Sunday 8 February 2009

The real change the world needs: a response to Barack Obama

by Grant Morgan Chair of RAM (Residents Action Movement) 6 February 2009 US president Barack Obama yesterday penned a perspectives article for The Washington Post called The Actions Americans Need. Given that Washington's actions affect the world, it's fitting that non-Americans (like myself) respond to Obama's strategy. Here are five representative quotes from Obama's article, along with my responses: QUOTE #1: DEEP Obama: "We have inherited an economic crisis as deep and dire as any since the days of the Great Depression." Me: Just days ago, New Zealand's Reserve Bank governor Alan Bollard flatly denied that today's global crisis is anything like the Great Depression. Many other world leaders are saying similar silly things. Now Obama is linking the two Combo Crises. This breathes a welcome sense of reality into official pronouncements on the depth of the slump. QUOTE #2: DEEPER Obama: "If nothing is done, this recession might linger for years... Our nation will sink deeper into a crisis that, at some point, we may not be able to reverse." Me: Implicitly, Obama is raising the spectre of a slump growing so bad that it threatens the continuation of capitalism, as did the Great Depression. Of course, the US president softens his words with the usual politik-speak about the worst only happening "if nothing is done". QUOTE #3: HOPE Obama: "That's why I feel such a sense of urgency about the recovery plan before Congress. With it, we will... strengthen our country for years to come." Me: Here the US president is doing what Franklin D. Roosevelt did during the Great Depression: planting the flag of hope in the midst of an economic blizzard. Obama is hoping that the expression of hope will (as it mostly did in FDR's time) keep the grassroots from revolt even when reality fails to match the expressions of hope. QUOTE #4: SILENCE Obama: "In recent days, there have been misguided criticisms of this plan that echo the failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis... I reject these theories, and so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change." Me: Yet Obama is silent on the fundamental reforms needed to bring about real change beneficial to the grassroots. Such fundamental reforms would include moves to permanently socialise the banks and other corporate monopolies (instead of merely socialising their losses) as part of democratising control of the economy. QUOTE #5: IDEOLOGY Obama: "We can pull together... We can place good ideas ahead of old ideological battles." Me: Behind an ideological swipe against ideology, Obama ends with a somewhat tired battle cry in favour of the very old ideology of social democracy. This ideology claims that crisis can only be overcome if all social classes and political forces "pull together". Yet that would leave intact the old class and state hierarchies which have given us today's economic and climate crises, and will give us new horrors tomorrow unless there is a bottom-up refoundation of society. WHAT DOES HISTORY SAY? Obama is outlining a crisis-inspired manifesto to save capitalism from itself in a re-play of Roosevelt's role in the Great Depression. Where might Obama's strategy lead? Let's look quickly at what history can tell us (if we wish to listen, of course). Roosevelt's New Deal created some jobs (but not enough) and expanded social welfare (again, not enough). These commendable achievements helped many struggling citizens (yet again, not enough). There is a dark side as well, however. Because Roosevelt left intact the old power structures, his strategy led directly towards an era of perpetual imperial bullying, a war on ecology, expanding corporate domination, third world poverty, increasing labour exploitation and the many other sins of global capitalism. Thus Roosevelt's New Deal planted the seeds of today's job-destroying Combo Crisis as well as a life-threatening Climate Crisis. Will Obama act on history's lessons? We should applaud Obama's call for "change". At the same time, we should shout out that real change must challenge the dictatorship of the profitariat if we are to escape further social and ecological calamities. You can go to The RAM Plan (viewable at for some grassroots Kiwi ideas on the path towards a humanistic and ecological society.

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