Requiem for the American Dream
REQUIEM FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM is the definitive discourse with Noam Chomsky on the defining characteristic of our time - the deliberate concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a select few. Through interviews filmed over four years, Chomsky unpacks the principles that have brought us to the crossroads of historically unprecedented inequality - tracing a half century of policies designed to favor the most wealthy at the expense of the majority - while also looking back on his own life of activism and political participation. Profoundly personal and thought provoking, Chomsky provides penetrating insight into what may well be the lasting legacy of our time - the death of the middle class; a swan song for our democracy. A potent reminder that power ultimately rests in the hands of the governed, REQUIEM is required viewing for all who maintain hope in a shared stake in the future.
Director: Peter D. Hutchison, Kelly Nyks, Jared P. Scott
Writer: Peter D. Hutchison, Kelly Nyks, Kelly Nyks, Jared P. Scott
Production: PF Pictures
Released: 20 Oct 2016
Awards: 1 nomination.
Movie Video Clips
During the Great Depression
Or the right of free association
Like my close friend for many years
It ends up with what is called 'regulatory capture'
- And most of my family were unemployed working class... There wasn't... it was bad, Much worse subjectively than today. But there was an expectation that things were going to get better.
- There was a real sense of hopefulness. There isn't today.
- Inequality is really unprecedented. If you look at total inequality, it's like the worst periods of american history.
- The inequality comes from the extreme wealth in a tiny sector of the population, A fraction of one percent.
- There were periods like the gilded age in the '20s And the roaring '90s and so on, When a situation developed rather similar to this. Now, this period's extreme... Because if you look at the we
- Literally, the top 1/10th of a percent are just super wealthy. Not only is it extremely unjust in itself... Inequality has highly negative consequences on the society as a whole...
- Because the very fact of inequality has a corrosive, harmful effect on democracy.
- You open by talking about the american dream. Part of the american dream is class mobility. You get rich. It was possible for a worker to get a decent job, buy a home... Get a car, have his ch
- Imagine yourself in an outside position, looking from mars. What do you see?
- In the United States, there are professed values like democracy.
- In a democracy, public opinion is going to have some influence on policy.
- And then, the government carries out actions determined by the population. That's what democracy means.
- It's important to understand that privileged and powerful sectors Have never liked democracy and for very good reasons. Democracy puts power into the hands of the general population And takes
- It's kind of a principle of concentration of wealth and power.
- Concentration of wealth yields concentration of power... Particularly so as the cost of elections skyrockets, Which kind of forces the political parties into the pockets of major corporations.
- And that's what we've been seeing.
- So we have this kind of vicious cycle in progress.
- You know, actually, it is so traditional that it was described by adam smith in 1776. You read the famous "wealth of nations."
- He says in England, the principal architects of policy Are the people who own the society. In his day, merchants and manufacturers. And they make sure that their own interests are very well c
- Now, it's not merchants and manufacturers, It's financial institutions and multinational corporations. The people who adam smith called the "masters of mankind," And they're following the vile
- They're just going to pursue policies that benefit them and harm everyone else. And in the absence of a general popular reaction, that's pretty much what you'd expect.
- Right through american history, there's been an ongoing clash... Between pressure for more freedom and democracy coming from below, And efforts at elite control and domination coming from above
- It goes back to the founding of the country.
- James madison, the main framer, Who was as much of a believer in democracy as anybody in the world in that day, Nevertheless felt that the United States system should be designed, And indeed wi
- If you read the debates at the constitutional convention... Madison said, "the major concern of the society has to be To protect the minority of the opulent against the majority."
- And he had arguments. Suppose everyone had a vote freely. He said, "well, the majority of the poor would get together And they would organize to take away the property of the rich." And, he sa
- It's of some interest that this debate has a hoary tradition. Goes back to the first major book on political systems, aristotle's "politics."
- He says, "of all of them, the best is democracy," But then he points out exactly the flaw that madison pointed out.
- If athens were a democracy for free men, The poor would get together and take away the property of the rich. Well, same dilemma, they had opposite solutions. Aristotle proposed what we would n
- So, same problem, opposite solutions. One is reduce inequality, you won't have this problem. The other is reduce democracy.
- If you look at the history of the United States... It's a constant struggle between these two tendencies. A democratizing tendency that's mostly coming from the population, And you get this con
- Sectors of the population that were usually passive And apathetic became organized, active, started pressing their demands.
- And they became more and more involved in decision-making, activism and so on.
- It just changed consciousness in a lot of ways.
- I hadn't anticipated the power... I should've, but I didn't anticipate the power of the reaction To these civilizing effects of the '60s. I did not anticipate the strength of the reaction to
- There has been an enormous concentrated, coordinated... Business offensive beginning in the '70s To try to beat back the egalitarian efforts That went right through the nixon years. Over on th
- Sent to the chamber of commerce, the major business lobby, By later supreme court justice powell... Warning them that business is losing control over the society...
- And something has to be done to counter these forces. Of course, he puts it in terms of defense, "defending ourselves against an outside power."
- But if you look at it, it's a call for business to use its control over resources To carry out a major offensive to beat back this democratizing wave.
- Over on the liberal side, there's something exactly similar. The first major report of the trilateral commission Is concerned with this. It's called "the crisis of democracy."
- Trilateral commission is liberal internationalists... Their flavor is indicated by the fact that They pretty much staffed the carter administration.
- They were also appalled by the democratizing tendencies of the '60s, And thought we have to react to it. They were concerned that there was an "excess of democracy" developing.
- Previously passive and obedient parts of the population, What are sometimes called, "the special interests," Were beginning to organize and try to enter the political arena, And they said, "tha
- If you look at their study, there's one interest they never mention... And that makes sense, they're not special interest, they're the national interest, Kind of by definition. So they're okay.
- Well, that's the spectrum. It's the kind of ideological level of the backlash. But the major backlash, which was in parallel to this... Was just redesigning the economy.
- Since the 1970s, there's been a concerted effort on the part of the masters of mankind, The owners of the society, To shift the economy in two crucial respects. One, to increase the role of fin
- Far beyond anything in the past.
- Back in the 1950s, as for many years before, The United States economy was based largely on production. The United States was the great manufacturing center of the world.
- You started getting that huge increase in the flows of speculative capital, Just astronomically increase, Enormous changes in the financial sector From traditional banks to risky investments,
- The primary business here is business. You can even see it in the choice of directors. A director of a major american corporation back in the '50s and '60s Was very likely to be an engineer, s
- By the 1970s, say general electric could make more profit Playing games with money than you could by producing in the United States.
- You have to remember that general electric Is substantially a financial institution today. It makes half its profits just by moving money around in complicated ways. And it's very unclear that
- Going along with that is the off-shoring of production.
- The trade system was reconstructed With a very explicit design of putting Working people in competition with one another all over the world.
- And what it's lead to is a reduction in the share of income On the part of working people. It's been particularly striking in the United States, but it's happening worldwide. It means that an a
- Meanwhile, highly paid professionals are protected. They're not placed in competition with the rest of the world. Far from it. And, of course, the capital is free to move. Workers aren't free t
- Policy is designed to increase insecurity. Alan greenspan. When he testified to congress, He explained his success in running the economy As based on what he called, "greater worker insecurity.
- These two processes, financialization and off-shoring Are part of what lead to the vicious cycle Of concentration of wealth and concentration of power.
- I'm noam chomsky and I'm on the faculty at mit, And I've been getting more and more heavily involved in Anti-war activities for the last few years.
- Noam chomsky has made two international reputations. The widest is as one of the national leaders of american resistance to the vietnam war. The deepest is as a professor of linguistics, Who, b
- You are identified with the new left, whatever that is. You certainly have been an activist as well as a writer.
- Professor noam chomsky... Is listed in anybody's catalog as among the half-dozen top heroes of the new left. The standing he achieved by adopting over the past two or three years A series of ad
- Actually this notion anti-american is quite an interesting one. It's actually a totalitarian notion. It isn't used in free societies. So, if someone in, say, Italy is criticizing berlusconi Or
- Now, it's true that in just about every society, The critics are maligned or mistreated... Different ways depending on the nature of the society. Like in the soviet union, say vaclav havel woul
- The american dream, like many ideals, was partly symbolic, but partly real. So in the 1950s and 60s, say, there was the biggest growth period In american economic history.
- It was pretty egalitarian growth, So the lowest fifth of the population was improving about as much as the upper fifth.
- And there were some welfare state measures, Which improved life for much the population. It was, for example, possible for a black worker To get a decent job in an auto plant, Buy a home, get
- When the u.S. Was primarily a manufacturing center, It had to be concerned with its own consumers... Here. Famously, henry ford raised the salary of his workers so they'd be able to buy cars.
- When you're moving into an international "plutonomy," As the banks like to call it... The small percentage of the world's population that's gathering increasing wealth... What happens to america
- And it's related to the attitude toward the country altogether.
- During the period of great growth of the economy... The '50s and the '60s, but in fact, earlier... Taxes on the wealthy were far higher. Corporate taxes were much higher, Taxes on dividends w
- Now the shift is towards trying to keep taxes Just on wages and on consumption... Which everyone has to do, not, say, on dividends, which only go to the rich.
- The numbers are pretty striking.
- Now, there's a pretext... of course, there's always a pretext. The pretext in this case is, well, that increases investment and increases jobs, But there isn't any evidence for that. If you wa
- If you're an ideologist for the masters, you have a different line. And in fact, right now, it's almost absurd. Corporations have money coming out of their pockets. So, in fact, general electri
- The major american corporations shifted the burden of sustaining the society Onto the rest of the population.
- Solidarity is quite dangerous. From the point of view of the masters, you're only supposed to care about yourself, Not about other people. This is quite different from the people they claim are
- It's taken a lot of effort to drive these basic human emotions out of people's heads.
- And we see it today in policy formation. For example, in the attack on social security.
- Social security is based on a principle. It's based on a principle of solidarity. Solidarity, caring for others.
- Social security means, "I pay payroll taxes... So that the widow across town can get something to live on." For much of the population, that's what they survive on. It's of no use to the very ri
- One of the ways is defunding it. You want to destroy some system? First defund it. Then, it won't work. People will be angry. They want something else. It's a standard technique for privatizing
- We see it in the attack on public schools. Public schools are based on the principle of solidarity. I no longer have children in school. They're grown up... But the principle of solidarity say
- The public education system, all the way from kindergarten to higher education, Is under severe attack. That's one of the jewels of american society.
- You go back to the golden age again... The great growth period in the '50s and '60s. A lot of that is based on free public education. One of the results of the second world war was the gi bill
- By now, in more than half the states, most of the funding For the colleges comes from tuition, not from the state. That's a radical change, And that's a terrible burden on students. It means th
- In the 1950s, it was a much poorer society than it is today, But, nevertheless, could easily handle essentially free mass higher education. Today, a much richer society claims it doesn't have t
- That's just what's going on right before our eyes. That's the general attack on principles that, Not only are they humane, they are the basis Of the prosperity and health of this society.
- If you look over the history of regulation, Say, railroad regulation, financial regulation and so on, You find that quite commonly It's either initiated by the economic... Concentrations that
- And it ends up with what's called "regulatory capture." The business being regulated is in fact running the regulators.
- Bank lobbyists are actually writing the laws of financial regulation, It gets to that extreme. That's been happening through history and, again, It's a pretty natural tendency when you just loo
- One of the things that expanded enormously in the 1970s is lobbying, As the business world moved sharply to try to control legislation. The business world was pretty upset by the advances in pu
- Business didn't like it, of course. They didn't like the high taxes. They didn't like the regulation. And they began a coordinated effort to try to overcome it. Lobbying sharply increased. Dere
- There were no financial crashes in the '50s and the '60s, Because the regulatory apparatus of the new deal was still in place.
- As it began to be dismantled under business pressure and political pressure, You get more and more crashes.
- And it goes on right through the years. '70s it starts to begin. '80s really takes off. congress was asked to approve federal loan guarantees to the auto company Of up to one and one half bill
- Then comes the bush and obama bailout. bear stearns is running to the feds to stay afloat... president bush today defended the decision to bail out citigroup... Fannie mae and freddie mac hav
- and they're building up the next one.
- Each time, the taxpayer is called on to bail out those who created the crisis, Increasingly the major financial institutions. In a capitalist economy, you wouldn't do that. That would wipe out
- There are nobel laureates in economics Who significantly disagree with the course that we're following. People like joe stiglitz, paul krugman and others, And none of them were even approached
- Meanwhile, for the poor, let market principles prevail. Don't expect any help from the government. The government's the problem, not the solution, and so on. That's, essentially, neo-liberalism
- Nothing surprising about this. It's exactly the dynamics you expect. If the population allows it to proceed, Until the next crash, which is so much expected that credit agencies, Which evaluat
- Concentration of wealth yields concentration of political power, Particularly so as the cost of elections skyrockets, Which forces the political parties into the pockets of major corporations.
- The citizens united, this was January 2009, I guess, That's a very important supreme court decision, But it has a history and you got to think about the history. The 14th amendment has a provi
- Corporations are state-created legal fictions.
- Maybe they're good, maybe they're bad, But to call them persons is kind of outrageous. So they got personal rights back about a century ago, And that extended through the 20th century.
- They gave corporations rights way beyond what persons have. So if, say, general motors invests in mexico, They get national rights, the rights of the mexican business. While the notion of pers
- Undocumented aliens who are living here and building your buildings, Cleaning your lawns, and so on, they're not persons...
- But general electric is a person, an immortal super-powerful person. This perversion of the elementary morality, And the obvious meaning of the law, is quite incredible.
- In the 1970s, the courts decided that money is a form of speech.
- Buckley vs. Valeo. Then you go on through the years to citizens united, Which says that, the right of free speech of corporations, Mainly to spend as much money as they want, that can't be curt
- It means that corporations, which anyway have been pretty much buying elections, Are now free to do it with virtually no constraint. That's a tremendous attack on the residue of democracy.
- It's very interesting to read the rulings, like justice kennedy's swing vote. His ruling said, "well, look, after all, "cbs is given freedom of speech, they're a corporation, why shouldn't gene
- I mean, it's true that cbs is given freedom of speech, But they're supposed to be performing a public service. That's why. That's what the press is supposed to be, And general electric is tryi
- It's an incredible decision, and it puts the country in a position where Business power is greatly extended beyond what it always was. This is part of that vicious cycle. The supreme court jus
- There is one organized force which traditionally, Plenty of flaws, but with all its flaws, it's been in the forefront of... Efforts to improve the lives of the general population. That's organi
- A major reason for the concentrated, Almost fanatic attack on unions, on organized labor, Is they are a democratizing force.
- They provide a barrier that defends workers' rights, But also popular rights generally.
- That interferes with the prerogatives and power of those who own And manage the society.
- I should say that anti-union Sentiment in the United States among elites is so strong That the fundamental core of labor rights, The basic principle in the international labor organization, Is
- Remember, the u.S. Has a long and very violent labor history As compared with comparable societies...
- But the labor movement had been very strong. By the 1920s, in a period not unlike today, it was virtually crushed. a truck drivers strike was climaxed by severe riots with many casualties. Ope
- By the mid '30s, it began to reconstruct.
- He himself was rather sympathetic to progressive legislation That would be in the benefit of the general population, But he had to somehow get it passed. So he informed labor leaders and other
- There were industrial actions. There were sit-down strikes, Which were very frightening to ownership. You have to recognize the sit-down strike is just one step before saying, "we don't need bo
- The effect is that the usual counter-force to an offensive By our highly class-conscious business class has dissolved.
- Now, if you're in a position of power, You want to maintain class-consciousness for yourself, But eliminate it everywhere else. You go back to the 19th century, In the early days of the indus
- The public relations industry, the advertising industry, Which is dedicated to creating consumers, It's a phenomena that developed in the freest countries, In britain and the United States, an
- Labor organizing, parliamentary labor parties in many countries, Women starting to get the franchise, and so on. So, you had to have other means of controlling people. And it was understood and
- If you can fabricate wants... Make obtaining things that are just about within your reach the essence of life, They're going to be trapped into becoming consumers.
- You read the business press in say, 1920s, It talks about the need to direct people to the superficial things of life, Like "fashionable consumption" and that'll keep them out of our hair.
- You find this doctrine all through progressive intellectual thought, Like walter lippmann, The major progressive intellectual of the 20th century.
- He wrote famous progressive essays on democracy in which his view was exactly that. "the public must be put in their place," So that the responsible men can make decisions Without interference
- They're to be spectators, not participants. Then you get a properly functioning democracy, Straight back to madison and on to powell's memorandum, and so on. And the advertising industry just
- And it's done with great sophistication. you don't see many wild stallions anymore. He's one of the last of a wild and very singular breed. Come to marlboro country. The ideal is what you actu
- Where, let's say, teenage girls, if they have a free Saturday afternoon, Will go walking in the shopping mall, Not to the library or somewhere else. The idea is to try to control everyone, To
- Perfect system would be a society based on a dyad, a pair. The pair is you and your television set, Or maybe now you and the internet, In which that presents you with what the proper life wou
- What we see is in, say, advertising on television, If you've ever taken an economics course, you know that Markets are supposed to be based on "informed consumers making rational choices." Wel
- They want to create an uniformed electorate, Which will make irrational choices, often against their own interests, And we see it every time one of these extravaganzas take place.
- Right after the election, President obama won an award from the advertising industry For the best marketing campaign. It wasn't reported here, but if you go to the international business press,
- Is focused on the private interests that fund the campaigns...
- With the public being marginalized.
- One of the leading political scientists, martin gilens, came out with a study Of the relation between public attitudes and public policy. What he shows is that about 70% of the population has n
- What it's led to is a population that's angry, frustrated, hates institutions. It's not acting constructively to try to respond to this.
- There is popular mobilization and activism, But in very self-destructive directions. It's taking the form of unfocused anger, Attacks on one another, and on vulnerable targets. That's what hap
- It is corrosive of social relations, but that's the point. The point is to make people hate and fear each other, And look out only for themselves, And don't do anything for anyone else.
- One place you see it strikingly is on April 15th. April 15th is kind of a measure, the day you pay your taxes, Of how democratic the society is. If a society is really democratic, April 15th w
- That is a kind of measure of the extent to which, At least in popular consciousness, democracy is actually functioning.
- Not a very attractive picture.
- The tendencies that we've been describing within american society, Unless they're reversed, it's going to be an extremely ugly society. I mean, a society that's based on Adam smith's vile maxi
- A society in which normal human instincts and emotion Of sympathy, solidarity, mutual support, in which they're driven out...
- That's a society so ugly, I don't even want to know who'd live in it. I wouldn't want my children to.
- if the society is based on control by private wealth, It will reflect the values that it, in fact, does reflect.
- The value that is greed, and the desire to maximize personal gain, Now, any society, a small society based on that principle is ugly, but it can survive. A global society based on that principl
- I don't think we're smart enough to design, In any detail what a perfectly just and free society would be like. I think we can give some guidelines And, more significant, we can ask how we can
- John dewey, the leading social philosopher in the late 20th century, He argued that until all institutions, Production, commerce, media, Unless they're all under participatory democratic contr
- As he put it, "policy will be the shadow cast by business over society."
- Where there are structures of authority, domination and hierarchy, Somebody gives the orders, somebody takes them, they are not self-justifying. They have to justify themselves. They have a bur
- But the activists are the people who have created the rights that we enjoy.
- They're not only carrying out... Policies based on information that they're receiving, But also contributing to the understanding. Remember, it's a reciprocal process.
- You try to do things. You learn. You learn about what the world is like, That feeds back to the understanding of how to go on.
- There's huge opportunities. It is a very free society, still the freest in the world. Government has very limited capacity to coerce. Corporate business may try to coerce, but they don't have t
- Well, my close friend for many years, the late howard zinn...
- To put it in his words that, "what matters is the countless small deeds of unknown people, Who lay the basis for the significant events that enter history."
- They're the ones who've done things in the past.