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

The Essential Political Skill For Ordinary People

Is knowing who to trust.

The people were right to trust FDR and probably right to trust Eisenhower, for example. (Truman was a much worse president than his reputation.)

Clinton and Obama could not be trusted, both made things considerably worse for their rank and file followers and did so deliberately.

We’re about a third of the way there: a lot of ordinary people have realized they can’t trust ordinary elites. They’re increasingly open to people who don’t feel like the normal politician.

This is behind Brexit, Trump, the rise of LaPen in France. It was behind Corbyn’s rise and how well Sanders did.

But there are large gaps. Distrusting the neoliberal technocrats who joined the EU and slowly immiserated almost all of Britain outside of parts of London made sense, but turning to Boris Johnson indicated monumental bad judgment. I think Brexit could have been a boon, but not run by Boris and the Conservatives, because what they objected to in the EU was the good stuff, not the evil.

In America, people turned to Trump, who presented himself as a right winger FDR: the class traitor who knows how the system works but is out for ordinary people. (Although religious fundamentalists who voted for him were right to trust him. He’s not Christian in any meaningful way, but he delivered for them.)

Corbyn was a good sign: but ordinary people proved susceptible to a propaganda campaign. They trusted the media, which lied about 80% of the time with respect to Corbyn, and then they trusted Starmer, who could not have been elected Labour leader if he had not embraced most of Corbyn’s policies: which he has since walked back and which a pre-schooler should have known he never believed in, nor intended to honor.

In a democracy you can’t be well led if you won’t support people who have your best interests at heart. It’s just that simple.

Now it’s true that elites have spent a lot of time and money building a media, intellectual and educational apparatus designed to make sure that people don’t learn good judgement in their childhood and if they stumble across a good judgement in their adulthood don’t stick with it. This isn’t precisely ordinary people’s “fault” but they, we, have to fix it, because sure as hell our elites won’t.

Every society has leaders. Even relatively egalitarian societies. It’s up to us to learn how to pick and support good ones.

Folks, it’s your donations and subscriptions which make it possible for me to keep writing (since I need to eat and pay rent and the cost of both have skyrocketed) so please (if you aren’t struggling) DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.


Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – August 27, 2023


Problems of Capitalism: Power Accumulation


  1. Feral Finster

    “We’re about a third of the way there: a lot of ordinary people have realized they can’t trust ordinary elites. They’re increasingly open to people who don’t feel like the normal politician.

    This is behind Brexit, Trump, the rise of LaPen in France. It was behind Corbyn’s rise and how well Sanders did.”

    The Trumps, LePens, Sanders and Corbyns also were the only politicians who even mentioned the issues that touched on the lives of the average frustrated voter. Mainstream politicians didn’t even bother to pretend.

    I heard many a Team R human say of Sanders that they didn’t necessarily agree with him, but that at least he was “honest”.

  2. Willy

    Never, ever trust anybody who’s putting in extra effort to make you feel good right off the bat. All of the people who screwed me over the very worst had first presented themselves as my new best friends right at the beginning of the relationship. A technique known as mirroring (reflecting back whatever it is you like and desire) is common with their kind.

    I think most people know the old bafflegab scam. Think Jordan Peterson. A PhD or other supposedly credentialed elite backs up nefarious or unusual opinions with a bunch of academic gobbledygook. They’re trying to mislead you. Every honest academic I’ve known can “match your frequency” if you will, when trying to describe anything arcanely esoteric, because their intention is that you understand what it is they’re trying to relate to you.

    There’s the “political realities” excusers. Like Obama. They try to tell you that it’s beyond their power to hopey change, when in reality, they’re afraid to martyr themselves and/or had been bullshitting you from the get-go about their actual willingness to put themselves out there to change things.

    Then there’s the “wisdoms leading up to secret mysteries unveiled” scam. Think Dianetics or Carlos Castaneda’s Yaqui wisdom series. They always start out relaying common sense wisdoms and/or secret wisdoms which seem highly useful and practical. But they’re just bread crumbs trying to mis-lead you to a bunch of mystical made-up crap in an attempt to extract wealth and power from you.

    That’s why I liked Bernie. He’d yell at you to get off his lawn, before honestly persuading why good lawns are hard to come by these days. Dude doesn’t care if you like him or not, just your ability to absorb cold hard truth and maybe, to do something about changing it.

  3. Mark Level

    Well said as usual, Ian! Ultimately, it is ordinary people’s fault for having no B.S. meter & trusting a bunch of openly grandiose, narcissistic & utterly insane politicos who just pantomime that they’re “tough” (I’ll keep beating you until your morale improves), “nice” in a traditional way (AOC doing promos for better sun-screen, wow, what a vital issue! Oh, & she talks to “voters” or her constituents as if they’re brain-damaged elementary school children.) At this point to my mind there’s not a single, Dog-Damned one of them who can remotely be trusted!! Utterly corrupt, & with nothing but open contempt for the hoi-polloi. The Rethugs are (for the most part) openly a death cult, “I don’t want to hear anything negative about ‘our’ (white, male, hetero-normative) history”, “I won’t mask or take safety precautions, it’s an inconvenience” . . . oddly they do seem a bit smarter about our useless, failed wars, as a few of their politicians are (cynically & insincerely I expect) calling for the Ukraine grinding up clvsterfuck to end . . . the Dems are perhaps in most respects more hypocritical than their openly Evil, Predatory & Mammon Worshipping “Christian” ReThug counterparts. The Dimmie line is, “We invade dozens of countries and install right-wing, Neolib, looting governments for free-dumb!! Oh, and to guard LGBTQ+ rights, etc. But they will support the ultra-nationalist, openly Nazi Banderists in Ukraine!! They were “good” when they supported taking down US Confederate monuments (which I supported), but they will support crushing anything “Russian” becoz it was “Communist” & therefore evil. So black is white & the reverse. Hitler & his ally Bandera were the good guys in WWII, the dirty Soviets (our Allies) were spreading Communism!! See Canada’s Vice-Premier (whatever they’re called) Chrystia Freeland, in a 3rd generation Nazi Ukrainian family, who ginned up for the “Liberal” government a “Victims of Communism Memorial” which literally memorializes the poor Gestapo & S.S. martyrs who died for . . . Jew-killing (etc.) Hey, like Zelensky says, we’ll turn our country over to JP Morgan Chase, Blackrock, Cargill, etc. & it will be a PMC paradise!! We’ll crush the poor, our “betters” in U$A will won everything, but those of us in the top 0.1% will lord it over the rest like Elon Musk, Peter Thiel (anagrams to “The Reptile”) etc. Hey, if the U$ population loves oligarchy, cop-military widespread violence, rape & killing of minorities, finance sector looting & bailouts, endless wars, etc., & America is the “best, richest” & most noble (gag!) country that has EVER existed in human history, the Ukies can get a bit of that (cargo cult) glow as well. Right?

  4. Daniel Lynch

    Ian said “Every society has leaders.” Who then is the leader of Switzerland? They don’t have a strong leader. Switzerland is not perfect — their decentralized system did not handle covid well, for example — but on the whole they’re certainly no worse than the U.S., UK, Germany, etc..

    Are we sure we need leaders?

    What if the U.S. eliminated the executive branch all together, and instead laws were executed by a civil service that answered to the legislature? Instead of the leader being commander-in-chief, the military could be a civil service that answered to the legislature. Instead of the leader nominating SCOTUS, judges could be place their name on the ballot to serve a finite term as is already commonly done at the state level. Controversial issues that the legislature are unwilling to tackle could be settled by national referendum, as is done in Switzerland. Think taxing the rich, Medicare for All, abortion, ending foreign wars, etc..

    In America, everyone looks to the president to fix all their problems, while largely giving Congress a pass, and direct democracy is not even on the table.

    Howard Zinn emphasized that sometimes improvement has as much or more to do with ordinary people as with leaders. I think Zinn was overly optimistic, but nonetheless generally right about not waiting for leaders to solve our problems.

  5. mago

    To paraphrase ML et al :
    everything you hear is lies
    ain’t nobody on your side
    even if you have a side to be on.

  6. someofparts

    Under current circumstances, I assume that if anyone honest actually won an important election they would be killed.

    Seems to me that dishonest leaders are the tip of a massive iceberg. The corruption here is systemic and utterly pervasive.

    How does one fix a system that is rotted all the way through? Anything that was not spoiled before it got tossed into the barrel goes bad pretty quickly once it is chucked in with the other ruined produce. AOC is the poster girl for this one.

    My sense is that something here has to break down forever on some basic level before we can begin to rebuild from whatever rubble remains.

    What if the domestic populations of the Anglosphere are the last people to liberate ourselves from being colonized by the crooks and liars who run this place?

  7. Chipper

    “which liked about 80% of the time”

    I think you meant “lied” not “liked”

  8. Robaniel

    Like the proverbial pink elephant in the living room, It’s not the leaders, its the capitalist system we live in. Capitalism rewards the absolute worst aspects of human behavior. If you are ruthless, heartless, and greedy, you will rocket up the “success” ladder to fortune and power, especially in this most capitalist of all countries. That is why after a couple of hundred years of capitalism we are now ruled by psychopaths bent on everything for me and nothing for anyone else. Given enough money and power almost anyone can be corrupted, sometimes without them even realizing the change in themselves. Besides that today a trustworthy candidate will never be allowed anywhere near any of the true levers of power, unless they can be trusted to serve the ruling class only. To change leaders in hope of finding someone who will do some good for the masses is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Unless we come up with a new system that serves the needs of people over the need for profit we are finished as a race.

  9. Feral Finster

    @David Lynch: Switzerland still has “leaders”, just that they tend to be more limited and local in scope.

  10. StewartM

    Speaking of lying about Corbin, the Economist also targeted Sanders:

    Even though both would have fit in well with the Labor/liberal traditions of their respective countries in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.

  11. GlassHammer

    Start with reciprocity and build into trust, never do it the other way around.

    You need to see how people act when they owe you something. (Most people won’t return a big favor if they never returned a single small favor.)

    Also be more weary of people who are overly generous than those who barely give what is needed. The former wants you to be deeply in their debt and the later just wants to do the minimum to meet what they owe.

  12. mago

    Tangentially related to this thread I was just reading reader comments on the cashless economy model at NC and had to laugh.
    The technocrats and would be controllers of the world are reeking of their own piss while everyone pretends it smells like bergamot.
    Good luck with that.
    Gangsters gonna gangster and I’m not talking about the 2023 rap world.
    Talking about hardcore hard headed tribals with agendas.

  13. ventzu

    It seems hopeless. The UK had a once-in-a-lifetime chance with Corbyn and the people blew it. Even if Corbyn won, no doubt he would have been undermined.

    Its a systemic self-reinforcing set of problems:

    The structure of capitalism promotes money as the only benchmark
    And enables the rich to incentivise the “leaders”, the 1% (political / journalists / corporates).

    Anyone who threatens them, will be rounded upon by the others (Corbyn, Sanders, Assange, Grayzone being de-platformed by go-fund-me).

    The ordinary people are focused on working to make ends meet, and/or rise up the ladder, so don’t have time for anything other than media soundbites – and certainly not to think / investigate for themselves.

    Further re-inforced by group think – if others think that way, must be true. Don’t want to be outcaste as a conspiracy theorist or commie.

    Not sure how civilisation gets out of this pattern that has been centuries in the making.

  14. Willy

    “be more weary of people who are overly generous than those who barely give what is needed.”

    There’s the overall context to consider, of course. Maybe the guy who’s overly generous is trying to make some kind of religious transformation, or maybe is desperately trying to fill an emotional space left after their family shunned them.

    In my case, the overly generous person really was trying to get me to “be deeply in their debt”. They were very good at cultivating a variety of political tools ranging from capos to consiglieres to soldiers to ratsnitches. Before the target even began to realize what their actual role was intended to be, the “overly generous person” had ruining and disposal techniques already planned out in case the target refused to cooperate.

    I didn’t trust Trump after I saw clear evidence that this was his MO back in 2015. I didn’t trust anything he said afterwards, knowing that any utterance would only be a means to his own personal ends.

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer was mentioned here not long ago. He noticed that many of his fellow Germans were falling into a “cult of the Führer”, after which they’d become completely unreachable by any logic or reason. I haven’t studied him and his stuff but I believe he thought that certain types of people are highly susceptible to tribal groupthink, the most susceptible being the emotionally needy who require a large social family unit to feel safe and valued within. Their logic then reflects the “logic” of their group.

    For lack of a better metaphor, I think of the Operation Annihilate episode from the original Star Trek, where those flying pancake creatures that made the squishy farting noises were almost impossible to kill individually because they were part of a collective whole. Our heroes had to figure out a way to kill the entire hive mind instead.

    I’m sure that most politicians today are aware of a variety of techniques which can be used to acquire supporters. If seem to be more into using cult techniques than advertising actual proven past performance, then watch out.

  15. Willy

    should be “If they seem to be” in the last paragraph

  16. BlizzardOfOzzz

    someofparts, the fact that you put any stock into a ditzy Mexican female (that’s three absolute disqualifiers) in the first place, is hilarious. Haven’t you figured out that she was allowed to say certain things because she was non-threatening to your masters? And there were very good reasons why they didn’t feel threatened by her (see points 1-3 above).

  17. Willy

    Puerto Rican, actually. MTG, however, has no ethnicity, having been made in outer space at the cloning station nearest the Jewish space lasers.

    My faves from her greatest hits:
    * No airplane hit the Pentagon on 9/11
    * School shootings were pre-staged
    * The Clintons crashed JFK Jr.’s airplane
    * Trump supporters could not possibly have listened to his speech at the WH and then been incited by him to walk to and attack the Capitol
    * Since they crushed the First Amendment, she’s gonna do everything she can to protect the Second Amendment.

    She didn’t appreciate McConnell’s “Loony lies and conspiracy theories are a cancer for the Republican Party” comment. Not to mention his “(MTG) is not living in reality” smear. I wonder if she’s got a comeback ready to launch at Mitch and when that time could possibly be.

  18. different clue


    AOC is not Mexican. Someone has to be from Mexico or descended from people from Mexico to be Mexican. AOC is descended from people who came from the Dominican Republic. That means that she is Dominican. Mexico and the Dominican Republic are two different places.

  19. different clue

    Along with learning what signifies trustworthiness from a would-be officeholder, people might also learn to pre-tolerate and pre-forgive strictly personal-lifestyle scandals which will be found and weaponized against any policy-acceptable trustworthy officeseeker.

    Since Beau of the Fifth Column explains it better than me, I will link to the video where he explains it better than I could.

    If you pre-decide to pre-forgive any political wannabe in advance for any strictly personal foibles, pecadilloes or outrages he/she committed in the past; then those personal foibles, peccadiloes or outrages cannot be weaponized against that would-be officeseeker in order to trick you into cheating yourself out of the policy benefits you would get from electing that officeseeker.

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