Will America’s Besieged Middle Class Snap?

A paradox arises to the extent that it is true that the market is dependent on normative underpinning (to provide the pre-contractural foundations such as trust, cooperation, and honesty) which all contractural relations require: The more people accept the neoclasical paradigm as a guide for their behavior, the more the ability to sustain a market economy is undermined. This holds for all those who engage in transactions without ever-present inspectors, auditors, lawyers, and police: if they do not limit themselves to legitimate (i.e. normative) means of competition out of internlized values, the system will collapse, because the transaction costs of a fully or even highly “policed” system are prohibitive. This holds even more so for the regulators that every market requires. If those whose duty it is to set and to enforce the rules of the game are out to maximize their own profits, a-la-Public Choice, there is no hope for the system

Amitai Etzioni, The Moral Dimension: Toward a New Economics

I’ve been amazed at the complacency of Americans in the face of rape and pillage by the moneyed classes. Of course, I underestimate the impact of overwork and media brainwashing. If you are a member of the dwindling middle class, you are probably devoting all your energies to hanging on to your job and trying to be a decent partner and for those with families, parent. Any kind of sustained political action (unless you grew up with it in a serious way) is unlikely to rate as high as a tertiary concern. In our total information society, protesting has high odds of getting one’s mug in a video that could come back to haunt you. An arrest would show up in a background check. What a great way to keep the peasantry in line.

Civil disobedience went out of fashion with Thoreau, if not before then. Bourgeois sensibilities and taking to the barricades do not mix. Oh yes, we may admire Gandhi and Mandela, but they were oppressed and had little to lose in bucking the authoriites (well take that back, Mandela did give that great speech at his trial about being willing to die). In the US, with the exception of the 1960s, protests have been mainly working class affairs We have our mortgages and our social standing to consider.

But times may be a changin’. Angry investors tortured a savings-destoying money manager in Germany. Who knows what would have become of Bernie Madoff if his victims had gotten near him. And in an interesting bit of synchronicity, Leo’s post tonight is about the nouveau pauvre.

If the green shooters are proven correct, the odds of upheaval are close to nil. However, if things get worse, the US may reach a tipping point. But Americans like gore only on the big screen, and we don’t have a tradition of general strikes a more civilized way of registering serious discontent.

Marshall Auerback, at the end of a very good piece “Major Social Upheaval Likely if Bank Bonanza Continues,” suggests another angle, that of payment revolt:

By contrast, the current bonanza for banks is neither economically efficient, nor politically sustainable.
What is driving the change in portfolio preference shifts is not only a misguided paradigm, but also an inability for the Obama administration to make a sensible, coherent case in what they are doing and why they are doing it. Their actions, in fact, seem to suggest that everything is ad hoc and that they are operating out of their depth, in effect continuing the same policies of the Bush/Paulson period, but on a much greater scale.

Ironically, this ultimately will also prove highly inimical to the interests of finance itself. When most of the home owning voters cannot pay their major debt or have no incentive to pay their mortgage debt, there will either be a debtors revolt that society will sanction or there will be a bailout of such a magnitude that mega moral hazard will affect private lending forever. Once these things happen, you will no longer have the social rules for private risk based lending. In other words, financial markets will be unlike anything ever seen before in private economies. Is this really what Wall Street wants, let alone American society as a whole?

Both FDR and JFK had a brain trust that could help forge public opinion. Obama has his halo, Geithner, and Summers. We’ve known from the start that was a misstep.
In the meantime, beyond automatic stabilizers, the door appears to be shutting to further active fiscal ease. I wonder if the stage is already being set for tax hikes, as rumors of a federal VAT (value added tax) have been floating around of late. Add this to rising commodity prices and interest rates, and the profile of any recovery may become increasingly in question, a la 1937-8. Add to that additional bank write-offs, further credit contraction and a minimalist welfare system which leaves nothing in the way of social cohesion, and the prospects for major social upheaval look dangerously likely. What is missing is a vision of a new growth path for the US. If a public backlash is to be marshalled to something more than retribution, that needs to come to the fore. Once you get beyond the pothole and school patching, what industries can be pushed forward through public seed capital or public private partnerships? The economist Hy Minsky pointed out a better way to solve both the liquidity and the income problem, while also providing full employment: by channeling government expenditure through an employer-of-last-resort program.

The current crisis could have been mitigated if increased household consumption had been financed through wage increases and if financial institutions had used their earnings to augment bank capital rather than employee bonuses.
The current system has failed because it was built on an incentive system that did just the opposite.

Auerback also points out earlier in the piece that the Great Depression government-created jobs were anything but makework:

As Adam Cohen in his new book, NOTHING TO FEAR ,

[WPA] workers constructed or repaired more than 125,000 buildings, including 83,000 schools; 800 aiports; 950 sewage plants; and 650,000 miles of roads. They built or improved 78,000 bridges and 25,000 playgrounds; terraced 271,000 acres of eroded land; and taught two million people to read. They also ran a famous Federal Art Project, which hired destitute artists to create murals for public buildings, posters, and paintings. The WPA produced a highly regarded series of state guidebooks and an acclaimed collection of interviews with former slaves, and it played a major role in building the San Antonio Zoo, New York City’s LaGuardia and Washington’s Reagan airports, and the presidential retreat at Camp David. In 1965, on the program’s thirtieth anniversary, The New York Times quoted a dispossessed North Carolina tenant farmer living in an abandoned gas station, who had been rescued by a WPA job. ‘I’m proud of our United States, and everyting I hear The Star Spangled Banner I feel a lump in my throat,’ he said. ‘There ain’t no other nation in the world that would have had the sense enough to think of WPA.”

One of the towns I lived in had a very large WPA-created park, and it looked as if it must have taken quite a bit of manpower. It is still the best feature of a largely blue collar town. But our Darwinist model of capitlism seems to deem it wiser to blame lack of work on individuals’ refusal to accept low enough wages, than consider that in a high-skill society with narrowly defined jobs, that labor is no longer all that fungible and people really can be unemployed through no fault of their own.

But in our current paradign, enforcing market principles takes precedence over human dignity. And it looks like that paradigm will hold until it shatters under its own contradictions.

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62 comments

  1. Andrew Bissell

    I’m proud of our United States, and everyting I hear The Star Spangled Banner I feel a lump in my throat,’ he said. ‘There ain’t no other nation in the world that would have had the sense enough to think of WPA.

    I don't know about that … the Weimar Republic did us one better and had government factories.

    Painting murals when 25% of the country was suffering from malnutrition was not make-work?

  2. bob

    Thanks for saying it and saying it well. Either changes will be made by the people in charge, or they will be made by the building mob.

    I don't want to see the mob, I can't afford a jet to some other place to get away from it.

    Right wing- Stop saying how useless the government is, you might find out how much it really is responsible for. It would be a very bloody demonstration, and there is not much thinking in the mob, they are even less impressed when you tell them you saw it coming.

    Left wing- Stop pretending that you didn't get bent over in the last election, be bigger than the last eight years of W and his supporters. Stop standing by your guy when he is clearly and irrevantely doing everything that the guy before him was doing. Be big enough to admit you were wrong. The W supporters still think he was a 'fiscal conservative'.

    Don't be 'that guy'.

    Left wing-

  3. mr_a11is

    Its possible that the tipping point has already been reached by many. Ruthless default, ammo shortages, not filing tax returns. California closing down next month should accelerate the cause. Give it some time to go viral.

  4. Tao Jones

    I think that something is happening. The final result will probably be heartbreaking on many, many levels, but there is the framework of a populist movement in place, and it is decidedly libertarian.

    My only concern is that most libertarians don't understand power because they eschew it. As a result, like the naive, ideological communists of yesteryear, they are not in a good position to differentiate between true believers and self-aggrandizing opportunists (e.g., Stalin and Lenin). In particular, libertarians need to watch out for the Becks and Levins of the world.

    It certainly will be interesting. The ironic thing is that Greenspan and Bernanke, catalysts in this crisis, are libertarians. I don't know if that proves how evil government is, or how the individual is as, regardless of their positions in government, they acted as individuals.

  5. Hugh

    We have been in a pre-revolutionary state since the meltdown on September 15, 2008. This doesn't mean a revolution will happen, only that it could happen. Militating against are widespread political apathy and lack of political awareness. Physical conditions are becoming stressed but have not yet significantly deteriorated for many Americans. On the other hand, our elites remain deeply in denial and have mounted no serious response to any of the economy's structural problems. This can produce a dangerously volatile mixture. When apathy changes to action in the absence of political awareness, you basically have people who know what they are against but not what they are for. This can lead to very destructive forms of populism. Much of FDR's New Deal consisted of efforts to keep the lid on revolution in this country because the Great Depression was a pre-revolutionary time too.

    We tend to think it could never happen here although it did 70 years ago, or that it could never happen again, although the basis for this belief quite frankly escapes me. The truth is it could. It just doesn't need to. Before the housing bubble formed, before it burst, before the meltdown, before commercial real estate collapses and the suckers market falls apart, we have and have had reasonable outs, workable solutions to where we were and are. That is the great tragedy in all this, that it all was so avoidable. But greed and stupidity have consequences. I have little interest in the fates of the Lloyd Blankfeins, John Macks, and Jamie Dimons but their actions and those of Bush, Paulson, Bernanke, Obama, Summers, and Geithner will warp the lives of a hundred million or more of us. It is that disconnect between them and us that is the spark of revolutions.

  6. Tao Jones

    @Hugh

    My only difficulty in accepting your thesis in its entirety is your seeming insistence on holding all of the players equally to blame and for all of the same reasons.

    Is that what you are trying to do?

    I think Bush, Paulson, Geithner and Summers have been playing the game long enough to become cynical opportunists.

    Bernanke and Obama? I don't know.

    Bernanke was an academic. What did he really understand about the rough and tumble?

    Obama has never really played on a national stage. Yes, he is playing by the same playbook that has been in place since the Reagan era, but that is more likely because he doesn't know better (or has been told that this what he has to do to get along) than he is a Stepford wife.

    Yes, there is something fundamentally wrong here. Yes, both major political parties are complicit in perpetuating it. Yes, even President Obama seems to be signing on to this clusterfuck. But let's not forget the humanity of any of these people as we try to create meaningful change. Every one of them is making decisions based on where each of them is, not based upon a hypothetical middle class person. They're not evil. They're not even misguided (assuming they're all guided by their own self-interest). They're just wrong.

    Bottom line: we should be attacking the ideas, not the people who spew them. That's your fastest path to meaningful change.

  7. VG Chicago

    Excellent post, Yves!

    One issue that is not mentioned here is the race factor. Up until this point, much of America was conveniently divided along racial lines. This kept the anger diffuse and focused on the wrong culprits. However, now, with an African-American president it is not as easy to divide along racial lines. It is no longer the whites vs. the blacks (or other races), and vice-versa. Right now it is becoming the haves vs. the haves not. Finally, now everybody knows who the enemy is: AIG, Citibank, BoA, Chase, AmEx, Wall Street.

    What I write here comes largely from my own observation. As a clinician working with many minority clients, I noticed a clear shift in blame and anger since Obama became president. Obama’s presidency may have been initially thought/planned to delay a revolution, but instead it may very well turn out to be the catalyst that focuses the revolution properly.

    Vinny G.

  8. Andrew Bissell

    My only concern is that most libertarians don't understand power because they eschew it. As a result, like the naive, ideological communists of yesteryear, they are not in a good position to differentiate between true believers and self-aggrandizing opportunists (e.g., Stalin and Lenin). In particular, libertarians need to watch out for the Becks and Levins of the world.

    As a libertarian I could not agree more with your sentiment, although I am more sanguine than you about their ability to suss out the pretenders.

    It certainly will be interesting. The ironic thing is that Greenspan and Bernanke, catalysts in this crisis, are libertarians.

    I remain mystified as to how anyone can confuse people who assume the head post at a central bank with massively inflationary policies "libertarian."

  9. skippy

    All thoughts presented in post and comments here, lay near the bone. How will it end, I fear as history so painfully illustrates. The lynch pin for me is whether a crack pot or humanitarian leads us out of the woods, who will have the gravity to pull the majority this time around.

    "Hope" will be the one asset unsurpassed by any other, the survivalists ultimate tool, it has served me well at least.

    One little beef Yves, please would everyone stop using Darwin in the "survival of the fittest context" which is rhetorical tautology. Darwin used Herbert Spencers phrase in his fifth edition of "On the Origin of Species" as a metaphor. This is what the crack pots will do, bastardize others words and thoughts to their poison minds vomitus bile.

    wiki link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Survival_of_the_fittest

    Skippy…a visual aid to my mental condition re: Darwin's reduction link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pgm0I2RYUFo&feature=related
    @1:32 1995 Gay Olympics, Event "Women Philosophers Taking offencing to a perfectly innocent remark"…Mucho Gusto everyone

  10. Joseph

    Firstly I have to admit that I am a raging socialist, but I am also a moderately successful fund manager and ex-banker, so while I am anti-capitalist I have made decent career as a house servant to capital.

    The first stage of the revolution has already begun. The marxists predicted that ultimately capitalism would invert itself. Its apparent virtures of free markets, free speach, competition would be replaced by cartel, monopoly and censorship.

    Well now the process is underway. The economy is being progressively "nationalised" and being supported by system of tithes paid to an increasingly parasitic ruling class. While in the short-term this looks like a set back it lays the foundation for the eventual socialisation of the economy.

    The democratic socialist revolution is closer than you think

  11. Chindit13

    "Bob" above: well said. Everybody, no matter his/her ilk or ideology, has to admit his own failings and play a constructive role, or the whole thing goes.

    As for the players at the top, it is a kind of "harmonic convergence" with the wrong people in the wrong places. Obama may well be bright and have a good idea or two (particularly his attempt to rebuild America's political standing in the world), but in the realm of finance he is not only a fool, but indicative of why we are where we are. Note his own pre-book release finances—massive use of HE loans, excess consumption, and zero savings. He wouldn't know if Geithner, Summers et al were doing something stupid. He's outsourced the role of money.

    Bernanke is an academic suffering from the hubris of intellect, similar to what Myron Scholes, Dave Modest and the Nobel/Professor crowd suffered at LTCM. He can't seem to fathom why his QE and aggressive asset buying is only leading to massive bank reserves at the Fed and doing nothing to stem the collapse of asset prices.

    Then there are the mercenaries on Wall Street (of which I am a reformed member). Most either do not know they might get Ceaucescu'd in a not-so-distant future, or else are arrogant enough to believe they can escape unscathed. Many will stay a day too long, and the anger of the mob will be directed toward those in Greenwich and the Hamptons and Park Avenue. They had better keep the G550 gassed up.

    I have considered every possible permutation of what comes next, and sadly, I cannot find one that is anything less than horrible, at least with any degree of confidence. Popular delusions and the madness of crowds will take on a wholly different meaning, I fear. I think about what used to be Yugoslavia, a beautiful country I had the pleasure to visit long before it re-Balkanized. I never could have imagined what was in their future. Now, though, I can well imagine what might be in ours.

  12. Richard Kline

    Joseph: "The marxists predicted that ultimately capitalism would invert itself. Its apparent virtures of free markets, free speach, competition would be replaced by cartel, monopoly and censorship." Actually, this is simply a burgeois-industrial restatement of the Anacyclosis of Polybius. The question of whether there are inherent organizational circulations in societies is at least 2200 years old and counting. Ibn Khaldun had a still under-explored and fascinating thesis on organizational dynamics amongst sequential generations. There is much to that issue which Idol-ed America hasn't yet begun to consider.

  13. Brick

    It seems clear that successfully implementations of stimulus involve tax cuts to the middle class, but with politics flip flopping between do more for the poor and do more for big business the middle class seems to more and more besieged.
    I don't see the middle classes snapping in the short term, as the real realisation that the burden of the bailouts will fall on them has not sunk in. I suspect there is a quiet simmering of discontent with financial markets and politicians as a whole and a hope that their voted representatives will with time correct some of the wrongs.
    A scenario for more serious discontent might be if the excesses of the past continue to accelerate leading to mass demonstrations. Heavy handedness in dealing with those demonstrations would result in unrest. The psychological snapping point would not be what happens to the individual but injustices towards neighbours.
    I must confess to not being a fan of sedition and see persuasion and argument as better tools, but there does appear to be yawning gap in a number of balances, a lot of riding rough shod over rules which give society its structure and moral hazard galore as people are rewarded for failure. How those imbalances resolve themselves troubles me.

  14. Richard Kline

    While I agree with the broad perspective you raise in your post, Yves, I have something of a different take on the concern you raise here. I would argue that we do not yet even _have_ a 'middle class' crisis in the US. 10% unemployment doesn't get us there. Indeed, the large per centage of those losses are in manufacturing and construction, with a significant share in discretionary service industry (bar servers), and low end retail. Those sectors are the province of the lower-middle class, working class, and working poor. For those portions of society, yes, this is a crisis.

    For them, could a re-WPA be any solution? The WPA was a very complex process, and I both love it while taking it as no example of a solution. It's principle function was 'social control,' putting the poor on work so that the Red Devil had too few idle hands. (Seriously.) Whether it was good, bad, or indifferent of effect in its day, it is not a viable solution in this day. Then, the poor and working class were by an large familiar with personal physical labor, and could be deployed to do it for a living wage. Does anyone seriously see those in the present unemployment pool in a position to do the same? Assuredly I do not. There are only so many jobs assembling and disassembly pep rallies for the minimum wage that the government can function without the fradulent farcicality of the exercise being a gross embarassment to all involved.

    For the middle class, not yet. Yes many have taken huge paper losses on their homes. Some of those are have even been or will soon be in foreclosure, which will sufficiently impair their credit as to lastingly constrain their quality of life. —But as long as they are still employed, they are still middle class. Then too, many own their homes free and clear in this country. Asset price drops and retirement account decimation have hurt the discretionary income of many of those two, even left them with signficant debts to repay. As long as they are employed and paying the minimum on their debts, they remain in the middle class. Indeed, if we get universal health care out of the present Administration with some measure of cost control. All of those folks, even those with tens of thousands of dollars in debt, may end up not so hard off. What has changed for most of them was the drunken sailor's spending spree on 'acessorized lifestyles.' That hurts, but that's not a crisis.

    And sans crisis, sans revolution. The middle class in this country is _far_ from boiling. If they go to use their ATM card and the bank is shuttered and gone, that's a crisis. If their entire industry is padlocked the next day they arrive for work, that's a crisis. But the powers that be have done much to prevent that state of affairs, for now. I don't mean to make light of the suffering of those who've actually taken a hit in this, but the American middle class is only queasy, and hoping for easy solutions and a few cautionary ass-whuppin's. Which is exactly why the faked outrage inside the Beltway over 'executive compensation.' As you know. [Cont.]

  15. Richard Kline

    At this point, we are far more likely to get fascism than socialism. Fascism is the popular boil over of the lower middle class when their status is threatened. Everyone reading the news these few years should have this on their mind. It doesn't have to be 'fascism' with a capital letter or formal ideology, either; that's the mistaken appraisal. The powers that be and Big Money on the Take right now are selling the 'back to normalcy' meme. Yah know, the 'green shoots' for breakfast nonsense. When this line bombs in Peoria by late fall, they'll be looking for someone to blame. Security to heighten. And please y'all passing through comments, those 'ammo shortages' and the lot are guff. The Army is perfectly capable of wiping the cellblock with any Live Free or Die naturists out there. And indeed, all that domestic security infrastructure put in place by the last eight years of 'friendly fascists' could just as easily be deployed against 'domestic terrorists' by the new regime.

    I'm not selling conspiracy with all this. The point is that what the middle class wants, in so far as I can tell, is for 'order to be restored' to their way of life. Those promising to do this will get the votes. I mean, that's exactly what happened in the last election; stop and think what I mean.

    There are many other reasons why I do not anticipate a revolutionary response from the American middle class under immediately foreseeable circumstances, but I'll save that for another day. As of today, we are much more likely to see 'light weight fascism' applied by a savior of the middle class against the unemployed working class and poor, while bheind a covering screen of teargas the federal state throws its wherewithal behind Big Finance, Big Corporate, and the other apex predators of our economy and society. [Barack Obama, that's your cue.]

  16. Fred

    Yves havent you seen what happens now when people protest ala the Repug/Demo conventions last year? People are beaten by armed, shelled thugs called police.
    I agree that if a city or two burned and several hundred cops were taken out during demonstrations like in Tehran that Washington may take demonstrations and protests more seriously.

    American citizens that care and want to do something are in a bind because the top down completely corrupt government will make sure that protesters and all the have are destroyed.

    The America I grew up in is gone and has been replaced by a fascist oligarchy. If I could find one 1st world country that I could emigrate to Id leave tomorrow.

    No one that doesnt have howitzers and nuclear weapons can stand up to these government criminals which include the President and CONgress.

  17. OC Progressive

    It will be interesting to see what happens in California this year if the Governator's budget cuts are pushed through.

    He's proposing a complete elimination of the welfare to work program, meaning more than 1.1 million children and approximately 310,000 parents would lose monthly cash grants, along with employment services and child care assistance, effective October 1, 2009. Eliminating CalWORKs would reduce General Fund spending by $2.4 billion in 2010-11 – the first full year that CalWORKs would be eliminated – but California also would lose $3.9 billion in federal funds, for a combined loss of state and federal funding of $6.3 billion in 2010-11.

    Let's take an angry jobless mass of people, and take away the social safety net.

    Nothing could go wrong here.

  18. walex

    «I’ve been amazed at the complacency of Americans in the face of rape and pillage by the moneyed classes.»

    Rather than complacency I would say it is largely admiration and envy. How many of the ruthless usian middle classes would have differently from Mozilo, Fuld, Cayne, Skilling, etc.?

    Probably very few would have refused a surefire opportunity to be big time WINNERS for the sake of ridiculous loser concepts like scruples or principles.

    The usian middle classes have been fully willing partners in the rape and pillage, only too willing to become moneyed classes themselves via real estate and stock market speculation. As long as their house prices and 401k values went ever up, all was well in the best of possible worlds, they got theirs too.

    The usian middle classes have got nothing against getting rich by whatever it takes; they are perhaps getting a bit angrier about finding out that they not been the winners, but the patsies, in the great con game of the past 25 years; and they have only themselves to blame.

    Ah of course not: as the moneyed classes have taught them, the rage of the "whatever it takes", "f*ck you, I am fully vested" usian middle classes is directed at what they perceive as the endless mobs of exploitative parasites that "share" (steal) their wealth thanks to the heavy handed intervention of the extreme leftist Obama.

    What do many in the middle classes think then?

    Mozilo? They would have done the same if they could, and they tried. The poor, the minorities? Thieves who want to steal their remaining wealth.

    The big problem with the USA is not the politicians are corrupt, it is that the voters are corrupt, and the oil is running out.

    «As of today, we are much more likely to see 'light weight fascism' applied by a savior of the middle class against the unemployed working class and poor, while bheind a covering screen of teargas the federal state throws its wherewithal behind Big Finance, Big Corporate, and the other apex predators of our economy and society.»

    That plan is called Movement Republicanism, and it is in effect the Contract On America that got Newt Gingrich elected.

  19. Benign Brodwicz

    I'd like to see the phone lines of Congress flooded with calls to RAISE MARGINAL TAX RATES ON RICH FOLKS (say, with incomes over $250K a year) with the rates steepening as income climbs into the obscenosphere so that incomes over $1 million would be taxed at 75% or so–and get rid of the "hedge fund exemption."

    Obama has been too timid to pursue this, poor man. This would be the clearest signal "the people" could send to "the ruling class" that they've got to learn to share. And then maybe pay multiples in American corporations might come down, as the idea that sharing is *good* spread.

    Don't like it? Emigrate. See if you can get your money out of the country.

    Who can get their rep to introduce a steeply graduated progressive income tax bill on the floor of the House? Sell it as shared sacrifice. The problem here is that the libertarians and Republicans don't like to raise taxes on anyone, even though at our most successful times in history, marginal tax rates have been much higher, reflecting a much tighter social cohesion. We are stuck with our government and need to try to make it work–and even use it to instill a values change.

    My position has always been that it's okay to raise taxes on people who make more than I do. Screw a VAT! That's just more regressive taxation! The rich in the this country are supremely well set-up, and would be wise to give back to their ailing government and countrymen.

    And then on the other end, start livable workfare for the growing ranks of the unemployed to avoid radicalization and upheaval.

    Hope springs eternal.

    cheers,
    Benign

  20. Dan Duncan

    Yves writes:

    "Civil disobedience went out of fashion with Thoreau, if not before then. Bourgeois sensibilities and taking to the barricades do not mix. Oh yes, we may admire Gandhi and Mandela, but they were oppressed and had little to lose in bucking the authorities (well take that back, Mandela did give that great speech at his trial about being willing to die). In the US, with the exception of the 1960s, protests have been mainly working class affairs We have our mortgages and our social standing to consider."

    It's just not accurate. There is no meaningful civil disobedience in the "Middle Class" because The Middle Class has been chopped in half. The Middle Class is two Quarter Classes who happen to share the same tax bracket. The "Middle Class" is a Quarter Class in the Heartland, surrounded by a Quarter Class dispersed around the coasts.

    In order to have a real revolt, the two quarters would have to work together…and that's just not going to happen.

    For those who blame "the other side" for putting [insert useless Politician here] into office, thereby causing all our problems…you might just be correct.

    But, you might also be an unwitting co-conspirator. [I know I am.] People on both the Left and Right are getting systematically screwed. The corrupt system that's doing the damage doesn't care if you voted for Obama or McCain. The corrupt system just cares that you hate Bush/McCain voters (or Obama/Pelosi voters) more than you hate the system. And the best way to accomplish this is to convince people that "if 'the Other Side' did not exist, things would be so much better".

    I agree with Richard's statement that "At this point we're more likely to get fascism than socialism". I also assert: We're more likely to have a Civil War than a middle class uprising.

  21. EL

    I have been rereading "All the King's Men" and wondering who may be the Willie Stark for the dispossessed of this era. If California's safety net melts down, I am sure some one will pick up the torch and pitch fork and declare a jacquerie. The coming revolt, some sort of fascism-lite Peronism, will start there. And spread.

  22. Ryan

    But our Darwinist model of capitlism seems to deem it wiser to blame lack of work on individuals' refusal to accept low enough wages, than consider that in a high-skill society with narrowly defined jobs, that labor is no longer all that fungible and people really can be unemployed through no fault of their own.

    Nice thought, but I want a person to come up and determine how this country should look like with the coordinated massive movement of labor abroad to places that pay 20 cents an hour and also with the current Six Sigma mindset present in almost all large multinational corporations. Six Sigma is a philosophy based on ultimate efficiency, and everything praises it amongst other things as the reason Toyota rises high and GM is in the ground. So how can stuff like "painters doing city murals" pass muster in such a 6S mindset, either government or private labor? The world today is different. And Americans that are not rich are going to get screwed, unfortunately for myself and others.

  23. Harlem Dad

    Yves,

    What a great post. I often ask myself the same question. So far, the answer I get is NO. But that may change.

    It is impossible to over-estimate the power of MSM brainwashing. Most Americans don't know that they're being plundered by Big Money and their own President. Baby boomers grew up with King's "I have a dream" speech. To expect them to admit that their Dream President and Democrat-majority Congress are witless pawns being controlled by Big Money is just too much to ask. It is literally unthinkable.

    Everyone I know, neighbors, friends, siblings, views the early repayment of TARP funds as a _good_ thing. When I try to explain to them why it isn't, they put up their hands and shake their heads. They don't want to hear it. And if they've even heard of Elizabeth Warren (most have not), to them she's a Harvard Loon promoting her left-wing agenda.

    I'm blue collar from a blue collar family. But for decades I supported the Capitalist system with its excessive pay and bonuses for the privileged few because I believed that _I_ could get ahead, too. I could work hard, save my money, own a nice home, provide a better life for my daughter.

    I no longer think this way. It's not merely a change of opinion, but a sea-change of the way I view this country, its politics and institutions. And it took me some 3 to 4 months of reading Leo Kolivakis, Edward Harrison, Yves and others to get it.

    In the 1930s the Group Theater produced several broadway plays written by Clifford Odets sharing the theme of working class people losing their jobs, their homes, going hungry, etc. "Waiting for Lefty" was about Taxi drivers deciding whether to go on strike. At the end of the play, Elia Kazan (he would direct Marlon Brando in "On the Waterfront" some 20 years later) raised his fist to the audience and shouted "Strike!" The audience would raise their fists and shout "Strike! Strike! Strike!" along with him.

    This was before WWII, well before McCarthism, and some 60 years before Mayor (Generalisimo) Giuliani would use the Police Department to prevent NYC cab drivers even from organizing a strike for better wages.

    In the 1930s, there was no discussion about whether the economy was sort of bad, bad, or really, really bad. It was The Great Depression and everyone knew it. Today, most folks just don't know it yet.

    On the theme of keeping the peasantry in line, consider this quote from Alexander Solzhenitsyn from his book The Gulag Archipelago.

    "And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?… The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin's thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt! If…if…We didn't love freedom enough. And even more—we had no awareness of the real situation…. We purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward.”

    Cheers,

    Tim in Sugar Hill

  24. LeeAnne

    Perfect Etzioni statement " …If those whose duty it is to set and to enforce the rules of the game are out to maximize their own profits, a-la-Public Choice, there is no hope for the system."

    Corporatists do not care what they are called: left, right, libertarian, democratic or republican, independent. What they do pursue fanatically and proselytize in this zeitgeist is corporate control.

    Call it anything but socialism because, in the name distortion game, Republicans have chosen the socialism/socialist as the meme for attacking all liberal political initiatives and reform. Corporatism will be defining what 'socialism' is as they game the system to proselytize privatization.

    Confusion, secrecy, law by edict, opaque financial instruments, military aggression all serve the Corporatists' pursuit of control. Confusion of terms impedes flow of information, debate and, even among like-minded friends, discussion.

    An example from yesterday's MTA selling rights to change the names of major historical subway stops in New York City to corporations; (Thank you Skippy. I had read it with something akin to despair -glad you noted it for NC).

    '"It’s always a question of balancing our need for revenue and our stewardship of public space,” said Jeremy Soffin, a spokesman for the agency."'

    It's my guess Jeremy hasn't a clue to the meaning of 'stewardship' and even if he does is in no position to question or defend it. The article continues:

    '"And the Barclays deal has defenders on the authority’s governing board.

    "It’s not like Taco Bell saying it wants Grand Army Plaza or something like that," said John H. Banks III, a board member since 2004. [the guy Jeremy works for]

    Would Mr. Banks oppose that idea?

    “A year and a half ago? Yeah,” he said. “Tomorrow? No.”

    ' …"Barclays Center, the sports arena planned as the focal point of the Atlantic Yards project, and the developer, Forest City Ratner, has agreed to pay the transportation authority $200,000 a year for the next 20 years to rename one of the oldest and busiest stations in the borough.'

    The $200,000 a year Barclay's is willing to pay is probably less than one MTA executive's annual expense account.

    In this zeitgeist where the difference between right and wrong is a gray area, Corporatists rule.

  25. Tortoise

    Despite my libertarian sympathies, I must say that I am perplexed by some of the views of libertarians of today. Not only do they seem to be politically aloof but also their thinking in some economic and political matters is decidedly 18th century.

    Case in point: "Painting murals when 25% of the country was suffering from malnutrition was not make-work?" I find this statement perplexing. The country did not lack foodstuff. On the contrary. It is just that the those who were hungry could not buy and those who produced could not sell. So, paying for painting murals was helping alleviate malnutrition. I am not saying it was the "optimal" solution, but I would not disdain it either.

    Why can we not just adapt libertarianism to the modern world?

  26. DownSouth

    Andrew Bissell said: "I remain mystified as to how anyone can confuse people who assume the head post at a central bank with massively inflationary policies 'libertarian.' "

    Hannah Arendt makes the essential connection that you fail to see:

    The rule of nobody (bureauacracy), not anarchy, or disappearance of rule, or oppression, is the ever-present danger of any society based on universal equality.
    ~
    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2267/is_2_69/ai_90439534/pg_20/?tag=content;col1

    Libertarians and Marxists both embrace the same Pollyannish concept of human nature, enabling them to conure up an imaginary Shangri-la, which for both is remarkably the same. As Arendt explains:

    In Marx's future society the state has withered away; there is no longer any distinction between rulers and ruled and rulership no longer exists. This corresponds to life in the ancient Greek city-state, which, although it was based on rulership over slaves as its pre-political condition, had excluded rulership from the intercourse of its free citizens. In Herodotus' great definition (to which Marx's statement conforms almost textually), that man is free who wants "neither to rule nor to be ruled." Along with the state, violence in all its forms is gone, and administration has taken the place of police and army; the police are superfluous, because the legislator has become a "natural scientist who does not make or invent laws, but only formulates them" so that man has only to live in conformity with his own nature to remain within the realm of the law. The expectation that it will be easy for men to follow the few elementary rules of behavior discovered and laid down thousands of years ago (as Lenin once strikingly expressed it) in a society without property conflicts is "utopian" only if one assumes that human nature is corrupt or that human laws are not derived from natural law.
    ~

    Engels described the return of mankind to the state of original innocency as one of idyllic harmony with "no soldiers, no gendarmes, no policemen, prefects or judges, no prisons, laws or lawsuits."

  27. Tao Jones

    @LeeAnne,

    You may be right about Corporatists' indifference to labels (or brands, if you will), but brands do matter to most people, and I firmly believe that the political brand most people will gravitate towards is libertarianism.

    One of the glaring blind spots in libertarian doctrine is the failure to distinguish between the individual and the corporation, and thus the failure to see how corporations also impair individual liberty. This was not the case in Adam Smith's day, when corporations were rare creatures of the state as opposed to the ubiquitous, immortal citizens (with more rights than people) that they are today.

    This blind spot is one big reason that I fear that libertarians will lose control of their populist revolution. If the Corporatists within their movement take control, fascism will result. Even if the Corporatists are kept in check, I anticipate totalitariansim of some form will arise.

  28. DownSouth

    (continued)
    Of course in real life this libertarian/Marxist Shangri-la never materializes. As Arendt predicted, one possible outcome of embracing such romantic delusions is bureaucratic rule by "scientist-kings" like Greenspan, Bernanke, Geithner and Summers. Arendt explains how our history of political thought landed us in our current predicament:

    In a sense this development is a complete reversal of the earlier Greek political experience, in which an all important qualification for political life was the pre-political rule over slaves, that is, when only those who held power over others were considered free and fit to participate in politics at all. This early experience, however, was never altogether lost. Politics somehow, though in a very changed way, was still connected with freedom, freedom remained connected with exerting rule, and only rulers were deemed free. This is the context in which freedom could become a "good," something to be enjoyed, closely connected with the power of doing as one pleases, either within or beyond the limits of the law. Freedom remained with the "ruling class," and continued to presuppose others being ruled, even though it was no longer the condition but had become the very content of political life. Thus when universal equality appeared as an unavoidable demand for justice for everyone, for a social and political body in which all were free and no one was ruled, it had all the earmarks of a contradiction in terms…

    His adherence to tradition is also the reason for the even more fateful error of Marx as well as Lenin that mere administration, in contrast to government, is the adequate form of men living together under the condition of radical and universal equality. Administration was supposed to be no rule, but it can actually be only rule by nobody, that is, bureaucracy, a form of government without responsibility. Bureaucracy is the form of government in which the personal element of rulership has disappeared, and it is of course true that such a government may even rule in the interest of no class. But this no-man-rule, the fact that in an authentic bureaucracy nobody occupies the empty chair of the ruler, does not mean that the conditions of rule have disappeared. This nobody rules very effectively when looked upon from the side of the ruled, and, what is worse, as a form of government it has one important trait in common with tyranny. Tyrannical power is defined by the tradition as arbitrary power, and this originally signified a rule for which no account need be given, a rule that owes no one any responsibility. The same is true for the bureaucratic rule by nobody, though for an altogether different reason. There are many people in a bureaucracy who may demand an account, but nobody to give it because nobody cannot be held responsible. In the stead of the tyrant's arbitrary decisions we find the haphazard settlements of universal procedures, settlements that are without malice and arbitrariness because there is no will behind them, but to which there is also no appeal. As far as the ruled are concerned, the net of the patterns in which they are caught is by far more dangerous and more deadly than mere arbitrary tyranny.

  29. Keenan

    Yves and all: This post and the insightful the reader commentary is perhaps the most sparkling of this already scintillating site.

    Richard Klein writes: "And please y'all passing through comments, those 'ammo shortages' and the lot are guff. The Army is perfectly capable of wiping the cellblock with any Live Free or Die naturists out there. And indeed, all that domestic security infrastructure put in place by the last eight years of 'friendly fascists' could just as easily be deployed against 'domestic terrorists' by the new regime.

    Fred writes: "No one that doesnt have howitzers and nuclear weapons can stand up to these government criminals which include the President and CONgress."

    I wonder, do the men & women of the armed services give thought to lines they might not cross, or perhaps might even oppose, if given orders they believe to be contrary to their oaths to the constitution. Posters with inside experience may wish to share their insights.

    I see numerous reports of law enforcement officers (many with military service in Guard or reserve units) abusing their positions in encounters with citizens and being given lenient treatment by internal affairs or by judges/jurors. To me this is yet further manifestation that "the system is broken" in so many aspects and that it will not willingly change.

  30. Tao Jones

    @Down South,

    Exactly!

    Another way to look at this is to start with a common, modern day paraphrasing of Adam Smith's "Invisible Hand" aphorism:

    Private vice leads to public virtue.

    Marx essentially said "let's not worry about that private vice thing and go straight to public virtue." That's communism.

    Mises, Friedman and Rand reacted to Marxist thought by taking the extreme opposite approach: "let's not worry about that public virtue thing and focus just on private vice." That's libertarianism.

    Although the two doctrines are nominally opposite, as a practical matter they are the same because they both call for universal equality. They just use different metrics to measure equality.

    There is nothing about communism that mandates totalitarianism, but that's what communist societies always get because of human nature. Libertarianism is similarly blind to human nature.

  31. Jim

    Supposedly those four foot shovels were invented by the WPA because it makes it easy to sleep standing up.

  32. kackermann

    The libertarian thing doesn't get off the ground.

    You don't create a power vacuum and then expect it to not get filled.

    People here in the US want more, not less. All they have been getting is less.

    The fear comes from someone promising more… and to wipe out the (hated group goes here) as a bonus.

    I'm not sure unrest would look like what some suggest. It could possibly involve citizen on citizen at the beginning, but once people begin showing up in ditches with Army drill bits sticking out of their skulls, and reports of 'roundups' surface, Left and Right won't look so important.

  33. Tao Jones

    @kackermann,

    The libertarian thing is already off the ground. Tea party, anyone?

    Don't confuse ideologies with movements. While ideologies fuel movements, the engine that drives movements are disaffected people, not ideologues.

    One thing to focus on is the language of populism and who is speaking it today. I don't hear any left wing populism these days. It's all right wing, and the language is decidely libertarian as opposed to traditional conservative. Glenn Beck and Mark Levin are perfect examples of this.

    While I have no idea whether Beck and Levin are libertarians, their language is, and they're using it because it is appealing to the common people who feel betrayed by their government.

  34. marsha donner

    memories of the 60s, smoking whatnot and tear gas…the last of the real protests in the streets for any prolonged period of time
    that got us Nixon and the powerful movement of cooption began…media take over by right began..fox news…union busting and ….
    context..if anyone remembers the end of Michael Moore's moving on health care (wont' agrue it here) then ending was telling…why, he asked do the french come out in the streets at the drop of a hat..why is the french gov't afraid of the people, but in the good ole USA the people are afraid of the government?
    the French have universal health care for one. in the US people are afraid of losing jobs and hence health care as its obviously too expensive to purchase indiviually if one is not part of plan.
    people afraid of gov't and gov't afraid of the people

    the other analogy that i love…from spiritual times..the story of the frog in water..the frog in a pot of water…cool at first..the heat gets slowly turned up and the frog is enjoying the 'spa' affect and as it gets hotter he really relaxes until, when too hot, his energy is sapped and boiling produces the frog meal all planned from the beginning.
    naturally a protesting frog would be demonized as a commie or terrorist..heaven forbid we might advocate a real change from wall street to main street….that would be revolutionary in this day and age…and we know how the gov't treats revolutionaries…
    so there…brief history of the world per MD

  35. Ryan

    Libertarianism is getting a bad rap here, that's fully undeserved compared to what passes for liberalism, socialism, conservatism, populism, and nationalism today.

    I'm a libertarian, and my beliefs, which are my own, I can care less what any other person that calls themselves the word thinks, is that I can take care of myself mostly. That's not based on being in some cabin in Montana with guns living as a survivalist. That means I can live my life, stay out of the way of others while being able to feed myself and drive myself and anything I can't do, I pay another person for that, like electricity from my city utility. The reason people have this point of view is because Americans are a largely individualist culture. We depend on ourselves for the things we do mostly. I don't depend on government for what I want, and that empowers me.

  36. Ryan

    why is the french gov't afraid of the people, but in the good ole USA the people are afraid of the government?

    The French government is scared of the French people? The same people that shy away from guns and are pacifists?

    Yeah, that's rich.

  37. Yves Smith

    Ryan,

    I suggest you bone up on French history. Tremendous violence during the French Revolution (Simon Schama's Citizens is good on this aspect). Governments overthrown on roughly 20 year intervals during the 19th century. People would regularly man the barricades (see revolution of 1848 in particular here). The grand boulevards of Paris weren't urban beautification, but were implemented in the Second Empire so the army could easily get into Paris and quell revolt.

    More recently, did you somehow manage to miss the riots in Paris? The regular general strikes? I'd encourage you to base your views on facts rather than prejudice.

  38. Ryan

    I'd encourage you to base your views on facts rather than prejudice.

    Be more than happy too. I'm reminded of the riots not long after Sarkozy took office over his public employee plans and also toward the end of Chirac's reign for the suburban slums' outcry. They didn't do anything and solved nothing, and Sarkozy was generally praised for not backing down. I'm sorry, a street protest with some tear gas with some 15-year-old throwing a rock doesn't solve a damn thing. Never has, never will.

    As far as actual protest that would scare the government, they have very stringent gun laws, which means they've put in place legislation to stop their citizens from doing any sort of protest of actual relevance. So the French citizenry have no chance.

    If you have to go to France and to practice self defense, you are in a pretty bad situation. Concealed carry is strictly fobidden, unless you are a policeman ON DUTY, or someone like that.

    Nearly all autos calibers like .380 ACP, 9mm Para, .40S&W, and .45 ACP are considered as "war caliber" (1st category).

    You can get AT MOST license for "war caliber" firearms (up to seven central percussion guns), and that's exclusively for target shooting.

    For self defense, you will no more have the choice, if you can get a license for a such purpose (the frenchies are very restrictive), between .32 ACP, .38 Spal and .357 Magnum (4th category) those guns can be bought for Target shooting still with an authorisation.

    Even worse, the shamy Schengen agrements, that France signed, forbid the import (ownership, manufacturing and use) of hollowpoint ammo in handguns.

    http://www.gunsworld.com/law/laws_france_us.html

    More recently, did you somehow manage to miss the riots in Paris? The regular general strikes?

    Mrs. Smith. You write a decent blog. You have the occasional nutty article that's a little delusional but all in all the good outweighs the bad. But don't insult my intelligence or that of your readers by acting as if some strike when there is not full employment accomplishes anything. If I struck from my job today, I'd have people lined up waiting to take my position. As would in France.

  39. Tao Jones

    @Ryan,

    This may seem off-topic, but as a self-identifying libertarian, what is your view of enhanced interrogation techniques (especially waterboarding, which is more properly called torture) and the denial of habeas corpus for Guantanomo detainees?

  40. Yves Smith

    Ryan,

    You make quite a lot of unfounded assumptions, including as to my marital status.

    Power does not reside in the possession of arms, nor does lack of access to employment neuter the possibility of extracting considerable political concessions. The Great Depression is Exhibit #1. I suggest you read Tom Ferguson here. Contrary to popular perception, the New Deal reforms had the backing of international companies, then the most progressive, and the big banks. Why? They were afraid of labor unrest, and of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, which was more radical than the American Federation of Labor.

    And you miss the point of the entire post, and Auerback's. The working class has been shafted for the past 25 years, but now the middle class is beginning to realise that they've been sold a bill of goodd too.

    The revolt might not take the form of out and out violence, but simply huge non-compliance with the traditional laws of private finance. Others have suggested massive tax non-compliance.

  41. Tao Jones

    @Yves,

    Power does not reside in the possession of arms, nor does lack of access to employment neuter the possibility of extracting considerable political concessions.

    Nicely said.

    Power resides in the ability to say "no" and the courage to exercise that option. You don't have to resort to violence to do so. You just have to realize that you are in a negotiation in which you have a say.

    I wonder what libertarians would think of labor unions if they were coming into existence for the first time today. Isn't saying "I am not going to work for you under these conditions" more powerful than saying "I won't pay taxes" and in the same spirit?

    NOTE: I sympathize with the typical libertarian's negative views of modern labor unions, which have become institutions of their own right that have enjoyed government backing, although not much in the last thirty years. Barry Goldwater had a reasonable position: unions are good to ensure a fair deal, but don't make union membership mandatory. Still, the spirit of the original labor union can be viewed as libertarian.

  42. Slug

    Good post and remarkable comments – I am grateful for the high quality of the dialog here, and correspondingly humble about opening my own mouth.

    "Power does not reside in the possession of arms, nor does lack of access to employment neuter the possibility of extracting considerable political concessions."

    Agreed. Just look at any of the recent labor demonstrations in China. I imagine the right wing faction of the corporatists in America, with their pro-gun position, long ago decided that flyover/southern America was well enough in hand to allow them to have weapons. That, or the power attached to the position was irresistible, and worth any attendant risk.

    Still, since we're talking about creeping fascism, the point many 2nd amendment boosters make about Stalin, Mao, and Hitler disarming their populaces for propaganzied utopian/authoritarian reasons is hard to shake. Having no guns certainly makes hard-line fascism (camps, roundups, and torture – the most severe form of the Shock Doctrine) easier to implement.

    And I'm sorry to say I do think most of America still sleeps, if a troubled sleep. Most of my friends appear to have bought the media's suggestion that we will emerge from this unfortunate economic detour mostly unscathed in the fall of 2009. Tellingly, many of my friends still bank with the insolvent TARP banks. I try but have mostly failed to express to them the enormity of the crime that has been committed. And if they do move to credit unions, it is for fear of losing their money, rather than to boycott (speaking of Libertarian motives.)

    I keep thinking back to a conversation I had last fall, around the time of the TARP votes, where one of my most complacent friends was poo-poo'ing the idea that we were entering a recession, and I was insisting that this was an enormous depression. "Well, that's not what I read.." he'd say.

    I'll quote Harlem Dad, who puts it very well:

    "It is impossible to over-estimate the power of MSM brainwashing. Most Americans don't know that they're being plundered by Big Money and their own President. Baby boomers grew up with King's "I have a dream" speech. To expect them to admit that their Dream President and Democrat-majority Congress are witless pawns being controlled by Big Money is just too much to ask. It is literally unthinkable."

    Absolutely.

    When I see the young black men wearing t-shirts with Martin Luther King (caption: "The dreamer") and Obama (caption: "The dream") I'm offended and deeply saddened: the con so far is working, the slick pitchman accepted. I think whatever is coming is bad. My only hope is that the media fumbles by oversteering, slathering on too thick a coat of glossy paint on their Potemkin version of reality.

    I'm not optimistic.

  43. skippy

    @LeeAnn, yes we are citizens, not mindless consumers scratching at corporatism's door.

    @Keenan, the simple story, all military personnel (especially enlisted) are property of the US government full stop, hence have total control over their actions. One must obey a direct order first, then take it up the chain of command after the fact, starting with the person that gave you the order lol. I would also add that the killer instinct has been scientifically enhanced, after years of decline. Gamers reflex comes to mind, studies post Vietnam showed a worrying tendency for inaccurate fire due to the lack of killer instinct not ammo. Vinny G could elaborate much better than I to the condition required to kill another human, BTW is a learned skill not ancestral instinct. They will pull the trigger on "anyone" if ordered.

    @Ryan, old military saying "your stepping all over your third leg here" your rebuttal is to equate caliber to social impact (effectiveness of revolt/protest). I would take a million pissed off citizens on the streets, over a mechanised battalion of elite storm troopers any day.

  44. redst8r

    Yves: the middle class may "snap" but they won't revolt, won't strike and won't fail to pay their taxes.

    Before any revolt/strike/civil disobeience can occur someone has to be in front. Someone has to be willing to die for the cause, lose job/home/savings/everything for the cause and/or go to jail for the cause.

    I didn't read any comment that suggested the writer was willing to be in front. Nor has Yves for that matter. I am tired if hearing calls for revolt/strike/civil disobedience from those who are highly unlikely to be in front.

  45. skippy

    Per the comments on where a possible ignition/flash point could occur. My fear is not via class lines especially the fractured middle classes for reasons well defined above, but state lines where majority is swayed by fear/resolution merchants and a chicken in every pot tonight, very red/blue contrast.

    Skippy…It was easy to find glaring fault in El Presidante Jesus McHitler-pants, where spirit-level Obama's centrist bubble actions, obfuscate average Joe's radar with the chaff of misleading hope return to the old days/ways. When will he run out of chaff is my question.

  46. joshua

    "Confusion, secrecy, law by edict, opaque financial instruments, military aggression all serve the Corporatists' pursuit of control. Confusion of terms impedes flow of information, debate and, even among like-minded friends, discussion."–Lee Anne

    Yeah. That's what I see here, confusion among like-minded friends. Terminolical confusion. Confusion of technical vocabulary. The proverbial blind trying to match up parts so as to build a consistent and shared formal ontology, the absolute prerequisite to coherent collective logical discourse. At every new encounter needing to reinvent the wheel. This is a broad intellectual failure, with consequences I can only think of in politico-military terms…
    (Notice the non-shared and wholly open-ended non-rigourous notions of apparently familiar objects (or at least words) like 'socialism' 'libertarianism' etc… Throw in a little Arrendt (which I actually found extremely enticing if hardly conclusive (where to?)) and you have a dinner party intellectual clusterfuk… Welcome home.
    (I very much enjoyed reading all of it.)

  47. Tao Jones

    @joshua,

    Hannah Arendt was a pretty amazing thinker. Here's another: Gunnar Myrdal.

    Myrdal's The Political Element in the Development of Economic Theory really is genius, and Ms. Arendt says so, too.

    And don't underestimate the influence of "terminolical confusion," as you put it, on our ability to speak with each other today or to learn from our past. The meaning of words changes over time, yet we tend to insist on applying our modern understanding of terms to statements made centuries ago. I call this phenomenon "Temporal Telephone."

    Personally, I would welcome a "dinner party intellectual clusterfuk," but everybody seems too intent on being unquestionably right to have a conversation.

    For example, I ding libertarianism for what it gets wrong in spite of the fact that I agree with 90% of what libertarianism doctrine proclaims itself to be.

  48. Tao Jones

    continuing . . .

    I would be more than happy to engage in a discussion on that last 10%, but I find it hard to find people who are willing to engage in a discussion that questions their most deeply held beliefs.

  49. VG Chicago

    Skippy: you’re right, the US military and police force are probably the most brainwashed and brutal in the Western world, ready to kill on a moment’s notice. I think the firemen would do it too, if called upon. People in uniform, in general. Have you noticed how they like to shout orders? I fly overseas a lot, and every time I wait in line to clear customs on my way back here, there’s some arshole shouting orders: “next!”, “move!” “behind the yellow line!” It’s embarrassing to the foreign tourists waiting in the other line.

    But what really worries me is that this government is probably willing to bomb its own cities from the air. Like you said, they’re so removed from reality, and such killers already, they think they play videogames. Totally dehumanized. A year or two ago I was reading that the Army was getting concerned because they noticed some of the new recruits are far more trigger-happy and blood thirsty than even the Army would want them to be. Scary!

    Vinny G.

  50. juan

    DownSouth,

    you wrote: Libertarians and Marxists both embrace the same Pollyannish concept of human nature, enabling them to conure up an imaginary Shangri-la…

    Don't know about 'Marxists' but Marx considered 'human nature' to be dynamic, not fixed and certainly not so 'polyannish' a concept as the more common belief in some ahistoric immutability or determinism..

    Isn't the new, even unexpected, a large element in Arendt's concept of freedom? You see where this leads.

  51. joshua

    @Tao. I'm not sure if I read you right, but will reply line item:

    "I would welcome a 'dinner party intellectual clusterfuk' but everyone seems too intent on being unquestionably right to have a conversation." Yeah they can be fun, or fine, and lot's of good ideas can come out of them. My point was that if our logical constructive discursive thing gets stuck in that mode, we get nowhere. One might say at that point that we have material for some good Woody Allen movie scenes, but if we've failed to progress beyond that level in a constructive way, the consequences are dead serious bad news. This isn't /just/ entertainment for us well-fed bourgieos, it's the raw material for collaborative coordinated perceptual and volitional activity in the sociopolitical and economic spheres. Treat it as merely a pastime and you throw all that out, and look at what happens. It can get worse. …of course, for some people, who do this professionally and not just as civic interest, same thing, there is a necessity to have systems of assessment, communication, and decision-making that actually work, as opposed to merely some vaguely or fuzzily thought-out system.

    "For example, I ding libertarianism for what it gets wrong in spite of the fact that I agree with 90% of what libertarianism doctrine proclaims itself to be."
    This statement provides a perfect example. I don't know what /object/, in what ontological-setup/framework-of-thought/paradigm, you refer to with the word 'libertarianism'. I just don't and I won't pretend to. To the degree that there is a normative definition of 'libertarian'…, well there isn't one that is well-defined and solid in any formal sense. There are a lot of definitions which may overlap and tend to mean the same thing in certain ways, in others not so much. Same problem with the ontological setup or mode of thought and understanding serving as the background for your statement, I haven't a clue as to what that might be. So, in the dinner party trope, we shout drunkenly at each other for a few hours and by the end of it we've come to some normative understanding, and we've probably got some kind of ad-hoc ontological framework that we've outlined, which could in principle be formalized, but in practice probably isn't. This is reflective of a /massive/ intellectual failure in this country, and its consequences are very serious. Roughly speaking, it's the failure of the integration and development of the social sciences. I've written about this before, though not very effectively I'm afraid. I'll have to work on it a bit more. But essentially it advocates a development of a market of formalized ontologies published Springer or Wiki style on the web. They have to be discursive systems of reference, and people would flag which system they refer to.

    I should add though, that this is not to imply that the scientific/operational mode takes precedence at all times nor does it reductively assimilate other intellectual modes, ie philosophical, which may have different notions of rigour, in that they tend to like working with conceptual multiplicity, where every concept is in free form, and nothing ever really fits together, or has to. (D&G ref)

    Alright, done writing for now. I hope that comes off ok. I've bookmarked Gunnar. Thanks.

  52. Richard Kline

    So Fred, Benign Brodwicz, Tim in Sugar Hill, and LeeAnne at 11:34, similar thoughts crossed my mind, but I didn't get there. I'm glad you did.

    And Yves, you know I've wondered aloud for months when we were going to get noncompliance non-payment of mortgage monthlies from folks with rotten deals and no government intervention. I think that noncooperation is far more likely from the middle class than snappage. But even noncooperation requires some measure of organiztion, and that is exactly what the middle class does not have because they decline to participate. They're in Tim's 'chasing the carrot' mode; too many think that they will be the one with the good mortgage, good job, low mileage spouse, and 1.5 kids. They wake up at 41 without any of those—and blame the immigrants! Or whoever is up for blame on the godbox this week. But yeah, noncooperation is the best hope, and what I'd like to see.

    I also find interesting the idea expressed above (Fred?) of two Quarter Classes rather than one Middle Class. The middle class has always been something of a deliberately misleading label: it was created to make an engaged working class disappear from social analysis. Only I wouldn't say that the quarter classes are separated geographically; there is a significant element of truth in that, yes, but it's not definitive. For a generation, the lower middle class has seen their financial position eroded by A Certain Political Party given plenty of help by That Other Party. So yeah, that quarter class sliding back into have-not-dom thinks of itself as middle class but increasingly has a lower class set of options and constraints to contend with. Homeownership was the brass ring on the merrygoround that they were told to reach for since Reagan's morning glory days. And did. Now, those who did are totally screwed: either they one big asset has been halved in value, or they took a rotten mortgage to get it and their are wiped out and their credit killed, too. But here's the problem: it is just this sector of society which turns to fascims rather than socialism when in distress. That is my worry.

    The other quarter class, they are still holding onto the good life, and hope to come through, and they have their heads down and are voting for Hope, not organizing to for any struggle with the oligarchy which might lose them that handle on the good life. So for different reasons, I don't have much hope in the near term of the two quarter classes coming together. They have entirely different problem sets, different modalities for dealing with failures within them—soft fascism and liberalism respectively—and frankly competing agendas if they even think things through to get to that point, which most don't. They don't get past "Put Mozilo in jail; good," or "Pay back TARP early; good." They're rubes waiting to be taken again, and the oligarchy never sleeps but to be ready to oblige them.

  53. Harlem Dad

    I think there is a way to start the revolution without violence. We could play Break the Bank by burning or trashing our credit cards. What if 50 or 100 people gathered around an iron mesh trash can and burned their credit cards?

    I remember a public health television campaign about rats some 35 years ago.

    The Message was "Starve a Rat Today."

    The Visual (and appropriate audio) was a steel trash can lid slamming down on the can.

    I say we trash our credit cards. Stop using them. Cut them up and trash them.

    Already I regret the credit cards that I've cut up and trashed because I'd love to cut the numbers out of the card, then tape it to a piece of paper and mail it to President Obama or a few select Senators and House Members with a nasty (but tasteful) letter explaining why I will never, ever use a credit card again.

    Being polite, yet firm, is very effective. Remember, Rosa Parks wasn't nasty about it. She just said "I paid my fare and I'm not giving up my seat."

    If you can't afford to pay cash, then you can't afford it. Period.

    The main message is NOT thrift, although that's a good secondary message. The main point is this: We have been shafted, big time. But our government refuses to help us, preferring instead to bail out the Wall Street Oligarchs that caused this financial meltdown in the first place. Our leaders have abandoned us. We have no choice but to starve the Credit Card Banks.

    Think of it. Our collective curse of crushing credit card debt can become our blessing. Maybe we are not tethered to Credit Card Banks. Maybe they are tethered to us.

    If something as simple as boycotting credit cards gains any traction, it would have a huge impact on so many levels. Credit Card banks would panic because of the increased loss of income. What about the value of Securitized Credit Card Debt? And what about Team Obama's plan to reflate a new economic bubble by getting suckers, er, consumers, to spend like it's 1999?

    Even the somnambulistic MSM would have to raise a sleepy eyelid and grunt "wha …?"

    Right now may not be the proper time to start something like this. But that time is coming, and soon. I'm going to give this a little more thought.

    I would appreciate knowing your thoughts.

    Tim in Sugar Hill

  54. William

    Absolute Rubbish! The comments on military personnel being automatons. Folks I spent 22 years in the Army serving in a variety of combat arms leadership positions and of course have been in the current war. The US military is drawn largely from the middle and lower classes of society and though they are socialized to execute their military duties these duties are not done in a vacuum outside of the law, nor do these people forget where they came from — or where they all will be going back to one day. They are human beings doing a job that they volunteered to do.

    When you look at the small number of "incidents" that have been reported concerning unlawful or what would be regarded as unethical conduct by US Armed Forces vs. the number of operations/missions that they are involved in on a daily basis worldwide we should be astonished! Historically speaking this is probably the best trained and best behaved armed forces in human history. Any notion that the US Armed forces would willingly, let alone "happily" engage in suppression of their own people (if the conditions arose where the government saw fit to do so) is outrageous claptrap.

    Bill Banker

  55. skippy

    @William 10:56,

    American history in its self shows us a different story, my favorite is Patton's suppression of WWI pensioners. I do not know your rank at ETS, MOS or postings, so can not comment on what you may have experienced.

    But in my life through relatives, my own and continual contacts with reliable contacts in the Armed Forces, have a different perspective.

    I have personally witnessed murder, theft, massive use of drugs and alcohol (ohh and the defection of an American solider to North Korea). As a friend recently told me "same shit different day" in the context of history repeats it self. Your statement to the number of incidents reported is true, such as they don't get reported out side small circles of power (clean reports are the wish of everyones betters).

    Would they happily engage fellow Americans, no, but if ordered to would be compelled by military law to do so (military law is the biggest catch 22 of all eh).

    I in no way diminish your service or the manner in which you served personally. For your information some of my postings were 1st 75th RGR HAAF, 2nd 327th 101st and 1st 9th DMZ.

    Skippy…I can be much more explicit if needed.

  56. William

    @Skippy,

    You need to get your facts straight. It was MacArthur who lead the eviction of the "Bonus Army" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonus_Army and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insurrection_Act
    Not Patton. It was MacArthur's plan under Hoover's orders, and MacArthur chose to oversee this order directly by being in the "field" rather than back at HQ. This incident was shameful and complex. It definitely was not an issue of "the troops" eager and itching to suppress demonstraters.

    Regarding anecdotes from your friends they are anecdotes and likely said as much to reinforce a perceived prejudice on your part than to provoke a confrontation.

    I derive from your comments all references to the conscription Army of Vietneam and prior days. This is culturally a different Army than the VOLAR of today. Nobody goes into the Army unless they volunteer. The professionalism of the Army is without precedent. Do I mean to imply that atrocities never happen and in the heat of combat the rules are never bent? No I do not. But making any statement regarding an Army's conduct gets looked at in totality to its commitments and what has served as precedent before. Today's Army in totality is the best that the country has had.

    Finally lets consider the law. There is such a thing as the Insurrection Act which acts to curtail the use of the Armed Forces against US citizens. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insurrection_Act

    Bottom line: As longs as there is not armed open rebellion against the US government, Armed Forces use outside of aiding in natural disasters will be very limited and the possibility of a Kent State or like incident is near zero.

    It sounds as if your time was in the Vietnam Era. A different Army and a different culture within the US at the time. I think the current conditions, both the composition and culture of the Army, and demographics within US society at large are not conducive to a repeat of that era.

    I retired as a LTC and served in Infantry and Special Forces positions from the mid 80's till recently.

    Bill

  57. skippy

    Amends for tarnishing Patton's name I stand corrected, although I stand by all other comments. The pentagon has spent much time and money deflecting growing animosity toward it's role in foreign policy, by the general public. Point in case, funny how one retired 1st LT retired with a degree in psychology and ranger tab and served in a rgr battalion was seen on MSM years back post first conflict in Iraq denouncing the tactics employed by the military to hone killer instinct, only to be seen recently (on MSM) instructing enlisted personnel how to cope with killing and the psychological ramifications, back in and upgraded to major. That was a great trick, love the troops even if you don't agree with government policy, they can learn from the past hay.

    Volunteer you say, sure with the tactics recruiters are using these days. Cruising parking lots and malls of economically depressed regions, praying on the young and dumb, get a life skill, do your country proud or save for school.

    VOLAR is policy CYA and I'm very up to date on the going ons via personnel, from future officers to ground pounders in field as of today. So state all the SOP/DOD manual positions you like, I know the game being played.

    Law you say umm, thats not worth much these days for the powers that be eh.

    There is a new book you should read "Flowers of terrorism" have a look and see is going down in Afghanistan, what you and others were/are fighting for.

    Yes I was post NAM, was a whisker from gong legion and then worked off and on for 10 years as a merc, still talk to a lot of people in the biz, cleaner/shorter lines of Intel than most battalion commanders to whit the hole middle east conflict is a huge cluster fuck and you know that.

    Personal I have nothing against you, but will vigorously argue these points.

    Skippy…talk your talk if you like, the at home Americans eat it up these days, you do believe and I know how that felt so sympathize with your position.

  58. skippy

    @William/Bill re: the WWI pensioners march/bond Expeditionary forces.

    You should get your facts right, It took me awhile to dig up the info but here you go. BTW thanks for reminding me about MacArthur's Act's on the day too.

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/macarthur/peopleevents/pandeAMEX89.html

    Army Chief of Staff MacArthur was convinced that the march was a communist conspiracy to undermine the government of the United States, and that "the movement was actually far deeper and more dangerous than an effort to secure funds from a nearly depleted federal treasury." But that was simply not the case. MacArthur's own General Staff intelligence division reported in June that only three of the twenty-six leaders of the Bonus March were communists. And the percentage within the rank and file was likely even smaller; several commanders reported to MacArthur that most of the men seemed to be vehemently anti-Communist, if anything.

    Conspicuously led by MacArthur, Army troops (including Major George S. Patton, Jr.) formed infantry cordons and began pushing the veterans out, destroying their makeshift camps as they went. Although no weapons were fired, cavalry advanced with swords drawn, and some blood was shed. By nightfall, hundreds had been injured by gas (including a baby who died), bricks, clubs, bayonets, and sabers.

    Ironically, one of the veterans dispersed by the cavalry was Joe Angelo, who had saved Patton's life in World War I.

    BTW the name Patton has been linked to the meaning of king pensioners, servant to the king.

    I suggest William, that you also study his Family history also, much to be gleaned from our forefathers out side high school history classes.

    Skippy…Thought the CHI/DIA was manifesting its self for a moment via memory recall, but nope had it right the first time.
    ps word verification is averse.

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