When the citizens of the Soviet bloc countries rejected the socialist regimes of the late 1980s, they were mostly concerned not with freedom or political realities, but with living standards and choice of products. Today, it is hard to imagine that communist shops had not one type of bread, one type of beer, one type of table oil, but one type of washing machine, one pattern of children’s trousers and one cut of men’s jacket. All in a lousy design. Of fruits and vegetables, only seasonal goods could be bought. Tropical fruits only rarely. Everything else was procured on the black market and the citizens looked enviously at the Western supermarkets with their unlimited choice.
A radical change did take place, but mainly in the businesses. Until then, work was done at a lazy, leisurely pace. Everywhere there were more employees than necessary. Many technicians were free to devote themselves to “toys” (i.e., technical problems that interested them) rather than to commercial tasks. This all changed quickly – there was pressure to perform, fear of losing their jobs, nervousness, and people were getting to know what it was like to come back from work completely exhausted. They hadn’t known that before.
And the shops really filled up with goods. The selection began to be enormously wide. But there was no increase in the standard of living. The average Czech citizen today is no better off than at the end of the communist period. He has a much wider choice in the shops, but he can’t buy more. Consumer goods are more affordable, but the prices of housing, energy and health care have skyrocketed. Today it is almost unbelievable that under the communist regime most people could build a small family home (unless it was in Prague) and that owning several properties was normal. The price for that was squalor. Today the houses in the centre of Prague have beautifully repaired facades. But local people can no longer afford to live in them.
With the impoverishment came new tensions in society. The class conflict in the countries of Central Europe is shaped by the fact that some are trying to escape into the international environment, others are trying to turn into Germans or Americans, while others are just frustrated. It is virtually impossible to achieve a good position and good fortune in the Czech market alone. Only those who took part in the privatisation of state assets in the first years after the fall of communism or who made good use of the limited opportunities of the time have done so. When today the neocons claim that “Eastern European states begged to join NATO”, they are referring to those social groups who were trying to move west anyway and whose children were studying in Western Europe or the USA. The bottom 80% did not want to join NATO.
And here we come finally to Professor Keller’s article. His case is actually typical. 15 years ago he was one of the greatest authorities in Czech sociology. His views were widely accepted. He was even an MEP for a few years. But when the Soros groups took control of Czech universities, he refused to participate. He wasn’t fired like other professors, but he couldn’t give big lectures. He was marginalised, his articles in national newspapers were cancelled and activists are anxiously awaiting his retirement.
A few days ago, he published an ironic article on a small website that shows the overall trend well. It also explains the reasons for the resistance to globalisation. It is not just that people in every country want to decide for themselves, as Professor John Mearsheimer argues. More importantly, it is about the impact of globalisation on people’s lives.
Professor Keller writes:
Sometime in the mid-1990s, we first learned that our standard of living was higher than we could afford. At the time, this information was not particularly depressing. A new political and economic system was just taking off, which promised to improve conditions for everyone in an unprecedented way.
More than a quarter of a century of improvement had passed. The creators of the new system had given their all for five or six terms. The result? We are surprised to learn that we are once again living above our country’s means. We still have to make ends meet.
What kind of conditions makes us (almost) all tighten our belts at regular intervals, and are never interrupted by periods in which we could perhaps improve? Economically, we live in conditions that are indistinguishable from those of the colonies. The nature of our national economy is primarily determined by the needs of multinational corporations and the interests of large financial institutions. We function for them as both a frugal and cheap sweatshop and a wishful and generous tax haven. It is so sophisticatedly arranged that our workers live above their means even though they receive only a third of the wages of their Western colleagues.
Dependency is not confined to the economic dimension. On the legal level, it manifests itself by mechanically translating into our statute books foreign norms, rules and regulations that think of everything. Our legislators have become mere messengers who deliver norms that seek to determine everything from the demographic composition of the population to the way lower and middle classes are allowed to consume, to the range of correct opinions, to perceptions of the most intimate areas of family and sexuality. The cost of complying with all those regulations and norms (environmental, migration and otherwise) will reliably guarantee that we will live above our means, no matter how much we conform.
Professor Keller further notes that the same politicians and economists who justify the current arrangement by claiming that it is supposedly the most efficient also explain to you that people cannot have the same standard of living as before. And what is particularly interesting is that those countries with advanced market economies, where the majority of the population has to become more and more frugal, are incurring debts that were unthinkable in less advanced times. However, he also wryly notes:
The situation that has developed into this has both a negative and a positive side. The good news is that the conditions in which we live create valuable stimuli for the development of our knowledge. Just a small example. For more than a century, economists have been specifying which professions increase the wealth of nations and which do not contribute to its growth, but merely consume what has already been created. Today, it appears that the vast debate about productive and unproductive work has left out a third dimension – a whole set of highly prestigious and well-rewarded functions whose holders would do less harm to society if they merely over-consumed and did not try to decide anything. It is gratifying to know that in this respect our country has virtually inexhaustible reserves.
I am afraid that the entire Western world has inexhaustible reserves of useless and harmful politicians, managers, bureaucrats and activists.
By the way, when you want to understand the warmongering frenzy of Central European states that are willing to expose their territories and their populations to any attack for American interests, remember Professor Keller. It is the interest of those who seek a ticket among the global aristocracy. It is not the interest of workers, artisans or nurses.