“Political wonders never cease in my native state, South Carolina. Long a hotbed of corruption, dirty politics and extremism, the Palmetto State has distinguished itself most recently as a place where the worst of the nineteenth and twentieth century brands of reactionary politics are at war for power. It’s the place where Jim DeMint is considered a sort of noncontroversial, avuncular presence; where sexual excess and right-wing ideology strangely seem to go hand-in-hand; where the last governor, an anti-tax zealot, was locked in a death battle with a lieutenant governor who compared food stamp recipients (half the population) to ‘stray animals,’ and after a sex scandal straight out of Barbara Cartland, was eventually succeeded by his protege, who when not absorbed with fighting allegations of serial infidelity and corruption proudly puts the power and prestige of state government behind the proposition that private-sector labor unions should be destroyed.
“And all that’s totally aside from the recent forced resignation of the current lieutenant governor for gross campaign finance irregularities. In sum, South Carolina is a hellish living representation of where the conservative movement is trying to drag the whole damn country.”
blog post, “Incumbent Paradise,” June 12, 2012
We’ve long likened Republicans’ ideal of what they want America to become to what oligarchs, plutocrats, dictators and military juntas did to every Central and South American country for about 300 years. Think luxury for the rich, powerful few. Think abject, lifelong poverty and oppression for the peon majority. And for a thin reed of middle-class professionals and business owners determined to maintain their modest prosperity, think a lifetime of kow-towing to the ruling class.
Kilgore’s capsule portrait of the Southern Republican stronghold of South Carolina undoubtedly does depict where the conservative movement is trying to drag the whole damn country. But we see it as a way station on the road to turning America into what Republicans helped turn Chile into under dictator Augusto Pinochet.
In 1973, the year General Pinochet brutally seized the government, Chile’s unemployment rate was 4.3%. In 1983, after ten years of free-market modernization, unemployment reached 22%. Real wages declined by 40% under military rule.
In 1970, 20% of Chile’s population lived in poverty. By 1990, the year “President” Pinochet left office, the number of destitute had doubled to 40%. Quite a miracle.
Pinochet did not destroy Chile’s economy all alone. It took nine years of hard work by the most brilliant minds in world academia, a gaggle of Milton Friedman’s trainees, the Chicago Boys. Under the spell of their theories, the General abolished the minimum wage, outlawed trade union bargaining rights, privatized the pension system, abolished all taxes on wealth and on business profits, slashed public employment, privatized 212 state industries and 66 banks and ran a fiscal surplus.
Freed of the dead hand of bureaucracy, taxes and union rules, the country took a giant leap forward … into bankruptcy and depression. After nine years of economics Chicago style, Chile’s industry keeled over and died. In 1982 and 1983, GDP dropped 19%. The free-market experiment was kaput, the test tubes shattered. Blood and glass littered the laboratory floor. Yet, with remarkable chutzpah, the mad scientists of Chicago declared success. In the US, President Ronald Reagan’s State Department issued a report concluding, “Chile is a casebook study in sound economic management.” Milton Friedman himself coined the phrase, “The Miracle of Chile.” Friedman’s sidekick, economist Art Laffer, preened that Pinochet’s Chile was, “a showcase of what supply-side economics can do.”
Sound familiar? It should.
In addition to supporting a right-to-work-law, (Republican presidential candidate Willard Mitt) Romney has called for the repeal of a federal law requiring the prevailing local wage to be paid on public-works projects. He has pledged that on the first day of his presidency he would forbid any union preference in federal contracting and said he would fight rules allowing union dues to be taken out of paychecks to fund political activities.
“I’ve taken on union bosses before,” the former Massachusetts governor said in Grand Rapids on Wednesday. “I’m happy to take them on again.”
He has squarely blamed unions for the nation’s economic troubles.
“Labor has asked for too much and business people have exceeded their demands only to see the business ultimately fail,” he told the Ames Tribune’s economic board in December. “That’s what happened to GM and Chrysler. The demands of labor unions over time killed those businesses and made America become less competitive.”
For the record, the United Autoworkers Union and others have repeatedly made major concessions, dating back to the mid-1980′s, involving pay, benefits, work rules and work force reductions to help keep U.S. automakers in business and competitive.