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“Money and the Midterms: Are the Parties Over? Interview with Thomas Ferguson”

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First posted at New Deal 2.0

Lynn Parramore: What do you make of the 2010 Election?

Thomas Ferguson: The 2010 election was not like others. It was certainly not simply 2006 in reverse, this time with the Republicans winning by a landslide. There is an obvious cumulative process at work here, with first one party and then the other receiving lopsided votes of no confidence from voters. The U.S. economy is barely moving; millions of Americans are looking for work and struggling to find ways to salvage their life savings and pensions; the international position of the U.S. is sliding; and the government is largely paralyzed on issues that voters care about most. We have clearly been in a political crisis for some years; the meaning of the 2010 election is that this crisis is becoming much deeper, moving into an entirely different stage. The parallels to the Great Depression are eerie: At that time, in many countries, voters seem to have followed an “in-out,” “out-in” rule. But that process does not go on forever. As the Depression deepened with no solutions, all kinds of strange creatures started creeping out of the shadows. The U.S. seems to be entering that stage.

Lynn Parramore: You’re implying the political system failed in some serious way. How so?

Thomas Ferguson: 2008 had all the earmarks of a classic realigning election, as my old colleague Walter Dean Burnham describes them. In the wake of the financial collapse, it looked for all the world like voters were ready for, even demanding, major reforms. They had elected a Democratic President on a promise of “Change,” with both houses of Congress solidly Democratic. That’s why many people were thinking that Obama was going give us a modern New Deal. They really believed him when he promised change. Instead, Obama’s failure on the economy has discredited the whole idea of the activist state. The dimensions of this failure were spectacular: he didn’t move aggressively to combat unemployment, the economic stimulus was half as large as it needed to be, and he didn’t deal with the mortgage crisis. So unemployment stayed way up, and many people remain in danger of losing their homes or are underwater on their mortgages, with the whole housing sector stalling out. To make matters worse, the administration lavished aid on the financial sector. The spectacle of the government aiding bankers, who turned around and paid themselves record bonuses, has just been unbearable for millions of people.

What the election really shows is not that the parties can’t agree — Democrats and most of the GOP leadership finally agreed on the bank bailouts, for example — but that the American people will not accept the policies that leaders in both parties prefer. In 2006 and 2008, the population voted no-confidence in the Republicans on the war and the economy. They have just now presented the Democrats with another resounding a no-confidence vote. What makes the current situation intractable is the fundamental reason for these serial failures. It’s obvious: big money dominates both major parties. The Obama campaign’s dependence on money and personnel from the financial sector was clear to anyone who looked, even before he won the nomination, promoted Geithner, brought Summers back, and reappointed Bernanke. For years I’ve promised people that I’ll tell you who bought your candidate before you vote for him or her, by simply applying my “investment theory of political parties.” When I analyzed the early money in Obama’s campaign in March, 2008, it was impossible not to see that many of the people responsible for the financial crisis were major Obama supporters. As I wrote for TPM, serious financial reform would not be on President Obama’s agenda.

Lynn Parramore: Lots of people point out that the banks have paid back the bailout funds and that the government actually made money on the deal. Can Obama at least claim that this policy was good for the American people?

Thomas Ferguson: The bailout was originally not Obama’s but George Bush’s, though Obama supported it during the campaign. The “banks-paid-us-back” story is mostly Treasury propaganda. The claim is really based on a narrow accounting of TARP funds. In fact, a lot of that aid has not been paid back. AIG, for example, is still heavily owned by the government. Secondly, the aid was way, way underpriced — meaning that the federal government got very little for its money. If you want to see what market-driven terms you could get for aiding banks at the height of the crisis, just look at what Warren Buffett received for buying into Goldman Sachs. Most importantly of all, the banks actually got far more help than the direct TARP monies. They received sweeping FDIC guarantees on their debt and truly gigantic amounts of aid from Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, and the Federal Reserve. All three of these entities have supported the market for mortgage-backed securities that the banks own. They bought huge amounts of them, taking the risks right out of banks, putting it on taxpayers, and in the process handing handsome profits to banks. Regulators allowed the banks to rip off their depositors and credit and debit card holders, while the Fed handed out virtually free money to banks. To add insult to injury, the regulators have allowed the bankers to use the profits from all these government subsidies to award themselves huge, indeed, record-setting bonuses. Those funds should have been used to strengthen the balance sheets of the banks. And if all this weren’t enough, regulators also permitted the banks to hide the true value of their bad loans and they let it be known that the largest ones were Too Big To Fail, which allows them to borrow funds more cheaply than smaller banks. The net result of these big bank-friendly “forbearance” policies is that we have all paid to make these banks fabulously profitable, yet they still remain very weak institutions and are not lending. The resemblance to Japan’s “lost decade” is obvious.

Lynn Parramore: Was there ever a chance that Obama could be a new FDR?

Thomas Ferguson: People who were hailing Obama as a new FDR were viewing American politics through the wrong lens. They were treating public policy as the result of the will of voters. But in fact, American political parties are mostly bank accounts. What you are told is the voice of the people is usually the sound of money talking.

Much of my research has been devoted to showing how both parties are dominated by blocs of large investors. The policy choices political parties present to the public on Social Security, macroeconomic policy, campaign finance reform, and indeed nearly every other policy area save a handful of hot-button “social issues” are basically dominated by big money. The consequences are disastrous: Neither party can level with the American people in crises. They cannot diagnose problems like the financial crisis with any honesty and they can’t make any detailed case for why the policies they do sponsor would actually benefit ordinary Americans. What we get instead are pseudo-explanations, myths, and sometimes, obvious mendacity. Political discussions in the media, where they are not distorted by the plain interests of the concerns themselves, are dominated by denizens of the “think tank” and “policy institute” world. Most of these institutions are heavily driven by, surprise, surprise, big money in the form of donors. As Robert Johnson and I documented in our paper for last year’s INET Conference, growing inequality in the United States complicates this dismal picture by converting regulatory agencies into recruiting grounds for would be millionaires via the revolving door, while at the same time permitting the financial sector to substitute virtually untraceable stock tips for direct contributions.

Lynn Parramore: Where do you see politicians making up policy myths right now?

Thomas Ferguson: On the Republican side, you again have people claiming that the problems of the Great Recession can be solved by reapplying the policies of Herbert Hoover. Surely this is amazing; they are plumping for going straight back to the deregulated market economy that brought you the 2008 disaster. It’s simply crazy, for example, to even consider leaving financial houses free to decide on their own level of leverage, to sell derivatives on exchanges that are not fully transparent, or to sell junk securities to their own customers without telling them. But the Republicans are threatening to roll back even the anemic Dodd-Frank financial “reform” legislation, though, to be fair, they will have plenty of Democratic support for some of this.

And it’s obvious that neither party wants to address the problem of campaign finance reform. Instead, the Democrats spent part of the campaign talking up dangers from “foreign” money. It’s not as though the problems of the system of American political financing come from foreign money. The problem is mostly domestic money. And the Supreme Court has made everything worse with its Citizens United decision. But, note well, the tragedy of big money in the Democratic Party was clear long before that Supreme Court ruling or even before Obama started running for president. Just look at the earlier cases I analyzed in my Golden Rule.

Fundamentally, the problem of money and politics is very simple: campaigning is costly, much more costly than classical democratic theory has acknowledged. Some way has to be found to pay for it. We may take it as an axiom that those who pay for the campaign will control it. So the choices boil down to just two: either we all pay a little, through public financing of campaigns, or a relative handful of the super-rich end up controlling the system because they pay for the campaign.

Lynn Parramore: Does the financial sector give more to Democrats or Republicans?

Thomas Ferguson: We’ve all seen the staggering statistics on lobbying and political contributions by the financial sector over the last couple of years. More recently, we’ve also heard about how finance is supposed to have turned against the Democrats. There’s something to this: bank contributions to the Republicans increased when discussions of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau started as the House began considering Dodd-Frank. Contributions to the GOP swelled when the White House panicked after Scott Brown won the special election to fill Ted Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts and endorsed the so-called “Volcker Rule”, just as public indignation about bank bonuses was at its height. But the size of the shift toward Republicans has been exaggerated. If you look at total political contributions from securities and investment firms over the entire 2009-2010 election cycle, you will see that more money still flowed to the Democrats. Commercial banks, a narrower sub-group of the financial sector, gave more to Republicans, but only by about 60-40.

Lynn Parramore: So where does all this leave the American political system?

Thomas Ferguson: I think the answer is pretty clear: The political system is disintegrating, probably heading toward a real breakdown of some sort. The striking thing is that if you look beneath the surface of the victorious Republican Party, it is about as contentiously divided as the Democrats. The Tea Party’s distrust of the party establishment is apparent, but the divisions within the GOP predated the Tea Party’s emergence. They were obvious in 2008. At that time, it was pretty clear that a majority of the party did not want McCain. But there was no consensus on an alternative. 2012 is looking like a repeat of 2008: All kinds of people are eyeing the race, including several would-be candidates who can probably raise large war chests. In the end, somebody is going to win — my dark horse candidate is Haley Barbour, probably the Republican politician who is most closely connected to big business — but the whole party is unlikely to unite around him or her. In all probability, the GOP primaries will turn into a demolition derby, tending to discredit everyone involved. I also doubt that the Republican governors who are now promising to cut state budgets will find the public nearly as receptive to deep cuts as they think it will be, as people watch essential social services disappear, prisons empty, and see educational institutions trashed out that are in many cases the only hope of lagging states. Nor do I believe there is any popular majority for cutting Social Security, which is clearly emerging as a major issue just as we speak. And parts of the health care legislation are really popular, so that just saying no is going to look pretty foolish after some months.

The key to the future of American politics is the course of unemployment, though that is linked vitally to housing markets and how you deal with people’s lost pensions and savings. If unemployment stays high, I would not be surprised to see some intra-party challenges to President Obama, even though right now everyone dismisses that possibility. The unions went down the line with Obama for the last two years and they have little to show for it; some of them are already scouting other possibilities. It is also interesting to speculate about Jerry Brown — just watch his star rise if he succeeds in overcoming the California fiscal crisis. Were Brown to defeat Obama in a few primaries, then the temptation for Hillary Clinton to come in would be intense. And right now the United States is mired down in two shooting wars that are not going very well.

Even more interesting are the possibilities of a third party candidacy — the obvious entrant is Mayor Bloomberg. He’s plainly considering it. I notice that he does not appear to have folded the network of organizations that quietly talked up his candidacy in 2008. That tells you plenty.

Lynn Parramore: So is American politics fated to be all doom and gloom?

Thomas Ferguson: If you want a happy ending, you probably shouldn’t follow our system too closely in the next few years. Instead, go see a Disney movie, unless perhaps Tim Burton is making it. Bloomberg, Brown, or Hillary Clinton, though, are all known quantities. But the experience of the Great Depression was that as things failed to improve the swamp creatures got their chance. And when the economic situation shook out, the geopolitics became more sinister. It would be a rash person indeed who counted on a happy ending to this mess.

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67 comments

  1. attempter

    This is a pretty good synopsis. It gives a good one-paragraph summary of the Bailout and correctly pegs these facts:

    1. The people are rejecting both parties; all recent elections were rejections, not affirmations.

    2. The only exception to that was the extent to which people really did believe Obama’s lies about “change”.

    While the “progressives” themselves look incorrigible, the fact that the masses in general believed in this fraudulent campaign simply reflects their desperation for real Change. It was enough for them to look upon Obama as a kind of de facto “alternate” candidate. (The 2010 election demonstrates how they realized their error. The Dems are eternally Dems and are just as worthless and criminal as the Reps.)

    (The same would obviously be true of a pseudo-alternative run by Bloomberg, who would represent more of the neoliberal same. At best maybe it would result in more gridlock, if a rich pseudo-”independent” became president.)

    3. We can have American elections again only if America takes back control of them, including financial control. All elites are unified in trying to prevent this. Citizens United was a formal ratification of the general anti-democratic conspiracy.

    So Ferguson is right in saying that whoever pays for the election will receive value from it. If you want democracy, you need full public funding and to purge large-scale private funding. If, on the other hand, you allow large private bribes and “corporate speech”, then you receive kleptocracy, and that’s implicitly what you always wanted.

    You want to will an end, you have to will the means. You will a means, you implicitly will the end those means guarantee.

    That’s a law of life.

    (BTW, to achieve a real transformation in Argentina 10 years ago required, among other things, basically getting rid of and replacing the existing, irremediably corrupt supreme court. Just saying.)

    I think, however, that the returns are in and the evidence proves that “representative democracy” itself is just pseudo-democracy, and cannot be “reformed”. Even without a rogue supreme court validating direct corporate purchase of elections, that would go on constantly anyway. It’s the same war of attrition that regulators can never win so long as the rackets exist at all.

    So it follows that if we want democracy, we have to completely rid ourselves of the rackets, of corporate power itself. (That’s just one of many, many reasons to do so.)

    And we know that one part of how organized crime was able to seize power in the first place was through its control of these “representatives”. We know that the whole point of setting up a “republic” in the first place was to ensure that the elites could most effectively rule a divided people. (Cf. Federalist #51.)

    So again, if we will liberty and democracy, it follows that we must recognize representative pseudo-democracy as an inadequate means and relegate it to history’s trash heap with the rest of the systems which have been proven inherently criminal. We must institute the only mode of polity and economy which has been proven to work on a practical level, to safeguard the people’s sovereignty, and to give adequate scope to our positive freedom imperative: Direct democracy, true federalism, and the cooperative stewardship economy.

    1. kievite

      While I myself periodically write posts in this style something is definitely wrong with your approach to the problem. Let me play Devil Advocate here.

      First of all there is no evidence that money played less role in the USA politics in the past. Elections were always extremely corrupt. Two party system was always a trick to prevent emergence of the third party and, in essence, just an improved and more sophisticated variant of the USSR one party system. So what exactly you are complaining about ? :-)

      The key problem is the we deal with the transformation of capitalism into financial (casino) capitalism and this process trumps other factors. There is little that can be done after train left the station under Reagan or even earlier. Events just run their natural course and it was not bad years at all, if you think about them. I would say that 1970-2010 was probably the most prosperous 50 years in the USA history. Almost each family has a car, most have separate housing, enough food, superabundant amount of clothing, electronics (computer, cell-phones after 2000, Internet access, etc), etc, can enjoy traveling during vacations, etc. Is not this a paradise for common people?

      If you think about logical complexity of providing peaceful coexistence of 300 million people for 50 years, this is a really an achievement or ruling elite and the such a nation can be called (borrowing the term from our Republican friends) a blessed nation. One big danger — nationalism — the force the blow up the USSR is almost completely absent. In this sense too, the USA can be called a blessed nation.

      History shows that each economic regime comes to a natural end. I think we might be close to a logical end of casino capitalism stage. The current regime may slump another several miles but I doubt that it will survive. The real question here is what next ?

      My feeling is that this failed bet on financial institutions providing revenue from foreign operations on the scale enough to sustain the economy on the strength of the dollar as reserve currency was doomed from the very beginning and became really self-defeating after emergence of euro.

      Financial institutions tried their best to grow but in a process became far more reckless gamblers then is healthy due to disappearance of the regulation (everybody and his brother wanted them to grow and prosper) and put nation well-being into question.

      Now there is a zugzwang situation: if you demolish financial institutions you will lose the dubious advantages of building them up for the last 30 years and associated foreign operations revenue streams.

      If you let them survive, the cost of keeping them afloat is sinking everything else. Essentially in the current form they impose a tax on the economy that suppresses growth of other sectors. The extent of this effect is debatable but that’s how I see it.

      “Peak everything” does not help in this situation either and that’s a huge difference with Great Depression. Another big different is disappearance of the Communist Block which helped indirectly to provide a countervailing force to excessive greed and as such played important positive role in the USA economic development.

      I think this framework is more productive way to look at the current political and economic problems than any fixation on elections and (illusive) two party system.

      1. attempter

        If you read the OP you’d see it was largely about elections, therefore I focused on them in the reply.

        As a general rule I regard them as a detail. As I said, pseudo-democracy is an irremediable scam.

        Although the criminals certainly like when you repeat their talking points for them: “Nothing’s changed, this is just a doldrum. It’s always been like this at times.”

        Of course if you really understand “peak everything”, then you know why it’s never remotely been like this.

        As for what’s really in store unless we fight, I’ve written extensively about that, but here’s my best crystallization:

        http://attempter.wordpress.com/2010/07/05/part-4-the-full-fury-of-the-new-feudal-war-the-intended-end-state/

      2. DownSouth

        • kievite said: First of all there is no evidence that money played less role in the USA politics in the past. Elections were always extremely corrupt. Two party system was always a trick to prevent emergence of the third party and, in essence, just an improved and more sophisticated variant of the USSR one party system. So what exactly you are complaining about ?

        This is way too heavy-handed an interpretation of American history. As George Orwell asserted in “England Your England”: “All such arguments boil down to saying that half a loaf is the same as not bread.” For, as Orwell went on to point out (the year was 1941), “In England such concepts as justice, liberty, and objective truth are still believed in.”

        Are these concepts still believed in within the United States? I don’t know. There has certainly been a well orchestrated campaign by leading Universities and think-tanks over the last 50 years to destroy these ideals. And assertions like yours, by making it sound like there was never a time in history when these concepts were believed in, only aids and abets the right-wing.

        Recommended reading here is Kevin Phillips’ Wealth and Democracy. In the first great contest between the Whigs (Jeffersonians) and the Tories (Federalists/Hamiltonians) on the American stage, the Tories were thoroughly routed. Here’s Phillips:

        Hamilton’s use of government banking and debt to reward a wealthy elite trespassed on the Revolutionary credo, as did the excise taxes so anathemous to farmers…

        Wealth and aristocracy remained a target through 1800 as the rich-poor gap widened in the major cities. The share of assets held by the top 10 percent in New York City climbed from 54 percent in 1789 to 61 percent by 1795, while much the same thing occurred in Philadelphia. New York and Pennsylvania were also the hotbeds of conspicuous speculation, and Pennsylvania farmers were the angriest over Federalist taxes. When the elections of 1800 gave Jefferson twenty of the two states’ combined twenty-seven electoral votes, the Virginian beat John Adams, and no Federalist ever again held the presidency.

        There are other counterfactuals to your sweeping generalization that “Elections were always extremely corrupt.”

        •kievite said: “I would say that 1970-2010 was probably the most prosperous 50 years in the USA history…. Is not this a paradise for common people? ….. this is a really an achievement or ruling elite and the such a nation can be called (borrowing the term from our Republican friends) a blessed nation.”

        The period from 1970-2007 was a period of declining fortunes for the bottom two quintiles of US society, treading water for the middle two quintiles, and improving fortunes for only the upper quintile, and this very heavily weighted to the top 1%. Beginning in 2008, all quintiles except the upper quintile, and perhaps even the top 10%, went into a tailspin.

        • kievite said: “My feeling is that this failed bet on financial institutions providing revenue from foreign operations on the scale enough to sustain the economy on the strength of the dollar as reserve currency was doomed from the very beginning and became really self-defeating after emergence of euro.”

        “Sustain the economy” for whom? The distribution of the rewards of imperialism, whether of the traditional kind (acquire raw materials and resources on the cheap and export expensive manufactured goods) or the new kind (neo-imperialism or financial imperialism, the alliance of neoliberalism with neoconservatism whereby capital, finance and financial products are the export product) , are always highly skewered toward the rich and the powerful of the empire.

        • kievite said: “…if you demolish financial institutions you will lose the dubious advantages of building them up for the last 30 years and associated foreign operations revenue streams.”

        Who cares, other than the economic and political overlords? The economic benefits from these financial institutions flow only to a very select portion of the population. Why should the 99% who don’t receive any benefit care whether they live or die?

    2. Mickey Marzick in Akron, Ohio

      I think you would agree that Federalist #51 is a continuation of Federalist #10.

      If ever there was a more explicit, honest explanaton of how to thwart majority rule and why doing so was necessary, Madison penned it in #10. Reading both #10 and #51 and then reading the US Constitution should dispel any illusions of “democracy” extolled in Civics 101. Couple these writings with the historical context – French Revolution abroad and Whiskey Rebellion here – in which they were written and the fact that the Founding Elites were not “democrats” is no surprise.

      Blaming it all on money is too simplistic! And to assert that the political system is disintegrating, as opposed to undergoing transformation, is a bit of a stretch. If it is then the outcome is likely to be a right-wing authoritarianism of the kind that will likely find many of us “disappearing” into the void of cyberspace with no identity or record of ever having existed outside of immediate family and friends. Los desaparecidos nuevos!

      Such thinking absolves the “left” of any culpabillity or responsibilty for this failure. Or at least it fails to explain the resurgence of the reactionary right – a process that began in 1964, if not sooner, and its growing domination of American politics since the late 60s. The eclipse/rout of the “left” in this country since then is what requires explanation. Then how the situation can be reversed, if at all.

      With the “left” demonized, its ideas discredited, and balkanization fragmenting it into nonsignifcance since the late 60s, any attempt to equate Obama with FDR was pure hype and ahistorical. Conditions in 2007-08 were vastly different from those in 1929-32. Back then, there was a fairly well organized LEFT to the left of FDR. Banks were mistrusted, if not hated, and stuffing money in the mattress was taken literally. Moreover, the very existence of the Soviet Union made many a capitalist willing to “share the wealth” to “prove” that capitalism works for everyone rather than confront the red alternative head on. It is no concidence that the demise of the Soviet Union, death of the New Deal Coalition, and resurgence of the RIGHT in this country have coincided. Naomi Klein has documented this in DISASTER CAPITALISM.

      Obama himself is a product of this counterrevolution [1968-present] and his purported “radicalism” has to be examined in this light. His capture by the “leftwing” of the bankers is hardly surprising. Nor is their investment and susbequent payback. A generational groupthink shared by ruling elites of either persuasion, but with the fundamentals of the “American Consensus” agreed upon by all.

      With the New Deal Coalition dead, organized labor a vague memory, and the electorate fragmented into competing factions, the Left simply has no leverage. Unable to disrupt the machine, yet alone shut it down, there’s nothing to push/pull Obama left. There is no permanent base, but rather, a fluid amalgam of competing factions. Ironically, the sustainable majority able to capture all three branches of government over time envisioned by Madison in Fed #10 and #51 has been built. But it’s on the RIGHT. How sustainable is debatable, but for now…

      Even Keynesianism, the economic orthodoxy of the Left for much of the postwar period has been found wanting. Once “progressive” it is now one side of a reactionary coin that limits debate on economics to how much capitalism is in the offing. Complete laissez-faire versus regulated laissez-faire! There’s simply no discussion of any alternative to capitalism. That is a significant difference between the 1930s and the present.

      Taking money out of politics will only matter if the Left can create a sustainable majority to supplant the current one. Otherwise, let’s not kid ourselves any longer with overly simplistic monocausal explanations of what is wrong with the American political system. The hour is getting late…

      1. attempter

        I have no idea where you people are getting this “monocausal” stuff from my comment. I reiterate, I went with the example from the OP.

        I could write a hundred comments using a hundred different examples to reach my conclusion, and as I said above elections are not one of my main examples.

        I specified #51 because I’ve often had occasion lately to think about this quote:

        It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. Different interests necessarily exist in different classes of citizens. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure. There are but two methods of providing against this evil: the one by creating a will in the community independent of the majority — that is, of the society itself; the other, by comprehending in the society so many separate descriptions of citizens as will render an unjust combination of a majority of the whole very improbable, if not impracticable.

        So I kind of had it on the brain.

        I wrote more extensively on both:

        http://attempter.wordpress.com/2010/07/14/federalism-and-the-corporate-gangs-madisons-federalist-10/

        http://attempter.wordpress.com/2010/07/28/madisons-federalist-51-corporate-power-vs-the-naked-citizen/

        I agree completely that the Professional Left, i.e. the corporate liberals, are a traitor cadre, while what used to be called the real Left have been airbrushed out of the media existence. We’re in the “sphere of deviance”, to use one term of art from analysis of the MSM. (And this even though polls consistently show that America is a center to center-left country, and therefore far to the left of the economic elites, political class, and MSM.)

        But the left-right spectrum is no longer useful anyway, in part because of that gaping lacuna and total abdication.

        The real spectrum runs democrat/citizen to elitist. Both conservatives and liberals are far to the elitist end of the spectrum by now, especially on economic matters.

        Which leads to the great specific faultline which splits all issues and defines all positions no matter what they are: corporatism vs. anti-corporatism.

    3. Roger Bigod

      I agree with your diagnosis, and I’m open to the idea that radical reform is a good idea. But I couldn’t understand any of your last sentence. I have no idea what any of the terms mean or how the institutions would work.

      The Constitution relies on Common Law notions of the 3 branches, and there were 13 working examples at the state level, so anyone reading it knew exactly what they were being asked to ratify. There was a theory of institutions in the work of Montesquieu.

      For a radical revision of our political machinery, there is no comparable intellectual substrate. We are exhorted to organize, to become activist. But where are the guidelines, the goals, the practical steps to take next?

      1. attempter

        It’s some of the same substrate. Read Bernard Bailyn’s Ideological Origins of the American Revolution for an extended discussion of the heritage and connotations of concepts/terms like rights, consent, representation, constitution, and sovereignty.

        The book itself is something of a whitewash of the many of the founders, but however much they actually did cherish those ideals, here we learn what those ideals really meant.

        So if the goal were to be put in terms of resuming the long-neglected and/or hijacked American Revolution, that’s one source which can help us to understand what we’re really talking about.

        As for what I meant by my sentence:

        We must institute the only mode of polity and economy which has been proven to work on a practical level, to safeguard the people’s sovereignty, and to give adequate scope to our positive freedom imperative: Direct democracy, true federalism, and the cooperative stewardship economy.

        Direct democracy is government by local councils, or in American history, in some places at least, town halls. These councils could be organized along any number of lines – at the workplace, by profession, or by economic region, or by community, some combination of these, and there are probably other possibilities I’m not thinking of.

        True federalism means power is exercised at the level from whence it arises in the first place, among the people in their workplaces and/or communities. Authority is delegated upward, e.g. to regional councils, only on a provisional, mostly consultative basis, and all representatives are subject to instant recall. All significant decision-making, of course, remains in the hands of the local councils.

        (This is also the proper manifestation of sovereignty, which always and only reposes in the people, and can only be conditionally delegated to any smaller and/or “higher” group.)

        A cooperative economy is one where sovereignty would be properly organized economically. Since no one can legitimately “own” land, natural resources, or the socially constructed infrastructure, i.e. the means of production, such resources and infrastructure would be either cooperatively worked and self-managed by the worker council, and/or distributed on the basis of useful possession or productive stewardship, or any similar term one preferred.

        This is the only way to not abrogate economic sovereignty and to ensure the most effective production. Since all rents would be purged, this would be by far the most equitably productive economy. That’s what I was referring to when I referred to its unique practicality. (Although I also meant that the Spanish collectives of the Civil War accomplished prodigies of production under the most free circumstances any communities and workers have known, until they were destroyed by the combined treachery and violence of liberals, communists, and fascists.)

        What to do to accomplish this? Any constructive economic relocalization action is worthwhile, but especially increasing local food production and rationalizing its local distribution. Getting involved in local politics on behalf of this relocalization goal is also needful, but I think the political action probably needs to follow the established economic (or other practical) action.

        That’s just a few thoughts for now.

  2. nilys

    Ferguson starts with a good premise that “both parties are dominated by blocs of large investors”, but fails to develop it. I got excited, expecting to read about different blocs, their hidden interests and disagreements and struggles with one another, and how these interests of a particular group of “money bags” are packaged and sold to the public as a good public policy. Instead, Ferguson went on to talk about personalities – and all the familiar faces – Hillary, Jerry, Haley, Bloomberg – who cares who of these figure heads wins? Personalities and petty personal feuds are mistaken for politics and especially deep politics. Even Ferguson can’t help but fall into the personality cult. Indeed, no happy ending…

  3. hermanas

    I was stunned to hear that America was the world’s “oldest democracy” the other day. 234 years, in all the thousands of years of political institutions, democracy doesn’t seem to have any legs.

    1. Tom Crowl

      You’re sadly right…

      No democracy has been able to overcome the creeping problem of cronyism (rooted in the boundaries of biological alt-ruism).

      In fact, all such systems… while implicitly recognizing the issue… (that’s what’s behind things like a House of Commons and the use of sortition (juries), etc.)…

      Have recognized the need to evolve with changing circumstances. Instead they allow the self-worship of their own eventually-mythologized institutions to render them incapable of reform and easily gamed… and control fraud grows.

      How Would Hunter-gatherers Run the World? (Psst… They DO!)
      http://culturalengineer.blogspot.com/2009/11/how-would-hunter-gatherers-run-world.html

      Ayn Rand & Alan Greenspan: The Altruism Fly in the Objectivist Ointment
      http://culturalengineer.blogspot.com/2009/10/ayn-rand-alan-greenspan-altruism-fly-in.html

    2. Mickey Marzick in Akron, Ohio

      The United States is not a “democracy” but rather a republican form of representative government designed to thwart the will of the majority. The latter can manifest itself only when all three branches of government have been captured by it over time. If anything, the separation of powers and checks and balances enumerated in the US Constitution and built into the political system are little more than a divide-and-conquer strategy to prevent the majority of propertyless from “confiscating” the property of the minority.

      For as James Madison stated explicitly in Federalist #10:

      “the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribuion of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society.”

      And that Mr. Madison and the other Founding Fathers were decidely “those who held [property]” should put paid any pretense at democracy. Indeed, the paradox in need of explanation would seem to be how the Founding Fathers deemed human nature evil and corrupted by self-interest then miraculaously and magnanimously opted to set up a government that did not promote THEIR collective self-interest?

      It may not be the fairytale taught in civics courses from day one, but the United States is not a DEMOCRACY by any stretch of the imagination.

      1. i on the ball patriot

        Mickey — you are on fire as of late — good comments all.

        Regarding this …

        “And that Mr. Madison and the other Founding Fathers were decidely “those who held [property]” should put paid any pretense at democracy. Indeed, the paradox in need of explanation would seem to be how the Founding Fathers deemed human nature evil and corrupted by self-interest then miraculaously and magnanimously opted to set up a government that did not promote THEIR collective self-interest?’

        No paradox at all, what they set up did promote their collective self interests, it was a representative republic and of course not a direct democracy, but it was indeed a step along the way TOWARDS direct democracy. They were slave owners, women did not vote and the Indian population at the time were demonized as heathens, etc. So they have no corner on magnanimity but are rather a function OF THEIR TIME.

        But you used a term that should be brought center stage and always held up as a guide and a lens in examining the status quo and the need for change and formulating that change. That is the term COLLECTIVE SELF INTEREST, for in the end it is the collective self interest of groups that is the glue of those groups, and the fewer groups that a society has that do not contribute to that collective self interest the stronger that society is.

        But before making those observations consider first that we are far more ready for direct democracy than at the inception of our constitution. Physical chain slavery is gone (yes, debt slavery has taken over but that is another issue), women now have the right to vote (I know some that want to give it back), Indians have been assimilated into the culture (poorly and painfully, yes, but they are not as heavily demonized and exploited), etc., in short, the time for direct democracy is at hand.

        So … if one views the present scene through that COLLECTIVE SELF INTEREST LENS one can make some observations about the groups that our society is comprised of and whether or not each identifiable group strengthens or weakens that glue. If a society sets; fairness, equality, sustainability, individual freedom, Free Speech, religious freedom, prudence, etc. as highest ideals, then one can see that …

        • Excessive income wealth and excessive asset wealth are unfair and not in the collective self interest and must be regulated as they deprive the rest of the group a fair share. No pigs allowed in the new constitutional rewrite!

        • Excessive privately owned media conglomerations, especially those that use the public commons for transmittal, that create an overly loud voice with the volume to drown out other voices denies those others their Free Speech and are therefore not in the collective self interest of the group and should be downsized. Bye Bye megaphone rich folks!

        • Etc. …

        The point here Mickey is that it is a good term, and a good lens of analysis to use because it keeps to the forefront of our thinking that the balance of both the individual and the group, THE COLLECTIVE SELF INTEREST, of the group, is the glue that binds us all together and strengthens us. And so it should be woven more into the dialog. Reclaiming the language will be key to moving forward all of our collective self interests!

        Are we ready for election boycotts yet? I think they will be in our collective self interests as they would help move direct democracy along.

        Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

        1. reslez

          I frequently see people suggest election boycotts. What I have never seen is a convincing explanation that links election boycotts to actual progress. Maybe you support boycotts because you believe the act of voting supports a corrupt system, or it causes voters to become complicit. This seems more like a position based on hollow moral consistency than something that would actually lead to change.

          The country needs more action and energy, not more apathy and abstention. At any rate action and energy should be attempted. But the psychology of non-voting means non-voters are actually less likely to take other forms of action. They already believe they have no voice. If people were swarming the ballot box to vote for the Rent Is Too D*mn High party or any other third party they prefer, the existing system would be cratered. Even if — or because — those third party candidates would fail to change the system. Their failure would be revelatory.

          For the vast majority, abstention is a form of sleepwalking. I’m not saying people who are already Awake should waste time with the existing political system, I’m saying most people are Asleep and will only awaken once they stop Dreaming that the system works or non-voting is anything other than abdication.

          1. i on the ball patriot

            Yes, I support election boycotts because voting DOES legitimize and validate a corrupt system, and yes, lending your good name to the corrupt process makes you complicit with the gangster government that corrupt process produces and their gangster actions. There is nothing morally inconsistent about it.

            Election boycotts are “not more apathy and abstention” as you claim (the system line I might point out) but rather they are an active rejection of the system — a ‘vote of no confidence’ in the entire government. And they can be made even more active by writing to one’s supervisor of elections explaining why one is opting out. In addition they are, and can be more of if better organized, a force outside of the system to rally around and discuss the formulation of a constitutional rewrite for a new government that is more responsible to the collective self interest of the people.

            Ferguson claims this election was a resounding ‘vote of no confidence’ in democrats. He makes that absurd claim based on a miserably low 42% turnout, and completely disregards the greater ‘vote of no confidence’ in the entire government — 58% of the electorate BOYCOTTED the elections. This in spite of the worst economy in years, a fact that should have swamped the voting booths but did not, and the over the top corrupt system spent almost FOUR BILLION getting out the vote to validate the scam …

            “Midterm election spending approaches $4 billion”

            http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-campaign-finance-20101028,0,5077420.story

            Those people that are asleep will awaken sooner when they realize their power. When they realize that a 58% boycott of the scam electoral process is a number that they should celebrate and build on. It is an exciting and an enormous expression of ‘no confidence’ in this gangster government. Run with this good news and shout it out to the world! rally around it! 58% of scamericans rejected their crooked government! Whoopee!!!!

            And that four billion dollars wasted on the validation scam would have fed a lot of homeless people!

            Deception is the strongest political force on then planet.

          2. skippy

            I voted with my feet, by not using them, by showing my backside.

            No Obama’s, no Palings, no religious backed, billionaire, thinktankistan, military industrial, health care cough oxymoron, financial innovator, moneyed special interest lobbyist, no right or left animal will ever receive my stamp ever again, out of a lack, of a human candidate.

          3. James

            And the alternative to boycotts given the fact that the status quo sucks is what?

            On second thought, asked and answered. Think about it.

    3. Siggy

      Our contract for government specifies that which is a Federal Republic, not a democracy!

      What has been eroded is the Federal Republic in favor of something that represents itself as a democracy. It’s time to consider making a choice, which shall you have: A republic or a democracy?

      Do you want free markets or fair markets? Do you want a currency that maintains its purchasing power? Or, do you want easy credit and unprosecuted financial fraud?

      Make a list, vote it.

  4. Richard Kline

    I would be happy indeed if Ferguson’s consideration of a real implosion of the two-handed one party system was in any way imminent, but I have no such optimism. One function of Ferguson’s discussion of personalities for 2012 is his engagement with the reality that there are no substantive alternatives in the offing. No ‘personality’ alternatives; no structural alternatives; that election cycle is two years away. That is a function of the failure of organizing. The stasis we have no can easily, quite easily, slink along for several decades. Consider the politics of, say, France, between the Great Wars. Nothing, exactly nothing, changed in their broad social and geopolitical program despite the messy inefficacy and frank unpopularity of all significant political parties. Britain didn’t look much better. Germany only got change you can get dead from from outside the system. You see, folks, stasis is GOOD for the oligarchy: they don’t need functioning government beyond a false front level. Indeed, one could well say that stasis is the _policy_ of the oligarchy because it is the environoment in which they thrive, at the expense of everyone else, literally in our case since we are paying them directly out of government monies to rule us for themselves. Sick . . . .

    But I also think the analysis that ‘voters are rejecting both parties’ is at best half true. This seems to be crowdsource consensus of the past election, but it really wasn’t what happened. Voters unhappy because of unemployment ‘thought out the Democrats?’ Bunk. Yes, bunk; read the returns. Areas with high unemployment which had Democrats mostly kept them. And to a degree rightly so. Every poll of the last two plus years shows that the public as a whole understands exactly what the Republican economic program is, dislikes it totally, and has at least a little more confidence in the Democratic program (to oversimplify and concede, wrongly, that the Democrats even have a program). So voters unemployed chose the party which, with a patina of sanity, might do them some good. Democratic losses were heavy in areas that in recent years have been Republican leaning. That is, two years ago those areas through out Republicans to punish them, but now in the hope that the Repubs are sufficiently chastened voted them back in. The turn to Democrats there was largely due to independent swing votes moving more or less tactically rather than in any way in preference for Democrats. What we are really seeing is that long-standing voter preferences are _hardening_ not loosening in their respective areas. Independent voters are notoriously fickle in American history, and they are, with great and perhaps justified cynicism, shopping their votes cycle by cycle to whomever they think will pay them out the most. I mean Dubya bought the independents for $450 a head, outbidding Gore (anyone remember _that_ execrable stinkfest). The Democrats had a superb opportunity to cement themselves in office for multiple cycles by actually delivering some reform but they couldn’t trample that opportunity fast enough in their efforts to pay out to the oligarchy enough to win their favor, failing there too.

    We are likely to see stasis of much the present structure for _years_, and quite possibly for several decades. The only break in that would be the successful organizing of an actual reformist party, revolution, or a major asterioid impact, all of which are on similar orders of magnitude in probability in my view. —And public discontent will be met with repression. At this point, Americans are such a cowed lot it won’t take very much repression to get them back in their cubicles either. Stasis in decine can last a remarkably long time. Four generations is not unusual historically, though I wouldn’t see that as the likely term here now.

    1. Mickey Marzick in Akron, Ohio

      Well said and succinct, especially the last paragraph!

      “The only break in that would be the successful organizing of an actual reformist party, revolution, or a major asterioid impact, all of which are on similar orders of magnitude in probability in my view. —And public discontent will be met with repression.”

      Careful, you might be mistaken for a “defeatist” rather than a realist. The “Great Awakening” is upon US. Can’t you see it?

      What irks me is the subjectivist, chiliastic, millenarian wishful thinking of so many on the Left that believe it’s merely a question of waking up – not successful organizing and getting dirty, down in the mud. Even if the people have woken up, it’s a long march to successful organizing before any appreciable difference will be noticed. I may not like your odds… but they are accurate.

  5. John Strong

    I think is mention of “swamp creatures” is very instructive. We have become immune to some very inflammatory in-group/out-group rhetoric that has the whiff of serious conflict to those of us old enough to remember it.
    Add to this that the dialogue (and increasingly policy) is to a greater extent than ever controlled by the commentariat, and you really have the potential for cultural upheaval. If I were Canada or Mexico, I’d be getting a little nervous.

  6. jake chase

    All talk about voter “decisions” is nonsense. The percentage of voters who consider anything resembling information cannot be as high as five percent. The remainder relies exclusively upon received ideas, preconceptions susceptible to clever propaganda, and comes to the table knowing nothing whatsoever about how things actually work. To expect anything good to result from our system is akin to Einstein’s view of insanity.

  7. Rodger Malcolm Mitchell

    Unfortunately, Ferguson bemoans the fact that not all of the TARP money was “paid back” to the government, and that the government “lost money” on the deal. He does not realize that money “paid back” to the government is the same as a tax.
    .

    When GM proudly trumpeted it had paid back $8.1 billion of government loans, it really should have said, “We just paid $8.1 billion in taxes, which removed $8.1 billion from the economy, thereby slowing the economy accordingly. We could have used that $8.1 billion to hire people or to expand in other ways, but instead we chose just to throw it on a bonfire.”

    A monetarily sovereign government never should lend money to its citizens. It only should give money. But Ferguson does not understand the implications of monetary sovereignty. He thinks the federal government’s finances are like yours and mine, and that somehow the federal government needs tax money.

    That false belief is the cause of much of our current problems.

    Rodger Malcolm Mitchell

    1. James

      Well then, WHY, pray tell, doesn’t the Treasury just credit the bank accounts of the unemployed? Problem solved, yes? Instant stimulus applied exactly where it’s needed the most.

      1. reslez

        Well then, WHY, pray tell, doesn’t the Treasury just credit the bank accounts of the unemployed?

        This is only a mystery if you haven’t been paying attention. Anything that would benefit the people — the unemployed, homedebtors — is politically impossible. Anything that would benefit the banks is achieved instantly and with the minimum possible debate.

        1. James

          This is only a mystery if you haven’t been paying attention.

          Granted, but the question was meant to be rhetorical and leading, thank you very much.

          To the larger question, these MMT’ers always imply, if not state outright, that there truly is a free lunch when it comes to sovereigns and monetary policy. What I’d like to know is what’s the limit to this foolishness? Especially knowing full well that if Washington ever comes to embrace this stuff wholeheartedly the debt will surely know no bounds.

          If taxation’s only purpose is to reinforce the need for the sovereign’s currency in the first place, why not reduce the tax rate to say 5% across the board (yeah right, see how long that last before the GOP is calling for even MORE tax cuts!) and be done with it? And if debt really doesn’t matter and it doesn’t have to actually be debt in the first place, why even keep track of it in the first place, except purely as a measure of the size of the overall economy? For that matter, why are we even using the Fed as a debt based currency issue mechanism, other than the obvious answer: to make rich bankers even richer.

          These are serious questions, I’m not merely being facetious. So go ahead one of you econophiles, go ahead and ‘splain it to me please.

          1. attempter

            The answer is that it’s no “free lunch” at all. The direct issuance of money when the economy is depressed would be an attempt to bring the circulating money supply in line with the productive capacity of the economy. This is intended to counteract the intentional withholding of money from the economy by rent-seeking criminals who hoard that money (all stolen), and do so to prop up those same rents.

            MMT, a reformist idea, is an attempted end run around the criminal hoarding of social wealth, which is an artificial depressant. So the “free lunch” is the crime MMT would try to get around. (Of course I’d prefer more direct means.)

            (Do you know the actual genesis of the term “free lunch”? It was a scam invented in Chicago to try to pretend rent-seeking is economically productive. “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” – so if a rent extraction exists, by definition it has to be productive, otherwise how could it exist at all?

            The answer is that there are plenty of criminals eating the free lunch they stole from those who worked for it. MMT would just try to take back some of what was stolen. MMT is trying to make sure the lunch is at least partially eaten by those who paid for it.)

            As for why they tally the debt at all, that’s just a confidence exercise. No matter how ridiculous the number becomes, and no matter how much anyone complains about it, if you can pretend you have a meaningful number and pretend to understand it, that still causes the system to make sense to its participants.

            Of course in reality the debt already knows no bounds. And Washington already does “credit the bank accounts” of the unemployed. It’s just that these particular unemployed are the parasites of the FIRE sector, Pentagon sector, Big Ag, and all the rest of the corporate welfare recipients who do no work at all, who only destroy.

            Meanwhile the idea you disparaged, of giving money directly to the nominal unemployed, would in fact be giving the money to productive workers who are only unemployed because their jobs were intentionally destroyed by those same banks and other parasite rentiers.

            (Not that this matters I suppose, but it’s also a proven fact that giving money directly to real producers is economically stimulative, while giving more handouts to the rich is just throwing money down a rathole from which it never emerges. “Trickle down” is a proven lie.)

            Giving money directly to the people as real stimulus would help put them back to work. Especially if the issuance were in tandem with a relocalization-oriented grant and non-usurious microlending program.

          2. James

            Meanwhile the idea you disparaged, of giving money directly to the nominal unemployed, would in fact be giving the money to productive workers who are only unemployed because their jobs were intentionally destroyed by those same banks and other parasite rentiers.

            No disparagement intended. I also think that crediting the unemployed and the massively underemployed would be desirable. Thanks for the well articlated explanation.

            I think I had a pretty good grasp of most of that previously, but I think still think MMTers would be wise spell out some specifics, as I imagine some opportunistic pols are licking their chops as we speak over the idea of virtually no taxes and unlimited debt. I can’t imagine that Washington would ever interpret MMT as anything more than a guilt free license to let the printing presses roll 24/7 and provide unlimited pork to their constituents.

      2. JTFaraday

        “Well then, WHY, pray tell, doesn’t the Treasury just credit the bank accounts of the unemployed? Problem solved, yes? Instant stimulus applied exactly where it’s needed the most.”

        Anyone over 60 who got rolled should be given their social security benefits early. If a society sees fit to involuntarily retire people early, it should back it up.

        We’re opening the SS discussion shortly. Time to reform the system.

        “And if debt really doesn’t matter and it doesn’t have to actually be debt in the first place, why even keep track of it in the first place, except purely as a measure of the size of the overall economy?”

        Because if they conceded it didn’t matter then everyone under 60 will likewise want instant credits to their account so they can pursue their creative interests and then there will be no one left to scrub John Thain’s golden toilet.

        And, needless to say, we can’t have that.

    2. reslez

      You’re right of course on the economics, but you miss the point. The propaganda claim “government made a profit on TARP” is intended to reassure voters that money was not given away to banks. A monetarily sovereign government can certainly give away money to whatever groups it chooses, but that it chooses to support wealthy oligarchs instead of the people is simply obscene.

  8. Tom Crowl

    American politics IS broken. And money is a central branch of the problem. However the root is cronyism ( and this is rooted in the boundaries of biological altruism).

    “Big” money is dominating and distorting political decision to the detriment of this (and historically eventually ALL) representative systems. It’s also behind of problems in credit creation, btw.

    I don’t believe that public financing of elections will solve this problem. I fear it will lead to only ‘government approved’ candidates and government approved parties… and result in a whole new industry designed to game that as much as they game the military-industrial relationship and the Wall Street-Washington unholy alliance.

    Approximately $4 billion was spent on this last campaign I understand. That’s less than the price of a video game on sale for each of the 130 million registered voters.

    Of course most never actually give to a cause or campaign.

    I believe that can and will change (and it must… personal involvement is critical for a capable electorate… “Capability ENABLES Responsibility… government funded elections will lead to LESS participation).

    The Commons-dedicated Account concept… by offering BOTH the capability for the micro-contribution as well as the capability for charitable contribution through the same system…

    Eventually results in a stable and ubiquitous user-base. Since an account does NOT need to be continuously funded and has utility even when un-funded…

    This ‘facebook’-like network offers opportunities for ‘empowered’ local political association not currently available.

    Further the existence of a ‘scalable’ platform (unlike a facebook page, a User’s can have multiple pages focused on differing levels of political jurisdiction.

    Here we then have opportunities for outreach and campaigning on a MUCH cheaper basis as well as the capability for LOCAL enterprises to engage their communities at the level at which they operate. This system will drastically LOWER the cost of campaigns and (I believe) eventually and paradoxically REDUCE the influence of money in politics.

    This is a sketchy and quick synopsis but this is just a comment.

    The account mechanism is patented (I still need $2005 for final bill to attorney and patent fees by Dec 7 if any want to be helpful and smart investors) and I’d really appreciate the chance to get this going.

    I’m not the religious type. But I always have felt that what the ‘historical’ Jesus was talking about with “the meek shall inherit the earth”… is that the only chance this planet has is for regular people to stand up and take responsibility for it. To ‘inherit’ is not to be given something and be able to abandon responsibility for it… its just the opposite.

    We’ve been given the right of self-governance… but have NOT taken up the responsibility.

    Why Politics MUST be Localized
    http://culturalengineer.blogspot.com/2010/10/why-politics-must-be-localized.html

    Empowering the Commons: The Dedicated Account (Part I)
    http://culturalengineer.blogspot.com/2010/08/empowering-commons-dedicated-account.html

    LinkedIn http://www.linkedin.com/in/culturalengineer

    Demo & FAQ http://www.Chagora.com

    I’m neither a businessman nor a politician. I’m a citizen. I take the role seriously.

  9. Jackrabbit

    Many thanks to Tom Ferguson and others (Yves, Reich, Black, etc.) for speaking out. And thanks to attempter, Richard Kline, i_on_th_ball_patriot and many others that have written such illuminating comments on this blog and others. Some day these heroic efforts will be better understood and appreciated by a wide audience.

    As the economy deteriorates, the banks and the super-wealthy have more and more difficulty covering the corruption. Any real reform could be a long time coming, though, as the system works to bamboozle people into playing along with FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt).

    Writing that last sentence reminds me of the song lyrics: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

  10. john

    Can we please stop talking about “campaign finance reform” and start a serious discussion with real language about re-criminalizing bribery? To be considered a “serious candidate” in our entirely corrupt system one must first systematically solicit bribes and succeed. Advertisements on TV should be viewed as confessions of the prior crime of solicitation of bribery. Journalist should be a name reserved for reporters who show us how the corrupt serve their pay masters.

    Money is not delivering progress, but we are still using its market tested language to talk about it. Use real language, please. There are no criminals in the current disasters because our entirely corrupt system was used to first de-criminalize innumerable crimes. Lets start calling fraud fraud, bribery bribery, theft theft. Yves is pretty good here about calling looting looting.

  11. Roger Bigod

    hermanas:

    The fragility of democracy has been known for some time. Aristotle thought there was a cycle of chaos -> monarchy -> aristocracy -> democracy -> chaos.

    The Founders had read the history of ancient Greece and Rome, and some of their letters show that there were trying to set up institutions that would resist the processes of decay. Much of the Constitution is plumbing, designed to control and direct the flow of political power to the proper channels at the Federal level. Problems of democracy v. aristocracy are punted to the states.

    It’s easy to imagine the Founders as considering grand principles in the light of history’s sweep and exercising amazing foresight. But all this was secondary to the main goal of cobbling together something that the self-interested, bickering states would ratify.

    A revealing exchange occurred one day in the Convention when the delegates got into a long, emotional discussion of the franchise, including the question of restricting it to those with property. Gouverneur Morris, who spoke the most during the proceedings, was silent. Finally, he got up and told them that they were wasting their time because no matter what the written rules said, the rich would find a way to control the outcome if their interests were seriously threatened. He didn’t say he approved, just that the real world operated that way.

    When Morris was Ambassador to France during the Revolution, someone asked him about the possibility of a written constitution on the US model. His reply was that the US Constitution worked when applied by the US electorate, but that if the French electorate were put in charge, it would result in disaster. So he did have some trust in “the people”. In fact, since the final document is almost all his final working draft, we have him to thank for its one emotionally evocative sentence, the to-do list that begins “We, the People”.

    In the civics class mythology, the Founders were inspired by Divine Wisdom to produce a supernaturally perfect document. But it didn’t look that way to them. Around 1812, Morris decided that the Constitution had been a failure and should be scrapped. It looks like the US was in better shape at the time than it is today, so it’s natural to wonder what he would think. Put the French electorate in charge?

    1. hermanas

      On a return flight from Paris to New York many years ago, after the meal was served, passengers went aft to smoke per regulation. The pilot, having diffulty controlling pitch requested everyone return to their seats where flight attendants said they could not smoke. French passengers rose and went back aft. When the pilot came back to plead with them, their response was “we smoke or we crash”. The pilot said, “O.K. fine”, and we arrived safely in NYC. But my luggage was lost.

  12. DownSouth

    Tom Ferguson said: The political system is disintegrating, probably heading toward a real breakdown of some sort.

    [….]

    But the experience of the Great Depression was that as things failed to improve the swamp creatures got their chance. And when the economic situation shook out, the geopolitics became more sinister. It would be a rash person indeed who counted on a happy ending to this mess.

    Here’s a visual metaphor for what we have. We have an inverted pyramid, both in our political life and our economic life. Those who should be on top of the structure are instead at the bottom doing a “balancing act” by using, as Ferguson put it, “pseudo-explanations, myths, and sometimes, obvious mendacity.” The structure is highly unstable and, as the video shows, the entire structure can be brought down by the slightest disturbance.

    I would say our political and economic overlords opted for this inverted pyramidal structure beginning in the 1960s. It began with all the lies used to justify the Vietnam War, and the trend has been downhill ever since. So I would agree with Ferguson that our current crisis was a long time in the making.

    We could say we are currently in Act X on the national stage. Act IX was the period from 1929 to the 1960s. During Act IX our national and economic overlords opted for more or less a pyramidal structure. Governmental, religious, media, educational and other institutions enjoyed a high level of legitimacy and broad support from the governed. The economic and political overlords didn’t engage in the barrage of “pseudo-explanations, myths, and sometimes, obvious mendacity” to near the extent that they do now.

    Act XIII on the American stage was the period that began shortly after the Civil War and lasted until 1929, when the political and economic structure came tumbling down. Act XIII was very much like Act X, our current act, in that it was a highly unstable inverted pyramid. The perfidy and treachery of our economic and political overlords knew no bounds.

    As Ferguson makes clear, the really interesting part will come when the current inverted pyramid comes tumbling down, when “the swamp creatures” get “their chance.” In the 1930s, the United States dodged lightening. The “swamp creatures” were held at bay and the nation experienced a revival and reawakening of the Jeffersonian ideals of equal justice, equal treatment before the law and popular democracy. Thus we had a renewal of important themes during Act I of our national drama.

    Germany, however, wasn’t so lucky.

    1. Siggy

      Interesting point of view. Could you clarify just what popular democracy is? Are you suggesting that we dispense with the Federal Republic? Then again it seems that over time and by various events we’ve already thrown it out; e.g., the repeal of Glass-Steagell.

      The earlier reference to Federalist #10 and #51 is very apt. I find it encouraging that there is some knowledge of those two essays. They examine the necessity and essence of balancing the interests of the landed class with those of the rentier class.

      I very much agree with Mr. Ferguson and would like to see him address the issue of just when is it that we shall have some inquisitions and prosecutions. My sense is that unless and until we have some prosecutions, the cancer will continue to destroy our Federal Republic.

      1. DownSouth

        Siggy,

        When I talk about “popular democracy,“ I’m talking about elections like the one that occurred in 1800 when Jefferson prevailed over the Federalists (for more explanation see my 11:39 a.m. comment above). The flip side of this would be the type of elections that predominated in the late 19th century during the zenith of the Gilded Age, such as described here:

        The Richmond County methods in Georgia and Alabama—-wholesale ballot-box stuffing, open bribery, various forms of intimidation, and massive voting by dead or fictitious Negroes. The Richmond County methods of Georgia were almost precisely duplicated in the “Harrison County methods” used in East Texas to defeat “Cyclone” Davis. Indeed, in Texas the phrase “Harrison County methods” became the standard term defining the most effective Democratic campaign technique of the Populist era. Even on the face of the returns, and including in the total the controlled vote of South Texas, the Populist vote jumped from the 23 per cent of 1892 to almost 40 per cent in 1894. The “official” statewide total showed Nugent had been defeated for the governorship by 230,000 to 160,000, though a number of steps were taken to ensure that the real outcome would be forever beyond recovery.
        The Populist Moment, Lawrence Goodwyn

        And I agree that “the earlier reference to Federalist #10 and #51 is very apt” and “find it encouraging that there is some knowledge of those two essays.” However, the way in which these documents were used in the comments above lacks subtlety. What it boils down to is that now, in response to the myth of American Exceptionalism, comes the counter myth. Malicious intent is ascribed to the Founding Fathers that did not exist.

        To begin with, to evaluate the Founding Fathers by today’s standards gives a highly distorted picture. Take Elvis Presley, for instance. In his day he was a highly innovative, and extremely controversial, figure. But in comparison to Mick Jagger, or even more so to some of today’s popular musicians, he hardly seems radical. Yet no one would even remotely think of dethroning Elvis as “The King of Rock and Roll.” Yet there are those who would rob the Founding Fathers of their place in political and economic history, even though in their day they were quite radical, and extremely controversial.

        There’s a book that everyone should read called The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom: Its Evolution and Consequences in American History. It serves as a strong antidote and counterweight to some of the Marxist- and constructivist-inspired histories written by the likes of Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky.

        The Founding Fathers were not so much interested in examining “the necessity and essence of balancing the interests of the landed class with those of the rentier class” as they were finding a way to deal with “the tyranny of the majority” or “an excess of democracy.” And their concerns were not limited to the material world—-property. They included the spiritual world as well—-oppressive religious majorities. Wherever “a majority are united by a common interest or passion,” Madison concluded, “the rights of the minority are in danger.” And as Madison went on to explain:

        That diabolical, Hell-conceived principle of persecution rages among some, and to their eternal infamy, the clergy can furnish their quota of imps for such business. This vexes me the most of anything whatever. There are…in the adjacent country not less than 5 or 6 well meaning men in close jail for publishing their religious sentiments, which in the main are very orthodox.

        As Lance Banning in his essay in The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom explains:

        Madison was deeply dedicated to the Revolutionary principle that governments derive their just authority from popular consent and must remain responsive to people’s will. He was dedicated, too, to “justice,” by which he meant equality before the law and scrupulous respect by government for natural law and natural rights. However obvious it seems to us that the desire to reconcile these two commitments is the fundamental paradox of every liberal democracy, early revolutionary thinkers did not necessarily anticipate a conflict.

        In his 10:11 a.m. comment above Mickey alleges “Such thinking absolves the ‘left’ of any culpabillity or responsibilty for this failure. Or at least it fails to explain the resurgence of the reactionary right – a process that began in 1964, if not sooner, and its growing domination of American politics since the late 60s.”

        Personally, I think much of the “culpability or responsibility” for the failures of the left and “the resurgence of the reactionary right…and its growing domination of American politics since the late 60s” is to be found not in someone else’s thinking, but in Mickey’s.

        “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need (or needs)” goes the creed popularized by Karl Marx in his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program. But what percentage of any general population reallybelieves in that manifesto. How many people really desire “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” or equality in other words? I would say a minority, and quite a small minority.

        The great Mexican painter Diego Rivera thought he had found in the ancient indigenous civilizations of Western Mexico examples of the egalitarian paradises of the past conceived by the Marxist ideology he embraced. The clay figures he collected from those cultures, after all, were so utterly human, capturing the empathetic expressions of everyday people in their daily communal life. Later studies, however, such as those in Ancient West Mexico: Art and Archaeology of the Unknown Past, revealed something very different. The very clay figures Rivera collected in the belief that they were emblems of equality served just the opposite purpose. They were created and used as high-status objects that conveyed prestige and rank to their owners. Only the tribal elite owned these artistic creations.

        Studies of extant primitive cultures reveal similar phenomenon, as is discussed in Moral Sentiments and Material Interests. No one starves in these primitive tribal societies, so the “needs” of all members of the tribe are met. However, the most productive hunters and gatherers are showered with adoration and prestige. They are the ones who rise to leadership positions within the tribe. Conversely, slackers and free-riders are shunned and ridiculed.

        So there is something to this “natural law” that Madison spoke of after all (and which I think our reigning plutocrats are fixin’ to learn about—-and maybe the hard way). Most people desire hierarchy, but a hierarchy ordered on merit, performance, excellence and achievement. What a majority of people want is “justice,” by which is meant “equality before the law and scrupulous respect by government for natural law and natural rights.” This is something very different from a desire that everyone be equal, and herein lays one of the great miscalculations of the today’s American left.

        1. i on the ball patriot

          You suddenly sound like a libertarian …

          DownSouth says; “Studies of extant primitive cultures reveal similar phenomenon, as is discussed in Moral Sentiments and Material Interests. No one starves in these primitive tribal societies, so the “needs” of all members of the tribe are met. However, the most productive hunters and gatherers are showered with adoration and prestige. They are the ones who rise to leadership positions within the tribe. Conversely, slackers and free-riders are shunned and ridiculed.”

          Yes, just like today in scamerica slackers and free riders are “shunned and ridiculed.” Is this what you go on to say, and appear to advocate, when you say below, “So there is something to this “natural law” that Madison spoke of after all (and which I think our reigning plutocrats are fixin’ to learn about—-and maybe the hard way).” …

          http://images.google.com/images?gbv=2&hl=en&safe=off&rls=ig&newwindow=1&q=homeless+people&sa=N&start=20&ndsp=20&biw=1020&bih=619

          DownSouth says further; “So there is something to this “natural law” that Madison spoke of after all (and which I think our reigning plutocrats are fixin’ to learn about—-and maybe the hard way). Most people desire hierarchy, but a hierarchy ordered on merit, performance, excellence and achievement. What a majority of people want is “justice,” by which is meant “equality before the law and scrupulous respect by government for natural law and natural rights.” This is something very different from a desire that everyone be equal, and herein lays one of the great miscalculations of the today’s American left.”

          Yes, there is something to natural law, it is Darwinian cannibalistic and civilized societies strive to rise above it in pursuit of the COLLECTIVE SELF INTEREST of the society.

          Most people do not desire hierarchy, rather they recognize that it is imposed upon them by simply being born as a cannibalistic organism (those that are really perceptive), and further magnified in intensity by being born into a hierarchical environment that reflects again that cannibalistic dog eat dog nature that has skewed and colored that environment that they are born into.

          People are not born “slackers and free riders” as you claim. That is pure bullshit! People are made into slackers and free riders trying to cope with those who celebrate their cannibalistic Darwinian nature and act on it in an unbridled fashion. That is the nature celebrated in the artifacts you describe made in a PRIMATIVE culture, one that we must strive to rise above.

          Those who claim that there is something to this “natural Law”, and then use that something to justify taking far more than what would be a just share in a fair society, and then using that wealth to further shape the Darwinian dog eat dog cannibalistic world that we are all born into, in to a far greater Darwinian world, are full of self aggrandizing deceptive crap.

          It is they who have created the aggregate generationally corrupted environment that comes with the imposition of a crooked FED and a scam ‘rule of law’.

          “SLACKERS AND FREE RIDERS” ARE NOT NATURAL, THEY ARE A PRODUCT OF, AND ARE CREATED BY, THEIR ALREADY FURTHER DARWINIZED ENVIRONMENT THAT THEY ARE BORN INTO — as in — you are what you have been through, but now and the future are up to you.

          What most people really want is security and an opportunity to grow their human spirit/life force to its fullest potential. Perceptive people recognize that comes from recognizing “natural law” — yes, the pecking ordered competitive hierarchal system thrust upon us — but then rising above it by limiting that system, not because we “desire” it, but rather because we are forced by being born into it to honor it.

          The balance that best serves the COLLECTIVE SELF INTEREST is the balance that will best do the job for all in the society and at the same time best serve evolution. If evolution is unhappy, as she appears to be with the present lop sided societal arrangement (just look around you globally for proof of that) she will give us a well deserved boot into the dust bin of unrecorded history.

          Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

          1. DownSouth

            i on the ball patriot,

            You and I must be using very different definitions of “natural law.” And I don’t suppose that’s surprising, because the concept of natural law has been under concerted attack for several decades now by economists (most notably those from the Chicago School) and by the New Atheists (who hail from other disciplines of the social sciences).

            Here’s how Thomas Jefferson described natural law:

            Nature hath implanted in our breasts a love of others, a sense of duty to them, a moral instinct in short…impelling us to virtuous actions, and warning us against those which are vicious.

            Here’s David Little talking about Jefferson and moral law in his essay in The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom:

            He tried to demonstrate that once the common moral denominator of all religions has been isolated, it is then possible to detach and dispense with the respective “dogmas” of the different traditions. Religious dogmas are, declared Jefferson, “totally unconnected with morality.”

            And here’s Jefferson again in a letter to Thomas Law in 1814:

            Some have made the love of God the foundation of morality… [But] if we did a good act merely from the love of God and a belief that it is pleasing to him, whence arises the morality of the Atheist[s]? … Their virtue must have some other foundation.”

            C.S. Lewis also wrote extensively about the Law of Nature in Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe:

            Now this Law or Rule about Right and Wrong used to be called the Law of Nature.

            [….]

            This law was called the Law of Nature because people thought every one knew it be nature and did not need to be taught it. They did not mean, of course, that you might not find an odd individual here and there who did not know it, just as you find a few people who are colour-blind or have no ear for a tune. But taking the race as a whole, they thought that the human idea of decent behavior was obvious to every one. And I believe they were right. If they were not, then all the things we said about the war were nonsense. What was the sense in saying the enemy wee in the wrong unless right is a real thing which the Nazis at bottom knew as well as we did and ought to have practiced? If they had had no notion of what we mean by right, then, though we might still have had to fight them, we could no more have blamed them for that than for the colour of their hair.

            I know that some people say the idea of a Law of Nature or decent behavior known to all men is unsound, because different civilizations and different ages have had quite different moralities.

            But this is not true. There have been differences between their moralities, but these have never amounted to anything like a total difference. If anyone will take the trouble to compare the moral teaching of, say, the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Hindus, Chinese, Greeks and Romans, what will really strike him will be how very like they are to each other and to our own. Some of the evidence for this I have put together in the appendix of another book called “The Abolition of Man,” but for our present purpose I need only ask the reader to think what a totally different morality would mean. Think of a country where people were admire for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of double-crossing all the people who had been kindest to him. You might as well try to imagine a country where two and two make five. Men have differed as regards what people you ought to be unselfish to—-whether it was only your own family, or your fellow countrymen, or every one. But they have always agreed that you ought not to put yourself firs. Selfishness has never been admired.

            [….]

            The laws of nature, as applied to stones or trees, may only mean ‘what Nature, in fact, does’. But if you turn to the Law of Human Nature, the Law of Decent Behaviour, it is a different matter. That law certainly does not mean ‘what human beings, in fact, do’; for as I said before, many of them do not obey this law at all, and none of them obey it completely. The law of gravity tells you what stones do if you drop them; but the Law of Human Nature tells you what human beings ought to do and do not.

            As to your assertion that “most people do not desire hierarchy,” there is no empirical data whatsoever to support that assertion. It’s a utopian concept that Marx dreamed up. In simpler societies, people rise in the hierarchy because of what they can do for the society. Here’s an example from Moral Sentiments and Material Interests:

            There are also large differences in hunting ability among men. For example, there is a five-fold difference in the long-term average hunting returns between the best and worst hunter in the sample of Ache men. Similar discrepancies in hunting ability across men have been found among the !Kung, Hadza, Hiwi, Gunwinggu, Agta, and Machiguenga. Therefore, even among men of the same age, there must be net transfers over the long term from families producing a surplus to families producing a deficit.

            Why do superior performers continue to outperform and give their excess production away? Well certainly many of the potential returns are not material, but have to do with the striving for prestige, status and adulation:

            Costly signaling theory provides the basis for arguing that generosity—-incurring the costs of providing collective goods—-is one means by which individuals and coalitions compete for status, and ultimately for the material and fitness-enhancing correlates of status (such as possible power, mates, and economic resources). The quality-dependent cost of providing the collective good guarantees the honesty of the signaler’s claim to such qualities as resource control, leadership abilities, kin-group solidarity, economic productivity, or good health and vigor—-information that is useful to the signaler’s potential mates, allies, and competitors.

            Here’s another example of the same phenomenon:

            Because the first medieval rulers had been barbarians, most of what followed derived from their customs. Chieftains like Ermanaric, Alaric, Attila, and Clovis rose as successful battlefield leaders whose fighting skills promised still more triumphs to come. Each had been chosen by his warriors, who, after raising him on their shields, had carried him to a pagan temple or a sacred stone and acclaimed him there… Lesser tribesmen were grateful to him for the spoils of victory, though his claim on their allegiance also had supernatural roots.

            [….]

            [T]he chieftains had been chosen for merit, and early kings wore crowns only ad vitam aut culpam—-for life or until removed for fault.

            In the United States we have taken this concept and turned it on its head. Our political and financial overlords have not been elevated to the top of the hierarchy because of what they do for society. Quite the opposite, they think in terms of what society can do for them. That’s why I say the inverted pyramid is a perfect metaphor for current US society. And it’s unstable because it flies in the face of perhaps a million years of human evolution, all but the last 10,000 years or so lived in small hunter-gatherer societies in which the “law of nature” evolved.

          2. skippy

            Natural selection is the process by which traits become more or less common in a population due to consistent effects upon the survival or reproduction of their bearers. It is a key mechanism of evolution.

            The natural genetic variation within a population of organisms may cause some individuals to survive and reproduce more successfully than others in their current environment.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_selection

            Skippy….Concur, whom made the environment…own it.

            PS. do the poor have so many kids, as to hope, for one successful functioning psychopath (cough professional) to make the family proud?

          3. DownSouth

            i on the ball patriot,

            And one other thing. Maybe I wasn’t clear when I used the term “slackers and free-riders.” Not only low producers, but high prodcers in primitive societies can also find themselves on the outs if they aren’t sufficiently generous. Here’s Moral Sentiments again:

            Those who do not produce or share enough are often subject to criticism, either directly or through gossip and social ostracism. Anecdotes of shirkers being excluded from distributions until they either boosted their production or sharing levels are found among the Maimande, Pilaga, Gunwinggu, Washo, Machiguenga, Agta, and Netsilik Eskimo.

          4. DownSouth

            Skippy,

            If one believes that “the Law of Nature” exists, and if one isn’t a religionist who believes that God created us that way, then the only materialist theory that explains the “the Law of Nature” is that of multi-level selection.

            Multi-level selection has proven to be dangerous stuff, however, because when misapplied in too heavy-handed a fashion it led to the racial ideologies of the Nazis—-all that stuff about “The Master Race” and what not.

            And I don’t understand how multi-level selection can explain the evolution of the human responses described in this lecture by Paul Zak.

          5. skippy

            Sigh…”Natural Law” is such a omnipotent monolithic term.

            Darwin him self knew that he had only scratched the surface, we have only taken a few steps since, and that others would twist his theory into unrecognizable social political religious clap trap. Large vertical authoritarian structures have a habit of that…eh. BTW racial is an authoritarian misnomer for inferior/superior, it is not a scientific reality, we are all the same save some genetic differences. Ethnicity yes, as groups within different social and enviromental environments we seem to the naked eye to be alien but, whom makes that distinction and for what reasons, of which you have alluded too.

            Yes we are human and not animals, there are deference’s in ability, that said I do not believe we have the right to be god or act like one. One way or another we popped up in the middle of everything and are doing a rather lousy job of tending to our species let alone any other…why? Personally I blame those that think they have it all figured out, think they have either been gifted dominion by deity’s or science, when both are full of holes to date.

            In my book the hole world could do with a breather but under our currant system that’s the last thing that can happen, we march straight towards diminishment, dragging every thing we can with us and for what…to prove a point[?] for one mob to win? Why can’t humanity enjoy the level of life all could have, shelter, food, respect, access to education/information, a fair say in things, the end to the fear of one human ruling over another by force just because their stronger etc. Maybe it’s because of your big pyramids you speak of, not unlike the ones in Egypt, for right or wrong they persist, TBTF.

            Skippy…I like a small fire and I would share it with you…big fires are for those that would enamor them selves with their creation…eh…drive the fear out of their hearts.

          6. i on the ball patriot

            DownSouth,

            In my lifetime I have been conned more times than Carter made little liver pills. As a result I know what a snow job is. We were both referring to THE SAME; dog eat dog, Darwinian, cannibalistic “natural law” that we are all born with, and in to. That would be the same “natural law” that you recognized in primitive tribal societies and then held up as supporting a hierarchal system of adoration and prestige at the top with slackers and free riders shunned at the bottom. You further affirmed that by relating it to Madison, who knew damn well what “natural law” was and cautioned many times about being very careful before codifying that “natural law” ‘force’ into the rule of law and handing that ‘power’ over to the state.

            Now, rather than a snow job, you give me a virtual blizzard of deflective and diversionary quotes from everyone on the planet about what they thought/think “natural law” is. Sorry I don’t play the muddy water deflection game.

            Back in the clearer water of what you said and what we were discussing;

            You don’t have to continue to justify that there is/are various societal hierarchy schemes, I recognize that they exist. Reread my comments, you obviously did not understand them.

            Regarding this;

            “As to your assertion that “most people do not desire hierarchy,” there is no empirical data whatsoever to support that assertion. It’s a utopian concept that Marx dreamed up.”

            Of course its a utopian concept, most desires and dreams are, and you take me way out of context. I said most ‘perceptive’ people want it. And Marx was very perceptive for his times. Again, reread my comments.

            Marx, like the founding fathers, was brilliant and well meaning for his time, but Marxism, like our constitution, also needs an upgrade to better serve the times.

            Sorry, but the good old fashioned pyramid with the apex at the top works for me in terms of describing where we are as a society and a much lower in height same volume square might serve as a better ideal goal. It would make for smaller fires that are more easily shared to use Skippy’s nice turn of phrase.

            Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

          7. DownSouth

            Skippy,

            I was hoping that with the election of Obama the United States might finally be putting its racist past behind it.

            “The rights of human nature [are] deeply wounded by this infamous practice [of slavery],” Thomas Jefferson warned. “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep forever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events.”

            And in some respects Jefferson has been proven right. Racism has indeed been used not only to enslave black people, but to enslave the white racists as well. This is the message that Lawrence Goodwyn makes clear in The Populist Moment. During the late 19th century, the political and economic overlords frequently inflamed racial tensions to keep people from focusing too closely on economic issues. Here’s but one of many examples Goodwyn cites:

            The gubernatorial candidate for the [Populist-Republican] coalition, John Pharr, might best be described in modern terms as a liberal Republican planter. He had a habit of ignoring prevailing [racist] mores. The anti-lynching plank in his platform convinced the New Orleans “Daily States” that he “inferentially approved” of white women being raped.

            And on the dawning of the new century, W.E.B. DuBois in 1900 declared that “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line.” And that statement has undoubtedly proven to be correct. The practice of invoking race to distract people from focusing on economic issues has worked just as effectively in the 20th century as it did the 19th. It lies at the core of the Southern Strategy that helped catapult Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980.

            I suppose it should come as no surprise that black writers were the first to notice that racism not only enslaves black people but white people as well. In 1952 DuBois wrote that the color line “caused endless evil to all men.” In 1963 James Baldwin wrote in The Fire Next Time:

            A bill is coming in that I fear America is not prepared to pay. “The problem of the twentieth century,” wrote W.E.B. Du Bois around sixty years ago, “is the problem of the color line.” A fearful and delicate problem, which compromises, when it does not corrupt, all the American efforts to build a better world—-here, there, or anywhere.

            And upon the dawning of the 21st century it seems Americans have learned little from the experiences of the 19th century or the 20th century:

            Some commentators considered the decisive victory of Democratic Senator Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election to represent the decline of Southernization in national politics.

            [….]

            However, many are beginning to rethink the decline of the Southern Strategy. During the 2010 midterm elections, Republicans swept the South, successfully reelecting every Senate incumbent and electing freshman Marco Rubio in Florida and Rand Paul in Kentucky. In the House, Republicans reelected every incumbent and defeated several Democratic incumbents. Republicans are now the majority in the congressional delegations of every Southern state. Every Southern state, with the exception of Arkansas, elected or reelected Republicans governors. Republicans also took control of both houses of the Alabama and North Carolina state legislatures for the first time since Reconstruction. Many analysts believe the so-called “Southern Strategy,” that has been employed by Republicans since the 1960s is now complete, with Republicans in firm, almost total control, of political offices in the South.

            So the question confronting the left should be: Why do appeals to racism continue to be so effective in getting people to operate against their own economic wellbeing? The Polly-Annish, moralizing pronouncements of the Marxists/Structuralists and the equally cynical pronouncements of the New Atheists are both gross oversimplifications that cast more darkness than light upon human nature.

            I tend to agree with David Sloan Wilson when he wrote in Darwin’s Cathedral that “evolutionary biology in general and multilevel selection theory in particular may account for the facts better than any other intellectual and scientific framework.” However, multilevel selection theory does not eliminate the larger moral problem, as Wilson goes on to explain:

            [E]ven when groups do evolve into adaptive units, often they are adapted to behave aggressively toward other groups. In Darwin’s scenario, the moral virtues are practiced among members of a tribe and are directed against other tribes. Group selection does not eliminate conflict directed against other tribes. Group selection does not eliminate conflict but rather elevates it up the biological hierarchy, from among individuals within groups to among groups within a larger population. The most that group selection can do is produce groups that are like organisms in the harmony and coordination of their parts. We already know about the competitive and predatory interactions that take place among individual organism in ecological communities, and the same can be expected of well-adapted groups. This might be a disappointment for those searching for a universal morality that transcends groups boundaries, but it follows directly from the organismic concept of groups. I do not mean to imply that the search for a universal morality is hopeless, only that it does not follow automatically from group selection theory.

            Wilson goes on to develop his theory of cultural evolution to explain how human beings might overcome these animosities and conflicts between groups. But from a pragmatic political standpoint, what I take from Wilson is that when it comes to resolving these intergroup conflicts, it should be possible to craft messages that appeal both to people’s innate sense of “natural law” and to their self-interest. And so maybe an analysis like Wilson’s can help us take one step forward in resolving the problem that faced the Populist movement. Here’s Goodwyn again:

            What the cause of the third party urgently in 1892 was for Macune or someone else to go beyond the social conceptions embedded in the sub-treasury system to develop a broader theoretical analysis that could be shaped to speak with power to the millions of “plain people” in the nation’s cities. Admittedly, this assignment constituted a cultural challenge of enormous dimension: indeed, it was a challenge that was to confront—-and in many ways defeat—-succeeding generations of democratic theorists down to the present. No more than Macune did latter-day reformers possess a language of politics that could persuasively describe to most Americans the realities of power and privilege inherent in the society they lived in.

        2. Karl

          DownSouth,

          If you tell me that you desire to live in a hierarchical society, then ok, I have no choice but to believe you. Personally, I think it’s an idiotic organizational structure which is partly responsible for the perpetual problems of mankind. As for what “most people desire”, I think i on the ball is correct to point out that the society within which a person exists has a great deal to do with how they act and what they “desire”. If you change a structure then the behaviour of those constrained by it also changes. The theme of the various social movements which I’ve been monitoring is: No hierarchy!

  13. ceasley7

    Maybe I’m crazy but I consider the crooks running the show now to be the swamp creatures. Illegal wars, no rule of law ….

  14. Ignim Brites

    Well a pretty dreary piece. My take on the current political situation is based on the idea that there will not be another mega bailout. The party with the best program for dealing with the TBTF banks will seize the popular imagination for a decade. It could be quite exciting if Bernanke and Geithner try an end run around Congress. The possibility of spectacle of the these two in chains is not to be dismissed.

  15. Hugh

    Most of what Ferguson is saying is what many of us here and elsewhere have been saying for an age. Is swamp creatures some oblique reference to Huey Long? Or to radicals in general. Because it was those radicals who pushed FDR and the Establishment into those actions for which they now get, deservedly, so much credit.

    But seriously Jerry Brown? Governor Moonbeam? For a political scientist and historian, Ferguson is showing a real lapse of memory. As for Barbour, possible, but he is a founder of the big lobbying firm Barbour Griffith & Rogers, that and being governor of the poorest state in the country are hardly recommendations. I mean what is he going to run on “Vote for me and I will make the rest of the country as poor as Mississippi”? Yeah, that’ll work.

  16. F. Beard

    But the experience of the Great Depression was that as things failed to improve the swamp creatures got their chance. Thomas Ferguson

    And why not? Are our problems so big that a $1 million check sent to every American adult citizen from the US Treasury would not solve them?

    There’s a huge political prize for the first political party to realize it is almost that simple. The other parties will kick themselves to death for being so blind.

  17. lark

    The reason this country has worked, despite all the negatives that Ferguson describes so well, is because it has provided a powerful ‘jobs machine’.

    Globalization and outsourcing ended all that. I think the balance that we took for granted has disintegrated – and the center has disintegrated, with that.

    It is interesting that the Tea Party and the unions agree on stopping globalization.

    This international economic order is going to bite the dust. That may even be good for ordinary Americans, because we will manufacture more of what we consume.

  18. F. Beard

    The reason this country has worked, despite all the negatives that Ferguson describes so well, is because it has provided a powerful ‘jobs machine’. lark

    Who needs a job if one is rich? By now the average American should be paying foreigners to do all the undesirable work while we putter around doing ONLY the work we desire to do .

    Folks, it ain’t jobs we need but the WEALTH that was looted from us via the government backed counterfeiting cartel and the corporations who borrow from them.

    Capitalism would work just fine for all of US if we ever had the genuine article.

    1. skippy

      “Who needs a job if one is rich? By now the average American should be paying foreigners to do all the undesirable work while we putter around doing ONLY the work we desire to do.”

      ———-

      For all your biblical pontification…you lament the unbequeathed enslavement of foreingners for the lack of riches which have been stolen from ye…

      You were given life…be thank full of that.

      Skippy….how god like…love me or parish.

      1. F. Beard

        For all your biblical pontification…you lament the unbequeathed enslavement of foreingners for the lack of riches which have been stolen from ye… skippy

        Theft is theft, friend, either with a gun or a government backed fractional reserve banking cartel. And restitution for theft is Biblical too, up to 7 times the amount stolen.

        But if it will make you feel better, rather than hire foreigners at free market rates (which I suspect would be very generous because of high demand) should we let the foreigners starve and buy Japanese robots instead?

        1. skippy

          HA. thieves are every where, what about the thieves that steal others wealth and call it strategic economic resource protection or free trade. Your so called wealth is just laundered theft but x times removed does provided some cover..eh.

          I’ll send you a couple Attenkun to *employ* that should make you feel better, you know market rates, your generous gifts (cough wage slaves) we wouldn’t want them to starve now.

          http://alethonews.wordpress.com/2010/05/01/ethiopian-jews-experience-israeli-racism-at-a-very-early-age/

          Skippy…your *wealth* is just your ability, to extract a higher share of everyone’s toil. If you really want to get closer to your chosen deity may I suggest about six months in some remote area, with out human contact.

          Then lets see how much wealth he bequeaths you…I await your return.

  19. Mark @ Israel

    This post is quite comprehensive especially in revealing how politicians are ruled by the money that investors put into them. It’s really disgusting that Obama and all others who won the elections allowed business people to rule over us through the policies they have implemented. It’s plain to see, many are controlled by money.

  20. Bernard

    so here we are. at the mercy of the Corporations. how long can we go back and forth between kicking out the D’s and then the R’s? how long? i bet big money any protests by the Poor/Middle Class will be met by Guns, Guns and more Guns. like the recent Conventions in NY and MN showed. only the poor are criminalized. not the rich.

    the guys who own America have no compulsion about killing your Average Joe.
    this started back in the 60′s, where they had trial runs. Successfully shut down the protests. it keeps Americans quiet and subservient to their Plan.

    Just how are Americans to compete with the Moneyed Interests now? they can’t vote without an address. Republicans are good at pushing “poll tax” laws and won’t ever let up there. Democrats couldn’t care less as long as they get their share of the Corporate graft.

    Maybe there will be enough outrage one day? i know that listening to the arguments here there are some pretty fast talkers and those kind are not to be trusted. Getting scammed gives “radar” about people like these.

    maybe this is just America’s timeline. Destruction by the Rich. Seems to be the current operating method by all the Banksters in the Western World. i don’t know much about the rest of the World.

    just the fighting instinct arises. These scumbags are winning on such a scale that the anger just will not go quietly into the night.

    doing something that hinders these actions, whether personally or collectively, is such an urge.

    this is truly a Darwinian feeling. to fight back against the larger Evil, just seems so natural.

  21. Michelle

    There is an answer that will help with these problems. It is called Get Out Of Our House – GOOOH.com. This is a plan to put true citizen representatives in office through a selection process. Another aspect of this plan is to fund the campaign for the selected candidate and thereby eliminating the influence of special interest groups. It is not a party and therefore has no platform. It is a non-partisan plan to allow the people of the district to choose the person they feel represents them best. This candidate will be required to document how they will vote on over 100 issues and then sign an agreement to that effect. To read about how this innovative new plan is the answer we have been looking for, visit the website at GOOOH.com.

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