Monday, August 3, 2009

Polis Amsterdam: Thoughts on Crisis...

The Dutch --they talk about crisis. But even if there is one in Holland (and perhaps it is only starting to sink in) the dutch encounter with crisis is very different from the experience in America.

The cafes serving coffee are starting to fill up at around 11 am, and keep filling to late into the night --gradually shifting to stiffer (alcoholic) drinks. People talk incessantly. The markets and stores are crowded and lively. Food in supermarkets and open markets is so cheap that you'd think that the value of the dollar has already de-valued to about 35 euro cents. A good artisan bread is in the 95 euro cent range, jam 85 euro cents, butter 95, etc. Going out to eat can be also be cheap --Holland has great if somewhat greasy street food-- but as soon as you have a sit down dinner, things can go up quickly. Labor is expensive in the Netherlands. No store will bag your groceries any longer.

During the day many people walk the canals every break they get, or bask smoking a cigarette in the sun. And there are also many people that don't work at all somehow. But they are not marginalized or looked down upon, and generally they get sufficient resources through some kind of state program so that they can keep participating in daily live with dignity and role as elder. Despite the enormous administration that comes with a welfare state, lines in the state run offices are small and civil servants are efficient and personable in their help.

For the longest time Holland has practiced a policy of tolerance towards what they call 'soft drugs' such as marihuana ('gedogen'). The laws around this policy are deeply ambivalent: possession is ok, selling in special coffeeshops is ok, but growing (on large scale) is officially prohibited, as is delivery and transportation. When asked about the paradoxical nature of this policy, people roll their eyes:... The laws are meant to keep commercialism out....If something happens around it, usually there are not any terrible consequences. It mainly gives another opportunity for the different generations to talk to each other once again....

Cities are planned with pedestrians and bikes in mind. Public transportation is fast and accurate. There are all kinds of reductions available for cheap fares to trains and buses in the Netherlands --but if you are a tourist and you just need a ticket --the prices are pretty steep --though nothing like the cost of filling up a car. Gaz prices are so high in Europe because of taxes: like in so many other countries, gas has become a great source of tax revenue --as is offshore natural gaz --while it lasts.... The added benefit of that policy is that public transportation is popular and relatively cheap, while cities are not suffocating with cars. Lots of people walk or bike for all their transportation needs. Comparable industries are up to 60 percent more efficient than in America, also due to innovation inspired by high energy costs.

In some ways I found it remarkable how little people are concerned or know about greening the economy, growing healthy foods, or other green solutions. And yet they live in a nation that is so much greener on a daily basis that the US. When asked someone pointed out: .....for those kinds of things we train engineers who are then hired by a city or is their task to come up with the best solutions for let's say garbage, or food, or energy or clean water availability, and then implement them... Main thing is that you take the profit motive out of these projects.....There is no way you can do anything by yourself in this respect.....

It is a mystery to me how that can all hang together without breaking the system --but it does. This coherence and flexibility, may be the result of a fairer 'social contract', where industries and corporations pay their share, while citizens in their productive live also pay a lot in taxes, they are benefiting from it so much through access to services, care, education and medicine. This stake in one's security and future, based on a kind of altruism which is called civilization, makes people identify with the dutch experience so deeply, that there are no violent outbreaks (or very rarely) to speak of. To keep people calm, there are no moralizing Obama-esque speeches laying out right and wrong --there is a reality to the welfare state. That is the security that comes from Polis, the citizen run City State which provides values for all.

In the US the inequality between the rich and poor are now so extreme both in numbers and in economic capacity, that the interest of 'The Nation ruled by the few', and 'The People' have started to diverge and an enormous chasm is tearing at the seams of being a civilized society. The strategy has been to keep the masses uninformed though a Soviet style incessant media machine, blinding people to their own reality. Sooner or later however, people will connect the dots back from living in tent cities to the places where the wealth was monopolized in stacks of worthless paper. Given the amount of guns in the US and the return of so many soldiers without victory, this should be of grave concern.

What will go into history as the biggest mistake of the otherwise righteous Obama administration, is that the takeover by the banks (in particular Goldman Sachs) of the economic and political system has gone unchallenged.

In many respects there was a heist of wealth, starting with Greenspan. Paulsen was the Goldman Sachs appointed thief and con to finish the job. Instead of having a criminal investigation of the banks' shenanigans, the sky rocketing losses are now being forcefully underwritten on the backs of the middle and blue collar labor. And their offspring. Why does the Obama administration not tax the bankers and speculators that made money this way at 95 % ?? Retroactive ! With a cap on individual wealth at a generous $100 million dollar per person. Please! That would restore some confidence in the ability of capitalism to self-regulate.

A large labor pool of unemployed people at hand, will keep wages low and profits high. The middle class is being squeezed out, while there is a growing number of tent living dispossessed and destitute --the newly emerging underclass.

For all of them, the various bailouts mean only one thing: work until you drop! A new type of feudalism may be emerging at the beginning of this century: an economic enslavement, perpetuated by a corrupted body politic, paid off by the corporations, inflicting military
violence and destruction all around --creating a world devoid of meaning.
"The Politics of Police". (see next article)

This may very well lead to a situation one of the earliest sociologists Emile Durkheim in the second half of the 19th century, called...."Anomy", an out of control situation, resulting from....resistance to change, which causes disruptive cycles of collective behavior (e.g. economics) due to the necessity of a prolonged buildup of sufficient force or momentum to overcome the inertia....

Watch for that word "Anomy" starting to appear in publications...
or see what is happening in the streets for yourselves.

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