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

The Perceived Self-Interest Of The Rich And Powerful

Yesterday I had a brief article, which noted a general rule, “only things the rich and powerful believe will benefit them will be done” and applied it to shortages, suggesting that if the rich and powerful are benefiting from them, no serious action will be taken to end the crisis in countries where that is true.

I wanted to note that this is a general rule. It applied to Covid (70% increase in the wealth of billionaires) and it applies to climate change: most powerful people are old, they’re going to die before climate change gets bad, or that’s their bet, and for those who aren’t, they seem to assume their money will protect them. In Britain there’s a debate over forcing private water companies to stop spewing sewage, but so far, the government is resisting making them do so: after all, because dividends and stock option are more important.

Without a change in who runs government, who’s rich, and who runs the big firms, this sort of calculus, “does it affect we few powerful and rich?” will continue and I’d suggest using it as a heuristic for if something will be done. Sometimes it’ll be wrong, but the vast majority of the time it will work out.

It’s not impossible for this rule to get you something you might like. For example, there’s a push in some corporate circles towards a guaranteed income, simply because they need customers and are aware that too many people are becoming poor. Those businesses which want to sell mass quantities of goods without extreme markups thus need the working and middle class not to be completely impoverished.

But, overall, the rich and powerful are different, in the sense that they don’t see their interests as the same as those of ordinary people, and they have the ability to act on those perceived interests.

Take it into account. Build it into your worldview.

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  1. Plague Species

    This is why my tongue is barely in my cheek when I say kill the rich. Of course, there is no guarantee that what fills the power vacuum after killing the rich will be any better and instead won’t also be a hell on earth.

    So-called higher thinking isn’t a gift or a positive attribute, it’s a flaw or a curse even. We were better off as apes. Damn evolution.

  2. someofparts

    Well, since times have changed we need to update our cliches.

    Instead of saying ‘Let them eat cake’, the new version needs to be ‘Let Them Drink Lead’.

  3. jo6pac

    Yep they care less about us on Main Street as it gets meaner. The rich are just fine with that.

  4. Plague Species

    I think a civil war at this point would be entertainment for the filthy rich and their sycophantic minions. They’ll ride around in their electric chariots to watch the fierce battles from far above, betting on the war horses even.

  5. Hugh

    I see the US in a slow moving fascist coup. Democracy is on life support and no one seems to care. The Democrats’ big spending bills for ordinary Americans are self-inflicted political disasters. That’s what happens when you give complete control over them to the scummiest people in your party. Much the same will happen in response to other existential threats like climate change and overpopulation. I give the current chances of the US surviving to 2050 in some recognizable form at 30%, essentially the same as China’s. A few years ago, I rated our chances at 90%. But Nature doesn’t suffer fools. Fascism doesn’t work and breeds repression and chaos. We will fail because we are too stupid to succeed. The rich are parasites. They have the capacity to make things worse. They have no ability or interest in making them better. Success and failure are on us, and it does not look good.

  6. Willy

    I’ve tried warning conservative evangelicals about the evils of mammon demagogue worship. I mean, how many carts can a really great brain tow golf clubs behind? Eleventy billion apparently.

    Previous to that I’d tried giving history lessons about Francoist Spain, who took a Christian nation going through a temporary depression and after forty years of persecuting agnostic leftists with the help of corporatist and religious elites, turned it into basically an agnostic center-left nation. But no luck getting very many light bulbs turned on.

    But then, I’m seeing that some are beginning to recognize that billionaires aren’t paying all the taxes like they said they were. And some seem to be recognizing the billionaires collusion with public servants, puppetmaster style, to always swing things their way. So there’s that.

  7. NR

    Anyone who thinks a modern American civil war would be some romantic blue vs. gray nonsense and not Syria is fucking delusional.

  8. GlassHammer


    Maybe we can say “Some people can afford a high degree of Detachment and others cannot afford any at all.”

    And on the topic of Detachment in leadership I highly recommend “On the Psychology of Military Incompetence” by Norman Dixon. The scenarios and lessons in the book map onto modern day corporate leadership.

  9. Hugh

    NR, we live in an upside down world where delusion is seen as far more attractive and important than reality. Some want violence. Many others are willing to stumble into it.

  10. Hugh

    File under no surprise at all. Jayapal apparently accepts the Biden-Manchin $1.75 trillion number on the reconciliation bill but wants to see the bill, how the money is divvied up, before the House progressives complete their cave.

  11. Mark Level

    Thanks to Hugh for both his posts, they are cogent and generally correct. Yes, of course Jayapal and the faux “progressives” melted like snow in June, they imagine that the little scraps thrown to the populace, alongside bureaucratic “means-testing” humiliation, and alongside the usual open subsidies to the business class, are adequate to delay disaster, or appear as a band-aid? The entire Ruling Class (Ian’s central topic), as well as their sponsors, are totally out of touch with what ordinary people face daily, and literally won’t give 2 fucks until acutal public uprisings of some kind (other than Trumpist Cosplay) begin . . . then again, Americans aren’t the French, & it does seem that the entire 21st century has been nothing but TPTB rubbing excrement in ordinary consumers (we don’t have citizens anymore) faces: the Bush Jr. 2000 election steal, abandoning cities with “undesirables” (= non-whites, New Orleans, Flint etc.) to disasters (or actually engineering the lead poisoning in Flint’s case), an Illegal War of Aggression based entirely on Lies, with torture and sexual abuse thrown in for entertainment value? Then a Financial Collapse engineered by the Elites in which the Engineers are rewarded as the “rescue” $$ are stolen from the non-Elites . . . So maybe the rich and their servants in the political duopoly have decided there will never be any consequences for them, and to Burn It All Down? Good luck to Bernie, Jayapal et al, I hope their buddies in the Neoliberal establishment invite them to the gated compounds etc. while the general populace fights for food, shelter, etc.

  12. Ché Pasa

    Like Britain, the USofA is on the cusp of disintegration. Of course the possibility has is pooh-poohed in public, but I’m sure Our Rulers are aware of how close we are and how close we’ve come repeatedly.

    There is probably nothing we can do about it.

    I doubt there’s much love any more for the concept of a United Kingdom or United States as the tussle for power between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie (petit and haut) intensifies — while Our Rulers look on bemusedly.

    They will be in control no matter what. Right?

    Well, they sure do act like it.

  13. Ivory Bill Woodpecker

    No, we would not be better off never having developed science and technology, because the Sun will not last forever. The only way the human species will survive the eventual aging of the Sun into a red giant star will be through the development of mass space travel, and mass colonies on other worlds (and if we want “Class M” planets, we’ll need some sort of interstellar travel, because this solar system has only Earth-chan), and/or free-floating mobile worlds in space (modified asteroids, perhaps).

    Maybe our species will go extinct anyway, but it certainly will go extinct some day if we never get self-supporting colonies of humans off the Earth.

  14. someofparts

    Someone I shared this conversation with pointed out that the people being hurt by our current dysfunctions are not just the voiceless and marginalized. Wealthy developers are hurt by the skyrocketing costs of materials. Auto manufacturers are hurt by chip shortages and shortages of the magnesium needed to make aluminum. The entire retail sector beyond Walmart, soon to be badly impacted over the holidays, represents a lot of prosperous, influential people.

    I think there is an argument to be made that plenty of well-to-do people with political clout are being impacted by our socio-economic dysfunctions. Maybe if enough people in a position to do something about it want things to get better, that is a small reason for hope.

  15. Hugh

    someofparts, most of our problems are known and have been known for years as well as their solutions. In the past, our powers that be simply denied them until they couldn’t anymore, then minimized them, and used them as excuses to bail out themselves. In recent years though, it has become more popular to just double down, throw in a few conspiracy theories, and deny any problem to the absolute end.

    On a lighter note, after Biden was jerked around by Manchin and Sinema for weeks, Biden is now trying to sell his sorta, maybe sell-out/deal with them in terms of party unity. That is when conservative Democrats do it, no matter how destructive of the country generally, party unity isn’t raised for an instant, but comes the time to sell the sell-out, suddenly it’s party unity everywhere. Meanwhile the Republicans have been surprisingly quiet. Why bother when the Democrats are doing such a bang up job at destroying themselves?

  16. Mark Pontin

    someofparts: “Maybe if enough people in a position to do something about it want things to get better, that is a small reason for hope.”

    Nope. Much of what people here attribute to elite malice and indifference is actually down to elite malice, indifference, and complete _incompetence._

    In other words, if the neoliberal model makes Wall Street financial parasites who’ve only ever run scams and pushed money around into the actual government, don’t expect them to have a clue or any interest when it comes to getting anything done in the real world.

    This has happened time and time again through human history. Consider the moronic European elites — the Great and the Good of their time — who marched Europe into WWI, the Great War, and then through the Great Depression, into a continuation of hostilities in WWII. Throughout most of history, the kinds of human beings who have formed the elites are for various reasons — primarily, psychopathy, malign narcissism, and entrenched entitlement — the individuals least suited for that responsibility.

  17. elites vs. non-elites is a useful comparison. But, when presuming a monolithic elite class, it’s tends to become useless, even silly.

    In Syria, CIA and Pentagon proxies fought against each other. The CIA and Pentagon decision makers are both elite. So, what is elite policy in Syria? A too simplistic question, is what it is, if your answer is just determined by either just CIA, Pentagon, or Obama Administration intentions. Obviously.

    In NYC, there’s been very large demonstrations, led by soon-to-be-unpaid police, firefighter, and healthcare workers, who aren’t complying with vaccine mandates. In the latest installment at thehighwire dot com, in “LIVE: New York firefighters protest against vaccine mandates”, a union representative points out that the response time for firemen to the daily average of 65 fires a day is 4 1/2 minutes. Since 36% of firefighters in NYC aren’t vaccinated, some fire houses will have to close, and response time will suffer. Also, a thinner police presence will create delays in management of traffic.

    How does this help rich people in NYC who are stuck in traffic in an ambulance, suffering a heart attack? Trying to escape a burning building?

    Clearly, they are also at risk.

    While I’m sure some elites are so terrified of covid, that they consider a heightened risk of heart attack death or burning death acceptable, others are not so inclined.

    Covid extremism seems primarily driven by the administrative state, and politicians. Not by doctors, e.g., who doubtless understand that their “vaccinations” offer only temporary protection against covid illness, and little to none against covid infection. At least, I hope that’s the case. The fact that the media will cherry pick a doctor, here or there, to talk about vital vaccination is, means nothing in terms of what doctors generally believe.

    Speaking of which, I’ve seen no detailed polling of doctors on this subject (who might well be reluctant to give honest opinions, anyway.) Funny, that.

  18. Mark Pontin

    I probably shouldn’t encourage you, metamars, but when you write….

    “…elites vs. non-elites is a useful comparison. But, when presuming a monolithic elite class, it’s tends to become useless, even silly.”

    Nobody sensible presumes a monolithic elite class.

    To the contrary: perhaps the most conspicuous behavior of elites is intra-elite competition — they fight amongst themselves. And they especially fight among themselves when there are diminishing goodies and/or too many elites. (See Peter Turchin on elite overproduction.) Throughout history, that’s when the odds are good that a society is heading towards the crapper.

    But I was talking about another aspect of our particular crop of elites (if ’twere me you were responding to).

    There’s a droll fellow who styles himself Doomberg and has a Substack that’s amusing but not unperceptive. As he says: —

    “It is fine to not know where stuff comes from, but it isn’t fine to not know where stuff comes from while dictating to the rest of us how the economy should be run.”

    More here —

    Anyway, that is the problem with our elites. I’m sure over in Beijing, the central committee of the CCP has a whole more problems likely to come back and bite them in the ass than we imagine they do when we feel particularly downcast about where the West is headed. But because they’re engineers — as opposed to Wall Street parasites and lawyer/grifters — one problem they don’t have is a complete lack of knowledge about how things really work. See forex, the complete smoking pit that the once-mighty company of Boeing has been turned into.

  19. bruce wilder

    The decline in ability or willingness of Americans to associate and organize socially and politically has facilitated political domination by the few, rich. The rich have always found it easier to organize for obvious reasons. They may have engineered some of the decline in mass social organizing — I do not know.

    On another front — the increasing unreality of politics, political thought and discourse — I think the rich could be more caught up in it, more enveloped than most ordinary people. I know some rich people and if anything they can be more caught up in Fox News nonsense, more enveloped by Emily’s List fatuousness than any casual listener to talk radio.

    When you wonder how the U.S. kept a pointless war going for 20 years or why the collective response to global warming moves at a snail’s pace, consider that the rich are just as likely caught up in the faux outrage and gaslighting and incapacity to participate in a shared understanding without a common dogma as any others.

    Millions think Elon Musk is a genius . . . including Elon Musk!

  20. Plague Species

    The decline in ability or willingness of Americans to associate and organize socially and politically has facilitated political domination by the few, rich.

    I’m convinced the evisceration of class solidarity has been the goal all along. The advent of The Net, especially social media, has aided and abetted this and perhaps was developed, or ultimately built out as it was, for this specific purpose. To isolate people in meat space by making them believe that community online is something real when in fact it is an illusion.

    The break up of the family was the start, though. It got the ball rolling. Is it any coincidence that the decline of the black family for example coincided with the passage of LBJ’s civil rights legislation? Where black women were goaded to cast off their abusive husbands for a dollar a day but promises of so much more that would never come.

  21. Trinity

    “They may have engineered some of the decline in mass social organizing — I do not know.”

    Are you effing kidding me? You don’t know? Have you ever heard of what happened to Occupy Wall Street? Or the responses to the organizers of Ferguson? Black Wall Street in Tulsa, OK?

    I’ve known plenty of rich people, too. They always lean conservative because … it’s all about conserving their wealth. Even small town rich tend to be arrogant, racist, and power seeking at the local and state levels (or just the household level). The one exception to this (there may be others) was South Florida in the early ‘teens, where they welcomed Obama. This puzzled me no end at that time, but history has explained it to me.

    Mark, you may be right about “elite malice, indifference, and complete _incompetence._”. I don’t doubt that they may be incompetent regarding activities unrelated to cheating etc., but I would like to point out that malice and indifference provide plenty of cover for technical incompetence. And they seem to be quite competent at malice and indifference.

  22. GlassHammer

    Leadership may be just as bad as it ever was but……

    There are more strikes happening right now then at any time in the past two decades yet the consensus here appears to be class solidarity is diminishing. (The John Deere strike is a significant event.)

    People turn out for political rallies in large numbers despite the pandemic and the consensus here is that political activism is diminishing. (Yeah most of the activism is on the right at the moment but people are engaging. )

    A renewable energy company just recently became more valuable than Exxon and the consensus here is Green Energy is diminishing. (Is this not a desired outcome for those trying to get the world off fossil fuels even if only slightly so?)

    We can succeed in the face of bad leadership, maybe we should take note when that happens even if it only happens to a small degree.

  23. Ché Pasa

    More than one thing can be true at the same time. Just saying…

  24. Hugh

    NextEra Energy had a higher valuation than Exxon for a couple of days this month. It still gets 40% of its energy from fossil fuels. It is important to bear in mind that Wall Street valuations are mostly fiction. They reflect financial not real world events.

  25. different clue

    There is a Venn Diagram zone of overlap between financial events and real world events.

    Black Monday was a financial event, but it triggered off a chain of falling domino events which lead to the Great Depression, which was a real world event.

    Granted, the world of Wall Street Valuations is but a House of Iron Cards. But if some of those Iron Cards fall on us personally, we personally will feel it as a real world event in our own real lives. That is part of the Hard Times we have to get ready for, to what extent we can.

    Being fallen-on by falling Iron Cards.

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