Bill Black is the author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One and an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He blogs at New Economic Perspectives. Here he’s interviewed by Paul Jay of the Real News Network.
The whole thing is worth a listen, or the transcript worth a read, like anything from Black. But this paragraph caught my eye:
BLACK: Well, today I looked at what you would learn, if you read The Wall Street Journal, about finance, our premiere business reportage. And what you’d learn is something really quite extraordinary. You would learn that money had shifted dramatically in this election. Whereas in the first time the then-senator Obama ran for the presidency, he received 57 percent, or the Democrats received 57 percent of the funding, now the Republicans received 63 percent. And in this news report, mind you, not an op-ed, not an editorial, the reporters said that this was due to the fact that President Obama had demonized the industry. So, again, this is supposedly a straight news report that President Obama had demonized banking in the United States, and as a result, the banking industry had turned on him.
So this is just an extraordinary invention, because President Obama has actually bailed out the financial industry and indeed has protected the financial industry from criticism and from meaningful transition.
That funding shift sounds like the ratchet effect to me. I’m going to quote a great slab of material:
The American political system, since at least 1968, has been operating like a ratchet, and both parties — Republicans and Democrats — play crucial, mutually reinforcing roles in its operation.
The electoral ratchet permits movement only in the rightward direction. The Republican role is fairly clear; the Republicans apply the torque that rotates the thing rightward.
The Democrats’ role is a little less obvious. The Democrats are the pawl. They don’t resist the rightward movement — they let it happen — but whenever the rightward force slackens momentarily, for whatever reason [for example, the financial crisis of 2008], the Democrats click into place and keep the machine from rotating back to the left. …
Here’s how it works. In every election year, the Democrats come and tell us that the country has moved to the right, and so the Democratic Party has to move right too in the name of realism and electability. Gotta keep these right-wing madmen out of the White House, no matter what it takes. [Sound familiar?]…
So now the Democrats have moved to the “center.” But of course this has the effect of shifting the “center” farther to the right.
Now, as a consequence, the Republicans suddenly don’t seem so crazy anymore — they’re closer to the center, through no effort of their own, because the center has shifted closer to them. So they can move even further right, and still end up no farther from the “center” than they were four years ago. …
The ratchet clicks: Nixon. The pawl holds: Carter. Click again: Reagan. And again: Bush Senior (and Iraq War I). The pawl holds: Clinton. Click: Bush Junior and Iraq War II; then another click, and it’s Bush Junior triumphant, and God knows what to come [Obama, a pawl]. …
I have a somewhat unlikely friend, a rich man in Chicago — let’s call him Al. …. [H]e is a well-connected, intelligent guy who has some pet political causes. I happened to ask him one year, during a Senatorial campaign, which candidate he and his friends were contributing to. Both candidates were quite friendly to his cause, and I thought he might have had a hard time deciding between them. Al looked at me as if I had just revealed unsuspected depths of idiocy. “Both, of course,” he replied.
“Well, we’re giving a little more to X [the Republican], naturally, ’cause he’s got a better chance of winning. But we’ve given a lot to Y [the Democrat], too. In fact, I think we may be his biggest single bloc of support.”
“But… which one do you want to win?”
He laughed. “It doesn’t matter. We own ’em both.”
So there you have it.
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I’m not sure the ratchet effect works as a model; I think the political system is more complicated than that; but it sure does work as a metaphor, doesn’t it? Or does it?