Making the Rich Folks Happy

The Noam Chomsky passage to which I alluded in my last blog entry is worth reprinting here, worth memorizing, in fact, and worth being plastered on a wall of every building in this American Republic:

…In our society, real power does not happen to lie in the political system, it lies in the private economy: that’s where the decisions are made about what’s produced, how much is produced, what’s consumed, where investment takes place, who has jobs, who controls the resources, and so on and so forth. And as long as that remains the case, changes inside the political system can make some difference – I don’t want to say it’s zero – but the differences are going to be very slight.

In fact, if you think through the logic of this, you’ll see that so long as power remains privately concentrated, everybody, everybody, has to be committed to one overriding goal: and that’s to make sure that the rich folk are happy [italics mine] – because if they’re happy, then they’ll invest, and the economy will work, and things will function, and then maybe something will trickle down to you somewhere along the line. But if they’re not happy, everything’s going to grind to a halt, and you’re not even going to get anything trickling down. So if you’re a homeless person in the streets, your first concern is the happiness of the wealthy guys in the mansions and the fancy restaurants. Basically, that’s a metaphor for the whole society.

Like, suppose Massachusetts were to increase business taxes. Most of the population is in favor of it, but you can predict what would happen. Business would run a public relations campaign – which is true, in fact, it’s not lies – saying, “You raise taxes on business, you soak the rich, and you’ll find that capital is going to flow elsewhere, and you’re not going to have any jobs, you’re not going to have anything.” That’s not the way they’d put it exactly, but that’s what it would amount to: “Unless you make us happy you’re not going to have anything, because we own the place; you live here, but we own the place….” [U]nless you keep business happy, the population isn’t going to have anything.

Understanding Power: The Indispensible Chomsky, pp. 63-64

This applies to us all, whether Republican or Democrat, whether aspiring pop star or experimental composer, whether homeless person or general in charge of deciding when and where to drop the nuclear bombs. Everything we say, everything we can say, about art and the arts on these blogs is limited by the confines of that external condition. Of course, the arts have always, through recorded history, been about keeping rich folks happy. The glory of the European 16th through 18th centuries was that back then rich folks were artistically well-educated and had excellent taste. The taste that rich folks have today, you can see in our major institutions. On any widespread scale, a society gets the art its rich folks want it to get.

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