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Ever notice how only the weak and the powerless, the most marginalized of people, are the ones with the ability to wreck an entire nation’s or even the world’s economy?  Listen to the right-wingers in this country, for example, and you’ll learn that the global – let me repeat that, the global – financial meltdown was caused by a bunch of poor black and brown people buying homes they couldn’t afford.  These people were just too much for the harried, powerless gazillionaires working on Wall Street, who were outmatched and overwhelmed by the might of this great, dusky-hued horde, and now look where we are.  It’s just too bad that rich white people don’t have any real power in the United States.

Krugman has a depressing (ha!) column today titled “Depression and Democracy” that indicates a similar kind of blame game may be shaping up in those European countries hardest hit by the economic crisis.  In it he describes how Europe’s increasing demand for greater and greater economic austerity policies has coincided with the rise of right-wing, anti-democracy populist parties:

Right-wing populists are on the rise from Austria, where the Freedom Party (whose leader used to have Neo-Nazi connections) runs neck-and-neck in the polls with established parties, to Finland, where the anti-immigrant True Finns party had a strong electoral showing last April. . . .  Matters look even more ominous in the poorer countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

Last month the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development documented a sharp drop in public support for democracy in the “new E.U.” countries, the nations that joined the European Union after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Not surprisingly, the loss of faith in democracy has been greatest in the countries that suffered the deepest economic slumps.


One of Hungary’s major parties, Jobbik, is a nightmare out of the 1930s; it's anti-Roma (gypsies), it’s anti-Semitic, and it even has a paramilitary arm.


Krugman then goes on to describe Fidesz, Hungary’s governing center-right party, which apparently is intent on establishing a permanent one-party authoritarian government by suppressing opposition, controlling all media, criminalizing the leading leftist party, packing the courts, and gerrymandering districts to make it impossible for other parties to form a government.

Lord, but this is an old story in the human saga.  When economic times get tough a lot of people look for an outside group to scapegoat and, somehow, it’s always the groups with the least power that everybody else decides caused the problem.  Only the marginalized minorities, it turns out, have the power to destroy an entire society.

In truth, Europe’s economic woes are directly attributable to the financial crisis brought on by gross banker mismanagement, made worse by some inherent problems in the way the Eurozone is structured, made even worse by Eurozone leaders misinterpreting the problem as one of fiscal imprudence by European governments and not of uncorrectable trade imbalances between the Eurozone nations.

But that’s kinda complicated and – besides – beyond the control of all but a handful of people (Draghi, Merkel . . . I’m looking at you).  So, naturally, some bright, ambitious, hateful people will suggest that everybody ignore all of that and focus instead on the real problem:  all these immigrants, gypsies and Jews.  The bright, ambitious, and hateful people then try to use the resulting public anger against the scapegoated minorities to either seize or hang on to political power.  It can work out great for the bright, ambitious, hateful people; it rarely works out well for the powerless, demonized, scapegoated minorities.

So predictable is this shabby little human trick that in his book The Long Emergency James Howard Kunstler just naturally predicts social conflict breaking out along racial lines in the American Southeast (white/black) and Southwest (anglo/hispanic) as we start to experience tremendous economic disruptions caused by the world’s cheap energy running out.  But Krugman’s column today reminds us that we don’t have to wait for Peak Oil to see this happen; even man-made economic problems like the current depression (Krugman’s word) can push cynical, hateful people into running this same tired play.

In fact, I’ve been wondering whether the economic collapse and financial crisis that started three years ago might not be responsible for the draconian anti-immigrant laws we’ve recently seen passed in Arizona, Georgia and Alabama.

Of course a lot of the populations of all three states had demonstrated a willingness to demonize Mexican immigrants in the past, and regardless of the “neutral” language contained in these laws it is Mexicans at whom these laws are aimed.  But I wonder how much political calculation and cynicism played into the enactment of these terrible ideas:

Boy, things sure are getting tough out there and the voters are getting plenty mad, but we can’t start raising taxes on our rich campaign donors to actually help all those suffering voters.  Hey, I know!  Let’s get ‘em riled up against the Mexicans!  That’ll make it look like we’re doing something and distract ‘em for at least for another election cycle.  Maybe things’ll improve by then and we can keep our jobs.
And so, for example, Georgia enacted strict anti-immigrant laws, many farm workers left the state as a result, and Georgia’s crops were left to rot on the ground.  Notwithstanding Georgia’s horrific experience, Alabama followed suit by enacting its own strict anti-immigrant law shortly thereafter, to the complete bafflement of the president of the Georgia Agribusiness Council, Bryan Tolar:  “It was like, ‘Good Lord, you people can’t be helped.  Have you all not been paying attention?’”

But I suppose scapegoating the poor and the powerless to distract the rest of the electorate is just such an easy, tried-and-true method by which bright, ambitious, hateful people can hold on to power that Alabama’s legislators just couldn’t resist its siren song.  And yet there is a bright spot, or at the very least an amusing aspect to this sad little spectacle, in that it turns out that in the age of globalization and international investment it is not so easy to isolate the weak and the powerless for scapegoating as it has been in the past.

As most people know by now, Alabama’s strict anti-immigrant law already has resulted in a German executive for Mercedes-Benz and a Japanese executive for Honda being arrested and hauled before the courts for the crime of driving in Alabama without papers.

Needless to say, this hasn’t exactly endeared Alabama to these two very large, very wealthy corporate employers.  Nor has it endeared Alabama to other international companies that -- prior to the enactment of Alabama’s anti-immigrant law -- had been thinking of setting up shop in the state.  And so now Alabama finds itself pleading with the car companies and with other international manufacturers not to forsake it for other states that haven’t spent their legislative sessions working hard to earn the title “regional capital of xenophobia.”

Boy, it sure does suck when you can’t scapegoat the marginalized without also attacking the significant.  Kinda takes the fun out of kicking the weak and the powerless if you know that you’re then likely to start getting kicked by the strong and the powerful, doesn’t it Alabama?

 Ah . . . sweet, sweet schadenfreude.

Cross-posted at Casa Cognito.

Originally posted to swellsman on Mon Dec 12, 2011 at 08:36 AM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  This Is Federal Law (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Regina in a Sears Kit House

    hauled before the courts for the crime of driving in Alabama without papers

    Not state law

    8 U.S.C. § 1304

    Personal possession of registration or receipt card; penalties

    Every alien, eighteen years of age and over, shall at all times
    carry with him and have in his personal possession any certificate of alien registration or alien registration receipt card issued to him pursuant to subsection (d) of this section. Any alien who fails to comply with the provisions of this subsection shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and shall upon conviction for each offense be fined not to exceed $100 or be imprisoned not more than thirty days, or both.

    When economic times get tough a lot of people look for an outside group to scapegoat

    And when CA passed Prop 183 in 1994 by a majority, what was that?

    I won't be coming home tonight, my generation will put it right - Genesis 9:3

    by superscalar on Mon Dec 12, 2011 at 10:58:03 AM PST

  •  Jew:The Solution to scapegoating in the global age (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    poorbuster, laurnj, NoMoreLies

    Jews: The Solution to scapegoating in the global age...
    the world champion scapegoat... They’ve already blamed us for globalism
    Jobbik scares the living sh-t out of me they’re anti-Semitic rants are strait out of Mein Kampf!

    Peak capitalism trumped peak resource...

    Nudniks need not apply.

    by killermiller on Mon Dec 12, 2011 at 04:55:40 PM PST

    •  FTR "jobbik" means (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      "the better of the two"--at least according to my 1990 Magyar-Angol Kéziszótar.

      --oh, and this is cute: jobb has two main meanings: better, and the right(-hand side). Hah.

      And there's more: jobbágy is serf, bondsman, villein, and jobbágyfelkelés is a peasant revolt.

      (NB I think that dictionary [bought in Budapest at 1990 prices] just paid for itself.)

      FTR Hungarians are still pissed about the Treaty of Trianon (1920), which at the end of WW1 reduced them to a "minimalist" state--

      Compared to the pre-war Kingdom of Hungary (which was part of Austria-Hungary), post-Trianon Hungary had 72% less territory.... Its population was ... 64% less than the population of the pre-war kingdom....
      --essentially those lands where only Hungarians lived. They'd earned this mainly by being on the wrong side in the war, but also by having ruled their non-Magyar minorities (Croats, Slovaks, Romanians & Poles) with an iron fist in the 40 years after the Ausgleich of 1867 reconstituted the Kingdom.

      It it true that the authoritarian regime of Admiral Horthy (who took over in 1920, overthrowing the brief Communist government of Béla Kun) kept Hungary's Jews out of the gas chambers until the Nazis took over in early 1944. But short of that, things weren't much better (if at all) for Hungarian Jews than anywhere else in occupied Europe..

      snarcolepsy, n: a condition in which the sufferer responds to any comment with a smartass comeback.

      by Uncle Cosmo on Tue Dec 13, 2011 at 06:20:09 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  While I agree wholeheartedly... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    swellsman, laurnj, psnyder, NoMoreLies

    with your premise, the situation in Arizona is a bit more complicated. The Mexican population, both legal and illegal, has traditionally been a convenient scapegoat in the US, as you so ably point out.  However, the law, SB1070, was promoted by the private prison industry who see great profits in imprisoning innocent people for "breathing while non-white."  If I am not mistaken, governor Brewer has a financial interest in the industry or some of her inner circle to boot.

    Maintaining wealth and power and acquiring more, IMHO, usually are the causes of scapegoating.  And in wealth's mad rush to acquire more, certain industries that have been privatized clearly should have remained within the purview of government to avoid this very corruption.

    •  That's a great point . . . (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      . . . and, yeah, I am aware of the corrupting influence the private prison industry is having in Arizona and elsewhere.  In fact, just a few weeks ago I wrote something about that specifically, which, if you are interested, you can check out here.  Like you, I argue that imprisoning people is just one of those things we as a society should have had the sense to realize should never have been made a profit center.

      Admittedly, what I wrote does not deal directly with the situation in Arizona, but if you haven't already heard about the private juvenile system in Pennsylvania, you might find it interesting.

      I certainly agree with you re: scapegoating as a means to maintain wealth and power.  My sense is that except for some extreme cases (i.e., white supremacists, the KKK, Hitler) that is all it ever is about:  finding some poor powerless people to take the blame while the powerful abscond with their loot.

      Politics is the neverending story we tell ourselves about who we are as a people.

      by swellsman on Mon Dec 12, 2011 at 08:30:30 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Great insight (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    poorbuster, swellsman, k9disc, NoMoreLies

    and depressingly accurate; these are the conditions that old-school fascism flourishes in. (Alabama's little scapegoating glitch in the global era may be savored externally for irony, but it's a trivial amount of cognitive dissonance for that particular state to add on the heap.)

  •  Excellent piece. (3+ / 0-)

    I can't help but feel sick and powerless as this goes down.

    Why is it that the sociopaths who cause these catastrophes never seem to pay the price? Why do they, or some equally sociopathic freak wind up pushing the chess pieces around the board in service of national interests?

    Thanks for this great piece, swells...

    Democracy - 1 person 1 vote. Free Markets - More dollars more power.

    by k9disc on Tue Dec 13, 2011 at 04:59:07 AM PST

    •  Because the sociopath is supremely skilled (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      swellsman, claude

      at self-preservation and self-advancement.

      "The great lie of democracy, its essential paradox, is that democracy is the first to be sacrificed when its security is at risk. Every state is totalitarian at heart; there are no ends to the cruelty it will go to to protect itself." -- Ian McDonald

      by Geenius at Wrok on Tue Dec 13, 2011 at 09:09:51 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  A scenario as old as the world... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    "Much to do about Apu"

    After a brown bear strolls onto the streets of Springfield and people are freightened, the Mayor creates the Bear Patrol.

    People are shocked to see taxes have been raised to maintain the patrol, and they get mad a the Mayor.

    To appease them, the Mayor blames the high taxes on illegal immigrants. He then creates Proposition 24, which will require all illegal immigrants to be deported.

    People start to harass and hate all immigrants.

    This scenario is not prophetic per se, it is simply recurring and cyclical!

  •  Your opening (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    swellsman, Geenius at Wrok, claude

    paragraph is classic.  

    I wish it could be flashed in every language on the planet, on everyone's teevee, every phone, every text, every movie screen, projected in the sky, on buildings, on every billboard, and even that huge coca cola sign in New York.

    The banks have a stranglehold on the political process. Mike Whitney

    by dfarrah on Tue Dec 13, 2011 at 07:11:34 AM PST

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