Wednesday, June 29, 2016

One hundred years of ... "Inquilab Zindabad"?

The Russians who talk with Svetlana Alexievich in Secondhand Time are pissed off at how their lives have been ruined.  Their hate for Mikhail Gorbachev, whom we in the west laud, is not superficial.

Their lives were ruined because they were told that if they kept doing whatever they were doing, then the state would take care of them later on in their lives.  And then Gorbachev introduced perestroika and glasnost and the system fell apart.  The Soviet Union fell apart.  Their lives fell apart. As the book portrays, at the top of the system,  Marshal Sergei F. Akhromeyev, chief military adviser to President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, committed suicide, while a "commoner" literally set himself on fire.

The book also  helps me understand the frustrations of the typical middle-class people here in the US, or in Britain.  They were told that if they kept doing whatever they were doing, then their lives were set and that everything would work out fine.  The Soviet Union fell apart. China and India opened up. The world's economy dramatically changed. The lives of the typical middle-class were altered forever, and tomorrow seems immensely more uncertain than yesterday ever was.

What puzzles me is this: Observing the world from the banks of the Willamette, and working at a podunk university where I am ignored and shunted away to a voiceless corner, I have been commenting for a long time about the urgency to fundamentally restructure the social contract, fully recognizing that the economic forces of today do not resemble those from the New Deal era, with technology further complicating things with innovations that keep upending more jobs.

So, ... I wondered when it was for the first time that I argued about the need for a new social contract.  I was curious not about my writings in my blog, but in this guy's--I thought it might be a good indicator of how I have been yelling outside like a mad man ;)  I tracked it down--May 23, 2013.  At the end of a lengthy rant, I wrote there:
 it is one loud reminder that the social contract is in tatters.
Of course, we are not going to agree on how to re-work and re-word a new contract. But, the shame of it all is that while a bunch of us folks from different parts of the world are talking about it here, the ones who should talk about these--the Congress--will stage some dramas, take a few photos, and then go home to screw people up some more.
Imagine if three years ago Congress here, and the Parliament in the UK, had really done constructive things in order to ease the new challenges that the typical middle class was facing.  Instead, they didn't do shit.  To make things worse, they further tightened the screws on the middle class. by slowly dismantling the little bit that was left.  For instance, Mike knows well how expensive college has become now compared to his father's days when the government offered his father a much better social contract.  College is merely one aspect of the social contract.

I didn't give up.  Almost exactly three years ago--June 26, 2013--at the end of another lengthy comment at another post, I wrote (note that OWS is Occupy Wall Street):
I don't think it is about economic growth as much as it is a disagreement over how the growth ought to be shared. It will be easier if only it were about economic growth alone. Turkey has had some fantastic growth over the years. It is really not about wanting more growth there. OWS was not about more growth, and neither are the protests in Brazil.
In a few previous posts, here and at my blog, we have agreed, while disagreeing, that the time is ripe, or even overripe, in terms of rewriting various aspects of the social contract that exists within each country. Mere economic growth does not seem to be sufficient, though at least modest rates might be necessary.
I suspect that these issues will not go away any time soon because rewriting those contracts won't be easy.
I tell ya, it is the story of my life that nobody listens to me--not even Ramesh! ;)

David Brooks notes in his column over at the NY Times:
Their pain is indivisible: economic stress, community breakdown, ethnic bigotry and a loss of social status and self-worth. When people feel their world is vanishing, they are easy prey for fact-free magical thinking and demagogues who blame immigrants.
Brexit, Bernie, and Trump are, therefore, no surprise to me.  It is an interesting ironical coincidence that these are fomenting another revolution nearly a hundred years since that history-changing October Revolution. Oh, wait, the October Revolution was in November, and the US elections will be almost exactly the same date: November 8th.  Cue the Twilight Zone theme ;)

I wonder how Putin and Russia will mark the one hundredth anniversary--not by inviting Gorbachev, I am sure!

ps: I intentionally used "Inquilab Zindabad" in the title of this post--to remind Ramesh about his post in 2013 ;)


Ramesh said...

Ha Ha. I had even forgotten that my blog exists :) Honoured to be so heavily referred to.

Oh , I do listen to you all right - on this one and every other issue. Might severely disagree, but I read and listen carefully.

The society in the erstwhile Soviet Union endured far far worse problems than what some people in the US and Europe are going through now. There is not even a comparison. Incidentally this is precisely the reason why Deng Xiaoping took China in a different direction , even having to resort to the Tiananmen incident.

Yes, we need a different social contract for sure. But nobody can even remotely agree on what the contours are. There is a different dimension to this that I want to highlight - the young vs the old as so starkly demonstrated in the Brexit vote. There is a huge inter generational conflict which I have been railing about for some time, but the starkness of it was so evident in Brexit.

I disagree that nobody is debating it. Everybody is - just that the debate may be shrill, uninformed, irrational, etc etc. Brexit was nothing but a huge debate on this issue coupled with immigration , another issue on which the social contract is absent; let alone broken.

So far your summer reading is proving to be different from last years'. This time something you are reading is leading to through provoking posts and debates. Bravo. Much better than Nabokov :)

Mike Hoth said...

I agree with Ramesh that the debate is ongoing in shrill and irrational channels. I brought up that Medicare and Social Security are going to be cash insolvent in a few years, and that *gasp* our government isn't fixing the issue. I then spent several hours trying to overcome hysteria about how the Affordable Care Act is a good thing and the welfare system can't be cut and those damned Republicans hate poor people.

We have two groups of political people in this country: people who will yell about how the government needs radical change, and people who yell about how the government needs to stay exactly the same. If you don't find yourself in one of those groups, try talking policy and you'll be lumped into one of them!

And yes, I did get a worse social contract for college than my father. His employer paid him to go to night classes because companies used to invest in their workers.

Sriram Khé said...

I tell ya, this blog and discussion space is a "no shrill" zone ;)

Am glad Mike added about his father's college days--I have known about it, I didn't want to add those details because that is his personal stuff. Yes, the social contract is not merely about the citizen and the state, but also with the businesses. I have blogged (and even written in an op-ed) about such corporate abandonment of the social contract.

Let us see how the rest of this decade unfolds, not only in the US but everywhere. My worry is that nothing will really happen, and the more things change the more they will look the same :(

Anne in Salem said...

Of course nothing will really happen. If Clinton is elected and Congress stays Republican, nothing will happen. If Trump is elected and Congress goes Democrat, nothing will happen. Even if both resort to executive orders, the orders will be tied up in court before the ink is dry. Clinton + Democrats will be a disaster for most of the country. At least Trump + Republicans won't be that bad.

To shrill and uninformed, I want to add selfish and short-sighted. If citizens could see for a moment the ruinous economic impact - current and future - of the government handouts, they might not vote the "generous" politicians into office. But people want something for nothing, not taking a moment to realize they themselves and their children will pay the price, one way or the other. Businesses will close because of unbearable taxes. Personal taxes will increase as the takers outnumber the payers. Our current path is unsustainable.

Yes, we need to rewrite the social contract, as long as it includes personal responsibility and NOT reliance on government.

Sriram Khé said...

"At least Trump + Republicans won't be that bad."
A statement like this forgetting everything that the fascist says?
Is "At least Trump + Republicans won't be that bad" the contemporary equivalent of "other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, ..."??? :( :( :( :(