A Radiant Eruption of Democracy


The other day a reader mentioned the 1976 movie Network and I certainly understand why. In case you’ve never seen the movie, it starts with a older man (Mr. Beale) who is about to be fired from his job reading the news on television. He gets very depressed and angry and on his last broadcast gives a blistering speech about a number of issues. Wikipedia calls it his “mad as hell” speech because the most famous line from this speech is, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore”.

Well people (in the movie) liked the speech and so the network decides to give Beale more time on the air and soon he has the most popular show in the country. Then a number of other things happen and the movie ends.

Now every review of this movie that I’ve read goes on and on at length about how delightfully satirical and wonderfully droll this entire movie is and its treatment about the television industry. And all that might be true. But the reason why this movie was popular in 1976 as well as today has nothing to do with the finer appreciation of satire as it deals with television networks. This movie is popular because we all know that Mr. Beale and his anger was right.

A lot of people are mad (angry). In the movie, he encourages his viewers to shout their anger out the window at the whole world. Here in Romania some people have been doing it in various squares with signs and placards. That anger is there and it’s very, very legitimate. In the movie, the writer “solves” the problem of what to do about this anger by killing Beale. But what about real life?

I’ve been doing some research on “Paddy” Chayevsky (who wrote the movie), whose life seems far stranger than I can pierce through at this moment. He wrote a lot of scripts for plays and movies and all the critics and people at the time laugh them off as hilarious satires or cute little twists on life when in reality the guy was writing a movie that questions the purpose of marriage in 1953(!), an anti-war (anti-World War 2!) movie in 1964, a movie about polyamory in 1969 (with Clint Eastwood, woah!) and a movie about how broken the American health system is (in 1971). And then “Network” in 1976, just a few years before he died. So somewhere along the line it’s clear that Chayevsky was either doing his research or was spending time with people who were. Because angry people in movies are not uncommon. “Network” endures because Chayevsky puts that anger in a very real context.

I originally cut the following scene into a videoclip so all of you could watch it but my computer is messed up and so the audio was out of synch. Therefore we’ll just have to rely on good old-fashioned reading (LOL). Although I’m going to break up the parts to add my own commentary, please be aware that in the movie this is all one continuous scene.

Beale, who is now talking freely on his super popular television show about all the things that are wrong with society has angered the top guy at his network (Jensen) because Beale (on his TV show) interrupted a business deal. Jensen calls Beale into his office and gives him what Chayevsky calls the “corporate cosmology” speech:

JENSEN: It is the international system of currency that determines the totality of life on this planet! That is the natural order of things today! That is the atomic, subatomic and galactic structure of things today!

It is almost uncanny how that gets thrown in there and is rarely noted on and yet it is unquestionably true. Clearly here in Romania when the IMF comes to town and tells the elected government to do X, Y, and Z (cut salaries, raise taxes, etc) and they do it, who is the real boss? Basescu or the international system of currency?

JENSEN: And you have meddled with the primal forces of nature, and you will atone! Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale?

(pause)

You get up on your little 21-inch screen, and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and AT&T and Dupont, Dow, Union Carbide and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today. What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state — Karl Marx? They pull out their linear programming charts, statistical decision theories and minimax solutions and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments just like we do.

In 1976 I would have to assume that Chayefsky was largely guessing about this part concerning the Soviets “pulling out linear programming charts” but it turns out he was actually correct. I really don’t want to get sidetracked by what Gosplan was doing in those years but they were indeed heavily reliant then, just as the bankers in the IMF are today, on statistical decision theories. Because of this fact, this heavy reliance on these “price-cost probabilities” and all the rest of this, in both America, Russia and Europe, is why I write about it so much here on the blog. It’s not just about business but because business trumps politics, it affects us all.

JENSEN: We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable by-laws of business. The world is a business, Mr. Beale! It has been since man crawled out of the slime, and our children, Mr. Beale, will live to see that perfect world in which there is no war and famine, oppression and brutality — one vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock, all necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused. And I have chosen you to preach this evangel, Mr. Beale.

HOWARD: (humble whisper) Why me?

JENSEN: Because you’re on television, dummy. Sixty million people watch you every night of the week, Monday through Friday.

Here we’re supposed to see this is as brilliant satire, that Jensen wants his “world is a business” philosophy transmitted and he chooses Beale because he is on television and then we all snicker and say “boy those TV people sure are cynical” and all the rest.

Perhaps that satirical element is there. However, when people first invented television they imagined that it would be similar to radios. You take one thing (with radio it’s sound, with TV it’s sound and images) and transmit it far distances and then the person on the other end receives it. Indeed a lot of people today think of television in these terms.

What no one predicted was that watching television significantly alters brain activity. You don’t even need a scientific instrument to know this. Just walk into a room where someone is watching TV and stare at their face. Quite simply put, TV puts the viewer in a trance-like condition, perfect for receiving the “evangel” of corporate philosophy.

HOWARD: I have seen the face of God!

In background, up on the podium, JENSEN considers this curious statement for a moment.

JENSEN: You just might be right, Mr. Beale.

NARRATOR: That evening, Howard Beale went on the air to preach the corporate cosmology of Arthur Jensen.

(ON TELEVISION)

HOWARD: (sad, resigned, weary) Last night, I got up here and asked you people to stand up and fight for your heritage, and you did and it was beautiful. Six million telegrams were received at the White House. The Arab takeover of CC&A has been stopped. The people spoke, the people won. It was a radiant eruption of democracy.

But I think that was it, fellers. That sort of thing isn’t likely to happen again. Because, in the bottom of all our terrified souls, we all know that democracy is a dying giant, a sick, sick dying, decaying political concept, writhing in its final pain.

I don’t mean the United States is finished as a world power. The United States is the most powerful, the richest, the most advanced country in the world, light-years ahead of any other country. And I don’t mean the Communists are going to take over the world. The Communists are deader than we are. What’s finished is the idea that this great country is dedicated to the freedom and flourishing of every
individual in it. It’s the individual that’s finished. It’s the single, solitary human being
who’s finished. It’s every single one of you out there who’s finished.

Because this is no longer a nation of independent individuals. This is a nation of two hundred odd million transistorized, deodorized, whiter-than-white, steel-belted bodies, totally unnecessary as human beings and as replaceable as piston rods.

The other day I actually met two Canadians who were here in Unicorn City on business. They worked for a multi-national corporation which has an office here and so I asked them what they were tasked with doing here at the local office. It turns out the two Canadians had been flown in to help “upgrade” the local office’s Human Resources department.

This concept, which is just as evil as marketing, has only recently gotten a foothold in Romania. Lots and lots of companies here function just fine without a “Human Resources” Department and even some companies that have a department named “Human Resources” don’t really understand the concept. And that’s actually a good thing. A lot of times I write and other people speak about the bad things in Romania. But sometimes we’re all lucky because we’re protected from far worse things, one of which is “Human Resources”.

Now I’m American and I’ve worked for lots of organizations with a “Human Resources” department and they’re mostly nice people, right? And they make sure I’m not discriminated against and help me sort out grievances against my boss or coworkers or all those kinds of things. They’ve never poked me in the eye with a sharp stick or something. But hey, the Canadians I met were super nice people as well.

What’s going on is that Beale’s final words from that scene are the underpinning of that “Human Resources” philosophy, that the workers in any company are (or need to be made) as replaceable as piston rods, as interchangeable as parts in a car. The human beings in a company are just one of the company’s “resources” and need to be mined as efficiently and profitably as possible. This “resource” needs to be examined with multiple personality tests and teamwork tests and leadership tests and psychological tests and cognitive problem thinking tests and all those other tests just so we can extract the most value from this resource. And once you get people sufficiently analyzed, quantified, evaluated and enumerated, you can swap them out like parts in a car.

Here in Romania I got to tell you the person I’m most enthusiastic about in the new PDL/UDMR Superstar Cabinet of Ministers™ is Claudia Boghicevici (Labor Minister). I think she’s got an honest face and even though she’s certainly studied a lot of Jensen-esque theories about how “human resources”, they don’t seem to quite stick (at least not yet) in Romania. What can I say? I get the feeling that she still looks at human beings as human beings and not resources to be exploited.

However do not ever be mistaken even for a moment that the likes of Jeffrey “Pig Man” Franks and the IMF and World Bank and others of their ilk think of Romania as anything other than one big Rosia Montana. There’s “gold” (money) buried in Romania under a ton of crap (people and their stupid needs) so they’re going to blast it open with a ton of cyanide (salaries cut, taxes up, state industries privatized), extract the goodies and be on their merry way.

They do not care about you. They are not lending Romania this money out of the goodness of their hearts. They are doing it because 1) they will get their money back with interest added and 2) they will break the back of the Romanian economy and squeeze every last bit of portable value out of the country. You and everyone in this country, from President Basescu on down to the gypsies sweeping the street, are nothing more than a “human resource” and your only function is to do what they tell you so as to maximize their profitability.

Don’t believe me? Look at what Hungary tried to do a few weeks ago. They tried to stop dancing to the IMF’s tune and the bankers began to destroy their currency and economy. They would’ve obliterated the forint and snapped Hungary’s economy like a toothpick in just a couple of weeks and Orban and the nuts in Fidesz knew it and so they all dropped to their knees and began polishing those shoes. And these are Hungarians, one of the most stubborn peoples in Europe!

So Crin Antonescu can talk all the shit he wants to about Boc/Ungureanu but these money men are like vampires, once you let them into your house it’s damn hard to get rid of them. Even Ceausescu could barely do it. So what exactly is “Crazy Eyes” going to do that Boc or Basescu couldn’t do? I’ve yet to see anyone ask him that.

And so, it seems there is little we can do, when the Jensens of the world are gods and force the Beales of the world to yield and to preach the “corporate cosmology”. But there is hope yet. Because there is one fatal flaw in that excerpt of Jensen’s speech, one fatal error in their understanding of both “human resources” as well as “price cost probabilities” and all the rest.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I am more than just angry and “not gonna take it anymore”. I am going to do something about it and give all of you a chance to help me rout these vipers out. So stay tuned for that :)

18 thoughts on “A Radiant Eruption of Democracy

  1. ECONOMICALLY RATIONAL THING to do.

    I beg to differ: the good thing to do is hire someone from outside who has expertise to make the business profit and learn from his actions then when his contract expires you can continue your work, no need to sell.
    Don’t say my arguments are emotional, just you saying it doesn’t make it true.
    About me being “the little man” I may be but I still have rights (read the Constitution if you don’t believe me).

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  2. No, it’s supposed to be profitable for its OWNERS.

    when the owners are Romanian and pay taxes and hire Romanian people the country profits too.
    we are supposed to sell them to the higher bidder just cause IMF says so? who is the communist now?

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    1. “the country profits too.”

      I’d say it’s the people who rail about the “needs of the country” (that is to say, the STATE), instead of the needs of “the little man” – and that would be the likes of you.

      And no, we’re not supposed to sell them “because the IMF say so”.
      We’re supposed to sell them because that is the ECONOMICALLY RATIONAL THING to do.

      Of course, the fact that I’m trying to reason with people who use emotional appeals says much about my limitations, too.

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  3. I’m fully aware that this is not an economics blog – but to be arguing in this day over the merits of state ownership of industry is … extremely disappointing, to say the least.

    Get over it, people. Communism failed, private property has the best economic outcomes.
    If you’ve got an (emotional, since it can’t be a rational) problem with that – take a good look in the mirror and ask yourself why.

    END
    OF
    STORY

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  4. @Daniel
    ——-
    The reason why I call it cyanide is because once you privatize, you get a one-time cash payment (which then goes to the IMF in Romania’s case) and then it’s lost to public control forever. All of these industries, on some level, whether the railroads or petroleum or whatever else, are providing a public good. The theory is that revenue from private operators substitutes this public good and yet it never seems to quite turn out that way.
    ——–

    when the state privatize a business it is supposed to be profitable for the country. but we are poor and we can’t afford the cost of running it and upgrading it so the president sells it to IMF or else we won’t be financed by them anymore (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEeYwlPAKHM&feature=related )
    does it make sense now?
    and don’t tell me we will see profit from how the new owners will run the business, we will see the bigger bills for heating and electricity

    does it make sense now?

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    1. “when the state privatize a business it is supposed to be profitable for the country”

      No, it’s supposed to be profitable for its OWNERS.

      “we are poor and we can’t afford the cost of running it and upgrading it”

      Yes, that’s why foreign investment is A GOOD THING.

      “the president sells it to IMF”

      Call me when you get back from outer space.

      No, it still makes absolutely no sense. You REALLY should pick up some books on economic history. And as to whether we’ll see bigger bills for heating and electricity – that remains to be seen.

      http://www.riscograma.ro/5454/un-exemplu-in-care-privatizarea-din-sanatate-a-ieftinit-serviciile-cu-20/

      http://www.riscograma.ro/5192/hidroelectrica-hotul-care-nu-lasa-urme/

      http://www.riscograma.ro/5139/urmatoarea-prada-a-baietilor-destepti/

      So you might wanna rethink the communist claptrap you keep peddling.

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  5. You have a lot of thoughtful things to say, but the only one I disagree with in your latest post is regarding the plight of the poor souls whose salaries were cut. I say, as politely as I can, fuck’em. Seriously. The sooner these useless complaining public sector employees can abandon their parasitical existence, the better (society pays for them, don’t forget, and the bloated public sector is one of the reasons for the government going into debt in the first place). Ideally, it would be nice to fire most of them, or to cut their salaries enough to make them want to leave, and to have the savings passed on back to the taxpayers. If unfortunately that is not the case, and the savings are used only to repay interest on a loan to the vipers, at least the unintended benefit of doing so is weaning these people off their parasitical existence – and allowing society to transition into one of responsible adults. If they don’t like their salaries being cut, instead of whining they should leave, and find a job where they are actually productive and add value/wealth to society, rather than depleting the nation of its scarce resources.

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    1. in every state there are groups of people who produce and groups of people who spend more than they produce but produce a lot at a later time
      categories that produce: industry, transportation, tourism, agriculture, commerce
      categories that spend (usually public sector): health (healthy people can work better), education (including research, educated people know their rights and obligations and coordinate better in a group), military (you need them to protect your country integrity ), politics (to be well represented in other states and potentially gain favor on their markets), justice (so you are not exploited for example)
      you can’t say starve the public sector cause you need them so your country as a whole can function
      the problem is some of the public sector is parasite and that only happens cause the Law is not applied properly and swiftly

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  6. “railroads or petroleum or whatever else, are providing a public good”

    Your definition of “public good” is … interesting, to put it mildly.

    “substitutes this public good and yet it never seems to quite turn out that way”

    Either you suffer from a MASSIVE case of confirmation bias … or you live on another planet.

    Now I understand that the “free market” upsets some people on an emotional level (deep-down, we’re still hunter-gatherers with a strong egalitarian instinct) – but you’re arguing against real-world economic history. You cherry-pick a few cases of poorly conducted privatisations and say “here’s proof that state ownership of industry is better”. The plural of “anecdote” is not “data”, FYI. And between your word and the facts – I’ll take the facts, thank you very much.

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  7. Good article, just two nitpicks

    1) Why do you speak of “state industries privatized” as a “ton of cyanide” ? I mean, really, have we learned nothing from the failure of communism ?

    2) The Hungarians did it to themselves – they put themselves in the position of being at someone else’s mercy. Yes, the IMF are bunch of crooks. But Hungary’s government wouldn’t need them if they hadn’t mishandled the resources (yes, that evil word :-) ) they had.

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    1. Without writing an entire post :P I would ask you to look at British Railways. At one point it was a state-owned enterprise (similar to how CFR is here although yes I’m aware it’s not purely government owned) and then under Thatcher it was privatized. None of it had to do with the IMF but nearly everyone agrees that things went for the worse once the British railways were privatized.

      Communism is different than a democratic government owning an industry because “Communism” as it was practiced was actually totalitarianism. In other words, the people had no say in how the government operated those industries. In a democratic country, the people have input and influence over how those industries are operated.

      The reason why I call it cyanide is because once you privatize, you get a one-time cash payment (which then goes to the IMF in Romania’s case) and then it’s lost to public control forever. All of these industries, on some level, whether the railroads or petroleum or whatever else, are providing a public good. The theory is that revenue from private operators substitutes this public good and yet it never seems to quite turn out that way.

      Like

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