Sunday, 14 December 2008
As I gaze upon the destruction of the world as we know it (I refer of course to the demise of Woolworths) on my 37" LCD TV, I begin to wonder what kind of society we will be left with in the coming years. I read the other day in some crap rag that the UK is now considered to be worth less than the McDonalds corporation. Which is pathetic and brilliant at the same time.
The other night, the Grapes of Wrath was on TCM. And a powerful film it remains (despite the total absence of a black face) the startling scenes of utter grinding poverty given extra power by the monochrome photography. Though I did read the book, I was quite young at the time, and I have only a nodding acquaintance with Springsteen's Ghost of Tom Joad, so I am not really qualified to carry out an informed critique of the work. What did come across from the film was a strong element of soft trades unionism - a trades unionism divorced from politics. At one point, Joad says (I paraphrase of course) to his fellow Okies as they are digging a drainage ditch for the kind-hearted Californian fruit grower who has taken them on for 5 cents an hour:
"What is this 'Reds' everybody's talking about? Seems you can't turn around without somebody callin' somebody else a 'Red'. All I know's a man's got to feed his family. I don't know what this 'Reds' means..."
The bad guys are the 'Marshalls', though it is made plain that these guys are not part of the established machinery of government, but are either private police working for the greedy and exploitative employers, or are corrupt officers in the pay of said fat cats.
But I once again digress. I've been thinking about the Great Depression since the current financial fiasco started, and wondering what - if any parallels could reasonably be drawn between then and now. How might Obama be compared to Franklin D Roosevelt, and what sort of 21st Century New Deal could he possibly produce? There is an interesting quote from FDR, made during a speech within the first 100 days of assuming the Presidency and instigating the New Deal:
"Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men....The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization."
A profound echo of these quasi-religious words can be seen in the political rhetoric of the early days of the recent banking crisis and the calumny hurled at the Chief Execs of HBOS et al.
In light of the impending (as this is written in advance of publication, one can only hope that it will remain accurate) collapse of the automotive industry in the US, the comparison between the current disasters and the plight of the sharecroppers in Oklahoma seems all the more apposite. But where next? Will the good automobile workers of Michigan and Illinois now drift westward again in search of gold in the renewables industry, or transfer their skills to social networking 'deep dives' in California?
Will Obama (like FDR) be forced to admit defeat and launch yet another world war to save us from boredom? The law of diminishing returns would seem to indicate that this will not be an option. Nuclear weapons do tend to raise the stakes somewhat.