Paul Jay: Threats Facing Humanity, Basic Income & Importance of Historical Context


In the second part of the interview with the Senior Editor and Founder of The Real News Network, Paul Jay, we continue the discussion on the threats facing humanity today. In addition we talk about whether the basic income could enhance political participation & the consumption of information produced by independent media outlets. Lastly we examine the importance of taking into account historical context when relating to current issues

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Story Transcript

PAUL JAY: Well, before I talk about a basic income let’s just step back a little bit. There are certain kinds of fights and reforms that lead people towards a more, what can I say, a more confrontational fight on the path towards who’s going to have power. This is a class question. And right now the elites that have power in all of the, virtually every country, or almost every country, they are taking us down a path to disaster. We can’t stop talking about that. So whether it’s a basic income or whether it’s housing reform, or whatever reform you want to talk about, you can’t stop stressing the urgency of the situation.

We’re not in a normal period. As abnormal as the lead up to World War I was, or World War II, and they were abnormal in the sense it gave rise to such apocalyptic disaster for the peoples, we’re in a more dangerous moment. More dangerous than World War II. I mean, let’s get our heads around that. The consequences of climate change and the consequences of a modern warfare, forget nuclear, conventional warfare, are so apocalyptic anything else we talk about has to be put in that context.

Now, does that mean you don’t deal with people’s day to day economic suffering and problems? Of course one has to, because these great big things to most people feel like abstractions. Like in Baltimore, where we keep getting told the unemployment rate’s going down in the country, and maybe it is. But boy, you don’t you don’t feel that in a city like Baltimore. And even though unemployment is down, what is it, 4, 5, 4.5, 5 percent in the United States, I believe that’s a fairly artificial number because of the lack of labor participation. A lot of people simply gave up looking for jobs. And as you said, use this word precarious, here we use part time, but a lot of the work is part time and freelance wages are going up a modicum, but not much.

But in cities, in many American cities, and Baltimore is a prime example. Much of the city, maybe 30, 35 percent of this, of Baltimore, is living in poverty. The official rate’s about 25 percent. The real rate’s at least 35 percent. And we’re talking, when you look at statistics in a place like Baltimore, infant mortality rates equal to many places in Africa. Longevity rates where black people, in terms of how long they live can be as much as 10 to 15 years less than white people, sometimes even more. And this isn’t just Baltimore. There’s many places across the country.

So people need to fight in terms of their immediate suffering. But, but as independent journalists I think our responsibility is to always connect these struggles, these immediate fights, whether it’s against police abuse, whether it’s to improve a deteriorating school system, whether it’s about, you know, immediate environmental issues like toxic waste, water, lead, lead paint in the water and on the walls. I should say a lead in the water or lead paint on the walls.

I mean, whatever the immediate issue is, including not having enough food to eat, because there’s millions of people in this country by the end of the month don’t have enough money to buy food, which is why in a city like Baltimore they have to have school lunches for every kid in the public school system because so many kids qualify for subsidized lunches because their families can’t pay enough for food. In fact, when the schools are closed they have to still figure out ways to open some schools to provide meals for kids, or they’ll go hungry that day. So you know, to talk about nuclear war and to talk about climate change and talk about these war with Iran, and so on and so on, it’s a complete abstraction if you can’t feed your kids that day.

So yeah, we do need to talk about these things. So in the context of that, is basic income a good demand? Yeah, if it’s high enough, I guess. I mean, I know there’s a great thing, debate about this. Antipoverty activists in Toronto, for example, have been arguing against the basic income. Because there’s actually talk in Ontario now, Canada, of the provincial government of actually having a basic income. But it’s too low. So you wind up fighting over what is that basic income, and then how is that basic income different than welfare? But if it can be won, if one is in a political situation where one could win a basic income, then sure, why not, if it’s high enough.

But one shouldn’t give up the demands were people should have jobs that pay properly. And that’s that’s been part of the problem for people who don’t like basic income, is that once you have a basic income it kind of takes the heat off the fight for real jobs. But that’s a bit of an ideological point.

So sure, why not. But, but right now the bigger issue is this sort of economic boom, that people are worried about you know their Netflix accounts and things like this. Our economy is, I think, a lot of smoke and mirrors, as I said earlier. Too much of this economic growth, too much of the economy is based on you know ridiculously low interest rates. And you still have the fundamental problem, which is massive amounts of capital in a tiny number of hands. Everyone’s heard, what is it, the top six richest men own as much wealth as something like 50 percent of the rest of the world. And I mean, you’ve heard these comparisons. I can’t remember them all. But it’s beyond ridiculous how concentrated wealth is got while wages have barely moved in most countries.

That hasn’t gone away. And that that’s the underlying issue of too much capital in too few hands, and too little purchasing power in most hands. That’s a formula for crisis. And even now, you know, it looks like things are growing but how real is it?

And the other piece of the global economy is the ’07-’08 financial crisis of the banking institutions, who were involved in such ridiculous speculative activity that they wouldn’t even trust each other. Like one bank wouldn’t even loan to another bank because the they understood each other’s finances, and knew how subprime mortgage assets were such a complete fraud that they wouldn’t loan to each other, and the whole banking system froze. Lehman Brothers goes down the toilet. And the only thing that saves the day, and probably temporarily, is the Fed comes in and just showers made up money to keep the system liquid and keep it going.

But the underlying problem of the concentration of wealth and low wages, even though you’re having higher productivity, and lack of regulation over finance, over Wall Street and such. And, and Dodd-Frank, as terribly weak as it was, Dodd-Frank being the legislation after the ’07-’08 crisis that was supposed to regulate banks and limit the systemic threat these big banks posed. Dodd-Frank was extremely weak but it did, it did something. Now the Trump administration, which, Trump campaigned as if he was against the big banks. It’s, anyone that followed anything about Trump knew that was a joke. They’re now talking about even getting rid of Dodd-Frank. They’re talking about letting Wall Street write its own regulations.

So the potential of another financial crisis sparked by another blow up of banking speculation is very high. The underlying issues have not gone away. So, so, you know, but people live in, you know, we live in these bubbles. Because the media doesn’t talk about it. Enough people, enough people were doing OK. And when you’re doing OK, it’s nice to have blinders on. And like, if you, you know, if you’re making out like a bandit right now on the stock market, you know, Trump may not look so bad. OK, he may start a war with Iran. Yeah the world may burn up in climate crisis. But have you seen what the stock market’s doing today. So it’s easy to have blinders when you’re getting rich.

And it’s very interesting statistic, which is there is about the same number of people, if you take family income in the United States, there’s about the same number of people who have a hundred thousand dollars or more family income as there are families that have less than 30 thousand dollars in income. So there’s about as many people doing relatively well as there are quite poor. And for those people who have the plus-hundred thousand dollar family income, and many have 150 and 200000 dollar income. We’re not talking about the very rich, here, it’s going well enough.

So that’s why we say, you know, I get back to this issue of the role of media. Real change is going to come from people that need it most. So if we’re living, you know, we came to Baltimore because it’s a city where people need change the most. That’s why we’re here. You know, we could have gone to New York, or any number of places. But there’s cities like Baltimore. We came deliberately. And I know, if we’re in Germany, and if, I really don’t know. But if the majority of people right now, and I again I still think it’s somewhat of a bubble, but if they’re doing fairly well then the media has to really focus on people who aren’t. It doesn’t mean you don’t want to talk to people who are doing fairly well. And of course one must, and we hope everybody watches what we do. But that being said, real, people really don’t wake up until they have to.

Now, you’d think the climate crisis would cross that barrier. It wouldn’t be about anymore, you know, if you’re doing economically OK and to some extent it’s true. I mean, you certainly can find great concern about the climate crisis amongst strata of the population that are economically doing OK. You can find it. But not in the numbers that changes the politics. Because in the 2016 presidential election, climate change was barely, barely mentioned. I mean, the only person who talked about it with any regularity was Bernie Sanders. And even he wasn’t, you know, at the top of his list. But you look at how the American corporate media covered climate change in a presidential year. The networks, not cable, but the broadcast networks, according to Media Matters, did 96 minutes in the entire 2016 of climate coverage. I mean, that’s insane in a presidential election.

So, so we as media, we need to talk to people who need change most, reforms like basic income or others. It depends where you are, what, what is the thing that people are going to have to fight about, and what’s possible. But whatever it is, it has to be fought in the context of never forgetting the urgency of the moment we’re in.

Well, the the need for historical context is absolutely critical. It is the number one way that the elites have disarmed, ideologically disarmed, ordinary people. History is simply not, barely taught at all. I know even in Canada you can get, I’m on the advisory committee of one of the university’s journalism committees, the master’s of journalism program and those students can get a master’s degree in journalism with one high school history credit. You don’t have to know any history to be a journalist in the U.S. or Canada. And when they do teach history it’s mostly mythology, unless you’re just lucky and you get a progressive teacher.

Yeah, historical context is maybe the most important thing we do at the Real News. At every level. Whether it’s, you know, to do with Russiagate, and you know, we covered, we’ve done interviews, series with Peter Kuznick and Oliver Stone on the Untold History the United States, a series they did for TV. Here we went a lot further. We interview Gerald Horne, a historian, all the time. We do a lot of historical context. And to some extent there’s not an issue we do that we don’t try to give historical context, even down to something like in Baltimore.

We’re taking up this issue of public-private partnerships and big tax breaks for development, and there’s something like over two billion dollars of public investment in the Baltimore inner harbor, which has created a nice tourist area. But the promises of more and more employment in Baltimore and the lessening of poverty in Baltimore were never met. So that, if you don’t understand the history of public-private partnerships you can’t really understand why the problem continues, and what would be an alternative approach to solving these problems, and how do you judge your politicians? Because the majority of politicians in this city and across the country, and probably more or less across the world, all buy into the same kind of assumptions, that you need investment to come in, private investment, and the public, the role of the government and public service is to get on their knees and kiss the rear ends of the people bringing in the investment. And the fact that it’s the private investment that always winds up reaping the rewards and the public winds up getting the debt repeats itself over and over.

Anyway, the point of this is historical context is the, it’s the most important thing. If you add one element to that, we must acknowledge we live in a class society. And as everyone knows it. This isn’t some, you don’t have to be some Marxist to believe you’re in a class society. Everybody knows it. I mean I used to call George Will, this right-wing pundit in the United States all the time, because he said on TV once, it’s the elites that decide who’s president. Let’s not be naive about that, he said. The only question is which elite gets to pick the president.

So everyone that knows anything knows we’re in a class society. And of course working people know it the best, because they face it every day. And black and people of color working people know it even more, because then it’s not just a class suppression it’s also about systemic racism.

But how to deal with it, how to fight it. Lack of the teaching of almost any history in the schools, the lack of any real historical context, or hardly any, in corporate media. Like on, take the Iran situation. The intelligence agencies in the United States, I believe it was in 2007, had a national security assessment of the Iranian nuclear weapons program and says there wasn’t one. And report after report, including from the New York Times through to just about every corporate media there was, they reported on that national security assessment when it came out. But then article after article for years afterwards, up until today, no one mentions that the intelligence agency says the Iranian nuclear program, if there was one, and nuclear weapons program ended in 2003. And there’s been no real decent evidence since, the IAEA or otherwise, that there actually was a weapons program.

You can go on and on about this. You know, obviously the most glaring example of this is the reporting on Israel. I mean, the issue of the expulsion of Palestinians in 1948 and the occupation, the fact countless numbers of U.N. resolutions Israel has defied, the barbaric attacks in Gaza and the thousands and thousands of Palestinians who died in those attacks. They talk about, you know, the Middle East talks as if none of this ever happened. They talk about Israel like there’s no history here.

And it’s it’s deliberate. Because if one has any sense of the history you have a different sense of what’s right and wron,g and what’s just and what isn’t just. And they want people to be ignorant, they being the elites, and they really do. The difference between the kind of education one gets in elite private schools compared to most public schools in most cities, some exceptions, there are some good schools, or some good teachers in the public system, and a lot trying very hard to be good. But you look at some of the top tier schools like in New York, I know kids that have gone to New York private schools and they graduate high school leagues ahead of university graduates. Never mind comparable high school graduates. So the top tier private schools are giving educations for kids to learn how to rule. And quite a cultured education, too. It’s not just, not narrow-minded, very broad culture. But from the point of view of ruling, and with all the assumptions that go with that.

But the elites don’t want ordinary people to have a sense of history and you know they don’t. I mean talk to young people and never mind they have no clue about why World War I took place, what happened, or why World War II took place. Most American kids, you know, who are maybe under 30, 40, years old, they don’t have a clue what the Vietnam War was about. Not a clue. So, and you already have a generation of younger kids who have no idea even what really led to 9/11. You know, it’s just this mystical thing, these horrible people came and attacked us. No sense of U.S. foreign policy, no sense that it was the Americans that brought bin Laden to Afghanistan. It was the Americans that armed the jihadists. It was the American policy right from Roosevelt, who makes the original alliance with the Saudis, and then Eisenhower who agrees to promote Wahhabism throughout fanatical Islam. I mean, you know if you know this stuff you have a whole different sense of what’s right and wrong. So of course they don’t want people to know this stuff.