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

Why Western Elites Are So Incompetent and What the Consequences Are

The Course of Empire by Thomas Cole

The Course of Empire by Thomas Cole

The coronavirus has been striking for the fact that Asian societies have mostly handled the crisis competently (though there’s been variation in how competent), and Western elites, with some exceptions (Germany, for example) have not. At the extreme incompetence level are the US and the UK.

Let’s chalk this up to aristocratic elites. Aristocrats, unlike nobles, are decadent, but don’t stop with that word; understand what it means.

Elites who are not aligned with the actual productive activities of society and are engaged primarily in activities which are contrary to production, are decadent. This was true in Ancien Regime France (and deliberately fostered by Louis XIV as a way of emasculating the nobility). It is true today of most Western elites; they concentrate on financial numbers, and not on actual production. Even those who are somewhat competent tend not to be truly productive: see the Waltons, who made their money as distributers–merchants.

The techies have mostly outsourced production; they don’t make things, they design them. That didn’t work out for England in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and it hasn’t worked well for the US, though thanks to Covid-19 and US fears surrounding China, the US may re-shore their production capacity before it is too late.

We also have a situation where Western elites are far removed from the actual creation of the systems they run. This is most true in in the US, and to a lesser extent in the UK, which did not suffer the massive bombing and destruction of most of the rest of Europe (the Blitz was minor compared to the bombs dropped on Germany, for example). Of course, reconstructing bombed societies is not the same as pulling oneself out of poverty.

The best handling of the coronavirus crisis in the world was possibly Vietnam, who are run by a generation that just pulled themselves out of poverty. Other excellent handling has happened in societies which still remember times of poverty or which were conquered and set free (Japan/Germany). China’s Xi, probably the most incompetent, also managed the crisis badly, but still better than the US/UK: Once he got serious, he got really serious. Xi, while a princeling, had a hard early life and was forced to work on the communes and so on.

This is all standard three-generation stuff: The first generation builds, the second generation manages, and the third generation wastes and takes it for granted because they’ve never known anything else. Sometimes that extends to four generations or more, but that requires a system which properly inculcates its elites, plus something to force the elites into at least some of the same experiences as the peons. We do not have that kind of a system.

Nobles, as Stirling Newberry explained to me years ago, are elites who make a point of being better than the people below them: better fighters, better farmers, and so on. Aristocrats are people who play court games, which is what financialized economies supported by central banks and bought politicians are. These people aren’t even good at finance. They were actually wiped out in 2008, but used politics to restore their losses and they were/are wiped out by this crisis, but are using politics (the Fed/Congress/the presidency) to restore their losses. The Fed is doing one trillion of operations a day.

So our elites are fantastically incompetent even at finance. The vast majority are completely disconnected from actual production, at best they are distributors. All they are good for is playing court games, i.e., politics. They can’t manage the real economy, they don’t run it, they don’t live in it, and they aren’t subject to its rigors. They live in a Versailles, almost completely disconnected from society except in crises, when they print money to save themselves, and download costs onto the peasantry.

A society such as this cannot survive in this form. Eventually there is an existential crisis which cannot be papered over by the printing of (virtual) money. Perhaps it is a real economic collapse, perhaps it is a natural catastrophe of near-Biblical proportions, or perhaps it is simply the peasants revolting and paying a visit to Versailles.

The vast spread of guillotine memes over the past four years should alarm our elites, but mostly, they seem to feel invulnerable and are still working to preserve their position in the system rather than fix the system and the society. You can see this in how Democrats are standing up a clearly senile Biden and denying the peasantry health care, even in the face of pandemic.

An elite which refuses to manage the economy will either cause its own end, the end of its country’s prosperity and dominance, or both.

Often both.

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April 2nd US Covid-19 Update


April 3rd US Covid-19 Data


  1. This is what I meant when I kept trying to tell everyone “politics not policy.” These are the people running the show, and they have constructed things so that politics is separable from and dominant over the actual practice of policy.

  2. Stirling S Newberry

    1. Elites bring catastrophes on them themselves: consider the 7 Years War. Lots of carnage but no government fell. Check the dates: 1756 – 1763. Two revolutions came out of it – the American and the French.

    2. Nobility have one massive problem: the don’t do economies of scale. The first generation of Aristos slams with that and teaches the lessons to those which follow them: Henry IV of France, the “New Model Army” of England.

    3. Usually, there are turnings over among the elite class. The 1930s was one: oil beat out coal. If any elite doesn’t know how long their advantage lasts, therein for trouble. All too often the descendants say: “We just have to do it better!” The Great War became WWI because of this. Even Wavel knew it was just a matter of time: oil, ships, and planes. Hilter and his counterparts in Japan new they had to get oil, there counterparts on the Allied-side knew they had to deny it.

  3. krake

    Ian, boosting the French Doctor’s Remedy?

    O, beautuful day.

  4. Joan

    I have heard that Taiwan has responded competently to this crisis, but this is just through the friend of a friend. They still had infrastructure from SARS and earlier epidemics in place, so the hospitals weren’t overrun. They’re producing masks and locked down quickly, etc.

  5. Ché Pasa

    The US never had much of a natural nobility. Those who rose historically tended to be rogues and mountebanks at best. Some later developed a sense of oblige, but most did not. So there is little legacy of obligation to the lower orders in the first place (“let them die” has always been firmly embedded in their mind-set) and with the coming of the greed-epoch c. 1980, any sense of public service or duty evaporated from among them.

    We’ve seen the consequences with other crises, and now we’re seeing the same sort of cruelty and incompetence play out on a much larger scale –as if that were possible — in the western elite and governmental response to the new corona virus.

    Their first instinct is to protect themselves and keep on looting, exploiting, and denying. But even they are facing a grim reality. There’s nowhere to run or hide, they succumb just like everyone else, though in somewhat greater comfort.

    So far, the rabble has only grumbled. We’ll see if they stay quietly at home (or wherever) past June. I suspect not.

  6. Stirling S Newberry

    4. Look at the difference between the early tech revolution and the late. There is no Steve Jobs (who knew who to hire), Bill Gates (the BASIC code was really good), or Ellison.

    We have … Jeff Bezos, who is a distributor.

  7. Not too far off topic, but about those vaunted deal-making skills: For context, let’s look at what seventeen point eight (17.8) tons, thirty-five thousand six hundred (35,600) pounds looks like… Your average big-rig running down the pike with a forty foot trailer are hauling sixty (60,000) pounds: thirty (30) tons. Your average beer truck running around town is hauling about twenty-five thousand (25,000) pounds, twelve and a half (12.5) tons. Seventeen point eight (17.8) tons, thirty-five thousand six hundred (35,600) pounds, is a bit more than half a truckload, a bit more than a beer truck load, of stuff. Even if it were all paper masks at best that’s just one forty foot truck like you see all day everyday day running around town and down the freeways.

    Yes, it’s a big deal, a little grift, a little gravy, a little scratch my back, bastard sold supplies badly needed on the homefront out from under us, but it’s just not that big of a deal: a half truck – a truck at best – load of stuff.

  8. Aqua Lung

    There is absolutely, no doubt about it, a crisis of leadership in the west and there has been for quite some time. At some point, the selection criterion for subordinates in the hierarchy changed, and leaders started selecting for self-serving, servile suck-ups who kiss-up and kick-down. In otherwords, leadership started selecting for cretins who could not lead and ultimately once the old guard leadership retired, these cretins who cannot lead became the leaders and continued the trend of selecting for kiss-up kick-down servile self-serving suck-ups who cannot lead and here we are. The only thing that can change this equation now is a bloody revolution and considering how terrible the leadership is, it really doesn’t have to be all that bloody if it’s a well-organized revolt because, once again, the West’s so-called leadership can’t lead so it’s really a paper tiger of sorts resting on its over-hyped “glorious” past accomplishments.

    There is no better example than what’s going on in the Navy right now with the COVID-19 outbreak aboard the tightly-packed USS Theodore Roosevelt. Navy leadership is incapable of leading and so sailers are going to needlessly die and this is amidst the Freak in Chief and his Armageddonist handler Pompouspeo trying to stoke a war with Iran (and Venezuela) amidst a pandemic.

  9. Aqua Lung

    Another wise adage that is all but forgotten, or, not even considered due to the West’s, and especially America’s, crisis of leadership.

    An Ounce Of Prevention Is Worth A Pound Of Cure

    Joe & Mika announced today that the Pentagon has ordered 100,000 body bags even though healthcare workers still do not have adequate PPE and ventilators have still not been distributed and are still not being produced en masse. Can you say cart before the horse? Can you say capitulation? Can you say the West’s, and America’s, leadership is not only fecklessly incapable of leading but is also, collectively, batshit psychotically and criminally insane?

    Considering that cart, you feckless self-serving greedy moronic leadership class, 100,000 will not be enough. Make it 3 million or more at this point. Case in point. They put the cart before the horse and they can’t even get the cart part right. They’re worse than useless. They’re detrimental. A slight breeze of revolt will be enough to blow these scarecrows over. When, if ever, will that slight wind blow?

  10. Stirling S Newberry

    “Yes, it’s a big deal, a little grift, a little gravy, a little scratch my back, bastard sold supplies badly needed on the homefront out from under us, but it’s just not that big of a deal: a half truck – a truck at best – load of stuff.”

    The small man commits a crime, the large man is shrewd.

  11. Stirling S Newberry

    Warmed-up for the BLS number? Ah, the joys of recession – real news.

  12. Aqua Lung

    At this point I’m praying that Congress never convenes again and never passes any more legislation because we all know any legislation passed will be to further enrich the already fabulously wealthy amidst an uncontrollable pandemic with no end in sight despite the optimistic rhetoric to the contrary. Peak in two weeks, my ass!!! And I’m not a praying person. My prayers are not pleas but instead thanks to the universe for the little things that make life worthwhile. A beautiful sunrise or sunset. A raging thunderstorm. All the birds that suddenly appear. So many little things that cumulatively amount to one big thing. That’s something to be thankful for while I/we still have it.

    Please, Congress, I beg of you. Stay at home. Forever. Never convene again. Your “efforts” are an egregious, criminal actually, insult heaped upon injury.

  13. Aqua Lung

    Ah, the joys of recession – real news.

    Recession? Try depression as in the Great Great Great Great Depression to end all depressions.

  14. Aqua Lung

    What is a big deal, Ten Bears, is that it’s emblematic of a cultural mindset that is pervasive at all levels of “society.” It’s a microcosm mimicking the macrocosm and vice versa. As it is above it is below and as it is below it is above. Such a “society” cannot stand for long and the pandemic is testing this tenuous House of Cards. I know the grade on this test. Do you?

  15. Stirling S Newberry

    “Recession? Try depression as in the Great Great Great Great Depression to end all depressions.”

    Oh, look, a nut! The aristos have this crisis in hand, it is just you, the little people who must bear the brunt of the burden.

  16. Stirling S Newberry

    6.6 million.

  17. Ten Bears

    [trying real hard to chuckle like Jabba the Hutt]

    Kinda’ surprising but it seems to be passing over heads: it was a small crime – tax evasion – that put Capone away. For all of its’ vaunted deal-making skills (yes, it), the deal that may be it’s undoing is but a truckload of sanitary supplies. That everyone is trying to twist their panties over it is the joke. It just wasn’t that big of a deal, peanuts, a truckload of toilet paper.

    Yes AL, it is a big deal: war profiteering, the bastard sold badly needed supplies on the home front to the enemy, for lack of a better term – traded with the enemy, a war crime. Not without precedence though, the Bush family made their millions selling diesel to the NAZIs. As to your house of cards, I tend to think it of more like an abandoned sawmill: it’s been hollowed out, there’s nothing remaining inside to support the husk that is outside, waiting to collapse.

  18. Aqua Lung

    Sometimes I feel like a nut, Stirling, sometimes I don’t. Speaking of nuts, I would never dare defend The Creature From The Orange Lagoon but there is plenty of blame to go around. John Roberts of Fox News rightfully pushed back on Trump yesterday for disbanding Obama’s pandemic response team but tell me, what good was this team if hospitals in America have no capacity for this pandemic or any pandemic to include inexpensive and easy-to-use ventilators like the one developed by the next gen project at Newport Medical Instruments before Newport was purchased by the Irish Covidien and then the next gen project was quickly mothballed because the profit margins were not adequate? This acquisition of Newport by Covidien happened under Obama’s watch. How could the glorious all-knowing and all-seeing Obama have let this happen under his watch?

    On that note, how about the name Covidien? COVID-19? It’s as uncanny as Barack Saddam Hussein Osama Obama and the timing is just as perfect.

    I bet Ted Turner is salivating right about now. He’s like, “we’re on our way to 500 million, baby!! My dream will finally be realized in my lifetime.” I wouldn’t put it by he and select group to have started this chain reaction and then introduce a vaccine that will finish most of us off.

  19. StewartM

    The best handling of the coronavirus crisis in the world was possibly Vietnam, who are run by a generation that just pulled themselves out of poverty

    Considering Vietnam’s approach has been low-tech, and cheap.

    Clear precedence shows where we’re headed, yet many Americans are still not taking COVID-19 seriously. Already, trillions of dollars have been lost and millions of jobs eliminated. What more will it take to convince people that this pandemic is really bad? Projections and charts don’t seem to work. Will people become more concerned after the death of a celebrity or the severe illness of a loved one? Sure, COVID-19’s mortality rate may be around 1%, but up to 20% of people infected require hospitalization and may have permanent lung damage. Do Americans need to see more infections and deaths than in China (we’re closing in) or more deaths than the annual flu to take COVID-19 seriously?

    All the while, Asian countries, including Vietnam and especially China, are poised to come out on top economically and, in their eyes, morally (“Our style of governance could stamp out COVID-19, why couldn’t yours?”). While China is beginning to rev up its economy, the United States is unraveling. The scary reality is China may take advantage of a weakened U.S. economy with serious geopolitical security implications.

    Part of the reason why this is so in the US is that COVID-19 has been politicized. Ho-huming the pandemic has become a sign of loyalty to Der Drumpf and conservative ideology (which was never firmly grounded in reality):

  20. Krystyn Podgajski

    The majority of what people make, do and talk about is worthless. Which is why money must become worthless. One worthless thing paying for another. We are living so deep in concepts we have forgotten the source of all things.

    This is just a returning to the source. My hope is that we learn that we do not need to go through these cycles of generations. we need to stop the first generation from building again. We just need to live simple lives.

    The Dao De Ching – Chapetr 16
    Empty your mind of all thoughts.
    Let your heart be at peace.
    Watch the turmoil of beings,
    but contemplate their return.

    Each separate being in the universe
    returns to the common source.
    Returning to the source is serenity.

    If you don’t realize the source,
    you stumble in confusion and sorrow.
    When you realize where you come from,
    you naturally become tolerant,
    disinterested, amused,
    kindhearted as a grandmother,
    dignified as a king.
    Immersed in the wonder of the Tao,

    you can deal with whatever life brings you,
    and when death comes, you are ready.

  21. Aqua Lung

    Stay-At-Home orders are feckless if not enforced and not a federal edict. It amounts to not much more than an optics gesture. Also, Trump just reneged on allowing people to sign up for Obamacare during this crisis meaning many will remain uninsured and therefore will not seek medical attention and therefore will spread the virus far and wide as untreated disease vectors. It’s tghe opposite of containment and it’s inhumane as well.

    Remember, the model the WH is using developed in Washington state, asserts American deaths will be 240,000 minimum WITH comprehensive mitigation. There will never be comprehensive mitigation meaning the death toll will be in the millions. It’s effectively mass murder.

    Elections in November? Yeah, no, I don’t think so. Not that it really matters. Politics isn’t the solution, it’s a large part of the problem. Bernie and AOC put their name to the most recent giveaway to the wealthy showing any and all what feckless leaders they really are despite their emphatic rants prior to putting their name to the legislation.

    I watched Cuomo last night. He wasn’t coughing. He didn’t appear to have a fever. Don Lemon went to his home in New York to deliver some groceries and Cuomo’s wife asked him to come in. Lemon refused. He did the responsible thing. How could Cuomo’s wife not understand social distancing? If Cuomo is positive, how could she invite Lemon in knowing he could possibly get infected? Unless. How did Cuomo get tested considering he’s asymptomatic? I want to verify Cuomo was tested and I want to verify the results. Needless to say, I don’t trust him or his brother any more than I trust Trump and his goons. Cuomo got his start in journalism at Fox News. He’s the black sheep overt conservative of the Cuomo Clan unlike his bro who is a conservative hiding behind the transparent veil of liberalism.

  22. Ivory Bill Woodpecker

    Well, I don’t know about the elites of other Western nations, but American elites do not fear the masses, because they know they can always set one reliable sub-division of the masses against the rest of the masses:

    But of course, DXM’s comment is invalid, because some math whiz from Wherever has the statistics to “prove” that the American white peasantry is not well-supplied with bigots, despite abundant, and dreary, electoral experience that oh-yes-it-is. 🙄

    Note: Not “working class”, “peasantry”. They are not quite the same.

  23. Anon

    You’re confusing incompetence with simply not giving a shit. Two different things. The U.S. Government, via it’s PR Wing – The Mainstream Media – is trying to convince you it’s the former (which is easy to do with a moral and social retard like Trump as their spokesperson) to deflect from the fact that it’s clearly the latter. They. Don’t. Care.

  24. S Brennan

    I agree with AL’s conjecture, it does appear that Chris Cuomo is pulling a Jussie Smollett…

    The Cuomos have no shame, nothing they won’t stoop to for power and money…at least Lemon remembered his lines in the charade.

  25. Lex

    As usual, Rome provides a good historical precedent. In republican Rome and even the early empire, the senatorial class (while still being made rich by slavery etc) generally competed with each other in terms of the canonic civic engagement. Who patroned more people, who built more community construction, etc. As the empire aged, the senatorial class retreated to their estates. Bread and circuses for the masses; money and seclusion for the elites. The barbarians didn’t destroy Rome. Similar incursions had happened for hundreds of years. Then one time they happened to be the sharp strike that shattered a brittle facade. The US looks as brittle as any country could be. Our elites have managed the brittle facade only for the sake of them standing on it. But like all things except their court games, they’re not nearly as good at is as they believe themselves to be.

  26. gnokgnoh

    I much prefer the cyclical view that Ian references in his post – the three to four generation cycle of growth, flourishing, decadence, and death. An idealistic, fantastical view of nobility is exactly that. I don’t buy that ideal, full stop. Noblesse oblige was in my history classes typically stated with sarcasm and spittle.

  27. gnokgnoh

    The aristocrats that fit that ideal to some extent are our founding fathers. Certainly, George Washington and John Adams. Thomas Jefferson better fits that ideal as a farmer, except he was a learned scoundrel with large amounts of debt. But, these men existed at the birth of a new country, at the very beginning of our cycle.

    China, Vietnam, and South Korea are in growth cycles, courtesy of the West off-shoring manufacturing, among other factors, including global trade. During growth periods, such as the early industrial revolution in an expansionist period of U.S. history (e.g. first generations of Vanderbilts in mid to late 1800’s), aristocrats’ wealth was so obscene that they built whole towns and universities and giant castles off of very small portions of the third generation of inherited wealth. The early Vanderbilts and Rockefellers were worth triple what Gates and Bezos are worth today, in today’s dollars.

    During flourishing periods in a capitalist economy (e.g. Henry Ford), it’s easy for the elites to view the salaries of their workers as fundamental to their own success. The same held true after WWII, during a huge expansionist period in our history, including the birth of the technological revolution. Most of this was courtesy of cheap, easy-to-access oil and natural gas.

    The politicians of today are both elites and serve the elites. But, our politicians and elites live in a decadence phase of our civilization, when resources diminish, and the elites return to a less noble view of their fellow humans.

  28. nihil obstet

    During the 1950s, 1960s, received wisdom was that the Chinese didn’t value human life the way Americans do. That’s why they became communists. Not only were their children starving, but westerners in the 40s and early 50s saw dead bodies in the street, and the people would just step over them, unconcerned. I thought of that during the aftermath of Katrina, when we were shocked at the TV pictures of dead bodies outside the Superdome. Not shocked enough to do anything, but shocked enough to keep watching.

    And now of course the description we put on our enemy is the one that describes us. We don’t value human life the way the Chinese do.

  29. Willy

    Polybius might’ve been discussed here before. He had the idea that a separation of powers which compete with each other aren’t just competing for common good ideas, but are vital to prevent the destructive/corruption phases of anacyclosis. In our case that’d be plutocracy/kleptocracy.

    Everybody has survival urges which drive one to first secure food and shelter and then to try and protect those things. But it seems that beyond some tipping point one acquires more and more of the perceived necessities until a destructive pathology ensues. I’d think it’s similar to alcoholism. At that point everything becomes about protecting the pathology. The destructive effects which the pathology has on all others becomes irrelevant to those sick with the disease.

    And I’m not even talking about psychopathy which is basically inborn control freak tendencies.

    When people in power, drunk with power I’d say, forget what they’re even supposed to be there for the rest of us wind up hoping for an intervention of some kind. I don’t see people going around kicking alky asses in an attempt to set them straight, knowing that alkies are likely causing destructive pain to loved ones. Instead we have al anon. Heal yourself and hope the sick one figures it out. It doesn’t seem natural for people to accurately recognize and target destructive pathologies as a way to improve the common good. At least not in very large social environments. And so we had thinkers like Polybius.

  30. DrJ

    @nihil obsolet
    That Chinese leaders nowadays seem to value life of the populace more than many western elites is an irony that didn\’t go unnoticed by regular Chinese people.

    From the UK you can\’t get a free seat on a plane to Shanghai or Beijing anymore because they are all fully booked by Chinese until the end of the month. Let that sink in: In the face of Covid19, Chinese people in the UK think its safer to fly back to China because the Chinese government will care for them better than the authorities in the UK.

    Same for the US which for decades was the dream destination for the Chinese middle class. These people now think its better to stay in China (urban, not rural) which from the health care system to infrastructure to overall quality of life has overtaken many places in the US.

    I could go on but the point is this: When life expectancy in China is about to be higher (or already higher) than in the US, even though they have severe problems with air and food quality, then you know that the Chinese authorities must have done at least some things much better than their western counterparts.

  31. Paul

    Following Machiavelli\’s maxim about keeping his enemies closer, Louis conceived Versailles as a gilded prison so his nobles wouldn\’t get up to the same mischief that cost his uncle-by-marriage Charles I to lose his head.

    However unlike the contemporary US which has shooed away domestic manufacturing, Louis also saw the King as the animator of enterprise for the people (hence the Sun King) and during his reign France began to manufacture many of the items she had previously imported, like china, for which she had paid a hefty premium to Dutch and Portuguese middlemen.

    Neither Biden nor Trump has Louis\’ wit and concern for his nation\’s true prosperity.

  32. Dang Me

    The Asians had quite a bit of experience in this area and our elites thought they would handle it even to the point that it would be a benefit to the US.

    Ultimately, there was no way it would be handled until the stock market signaled it was time for action. That was the cue that got the elites attention as the stock market needed saving even if the masses didn\’t.

  33. paul

    It’s interesting that many of the social safety-net programs put in place in Europe at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries (Sick Care, Old Age Pensions, unemployment insurance) were championed by ur-conservatives from the nobility like Bismark and Churchill. While part of their motivation was to stem the rising tide of socialism/anarchism, the better part was done out of a sense of Noblesse Oblige. It was a point of national pride that no German, Britain, etc should go without having their basic needs met.

    Nothing of this sort would have occurred the US at that time since, like today, most of the super-wealthy were garish parvenus who attained their position through predatory business practices (hence Robber Barons). Also there ran through them a nasty Calvinist streak that actually saw their wealth as a sign of divine approbation, that they were among the Elect.

    There was a legend that when John D. Rockefeller gave the University of Chicago a large bequest, he requested that the chapel contain a stained-glass window featuring a very small camel and very large needle.

    The ‘old money’ Roosevelts are the closest the US has ever come having elites who put the national interest ahead of their own.

    In her Pax Britannica trilogy, Jan Morris suggested that had an aristocratic Tory government been in place in the 1840s as opposed to Lord Russell’s laissez faire Liberals, Noblesse Oblige may have compelled them to intervene in the Potato Famine. Instead the Liberal party line was that the Irish were receiving a particular harsh upbraiding from the Invisible Hand and it was not government’s part to take the place of charity.  In future the Irish would take care not to put all their potatoes in one basket, so to speak.  I’m sure this kind of thinking prevails among most contemporary elites, who view the rest of us as The Undeserving Poor.

  34. Paul

    Why am I seeing backslashes in front of my commas?

  35. Benjamin


    “It’s interesting that many of the social safety-net programs put in place in Europe at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries (Sick Care, Old Age Pensions, unemployment insurance) were championed by ur-conservatives from the nobility like Bismark and Churchill. While part of their motivation was to stem the rising tide of socialism/anarchism, the better part was done out of a sense of Noblesse Oblige. It was a point of national pride that no German, Britain, etc should go without having their basic needs met. ”

    I dispute this heavily. They did it because increasing leftist agitation, starting with 1848, scared the living shit out of them.

  36. Benjamin

    @Ivory Bill Woodpecker

    Again, these aren’t abstract statistics alleging to prove some abstract claim. They’re simply the reality that the Democrats remained electorally competitive in the south long after they supposedly lost it.

    And I’m sorry, oh worshiper of Experts™, that the guy from ‘Wherever’ isn’t up to your standards of credibility. I care about whether what he says is true or not, not whether he has suitably elite credentials. Show me where his numbers are wrong. Oh wait, you can’t, because they aren’t.

    You’re a broken record. All you have is disdain for Americans and the repeated claim that they’ve never stood up for their rights after 1776. All you accomplish every time you do this is demonstrate your own profound ignorance. Doubly so when you dismiss something like the Battle of Blair Mountain. ‘I’ve never heard of it, so it must not have been important’.

    I suspect there are an awful lot of important things you’ve never heard of.

  37. Eric Anderson


    You’ve noted an important consideration Ian missed — although to Ian’s credit it doesn’t neatly fit in his extended metaphor.

    The edifice the elite constructed to insulate them from the rigors of policy and free them up to play court games is called the administrative state. The elite, cognizant or not, found they were decadent sock puppets devoid of the technical skills necessary to comprehend their jobs.

    Enter the admin state. Too, witness the judicial deference to the administrative state’s policies under the Chevron Doctrine. The jurists are decadent elites too. The conclusion is that this country is really and truly run by the admin state bureaucrats who, if they perform competently, are pretty much lifetime appointed (See Fauci).

    Now, I’d argue that these individuals are far from decadent. They are the unseen strong force binding the atom of state. This edifice malfunctions when it’s not fed the dollars needed to support it. It appears to still exist in all it’s strength, but it’s been hollowed out to nothing but a paper tiger. Now, we feel the pain.

    The elites are so feckless they don’t know what a problem looks like even when it’s cocking back to punch them in the nose. They have literally been so far from the fist fights their entire lives that they don’t know when to duck. They will continue to run their cons to enrich themselves even when the 6’5 250lbs populace is onto them and about to knock their teeth down their throat.

    Why do you think it is so natural for them to take the victim stance (with all their power) whenever somebody question their feck?

    This is the pragmatic on the ground impact of Ian’s larger metaphor.

  38. DMC

    Why am I seeing backslashes in front of my commas?

    I was wondering the same. It seems to breaking all over comments. Hmmm…

  39. Hugh

    File under You Can’t Make This $hit Up: Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly fired the captain of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, Brett Crozier, because of a loss of confidence in him.

    “He’s being relieved because to me that [his letter going public] demonstrated extremely poor judgment in the middle of a crisis. Because of what it’s done, it’s has created a firestorm. It’s created doubts about the ship’s ability to go to sea if it needs to. It’s created doubt among the families, about the health of their sailors.”

    In the whack world we have, Modly went on to say that Crozier, not Modly and the Navy, had put the ship’s crew at risk by pointing out that the ship’s crew was at risk.

    This is how rot propagates. Those who do the right thing get hammered because they embarrass their “betters.” The incompetent learn and thrive.

  40. Eric Anderson

    I have an inkling why — once again — my comment vanished into mod.
    I used the word feck.
    For the uninitiated:

    Someone feckless is lacking in feck. And what, you may ask, is feck? Feck is a Scots term that means “effect” or “majority” and comes from an alteration of the Middle English effect. So something without feck is without effect, or ineffective. In the past, feckful (meaning “efficient,” “sturdy,” or “powerful”) made an occasional appearance. But in this case, the weak has outlived the strong: feckless is a commonly used English word, but feckful has fallen out of use.

    Feck the moderation, Ian.

  41. Eric Anderson

    That’s good stuff. I’m gonna thread it over on Twitter if you don’t mind.


  42. Mark Pontin

    Hitherto, slashes in my comments have occurred only when I’ve pre-composed them in MS word or some other doc. form, then copied and pasted them here.

    If that’s not the case with those experiencing it now, disregard this.

    If that is the case, you can still do it but you have to go through the spacing between each word once you’ve pasted your text in here and redo it; there seems (at least sometimes) to be some discrepancy between how wordpress does text spacing and how doc. forms do.

  43. Mark Pontin

    Hugh wrote: “In the whack world we have, Modly went on to say … Crozier … had put the ship’s crew at risk by pointing out that the ship’s crew was at risk. This is how rot propagates. Those who do the right thing get hammered because they embarrass their “betters.””

    Sure. This ‘works’ — for a careerist value of work — till it doesn’t. Those of us who recall the Breshnev-Andropov-Chernenko era of the U.S.S.R. might have thought it hard to find frailer, less robust, and more incompetent leaders than the Soviet Union suffered in its final years, but in Joe Biden — a longtime crook now clearly suffering from dementia and often unable to complete sentences — Trump and Clinton the U.S. has achieved that.

    U.S. mishandling of COV19 may not be as spectacular a failure as Chernobyl — though it’ll kill far more people — but it may arrive at a similar destination. I’ve posted this before, but it’s instructive —

    Dmitry Orlov: ‘By the mid-1990s I started to see Soviet/American Superpowerdom as a sort of disease that strives for world dominance but in effect eviscerates its host country, eventually leaving behind an empty shell: an impoverished population, an economy in ruins, a legacy of social problems, and a tremendous burden of debt. The symmetries between the two global superpowers were then already too numerous to mention, and they have been growing more obvious ever since.’

    A talk Orlov gave for the Long Now Foundation in 2009, ‘Social Collapse, Best Practices’ —

    A piece by Orlov from 2010, “Post-Soviet Lessons for a Post-American Century”-

  44. Hugh

    I can write a comment in notepad and it shows up here without a problem. Always wondered how those slashes showed up in other people’s comments though.

    Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes and drove the often highly productive, middle class Protestant Huguenots out of France. It’s one of the reasons that the Industrial Revolution happened in Britain while it lagged in France.

    In China, dynasties come and go but the bureaucracy goes on forever. It was the bureaucracy that blew it by not regulating open air food markets or controlling urbanization –because no one told them to. It was a typically Chinese bureaucratic response to arrest the guy who first reported the coronavirus outbreak. Minimize and ignore wherever possible unless told explicitly not to. But it was this same bureaucracy that did act, and did so sweepingly and effectively, when it was told to do so. Both the good and bad in China was very, very Chinese.

    BLS jobs report comes out tomorrow at 8:30 AM. Re recession/depression, yes, we are in one. But the official call is done by the NBER (National Bureau of Economic Research) and they do so retrospectively and this can be done up to 12 months after the recession/depression began.

    As I have said before, the greatest contribution that the rich and elites could make to the rest of us is as corpses rotting in a field. It is not that they have failed us. It is that they have been actively betraying us for the last 40-50 years.

  45. StewartM


    I have heard that Taiwan has responded competently to this crisis, but this is just through the friend of a friend.

    They have. 339 cases at this writing, and 5 deaths, despite being just across the strait from the initial epicenter. Asian countries were just better prepared AND took it far more seriously than we did from the get-go.

  46. StewartM


    Nobles, as Stirling Newberry explained to me years ago, are elites who make a point of being better than the people below them: better fighters, better farmers, and so on. Aristocrats are people who play court games…

    The original European nobility were akin to Mafia kingpins; if they exhibited competency, it was in murder and violence and war. Governing competently was an afterthought at best (Richard the Lion-Hearted was lionized in lore and popular in his time, even though he was an absentee ruler going off to fight wars and the crusades). Many had little hesitation about killing fellow family members, including children. Indeed, one could argue that turning these murderous thugs, who delighted in private destructive wars and viewed their ability to engage in private warfare as one of their essential ‘rights’, into useless attendants playing court games as something actually beneficial.

    I think Americans who lack a backing in European history are missing key elements of our culture. When Europe lacked strong central governments, it was not some libertarian paradise but a continent in practiced usually ruled by iron-fisted criminal thugs who took turns whacking each other for sport and any peasants or townspeople who happened to get in the way. That is when, they weren’t essentially extorting things from the peasantry and townspeople. The commoners often saw kings and the central government as beneficial (“God save the king!” “God save the tsar”) because good kings, at least (and there were plenty of bad too) tried to extend law and to restrain the private wars and destructive habits of the nobility.

    This theme of “king (central government) vs noble (local government)” continued across the continent towards different ends. In France, the king won out, and reduced the nobility to court attendants. In Germany, the nobles won, and the Holy Roman Emperor was largely a figurehead whose real power only extended to lands under his direct control. In England there was something close to a draw. But the point I want to make is that the nobles, including those who extracted the Magna Carta from King John, were never for “freedom”. Certainly no freedom for the commoners.

    Maybe I’m misreading Stirling, but I think what is a better analogy what what he meant can be found in Veblen’s ‘productive class’ and ‘leisure class’; or ‘engineers’ and ‘owners’. A Henry Ford was a problematic human being in many ways, but he can be justly credited with creating value, as opposed to the ‘leisure class/owner class’ who are simply wealth manipulators and ‘useless eaters”.

  47. Anthony K Wikrent

    I have concluded the basic problem is the triumph of capitalism over republicanism, and the lack of public understanding of what a republic is supposed to be. Compare ans speech by a leading American politician in the past half century with this speech by Daniel Webster, given at a reception Reception at Pittsburgh, July 8, 1833. The Works of Daniel Webster, Volume III, 18th Edition, Boston, Little Brown & Co., 1881, Pp 299-300

    “Why are these immigrants here? Why has he abandoned scenes as dear to him as these hills and these rivers are to you? … And is not this truth, which is so obvious that none can deny it, founded in this plain reason, that labor in this country earns a better reward than anywhere else, and so gives more comfort, more individual independence, and more elevation of character? Whatever else may benefit particular portions of society, whatever else may assist capital, whatever else may favor sharp sighted commercial enterprise, professional skill, or extraordinary individual sagacity, or good fortune, be assured Gentlemen, that nothing can advance the mass of society in prosperity and happiness, nothing can uphold the substantial interest and steadily improve the general condition character of the whole but this one thing, compensating rewards to labor….

    “There never was, and never can be, and intelligent and virtuous people who at the same time are a poor and idle people, badly employed and badly paid. Who would be safe in any community, where political power is in the hands of the many and property in the hands of the few? Indeed, such an unnatural state of things could nowhere long exist.

    “It certainly appears to me… to be quite evident at this time, and in the present condition of the world that it is necessary to protect the industry of this country against the pauper labor of England and other parts of Europe. An American citizen who has children to maintain and children to educate has an unequal chance against the pauper of England whose children are not to be educated and are probably already on the parish and who himself is half fed and clothed by his own labor and half from the poor rates and very badly fed and clothed after all….

    “Gentlemen, the Mayor has spoken of the important necessity of education. And can any one doubt that to man as a social and an immortal being as interested in the world that is and infinitely more concerned for that which is to be, education, that is to say the culture of the mind and the heart, is an object of infinite importance. So far as we can trace the designs of Providence the formation of the mind and character by instruction in knowledge and instruction in righteousness is a main end of human being. Among the new impulses which society has received none is more gratifying than the awakened attention to public education.”

    Today – charter schools? The whole debate would have been an outrage not tolerated in that day. General welfare is public purpose, is general welfare, is public purpose. It should not be a concept elusive of comprehension, my dear brothers Koch.

  48. different clue

    Incompetent? Or evil?

    Here is a comment I have copy-pasted from a recent NaCap thread.

    April 2, 2020 at 2:31 pm
    So, I guess the plan now is to actively kill off old people:

    “New York issued a statewide advisory last week forbidding nursing homes from denying residents admission “solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19,.” California told its nursing homes to make similar preparations. Massachusetts announced plans to designate specific nursing homes as care centers for COVID-19 patients — a move that has set it apart from other states

    “Sending hospitalized patients who are likely harboring the virus to nursing homes that do not have the appropriate units, equipment and staff to accept COVID-19 patients is a recipe for disaster,” said Mark Parkinson, president of the American Health Care Association.” (

    Sorry if this has already been posted. It is hard to keep up.

    My 95 year old father in law lives with us. We are doing our best to protect him. I feel terrible for people who can’t have their old parents at home now.

  49. Stirling S Newberry

    “Maybe I’m misreading Stirling, but I think what is a better analogy what what he meant can be found in Veblen’s ‘productive class’ and ‘leisure class’; or ‘engineers’ and ‘owners’. A Henry Ford was a problematic human being in many ways, but he can be justly credited with creating value, as opposed to the ‘leisure class/owner class’ who are simply wealth manipulators and ‘useless eaters’.”

    Remember, Aristocrats make money off of the transfer of labour from the bottom to other places. As such, there are real benefits in exposing more people to capitalization. Other than to the poor people themselves that is. Veblen is very good at exposing the process, though his words are slightly different than used today.

  50. Stirling S Newberry

    I would like to give a shout out to Jared Kushner for underlining the difference between disruption and incompetence – why disrupt when you have more money?

  51. Zinsky

    As an American, I can say we used to have leaders who understood the production of goods and the relationship between the worker and the product. I think the “financialization” of the American economy in the 1970s and the growth of the military-industrial network after WWII destroyed that model. Suddenly, “national security” trumped [pardon the pun] everything and the elite pursued numbers instead of meaningful production of goods and services that benefitted ordinary people.
    I think some sort of human revolution is necessary to right this on-going misallocation of physical and intellectual resources.

  52. Mallam

    So much for your initial theories of the admin that you want Kushner’s ear, huh? There’s nothing worse than this idiotic son in law being in charge right now. It’s arguable he’s guilty of committing crimes against humanity with his ineptness. We’ve certainly labeled other authoritarian governments who killed thousands through incompetence as such in the past. Send Jared, Miller, and Trump to The Hague.

    In other news, it seems even Singapore’s top notch response hasn’t been enough, and they’re also shutting down schools and workplaces. Italy is extending their lockdown for another 6 weeks. This won’t be over for a long time, folks

  53. Dilettantism.

  54. Stirling S Newberry

    The US could not sustain the ’60s. It relied on an oil boom which was not sustainable.

  55. Stirling S Newberry

    “So much for your initial theories of the admin that you want Kushner’s ear, huh? There’s nothing worse than this idiotic son in law being in charge right now. ”

    That was exactly my point.

  56. Dan

    China’s response hasn’t been determined solely by Xi. It probably matters that Chinese elites cannot but their children elite university degrees. Chinese universities have surpassed their western counterparts and do not admit students who have not passed through a gauntlet of testing and prior achievement. The trauma of Chinese education itself, with so many years devoted to Mandarin, might be seen as the culture’s most egalitarian feature in an otherwise functioning meritocratic system.

  57. Mallam

    Ten Bears: that’s exactly how Michelle Goldberg describes it in her most recent column in NYT. “This is dilettantism raised to the level of sociopathy.”

  58. Ten Bears

    Saw that at Politico last night, struck a chord as I recently re-read Albion’s Seed, with particular interest in the Cavaliers of the middle Atlantic states. Seen it three places this morning: raised to the level of sociopathy. Though upon consideration Dilettante may be a bit too sophisticated. Too French. English fop comes to mind; either/or suits this thread I think. My French is as poor as my Spanish. Middle management, inept at best.

  59. Jace

    Great book, Ten Bears.

    Non-anglo atheist raised in New England, with an East Anglian dialect and Reform sensibilities.

  60. Dang Me

    An interesting note that the Trump team “panicked” when they looked at the opinions of red states on his handling of the crises. However, red states are not upset with him because he did not act. They are upset with him because he did. Trump reportedly said it no longer mattered and he would be judged on how he handled the crises going forward.

    It should be noted that Trump’s economic philosophy is actually radically left wing. So much so that is now rejected by the left. He delivers to the right only because he does not care about social issues. Trump is now far more dangerous to the Republican party than Joe Biden as he will provide much more stimulus than Biden could ever get in order to earn a legacy and buy off the voters.

    At this point, you almost have to root against your preferred side winning in this little social experiment as the consequences of victory are likely to be your ruin.

  61. Ché Pasa

    American Carnage, anyone?

    As the numbers of Covid-19 cases and casualties keep going up and the economic fallout grows exponentially, we can be sure that whatever lies on the other side of this Outbreak will be very different than what we knew before.

    That was the case after the Flu Pandemic of 1918-20, too. The world had changed after WWI and after the Flu and there was no way back to what used to be. Nevertheless, the changes were not enough, and the world was turned upside down again in less than a generation.

    We are likely to see the same kind of upheavals. And those upheavals will mean sweeping away much of what we have taken for granted for decades. The question is what will that be? What will be swept away?

    There are sparks now that are trying to kindle a general strike but it’s not entirely clear what the object would be. Preservation of a rotten system that protects and pays workers more to be chewed up and spit out just like always is hardly a victory for the working class.

    Marginal improvements or changes to the pervasive rot aren’t going to do it. But what are the visions for the Post-Apocalypse recovery/renewal?

    The odd thing is, right now, that so many have shut themselves away, turned off all the elements of ordinary life except at home entertainment, and have been able to maintain their relative isolation more or less well for weeks or months with only modest crankiness if any at all. Collectively, we’ve largely been able to dispense with so much of ordinary life, and we’ve largely dispensed with much of the superstructure of rule. We’re on our own like never before, yet most are sharing willingly, and expected spikes in crime and worse haven’t — yet — materialized. Of course events can easily upset this new normal.

    This too shall pass. New challenges will arise.

    But in the meantime, the carnage continues unabated.

  62. Ten Bears

    Cavalier and Reformist. There are towns and though small counties…

    The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was the story about ‘Pilgrim’ founders.

  63. Eric Anderson


    Have you by chance read the Daniel Kemmis (ex-mayor of Missoula MT) trilogy?
    Community and the Politics of Place
    The Good City and the Good Life
    This Sovereign Land

    He’s informed my political thought more than any other modern.
    His take on the Madison/Jefferson debate is exquisite and moved me in my younger years from a Madisonian to Jeffersonian stance.
    I do believe you’ll find your political philosophy and his align quite nicely.

  64. Trinity

    @Ian, another great post from a great mind. Thank you.

    @TenBears: as a long time Virginian (but not by birth) I can attest to their attitude of considering themselves a \”better\” class of redneck relative to their southern and western neighbors. Hence the Cavaliers and the ubiquitous Virginia Gentleman.

    @Che, unfortunately, it appears that domestic violence is on the rise, probably in those homes where it was already present and now taken to a new level since no one can get away as in the recent past. A very different but necessary social distancing is no longer available to them. Wrong scale, unfortunately, and it would be nice to redirect that ire toward something useful. Unfortunately, that\’s not how the process works. A lot of damaged people are becoming more damaged as I write this.

    On the topic at hand and closely related to the topic of abuse, Jack Forbes\’ Columbus and other Cannibals is a great read for the times. He lays the roots of a society that celebrates narcissism on the Romans spreading what probably began in the Middle East.

    Stay safe and sane, everyone. The worst is yet to come.

  65. Gaianne

    Ian, I forgot to complement you on this very good, concise, essay: I correct that now.

    Thank you, very, very much! This piece is a gem.

    Also, you are getting quoted in the comments over at Naked Capitalism. Fine job! 🙂


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