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Paul Mason: “Workers against Wall Street”

Sarah Shin31 October 2010

Paul Mason reports for the New Statesman on the critical condition of the US economy and social unrest from Gary, Indiana—a town that "signals the president's failure to solve America's most basic problems and to deliver to the very people whose votes put him in the White House."

Debate rages over economic strategy for a town like Gary: fiscal stimulus has failed to provide jobs or growth. Paul Mason asks where the battle will go after November 2.

Mason sets the scene for the emergence of the Tea Party movement from the mainstream American right, for whom the failure of the Obama stimulus is the belief that it is the size of the state that 'crowds out' the private sector, preventing it from responding effectively to the crisis. But what the Tea Party

adds to conventional fiscal conservatism is the idea that all state intervention into economic life is immoral, un-Christian and unconstitutional. The plebeian right is convinced that a city like Gary neither deserves stimulus money nor can use it to any good effect ...

The bleak economic landscape is the cause and the setting for increasing social and racial tensions: 

America's airwaves are alive with the angry voices of enraged white Christians, channelled towards coherence by the right-wing commentators. No one on the stage in Indiana needs to assert that Obama is "a racist" with "a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture"—because Beck already said so on TV, on July 28, 2009 ...

So, where does the battle go after November 2? Economists on the Keynesian left of the Democratic Party are now clamouring for a further fiscal stimulus as they frantically try to recover ground in the ideological war they have essentially lost. Judging by the polling on all possible outcomes, the Congressional arithmetic makes another fiscal stimulus impossible. And even if it were possible, it is difficult to see how a second stimulus could overcome the institutional problems that Gary typifies ...

For two years, America's political cycle and its economic crisis have been parallel stories, the one played out on brash television shouting shows, the other handled by the super-brained east coast policy elite in the privacy of summits and retreats. After the midterm elections, the two cycles will collide. Either the Obama administration will find a new kind of circuit breaker for the economy, or America will face stagnant growth, deflation and the possibility of a further banking crisis.

In Gary, the people know what they want the president to do: to break with Wall Street, ditch the doctrine of free trade, end foreclosures and deliver jobs. There is, despite the political chasm between the union guys and the Tea Party activists, a parallel desire for politicians to break with the lobbying industry and speak for the people. "He [Obama] has to drive the agenda," says Steve Dunn, a steelworker. "If you ever listen to a speech by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, it's basically you against me; it's the working class against Wall Street. And that's the way things are today—but I don't hear that from President Obama."

The irony of American politics, on the eve of the midterms, is that if anybody owns the narrative of "workers against Wall Street", it is the ultra-conservative, free-market right.

Visit the New Statesman to read the article in full.

Paul Mason also visited the RSA last week to discuss the latest developments in the financial crisis and how neoliberal ideology has been affected in Meltdown

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