The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power by Steve Fraser
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Age of Acquiescence
First, Steve Fraser has a word for us to learn: “Precariat.” You can probably see the word from which this portmanteau derives, in turn riffing on “proletariat.” Yes, we are the class of the precarious.
So, why didn’t more Americans join Occupy Wall Street a few years back, or start their own, similar movements? That’s the thesis of this book.
One of the greatest strengths of this book is Chapter 10, titled “Fables of Freedom: Brand X.” Of course, branding and its adjunct, marketing, become fiercer by the day. But, as Fraser shows, their roots go back at least to the Keynesian consumerism which he marks as the real “settlement” of the New Deal and later. He’s true about this in general — American “mainstream” organized labor accepted the offer of a theoretically guaranteed piece of the capital pie on wages, health care and other benefits, while agreeing to keep its collective nose out of corporate operations, unlike in a Germany, and to also play good soldiers abroad in undermining labor movements elsewhere that wouldn’t salute the flag of high-octane American capitalism.
Indeed, though, branding has become much more scientific, at least in theory, than back in Bernays' day. In fact, I've blogged before that people at Zucotti Park were surely communicating not just on cell phones, but the latest version of the iPhone. I've also noted, per self-reporting that nearly 25 percent of them had graduate degrees that, before the great Recession, many may have wanted to work FOR Wall Street. But, I digress. Fraser's point is that branding has been a major factor in inducting acquiescence.
So, too was the challenging of organized labor's often philistine stance on social issues. And so, as the Sixties drew to a close, organized labor had trouble incorporating the Vietnam generation into its ranks. Fraser even shows that many strikes of the early Seventies were wildcats, without hierarchy’s OK, and at times aimed at the hierarchy as much as the employer. Hence, Reagan Democrats were "easy pickings" for the GOP.
And, from there, the first waves of outsourcing and offshoring meant fewer non-Reagan Democrats in unions to protest, let alone pre-Reagan Republicans in middle management, when folks like Chainsaw Al Dunlap popped up.
It is only a slight exaggeration to say that the new corporations emerging out of this bazaar of buying and welling were in a new business: the fabrication of companies to trade back and forth.
It's all a game; that's from 245.
And, the game needed old rules broken, which itself became a new rule.
Employers all over the country think nothing of violating labor laws covering minimum wages, overtime pay, hours of work, and safety regulations — all the basics of civilized capitalism. Beating the system is the system. No one is watching.
And, it goes without saying that this has become true of both Democratic and Republican presidential administrations.
Fraser notes, correctly:
After Ronald Reagan’s election, what remnants there were of New Deal populism and class consciousness were shuttered away in some attic of the Democratic Party. Legions of working people, whether unionized or like the thirty million or so unorganized working poor, could expect little help from that quarter.. They had been abandoned not only by government but by the political machinery their forbears had created to help them cope.
That quote is part of a section about the rise of neoliberalism after McGovern's defeat.
Fraser also reminds us that finance dereg, along with trucking (bad) and airlines (good and bad, IMO) started under Carter. Ditto for electric utilities.
He then notes that free market thinking pernicious not just in public policies but in exiling communal ways of thought.
As for Democrats becoming more and more associated with social liberalism and identity politics, Fraser notes this as part of the “Southernization” of both politics and of the American working class. This, too, intruded into the modern Democratic party with Carter.
A smiley face on top of this is neoliberalism, which Fraser calls the technocratic equivalent of Marxism. I could go even worse, but that’s a good start.
Specifically, Fraser says, on page 417:
Neoliberalism as a way of thinking about the world has been profoundly disempowering precisely because it conveys a techno-determinism about the way things are. It presents itself as a kind of Marxism of the ruling classes, suggesting that the telos of history and the relentless logic of economic science lead inevitably not where Marx thought they were heading, but rather to just where we are now.
In other words, an economically determined version of Fukuyama’s end of history.
That said, Fraser holds out a modicum of hope in his epilogue. But, he at the same time notes this hope is not guaranteed to come to fruition. A new Gilded Age won't be easy to overturn, and it won't be quick to overturn either.
Update, March 23: Naomi Klein regrets that he doesn't have interviews with today's resisters.
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