I am not a fan of many economists, but I like this Nancy Folbre you have brought to light. Her “concerns about a concentration of economic power that unfairly limits individual choices, undermines political democracy, generates financial and ecological crises, and limits access to alternative economic ideas,” show she is not one of the usual economists (indeed, she derides them for having a herd mentality). Even with the heartening protest by economics students at Princeton, the “rebellion” (saying that brings to mind many things, the Star Wars plot among them, lol) is still small. But perhaps it will grow and sustain into the groundswell necessary to force deep change—and in enough time.
“The corporate con artists and economists who have rigged our financial system continue to speak to us in the obscure and incomprehensible language coined by specialists in Wall Street and at elite business schools.” (97) Credit default swaps, anyone? Even calling them Mutual Loans Insurance would not clear up the matter a great deal for the general public. As Dave Ramsey would say, don’t put your faith or your money in something you don’t and can’t understand, and don’t’ permit your money to be indirectly put at risk by those things either. Americans would be shocked to know how much their financial system lays on the edge of this sword that the banks and investment companies have come up with for their own profit and “protection.”
Academics are often little better when it comes to clarity and meaning. Hedges is harsh on English professors and their divorcing literature and society. In the objective of not wanting to excessively quote, you have given us the short version, but I believe our readers will be motivated to see the whole of Hedges’ book (yes, I can’t recommend strongly enough that this book should be on the shelves of all—at least reading—Americans) if we give them the exactness: “Writers from Euripides to Russell Banks have used literature as both a mirror and a lens, to reflect back to us, and focus us on, our hypocrisy, moral corruption, and injustice. Literature is a toll to enlighten societies about their ills. It was Charles Dickens who directed the attention of middle-class readers to the slums and workhouses of London. It was Honore de Balzac who, through the volumes of his Human Comedy, ripped open the callous heart of France. It was Upton Sinclair who took us into the stockyards and shantytowns of Chicago in The Jungle.” (97)
So, yes, I will repeat some of what you have just given us, but these jewels in the crown that Hedges emplaces for us are that important. Repetition is the mother of learning, and a little repetition won’t hurt, especially as you and I have each put our own touch on these sections:
“In the hands of academics, however, who rarely understand or concern themselves with the reality of the world [and, Professor’s note, earn the enmity or disdain of so many—and often the powerful many—who do not possess their “advanced” degrees], works of literature are eviscerated and destroyed. They are mined for obscure trivia and irrelevant data [and, Professor’s note again, those who disagree with this are dismissed as polemical or mere simpletons]. This disconnect between literature and philosophy on one hand and the real on the other is replicated in most academic disciplines. Economists build elaborate theoretical models yet know little of” clear-thinking historical economic figures and historical economic events, including the relevant intricacies and detailed root causes, including bubbles, of our own Great Depression. “The foundation of Athenian democracy rose out of the egalitarian social and political reforms of Solon, including his decision to wipe out all of the debts that were bankrupting Athenian [Prof’s note: I nearly typed American citizens!] citizens. But the study of the classics, because it is not deemed practical or useful to a digitalized world, leaves such vital lessons unexamined. Tacitus’ account of the economic meltdown during the reign of Tiberius—a meltdown that also saw widespread bankruptcies, a collapse of the real estate market, and financial ruin—is a reminder that we are not unique to history or human behavior. The meltdown during Tiberius’s reign was finally halted by massive government spending and intervention that included interest-free loans to citizens” (97-98) [Prof’s historical note: And the Romans of that period were a great deal healthier and stronger financially and economically than we are]
I am going to shout in print now, because what Hedges writes immediately following the above is that important: “THOSE WHO SUFFER FROM HISTORICAL AMNESIA, THE BELIEF THAT WE ARE UNIQUE IN HISTORY AND HAVE NOTHING TO LEARN FROM THE PAST, REMAIN CHILDREN. THEY LIVE IN AN ILLUSION.”
This willingness—nay, this ready embrace of—ahistoricity, where history and history’s examples, lessons, frameworks, and chances for us not to repeat its extremely costly and damaging failures, are not just ignored, but so utterly unvalued or even despised, that we do not know of them or even care to know of them, are sentencing us to increasing probabilities of civilizational failure.
We have been decoupled from history in general and our own in particular. The new systems managers don’t have a sufficient historical basis to know how things used to be, what is right and wrong, or what the law really means, let alone the intent.
We have forgotten, and likely never knew, that many past bubbles—all the way back to at least the Tulip Crisis of the Dutch in the 1600s—often saw people stuck with their stuff at the end of the crash, as the courts apparently would not enforce payments of contracts (possibly as a way to avert systemic failure) for “futures” and other speculative (for example, “hedging”) endeavors, as clear thinking judges of the period often regarded such debts as incurred through gambling, and thus not enforceable by law. What concepts they had back then! :)
We have also been encouraged to forget that in the 1920s here in America, the forces of plutocracy had the objective (and largely succeeded) of keeping the government (the people’s will) “out of the way” of “business” (at least, the narrowly defined businesses of the plutocrats). These plutocrats were able to reap the benefits of the APPEARANCE of an economic “boom” that was actually largely a fraud based on speculation in financial markets and borrowing by a middle class to keep up with flat or falling wages (sound familiar?). The Great Depression that followed brought the cries for reforms (and the further cries of “how could we have been so foolish and stupid?”), as well as the emplacement of regulations to put the brakes on the greed and excess that inevitably accompany capitalistic opportunity.
The way that history has been “taught” deserves much criticism, of course. The mindless rote memorization of names, dates, places, and events is divorced from meaning and relevance (and without Adler and Doren’s vital “How To Read A Book” as required preparation, the learning ground for history begins dry and cracked and will absorb little). The way history is conveyed is a reflection of its near-utter devaluing by the culture (devalued except when it can be used or twisted for various political, economic, or petty purposes). History is often relegated to coaches who consider it an onerous sideshow, and when it is not, the low pay and low prestige mean it often falls into the hands of those who are staid plodders with no connection to either material or students. Add the mania of standardized testing, and all its attendant pressures for (among many others) quantified results, and history becomes a dry and lifeless husk to be funneled aridly and received with distaste (and discarded at the earliest opportunity). Again, who does that serve? Only those who do not want the general populace to understand and value big concepts and historical lessons. How often we see people who say they hated history in their school years, but have a big interest in it now. Sure, some of it could be because they latched onto some good stuff from The History Channel, or a neat documentary, or even a good book. But much of it surely arises from how their life experience demonstrates to them the importance of history, the importance of it to them and their society, that its relevance and study and appreciation could help us so much, could get us out of the processing line for automatons.
You asked about change. Comparing it to a typical election, of the usual potential voters, 40% are traditionalists who resist change, 20% are swing voters who vote their pocketbook, and 40% are open to change, but may or may not take the steps toward it. Change in other things often follows a similar pattern.
Paradigms shift/change when those who see reality with clarity refuse to be quiet, refuse to know “their place,” refuse to “give it a break,” until the reluctant majority (the illusion embracers) acknowledge the reality and need for change, and give either their assent to changing it, or withdraw their aversion to doing so.