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

The Principle of Elite Consequences

Sometimes the comments on an article, like my recent post on reforming the justice system, reveal a deep misunderstanding of how the world works.

People with money and power run our societies. The Princeton/Northwestern oligarchy study found that what they want is what matters, and that the opinions of the rest of us don’t matter.

If they are not subject to how a part of society operates, they don’t care if it runs well, and it will run badly (or, in a way that profits them, which is generally the same thing).

The justice system, for the rich and powerful, works well. They have good counsel, because they can afford it. They can afford bail. They generally go to minimum security prison if they happen to be indicted, and they are never actually charged with most of their crimes — as was the case in widespread fraud leading up to the financial crisis or the robo-signing fraud used to steal people’s houses afterwards. (At most, they pay fines, which are less than the value of what they stole.)

The security systems in airports are hell. But rich people don’t go through it, they fly in private jets.

The medical system in the US is bad and overpriced for most people. But it’s very very good if you’re rich or powerful.

The US has been at war for almost 20 years now, but US elites don’t care, because they and their children don’t fight in it.

The US education system is bad, and worse in places which are poorer. US elites don’t care, because they either go to private schools or cluster in rich neighbourhoods where the schools are good, because they are funded through property taxes.

Covid-19 is not a problem, because it mostly kills poor people and minorities, and it’s making the rich much much richer, getting rid of their competition among small business-owners.

If you want something to work well, powerful and rich people must be forced to use it. They must have the same experience as ordinary people.

It takes an especially bad dose of capitalist ideology (or aristocratic or oligarchic ideology) to not perceive this point. If the powerful aren’t affected by how they run society (except to get richer and more powerful), if they don’t experience how the society runs for ordinary people, then society will be shit, AND, if you want society to be good, you can’t allow rich and powerful people to opt out of ordinary experiences.

They must have the same health care as everyone else, including the same odds of not receiving care, being bankrupted by it or getting bad care. They must go through the security lines at airports and be groped. Their kids must have the same odds of having shitty schools. They must have the same odds of dying of Covid-19. They must be given rifles after voting for a war in the Senate and sent to the front lines (or at the least their kids must be, though I see no reason why they shouldn’t be, and if they’re too physically weak to fight, they shouldn’t be allowed to vote on a war they won’t be involved in).

All of this is the most basic of common sense, a level of reasoning that a ten year old would be able to follow easily.

If you cannot follow this reasoning you are suffering from a very bad case of ideological poisoning or you identify with the rich and powerful class. Perhaps you belong to it, or perhaps you’ve just lost a sense of your own position.

I can hear many people now, “rich and powerful people deserve to be treated better, and everyone else deserves shit.”

You can have a good society when you are willing to do what it takes, and the most important rule of a good society is that important people don’t get to opt out of the world their class creates for everyone else.

9/3-20: article edited to reflect oligarchy study authors being at Princeton/Northwestern, not Harvard.

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The Simple Way to Fix Law Enforcement in British-style Systems (Like the US)


R.I.P. David Graeber


  1. Stirling S Newberry

    You can seperate out the privelegdes of the superpower from the hangers on, e.g. Germany, Switzerland.

  2. Winston Schmidt

    The reason why the wealthy have so much influence is that most people are easy fodder for emotionally potent talking points. Because they never bother to educate themselves, to inoculate against propaganda.

    If working folks would rather checked out with mindless sitcoms, reality TV, and porn… Hey, they get the government they deserve.

    Can you guess how stupid the average person is? Well, by definition half of them are dumber than that!

    Maybe all the snowflakes should stop finding creative ways to blame other people and take responsibility for the mess they allowed to happen

  3. Keith in Modesto

    This principle that Ian is espousing, that the wealthy and powerful must be subject to the same basic social conditions as everyone else so they will have a stake in ensuring important public services work well, reminds me of John Rawls’ “Veil of Ignorance”.

    The Veil of Ignorance is a thought experiment in which you are tasked with designing the institutions and principles of society and how it will run, but you don’t know anything (gender, class, ethnicity, religion, etc) about who you will be in that society. If you design institutions that work great for the super wealthy but are crap for the poor, and then you end up being wealthy, great. But if you end up one of the poor, you might have second thoughts about that arrangement. This should lead people “behind the veil” to design an arrangement that is fair to everyone and would promote a good life for all, as far as possible.

    This is just a thought experiment, and although I have two of Rawl’s books in my bookshelf, I haven’t read them yet (hope springs eternal!), so I no doubt don’t understand the details. But it seems to me Ian is putting forth a similar idea, but in concrete terms. If the wealthy and powerful must use the same public services (health care, public transportation, public education) as everyone else, they will have a stake in making sure they work and fulfill their mission of promoting the common good.

    It’s really a pretty straight forward idea and not really that utopian. I wonder of people who don’t get it or reject it, they must not think that beneficial public institutions are legitimate or that promoting the common good is really possible.

  4. Keith in Modesto

    Winston Schmidt, I’ve got an example of an “emotionally potent talking point” used by the wealthy to manipulate people for you to contemplate. It goes like this: “all the snowflakes should stop finding creative ways to blame other people and take responsibility for the mess they allowed to happen.”

  5. Willy

    Works for Trump, around 40% to 46% of the time.

  6. someofparts

    So can something be done to make the advantages the predators wallow in toxic for them?

  7. Jeremy

    “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

  8. GM

    If you cannot follow this reasoning you are suffering from a very bad case of ideological poisoning or you identify with the class of the rich and powerful.

    Yeah, this one is a big problem.

    I see it all the time when I try to explain to people, both online and offline what exactly is happening.

    A lot of ordinary people just cannot comprehend that very specific policies are enacted very deliberately that are destroying 99% of them, instead they keep parroting the same BS that the propaganda feeds them.

    I keep asking myself why that is and the only explanation I can think of is that too many still cling to the hope that one day they will be among those very few who get to insulate themselves in a bubble from everything else and say “f*** the plebs, let them die, we don’t care”.

    So if you propose to them policies that will make sure that the 99% are not screwed and nobody gets to be in such a position, they will not support them, even though the rational analysis leaves no doubt about what is beneficial to them — under the current system the chances of being left dying on the street homeless and without healthcare are an order of magnitude greater than the chances of “making it”. But it looks like the desire to be above everyone else is too strong to resist.

    And yet, if an external force does impose such policies, those who remember the result of them tend to lament their later loss. That’s what happened with communism in much Eastern Europe (aside from some of the better developed prior to the war parts of it) — for 95% of the population it was a net benefit (even though it is far from the case that even a majority of regular people supported communism prior to the war), and that is why to this day there is a nostalgia about it there, especially among the older people. The problem is that it is the other 5% that have been writing the history since even prior to 1989…

  9. Plague Species

    Continuing with the AGCO example and applying it to Ian’s latest blog post, how is it Dr. Rafil Dhafir is spending life in prison while those guilty of the same crime at AGCO not only walk free but walk free and rich and above and beyond the law?

    Turn to 11:53 time remaining and you will see that Dr. Rafil Dhafir is one of 70 or more people being held in secret prisons in America called Communications Management Units (CMUs). His crime was violation of the economic sanctions against Iraq where hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children perished as a result of the sanctions. Fyi, medical supplies are indeed humanitarian. Tractors and seed spreaders and combines are not.

    An Iraqi-American doctor faces life in prison for violating economic sanctions against Iraq. He has spent the last year and a half in prison awaiting trial and has been denied bail six times. He is believed to the only U.S. citizen ever to be held in prison for violating the sanctions. We speak with his friend and a community activist as well as Voices in the Wilderness founder Kathy Kelly. [includes rush transcript]

    On Feb. 26, 2003, three weeks before the U.S. invaded Iraq, an Iraqi-American in Syracuse was pulled over. He was arrested. And he has spent the last 18 months in jail after being denied bail six times. He faces nearly 300 years in prison plus millions in fines.

    On the day of his arrest, Attorney General John Ashcroft connected the forthcoming military attack on Iraq with the fight at home against those who back Saddam Hussein by sending money to Iraq.

    The press soon connected this arrested Iraqi-American to Saddam Hussein and terrorist organizations. The man faces nearly 300 years in prison and a $14 million fine for illegally sending money to Iraq after the first Gulf War and for multiple counts of money laundering.

    The case of Dr. Rafil Dhafir case centers on a charity he founded called Help the Needy. The government alleges Dhafir illegally raised millions of dollars for the charity and violated U.S. sanctions by sending at least $160,000 to Iraq as well as aid. UNICEF estimates 500,000 Iraqi children have died as a result of the U.S.-backed sanctions.

    From approximately 2000 through 2003, AGCO Corporation (“AGCO”) violated the books and records and internal controls provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (the “FCPA”) when its subsidiaries made approximately $5.9 million in kickback payments in connection with their sales of humanitarian goods to Iraq under the United Nations (“UN”) Oil for Food Program. AGCO’s subsidiaries authorized and paid kickbacks to Iraq in the form of “after-sales service fees” on sales of its products to Iraq. AGCO knew or was reckless in not knowing that kickbacks were paid in connection with its subsidiaries’ transactions. AGCO knew that such payments were prohibited by the Oil for Food Program and U.S. and international trade sanctions on Iraq.

    Because its subsidiaries paid “after-sales service fees” to Iraq outside of the confines of the UN program, AGCO failed to accurately record in its books and records the kickbacks that were authorized for payment to Iraq. AGCO also failed to devise and maintain systems of internal accounting controls to detect and prevent such illicit payments.

    Robert J. Ratliff was CEO of AGCO at the time and in fact one of its founders. He was a veteran Airforce pilot and then went to work for International Harvester ascending the corporate ladder before finding some Angel Investors in his project to purchase and compile a ragtag band of financially flagging agricultural machinery manufacturers that were bought on the cheap and destroying tens of thousands of good paying jobs in the process and taking those labor savings and pocketing it along with his Angel Investors. What exactly was he defending during his stint in the Airforce? Certainly not ordinary Americans by virtue of his job destruction philosophy of merger and acquisition.

    Ratliffe and his CFO and the others directly involved in this obvious illegal scheme should be serving the same sentence as Dhafir in the same prison under the same circumstances. Any money they had made should have been clawed back but instead Ratliffe and his heirs, because he is now thankfully dead, are multi millionaires and Andrew Beck, the CFO at the time, is still CFO of AGCO. Fyi, it’s Ratliffe who hired Richenhagen as his successor as CEO of AGCO even though Richenhagen, a horse trainer and a theology major, was hardly qualified according to conventional standards.

  10. Synoptocon

    The authors of the study cited are from Princeton and Northwestern, not Harvard.

    A couple of things that often go un-noted in the discussion of this paper:

    1) There are high positive correlations between the desires of average people and economic elites and the desires of business interest groups and interest groups as a whole (i.e., business groups tend to be at the centroid of net interest group desires).

    2) While interest groups are more frequently against policy changes, they actually seem to be significantly more effective at driving them.

    3) Business interest groups have greater influence than mass-based interest groups because there are many more of them and they much more frequently argue one side of an issue, rather than both / many sides.

    In sum, average citizen perspectives get rolled over because they are neither cohesive nor organized.

  11. Eric Anderson

    Wow. That didn’t take long.
    Winston Smith for the boot-licker win!

  12. Ché Pasa

    When it comes to policing, I’m an abolitionist in most cases, simply because the police as currently constituted cannot be relied on to “serve and protect” any sector of the population except their overlords and themselves.

    There’s no way to reform such an institution. It was organized and assembled to serve the rich, the elites, those in power, and that’s what it will do until it is disbanded. Doing so, disbanding the police, is fraught with peril and so is almost never done.

    Ian’s idea is to subject the rich, elite, and powerful to the same consequences at law as the rabble face. Thinking about this and seeing the increasing levels of brutality and worse that the police are inflicting on those protesting in the streets — and on many others simply trying to live their lives — I have a sense of “oh hell, why not?” If the high and mighty were beaten senseless, robbed, shot, or faced life in prison for mouthing off or throwing a water bottle, maybe things would change, no? Except those who rule us rarely or never do those things so subjecting them to the same consequences for doing things they don’t do seems… not as effective as we would like. Viz:

    In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread. — Anatole France

    What would happen if, instead of harshing up on the rich — as satisfying as that would be — we set a goal of lightening up consequences on everyone else, somewhat to match the light (or non-) punishment of those in power?

    Would that lead to even more chaos than now, or no?

    I agree that the overclass gets away with too much criminality. On the other hand, the underclass is sometimes wildly overpoliced and punished for simply existing.

    Start by reforming law.

  13. Hugh

    Wealth is mostly an accident. People are born into it or the webs of connections that make it possible. They sometimes happen to be at the right place at the right time.

    The myth that someone can start poor and without connections and by being virtuous become wealthy is just that, a myth. I am sure you can come up with a few examples of this happening, but that just illustrates the point. It is chance. Out of a population of 320 million and that’s about it, a handful.

    The problem with wealth is wealth. This doesn’t mean everyone has to be treated exactly the same, like cogs in a machine. But Jeff Bezos would be wealthy with $20 million. Why does he need $200 billion? At what point does his and others’ wealth become a taking, a theft, from the rest of us?

  14. someofparts

    “In sum, average citizen perspectives get rolled over because they are neither cohesive nor organized.”

  15. someofparts

    This was meant to go with the post above, as a response.

  16. BlizzardOfOzzz

    I think everyone understands the principle — how it would play out in practice is what’s in question (Nancy Pelosi’s haircut).

    A requirement to tell each jury about nullification — that seems like a good idea. It should be like Miranda rights. Because, how can the jury perform its role if it doesn’t know what its rights are (which probably most don’t)?

    There are other problems though — what about prosecutorial discretion? Prosecutors get to decide which cases to pursue, and which ones to just drop. I’m not sure what can be done about this, since it will always be a judgement call, but motives are never pure. I could see the problem being exacerbated by banning plea deals: the court system gets overloaded, prosecutors don’t bother with non-sexy crimes.

  17. Stirling S Newberry

    “This principle that Ian is espousing, that the wealthy and powerful must be subject to the same basic social conditions as everyone else so they will have a stake in ensuring important public services work well, reminds me of John Rawls’ ‘Veil of Ignorance’.”

    Two notes:

    1. The last version of Theory of Justice is out.
    2. His student, Micheal J. Sandel, is back at Harvard.

  18. S Brennan

    Again, the leadership credo applies here.

    1] We are here.

    2] We need to get there.

    3] This is how we will get from here to there.

    I “get” the golden-rule and I “get” that in this world the golden-rule can only be a rough approximation of justice, what I don’t “get” is how to accomplish such a task. I mean outside of our personal lives, the normal persons powers are, as you tirelessly point out, somewhat limited.

    For example, how is “voting for the evil of two lessers”a step in the right direction when we know from the “cherry-picked” historical record that “voting for the evil of two lessers” has taken us down the path to perdition. And yet every four years, this board is overwhelmed with D party apparatchiks who insist, the world will end if we don’t continue down the path we have traveled for the last 40 years.

    Every four years I am told by people who didn’t do any meaningful research prior to the primaries that this person is the ONLY CHOICE, OUR SAVIOR! I may try to point out that the anointed “savior” was a quisling a brief four years ago and the “cherry-picked” historical record shows that; once a quisling, always a quisling. Nevertheless, the reply is, this person is the ONLY CHOICE, OUR SAVIOR regardless of the recently “cherry-picked” record.

    And when the quisling has led us to the door of the slaughter house once again we are told by the very same chorus that we must go in because there is a very, very, very, very, very, bad wolf out in the forest, it’s safer inside the DNC slaughter house.

    So again Ian, how do we get from “here” to “there” because we are already being told that we must go through the DNC’s slaughter house door…for our own safety.

    My idea that we backtrack down the road from whence we came, back to FDRism is mocked by the “intellectuals” on this board as foolish revisionism [non-Marxist definition]. These “intellectuals” insist that we need to move directly to their particular brand of utopianism and I don”t see that happening mainly because, as once was said of such talk; “You say you got a real solution…Well, you know…We’d all love to see the plan”.

    I don’t mock you Ian, I know you to be genuine but…the real world needs a real plan, not a set of lofty goals.

  19. NR

    It’s actually impressive how S Brennan can take any post Ian makes, even one such as this which is about general political concepts and not any specific party or politician, and try to spin it into an argument to vote for Trump. That kind of single-minded dedication is rarely seen these days.

  20. Willy

    Ian’s ideas might manage some of the wealthy, the ones who still have some ethical integrity or memories of ethical integrity from better managed times. But most of the wealthy I know are immersed in a culture of rationalized bullshit, whenever they aren’t outright sociopaths who knowingly create and support that bullshit as a ruse to outcompete the more honest, less streetwise underclass.

    “If I don’t play the game, then my competitor will.”

    Today elites from both parties proclaim or imply that “socialism” punishes success, when it should be obvious that most “success” today has little to do with improving society. Sure there are I-phones and smart TVs and the NFL, but most businesses today are all about extracting max cash for min effort. Success is about crafty con artistry, wherever one can get away with it.

    In a saner, less brainwashed culture, Trump and Pelosi would’ve been vilified and ostracized by the majority just for their last weeks activities alone. But it’s all forgivable when the ‘other team is so much worse’ and our we have a culture where our elites get to play by different rules just because they’re “successful”.

    I like the idea of comparing today with the way things once were, as a means to try and get back to more sanity. Sure, back then things were imperfect and definitely not utopia. But it sure as hell wasn’t this ever-worsening dystopia where ‘losers’ are hardly better than criminals who deserve no say, while ‘winners’ can’t possibly be criminals because they’re just playing the game (the way they set it up to be played).

  21. Ian Welsh

    The whole point of making people eat their own dog food is that you don’t need them to have integrity, only self interest.

  22. Keith in Modesto

    S Brennan said:

    “I don’t mock you Ian, I know you to be genuine but…the real world needs a real plan, not a set of lofty goals.”

    It’s true that the Principle of Elite Consequences that Ian is explaining and recommending here is not a detailed plan, or even the outline of a plan. He doesn’t, for example, offer here any political strategy for reworking healthcare or education to align with this principle. He’s just putting the principle out there.

    But there is real value in that. For one, getting ideas like this out there and “on the table” means that they can become available for others to take up, refine, and use when developing their own solutions to problems. Someone reading this blog post might even be inspired to formulate a plan to get such solutions enacted in the real world, say through lobbying politicians or adopting said solutions as part of a reform movement.

    Why, Brennan, you yourself could come up with such plans! It’s a little strange to basically agree with Ian but then criticize him for not doing everything. So, does anyone have any ideas for real world plans? Brennan?

  23. krake

    Off topic-ish, but speaking of the analysis of elites, David Graeber has died. Sucks.

  24. Ché Pasa

    Re: David Graeber’s death in Venice.

    Great loss. Graeber could tell us what’s wrong, how we got to this point, describe corrections and alternatives, and provide a kernel of hope (oh, that!) in the midst of monstrous reality.

    He was one of the very few academics who really seemed to care more about the lower orders and little people and rebels than about himself and an ivy covered career.

    He will be missed

  25. someofparts

    Just bought Graeber’s book about debt earlier this evening, kind of in honor of and all.

  26. NL

    It is very revealing how when the talk is about all the stuff the oligarchs get and we don’t, hardly anyone mentions that the oligarchs own the government and we don’t. Here’s the abstract of that article:

    “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

    Black and white clearly spelled out. You, average citizens, and your opinion, interests, needs and the whole livelihood do not matter for the government. Why not discuss this central conclusion and veer into all the stuff the oligarchs can buy?

    Well, why don’t average citizens matter? But because they do not have a political mechanism to represent themselves. The oligarchy funds a spectacle called elections, in which actors called politicians beat each other senseless for our gratification and emotional release. Everyone says politicians are bought; no, they are paid for an outstanding performance, like actors or athletics. But I don’t blame the politicians, even if they told the ‘truth’, do the average citizens even care to hear it or what can they even do with it, right? Reminds me of 1984, when he goes to the ‘citizens’ quarters’ and discovers that they do gave a s*** about anything.

    We are also told that government is ‘not a solution, but a problem’. Well, government is neutral, like a hammer, it is a tool to achieve a political end. And so it is, those who control the government, control policies and laws; controlling laws and policies makes you rich, and money can buy good things, like better legal advice, education, health care, yachts, airplanes, etc. Present day China is sort a test of this hypothesis. It was thought that rising Chinese wealthy will wrestle the government from the CCP, this has not happened, because by controlling the government the CCP can set policy undercutting the budding oligarchy.

  27. Willy

    Maybe with China genetics will eventually win out. I had an anthropologist tell me that the genetic urge to pass on generational wealth to one’s own genetic progeny is just too pervasive a force for any external cultural morality to overcome, for long.

    Everybody here remembers the Horseshoe political model, which places communism at the furthest left end and fascism at the furthest right end, with both ends being authoritarian and the sweet spots for liberty and rule of law residing somewhere in the middle, that place where left and right honestly debate for that sweet spot.

    But the majority of modern American conservatives I speak with don’t believe in that model. Their own model is linear, with all statism always being left and all “liberty” always being right. And after which they now must believe that completely freeing the wealthy and/or powerful from constraint cannot possibly cause economic, cultural or political pathologies to develop and that the left will always be to blame for all of those things. Or, that all leftism always turns to Venequela or the USSR and TINA. The stupidity in spite of reality just burns. If only the left had been smart enough to capture the stupids.

  28. anonone

    Winston Schmidt wrote:

    “Can you guess how stupid the average person is? Well, by definition half of them are dumber than that!”

    It is both amusing and sad when somebody makes a statement like this reflecting arrogantly on the intelligence of his fellow human beings, but revealing his own ignorance when doing so.

    He needs to learn the difference between “median” and “mean.” Perhaps he should educate himself before criticizing his fellow human beings for “never bother[ing] to educate themselves.”

    And it is no fault of the people he dismisses as “snowflakes” that most were indoctrinated with a massive propaganda machine for their entire K-12 education, and then their abilities and “intelligence” were tested by a multi-billion dollar standardized testing industry designed by the elites to further their interests and with their cultural biases baked-in.

    Therefore, it should not be surprising that brain-washed children grow into adults who perpetuate the propaganda that they were so thoroughly indoctrinated in because they are psychologically incapable to think outside of it. Years of childhood brainwashing does that. That is not their fault, and it has nothing to do with the innate and immeasurable intelligence and creativity that they were born with.

  29. Plague Species

    The media won’t report it this way because it’s not interested in objectively and honestly reporting the news. This is the reason for the substantial dip in the stock market yesterday. I dare you, China, dump it all. No amount of bailouts for the financial sector will be able to prop the stock market up if China were to dump all of its U.S. Treasuries. In fact, at this point, I’m imploring China to do it. Make the American wealthy elite feel the pain of the unwashed they abuse, and murder considering it will be 450,000 American COVID deaths by January per one of the more conservative models, daily.

    With Sino-U.S. relations deteriorating over various issues including coronavirus, trade and technology, global financial markets are increasingly worried if China would sell the U.S. government debt it holds as a weapon to counter rising U.S. pressure.

    “China will gradually decrease its holdings of U.S. debt to about $800 billion under normal circumstances,” Xi Junyang, a professor at the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, was quoted as saying on Thursday, without giving a detailed timeframe.

    “But of course, China might sell all of its U.S. bonds in an extreme case, like a military conflict.”

    China, the second largest non-U.S. holder of Treasuries, held $1.074 trillion in June, down from $1.083 trillion the previous month, according to latest official data.

    Also, in case you haven’t noticed, Trump has usurped the U.S. Marshals and the FBI as his own personal Brown Shirts. They assassinated/executed Reinoehl last night. I believe they were ordered to do so by Donald Trump and they followed his orders. This proves that Danielson may indeed have been employed with the U.S. Marshals/FBI or with and by some a pseudo governmental LE agency. LE reserves this kind of execution-style murder for those who murder one of their comrades. Also, Vice was in on the execution. They provided the U.S. Marshals/FBI with Reinoehl’s whereabouts. I never have trusted Vice. They’re just another tentacle of the Octopus pretending to be “radical.”

  30. Plague Species

    Also, not that it matters and it’s probably a good thing but it is telling, the NYT and WAPO are now moving to subscription-only just as many other mainstream publications have done and are doing. Fine by me. Good riddance. I would never pay for such misinformational and disinformational rubbish.

  31. NL

    “In sum, average citizen perspectives get rolled over because they are neither cohesive nor organized.”

    Exactly, they are in fact tribalized, segmented and atomized. The unions, even as faulty as they were, were dismantled for this very reason. That’s another thing the citizens do not have and the oligarchs have, the skills and political space to organize (even through oligarchic organizations are fleeting as I argue elsewhere). America is said to be a country of freedom of speech and association, but to speak one needs to have a podium and an audience, and to associate, one needs to announce and have a gathering place. But all of the internet is private several times over: internet provides, content providers, news organizations, social media. Plus, most of us work for a private enterprise that can contractually limit our expression in our private lives. In theory, we have all these freedoms; in practice no so much.

    It is pretty bleak.

  32. someofparts

    “But I don’t blame the politicians, even if they told the ‘truth’, do the average citizens even care to hear it or what can they even do with it, right?”

    Wow. Just look at all that indifference. Just look at all those people who don’t listen, or care or even show up.

  33. someofparts

    I’ve started to question the idea that China would dump their greenbacks. I mean, if it actually came to war, sure, all kinds of extreme policies might make sense then. But barring conditions that drastic, China hurts itself more than they hurt us if they dump those dollars. I am more inclined to think the Reuters piece is a psy-op.

    China does not want to be the global reserve currency either. That requires giving global capital the power to impact the value of their money and they do not want that. If Americans are foolish enough to be the stooges who do, China is happy to let us keep shooting ourselves in our own cloven hooves.

    More than anything I just don’t think China will ever need to resort to war to end American global dominance. We are already hollowed out and incompetent without too much help from outside the country. All it would take is small targeted action at one of our many, many vulnerable points and that would be it. The internal strife our disgusting leaders have fomented to keep themselves in power will blow up and Americans will tear each other to bits.

    I use to think that only nineteenth-century Southerners were blind and vain enough to think that an agricultural economy could beat an industrial Yankee economy in outright warfare. But now I get to watch a de-industrialized America saber-rattle at China and realize that epic incompetence from our leaders was never just confined to the South.

  34. Feral Finster

    Sometimes, plans are overrated.

    If you asked the average frustrated Pole in 1939 what must be done, they probably wouldn’t have said that what needed to be done was to fight a partisan war against the Germans until Hitler started a war on the USSR. After a couple years, the Red Army will show up, and proceed to kick ass and take names and then install a communist state, backed by said Red Army. This state would proceed to rebuild Poland after a fashion, until it would eventually collapse under its own inefficiencies and the fact that nobody really believed in it anymore, not in Poland, not in the USSR. This will take around 45 years, more or less.

    Also, we gotta start an independent trade union in order to illustrate the contradiction between Communist ideology and practice. But we have to wait until, like 1980 or so.

    Once all that happens according to plan, then we Poles can at last proceed to do what we really want to do, which is to be puppets of the United States.

    We can argue about the particulars of my history, but the point is that nobody in 1940 in Poland was thinking that way. The first thing was to fight the Germans, right now.

    Still, that’s more or less how it panned out.

  35. Steve Ruis

    Isn’t getting filthy rich just so you don’t have to live as others do?

    So, what happens when for the purposes of creating a just society, people are not allowed to get filthy rich. This “natural experiment” was done after WW2. Extremely high marginal tax rates dissuaded corporations from paying the executives ever more money (as it would just be funneled into federal coffers). So, executives had to live with getting “perqs” that is perquisites of office: a company car, a private jet plane/service, a corner office decorated with rare art, a beautiful secretary, etc. These execs still became rich. They lived in fine houses, they took extravagant vacations, they liver really very well, but they weren’t filthy rich.

    Ever “innovation” in business regulation since then has been to make the CEOs even more rich. The population of the filthy rich in the US is no longer dominated by old money (the Rockefellers, Kennedys, etc.) but is now dominated by CEOs. Gosh I wonder why? These people leveraged their money by investing in political capital. (There used to be an attitude amongst business elites that participating in politics would soil one’s reputation. Then they were shown the ROI and off they ran.

    We need to go back to outlawing the filthy rich again because in this country “money is power” and we cannot afford to allow people to accumulate that much power. I have noticed that Jeff Bezos has nearly tripled his net worth of late. What ever happened to “excess profits taxes”?

  36. Ian Welsh

    There are tons of nice things that don’t matter much. Fly first class, not private jet. Eat French food every day, plus the finest wines. Have a penthouse condo. Travel all over the world and stay in 5 star hotels. Buy the best clothes and electronics and a sports car, etc, etc…

    Don’t worry, the rich will still be able to enjoy being rich.

  37. S Brennan

    Exactly Someofparts,

    “I’ve started to question the idea that China would dump their greenbacks…China hurts itself more than they hurt us if they dump those dollars..China does not want to be the global reserve currency either.”

    And let me add, most flag officers know, but would never admit publicly, any high-intensity war with a major power the US fights needs to be over quickly. Our bipartisan “industrial policy” under Clinton; Bush; Obama has not only stripped away our skilled industrial workers [machinists, welders et. al.], capital machinery [NC mills, lathes, forges et al], our ability to make capital machinery and machinery’s tools it’s made the US vulnerable in any sustained conflict.


    All the effing coders, lawyers, writers and economists in the world are easily defeated by an industrial power of sufficient sophistication. You learn new things by making things and those additional data points provide the intellectual scaffolding for new theory. For example, super conductivity is making great strides through experimentation, not theory, that will follow. Sadly, once room temperature super conductivity is figured out it’s production will be moved to to China by some suit seeking a quarterly return.

    The comments at this “liberal” site, [and others] make clear that many root for the USA’s downfall, entitled peoples, their schadenfreude comes before their nation. Somehow these entitled peoples think they can escape to a safe place, not understanding what happens when a world power collapses or, too old/sociopathic to care at the vast suffering that entails. Apparently unaware that the denizens of Rome’s Palatine Hill were made into servants, slaves or killed when they were forced to flee Rome.

    This leaky old tub of rusted bolts and steel is the only ship you’ve got.

    When this ship goes down it’s taking all aboard [and those trying to swim away] down with her. Under FDRism this ship used to be the sleekest on the ocean but, with everybody trying to grab the wheel and captain the ship the engineering spaces have been neglected. Our nation needs basic stuff, scrubbing, scraping, patching and paint, it’s machinery needs maintenance oil and grease. Yeah, a new fusion fueled electric drive sounds cool and we can talk about that…once we’re back in the safe harbor of FDRism.

    There are people still alive who knew FDRism [circa 1932-1978], they KNOW it worked. FDRism was abandoned to return to the immoral and unworkable Gilded-Age economics, sans mercantilism [circa 1978] which today is incorrectly identified as neoliberalism. When you sell a return to FDRism, you are selling an item of a known value. As I pointed out above, Ike was an FDRist president and this nation made huge strides, unmatched strides, socially, economically, scientifically under FDRism.

  38. StewartM

    The easiest way to practically deny the rich to their own separate legal services, health care, and other essential services is via tax policy. Differing with the lawyer who posted on the other thread, if you’re rich enough you can hire your own full-time attorneys, and yes, skilled defense attorneys, who work for you and no one else. But if you tax away the income needed for that, they must ‘endure’ the same services we all use. Moreover, such a high-tax policy would free up the money sent to Wall Street for useless paper schemes into real private infrastructure and R&D needs plus allow for higher wages.

    The only taxation ‘out’ I’d give to the rich would be in exchange for long-term (I mean 20 years or more) investments; I’d offer lower rates on those. What is destroying the US and Western economies and our societies as a whole is short-term thinking. You need to punish short-term profit taking but reward long-term planning. This would also provide a tax advantage for the retirement accounts of ordinary people (who could lessen or even avoid a tax burden there, though doubling SS still needs to be done). So much of what we call ‘evil’ in this world is the elevation of short-term reward over long-term rewards. Long-term thinking as a rule promotes behaviors that are kinder and better for one’s fellows; that is why hunter-gatherer societies often are so appealing because that is what they do.

  39. StewartM

    Fly first class, not private jet

    At my company, I heard this story third-hand. There was a board member who needed to attend the anual company stockholder conference; doubtless so he could sit mute like a fly on the wall to collected his at least-five figure payout for that ‘work’. The problem was, the company’s private jets were all being used. So what do we do?

    The “solution” was, not as you said, to buy him the nicest first-class ticket we could buy. What? Fly with the plebes? Oh, no, we instead paid a LOT of money to hire a private jet just to fly him, and him alone, to the conference.

    On public planes, some airliners are offering tickets for ‘seats’ that include full roll-out beds. There is no practical reason to maintain private jets, none at all, at least for creature comforts.

  40. NL

    “The easiest way to practically deny the rich to their own separate legal services,…. is via tax policy.”

    And how are you going to implement such tax policy? Easy to come up with a scheme, but impossible to make it reality, cause you have no input in the legislature and government.

    When has Bernie told the ‘truth’? There is a lot of Bernie personality cult, but little ‘truth’.

  41. StewartM


    And how are you going to implement such tax policy? Easy to come up with a scheme, but impossible to make it reality,

    But we *did* have it once, until 1964, and even to an extent until the 1970s (the effective tax rate on the richest was halved from that 1964 cut before Reagan came into office). And so did most of the Western world. So thus it’s not like we’re talking about something “impossible to make it reality”.

  42. NL


    We were once young and full beautiful too.

  43. StewartM


    Yes, but that analogy only holds unless you’re going to pull a Spengler and argue that civilizations, like individuals, inevitable suffer age and decline. Remember, before FDR and the imposition of high marginal tax rates, our nation and most of the West had lower taxation on the wealthy than today, and/or even *NO* income tax.

    So 180 degree reversals are possible; we did it once, and we can do it again.

  44. someofparts

    S Brennan –

    This report explains those stories that popped up some time ago about ships in the 7th Fleet having accidents. Somehow the vast sums of money the military gets are not enough to afford proper basic maintenance, staffing, and personnel training for the ships. The sheer magnitude of corruption this indicates is breathtaking.

  45. S Brennan


    I thought my reference to a ship was clearly metaphorical but if not, let me be clear, that is how I meant it when I said:

    “…these entitled peoples think they can escape to a safe place, not understanding…that the denizens of Rome’s Palatine Hill [The richest of the rich] were made into servants, slaves or killed when they [fled] Rome…This leaky old tub of rusted bolts and steel is the only ship you’ve got…When this ship goes down it’s taking all aboard [and those trying to swim away] down with her. Under FDRism this ship used to be the sleekest on the ocean….”

    As to your point about military organizations having problems…they all do, they are a human organization just like churches, unions, corporations, governments, media, pharma…the list goes on and on.

    The average enlistee however is not part of the problem, they are there to serve their country, to learn new skills, to demonstrate responsibility which shows a potential employer they can show up and do the job consistently, conscientiously. And for many, to earn university tuition, they need a hand up, not a hand out. While I back Tulsi Gabbard’s [and Trump’s] position that we should not start/continue the neocolonial wars of Clinton/Bush 2nd/Obama, I am grateful to the US Army for giving me a chance to earn University tuition through service to my country.

  46. StewartM

    S Brennan:

    And let me add, most flag officers know, but would never admit publicly, any high-intensity war with a major power the US fights needs to be over quickly. Our bipartisan “industrial policy” under Clinton; Bush; Obama has not only stripped away our skilled industrial workers [machinists, welders et. al.], capital machinery [NC mills, lathes, forges et al], our ability to make capital machinery and machinery’s tools it’s made the US vulnerable in any sustained conflict.

    Yes, but the switchover to a mass WWII-styled military to one geared to ‘show the flag’ in neo-colonial wars and ‘shock and awe’ the colonials with high tech, expensive, but unmaintainable weaponry started under Reagan and Cap Weinberger. The de-industrialization that followed happened not only because of ignorance, but also because our betters thought there’d never be such a mass war. The whole thrust of the Cap Weinberger military was to let our betters have their wars for United Fruit while keeping the number of body bags going back home as small as possible (which also fits why they were ok with killing any number of native women and children to keep the US body bag count low).

    I’ve read if a Fulda Gap-styled Soviet invasion had occurred, that after a few months both sides would have exhausted their weaponry, due to both combat attrition and because the damn expensive complicated weaponry we have (which breaks down enough just in peacetime) couldn’t stand the strain of sustained warfare. Thus we’d be pulling our M-60 and M-48 tanks out of storage while the Soviets would be pulling their T-55s. Both sides had forgotten the lessons of WWII where a weapon that runs 99 % of the time (say a Sherman or T-34 tank) beats a weapon that sits in the shop because it’s broken down most of the time (any number of German heavy vehicles fit this description) even though ‘on paper’ the latter should be the clear winner.

  47. NL


    “But we *did* have it once” vs “before FDR and the imposition of high marginal tax rates”

    a. ‘We’ (as in people like us who lived then) did not do it, a tyrant named FDR (president for life, 4 wins, 12 years in office) did it for his reasons.

    b. I guess I meant it in the way that things change, with this change having a hue of progress. Maybe moral progress is tenuous and can be denied, but even hard-core deniers of moral progress can’t deny tech progress, and this includes not only machine engineering but also social and monetary engineering. So, in the time of FDR, the oligarchy liquidated itself, clearing the way for FDR, now it believes it has found the answers in monetary expansion, active population management and safeguarding against emergence of another tyrant to save itself. My view is that they merely delaying the inevitable, but another FDR-like moment has passed. Something else will happen.

    c. Finally, in the end, all FDR accomplished was to save the oligarchy, he muzzled it, but it was obvious, once wealth was restored and there were things to be taken, the oligarchy will emerge. A high tax rate is a temporary fix.

    As to Spengler, my current view is that the West is a sequence of three incompatible traditions that have been stitched together in history books: ancient Greece, Rome and Anglo-America. I want to get a glimpse of what will be next.

  48. S Brennan

    “a tyrant named FDR…” – NL

    Wow NL;

    Your remarks add nothing of value and detract much from Ian’s website.

    I pity you NL, I really do, whether your remarks are traceable to your profound ignorance of history or just the malicious ramblings of an unhappy being with no place to go…I pity you NL, I really.

  49. don

    “The question, milords,is this: Is man an ape or an angel? I, milords, I am on the side of the angels.” Benjamin Disraeli.

    And I, (fellow aspirers to know how to make, and to figure out how best to apply myself to making, a better world), appreciate both S Brennan and NL making available their thoughts. But S Brennan, “Cool your jets. Your withering disdain is self-indulgent and adds nothing to your arguments. Don’t you want to win disagreers of good will over to where you believe their talents are desperately needed? Demand more of yourself, for all our sakes.”

  50. NL

    S Brennan

    *Shrug* — don’t care. A forum like this I would imagine would be for an exchange of ideas, even if one does not like them. I suppose you can try to ban me.

    In any event, look, I have handy here ‘Ancient Greece’ by Thomas R. Martin, page 103, chapter ‘The rise of tyrants’ — FDR fits the circumstances and the classic definition. Martin duly notices that the definition of a ‘tyrant’ has since changed and is a pejorative now.

    I use classic ancient history and definition to cut through the fog of present day confusion. One can claim this as a infer method or some such.

    Here’s also, ‘Origins of democracy in ancient Greece’ by Raaflaub & Co, Raaflaub wrote a good Introduction in which he compares ancient Greek and modern democracy — very insightful. Farrar in the same book calls for seriously considering switching to democracy from ‘representative democracy’.

    Guess you have to pity lots of people.

  51. You cannot step into the same stream twice. In general I am suspicious of “let’s do this thing we did 50 years ago and it will all be great again”: be it antitrust, progressive taxation, or miniskirts.

    Our greatest economic problem today is private debt issued by the private banking system. It is subject to the Cantillon Effect (Stoller on Substack) and causes instability (Keen on various sites). I suspect that the penalties for debtor failure have subsided and that there is no leash on the issuer side.

    My proposal: tax business interest. Making any business loan interest taxable at, say, 0.01 percent (“I am not a greedy man; I just want to wet my beak”) means that vertical stacks of aggregated & sliced loans becomes less and less economic- this removes the instability problem.

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