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Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power Paperback – March 28, 2017
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"Since Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, income inequality has not been novel material for a book. Nevertheless, the latest book from famed activist and linguist Chomsky (Who Rules the World?) seems fresher than almost any title on the subject in recent memory. The book, based on the documentary of the same name, is a compilation of interviews that the film’s directors conducted with Chomsky from 2011 to 2016. Chomsky observes the present-day United States with such lucid clarity that readers may feel they are viewing familiar terrain for the first time. He offers a “10 Principle” formula for how plutocratic interests operate (Principle No. 7 is “Engineer Elections”; Principle No. 3 is “Redesign the Economy”). Chomsky observes that much of what made the 1950s and ’60s the “Golden Age” of the U.S. economy was that, at the time, what was good for General Motors really was good for America: “When the U.S. was primarily a manufacturing center, it had to be concerned with its own consumers.” Chomsky also touches, fascinatingly, on subjects as diverse as “the psychology of nagging” (as employed by the advertising industry) and the disappearing sense of solidarity in our civic life. Chomsky and his collaborators have created a perceptive and revelatory examination of the forces driving America inequality." —Publishers Weekly
"Noam Chomsky in Requiem for the American Dream directs the fierce light of his intellect on the utopian ideology of neoliberalism, the absurd idea that markets should dictate all aspects of human society. He dissects the disastrous consequences of this ideology for our society, culture, and politics. He explains how corporations indoctrinated the public, academia, and the mass media to sign on for a project that has devastated the lives of working men and women and obliterated the common good. Every promise made by the proponents of neoliberalism is a lie. Its power to write its own laws and regulations, Chomsky points out, has ultimately created a mafia economic system and a mafia political system that is exemplified in the rise to power of the demagogue Donald Trump." —Chris Hedges, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author of Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt
About the Author
Political philosopher, activist, and linguist NOAM CHOMSKY is beloved around the world for the strength of his personal commitment to the truth as he sees it and for the brilliance of his ideas. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on December 7, 1928, he studied linguistics, mathematics, and philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania and received his PhD there in 1955. Chomsky has taught at MIT for fifty years and is currently Institute Professor Emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy. His linguistics work is widely credited with having revolutionized the field, and his political writings have made important contributions for decades. In 2001, he published 9-11, which became his first international bestseller and was arguably the single most influential post–9-11 book. Chomsky is the author of many other best-selling political works, including Profit Over People, Media Control, Hegemony or Survival, Failed States, Hopes and Prospects, Masters of Mankind, What Kind of Creatures Are We?, and Who Rules the World?
PETER HUTCHISON is an NYC-based filmmaker, educator, and activist. His documentary work includes What Would Jesus Buy? with producing partner Morgan Spurlock; Split: A Divided America; Beyond Activism: Four Decades of Social Justice; and Awake Zion: Rasta, Reggae & Judaism. KELLY NYKS is an award-winning writer/director of documentary films and has worked across Europe, Asia, and America. His prior films include The Age of Consequences, Disobedience, Disruption, Do the Math, Split: A Divided America, and Split: A Deeper Divide. Award-winning writer, director, and producer JARED P. SCOTT's other films include The Age of Consequences, Disruption, Do the Math, and The Artificial Leaf. His films have screened at Tribeca, Hot Docs, Sheffield, and IDFA, and have aired/streamed on Netflix, Starz, PBS, and Al Jazeera.
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Included are excerpts of related writings supporting the topics from a variety of sources: Adam Smith, James Madison, Aristotle, Alan Greenspan, Citigroup document, Standard and Poors research, John Dewey, etc. The related material gives you a hint that what Chomsky is writing about is not far fetched but grounded in a rich history of ideas about how the world should work.
Few contemporary American observers have a clearer-headed understanding of the issue and its causes than Noam Chomsky. Chomsky, born in 1928, is widely regarded as the father of modern linguistics and one of the founders of the field of cognitive science. He’s also well known—some might say notorious—as an activist and social commentator. He has written dozens of books on the technical aspects of his academic work, and even more on politics. But his latest, Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power, is not a book he wrote.
Instead, the book was distilled from a 2015 film of the same name, a documentary patched together using interviews filmed over four years with Chomsky. Unlike the books he has written, most of which are slow going and many (the texts on linguistics, impenetrable), Requiem consists entirely of transcriptions from the spoken word. The style is conversational and uses only a bare minimum of jargon. It’s a quick read, and an enlightening one.
As Chomsky notes, “Power has become so concentrated that not only are the banks ‘too big to fail,’ but as one economist put it, they are also ‘too big to jail.'” Given our experience over the past decade, it would be difficult to argue with that. And anyone who closely follows events in American society today would say the same about this observation by Chomsky: “the rich and powerful, they don’t want a capitalist system. They want to be able to run to the ‘nanny state’ as soon as they’re in trouble, and get bailed out by the taxpayer.” If the American people fully understood how much tax money is funneled to corporations as subsidies, and how much the tax code has been distorted to favor them and their shareholders, they would storm Washington DC by the millions.
In Requiem, Chomsky presents ten “principles” that together explain how the massive concentration of wealth in America today has come about. (His analysis applies to other wealthy countries as well, but it fits the U.S. best.) His argument is best summed up as what he calls a vicious circle: “Concentration of wealth yields concentration of power, particularly so as the cost of elections skyrockets, which forces the political parties even more deeply into the pockets of major corporations.”
The 10 principles underlying this reality, as Chomsky sees them, are:
Redesign the Economy
Shift the Burden
Run the Regulators
Keep the Rabble in Line
Marginalize the Population
I’ve never seen a more comprehensive or economical explanation of how wealth has come to be so concentrated in so few hands in the U.S. today. Most of these principles are self-evident at a glance. Only two may require explanation. Chomsky uses the word “solidarity” as a synonym for empathy, caring for others, or “concern for your fellow man,” to cite another archaic expression. His Principle #8, “Keep the Rabble in Line,” refers to the coordinated 45-year effort by Big Business and Right-Wing ideologues to destroy the labor movement.
The editors of Requiem—Peter Hutchison, Kelly Nyks, and Jared P. Scott—have interspersed short passages from other sources among the 10 Principles. The sources range over the centuries: from Aristotle and James Madison to Harry Truman and Martin Luther King Jr. These short excerpts from classic documents, speeches, press reports, and social commentaries add depth to the book’s presentation and enhance understanding of Chomsky’s message.
Chomsky’s views have often been regarded as extreme. Certainly, he is vilified by commentators and scholars on the Right. But if you read Requiem for the American Dream, I think you’ll find his reading of history is accurate, his logic is sound, and his view of America today is—sadly—right on target.
In this book, Noam Chomsky, discusses the ten principles of the concentration of wealth and power in America today and buttresses them with historical documents that has influenced his thinking in this area.
Chomsky points out that, while the American Dream has been under attack in previous eras of American history, there was always the hope that “this will get better.” That’s missing today, he says. A substantial part of the American Dream has been class mobility: “Your born poor. You work hard. You get rich. The idea that it is possible for everyone to get a decent job, buy a home, get a car, and have his children go to school . . .” This no longer exists. It has all collapsed and is never coming back.
Concentration of wealth yields concentration of power. As the cost of elections skyrocket
the political parties are forced ever more deeply into the pockets of corporations. This political power quickly translates into legislation that increases the concentration of wealth. This is the vicious cycle.
That the wealthy and powerful have always had an inordinate amount of control over policy goes back centuries. It’s so traditional that it was described by Adam Smith in his famous “Wealth of Nations.” He said “in England the principal architects of policy are the people who own it.” He called them the “masters of mankind” and said that they were following the vile maxim: “All for ourselves and nothing for anyone else.” That’s been pretty much a maxim of politics since the beginning.
In a tightly-knit and well-reasoned book Chomsky lists the ten principles as follows: reduce democracy; shape ideology; redesign the economy; shift the burden onto the poor and middle classes; attack the solidarity of the people; let special interests run the regulators; engineer election results; use fear and the power of the state to keep the rabble in line; manufacture consent; and marginalize the population.
Chomsky concludes the book by stating that he thinks the future looks pretty grim. The recent presidential election placed total control of the government in the hands of the Republican party which, he says, has become the most dangerous organization in world history. The party is dedicated to racing as rapidly as possible to the destruction of organized human life The winning candidate calls for the rapid increase in fossil fuels, dismantling of regulations, and rejection of help to developing countries. We are not only heading for environmental disaster but rushing toward it.
There is another major threat to survival that has been hanging around for more than 70 years - nuclear war. Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein warned us over sixty years ago to renounce war or self-destruct. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists Doomsday Clock was moved only two years ago to three minutes before midnight.The reason is that nuclear war and the threat of environment disaster are increasing. Policy makers are amplifying them and that’s the future we’re not only creating but accelerating.