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FEATURE Biting the Ankles of Power Interview with William Greider BY BARBARA BELEJACK AXI illiam Greider begins his latest book with a quote from poet, philosopher, and Kentucky farmer Wendell Berry: “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.” That line from “The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” captures the spirit of both Greider and The Soul of Capitalism. A reporter for 40 years, he has also been an editor at The Washington Post and Rolling Stone and is currently national affairs correspondent for The Nation. His books include Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country Who Will Tell the People: The Betrayal of American Democracy an investigation of the revolving door between government, business, and the K Street lobbyists; and One World Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism new book is a wide-ranging attempt to redefine capitalismmore is NOT betterand provide a new national narrative. The fundamental problems of this country are economic, he insists. Their solutions depend upon knowing how finance capital works and using that knowledge to create change. In recent decades the United States has undergone a financial revolution that has gone virtually unrecognized in the press. Fiduciary institutions, not individuals, are the leading stockholders; some six trillion dollarsthe deferred wages of working Americanshave “the potential to reshape the nature of American capitalism.” Even the very wealthy, he writes, “now stand in the larger shadow cast by these [fiduciary] institutions,” which “resemble an eight-hundredpound gorilla that declines to throw its weight around.” His dream is to see that gorilla throw its weight around. Meanwhile, he finds hope in disparate means of tweaking the system such as worker-owned businesses, ESOPs \(employeeleaders struggling to use the tools and institutions of capitalism to improve workers’ lives; a Baltimore temp agency run by ex-cons; and a California-businessman-turned Green Party gubernatorial candidate who’s figured out a way to make widespread solar-powered housing financially attractive. The critics have been skeptical. “Greider’s thesis is at one level indisputable: For better capitalism, better capitalists would help,” wrote economist and Observer contributor James K. Galbraith in The Washington Post. “But there is a tendency here to the romantic, which can only obscure the hard political struggles we face.” Greider counters that there is a tendency for progressives and people on the Left to be overly pessimistic. After speaking at last month’s Green Festival in Austin he met with the Observer; excerpts of that conversation follow: 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11/7/03 Texas Observer: The critics seem to have been baffled by this book, referring to it as “romantic.” How do you respond to that? William Greider: What I’m suggesting is that the deep-rooted problems in our society, from inequality to environmental destruction, flow mostly from the economic system and that government has not and will not succeed in overcoming them. That’s a very offensive view for people who were schooled in the liberal reform tradition of the 20th century. I understand that, but I still think it’s true. So, if it’s true, how can we begin to consider changing the nature of capitalism? Those are not trivial ideas; they’re structural. They’re about power. How can you get hold of it. The fact that they’re old ideas, for the most partthat they have been tried and failed in the pastdoesn’t really bother me so much. That’s often the case. I’m trying to get people againas they did 80 years ago or 120 years ago in Texas and elsewhereto start a serious conversation about those kind of changes. I don’t want to get into a Ping-Pong game with my friends, but people who think of themselves as progressives, whether on the Left or whatever, don’t understand how grim they soundespecially to younger peoplebecause their dialogue is essentially about calamity and failure. I don’t think progressives will gain until they are able to tell a larger story about the futurewhat they think they can do to make this country whole. TO: We’re always told that we have to start with the political process. You’re saying something different, that real change starts in the workplace. WG: It’s not just different, it’s intimidating to some people. The conditions and quality of work have been degraded in this society over the past 20 or 30 years, not just for the working class and not just for the working poor, but very high up the occupational level. It is to me a fundamental reason why reviving representative democracy may very well start in the workplace, not in election issues, not in changing parties or all the other reforms that people talk about. Why don’t we hear anybody talking about it in politics except for a few brave characters like Dennis Kucinich and a few others? We all know why. To deal with that issue head-on would put them in a collision with the super-structure of financial and corporate power. I wish they had the nerve to do it but I do not acceptin fact it angers methat because they can’t talk about these things, the rest of us should just let it go and hope for the day when there are enough liberal Democrats in Congress. I think people who say you have to look at politics