The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

America’s Elites Live by the Rule of Power (Covid Version)

There’s no question that the US response to Covid-19 has been awful.

So, is it just that American elites are incompetent?

Well, as of the end of April:

The total amount of wealth controlled by US billionaires’ swelled by more than $565 billion since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis.

So, why would America’s richest want to handle Covid well? Small businesses being closed is an advantage to billionaires, who control the large businesses that keep going and take over market share.

And while we don’t have figures for the top three percent or so, I’m willing to bet they are doing better as well. Plus they get to work from home and have everything delivered to their doorstep while stocking their industrial fridges with ice-cream. It’s hard for them. Honest.

Now, there’s a core point here that is important: If you are American, you cannot count on your leadership, of any variety, to look after you. You cannot even count on them to be neutral. If there is a way for them to benefit, including benefit to the people who own them (most politicians are owned in the US, and if you do not believe this you are pathetically naive), they will hurt or impoverish or kill you.

Little matters to your elites except the well-being of themselves and their close associates. To the extent they have an ideology, their ideology tells them it is right for the strong to take from the weak, and that everything they have they deserve, while those who lose deserve to lose. This is true of Republicans, but it is as true of most Democrats. Oh, they’ll give a little bit of pity money, but they won’t stop the processes in place that destroy lives and kill people. Indeed, they speed those processes on–as Pelosi and Biden have throughout their career.

When you are making your planning you must take this into account. Power companies won’t clear brush or replace infrastructure they know will lead to massive wildfires (PGE in California) because they have executive bonuses to pay. Executives of pharma companies will raise prices on life saving drugs they didn’t even research like insulin. Developers and landlords will hold properties off the market to keep prices up, and will force long term tenants out so they can raise rents.

There is little of consequence that people with power in America will not do to those without power.

The rule of power, as composed by Thucydides twenty-five hundred years ago, is as follows:

The Powerful Do As They Will: The Weak Suffer As They Must

Most social progress can be defined as creating norms and institutions which reduce that truth. American elites have spent the last 40 years returning it to dominance, with a plurality to bare majority of American voters complicit. Fools in the middle class thought that helped both them and the rich would keep helping them. But what helped them 5% a year helped the rich 20% a year, and soon the rich took off, decided they didn’t need the middle class (they can do the same work for less) and started liquidating them. During OK times, a percentage point every couple years: during crises, far more.

(Trump’s numbers actually show the middle class more than the poor drove his rise, because they were scared and went with someone who sounded different. Though some poor did the same. But Trump is VERY late stage in this process.)

If you are to survive this era, let along prosper, you must understand this in your bones: emotionally. America’s elites, business and political and ideological (media), are your enemies, committed to eating the poor and middle class (who get eaten all the time, metaphorically. “Eat the rich” is an aspirational goal, not a reality.) When you make your personal life plans, understand this. You must be useful to the rich to prosper and the second they do not need you, they will discard you. This goes even for many elite lackeys (see what has happened to media jobs, and they were on their knees fellating their masters even as the axe fell.)

If you wish to oppose the rich you must also understand this. There is no making peace with this elite, they may occasionally throw you a bone to disperse you, but their overall ethos will not change. Nothing short of replacing them with an entirely new ruling class and structure will work. If you have not done so, if you have not destroyed the rules that run this particular America and world; if you have not replaced the actual people, then you have not won the war, you have just been given some scraps to placate you and make you stand down whatever alliance you have built.

It’s you, or it’s the rich and their lackeys. It is that simple.

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The Coming Homelessness and Hunger Apocalypse in America


The Well-meaning American Oligarchy Are SO Misunderstood


  1. Stirling S Newberry

  2. bruce wilder


  3. Dan Lynch

    Ian said: “To the extent they have an ideology, their ideology tells them it is right for the strong to take from the weak, and that everything they have they deserve while those who lose deserve to lose. “

    Exactly. Sometimes called “just desserts.” IMHO just desserts is the core philosophy of conservatism. Take away just desserts, and the entire conservative ideology comes tumbling down. Which is a vulnerability that the left should exploit.

  4. krake

    Were there a Left to exploit it. The heirs to the Left have forgotten how to win at anything, while they embrace paralysis and tone policing as a kind of (ersatz) liberation.

  5. anon

    America has become a laughing stock and a horror show to the rest of the world. People living abroad are in disbelief not only of the incompetence of our leaders, but of the ignorance of everyday Americans who refuse to social distance and or wear a face mask. Even people living in countries run by dictators understand the public health importance of wearing a face mask. The anti-science rhetoric we’ve seen the last several decades against, not just for face masks, but stem cell research, climate change and other matters of scientific importance is frightening.

  6. Willy

    Well we may be a laughing stock, worthy of mass shootings from our own children, blowback terror attacks from our own policies, and now mass disease from our own leadership incompetence, but we’re the gosh darn US of A gosh darn it! I don’t care what you say we’re an inspiration to the rest of the world.

  7. anon

    Monopoly Mayhem: Corporations Win, Workers Lose

  8. Arthur

    Two interesting articles today from two very different sites that compliment each other. On the crazy rightwing Catholic site Lifesite there was an article praising the fact that more parents (at least in its view) are heading for home schooling. On Alternet was an article originally from 2010 that states one or the reason for the decline and fall of the US probably by 2025/2030 would be a lack of trained scientists and researchers. So I got to wondering, these plans to head to the cosmos and build outposts on Mars and whatnot (of course, dead in the water in any event), the machines needed are going to be created by morons home schooled by fundie jackasses? And what about the research needed to battle the next pandemic and climate change?

    Well, it will all be okay since science is the work of the devil. And religious liberty will save us all. What a mess. Makes on happy to be getting older everyday.

  9. Dan Helton

    Don\’t forget folks: the middle class was also the social basis for fascism. The fascists promised they\’d defend the \”little guy\” petit bourgeois small-business owner against both the commies and rapacious Big Capital. But they only kept half of that promise: they sent one to the gas chamber and the other they made their partner for war profiteering. Guess which was which?

  10. Eberhardt Rechtin

    This essay personalizes and polarizes, intentionally? Us vs them. Unless the goal is to be inflammatory, the underlying assumptions are distorted.

    The decision makers who run the multinationals do not smack their lips and cackle gleefully at the thought of people in economic distress. The C-suites follow fairly transparent incentives, and it is the incentive structure itself which plays a major role in the current suffering. Suffering which is documented and real. Hate the sin, not the sinner.

    It is NOT the the rich you must appeal to. It is the markets and the laws that govern them. If you replaced the elites, the markets would ensure that a whole new set of elites appeared. Driven by the same incentives.

    Yet close to half of the voting population does not engage in politics. It\’s hard to change the rules when everyone is glued to their smart phone and reading celebrity tweets.

    Rather than yelling about people getting eaten, which is a blatant emotional ploy, why not delve into constructive ways to implement change. Yes, I know, doom and gloom sell. Misery loves company…

  11. dbk

    What I find so frustrating and distressing is that the general approach to controlling/suppressing a viral agent like COVID-19 is known and has been successfully implemented elsewhere.

    That this approach hasn’t been widely adopted in the U.S. is partly due to deliberate inaction on the part of leadership, but it’s also due to an extremely fragile social safety net infrastructure – one which, even at its strongest, was never as resilient as that in Western Europe (for example).

    Even assuming that we could wave our magic wand and institute a national policy wouldn’t mean the U.S. could cope – it’s not just that the consensus is lacking, but that the very capability, both human and material, is lacking.

    It’s like watching a slow-motion train wreck picking up speed on the curve.

  12. GM

    Well said.

    I myself find it quite disturbing that nowhere in the current societal discourse can one see a discussion of what consequences the people in power should suffer for the outcome of the pandemic.

    The way I see it, there are four possibilities regarding what happened in terms of failing to control COVID:

    1) This was entirely due to brutal incompetence, failing to see what is coming, prepare for it, adequately react to it when it was happening, etc. But this isn’t your garden variety screw up, millions are going to die now because of it, even though it was entirely preventable, thus there have to be consequences. At the very least, questions such as why we are paying tens of billions of dollars to maintain a vast sprawling surveillance empire of intelligence agencies if they cannot detect and react to an issue like this should be very seriously asked and lead to dismantling of such structures that have proven to be utterly useless. And on a personal level the people who fucked up, whatever their rank in government, and not just in government, institutions like the WHO totally discredited themselves too, should be going to jail for this.

    But then there are the more sinister possibilities.

    2) There was a time when it all could have been stopped, back in January/early February. But it would have involved shutting down all international travel and aggressive testing and tracing to isolate the then still few and manageable in number cases. That was not done. Why? Because it would have hurt the economy to do so, and that was seen as unacceptable. That not doing so guaranteed much greater economic destruction mere weeks later we could for now charitably explain as a consequence of incompetence. But let’s recall that the “economy” has been, for decades now, essentially a tool for the enrichment of a select few at the expense of the many, and not shutting down travel was in essence a short-term benefit to only a few very rich people. So essentially the death sentence of a huge number of people was signed for the short-term economic gain of a few. We are entering the territory of mass murder with this, and we are still in the charitable scenario in which concern for the economy drove short-sighted stupid decision making.

    3) But then we move forward to the next step, where lockdowns become necessary. Lockdowns work, and with a sufficiently prolonged lockdown (4-6 months in this case), combined with highly aggressive testing, we could have beaten the pandemic. The problem is that a lockdown means most people stay home and have no income, as you have guaranteed unemployment. So you have to give them a basic income, you have to cancel debts (yes, cancel, not just postpone), you have to, in an ideal situation, organize food delivery to homes, and you also have to make testing and healthcare free (this specifically in the US context, elsewhere they were made so).

    These are practically necessary measures, for if you don’t implement them, people will literally starve, they will rebel and not comply with the lockdown, they will hide that they are sick, etc.

    But they are also completely unacceptable to the ruling class, even on a temporary basis. Especially the debt cancellation part — that debts are sacrosanct and have to be paid has been the main pillar of social hierarchy for many many centuries now, and compound interest is also the main mechanism through which wealth gets transferred from the rest of society towards the oligarchy on the top. Even a temporary such measure would mean questioning that arrangement, and that could never be allowed to even be contemplated.

    So whatever lockdowns were put in place were too short and ineffective to take care of the problem, they divided and caused resentment in the population (because people were not taken care of the way they should have been), etc.

    End result? Millions will die.

    Why? For the enrichment of the oligarchy.

    This is crimes against humanity territory, and if established historical precedent is to be followed, the people responsible for this, in government and whatever billionaires and lobbyists pushed for it, should be executed. If, of course, there was a functioning mechanism for serving justice of this kind, and we all know that there isn’t.

    4) But then there is the even more sinister scenario. What happened in the beginning of the crisis? It wasn’t just mere incompetence, there was what looked like outright sabotage of testing and tracing efforts for more than a month (I work in a closely related field, and that is exactly what it looked like watching it in real time, it could not be explained with innocent screw ups). And then what the various bailout packages plus the actions of the Fed accomplished (and are still continuing to do) is the largest transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich in the history of humanity. Also recall that there were reports of closed Senate hearings in late January/early February on the situation, after which various senators sold shares in airlines, hotels and other industries that were going to be hit hard, i.e. we can dismiss the scenario under which everyone was so stupid that they could not see any of this coming. They knew.

    Which raises the grim possibility that it wasn’t just that it was unacceptable for the economic interests of the ruling class to take the measures that could have stopped the pandemic, but that they in fact saw an opportunity for another giant transfer of wealth towards them, and actively pushed the pandemic towards going out of control (otherwise that opportunity would not have developed). So what if the overall economy shrinks, they will be better off. Apparently, the standing of the US as a global power and how much it will be weakened by it all is not of much concern for them either, which is quite astounding to realize. And, course, the death of millions is clearly of absolutely no concern.

    If that is what happened, that would be next-level crimes against humanity, ranking right there with what the Nazis’s did, if not higher (as of now the death toll looks like it will be larger)…

    In any case, whichever of these four levels of criminality best describes what happened, there have to people paying the price for their incompetence/crimes.

    Yet there is no mention of that anywhere….

  13. Charlie

    Eberhardt: Across time, it is either “eat the rich” as metaphor to maintain the peace or eat the rich literally becomes reality. Your choice.

  14. bob mcmanus

    Eberhardt: “It is NOT the the rich you must appeal to. It is the markets and the laws that govern them.”

    Who was talking “appealing”? I thought we are going to eat them. (The language of ER’s comment was so appallingly liberal that it drew me from under the bridge.)

    But hey, okay fine then…let’s eat the markets. Probably easier in the medium turn or until the R than guillotines are varieties of sabotage to stop the “Invisible Hand from determining prices” (just joking Wilder):strikes, unions, boycotts, protests, pressures on corporation…umm wrenches, dynamite, C4. It’s all about Pricing Power and efficiency fairness tradition stability and sustainability should not be in the Left toolbox. Like Douglass said: It’s about the demand (that the moment cannot refuse) that the proletariat makes to capital. A demand is not a request or a negotiating starting position.

    Do we all want the Nasdaq and all other indices of capital value zeroed out? Hell yeah, of course we do. Now. (What was a bank worth in 1918 St Petersburg?)

    And thus the rich will be eaten.

  15. Eberhardt Rechtin


    Simplistic binary (A or B) thinking does not work well in a world that is anything but binary.

    And NO it is not my choice. It is a societal choice. Politics is a group activity.

    But you could pick up a book and learn about that, and it would be your choice.,

    If things get bad, and if what is currently happening in Chicago is any indication, the rich will be offshore in bunkers while the underprivileged prey on each other.

  16. Charlie

    ER: More Say’s Law? Pick up a history book.

  17. scruff


    I remember about fifteen years ago I would see conspiracy theory forums across the web talking about how the elites planned on a big population reduction program/pogrom. It seemed unreasonable back then. Even if it isn’t deliberate this time, it’s no longer unreasonable.

  18. GM


    The world is indeed in a dire need of a drastic population reduction — there is no way the planet can sustain a human population larger than in the low hundreds of millions in the long term, and even that might be an overtly optimistic estimate (think about what the natural abundances of megafaunal species in nature are, and you will see the problem).

    But you also have to preserve civilization, because there won’t be another one on this planet once ours collapses — the concentrated resources needed to build it will have been used up and dissipated.

    If you are to preserve civilization, you have to do the drastic population reduction by increasing the birth rates, not by increasing the death rates (which is the only other way it could happen). Increasing the death rates, through war, famine and disease, is what we are tying to prevent here. Yes, that means most people currently alive go childless. But this is the only way.

    I don’t know if the so called elites understand that, and whether even if they do, they have other plans.

    But this pandemic is not the kind of event that those conspiracy theories are talking about. The mortality is too low (unless it turns out that the second time it goes through the population it will be much more lethal). It’s high enough to wreak utter havoc in society, but it is nowhere high enough to reduce the population. It will barely make a dent, i.e. perhaps population does not grow for a couple years.

  19. js

    This pandemic will also not reduce population much, because while it kills some people of reproductive age, it disproportionately kills older people. They have likely done any reproduction they are going to do.

  20. Alvin Murray

    Ian’s observation is good but it doesn’t ask, “why did elites in a few other countries handle covid pretty well?” After all they are still elites and being so, wouldn’t they have about the same class interests as American elites?

  21. Gunther Behn

    Some contemporary author had a character offer that history can be observed in two ways: As Conspiracy, or As Fuck-Up — a plan, or incompetence.

    It can be both. I’d argue it often is. If the basic structure of society rewards rapacious self-interest of the few at the expense of the many, to maintain that may involve some form of conspiracy.

    It can be a formal plot (Bilderberg / Bohemian Grove / Illuminati). Or, it relies more on kneejerk adherence to ruling-class shared values — meaning it’s inherently less efficient than a formal plot. And, any conspiracy can be threatened by wild-card situations, which will happen anyway (An Epstein arrest; death of a key powerbroker; Wikileaks or Panama Papers-style releases of information).

    But no matter how inefficient and haphazard it is, the conspiracy still works to maintain the rule of the few because… they have the power over the many already. It just seems sleek and efficient from the outside, because of the amount of power that class appears to hold.

    And, none of this rules out conspiracies of specific intent — to manipulate global finance by influencing use of Central Banks’ policies, for example. Or, building dominance in media markets to support right-wing political groups in different countries, pushing propaganda about the corruption and uselessness of a federal government (in the US).

    It also doesn’t rule out things in tinfoil hat territory, but they’re far less likely: Oligarchs who decide to finance the development, and release, of a pandemic disease organism in order to dramatically reduce overall population, and dominate market sectors in the economic chaos that would follow… for example.

    The history of contemporary society: Conspiracy? Fuck-up? Or, both?

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