THOM HARTMANN'S "INDEPENDENT THINKER" REVIEW OF THE MONTH FOR TRUTHOUT/BUZZFLASH
Each month or so, BuzzFlash is privileged to have nationally syndicated progressive talk show host, television newscaster and author Thom Hartmann review a progressive book or DVD exclusively for BuzzFlash/Truthout. See all of Thom's reviews for Truthout/BuzzFlash at "Independent Thinker."
By John Ralston Saul
Reviewed by Thom Hartmann
"Collapse" was published in 2005, and while for most books that would make it less current, events since then have significantly increased the impact and importance of Saul's treatise. The collapse of his title has sped up, and while it was largely invisible outside of economics circles in 2005, it's now even evident to Tea Partiers - although they lack a grasp of its causes and perpetrators.
Saul opens the book by pointing out how the religion - and make no mistake about it, he nails it as a religion (a belief system lacking evidence) - of globalism sprang on the world stage in a big way in the 1970s.
Its main proponents, Milton and Thomas Friedman (no relation), used the former's Nobel Prize in Economics and the latter's considerable mainstream public influence (NY Times columnist and bestselling author) to create both an intellectual and practical underpinning for the religion.
As Saul notes, Thomas Friedman wrote about how nation states were becoming less and less relevant in the face of global markets, referring directly to the "diminished competence of states."
Milton Friedman, in his 1976 Nobel lecture, said: "A highly static rigid economy may have a fixed place for everyone, whereas a dynamic, highly progressive economy, which offers ever-changing opportunities and fosters flexibility, may have a high natural rate of unemployment." Saul's response?
"This is childish logic, unnecessarily divisive, pure Manichaeism. Why accept that high employment can only be achieved through rigidity? Who says that permanent economic insecurity and disorder are progressive? Why can't stability and flexibility go together?"
Saul then goes on to show that: "Friedman's assumptions were transposed into the Globalization movement. Global economics came to be presented as a tool to weaken government, discourage taxes both on corporations and on the top bracket of earners, force deregulation and, curiously enough, to strengthen private sector technocracies in large corporations to the disadvantage of real capitalists and entrepreneurs."
In other words, globalism is really about establishing the largest transnational corporations and wealthiest individuals in the world as the new Masters of the Universe, while weakening the ability of individual nations to do anything about it.
Even Fareed Zakaria jumps into the game, writing for Newsweek where he was then the editor in 2004: "For almost every country today, its primary struggle centers on globalization issues - growth, poverty eradication, disease prevention, education, urbanization, the preservation of identity."
Responds Saul: "He is right. Except most of these are not in any direct way Globalization issues. They are international, regional, and nation-state issues."
Saul ends his first chapter with a prescient and depressing quote from Alexis de Tocqueville, the French nobleman who visited this country in the 1830s and out of that experience wrote the classic "Democracy in America."
"It was de Tocqueville in 1835," Saul writes, "who said, 'Can it be believed that the democracy which has overthrown the feudal system and vanquished kings will retreat before tradesmen and capitalists."
Of course, Saul notes, "The equivalent retreat today would be before private sector technocrats, money market specialists, the dominant school of economists and, of course, those public commentators who fit the role of adoring courtiers."
With an astonishing command of both the sweep and power of modern Globalism and its history in times both modern and ancient, Saul then spends the next 200 pages documenting how the power of governments, nation states, labor, and the middle class have been shredded by this new oligarchy of giant transnationals and the super-rich.
A particularly pithy summary is on page 178:
These new oligopolies take two forms. One is attached to the combined activity of transnationals that appear to be international but usually represent a geographical base. The other involves regional monopolies or oligopolies, such as the United States for pharmaceuticals or China and India for garments and clothing.
None of this has to do with free market competition. The more accurate historic models are, first, the seventeenth- to eighteenth-century European trading companies, which divided up the world; and second, the nineteenth-century vertically integrated private corpoations that worked in tandem with the imperial empires.
From there, Saul quotes Elizabeth I a year after she chartered the British East India Company, defending her new world order (my phrase, not hers or Saul's), and begins a list of cartelists and systems of, in the words of Elizabeth I, "greedy scraping graspers."
Saul's chapter "The Fall," from which these quotes come, not only documents the - well - fall of nations and entrepreneurs and the middle class before the behemoths of transnational corporate power, but also demonstrates that "regulations had worked" for nations in the past. But the new oligarchs are hell-bent-for-leather to destroy regulation.
Saul wraps the book up pointing out that there are two types of nationalism in play right now, negative and positive. Negative nationalism was best seen by the fascist states of Europe before and during WWII, and positive nationalism - which rejects Globalism and embraces the real reasons for governments in the first place, so eloquently stated in our Declaration and the Preamble to the Constitution (again, my examples/words, not his) as something that he hopes we will all grow into.
In his final chapter on Positive Nationalism, he cites the 1999 example of Prime Minister Helen Clark of New Zealand, who then took the very risky move of "turning her country's back" on Globalism. She said, Saul quotes, that 'her aim was a broad policy 'which reduces inequality, is environmentally sustainable, and improves the social and economic well-being" of her citizens.' " He adds: "In 1999 that sounded like a risky package. Today it sounds commonplace."
One can only hope the leaders of American could oneday be as enlightened.
If you buy, read, and share this book with a few others, we will get a step closer to those goals...
Thom Hartmann is a New York Times bestselling author and host of the top nationally syndicated progressive radio talk show. You can learn more about Thom Hartmann at his website and find out what stations broadcast his program. He also now has a daily television program at RT Network. You can also listen to Thom over the Internet.
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