Three Political Hallucinations in Britain and the USA

  1. The Presence of Democracy

It is almost indisputable that both the United Kingdom and the Unites States are commonly considered to be democracies. However, if we determine our views from fact, the merit of this theory depletes rapidly. Though it must be said that western societies possess some level of democracy- with elections usually being a choice between two ‘business parties’, I think it is of far more merit to view our democracy as being frail, fragile and almost invisible.

Firstly, this ‘hallucination’ of democracy firmly rests on the fact that there is no democracy in the workplace. Considering work is what defines human life- it is what we spend most of our lives doing and it is what gives our lives purpose, the fact that the general population has no control over their work smashes a considerable dent into the presence of democracy. By ‘control over their work’, I mean influence and responsibility in the vital decision-making of their workplace. As an example, consider the workforce of a factory. Though the workforce is responsible for manufacturing the produce of the factory, it has no role in deciding what is produced, and crucially, it has no say in what happens to the accumulated wealth that they have produced. In the case of a corporate run economy, the wealth inevitably flows into the back pocket of CEO’s, managers, shareholders and boards of directors, not the producers. The point I am raising is not one of morality though, but rather one of democracy. Whether the power structure of corporations is moral or not, it is conclusively totalitarian.

Another good indicator of how democratic a nation is, can be shown by how closely its government follows the will of its people. Naturally, how attached government policy is to public opinion sketches the extent of democracy in a country. Public opinion on government policy, as investigated by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation on October 19th 2017, shows that ‘seven in ten US voters consistently said that US trade policymakers give too little consideration to the American people, people like them, or the American economy, but do fully take into account the interests of multinational corporations.’ With the Trump administrations recent economic decisions in mind, public opinion vastly veers from the action of the ‘US trade policymakers’. Trump has decided to cut corporate tax from 35% to 20%, a decision which will vastly inflate the already bulging pockets of US corporations, with the impact being a $1.5 trillion cost over a decade, according to the CNN on September 27th 2017. Moreover, in an article in The Centre for Public Integrity examining a public poll on military spending, it reports how the Trump administration is planning a ‘$54 billion boost to federal spending for the military’, but ‘a majority of Americans prefer a cut of $41 billion.’ When a government blatantly denies the will of the people, it is a blatant murder of democracy.

  1. Free-Market Capitalism

Though there is support and opposition (though limited) to free-market capitalism, it is widely thought that we live in a free market system. I don’t believe this to be the case, however.

Firstly, a primary principle of free-market economics is, in plain terms, the idea that the government should not be involved in the economy, and that the economy should be in the hands of business. This is commonly referred to as the reduction of ‘big government’. However, when we return to fact, it becomes clear that this system does not exist. Instead, we live in a system of state capitalism, where the government acts as a ‘nanny state’ for the rich. The government constantly intervenes in the economy. An example of this are the taxpayer grants to Apple. MarketWatch, on October 14th 2016, discussed how Apple had been granted $2 billion by taxpayer subsidies for data centres over the last decade. Clearly, this contributed to Apple‘s fiscal success, but how was the taxpayer re-payed? They were rewarded with the choice of buying an iPhone on the market for a few hundred dollars. This effectively makes Apple part government owned, though its profits are not controlled by the government.

This case is not an exception, the economy consistently places profits over people; a study from the International Monetary Fund conducted by Kenichi Ueda and Beatrice Weder, found that the profits of the biggest banks mostly came from government subsidies. Furthermore, what makes these actions even more unbelievable is the fact that we consider ‘big government’ as being an economic impossibility. It seems that ‘big government’ is only an economic impossibility if it supports those who need it. The situation almost becomes laughable when you contrast it with government attitude to social welfare. In October 2014, the Guardian reported on the ending of a £257 million ‘crisis fund’ which helped provide ‘emergency cash’ for families facing the prospects of homelessness or starvation. The article also reported on the fact that the UK government had given Disney £170 million since 2007 to make films in Britain.

Furthermore, a key component of a free-market economy is market discipline. This is the theory that if a risky investment is made, the investor must face the consequences if it fails. This is another rule that is not applied in our economy. This is best illustrated by the public bailouts of the banks in 2009, following the financial crisis. Forbes, in July 2015, reported that the ‘total commitment’ from the government/taxpayer to the bailouts is $16.8 trillion. It seems that capitalism is the subsidisation of a failed economy, by the very people it is failing. This creates a government insurance policy known as ‘Too Big to Fail’, a policy which I will leave to Noam Chomsky to explain: ‘you can make a risky transaction, because risky transactions tend to make higher profits. But, they also carry the possibility of failure. But you (the banks) don’t have to worry about it, because you guys (the government/ the taxpayer) are going to pay them if they get into trouble.’

  1. Moral War

The concept of moral war is perhaps one of the strangest hallucinations that we are taught to see. It seems to be a historical rule that the reflex of any global superpower is the waging of war and pursuit of international expansion for supposed ‘moral causes’. For 19th Century Britain, our moral motives in colonisation was the spreading of Christianity and what Rudyard Kipling called ‘the white man’s burden’. This was the burden of ‘civilising’ the native populations, though they had been living in sophisticated societies for centuries. We now recognise these moral motives as fallacies; these reasons disguised the economic interests in savage European imperialism. Why then, can we not recognise the fallacy of justified war in our own times?

Historically, neither Britain, nor the US has been interested in moral motives for war. During the Cold War, the moral motive was ending the vile scourge of Communism and spreading democracy throughout the world. However, US foreign policy had little to do with democracy during the Cold War. A study in ‘Comparative Politics’ in January 1981 by Lars Schoultz explored foreign intervention in Latin American, specifically with regard to relationship between financial aid and countries that torture its citizens. Schoultz found that:

             ‘…during the mid-1970s United States aid was clearly distributed disproportionately to countries with repressive governments, that this distribution represented a pattern and not merely one or a few isolated cases, and that human need was not responsible for the positive correlations between aid and human rights violations.’

Clearly it was not morality that was the compass for US intervention in Latin American. This thesis also stands up for US intervention throughout the 20th Century. The US intentions in their foreign policy can be plainly displayed in a declassified document from July 1958. It shows a conversation between Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, about Egypt’s decision to nationalise its oil supplies. The Memorandum states:

 ‘Since 1945 we have been trying to maintain the opportunity to reach vitally needed petroleum supplies peaceably… The present incident comes about by the struggle of Nasser to get control of these supplies—to get the income and the power to destroy the Western world.’

This declassified document un-veils the Eisenhower administrations deep concern over the rights of other nations to control their own oil supplies.

The ‘war on terror’ has been one of the most brutal and morally inexcusable wars of recent times. Its definition: a war attempting to eradicate acts of terrorism, rests on the subversion of the very meaning of the word ‘terrorism’. In the Oxford English Dictionary, the word terrorism means ‘The unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.’ With this definition in mind, it is the process of rational logic to define the military actions of the United States and the United Kingdom as being major acts of terrorism. However, rational logic is often incommensurate with mainstream thoughts. Instead, the word terrorism has been changed to ‘terrorist acts against the west.’ It seems we are magically exempt from committing acts of terrorism. For example, when the US conducted an air-strike over Syria in August 2017, an action responsible for killing at least forty-two civilians, among them nineteen children, this was not reported as an act of terrorism in the mainstream media. To judge this action by the fundamental principles of morality, it is interesting to ask ourselves how we would think, if a bomb erupted in a UK city. If a bomb killed forty-four civilians in the UK, would we be convinced by the perpetrators suggestion that it was a ‘moral act’?

The need to stop Islamic terrorism is an un-questioningly crucial one, however to answer it, we need to consult history. History shows that every-time the west has tried to contain Islamic extremism with violence, it has multiplied the threat of terrorism. Each terrorist organisation has grown with the persistence of violence, from the Mujahideen, to Al Queda, to the Islamic State. The farcical nature of the ‘war on terror’ is eloquently explored in Howard Zinn’s timeless book A People’s History of the United States:

It should have been obvious to Bush and his advisers that terrorism could not be defeated by force. The historical evidence was easily available. The British had reacted to terrorist acts by the Irish Republican Army with military action again and again, only to face even more terrorism. The Israelis, for decades, had responded to Palestinian terrorism with military strikes, which only resulted in more Palestinian bombing. Bill Clinton, after the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998, had bombed Afghanistan and the Sudan. Clearly, looking at September 11, this had not stopped terrorism.’ 

                    Zinn also offers an extremely useful maxim for dealing with terrorism, and it is a fitting note to conclude on, for the fallacy of moral war: ‘If you want to end terrorism, you have to stop being terrorists.’