Published at 09:01 on 20 June 2013
In a summary of his most recent book, George Packer goes on and on about how the evil US ruling class has given pretty much everybody else the short shrift since about the mid- to late- 1970s.
Well, yes, indeed they have. All the details Packer presents are fairly obvious and well-documented.
What Packer misses is any real sense of the root causes of the whole change. The ruling elite has always wanted more for itself, damn the costs to anyone else. It’s pretty much what any ruling elite anyplace has wanted.
There was plenty of whining from the Right about the New Deal and the Fair Deal (Truman’s followup to FDR’s New Deal) when they were being enacted, and much of it was every bit as venomous and hysterical as the words of any contemporary talk-show host.
The difference wasn’t in the ruling elite, it was in the ruled. Capitalism had been largely delegitimized in the public mind thanks to the Great Depression and things like huge numbers of people going hungry and skipping meals while farmers were going under because there was no market for the food they grew (all because those going hungry had lost their jobs and thus the dollars which to express their desire for food). Or houses lying vacant and unrented while Hoovervilles grew. And so on.
Why do you think Joseph McCarthy and HUAC later had it so easy dragging up instances where this or that public official or celebrity had gone to a Communist Party meeting or two, or had joined a populist front group run by the Communist Party?
That degree of class consciousness ensured that while some of the elite whined, the whining was largely ignored by a good chunk of the elite, who worried that if they didn’t swallow the bitter pill of kicking down concessions, they might someday have to be faced with losing all their power, not just a few concessions.
Packer’s lack of deeper insight leads him to propose an implausible theory about external enemies motivating the consensus, a theory that fails completely to explain the Reagan era, where an increase in perceived threat to US global power thanks to the Iranian Revolution and the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan caused a marked increase in international tensions (just look at what happened to military spending then). All the while Reagan was aggressively accelerating the very “unraveling” that Packer posits was prevented by those same tensions.