if you run through this whole period you see a very clear, sharp critique of what we would later call capitalism and certainly of the twentieth-century version of it, which is designed in fact to destroy individual, even entrepreneurial capitalism.
There’s a side current here which is rarely looked at but which is also quite fascinating. That’s the working class literature of the nineteenth century. They didn’t read Adam Smith and Wilhelm von Humboldt, but they’re saying the same things. Read journals put out by the people called the “factory girls of Lowell,” young women in the factories, mechanics, and other working people who were running their own newspapers. It’s the same kind of critique. There was a real battle fought by working people in England and the U.S. to defend themselves against what they called the degradation and oppression and violence of the industrial capitalist system, which was not only dehumanizing them but was even radically reducing their intellectual level. So you go back to the mid-nineteenth century and these so-called “factory girls,” young girls working in the Lowell mills, were reading serious contemporary literature. They recognized that the point of the system was to turn them into tools who would be manipulated, degraded, kicked around, and so on. And they fought against it bitterly for a long period. That’s the history of the rise of capitalism.
The other part of the story is the development of corporations, which is an interesting story in itself. Adam Smith didn’t say much about them, but he did criticize the early stages of them. Jefferson lived long enough to see the beginnings, and he was very strongly opposed to them. But the development of corporations really took place in the early twentieth century and very late in the nineteenth century. Originally corporations existed as a public service. People would get together to build a bridge and they would be incorporated for that purpose by the state. They built the bridge and that’s it. They were supposed to have a public interest function. Well into the 1870s, states were removing corporate charters.
They were granted by the state. They didn’t have any other authority.
They were fictions. They were removing corporate charters because they weren’t serving a public function. But then you get into the period of trusts and various efforts to consolidate power that were beginning to be made in the late nineteenth century. It’s interesting to look at the literature. The courts didn’t really accept it. There were some hints about it. It wasn’t until the early twentieth century that courts and lawyers designed a new socioeconomic system. It was never done by legislation.
It was done mostly by courts and lawyers and the power they could exercise over individual states. New Jersey was the first state that granted corporations any right they wanted. Of course, all the capital inthe country suddenly started to flow to New Jersey, for obvious reasons.
Then the other states had to do the same thing just to defend themselves or be wiped out. It’s kind of a small-scale globalization. Then the courts and the corporate lawyers came along and created a whole new body of doctrine which gave corporations authority and power that they had never had before. If you look at the background of it, it’s the same background that led to fascism and Bolshevism. A lot of it was supported by people called progressives, for these reasons: They said, individual rights are gone. We are in a period of corporatization of power, consolidation of power, centralization. That’s supposed to be good if you’re a progressive, like a Marxist-Leninist. Out of that same background came three major things: fascism, Bolshevism, and corporate tyranny. They all grew out of the same more or less Hegelian roots. It’s fairly recent. We think of corporations as immutable, but they were designed. It’s a conscious design which worked as Adam Smith said: the principal architects of policy consolidate state power and use it for their interests. It was certainly not popular will. It’s basically court decisions and lawyers’ decisions, which created a form of private tyranny which is now more massive in many ways than even state tyranny was. These are major parts of modern twentieth-century history.
The classical liberals would be horrified. They didn’t even imagine this.
But the smaller things that they saw, they were already horrified about.
This would have totally scandalized Adam Smith or Jefferson or anyone like that.

DB: Let’s make a connection between corporations and East Timor and Indonesia. Nike is the world’s largest manufacturer of sneakers and sportswear. It’s headquarters is in Beaverton, Oregon, right outside of Portland. Some years ago they had set up factories in South Korea.
South Korean workers started unionizing and demanding better pay and better working conditions. Nike moved their operations to Indonesia, where they pay workers $1.35 a day. Nike makes these sneakers in Indonesia for $5.40 and sells them in the U.S. for $60, $70, $80.

Indonesia has been a great favorite of the West, ever since 1965, when a huge massacre took place. They slaughtered maybe half a million or so people and destroyed the one popular political party there, which was, as everyone from right to left agrees, defending the interests of the poor. This slaughter was welcomed with absolute euphoria in the West. I’ve reviewed some of the press coverage. Since Indonesia is a pretty rich country, lots of resources, it’s what’s been called a “paradise” for investors. It is a brutal, repressive state which prevents any labor organizing or anything else, so wages can be very low. Indonesian wages are now half the level of China, which is not exactly high. At the 1994 APEC conference, everybody went to Jakarta to celebrate the free market. As part of cleaning the place up, they threw all the labor leaders in jail. Some of them are in there for long sentences. Some of the sentences have just been increased. They don’t tolerate labor unions.
There’s a Stalinist-style labor union run by the government. There have been attempts to create independent unions, but they have been brutally suppressed. So Nike’s happy, because the work force is—although they’re very militant and very courageous—brutally repressed by the state and kept way down. The country’s extremely rich. There’s a lot of wealth around, mostly in the hands of General Suharto and his family and their cronies and foreign investors.
Even the invasion of East Timor, as I’ve mentioned, was motivated to a substantial extent by corporate robbery. A large part of the reason can be seen in an important leak of diplomatic cables from right before the invasion, around August 1975. These Australian cables first of all talked directly about the complicity of the U.S., of Kissinger ordering the
Jakarta Embassy not to report any more on what’s going on because the U.S. was going to support the invasion, as it did. Of course they publicly denied knowing anything about it. The Australian Ambassador said, his words were something like this, We can make a better deal on East Timorese oil with Indonesia than we can with Portugal, the administering power, or with an independent East Timor. In fact, that is now exactly what’s going on. A few years later Australia recognized the occupation, the only Western country to recognize it, in the context of negotiations with Indonesia about the Timor Gap Treaty. There was a big massacre in Dili in 1991 which did focus the world’s attention on the occupation. A couple hundred people were murdered by Indonesian troops who made the mistake of doing it in front of a hidden television camera and beating up two American reporters. You’re not supposed to do things like that. You’re supposed to do massacres in secret while nobody’s looking. They made that technical error, so there was a lot of coverage for a while. Immediately after that—and here the coverage declines, I have yet to see a word about it in the U.S., maybe in some of the business press—Australia and Indonesia granted licenses to major oil companies to begin drilling for Timorese oil. You have to recall that the official reason given as to why East Timor can’t be independent is that it doesn’t have any resources. That reason is given by the people who are robbing it of its oil resources, which are expected to be quite substantial.
As I mentioned, there is now a World Court case in process right now—that you really don’t see coverage of. It’s on kind of technical issues. The World Court isn’t going to deal with the question of whether a country favored by the West is allowed to occupy and massacre other people. That’s beyond courts. But they will look at the technical side.
The London Financial Times, a major business journal, just had a big article on January 30th timed with the opening of the World Court hearing, describing it as one of the most important court trials ever, because it is going to establish the basis for commercial exploitation or, to be more accurate, robbery of the resources of a conquered people. It’s a major issue. That’s quite apart from the fact that with U.S. assistance Indonesia managed to slaughter maybe a quarter of the population, a couple hundred thousand people. And it’s still going on.

DB: I’d like to put readers in this office space for a moment. Your desk is pretty neat right now. There are usually even higher piles of books. There are at least six or seven piles, stacks of books and papers, and on your filing cabinets even more. How do you divide your labor?
You’ve just been away for about two weeks. You come back and have this avalanche of mail, phone calls, things to read. How do you get through this? What are you prioritizing here? Is there an order to this madness?

First of all, it looks remarkably neat now because while I was away they did something really nasty. They painted and cleaned the office, which I never would have permitted while I was here. So it looks surprisingly clean. You may have noticed I’m trying to take care of that.
So it does look neater than usual. But if you want to know what it’s like, you’ve been at our house. Around 4:30 this morning there was what we thought was an earthquake, a huge noise. Our bedroom is right next to the study. We went in and discovered that these big piles of books, six feet high, a couple of piles had fallen and were scattered all over the floor. That’s where I put the books that are urgent reading. Sometimes when I’ve having an extremely boring phone call, I try to calculate how many centuries I’d have to live in order to read the urgent books if I were to read twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week at some speed reading pace. It’s pretty depressing. So the answer to your question is, I don’t get anywhere near doing what I would like to do.

DB: Just in the last year or so you’ve written introductions to Paul Farmer’s book (The Uses of Haiti) on Haiti, Jennifer Harbury’s book (Bridge of Courage) on Guatemala, the Frederic Clairmont book on world trade.

And Alex Carey’s book, and several books of my own, a lot of articles, plus all the linguistics, which is a totally different thing. On the way back from Australia, it’s a long flight, about seventeen or eighteen hours, I spent it all proofreading a very technical manuscript on a totally different topic. Plus I have a couple articles coming out in Mind and other philosophy journals.

DB: Those long flights must provide at least a sense of respite for you because you’re not bombarded with telephone calls and people like me knocking on the door.

One thing that surprised me in Australia, and I hope it doesn’t come here, is that they’re very high tech in some ways that we aren’t. So everybody had a mobile phone. As we were driving around in cars there were phone calls going up and back. One thing I’ve always liked about driving, like flying, is that you’re inaccessible. But apparently not any longer. Flying is very good in that respect. You’re totally anonymous.
Nobody can bother you.

DB: One of the things I’ve observed over the years of working with you and watching you interact with others is a sense of balance and enormous patience. You’re very patient with people, particularly people who ask the most inane kinds of questions. Is this something you’ve cultivated?

First of all, I’m usually fuming inside, so what you see on the outside isn’t necessarily what’s inside. But as far as questions, the only thing I ever get irritated about is elite intellectuals, the stuff they do I do find irritating. I shouldn’t. I should expect it. But I do find it irritating. But on the other hand, what you’re describing as inane questions usually strike me as perfectly honest questions. People have no reason to believe anything other than what they’re saying. If you think about where the questioner is coming from, what the person has been exposed to, that’s a very rational and intelligent question. It may sound inane from some other point of view, but it’s not at all inane from within the framework in which it’s being raised. It’s usually quite reasonable. So there’s nothing to be irritated about.
You may be sorry about the conditions in which the questions arise.
The thing to do is to try to help them get out of their intellectual confinement, which is not just accidental, as I mentioned. There are huge efforts that do go in to making people, to borrow Adam Smith’s phrase, “as stupid and ignorant as it’s possible for a human being to be.” A lot of the educational system is designed for that, if you think about it, it’s designed for obedience and passivity. From childhood, a lot of it is designed to prevent people from being independent and creative.
If you’re independent-minded in school, you’re probably going to get in trouble very early on. That’s not the trait that’s being preferred or cultivated. When people live through all this stuff, plus corporate propaganda, plus television, plus the press and the whole mass, the deluge of ideological distortion that goes on, they ask questions that from another point of view sound inane, but from their point of view are completely reasonable.

DB: You either have ESP or you’ve been looking at my notes, because I was going to ask you a question about education. You’re fond of quoting an anecdote of a former colleague of yours at MIT, Vicky Weisskopf.

Vicky Weisskopf, who just retired, is a very famous physicist. One of the good things about this place is that the senior faculty teach introductory courses. He used to teach introductory physics courses.
He’s one of the most distinguished physicists of the twentieth century, not a minor figure. The story—I don’t know whether it’s true or not—is that students would ask him, What are we going to cover in the course?
His answer always was that the question is not what we’re going to cover, but what we’re going to discover. In other words, it doesn’t matter what coverage there is. What matters is whether you learn to think independently. If so, you can find the material and the answers yourself.
Anyone who teaches science, at least at an advanced level, is perfectly aware of the fact that you don’t lecture. You may be standing in front of a room, but it’s a cooperative enterprise. Studying is more a form of apprenticeship than anything else. It’s kind of like learning to be a skilled carpenter. You work with somebody who knows how to do it.
Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t get it. If you get it, you’re a skilled carpenter. How it’s transmitted, nobody can say. Science is a lot like that. You just sort of have to get it. The way you get it is by interacting. The same is true here. You go to a class in linguistics and it’s a discussion. The people sitting in the seat where you’re sitting are usually so-called students who are talking about things, teaching me about what they’ve discovered. That was Weisskopf’s point.

DB: At the Mellon lecture that you gave in Chicago in October, you focused primarily on the ideas of John Dewey and Bertrand Russell. It was very different from one of your political talks, for obvious reasons.
Not to say you’re not engaged in the political analysis as well, but there was really a different tone and timbre to your voice. There was a certain intellectual excitement when you were talking about these ideas that really matter to you and from what you said influenced you a great deal.

They did. Not so much by reading as by living. From about eighteen months old, both my parents were working, and I was in what was called school. It happened to be an experimental school run by Temple University on Deweyite lines. So until I was about twelve years old I just experienced Deweyite ideas, rather well executed, incidentally.
Progressive education isn’t what’s called that, but this was the real stuff.
It was an exciting period. Later I read the thinking behind it. I didn’t read about it when I was eight years old. I just lived it. These were highly libertarian ideas. Dewey himself comes straight from the American mainstream. People who read what he actually said would now consider him some far-out anti-American lunatic or something. He was expressing mainstream thinking before the ideological system had so grotesquely distorted the tradition.
By now it’s unrecognizable. For example, not only did he agree with the whole Enlightenment tradition that, as he put it, “the goal of production is to produce free people,” (“free men,” he said, but that’s many years ago). That’s the goal of production, not to produce commodities. He was a major theorist of democracy. There were many different, conflicting strands to democratic theory, but the one I’m talking about held that democracy requires dissolution of private power. He said as long as there is private control over the economic system, talk about democracy is a joke. Repeating basically Adam Smith, Dewey said, Politics is the shadow that big business casts over society. He said attenuating the shadow doesn’t do much. Reforms are still going to leave it tyrannical. Basically a classical liberal view. His main point was that you can’t even talk about democracy until you have democratic control of industry, commerce, banking, everything. That means control by the people who work in the institutions, and the communities.
These are standard libertarian socialist and anarchist ideas which go straight back to the Enlightenment, an outgrowth of the views of the kind that we were talking about before from classical liberalism. Dewey represented these in the modern period, as did Bertrand Russell, from another tradition, but again with roots in the Enlightenment. These were two of the major, if not the two major thinkers, of the twentieth century, whose ideas are about as well known as those of the real Adam Smith.
Which is a sign of how efficient the educational system has been, and the propaganda system, in simply destroying even our awareness of our own immediate intellectual background.

DB: In that same Mellon lecture, you paraphrased Russell on education. You said that he promoted the idea that education is not to be viewed as something like filling a vessel with water, but rather assisting a flower to grow in its own way. That’s poetic.

That’s an eighteenth-century idea. I don’t know if Russell knew about it or re-invented it, but you read that as standard in early Enlightenment literature. That’s the image that was used. That’s essentially what Weisskopf was saying, too. Humboldt, the founder of classical liberalism, his view was that education is a matter of laying out a string along which the child will develop, but in its own way. You may do some guiding. That’s what serious education would be, from kindergarten up through graduate school. You do get it in advanced science, because there’s no other way to do it.
But most of the educational system is quite different. Mass education was designed to turn independent farmers into docile, passive tools of production. That was its primary purpose. And don’t think people didn’t know it. They knew it and they fought against it. There was a lot of resistance to mass education for exactly that reason. It was also understood by the elites. Emerson once said something about how we’re educating them to keep them from our throats. If you don’t educate them, what we call “education,” they’re going to take control—“they” being what Alexander Hamilton called the “great beast,” namely the people. The anti-democratic thrust of opinion in what are called democratic societies is really ferocious. And for good reasons. Because the freer the society gets, the more dangerous the great beast becomes and the more you have to be careful to cage it somehow.
On the other hand, there are exceptions, and Dewey and Russell are among those exceptions. But they are completely marginalized and unknown, although everybody sings praises to them, as they do to Adam Smith. What they actually said would be considered intolerable in the autocratic climate of dominant opinion. The totalitarian element of it is quite striking. The very fact that the concept “anti-American” can exist—forget the way it’s used—exhibits a totalitarian streak that’s pretty dramatic. That concept, anti-Americanism—the only real counterpart to it in the modern world is anti-Sovietism. In the Soviet Union, the worst crime was to be anti-Soviet. That’s the hallmark of a totalitarian society, to have concepts like anti-Sovietism or anti-Americanism. Here it’s considered quite natural. Books on anti-Americanism, by people who are basically Stalinist clones, are highly respected. That’s true of Anglo-American societies, which are strikingly the more democratic societies. I think there’s a correlation there. That’s basically Alex Carey’s point. As freedom grows, the need to coerce and control opinion also grows if you want to prevent the great beast from doing something with its freedom.

DB: These qualities that I think you’re looking for and want to elicit from your students, a sense of inquiry, skepticism, challenging you, maybe just saying, You’re a nice guy but you don’t know what you’re talking about, how do you foster those? You come in with a certain amount of baggage into a classroom. People say, This is Noam Chomsky, the father of modern linguistics and all that. Do you find students are in awe of you or are hesitant to speak out?

Not most. Most of them are pretty independent-minded. And they soon pick up the atmosphere around. Walk around and you’ll see. It’s a very informal atmosphere of interchange and cooperation. These are ideals, of course. You may not live up to them properly, but it’s certainly what everyone is committed to. There are students who find it harder, especially ones who come from Asian backgrounds. They’ve had a much more authoritarian tradition. Some of them break through quite quickly, some don’t. But by and large the people who make it into elite graduate programs are that tiny minority who haven’t had the creativity and independence beaten out of them. It doesn’t work 100%.
There was some interesting stuff written about this by Sam Bowles and Herb Gintis, two economists, in their work on the American educational system some years back. They pointed out that the educational system is divided into fragments. The part that’s directed towards working people and the general population is indeed designed to impose obedience. But the education for elites can’t quite do that. It has to allow creativity and independence. Otherwise they won’t be able to do their job of making money. You find the same thing in the press.
That’s why I read the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times and Business Week. They just have to tell the truth. That’s a contradiction in the mainstream press, too. Take, say, the New York Times or the Washington Post. They have dual functions, and they’re contradictory.
One function is to subdue the great beast. But another function is to let their audience, which is an elite audience, gain a tolerably realistic picture of what’s going on in the world. Otherwise they won’t be able to satisfy their own needs. That’s a contradiction that runs right through the educational system as well. It’s totally independent of another factor, namely just professional integriry, which a lot of people have: honesty, no matter what the external constraints are. That leads to various complexities. If you really look at the details of how the newspapers work, you find these contradictions and problems playing themselves out in complicated ways.

DB: Do you find that when you’re doing these one-on-one’s with the students in your office that they’re more open and communicate more easily with you than in class?

My classes have a funny property. They’ve become a kind of institution. There’s the Thursday afternoon seminar. The participants are from all over the place, as we discussed earlier, including faculty from several fields and many places and more advanced students who may have taken the course officially before. Actual students are a small minority and sometimes tend to be somewhat intimidated. The discussions are mostly among faculty. What I’ve done over the years is to break the class into two, so there’s two and a half hours of free-floating interchange with everyone. Then everybody gets kicked out and only the actual students are left. These are just discussion sections, which the actual students run. I don’t have any agenda for them, so it’s whatever they feel like talking about. That’s turned out to be a useful way to run the courses to take care of this special problem that arose.

DB: In addition to your office being relatively neat and tidy, there are also some additions to the photography section on your wall.

The latest photo has my three grandchildren sitting in a bathtub. I try to keep the other side of life, something to look at that’s nice.

DB: There’s a connection between my question and what I want to ask you about. There is much talk now of family values and children.
You’ve been citing a UNICEF study by the economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett on Child Neglect in Rich Societies. What’s that about?

That’s one of several interesting studies. That’s the best. It came out in 1993. It has yet to be mentioned anywhere, as far as I know.
UNICEF usually studies poor countries, but this is a study on rich countries and how they take care of children. She’s a good, well-known American economist. She found, basically, in the last fifteen years, two different models. There’s an Anglo-American model and a European/Japanese model. They’re radically different. The Anglo-American model has been basically a war against children and families.
The European/Japanese model has been supportive of families and children. And it shows. The statistics show it very well, as does experience. In Europe and Japan, family values have been maintained.
Families have been supported. Children don’t go hungry. Parents stay with children. There’s bonding in early childhood because both husbands and wives are purposely given time to spend with children.
There are day care centers. There’s a whole support system. The U.S. and England, on the other hand, are basically at war with children and families and have destroyed them, purposely. Purposeful, conscious social policy has been to attack and destroy family values and children.

So there are extremely high rates of child poverty and malnutrition, child abuse, parents and children having very little contact under the Anglo-American system. Contact time has fallen about forty percent over the past generation, in large part because two parents have to work 50-60 hours a week to survive, to keep the children alive. So you have latchkey children, television supervision, abuse of children by children, violence against children, etc. The amazing thing about the U.S., and this is an intriguing element of our intellectual culture, is that the people who are carrying out this war are able to say that they’re defending family values and nobody cracks up in ridicule. That takes a really disciplined intellectual climate. The fact that nobody discusses it publicly—this is serious research, not the kind of junk that’s called research—that’s also revealing.

DB: I’m getting a signal from your office manager to wind this up.
You’ve been citing some Hallmark cards that reflect these trends you’ve described. Where did you get them?

I didn’t. That’s reported in the same study. As part of Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s UNICEF study, the discussion of the breakdown of families under the conscious social policy of the Anglo-American system, she mentions as one sign of it this line of Hallmark cards, one of which is intended to be put under a child’s breakfast cereal, saying, Have a nice day, because the parents are out somewhere. The other is to be tucked under the pillow at night, saying, Wish I were there. She gives that as an illustration of what’s also shown by the heavy statistics. Incidentally, this is not the only such study. There is a bestseller in Canada by a woman who is a personal friend of mine, Linda McQuaig. She used to be a journalist and became a freelance writer. She’s a very good social critic. She wrote a book (The Wealthy Banker’s Wife) on the Canadian model. So it’s Canada-focused. But she pointed out, rightly, that Canada is kind of poised between the Anglo-American model and the European model, moving toward the Anglo-American one. She describes in some detail what that’s doing to families and children in a country that used to have a sort of civilized social contract. It’s eroding under the pressure of the Anglo-American system that they’re a part of. The book was a bestseller in Canada, but you’re not going to find it around here. My own book, Necessary Illusions, was also a bestseller in Canada. It wasn’t even reviewed here. There are other studies. And the facts are quite dramatic.
I notice you have a newspaper article.

DB: It’s yesterday’s Denver Post. Of course, the obligatory Superbowl coverage dominates the front page. But there’s a story on a new study which reports that six million U.S. kids are poor and the numbers are increasing.

Child poverty in the U.S. is just off the scale. Poverty altogether is.
The U.S. has the most unequal distribution of wealth of any industrial country, and that’s been radically increasing in recent years. Poverty among children is just awesome. In New York City it’s about forty percent below the poverty line. New York City has as high a level of inequality as Guatemala, which has the worst record of any country for which there are data. People know what that means. Poverty among children is enormous. Malnutrition is unbelievably high and getting worse. The same is true of infant mortality. It’s unique in the industrial world. And it’s social policy.
Take, say, family leave. Most civilized countries nurture that. They want parents to be with children when they’re little. That’s when bonding takes place and a lot of child development takes place in those early months, even neural development. It’s well known. So in a civilized country you try to provide for it. The U.S. does not even have the level of plantation workers in Uganda for these things. That’s part of the war against children and families and in general against poor people that’s carried out under the rubric of “family values.” The idea is, only rich people should have state support. They have to be subsidized by massive transfer payments, like Newt Gingrich and his constituents. But poor people have to be smashed. Poor means most of the population.
Incidentally, it’s not only children who are suffering poverty, but also the elderly, surprisingly. There was a big article in the Wall Street Journal recently about how starvation, in their words, is “surging” among the elderly, reaching maybe 15 or 16% of the population over sixty. Again, that’s a phenomenon unknown in industrial societies, and indeed, unknown in poor societies, because there they have support systems, extended families or whatever. But we’re unusual. Civil society has been basically destroyed. Family structure has been devastated. There is a powerful nanny state, but it’s a welfare state for the rich. That’s an unusual system. And it comes from having a highly class-conscious business class and not much in the way of organized opposition.

DB: I’m afraid I’m going to be thrown out of here in an organized fashion. See you in a couple of days.

February 3, 1995

DB: I want to impress upon our listeners about how competent and able we are. The other day we got off to a real Marx-like start, and I don’t mean Karl. I forgot to turn the tape recorder on. Then when I did the phone rang and then you spilled your entire cup of coffee on the floor. It was a precious sequence.

I’ll avoid that now by cutting the phone connection.

DB Just on a pile update, I see there has been some shifting of the piles. The left-hand pile has grown considerably.

There’s a Barsamian thermos mug on top of one of the piles, which helps.

DB: And the piles on the file cabinets behind you have grown significantly, just in a couple of days. Let’s continue a little bit about Australia and what you found there. We did talk about East Timor, but in terms of the Australian economy, are they also part of the neoliberal paradigm?

Australia is the only country in history, I think, that has decided to turn itself from a rich, First World country into an impoverished Third World country. It is now unfortunately busily at work at it. Australia is in the grips of a fanatic ideology called “economic rationalism,” which is a souped-up version of the free market theology that’s taught in economics departments but that nobody in the business world believes for a second. It’s the ideology which has been forced on the Third World, which is one of the reasons why it’s such a wreck, but which rich countries have never accepted for themselves. They’ve always insisted on and demanded massive state intervention and protectionism, with the U.S. usually leading the pack, since 1800. You can see the differences. You go back to the eighteenth century and the First World and the Third World weren’t all that different. They’re rather different today, and this is one of the reasons.
Australia, which is in the Anglo-American orbit, and not a leading power, obviously, is a small country. They have taken the ideology seriously. They are doing what they call “liberalizing” their economy, meaning opening it up to foreign penetration and control, and to the main sources of capital in that area. East and Southeast Asia is a big growth area in the world. In fact, with one exception it’s an enormous growth area. The one basket case is the Philippines, which has been enjoying our tutelage for a century. You’re not supposed to notice that.
But apart from that the area’s in a big growth boom, in pretty awful ways, but nevertheless a growth boom. The source of it is mainly Japanese and overseas Chinese capital, which are two big imperial concentrations, although the overseas Chinese one is scattered. It’s not territorially based. What they’re trying to do is pretty clear. They want to turn Australia into their Caribbean. So they’ll own the beach fronts and have the nice hotels and the Australians can serve the meals and there will be a lot of resources that they can pull out. Australia is still a rich country. In fact, at the time of the First World War it was the richest country in the world, so it has lots of advantages. It’s not going to look like Jamaica very soon, but it’s heading in that direction.
Since they dropped tariffs in this neoliberal fanaticism, the manufacturing deficit, meaning the ratio of manufacturing imports to exports has increased very sharply, meaning importing manufactures and exporting resources, services, tourism basically. It’s moving in that direction. It’s under very careful design, with a lot of smugness. Because the economists who studied at the University of Chicago and so on probably believe the stuff they were taught. Business leaders have never been willing to tolerate it for a second. But it is part of the ideological fanaticism that is part of the technique for smashing down poor people and sometimes rich people who take it on for themselves and suffer the consequences. The same thing happened in New Zealand.

DB What was Australia’s role in the U.S. attack on Indochina?

Australian documents have been released up till the early 1960s and we now know that the Menzies government, the government of Australia in the early 1960s, was greatly afraid of Indonesia. That was their big concern. That concern still hasn’t abated. They are on the edge of Asia.
They regard themselves as a white outpost on the edge of Asia. There’s always a yellow peril concern, very racist. It’s being overcome now, I should say, but back then it was very racist. They felt that they had to switch. The British fleet used to be what protected them. But illusions about that collapsed during the Second World War, when the Japanese very quickly sank the British fleet. They realized that their protection was going to be the U.S., so they better be a subservient client to the U.S. As the U.S. moved into Indochina, they went along. They provided not a huge amount of aid—it’s a small country—but they sent troops, so they carried out plenty of torture, atrocities, and so on.
They did this for two reasons. Part of it was just service to the big power, the big guys, who are supposed to protect them. But partly because they shared the U.S. geopolitical analysis, which was very straightforward, that there could be a demonstration effect of successful independent development in Indochina. They were worried about the same thing from China in those days. And that it could spread. It could, as they liked to put it, “infect the region.” There could be an infection that could spread over the whole region. The way you get rid of an infection is you destroy the virus and you immunize those whom it might reach. And they did. They helped the U.S. destroy the virus.
The U.S. had basically won the Vietnam War by the early 1970s, as was clear to the business community. Nobody else seems to be able to understand it yet. In the region they simply supported the installation of extremely brutal, murderous regimes.
The most important was Indonesia, where there was a major event in 1965. The CIA pointed out in its report, which has since come out, that the slaughter that took place ranks right up with the Nazis and Stalin.
They were very proud of it, of course, and said it was one of the most important events of the century. And it was. Indonesia was the rich area that they were afraid might be infected by the spread of independent nationalism. When the generals took over in the mid 1960s, General Suharto, in what the Times called admiringly a “staggering mass slaughter,” destroyed the one political party in the country, the PKI, the party of the poor. Everyone agrees on this. The U.S. records, incidentally, have also come out through the 1950s at least, although they’ve been very secretive about them. They’ve been very selective about what they release. It’s a little unusual. It’s also been noticed by scholars. But there’s enough there to know that what they were afraid of was that the PKI, the major political party, would win an election if there was ever an election. So therefore democracy had to be destroyed.
In the late 1950s, the U.S. carried out huge subversive operations designed to strip away the resource rich outer islands in a military uprising. That didn’t work. The only alternative left was this “boiling bloodbath,” as it was called in the press, which very much satisfied the U.S. There was total euphoria across the board. The same thing happened pretty much in Thailand and the Philippines and so on. So the region was inoculated. The virus was destroyed. Australia played a part in it. Since then they have been incorporated into what’s called in the U.S. the “defense system,” the military system. So that’s their relationship to the U.S. But they have a separate relationship to Asia.
That’s the relationship of increasing subordination to Japanese and overseas Chinese capital that’s quite visible. For example, of the three largest exporters, two are Japanese multinationals, which is the standard Third World pattern developing.

DB: Darwin, in his Voyage of The Beagle in 1839, wrote, “Wherever the European has trod, death seems to pursue the aboriginal.” How did the aborigines, the indigenous population of Australia fare? Did you have any contact with them while you were there?

Some. In Tasmania they were simply totally exterminated. In Australia they were driven inland, which means desert. In the U.S., it’s taken several hundred years. It’s just two hundred years for Australia, they’re a young country compared with us—they’re beginning to recognize aboriginal rights, the land rights issue, etc. There is an independent aboriginal movement. Up till now there’s been extreme racism, maybe worse than the American record. But it’s changing, and now there are aboriginal rights groups. I was able to meet some of them.
I was invited by the Timorese, and they’re in contact with them. So there has been some legal recognition of aboriginal land rights and some limited rights to resources, but it will happen to the extent that the popular forces press it, as usual.

DB: There’s been a noticeable shift in the emphasis of your public talks and your writing over the last decade. There’s much more focus now on trade and economic issues. When did that occur? How did that come about?

It came about from the 1970s, when the issues shifted. Some major events took place in the early 1970s, very significant. One of them was the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system, which we’ve talked about.
That’s one force that set in motion very substantial changes that gave a big acceleration to the growth of multinationals. Transnational corporations now have an enormous role in the world economy. These are just incredible private tyrannies. They make totalitarian states look mild by comparison.
The other huge change was the extraordinary growth in financial capital. First of all, it’s exploded in scale. It’s absolutely astronomical.
There are close to a trillion dollars moving every day just in trading. Also the total composition of capital in international exchange has radically shifted. So in 1970, before the destruction of the Bretton Woods system, which meant regulated exchanges, about ninety percent of the capital in international exchanges was real economy related, related to investment and trade. Ten percent was speculative. By 1990 the figures were reversed. By 1994, the last report I saw was 95% speculative and Its effects were noticed by James Tobin, the American Nobel Prize-winning economist, in his presidential address to the American Economic Association in 1978, so that’s in the early stages. He pointed out that this rise of financial capital speculating against currencies is going to drive the world towards very low-growth, low-wage, and, though he didn’t mention it, also high-profit economy. What financial capital wants is basically stable money. It doesn’t want growth. This is why you see headlines in the papers saying, Federal Reserve Fears Growth, Fears Employment, we’ve got to cut down the growth rate and the employment rate. You have to make sure that Goldman, Sachs gets enough money on their bondholdings. He suggested at the time a tax on speculative capital, just to slow down the rate of capital exchanges. Of course that was never done. It’s coming up in the U.N. It will be smashed, but it’s still being discussed, simply to try to shift the balance towards productive investment instead of speculative and destructive interchanges.
Incidentally, it’s had an enormous effect on the news business. The big wire services, like Reuters and AP, which is connected with Dow Jones, and Knight-Ridder, do give news, but that’s a secondary function.
The main thing that they do is interact instantaneously with financial markets. So if Clinton is giving a speech, the AP, Reuters, and Knight-Ridder reporters will be there, of course. If he says a phrase indicating maybe we’re going to stimulate the economy, they race off with their mobile phones in their hands and call the central computer and say, Clinton said X. Then the guy who is manning the computer twenty-four hours a day types off to thousands of terminals around the world that Clinton said X, and maybe $700 million moves around in financial markets. The three wire services compete to make sure they get there first. I was told by a reporter who works for Reuters that every day they get a record of how they rank as compared with AP and Knight-Ridder, and it’s in the microseconds. You’ve got to get there half a second before because there are huge amounts of money at stake. All this is destructive for the economy. It tends towards low growth, low wages, high profits. That’s essentially what the wire services are about these days. Yes, there’s news on the side, but that’s slow stuff for us guys.
The telecommunications revolution, which expedited all of this, is, incidentally, another state component of the international economy that didn’t develop through private capital, but through the public paying to destroy themselves, which is what it amounts to. This has been going on since the early 1970s, but it really hit big in the 1980s, primarily in the Anglo-American societies. So under the Reaganites and Thatcher, and with a spillover effect in Australia, New Zealand, and Canada (it’s all one culture area). You get this development we talked about last time of the effects on families and children. That’s just one effect.

DB: Where does the collapse of the Mexican economy factor into this?

I just got a phone call a couple of days ago from a journalist in Mexico telling me that I’m a big figure there now because they had an interview with me in one of the Mexican journals (La Jornada, November 7, 1994) a couple of months ago in which I said this is all built on sand and is going to collapse. It was pretty obvious. It’s what’s called a Ponzi scheme. You borrow money. You use what you’ve borrowed to borrow more money, and finally the whole thing collapses because there’s nothing behind it. Economists who know anything about Mexico didn’t miss it. It’s the ideological fanatics who didn’t notice it, or claim not to.
The free market reform, so-called, “privatization,” which everyone says is such a wonderful thing, means giving away public assets for a fraction of their worth to rich cronies of the president. Every president of Mexico, including Salinas, whom we’re supposed to love, comes out a billionaire, for some reason, as do all of his friends and associates. The number of billionaires in the Forbes list of billionaires went up from one to twenty-four from 1989 to 1993 during the huge economic miracle.
Meanwhile the number of people below the poverty level increased at roughly the same rate. Wages have fallen about fifty percent. Part of the point of NAFTA was to undermine the Mexican economy by opening them up to much cheaper imports from the U.S. The U.S. has an advanced state-subsidized economy, so therefore you can produce things very cheaply. The idea was to wipe out middle-level Mexican business, keep the multinationals. There are Mexican-based multinationals. Keep the monopolies. Keep the billionaires. Lower wages. That’s good for U.S. corporations. Then they can move over and get workers at a fraction of the wage. It’s a very repressive state. You don’t have to worry about unions and regulations. There has been a lot of capital flowing into Mexico, but it’s well known that it was mostly speculative.
As far as the rich Mexicans are concerned, they just export their capital. They’re not going to keep it there. So probably rich Mexicans lost very little from this devaluation. For one thing, they all knew it was coming because it’s so totally corrupt that it was all known on the inside. If anyone looks, they’ll find that Mexican capital probably went overseas very fast shortly before the devaluation.
So it’s the American investors who are in trouble, big Wall Street firms. One Mexico specialist, Christopher Whalen, very conservative, who advises business, called the current Clinton plan a scheme to bail out Treasury Secretary Rubin and his friends. The Europeans know this.
Just this morning the main European countries announced that they were going to back off from this. They don’t see any particular point in bailing out rich Wall Street firms. But it’s another one of those techniques by which you get the American taxpayer to pay off rich Americans.
This is essentially what happened to the debt crisis back in the early
1980s. Mexico had a huge debt. The debt was to U.S. banks, but they don’t want to pay the cost. So it was basically socialized. When the debt is moved over to international funding institutions, as it’s been, that means to the taxpayer. They don’t get their money from nowhere. They get it from taxes. It’s exactly what existing capitalism is about. Profit is privatized but costs are socialized. If Mexico wants to develop, it’s going to have to do it the way every other country did, by not closing itself from international markets, but by focusing on domestic development, meaning building up its own resources, protecting them, maintaining them. It’s got plenty. Not giving them away to outsiders. And they’re going in exactly the opposite direction.
Part of this bailout is that Mexico is essentially mortgaging its one major resource, the oil reserves. The U.S. has been trying to get hold of those for forty years, and now we’ve got them. PEMEX, the big Mexican oil company, is probably completely broke. It looks good on statistics, but if any serious accountant took a look at it, they’d probably find that it doesn’t have any capital. Because relative to other big oil companies it has been doing very little capital investment. That has a very simple meaning: you’re not getting ready to produce for the future. But they do have the oil, and U.S. energy corporations would be delighted to take it over. Mexico is going down the tubes. That’s what’s called an economic miracle. It’s not the only one. It’s true of the hemisphere.

DB: It was really interesting to watch how this played out in the mainstream press. You’ve often talked about the needs of foreign countries to satisfy Wall Street investors. Rarely have I seen it so blatant as in this case. Mexico’s finance minister goes to New York, makes a case and the Times wrote, New York Investors Not Pleased With Him. He goes back to Mexico and gets fired. Then the new guy goes to New York, as did other finance ministers from Argentina and elsewhere, and the line was, New York Investors Take a Liking to Him.

This one was so blatant you couldn’t conceal it. It was all over the front pages. In fact, it was kind of interesting in Congress. The current Congress is not really a straight big business institution the way the Democratic Party usually is. It’s got a mixture of very reactionary nationalist fanaticism. A large part of it is based on phony business, like yuppie-style business and some of it on the middle level, morenationalistic business. And they don’t like it. They’re not in favor of bailing out the big Wall Street firms. So you’ve had opposition from Congress and from people like Pat Buchanan and so on.
What’s happened here is very interesting. If people weren’t suffering, if you were looking at it from Mars, it would be interesting to watch. Big business for years has been trying to undermine and roll back the whole social contract, the welfare system, and so on. But there are elections.
You can’t approach the population and say, Look, vote for me, I want to kill you. That doesn’t work. So what they’ve had to do is to try to organize people, as have other demagogues, on other issues, what they like to call “cultural issues.” So what they’ve organized is Christian fundamentalists and jingoist fanatics and a whole range of extremists, plus plenty of people who live off the government but pretend that they’re entrepreneurial, like the high tech culture, all publicly subsidized, but they pretend all sorts of entrepreneurial values. They’re all big libertarians as long as the government’s paying them off enough.
Gingrich is the perfect example. So that collection of people is the only one they can mobilize. It’s not hard in the U.S. It’s a depoliticized society. There’s no civil society. It’s been destroyed. There is very deep fundamentalist fanaticism, widespread fear, a very frightened society, people hiding in terror. The jingoism is extraordinary. There’s no other country that I know of outside the Soviet Union where you could have a concept like “anti-Americanism.” Almost any country would laugh if you talked about that. But in the Soviet Union or the U.S. it’s considered a totally normal thing. This is all a result of lots of corporate propaganda and other such things.
But the result is that they’ve now got a tiger by the tail. It’s a little bit the way probably Hitler’s backers in the industrial-financial world felt by the late 1930s. The only way they were able to organize people was in terms of fear and hatred and jingoism and subordination to power.

Pretty soon they had these maniacs running around taking political control of the state. The state is a powerful institution. We’re getting something like that in the U.S. There is an anti-big business mood among the troops that big business has mobilized. The reason is they couldn’t mobilize them on any other grounds. You couldn’t mobilize them on the real project, namely kill yourselves. That won’t work. So they had to do it around other projects, and there aren’t a lot around. So you get something like—I don’t want to draw the analogy too tightly, because things are different—it has something of the feel of Hitler
Germany and Khomeini Iran, in which similar sorts of things took place.
The business sectors in Iran, the merchants, the bazaaris, the guys who wanted to get rid of the Shah, they did organize Islamic fundamentalists.
And they weren’t happy with the results. Something similar is happening here.

DB: Is that the major internal problem that you see for the rollback crusade?

I don’t know how big a problem it is. The point is that the concentration of private capital is by now so extraordinary and so transnational in scale that there isn’t much that can be done in political systems to affect it. The London Economist had a great phrase that captures it. They were describing the elections in Poland, where the Poles, not understanding how wonderful their economy is, voted back the old communists into power. About half the population of Pol and said they were way better off when they were under communism. We know it’s an economic miracle. They don’t understand it. The Economist assured its readers that it didn’t really matter, because, as they put it, “policy is insulated from politics.” So in other words, these guys can play their games, but there’s enough private tyranny to ensure what the World Bank calls “technocratic insulation.” You keep doing the same things no matter what these guys say at the ballot box.
Probably that’s true. If you look at the programs that are being pushed through now in the U.S., they’re very carefully crafted to protect the rich. The New York budget that came out yesterday was a very good example. It’s worth taking a close look at. They say they’re lowering taxes, but it’s a total lie. For example, if you lower state support of mass transportation, that has one immediate consequence, namely costs of riding public transportation go up. And that’s a tax, a very carefully crafted tax, not on guys who ride around in limousines but on working people. So in fact they will cut income taxes. In that sense, taxes are being cut. But the tax system is getting less progressive. They’ll cut taxes. But meanwhile they’ll increase taxes for the poor, the people who have to ride the subway. Elderly people who are at home and can’t get out and need shopping services, that’s going to be cut, which means the costs are transferred to the poor. They’re not yet going after Medicare, because rich people get Medicare. But they went after Medicaid, which goes to poor people. Cut mental health services. The rich will get them anyway. If you look at the budget carefully, it’s a very carefully honed class warfare designed to crush the poor even more. I don’t mean welfare mothers. I mean working people. I’m talking about eighty percent of the population. Smash the poor more. Enrich the rich.
Inequality at the level of Guatemala isn’t good enough. They want to make it more extreme. That’s the so-called populism, the fight for the middle classes. Those are the policies that are getting rammed through.

DB: A couple of months ago Labor Secretary Robert Reich said, If you’re going to talk about welfare, let’s talk about “corporate welfare.”
How far did that idea go?

He gave a talk which was well reported in the foreign financial press.
The London Financial Times had a big report on it. It was mentioned around here. It was shot down instantly by the White House. They told him right away to shut up. The Wall Street Journal had a nice article about it a couple of weeks later, a good article, in which they reported about the enormous subsidies being given to corporations under the new Gingrich program, which they said was going to make boardrooms delighted. In the course of the article they said, Well, Robert Reich did make this speech about ending corporate welfare as we know it, but he was instantly shot out of the water by the White House. It was made very clear that no such plans were on the agenda. Quite the opposite.
We’re working for you guys, don’t worry about it. But it’s a term that’s in the public eye at the moment, although as yet very little mentioned in the U.S., and instantly silenced by the Clinton White House.

DB: Robert Siegel is the co-host of National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. In an exchange he had with Jerry Markatos, a colleague of mine, in North Carolina, Siegel says that “attacking welfare for the rich is a staple of mainstream Democratic rhetoric.
Chomsky’s observation about this is not exactly cutting edge stuff.”

Of course, I’ve been talking about it for years, as have others out of the mainstream. He may believe what he said. He probably doesn’t know anything about the facts. These guys are just supposed to read the words that somebody puts in front of their face. The fact is that “attacking welfare for the rich” was shot down instantly. It’s not a Democratic staple. In fact, the Democrats made it extremely clear and explicit that they weren’t going to let this go anywhere. Reich was called on the carpet for it. Siegel may simply not be aware of the facts, which is very likely. And incidentally, the point that Markatos raised had nothing to do with what is sometimes called “corporate welfare,” but rather something different and far more important: the Pentagon-based system of public subsidy for high technology industry. Apparently Siegel missed the point completely, again, not too surprising since these topics are not likely to be discussed in his circles.

DB: But Siegel doesn’t leave it at that. Markatos asked him, Why don’t you have Chomsky on NPR once in a while? He said he wasn’t particularly interested in hearing from you and that you “evidently enjoy a small, avid, and largely academic audience who seem to be persuaded that the tangible world of politics is all the result of delusion, false consciousness, and media manipulation.”

He knows as much about that as he does about the staples of Democratic political discourse. Actually, I did have a discussion with him once, which was kind of interesting. A book of mine called Necessary Illusions, which was on the media mainly, was based on invited lectures given over Canadian national public radio. It was then published and was in fact a bestseller in Toronto. I never saw a review here, as far as I recall. But there was a fair amount of public pressure on NPR. On All Things Considered they have an authors interview segment.
So under various kinds of pressure they finally agreed to let me have one of those five-minute interviews. It was with Siegel.
I didn’t listen. But it was announced at 5:00 that it was going to be on the next half-hour segment. People listened. It got to 5:25 and it hadn’t been on. Then there were five minutes of music. At that point people started calling the stations, saying, What happened? They didn’t know what happened, so they started calling Washington. The producer of the program said it had played. She said it was on her list and it played. People asked her to check. It turned out it hadn’t played. She called me. I didn’t pay any attention one way or the other. She was kind of apologetic. Somewhere between 5:05, when it was announced, and 5:25, when it was supposed to go on, it had been canceled by somebody high up. She said that the reason was that they thought Robert Siegel’s questions weren’t pointed enough. If true, the fact that anyone even checked at that point shows how terrified the NPR liberals are that some doctrinally unacceptable thought be expressed. She asked me would I do it again. So I said sure. It’s a pain in the neck going down to the station. But I went down again. He tried to ask pointed questions.
You can draw your own conclusions. That they did run. That’s our one interchange.
As to the audience, there’s some truth to it. It’s true that there are some countries, the U.S. is one, the others are mostly Eastern Europe and other totalitarian systems, where I have had almost no access to the major media over the years. That’s not true elsewhere. First of all, there are plenty of audiences in the U.S. I don’t have any problem talking with the people I’d like to talk to. In fact, I can’t do a fraction of it. They’re students, popular groups, churches, etc. But the thread of truth beneath what he says is that in the U.S., as in Russia, the major media may have been very sure to exclude not just me, but anybody with a dissident voice.
You showed me the Markatos-Siegel exchange (Current, January 16, 1995) right after I came back from Australia. There I gave a talk at the National Press Club, which was nationally televised (twice), at the
Parliament Building, I was not talking about the U.S. They wanted me to talk about Australia’s foreign policy. So I talked about Australian foreign policy to journalists, parliamentarians, officials, and a national audience. I was not very polite, but very critical, because I think the foreign policy is disgraceful. I was on their world services program beamed to Asia. I was interviewed on that for about half an hour on the Timor Gap Treaty, a very important matter. All over the press and the papers. The same is true elsewhere. I have articles and interviews in major journals up and down the hemisphere, and many invitations from leading journals that I unfortunately have no time to accept; I’d like to. I just had an article in Israel’s most important daily journal, an invited critique of their foreign policy. They don’t want me to talk about the U.S.
They wanted a critique of the so-called peace process. The same is true in Europe. So as far as Robert Siegel is concerned, there are two possibilities. Either he understands something about me that, outside the Soviet Union, no one else knows. That’s one possibility. There’s another possibility, that he resembles the commissars in a different way.
People can make their own decision.

DB: Let’s turn to one of our favorite topics, which is of course sports.
There is a major labor action going on that a lot of people know about, and that’s the baseball strike. Have you been following that?

No, I’m afraid not.

DB: There’s an interesting component to this which I think you should know about. The owners are demanding that their workers, the players, put a cap on their earnings. But no similar cap is being asked to be put on the owners’ ability to make profits.

That sounds like the norm. I’ll bet you without looking at it that most of the population is blaming the players. I suspect, it’s just the way media and corporate propaganda usually works.

DB: That just played out here in Massachusetts. Governor Weld wants to give money to the owner of the New England Patriots to spruce up the stadium and build luxury boxes and improve road infrastructure and the like. There was a poll in yesterday’s Boston Globe that most of the people want it. They think it’s a good idea.
That’s not welfare.

No, because it goes to rich people. This is part, again, it’s a matter of people paying for their own subordination. Maybe it’s fun to watch baseball games. In fact, I like it, too. But the fact of the matter is that the way this stuff functions in the society is to marginalize the people.
It’s kind of like gladiatorial contests in Rome. The idea is to try to get the great beast to pay attention to something else and not what we powerful and privileged people are doing to them. That’s what all the hoopla is basically about, I would guess.

DB: Decatur, Illinois, is the site of three major labor actions. The corporations involved are Staley, a British-owned company; Bridgestone, which is the number one tire and rubber maker in the world and is Japanese-owned; and Caterpillar, the number one producer in the world of earth-moving equipment. At Staley there’s a lockout. At Bridgestone and Caterpillar the workers are on strike. The New York Times is calling this a “testing field in labor relations” and also saying that “in Decatur more than anyplace else labor is trying to halt its slide toward irrelevance.

There is a whole long story here. The U.S. has an extremely violent labor history, unusual in the industrial world. Workers here didn’t get the rights they had in Europe until the mid-1930s. They had had those rights half a century before in Europe, even in reactionary countries. In fact, the right-wing British press, let’s say, the London Times, couldn’t believe the way U.S. workers were treated. Then finally the U.S. workers did get some rights. It caused total hysteria in the business community.
They thought they had the whole country by the throat, and they learned that they didn’t.
They immediately started a counterattack. It was on hold during the war but took off right afterwards, with huge campaigns. There was a nice phrase that one of the corporate leaders used. He said there is “an everlasting battle for the minds of men” and we have to win it. They put billions of dollars into this. In the early 1950s, when all this stuff took off, business-made movies were reaching twenty million people a week.
It was a huge campaign. They had what they called ‘‘economic education programs’’ to teach people what we want the truth to be.
They forced workers in plants to go to them. It was called “released time.” They had to go to these courses. There were millions of pamphlets distributed. About one-third of the material in schools was produced by the business communities. Churches and universities were also targeted for subversion. Even sport leagues were taken over. The huge entertainment industry was enlisted in the cause. For business, it was a deadly serious matter. The anti-communist crusade was tied up with this. That’s its true meaning. It was a way of using fear and jingoist sentiments to try to undermine labor rights and functioning democracy.
The labor bureaucrats played their own role in this. Business was worried at the time. By the end of the Second World War the U.S. population had joined the general social democratic currents sweeping the world. Almost half the work force thought that they’d do better if the government owned factories than if private enterprise did. The unions in the late 1940s were calling for worker rights to look at the books and intervene in management decisions and to control plants; in other words, to try to democratize the system, which is a horrifying idea to pure totalitarians like business leaders. So there was a real struggle going on. It worked through the 1950s, largely driven by anti-communism. During the 1980s the unions were really crushed.
There was a series of Caterpillar strikes. The first one was critical, because it was the first time the government endorsed the hiring of what they called “permanent replacement workers,” in other words, scabs in manufacturing industry. The U.S. was condemned by the International Labor Organization for that, which was extremely unusual. The ILO is a very conservative organization and they don’t offend their big funders.
But they did call on the U.S. to adhere to international labor standards.
Maybe Robert Siegel reported it on NPR. That was a major event. This is the next stage.
They now feel, because of these developments in the international economy, business tastes blood, they think they can roll back the whole social contract that’s been developed over the past century through popular struggle: labor rights, human rights, the rights of children to have food, anything other than making profit tomorrow.
It’s important to remember that we don’t have a capitalist economy, because such a thing couldn’t survive, but it’s quasi-capitalist, so there are market forces and competition. In such a system you’re driven to very short-term goals. Part of the nature of that kind of system is you can’t plan very far. You want to make profit tomorrow. If you don’t show a good bottom line tomorrow, you’re out and somebody else is in. The result is they destroy themselves. That’s one of the reasons why business called for government regulation a century ago, when they were playing around with laissez-faire. They quickly saw that it was going to destroy everything. So much of the regulatory apparatus was put in under business control.
But now they’re more fanatic and they want to destroy the regulatory apparatus. It’s clear what that’s going to mean. The timing was almost delicious. Last December, when the Republicans were announcing their moves to try to eliminate and demolish the regulatory apparatus by a variety of methods, which is what they’re planning to do, right at that time there was a series of reports that came out about some of the effects of having done this in the 1980s. One of the most striking was right here in New England: Georges Bank, which has been the richest fishing area in the world. They had to close a lot of it down. Now New
England is importing cod from Norway, which is like Australia importing kangaroos from Turkey. The reason they’re doing it is that Norway preserved its fishing grounds. They have a different “philosophy,” as they put it here. Our philosophy is to rob everything as much as possible and forget about tomorrow. Their philosophy is to consider the needs of the population, now and in the future. What happened is that the government combined subsidies to the fishing industry with deregulation. You know what that’s going to mean. You pay off people to deplete fish resources and you don’t regulate what they do and they deplete them. In fact, they’ve depleted ground fish. Whether they will recover or not nobody really knows. Scientists don’t know enough about it. But maybe they’ve destroyed the richest fishing area in the world forever, or maybe somehow it will be able to recover.
This came out at the same time that they were announcing further cutbacks in regulation. Then along comes the Mexican collapse. It’s another example. Deregulate everything, enrich the rich, which is what privatization is, and you can see what’s going to happen. And if something goes wrong, turn to the public for a bail-out, because “capitalism” requires privatizing profit but socializing cost and risk.
Incidentally, in the same weeks, NASA came out with new satellite data announcing the best evidence yet, for a rise in sea level, which means the effect of global warming. They also announced in the same satellite data, that they traced the effect of the depletion of the ozone layer to industrial chemicals. That comes out at the same time that they’re saying, Let’s cut back the last residue of regulatory apparatus. But it makes a certain sense if the sole human value is making as much wealth as you can tomorrow. You don’t care what happens down the road and you don’t care what happens to anybody else. It makes perfect sense. If it destroys the world, well, it’s not my problem.

DB: We hear these horns and things in the background. Is this office over a railroad track?

It’s actually a change from the way it once was. When I got here in the 1950s it was an industrial area. The industrial plants have been wiped out. The working-class living areas have been leveled. But at that time we were between a leather factory, a tire-burning factory, a chocolate factory, and a soap factory. Depending on which way the wind was blowing, you had a nice combination of odors. Now it’s mostly government-supported high tech small industries.
There are very few trains around. The reason is that the U.S. government carried out probably the biggest social engineering project in history in the 195Os, pouring huge amounts of money into destroying the public transportation system in favor of cars and airplanes, because that’s what benefits big industry. It started with a corporate conspiracy to buy up and eliminate street railways and so on. The whole project suburbanized the country and changed it enormously. That’s why you got shopping malls out in the suburbs and wreckage in the inner cities.
It was a huge state social engineering project.
It’s continuing. For example, a couple of years ago, Congress passed the Transportation Subsidy Act to give the states money to support transportation. It was intended to maintain public transportation and also to fill potholes in the roads. But the figures just came out, in the same month of December, and it showed something like ninety-six percent of it went to private transportation and virtually nothing to public transportation. That’s the point of getting things down to the state level.
Big corporations can play around with governments these days, but state governments they can control far more easily. They can play one state against another much more easily than one country against another.
That’s the purpose of what they call “devolution,” let’s get things down to the people, the states. Corporations can really kick them in the face, and nobody has a chance. So the idea will be that you get block grants that go to the states, no federal control, meaning no democratic control.
It will go precisely to the powerful interests. We know who they are: the construction business, the automobile corporations, and so on. Meaning whatever there is of public transportation is very likely to decline.
Yesterday’s New York budget is a striking example. It doesn’t say it, but it implies increasing the fares for public transportation and decreasing service, while making sure that the guys in the limousines are doing quite fine.
So you hear a couple of freight trains in the background, but unless they can be shown to serve private power, they’re not going to be around long. Incidentally, one of my favorite remarks in diplomatic history is in a great book on Brazil by a leading diplomatic historian, also senior historian of the CIA, who describes with enormous pride how we took over Brazil in 1945 (Gerald Haines, The Americanization of Brazil). We were going to make it “a testing area” for “scientific methods” of development in accordance with capitalism. We gave them all the advice. He’s very proud of this total wreckage, but who cares?
Brazil had been a European colony, so their railroad system was based on the European model, which works. Part of the advice was to switch it over to the American model. If anybody has ever taken a train in pre-Thatcher England or France and then in the U.S. they know what that means. But he said this with a straight face. Another part of their advice was to destroy the Amazon.

DB: When you were in Chicago in October, a woman in the audience asked you, in a pretty straight-ahead question, how come you don’t factor gender into your analysis? You pretty much agreed with her, but you really didn’t answer her question.

In fact, I’ve been writing about it quite a bit in recent books in connection with structural adjustment, globalization of production, and imposition of industrialized export-oriented agriculture. In all cases, women are the worst victims. Also in some of these latest articles. What we discussed the other day about the effect on families is essentially gender war. The very fact that women’s work is not considered work is an ideological attack. As I pointed out, it’s somewhere between lunacy and idiocy. The whole welfare “debate,” as it’s called, is based on the assumption that raising children isn’t work. It’s not like speculating on stock markets. That’s real work. So if a woman is taking care of a kid, she’s not doing anything. Domestic work altogether is not considered work because women do it. That gives an extraordinary distortion to the nature of the economy. It amounts to transfer payments from working women, from women altogether and working women in particular, to others. They don’t get social security for raising a child. You do get social security for other things. The same with every other benefit. I maybe haven’t written as much about such matters as I should have, probably not. But it’s a major phenomenon, very dramatic now.
Take these latest New York welfare plans again, or the ones they’re thinking about in Congress. One of the things they’re going to do is to force women under twenty-one, if they want to get welfare, to live with their families. Take a look at those women. A substantial percentage of them have children as a result of either rape or abuse within the family.
These advocates of family values say either you send your kid to a state orphanage or you live with a family which may be an abusive family and may be the source of your problems. But you can’t set off on your own and raise children, because that’s not work. That’s not a life. You have to get into the labor market.
All of this is a major phenomenon in contemporary American affairs and in fact in the history of capitalism. Part of the reason why capitalism looks successful is it’s always had a lot of slave labor, half the population. What women are doing isn’t counted.

DB: I’ve never heard you, for example, use the term “patriarchy.”
While not wanting to hold you to the fire with particular terms, is it a concept that you’re comfortable with?

I don’t know if I use the term, but I certainly use the concept. If I’m asked about what I mean by anarchism, I always point out that what it means is an effort to undermine any form of illegitimate authority, whether it’s in the home or between men and women or parents and children or corporations and workers or the state and its people. It’s all forms of authority that have to justify themselves and almost never can.
But it’s true. I haven’t emphasized it.

DB: Are there any books by feminists that you read and value?

I sort of read it. What I read I sort of know, so I’m not learning anything. Maybe other people are. It’s worth doing. I think it’s had a very positive effect on the general culture. But unless you call things like Hewlett’s UNICEF study of child care feminist literature—which I wouldn’t, I’d just call it straight analysis—no, I don’t know it very well.

DB: Russia has been a great success story. The military attacked the

Parliament and it managed to win that battle, but what about the awesome display of Russian military might in the Chechen republic?

My view has long been that the Cold War was in large part an aspect of the North-South conflict, unique in scale but similar in its basic logic.
With its end, it is therefore not surprising to find that Russia is largely returning to the Third World where it belonged and where it had been for half a millennium. Right after 1989 not only Russia but most of Eastern Europe goes into free fall, returns to Third World conditions. The old Communist Party is doing fine. They’re happier than they ever were.
They’re richer than they ever were. Inequality has grown enormously.
The leadership is mostly the old nomenklatura, the guys the West always liked and want to do business with now.
UNICEF just did a study just on the human effects of the so-called reforms, which they approve of, incidentally. They estimated that in Russia alone there were about half a million extra deaths a year by 1993 as a result of the reforms that we’re so proud of. That’s a fair degree of killing, even by twentieth-century standards. The same leadership is in control. Take Yeltsin, for example, whom the West favors. He’s a tough old party boss and knows how to kick people in the face. There’s the rise of a huge mafia, like every other Third World country we take over, starting from southern Italy in 1943, but in fact all through the world, there’s a major mafia. Incidentally, Mexico, too. In Mexico under the economic miracle the government is increasingly linked up with cocaine cartels. Jeffrey Sachs made his fame, this guy who goes around telling countries how to save themselves, by the economic miracle in Bolivia. But what’s usually only pointed out in the footnotes is that Bolivia stabilized its currency all right, but mostly by shifting to cocaine exports, which is perfectly rational under the advice that he gave them of becoming an agro exporter. It’s happening in the former U.S.S.R., too. Huge mafia, spreading to the U.S. because there are plenty of immigrants here. Selling off resources. In Kazakhstan there are a lot of resources and there are American businessmen all over the place trying to buy up the oil. If a country that’s that well-behaved wants to carry out massacres, the U.S. isn’t going to object. The U.S. hasn’t tried to prevent the Chechnya massacres, any more than it did Saddam Hussein’s gassing of Kurds.

DB: Here I am with this barrage of questions partly written out. I’m dealing with a loaded deck and you’re just sitting there. It’s like Russian roulette, in a way. You don’t know what’s coming next. Are there ever any moments where you’re thinking, He’s really missing the point. Why doesn’t he ask that?

Your questions are so perfect, how could I think that?

DB: You’re impossible! Any sense of maybe cutting down on your public speaking schedule?

Actually, I have to cut down a bit this spring because I have some extra teaching. I’ve doubled the teaching that I usually have. But not in general. I have to think about what I’m going to do for the next couple of years anyway. Retirement age isn’t that far away. But I’ve had too much to do to think about the future.

DB: In all these talks that you’ve given, you must have reached hundreds of thousands of people, your articles, the interviews, the radio, the TV. It must put a tremendous, not just a physical burden on you, but an emotional one, too. Everything is riding on your shoulders.

I’m concerned about that, just as a friend.

I don’t feel that way at all. I feel I’m riding on other people’s shoulders. When I go to give a talk in Chicago, say, I just show up. They did all the work. All I did is take a plane, give a couple talks, and go home. The people there did all the work. I just came back from
Australia. Those guys have been working for months to set everything up, and they’re still working. I went, had a nice time, and talked at a bunch of places. I’m exploiting other people. Actually, it’s mutual exploitation.
I’m not trying to be modest about it. There are some things that I can do pretty well. Over the years I’ve tried my hand at a lot of things.

DB: Like what?

I did spend a lot of time, believe it or not, organizing and going to meetings, like in the early days of Resist, of which I was one of the founders. I religiously went to all the meetings and sat there and was useless and bored. Finally, out of all this a kind of division of labor emerged by mutual consent. We would all do the things we can do.
There are some things I just can’t do at all and other things I can do very easily. I do the things I can do easily. But the serious work is always done by organizers. There’s no question about that. They’re down there every day, doing the hard work, preparing the ground, bringing out the effects. There is absolutely no effect in giving a talk. It’s like water under a bridge, unless people do something with it. If it is a technique, a device for getting people to think and bringing them together and getting them to do something, fine, then it was worth it. Otherwise it was a waste of time, self-indulgence.

DB: Speaking of resistance, what forces can resist the right-wing onslaught?

An overwhelming majority of the population is very strongly opposed to everything that’s going on. The question is, can they be successful diverted and dissolved and separated from one another? We talk about having to teach lessons in democracy to Haiti. Anyone with a grey celli their head would laugh and collapse in ridicule at that. We have to learn lessons in democracy from Haiti. Here’s a country in miserable conditions, worse than anything we can imagine, with a population that was able on their own effort to construct a lively, vibrant, functioning civil society with unions and grassroots organizations and, without an resources, to sweep their own president into power and create an actual democratic society. Of course, it was smashed by force, with us behind it. Nobody’s going to smash us by force. But if we could learn the lessons of democracy from Haitian peasants, we could overcome these problems.
DB: Why don’t we end here and maybe you can make some headway on these piles.

OK. (Chuckles)

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