Sunday, April 19, 2015

Book: How The World Works

"How The World Works" - Noam Chomsky, 2011, 335 pages

The book contains collections of interviews with Noam Chomsky. It is a good summary and I would strongly advise it to anyone interested in why the world is as it is and wants to lift the curtain of lies. An essential guide in search of the truth...

My underlinings:
Free trade is fine for economics departments and newspaper editorials, but nobody in the corporate world or the government takes the doctrines seriously.

The same is true of other industrial societies. The US government has the public pay for research and development and provides, largely through the military, a state-guaranteed market for waste production. If something is marketable, the private sector takes it over. That system of public subsidy and private profit is what is called free enterprise.

The problem with real democracies is that they’re likely to fall prey to the heresy that governments should respond to the needs of their own population, instead of those of US investors. The weaker and poorer a country is, the more dangerous it is as an example. If a tiny, poor country like Grenada can succeed in bringing about a better life for its people, some other place that has more resources will ask, “Why not us?”

...what the US wants is “stability,” meaning security for the “upper classes and large foreign enterprises.” If that can be achieved with formal democratic devices, OK. If not, the “threat to stability” posed by a good example has to be destroyed before the virus infects others. That’s why even the tiniest speck poses such a threat, and may have to be crushed.

Japan recovered in large part because of the Korean War and then the Vietnam War, which stimulated Japanese production and brought Japan huge profits.

It’s all quite predictable, as study after study shows. A brutal tyrant crosses the line from admirable friend to “villain” and “scum” when he commits the crime of independence. One common mistake is to go beyond robbing the poor—which is just fine—and to start interfering with the privileged, eliciting opposition from business leaders.

No degree of cruelty is too great for Washington sadists. The educated classes know enough to look the other way.

For many years, the UN has been blocked by the great powers, primarily the United States—not the Soviet Union or the Third World. Since 1970, the United States has vetoed far more Security Council resolutions than any other country (Britain is second, France a distant third and the Soviet Union fourth). Our record in the General Assembly is similar. And the “shrill, anti-Western rhetoric” of the Third World commonly turns out to be a call to observe international law, a pitifully weak barrier against the depredations of the powerful.

“Israeli nuclear weapons” is a phrase that can’t be written or uttered by any official US government source. That phrase would raise the question of why all aid to Israel is not illegal, since foreign aid legislation from 1977 bars funds to any country that secretly develops nuclear weapons.

The one country in Eastern Europe where there was extensive violence as the tyrannies collapsed was the very one where the Soviets had the least amount of influence and where we had the most: Romania. Nicolae Ceausescu, the dictator of Romania, was given the royal treatment when he visited England. The US gave him favored nation treatment, trade advantages and the like.

In many ways, Eastern Europe is more attractive to investors than Latin America. One reason is that the population is white and blue-eyed, and therefore easier to deal with for investors who come from deeply racist societies like Western Europe and the United States.

With the Soviet deterrent gone, the US is much more free to use violence around the world, a fact that has been recognized with much satisfaction by US policy analysts in the past several years.

When a state is committed to such policies, it must somehow find a way to divert the population, to keep them from seeing what’s happening around them. There are not many ways to do this. The standard ones are to inspire fear of terrible enemies about to overwhelm us, and awe for our grand leaders who rescue us from disaster in the nick of time.

The close correlation between the drug racket and international terrorism (sometimes called “counterinsurgency,” “low intensity conflict” or some other euphemism) is not surprising. Clandestine operations need plenty of money, which should be undetectable. And they need criminal operatives as well. The rest follows.

Then there’s the other 80% or so of the population. These are Lippmann’s “spectators of action,” whom he referred to as the “bewildered herd.” They are supposed to follow orders and keep out of the way of the important people. They’re the target of the real mass media: the tabloids, the sitcoms, the Super Bowl and so on.

The goal is to keep the bewildered herd bewildered. It’s unnecessary for them to trouble themselves with what’s happening in the world. In fact, it’s undesirable—if they see too much of reality they may set themselves to change it.

One of the things they want is a passive, quiescent population. So one of the things that you can do to make life uncomfortable for them is not be passive and quiescent. There are lots of ways of doing that. Even just asking questions can have an important effect.

If elections are just something in which some portion of the population goes and pushes a button every couple of years, they don’t matter. But if the citizens organize to press a position, and pressure their representatives about it, elections can matter.

It’s been understood that a system of private enterprise can survive only if there is extensive government intervention.

In the 1980s, Latin America had a huge problem of capital flight because they’re open to international capital markets. South Korea has no such problem— they have the death penalty for capital flight. Like any sane planners, they use market systems for allocating resources, but very much under planned central direction.

Until you get to the source of power, which ultimately is investment decisions, other changes are cosmetic and can only take place in a limited way. If they go too far, the investors will just make other choices, and there’s nothing much you can do about it.

A business or a big corporation is a fascist structure internally. Power is at the top. Orders go from top to bottom. You either follow the orders or get out.

It’s important to recognize how utterly incompetent secret services are when it comes to dealing with people and politics. Intelligence agencies make the most astonishing mistakes—just as academics do.

You have to blame the victim. Once you become a raving racist in self-defense, you've lost your capacity to understand what’s happening.

It’s perfectly true that Israel wants peace. So did Hitler. Everybody wants peace. The question is, On what terms?

If the United States was conquered by the Russians, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Elliott Abrams and the rest of them would probably be working for the invaders, sending people off to concentration camps. They’re the right personality types.

...a society is democratic to the extent that people in it have meaningful opportunities to take part in the formation of public policy.

Businesses try to maximize profit, power, market share and control over the state. Sometimes what they do helps other people, but that’s just by chance.

We have a dual system—protection for the rich and market discipline for everyone else.

...profits are privatized but costs are socialized.

...policy is insulated from politics. People can have their opinions; they can even vote if they like. But policy goes on its merry way, determined by other forces.

The New England Journal of Medicine pointed out a couple of years ago that black males in Harlem have about the same mortality rate as people in Bangladesh.

...taken literally, the Second Amendment doesn't permit people to have guns. But laws are never taken literally, including amendments to the Constitution or constitutional rights. Laws permit what the tenor of the times interprets them as permitting.

The government is the only power structure that’s even partially accountable to the population, so naturally the business sectors want to make that the enemy—not the corporate system, which is totally unaccountable.

The media scarcely reported what labor was actually saying. But there was plenty of hysteria about labor’s alleged tactics.

There’s a whole, long, filtering process that makes sure that people only rise through the system to become managers, editors, etc., if they've internalized the values of the owners.

The rise of what’s called Islamic fundamentalism is, to a significant extent, a result of the collapse of secular nationalist alternatives that were either discredited internally or destroyed. 1970, about 90% of international capital was used for trade and long-term invest - ment—more or less productive things—and 10% for speculation. By 1990, those figures had reversed: 90% for speculation and 10% for trade and long-term investment.

People work alone, and just try to fend for themselves. The retreat into individualism and personal gain is the basis for the political apathy.

The United States, with 5% of the world’s population, consumes 40% of the world’s resources. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out what that’s leading to.

As the United Nations Development Program put it, “survival in agricultural markets depends less on comparative advantage than on comparative access to subsidies.”

Two technical economists in Holland found that every single one of the hundred largest transnational corporations on Fortune magazine’s list has benefited from the industrial policy of its home country, and that at least twenty of them wouldn't have even survived if their governments hadn’t taken them over or given them large subsidies when they were in trouble.

The internet is a dramatic example today—it was designed, funded and run in the public sector as long as you couldn't make money on it, but as soon as it showed a potential for profitability, it was handed over to mega corporations.

One reason children watch so much TV is that parent-child interaction has dropped 40% or so from the 1960s to today—at least in part because both parents have to work fifty hours a week to put food on the table. There’s little day care and few support systems available, so what are you left with? TV babysitting.

Some of the rural workers in Brazil have an interesting slogan. They say their immediate task is “expanding the floor of the cage.” They understand that they’re trapped inside a cage, but realize that protecting it when it’s under attack from even worse predators on the outside, and extending the limits of what the cage will allow, are both essential preliminaries to dismantling it. If they attack the cage directly when they’re so vulnerable, they’ll get murdered.

There used to be only process patents, which permit people to figure out smarter ways to make products. The World Trade Organization has introduced product patents; they allow companies to patent not only a process, but also the product that’s the result of the process. Product patents discourage innovation, are very inefficient and undermine markets, but that’s irrelevant—they empower the rich and help big multinationals exercise control over the future of pharmaceuticals and biotechnology.

If you can rebuild, reconstitute and strengthen a culture in which social bonds are considered significant, you've made a step towards undermining the control that private and state power exercise over society.

How could there be a general strategy for overcoming authoritarian institutions? I think questions like that are mostly asked by people who don’t want to become engaged. When you become engaged, plenty of problems arise that you can work on. But it’s not going to happen by pushing a button.

It makes absolutely no sense to expose yourself and others to destruction when you don’t have a social base from which you can protect the gains that you've made.

You've got to free yourself intellectually, and you can’t do it alone—you liberate yourself through participation with others, just as you learn things in science by interacting with others.

The future can be changed. But we can’t change things unless we at least begin to understand them. We've had plenty of successes; they’re cumulative.

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