Noam Chomsky on America's Declining Empire, Occupy and the Arab Spring
Continued from previous page
JH: Separating the wheat from the chaff.
NC: Basically. That does require an organized activism. That’s the kind of thing you have to do with other people. You have to be able to try ideas and get reactions. You have to sharpen your perceptions. That really doesn’t take place without substantial organization. Now, there is interchange over the Internet, but it tends to be on the superficial side.
JH: That may be an understatement looking at the comments on our Web site. Let’s turn to your book on the Occupy movement. It’s called Occupy. It’s a quick and really good read. Professor, you do a good job of explaining the class war that’s been waged from above by our economic elites over these past 30-40 years. But privation is relative -- Americans living at the poverty line still have a greater amount of wealth than 80-90 percent of the world’s population. Given that very few people are actually starving in this country, and these economic trends go so far back, what do you think was the tipping point here? What set off this movement now? Was it just the severity of the Great Recession, or do you think something else helped open people’s eyes?
NC: Well, you’re certainly right that we’re better off than most of the world. In fact just before talking to you I happened to be talking to a wonderful woman from India who’s been working for many years living in villages in one of the poorest areas, describing their activities -- their successes and failures. Of course that’s a radically different world. People here, or anywhere, don’t compare themselves with the Stone Age. They compare themselves with what ought to be available for a decent life in the kind of society they live in. This is the richest, most powerful country in world history. It has extraordinary advantages. Comparing what ought to be, given those circumstances, with what is for the large majority of the population -- the 99 percent in the imagery of the Occupy movement -- that’s a huge gap.
For example, we don’t have the kind of healthcare that comparable societies have. We don’t have the kind of infrastructure. The last 30 years there’s been -- even apart from the last recession -- a relative stagnation of the large majority of the population. What’s actually happened is captured pretty nicely in a small book that came out after the publication of my book. There’s a recent publication by the Economic Policy Institute, which has been the main source of reliable data on the state of working America -- which means almost everyone -- for about 30-35 years. It’s called Failure by Design. It’s an easy read and worth reading. The title is quite accurate. It’s failure in the sense that for the large majority of the population there has been essentially no progress, even though there’s been substantial wealth produced. The economy itself is far less productive than it ought to be. Production for what people need is far less. It’s of course been a spectacular success for a tiny portion of the population, a tenth of 1 percent knocks the distribution off the international scales.
It’s a class-based failure that’s by design. That’s the crucial fact. There have been and still are other options available. Things don’t have to happen like this. I think there’s just been a steady buildup of concern, anger and frustration. You can see it in polls. Hatred of institutions and distrust is all over the country, and it’s been rising for a long time. The Occupy movement managed to capture the mood and crystalize it. That’s the way popular movements take off.