Monday night in the Lexington High School auditorium, a packed house of residents enjoyed a rare visit from one of the 20th Centuries greatest thinkers: Dr. Noam Chomsky.
Touring to support the recent paperback release of his 1999 book, "Profit Over People: Neo-Liberalism and Global Order," Chomsky, a long-time Lexington resident, treated the hometown crowd to a spirited lecture concerning America's current socio-economic state and how we got here.
Chomsky began his lecture by framing neo-liberalism -- a market-driven approach to economic and social policy focused on private enterprise -- as having failed in Third World countries such as Argentina and Brazil, countries that only recently managed to pull themselves out of Third World status through what Chomsky described as “more democratically-based ideals.”
Chomsky then warned of the dangers of what he called, a “recent revival of neo-liberal policies in the US that, characteristically, have been very harmful.”
“From 1980, US incomes have stagnated or declined where wealth accumulation is going into very few pockets unlike other industrialized nations," he said. "It's huge wealth in roughly one-tenth of 1 percent of the population. Since about 1980, markets have become deregulated to support this ideal and we now see the consequences.”
Chomsky noted the collapse of the auto industry and housing market as key elements in this downfall. “These are the consequences of adhering to neo-liberal rules and we are enduring the crisis of neo-liberalism like many third-world countries," he said.
Shifting back to Latin and South American countries, Chomsky mentioned that the change from Third to First World status for countries like Brazil, Argentina and most recently, Bolivia was, “quite spectacular in terms of a historical point of view, that the turn-around happened in such a short period.”
Chomsky sited the rise of unions and inclination to shrug off the rule of other countries influences such as the United States and United Kingdom as one of the main causes behind this self-empowerment, mentioning that these burgeoning economic powers have, “plenty of potential with rich resources.”
Chomsky blamed the downfall of many of these Third World Latin American and South American countries over the 20th Century on the white-elites who virtually own the country of interest, but don't care about the goodwill of its inhabitants.
Relating Sept. 11, 2001 to a 1973 upheaval in Chile supported by the Nixon administration, where hundreds of thousands of Chileans were killed when they unsuccessfully tried to overthrow the corrupt regime leading the country and which South American's refer to as the original "9/11," Chomsky was clear in pointing out that although this event was an atrocity on a larger scale that had more impact of lives and the economic-social structure of the world, this event, and many like it, aren't examined as turning points in a global market even though their impacts warrant them as such.
This selective look at history and market trends was one of the main reasons behind America's decline of the early 21st Century, according to Chomsky, who argued America has been on this path since the height of its power immediately following World War Two in 1945.
The American Decline
Speaking about America's current socio-economic state, Chomsky said “the mood of the country is depressed, upset, with very little hope which makes it a very dangerous situation. ... Compared to the Great Depression, objectively the Great Depression was worse, but subjectively, today's crisis is more detrimental to America.”
Chomsky said major cause of American decline -- outsourcing jobs overseas -- "is self-inflicted” and “great for profits, but awful for our country.”
What Chomsky called “Financialization” (the concentration of wealth to a small percentage of the population) is the other major cause of America's decline since WWII.
“The concentration of wealth means concentration of political power which equates to instituting policies that add to those in power and in-turn marginalize the rest of the population economically and politically,” he said.
Discussing the current political landscape in America, Chomsky added, “elections are essentially bought" and policy can be gleaned from looking at campign financing.
"Experience and seniority are gone from politics," he said. "Now, you have to pay to get into political positions. This has created a vicious cycle that hurts the country.”
'Two Dark Clouds'
Chomsky ended his speech by painting a dismal view of the American future, saying that “two dark clouds” loom over our heads as Americans.
The first is the idea of nuclear war. "The threat is severe and, in many ways, getting worse," said Chomsky.
The second “dark cloud” is the threat of environmental catastrophe, which Chomsky believes in exacerbated by, “principal deniers of global warming and other environmental issues” in American politics.
Chomsky noted that Bolivia, a country just pulling itself out of years of political upheaval and incredible strife, leads the world in dealing with these global environmental concerns.
“Strikingly, the US, the richest country in the world, is way behind,” said Chomsky. “Worse, we are practically to the point of dragging our feet.”
Chomsky left the audience with a dire thought towards the future of our American society when he stated: “When I think about the legacy we are leaving our children and grandchildren, it's not a pretty picture, to put it mildly.”