By John C. Dyer, UK Correspondent
Whatever happened to 1968?
I ask the question as the fabric of Eurozone collective will thins to fraying, the promised resolution to the Eurozone “debt crisis” breaking down in the very weekend it was to be announced. The tele hums to the sound of riots in Greece, brought to me courtesy of BBC. The tweets carry interviews with the new face of China, its credit master confidently lecturing European reporters that European workers must accept significantly lower compensation, longer hours, and harder work. Bad news for the UK economy mounts amid reports of serious divisions between the Chancellor and the Business Secretary. But the Prime Minister remains feet firmly planted in the cement blocks that, if I am right, will carry both him and the country to the bottom of the Thames.
It is a question I often ask myself.
1968 means different things to different people, of course. But It was a special time for my generation. Some marched with King, others with the anti war movement, others in Vietnam’s jungles. Some boycotted grapes. Some sought White Rabbits along the streets and in the back rooms of San Francisco’s “Hashbury.” Others trained as Marines and MBA’s.
I watched my university football team the Pacific Tigers, danced to “Acid Rock,” played at Disk Jockey and announcer for my University FM and AM radio station, and, in the embrace of the Raymond College Common Room, dreamed happy daydreams of doing great things. I smile to myself remembering Robin Williams character in “Hook” saying he didn’t do the 1960s. He was an accountant. I did not catch up with the movements to make a better world until years later as the world convulsed with fear of Nuclear Weapons.
1968 was a wonderful time to be a 19 to 20 year old California boy. But it was thought by some to be a pivotal moment in human history. Tonight I am not so sure it turned out that way.
The mood music for some was George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun.” For others it was “We Shall Overcome.” My generation sang “Here Comes the Sun,” but the Mood Music for my specific generation was Joan Baez’s “There But for Fortune.” We were going to change the world, bringing equality, equal opportunity and general prosperity and leisure. We were to be “the leaders of the 21st century.”
1968 is long gone chronologically and, it seems, spiritually.
By the end of the 20th century it was clear that those who did lead had rejected “There But for Fortune” for Neo Liberalism’s faith in the free for all. Some, less concerned with the packaging, exchanged it for the greedy “Me.” Wherever it began, by the 1980s the new values had champions - Murdoch, Reagan, Thatcher, and Friedman.
At the beginning of the 21st century even China embraces “capitalism,” with the head of its powerful investment fund, the IMF, and Europe imposing “austerity” programmes across the Eurozone.
The US is deeply and troublingly in a debt built largely from years of unfunded warfare, deregulation of finance, tax avoidance, and possibly free trade. Forces within the country argue for an adoption of the austerity measures pioneered by the UK’s Coalition government.
The evidence overwhelmingly stacks up against the effectiveness of these programmes. But the evidence is ignored, along with the almost desperate urging of successful economists and commentators. These include Nobel Prize winners Paul Krugman and Joe Stiglitz, former Labour Secretary in the economically successful Clinton Administration Robert Reich, Guardian journalist-economist Polly Toynbee and the Financial Times Martin Wolf, and the successful Chief Executive of Scotland, Alex Salmond.
The controlling voices are those of the anonymous “Market,” buttressed by the graduates of the George W. Bush Administration in the IMF and the World Bank. The mood music is Sinatra’s “I did it my way” and Edith Piaf’s “Je ne regret rein.” Even the socially liberal Liberal Democrats now proclaim competition and free market capitalism as the way to bring about a utopia of equal opportunity and betterment.
I feel a yearning tonight. There was always a yearning in the background music to the era symbolized by 1968. Perhaps its most poignant and lasting musical legacy will prove to be contained in the haunting Andy Williams version of “Abraham, Martin, and John.” While I hope the legacy will yet become “We shall overcome” and I remember we did overcome Wagner’s “Death of the King,” tonight feels less than hopeful.
It may well be, as my education suggests, that this apparent shift is simply a reflection of a period of perturbation, out of which will come a new synthesis with its own mood music. But the shift and developing facts have challenged me to plumb the depths of what I believe.
I wonder whether the best thing that can happen now is for the Neo Liberal day dream to play out. Maybe then the many of the West will learn that the dream of a Utopia delivered by Rupert Murdoch’s “unleashed animal” is a nightmare. At the behest of the 1%, it throws the many under the bus in the desperate attempt to satiate and protect the “Me.” Perhaps only in the aftermath of the looming tragedy will we rediscover what our fathers and grandfathers fought to achieve over the course of 150 years from the Victorian era through the 20th Century. Perhaps only in the self inflicted demise of the 1% will they finally give up their hold on the many.
Although there are days I despair, I remain committed to the fight. Today's desperate tug of war between "Me" and "We" has caused me to delve deeper than my ideas concerning economic policy. It has caused me to refocus and reground in my root values, the acid test for which harmonizes well with the mood music of 1968. The mood music remains remains “There But for Fortune.” I continue to put my intellectual faith in Keynes. Speaking as one child of the 1960s, I will not give up.