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Bill Moyers and Chris Hedges: How Whole Regions of America Have Been Destroyed in the Name of Quarterly Profits

Hedges discusses his new book with Moyers and the totally unchecked corporate power that is destroying our democracy.

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BILL MOYERS I was struck by your saying Camden is “beset with the corruption and brutal police repression reminiscent of the despotic regimes that you covered as a correspondent for the New York Times in Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America.” You describe a city where the per capital income is $ll,967. Large swaths of the city, as Joe Sacco Shows us, are abandoned, windowless brick factories, forlorn warehouses.

CHRIS HEDGES At one point in the 50s, it was a huge shipyard that employed 36,000 people. Campbell’s Soup was made there, RCA used to be there. But there were a variety of businesses it attracted in that great migration a lot of unskilled labor from the South, as well as immigrants from New York

Because without an education, it was a place that you could find a job. It was unionized, of course, so people had adequate wages and some protection. And then it just-- everything went down. With the flight of manufacturing overseas.

It's all gone. Nothing remains. And that's why it's such a stark example of what we've done to ourselves, without realizing that the manufacturing base of any country is absolutely vital to its health. Not only in terms of its economic, but in terms of its, you know, the cohesion of a society because it gives employment.

BILL MOYERS: But give me a thumbnail sketch of Pine Ridge, South Dakota, the Pine Ridge Reservation.

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, Pine Ridge is where it began, Western exploitation. And it was the railroad companies that did it. They wanted the land, they took the land, the government gave them the land. It either gave it to them or sold it to them very cheaply. They slaughtered the buffalo herds, they broke these people. Forcing a people that had not been part of a wage economy to become part of a wage economy, upending the traditional values.

And it really is about the maximization of profit, it really is about the commodification of everything, including human beings. And this was certainly true in the western wars.

And it's appalling. You know, the average life expectancy for a male in Pine Ridge is 48. That is the lowest in the Western Hemisphere outside of Haiti. At any one time, 60 percent of the dwellings do not have electricity or water.

BILL MOYERS: You write of one tiny village, tiny village, with four liquor stores. And that dispense the equivalent of 13,500--

CHRIS HEDGES: Right.

BILL MOYERS: --cans of beer a day. And with devastating results.

CHRIS HEDGES: Yes. And they start young and some estimates run that, you know, alcoholism is as high as 80 percent. This contributes, of course, to early death. That's in Whiteclay, Nebraska. There is no liquor that is legally sold on the reservation, itself. But Whiteclay is about two miles from Pine Ridge. And that's where people go. They call it "going south." And that's all they do, is sell liquor.

That's true everywhere. You build a kind of dependency which destroys self-efficiency. I mean, that's what the old Indian agencies were set up to do. You take away the livelihood, you take away the buffalo herds, you make it impossible to sustain yourself, and then you have lines of people waiting for lard, flour, and you know, whisky.

And that has been true in West Virginia. That's certainly true in Camden. And it is a form of disempowerment. It is a form of keeping people essentially, at a subsistence level, and yet dependent on the very structures of power that are destroying them.

 
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