Oligarchy Exists Inside Our Democracy

By Ed Walker, who writes regularly for Firedoglake as masaccio

Suddenly it looks like we are seeing political victories for progressives, on LGBT rights, on issues important to Hispanics, even occasionally on issues important to women. At the same time, we lose every single battle over economic issues. How is it that when polls show that a huge majority oppose cuts to Social Security, Democratic politicians like President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin are all for it, as are the Republicans? How is it that when Obama gets elected on a pledge to hike taxes on incomes above $250K, with a huge majority and control of the Senate, and a legislative situation where all he has to do is nothing and it happens, and then it doesn’t? How is it that the same bill continued a bunch of disgusting loopholes for the richest Americans and the corporations they control, like the NASCAR loophole that essentially only benefits one enormously wealthy family? How is it that within days of hearings showing the incompetence of JPMorgan’s derivatives traders the House Agriculture Committee cleared legislation to inflict derivative losses on the FDIC?

To answer that question, we have to get outside of normal discourse in the US, and take up a new work: oligarchy. Fortunately Yves has already crossed the boundary line from acceptable discourse into the unmentionable, so even though our pundit class doesn’t seem to grasp the possibility, it’s easy to see that this single concept explains the apparent discrepancy between wins on social issues and utter defeat on all economic issues.

We think of the US as the Shining City on the Hill of Democracy. Maybe so. But as Jeffrey Winters and Benjamin Page say in their article Oligarchy in the United States?, kindly made available by the author, it is perfectly possible for an oligarchy to function quite nicely inside a democracy. In this paper, and this somewhat more accessible version, Winters and Page answer three questions: a) what is oligarchy? b) how can you have an oligarchy in what is ostensibly a democracy, and c) how can an oligarchy function when there is such a large number of hyper-wealthy people? As to the first, they define oligarchy to mean rule by the richest citizens, a definition that follows Aristotle. This is from Politics, IV, viii:

For polity or constitutional government may be described generally as a fusion of oligarchy and democracy; but the term is usually applied to those forms of government which incline towards democracy, and the term aristocracy to those which incline towards oligarchy, because birth and education are commonly the accompaniments of wealth.

It’s easy enough for an oligarchy to work inside a democracy. Historically, the richest citizens had to fight to protect their wealth and power, with expensive castles and armies and alliances with other oligarchs. As the nation state evolved, the rich struck a deal: the state would take on the burdens of protecting property from foreigners, peasants and other oligarchs, and the rich agreed at least in theory to abide by the same rules as everyone else in the state. Of course, the rich played an important role in determining how those rules would be established. Winters and Page point to a number of provisions in the US Constitution that wet things up for significant control by the rich. Not least is Art. I, Section 10, which prohibits states from passing laws that impair the obligation of contracts, and the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits taking property without due process and just compensation. The Constitution protected wealthy slavers, awarding them extra votes so they could insure control in their home states.

Throughout our history, the richest among us have used their wealth to secure favorable laws. The full extent of that influence is obvious in hindsight, even if at the time other motivations may have seemed important. Laws that restricted voting may have looked like ways to enforce racial prejudice, but they also applied to poor whites as well. Poll taxes, property requirements and other requirements were designed to insure that undesirables couldn’t vote.

Turning to the question of coordination among the oligarchs, how can they work together when there are so many of them. The answer is that all of these hyper-rich people share three important interests:

1. Protecting and preserving wealth
2. Insuring the unrestricted use of wealth
3. Acquiring more wealth.

They don’t have to conspire to protect their interests. They just have to shut up and let a few of them manage the specifics. As an example, consider the Estate Tax. Its function is partly to generate revenue, but its social role is to break up large fortunes. The Walton heirs, a group which has done nothing to deserve great wealth besides belonging to the lucky sperm club, provides leadership for the rest of the oligarchy on this issue. They spend vast sums of money to insure that their children do not suffer the indignity of living on less than billions and billions of dollars of inherited money. You can count the members of the oligarchy who oppose the Walton heirs on this issue, and they do not oppose changes with the kinds of money and influence that the Walton heirs bring, only by cheap talk.

The oligarchs have armies of professionals to influence economic policy. These people see themselves as independent professionals, but they need patronage to maintain their positions, and they get it by providing research and advocacy for the policies and facts that support the views of their controllers. Just watch those supposedly independent lawyers espouse laughable positions in courts, and then watch those indefensible positions win in supposedly independent courts. The same is true of economists and accountants and pretty much any profession you can name.

Winters and Page have some thoughts on the makeup of the oligarchy in the US, but their attempts rely on simple measures like income and wealth alone, and are not completely convincing. Part of the problem is that it is difficult to analyze the patterns of influence with a few raw numbers and simple measures of concentration of wealth and income. There is no obvious way to measure the power of working through corporations, foundations, think tanks, and even universities, which bring a deep range of pressures to bear on government officials. But even the raw numbers show that the power and influence of the rich is enormous, and much greater than any other segment of the population.

It’s only recently that the Oligarchy has lost interest in the bargain about following the rules. Entire industries are off limits for prosecution. Rules are randomly changed to favor the interests of the rich. And worst of all, democracy itself isn’t working. We used to operate under some general form of majority rule. That is not the case in either house. In the House, under the Hastert Rule, the Speaker, John Boehner, will not present a bill that doesn’t have the support of a majority of his party. That means that a minority of the House can prevent any bill from being heard. That minority comes from small states in the most conservative parts of the country.

The Senate operates under rules that allow a single Senator to stop a bill in its tracks. A minority can prevent discussion of any bill. That’s bad enough, but the same rule applies to appointment of judges and the officials in policy positions. These require the advice and consent of the Senate, but again, a minority can prevent consideration of even routine appointments for any reason or for no reason. That means that we do not have judges in many courts, and that the President cannot govern with the people he thinks best.

These matters are largely the fault of the Republicans, who are the party of the rich, the oligarchs. But at least in the Senate, the Democrats could change these rules. They refused to do so in the face of the bad faith of the Republicans. It’s at least as much the fault of Harry Reid as it is the fault of the party of the rich.

The primary impact of this leverage in the hands of the minority is on economic issues. The oligarchy is just as divided as the rest of the population on social issues, like immigration, LGBT rights, women’s issues and similar non-financial matters. It turns out that, for example, some of the oligarchs have family or friends or are themselves LGBT. Their interests in wars and other kinds of issues are also divided. Because of that, democracy could theoretically work on those issues. It’s only those economic issues where the rich are on the same team, and they always win those battles.

And that’s exactly how things are working out. On matters of direct interest to the oligarchy, they win. You can have your silly laws about marriage or abortion as long as they get their way on money. It’s a lousy bargain, and it doesn’t have to be that way.

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  1. Andy B

    Yes, the Democrats keep their liberal base “happy” with innane laws that apply to almost no one, maybe 1% or 100th of 1%: gay rights, immigration “dream” rights for the youth. How many gay hispanic youth immigrant military are there??

    Meantime the looting and pilaging and squashing and lieing continues…Thank you Obama puppet man.

    1. J Sterling

      Yes, it’s not that minority rights are bad. John Stuart Mill pointed out the need to be just to minorities as well as the majority, even if the majority was for injustice: i.e. democracy was not enough for true liberalism.

      Somehow, though, liberals stopped thinking “as well as” and started thinking “instead of”.

      1. readerOfTeaLeaves

        It’s no longer as simple as minority-majority.
        At this point, the scale of the minority needs to be addressed.

        For instance, this page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/US_states_by_population
        reveals that the state of Wyoming has 0.18% of the US population. In other words, we have quite a few states with smaller populations than any of our 20 biggest cities.

        Yet none of our cities have senators.
        But Wyoming has two of them, each of whom can filibuster.

        And that is one key reason why IMVHO, politics is fundamentally broken.

        But it’s not simply about blaming Wyoming. There are 20 states with populations < 1% of the US total:
        Iowa – 0.97%
        Mississippi – 0.95%
        Arkansas – 0.93%
        Kansas – 0.91%
        Utah – 0.88%
        Nevada – 0.86%
        New Mexico – 0.66%
        Nebraska – 0.58%
        West Virginia – 0.59%
        Idaho – 0.51%
        Hawaii – 0.43%
        Maine – 0.42%
        New Hamshire – 0.42%
        Rhode Island – 0.34%
        Montana – 0.32%
        Delaware – 0.29%
        South Dakota – 0.26%
        Alaska – 0.23%
        North Dakota – 0.21%
        Vermont – 0.20%
        Wyoming – 0.18%

        Each of these 20 states has two senators.
        Each of those senators – any of the 40 who represent less than 1% of the US population – can stop or steamroll legislation.

        We really need to stop talking about minorities and majorities and get clear about the vast magnitudes of difference between the two.

        A system with 40 senators, each of whom can filibuster, each of whom can sabotage legislation, is tailor made for oligarchy and is a base insult to the actual notion of one-person-one-vote, certainly in the United States Senate. However, I think we are also seeing these vast differences in scale play out in Europe and other parts of the globe.

        1. Paul P

          One would think that the low populations in these states would make them targets of a progressive populist grassroots takeover. The grassroots is presently being occupied by the oligarchy funded tea party, supplemented by the elite behind the scenes ALEC.

          But, in spite of a progressive population (see the polls), we have a depoliticized population. Almost as if we’ve all been lobotomized. Anybody, knock on your door recently and talk about a jobs bill in Congress or about the proposed cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid? See any union table on the streets? Been invited to a public meeting on organizing on these issues in your neighborhood? I went to the AFL-CIO website the other day to see what jobs bill they were supporting (organizing for is another story). What I found was a six point plan with regard to jobs and some mention, without details, of a few bills. Not information about the status of these bills. Delivering the working class vote to the Democratic Party is the AFL-CIO’s recent achievement. Now labor’s leaders sit on their hands (collect their substantial pay) and oversee the further decline of their members’ living standards.

          Occupy has shown that opposition is alive. But the opposition is not organized sufficiently. And after the Great Betrayal we get hit over the head with the TPP.

        2. just me

          No one’s said “jury”?

          Coming at this a day late, and I haven’t read down all the comments. But I’ve searched and come up blank for “jury.” So I’ll say it.

          For whatever faults and fails the Constitution is accused of, there’s one huge thing that’s gone broken and isn’t even accounted for anymore, which is juries. I think democracy requries not just voters to vote on promises for governance, but jurors to vote on actualities. Our first Supreme Court in the late 1700s sat with a jury and deferred judgment on the facts and the law to the jury, and that’s got to tell you something about the founders and their framing. Who even knows that anymore? I didn’t learn that in school. But I did learn about the 1735 colonial trial of John Peter Zenger, and it’s only when you know about the power that juries were supposed to have then that it begins to make bigger sense. It wasn’t a weird fluke like the O.J. trial, it was what it was all about. Big freedoms in the First Amendment go back to prior jury trials where the jury voted against the prosecution, even though the law had plainly been broken. Zenger with freedom of the press, Penn and Bushell with freedom of assembly and freedom of religion. Which tells you there is no such thing as an absolute law, every law may be tested anew every time it’s prosecuted. Juries don’t write new law, jurors simply say whether they personally support this prosecution this time in this case. And so you would have perpetual maintenance of law and citizens, checking in with and feeding each other, keeping everyone on the same page, reasonable. And so the whole point of law changes from finding and burning witches (hello America!) to reasoning together on what is self-evident to twelve random consciences with not an angel among them.

          Assume the worst for everything, that a monarchy or oligarchy or Wyoming is going to ruin it for the rest of us. It’s the very few them against all the rest of us and we’re helpless and voiceless. That would be colonial America. That would also be 13th century England, no? (I think. Magna Carta.) And the answer was juries. Not the weeded pet rubber stamps we have now (made even less used by things never imagined by the Constitution like immunity and deferred prosecution agreements that keep decisions away from juries), but randomly chosen anyones who have the power to stop the unjust application of state power in every case. If you had those juries, juries that could hear “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” (mystical gibberish now in our world of secrecy and paranoia), and the loop was closed between top and bottom, and circulation started happening again — reasoning — would it be like blood flowing into body parts again that had had the flow restricted, and would the body wake up and start working right and feeling better and whole again? I wonder.

          Once you see that, or maybe I should say once I saw that, all the other complaints look like they could be sequelae of that bigger fail. I think you have to expect the rich and the authoritarians to pursue happiness just like everyone else. You want them to, you want everyone to, equally. The thing is, it’s not them vs us, we’re all in this whole together. We just don’t connect and flow and care anymore. And that’s what’s missing. I think.

          1. kevinearick

            this thread run through, if you look back…but the common to the manufactured majority is avoiding, not accepting responsibility. Have you spent any time in the jury selection process? Who do you suppose wants and is wanted to be on the jury?

            it is a kernel, in a constitutional context.

          2. just me

            kevinearick, I have spent time in jury selection. I was tossed when I answered, “I would vote my conscience.” The question the judge had asked me was whether I would agree to follow the direction of the court. When he heard my answer, all hell. He tried to shame and discredit me to everyone in the courtroom. I wish I could remember exactly what he said, but the point was, what a lousy citizen, don’t even begin to think like that. I had to leave the courtroom before things could proceed. Yet I had thought voting your conscience was the point of a jury.

            If the judge’s decision is to supersede any juror’s, why have a jury at all? Yet the Constitution required trial by jury, not trial by judge. The changes to jury function between then and now to preclude exercise of juror conscience have all been done by court say-so, not by legislative changes or amending the Constitution. There’s a problem. Same problem maybe, where checks and balances and circulation are broken, because no one checks and balances the court anymore but the court, and the court will not admit error. “Yardstick for lunatics, one point of view.” (Incense and Peppermints, dfh! :-)

            In the years since that episode, the last few times I was called to report for jury duty we were soon dismissed and no trials were held after all. Plea bargaining instead. More steps down the perversion of justice road? I think must be.

          3. just me

            There’s a common jury quote by John Adams, “It is not only [the juror’s] right, but his duty…to find the verdict according to his own best understanding, judgment, and conscience, though in direct opposition to the direction of the court,” given just that way, with ellipses and substitution. I always wondered what that was from and what was left out. Finally went looking, here’s the answer, it’s from John Adams’ 1771-72 diary, in a long discussion on juries — though using even an extended quote leaves much out as well:


            [It] has already been admitted to be most advisable for the jury to find a Special Verdict where they are in doubt of the Law. But, this is not often the Case-1000 Cases occur in which the Jury would have no doubt of the Law, to one, in which they would be at a Loss. The general Rules of Law and common Regulations of Society, under which ordinary Transactions arrange themselves, are well enough known to ordinary Jurors. The great Principles of the Constitution, are intimately known, they are sensibly felt by every Briton-it is scarcely extravagant to say, they are drawn in and imbibed with the Nurses Milk and first Air.

            Now should the Melancholly Case arise, that the judges should give their Opinions to the jury, against one of these fundamental Principles, is a juror obliged to give his Verdict generally according to this Direction, or even to find the fact specially and submit the Law to the Court. Every Man of any feeling or Conscience will answer, no. It is not only his right but his Duty in that Case to find the Verdict according to his own best Understanding, Judgment and Conscience, tho in Direct opposition to the Direction of the Court.

            – John Adams diary entry Feb. 12, 1771

            I should learn this stuff. Plus, how cool to see it in his own handwriting.

    2. NotTimothyGeithner

      What laws are you referring to? The “liberal” base of the Democratic Party is happy with words and appearances. Immigration reform? Hasn’t happened. Despite Obama’s 2008 campaign, he spent much of his first term brutalizing immigrants. Gay rights? He defended DOMA for three years, and the DADT repeal came in the wake of a Federal Judge telling the Pentagon and the Administration she was going to end DADT for the mid-Atlantic region despite their protests and claims of evidence that gay service members would be harmful.

      Even Obama’s “support” for gay marriage came after Obama’s piece of shit campaign operation refused to help oppose the anti-marriage amendment in North Carolina and his little confab in Charlotte might be tarnished. The supporters of the Democratic Party care about the Democratic Party/elite being loved and that is it.

      1. J Sterling

        I think Walker’s mistake was the word “suddenly”. This trend has been apparent, in retrospect, for forty years. Think of a social justice issue, and tell me you’d like to go back to 1973 on it. Anti-racism? Disabilities? Gay, or transsexual rights?

        Now consider the working middle class. Hell yes, 1973 would be a good time to go back to, compared to today. On wages, getting a college education, any subject involving serious billions, it was better to be working middle class then than it is now, and better to be rich now than it was then. The one social justice issue America has moved in reverse on, and it’s the big one, involving the most people.

        And it’s the one upper middle class liberals care least about. But at least they get cheap gardeners.

        1. just me

          Is it really better to be rich now? The whole world kind of sucks. Money can’t buy them love, air, water, bugs and bees and bats, ice caps, or even national pride, because the Western world’s is pretty much in the toilet, thank them very much. Can’t buy them a better past or a decent future for their kids. And I’m thinking, all that wealth they have is probably just as leveraged with impossible debt as anyone else. Everything is poisoned. So they’re too big to fail maybe now, but the bigger they get the failer the bailer. If I pictured them maybe I’d think of cardiomegaly, a ballooning, weaker and weaker heart. Poetic actually.

    3. sgt_doom

      All the hubbub and ballyhoo about SCOTUS during the DOMA hearing, yet the 2000 presidential election stealer, Bush v. Gore (or was it Gore v. Bush??) stated that American citizens didn’t have the constitutional right to vote, ergo no recount!

      That was really of the utmost importance in the overall scheme of things…..

    4. bluntobj

      I find this amusing, and offer a metaphor:

      Here we see a stadium. In the stadium are two teams. Each side is extremely partisan. The teams are differentiated by how they handle Sex in their view of society.

      The owners of the teams sit together in the owners’ box and count the gate receipts while sippig champagne, and have invited their elite friends into the box to conduct business.

      If you buy a ticket to watch this game, and wear an R or D, or color yourself red or blue, you, personally, have allowed the looting and theft to occur.

      You have two real choices: opt out and leave the stadium, or behave badly and get arrested in the stadium.

      Whatever you do, don’t stand in front of the exits picketing, because you will either be crushed beneath the boots of the masses when they panic and stampede out of the stadium before the gates are locked, or you will be brutalized by the riot police trying to keep the gates locked while the owners stroll out of the side exit to their armored Cadillac SUVs.

      I think opting out would be my choice.

  2. Hugh

    Democrats and Republicans are complementary evils. They are both parties of the rich. They are both utterly corrupt.

    I have no problem with the term oligarch to describe the rich who buy the political system to increase their wealth and control, but I prefer the term kleptocracy to oligarchy because it captures the essential features of looting and criminality as practised by the rich and their servant elites.

    Democracy and oligarchs are intrinsically antithetical because the goal of an oligarch is to maximize wealth inequality at the expense of the rest of society.

    It is also important to realize that the rich and the elites form a ruling class, and while there is trash talking and jockeying for position within this class, the primary target for its looting and depredations is those of us in the 99%.

    1. Expat

      Agree, and must add that the creation of the oligarchy has been their project in earnest for the past several decades. If you look at the Supreme Court economic rulings, they have been 9-0 against the 99% without exception, the corporate veto, as it were. The rest is just theater.

    2. Ed

      Agreed. One oligarchy running two political parties is what we have. The political parties stage a punch and judy show on peripheral issues but circle the wagons on money matters affecting the super rich. It’s just dumb to call the Republicans the “party of the rich,” like the Democrats aren’t.

    3. Andrew Watts

      Political parties are simply labor unions for politicians.

      You’re coming awfully close to the political nihilism of Oswald Spengler. Who proclaimed that democracy was merely the rule of the money power. Which is only true if we ignore a large chunk of history.

      1. Hugh

        What I am describing is what we have, kleptocracy, fictive democracy and rule by the looters.

        1. Andrew Watts

          We still live in a vaguely democratic society Hugh. Those anti-democratic forces have always existed in any republican or democratic form of government. From the days of ancient Greece to the Roman Republic as well as the present.

          There is still no individual constraint against undertaking constructive yet collective action against the perceived kleptocracy. Outside of the unwillingness on behalf of individuals to work alongside their fellow citizens to achieve their stated goals.

          Thus far all popular resistance whether it was to the bank bailouts or embodied in Occupy Wall Street has been disorganized, incoherent, and untenable. Which doesn’t mean it will always be like that.

          1. Hugh

            35 years ago we entered into something, the like of which we have never seen before, kleptocracy. Bits and pieces of it have manifested throughout history with greater and lesser intensity. What is different this time is that they began to coalesce into a coherent structure permeating and eventually dominating all of our public institutions: government, industry, finance, the parties, academia, the judiciary, and the media.

            The housing bubble blew up 5 1/2 years ago. The meltdown was 4 1/2 years ago. The largest inter-related frauds in human history were exposed, and nothing happened. You don’t need hard totalitarianism when soft totalitarianism will do. But at the same time look at the extension of the surveillance state in this country, the high rates of incarceration, and the militarization of the police. It isn’t like preparations aren’t being made.

            There is no democracy in this country. The political process gives us only the illusion of choice, between the corrupt corporatist Republican and the corrupt corporatist Democrat. The Occupy movement had many problems but it also faced a concerted effort by politicians and law enforcement to suppress and discredit it.

            None of this means that social action isn’t possible, but such action will occur outside government. And again it will be contested by government and the forces of state violence.

          2. Andrew Watts

            “35 years ago we entered into something, the like of which we have never seen before, kleptocracy…..”
            What happened is that we entered an era of laissez-faire capitalism. Where the government interfering in an industry suddenly became unthinkable. With the possible exception in the case of an industry needing a bailout.

            The majority of people who subscribe to this ideology automatically assume that a tranquil harmony between social and economic interests will always occur. They were proven wrong en masse. Think back to the furor over the TARP bailouts. Except to those in charge and a few others the most people were blissfully unaware that not only was the market not going to self-correct it was going to implode in a crisis like we’ve never seen since the Great Depression. While officials like Secretary Paulson thought it was going to be much worse then that. Which still might be the case.

            The irony is that government intervention has justified government intrusion into the economic sphere. Just as the Cyprus banking crisis has legitimized a de-facto wealth tax. That doesn’t mean the forces who benefit from economic laissez-faire will give up, but it has left them incredibly vulnerable.

            “The housing bubble blew up 5 1/2 years ago. The meltdown was 4 1/2 years ago. The largest inter-related frauds in human history were exposed, and nothing happened…..“

            Do you know what was done about the fraud documented by John K. Galbraith in the Great Crash of ’29? Nothing. Nobody went to jail for the fraud committed. The Pecora Commission hearings even uncovered the fact that numerous Wall Street bankers didn’t pay any income taxes in the years following the Crash. For all the wrongdoing uncovered the punishment did not fit the crime.

            Thus far our esteemed public servants have done their very best to preserve some semblance of the status quo. Which I’m assuming means not risking the possibility of revealing to the public how far gone the banking system is. It’s an elaborate trust and confidence game they play.

            “There is no democracy in this country. The political process gives us only the illusion of choice, between the corrupt corporatist Republican and the corrupt corporatist Democrat. The Occupy movement had many problems but it also faced a concerted effort by politicians and law enforcement to suppress and discredit it.“

            This is the political nihilism that I was talking about. Current events do not justify this negative attitude in the slightest. In some states there are political movements to roll back the non-violent offender drug laws. While various interest groups are uniting against the gulag system. As the parasitical growth of the prison-industrial complex threatens their prerogatives. In the state of Oregon this has brought about an unholy alliance between Republicans and Democrats alike to curb the corrections system both in it’s width, growth, and revenue spending. Even as they vehemently disagree on other issues.

            In the case of Occupy none of those things worked that well. With national polls showing that even a slight majority of Republican voters favored Occupy ostensible aims. Even while no clear organization or goals emerged. Occupy Wall Street suffered from one major malady in the public mind; what is seen to be weak is more often then not to be despised. As for the breaking up their camps, it didn’t turn into a Bonus Army fiasco. In most cities the police forces were reluctant to engage the protesters directly. Quite unlike the WTO protests in Seattle and elsewhere. So the militarization of the police you decry is proving to be just as inconsequential as attempting to pacify the Pastun tribe in Afghanistan.

            “None of this means that social action isn’t possible, but such action will occur outside government. And again it will be contested by government and the forces of state violence.”

            If it’s any consolation I suspect that the last people to accept the change that will be imposed on them irregardless of their preference will be our public servants in the federal government.

            There’s a historical precedence for that too. It was called the New Deal.

          3. Hugh

            We stand, I think, on different sides of the reformist debate. You still think that reform of the current system is possible. I was of your opinion up until a few years ago, but I came to see that a thoroughly corrupt system can not be reformed. If the foundations are rotten, and ours are, then attempts at reform simply get lost and come to nothing. A system corrupt down to its foundations can only be replaced.

            To be blunt, I have grown tired of reformers. They always say well if this and this were done, then things would be better, completely ignoring that none of their reforms even make it to the table for discussion or at most will be the subject of some dead duck piece of legislation that will be voted down and forgotten in a day.

            I invite you to consider which has been more accurate predicting and describing events over the last 5 years, your reformist perspective or my kleptocratic (what you call nihilistic) one.

          4. nobody

            “As for the breaking up their camps, it didn’t turn into a Bonus Army fiasco. In most cities the police forces were reluctant to engage the protesters directly.”

            You don’t know what you are talking about.

          5. Andrew Watts


            I can’t say that I really blame you for that attitude. Over the years reform minded liberals have advocated letting somebody else fix all our problems. Whether that’s by electing Obama and the Democrats or by some piece of miracle political legislation that will magically solve the issue. Neither are very realistic expectations. Nor is it a very unique attitude. The right-wing advocates just as frenziedly that the free market or Jesus are going to solve all our problems.

            The difference in attitude between them and my own views is that I see collective action as our only course. Instead of the paternalistic Caesar or proverbial magic bullet to solve everything. Our collective problems are just as much a product of our collective actions. Which includes the passive nihilism that has become so popular among the self-styled cynic. This viewpoint has inspired much of what I wrote about American oligarchy further down in the comments.

            Where we differ seems rather obvious. I do not question if anything can be done. Only what should be done. Think about it. The abandonment of the political realm as you suggest could not work out better for the oligarchic class. As it adds yet another significant advantage to the arsenal they already possess. As there is nobody to oppose them.

            To echo the sentiments of DownSouth; the children of darkness have won a complete and crushing victory. However that doesn’t mean the children of light can’t rise up and put some points on the board.


            A dozen people or so died during the Bonus Army camp break-up. It doesn’t compare. Either in mass scale (which Occupy exceeded) or level of violence that was inflicted upon it.

  3. Clive

    An oligarchy is with us, has always been with us and will always be with us. I don’t actually have too much of a problem with that — provided they don’t become outrageously brazen, boundlessly greedy and starting to kill the host.

    If they go back to operating in the shadows, that’s more-or-less okay. So sunlight is, as usual, the best disinfectant.

    1. lambert strether

      I don’t need to be rich, and I don’t want to be rich, any more than I want to collect a houseful of kleenex boxes or piles of old newspapers.

      But I want enough of the bottom of Maslow’s hierachy to go for the top: Self-actualization, to “do what only I can do.”

      Unfortunately, “from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.” And I really don’t think this was some sort of metaphor, back in the day.

    2. Ms G

      If you are ok with oligarchs “going back into the shadows” how what do you mean by “sunshine is the best disinfectant”?

  4. Middle Seaman

    Calling the US a democracy is mistaken and misleading. Our media is right wing, our politician can be elected only with money from the rich and our president represents Wall Street and not the people who elected him.

    Oligarchs didn’t cause our democracy to disappear. Rather, our democracy created the oligarchs. The financial crisis gave our democracy an opportunity to do away with most of the oligarchs. Instead, our president has used that opportunity to strengthen the oligarchs.

    The whole system was created starting 1980 with the election of Reagan. Since then we move towards larger poverty, less middle class and more oligarchs. There was hope of reversal at the tail end of the Clinton years, but the Democrats, including the left, decided that they prefer oligarchs.

    1. Procopius

      The pendulum may have started swinging back in the 1980s (certainly the Reagan Presidency was a dramatic shift) but it goes back a lot further. Mark Hanna was widely recognized as a political kingmaker back in the 1890s, but even in the 1790s guys like Robert Morris were well known.

      1. nonclassical

        …most who have lived historically educated lifetimes ridicule the “pendulum”
        model..which shows only very brief periods-places of middle-class empowerment in entirety of human history…the story of humanity is the few, empowered, (which is what religion actually regards as well), dominating the rest of humanity…

    2. Banger

      Whatever form of government the U.S. had effectively ended with the assassination of President Kennedy. The fact of the matter is that the American people, 70 per cent of whom believe there was more than one shooter, have pretended that it never happened because the implications are uncomfortable. Thus, the oligarch class can perform any kind of crime or atrocity without ever having to worry about any consequences.

      The worst of the lot and those deepest in denial is the “liberal” class. That’s why the only opposition movement in the U.S. comes from the right. Or from minorities like the LGBT community who just want to join the rest of society and be just as acquiescent as the rest of us.

      1. Ex-PFC Chuck

        I agree. JFK’s death was a watershed. And the more you look into iit the more implausible is the non-conspiracy narrative.

  5. Skeptic

    Kudos to NC for discussing American tabus, verboten and don’t-go-there subjects.

    This statement really caught my eye and resonated with feelings I have had for a long time:

    “The oligarchs have armies of professionals to influence economic policy.”

    And where do these Professionals come from? They come from our hallowed and much admired Universities. If we are experiencing a massive professionally driven Crime Wave, are Universities not, at least to some degree, Crime Factories? And where are the Distinguished Professors of Law, Medicine, Commerce, Economics, etc. who are pointing out this possibility? (As I recall Nassim Taleb suggested once that part of our Universities should be shut down.)

    I remember attending a business class in a highly regarded University wherein the Associate Professor proudly bragged how he had done a tax fiddle while renovating his home! Attention, class, there will be a test. Needless, to say, no one questioned the Prof on it. That was about thirty years ago!

    1. Banger

      I don’t quite agree with you. People nerd jobs and they have to go where the money goes particularly if young people are carrying huge student loans. The problem is with social values. For most people money is the ultimate arbiter of values.

    2. Dr. Insula

      Well, there is William Black, who is surely a product of our best Universities, and has not been afraid to spill the beans about the looting of the people by the banks. And economists Mark Thoma, Joseph Stiglitz, PK, father and son JK and James Galbraith, and of course Elizabeth Warren (lawyer and specialist on middle class financial pressures)…So our Universities are doing something valuable:)

  6. Aussie F

    The constitution was designed for an oligarchy, by an oligarchy. Just read James Madison, and others:
    In the debates on the Constitution, Madison pointed out that if elections in England” were open to all classes of people, the property of landed proprietors would be insecure.
    “An agrarian law would soon take place,” giving land to the landless. The Constitutional system must be designed to prevent such injustice and “secure the permanent interests of the country,” which are property rights.

    Among Madisonian scholars, there is a consensus that “the Constitution was intrinsically an aristocratic document designed to check the democratic tendencies of the period, delivering power to a “better sort” of people and excluding those who were not rich, well born, or prominent from exercising political power (Lance Banning). The primary responsibility of government is “to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority,” Madison declared.
    There you have it.

  7. Ned Ludd

    Elections are oligarchical, as defined by Aristotle. The original meaning of democracy has been erased from our political discourse. From Politics, Book Four, Part IX:

    By others the Spartan constitution is said to be an oligarchy, because it has many oligarchical elements. That all offices are filled by election and none by lot, is one of these oligarchical characteristics…

    Any system where you elect politicians is an oligarchy. The principal characteristic of democracy, for the ancient Greeks, was sortition.

    1. bmeisen

      Thanks – but I hope you’re not going to play the direct democracy / virtues of anarchy card.

      1. Ned Ludd

        For Aristotle, elections are not kinda-sorta democracy or a form of democracy. Elections are antithetical to democracy. Elections, he makes crystal clear, are an aspect of oligarchy.

        This is not a minor point. This is a fundamental change in how we view politics.

        1. bmeisen

          Aristotle was entitled to his opinion. Democractic elections in the US have produced an oligarchy. Democratic elections elsewhere produce flawed but functional governments that successfully reflect and empower relevant interest groups, independent of their wealth. Germany’s parliamentary system with proportional representation is a useful contrast to the US. It successfully includes at the federal level an antidote to the insidiously oligarchic nature of elections: a distinction between direct mandates and proportional mandates. Yves’ post touches on how the country’s electoral system, via flaws in registration and ballotting, causes democratic failure in the US. You seem to be saying that it’s caused by elections, period. I say that representative democracy, while flawed, is preferable to direct democracy and anarchy. It all depends on how the representation is achieved.

    2. Susan the other

      There’s an idea. Hold elections like big lottos. Everybody put your number in and have a big party. Get drunk. Tomorrow it’s the luck of the draw. At least there would be fresh thinking.

      1. nonclassical


        and like “term limits” nonsense, also empowering ever further, the bought and sold interests-advantage of the few to command those powerless…

        power must be resisted by an empowered position…

        anti-trust laws are now ignored…legal though they are, they must again be empowered…

    1. ian

      Most people would not want the degree of responsibility that a true democracy would require. They want the illusion of democracy, rather than the real thing.

  8. Banger

    And there is no turning back from this system. People complain about it but I’m convinced that the majority of the American people want a more feudal kind of society where their betters get to decide things. The American public mainly just wants comfort and, even more, opium dreams including nearly all of the “left.”

    1. seabos84

      for the 4 or 8 or 12,000 years there has been an agricultural surplus in many societies, there have been elites skimming the surplus to hire thugs to skim the surplus, so the elites could use the surplus for their own pleasure.
      I wonder if there isn’t some evolutionary biology thing going on – the keep-your-head-down serfs are kind of ignored and breed away, the loud mouths either work for the elite or lose their head. Society settles into this optimal solution – a few at the top living like kings, of bunch of their henchmen and enforcers and sycophants and toadies clamoring for a spot closer to the king, the serfs.
      When I was 20 in 1980 and living on 2 six packs six night a week, I couldn’t believe how such a blatant moron and liar like Raygun could get elected. Maybe “we” (not you or me) do want to be f’king chattel.

      1. Banger

        Yes I think you are right. As I see it, human beings are in a rapid state of transition away from the model you described and it has caused a longing to go back down the evolutionary ladder so to speak. I think the current state of the culture is unlikely to last more than five to ten years and we will see something very new

      2. Wat Tyler

        Part of the confusion may be the idea that people want freedom; but ,if you look at the way people act rather than what they say, what they want is security and security in a social species means ,in part, a strong pack leader(s).


      3. lambert strether

        Agriculture was, I think, a mistake. Horticulture (i.e. permaculture) can give great yield. What it does not do is create huge warehouses of grain that guys with beards hire guys with swords do guard. For me, that’s not a bug but a feature, but YMMV….

      4. Dr. Insula

        Well, you were in your twenties. But I’m pretty sure Raygun was downing 2 six packs a night, too…

    2. neretva43

      “What is modern propaganda? For many, it is the lies of a totalitarian state. In the 1970s, I met Leni Riefenstahl and asked her about her epic films that glorified the Nazis. Using revolutionary camera and lighting techniques, she produced a documentary form that mesmerized Germans; her ‘Triumph of the Will’ cast Hitler’s spell.

      She told me that the “messages” of her films were dependent not on “orders from above,” but on the “submissive void” of the German public. Did that include the liberal, educated bourgeoisie? “Everyone,” she said.”

      John Pilger

  9. neretva43

    “It was one of the functions of National Socialism to suppress and eliminate political and economic liberty by means of the new auxiliary guarantees of property, by the command, by the administrative act, thus forcing the whole economic activity of Germany into the network of industrial combinations run by the industrial magnates.

    The German economy of today has two broad and striking characteristics. It is a monopolistic economy-and a command economy. It is a private capitalistic economy regimented by the totalitarian state. We suggest as a name best to describe it, ‘Totalitarian Monopoly Capitalism'”.

    Franz Neumann

    Now read this:
    ‘Monsanto Protection Act’: 5 Terrifying Things To Know About The HR 933 Provision

    “The “Monsanto Protection Act” effectively bars federal courts from being able to halt the sale…”

    “The provision’s language was apparently written in collusion with Monsanto.”

    In this astonishing article we can see Law and Order aka Democracy in working order. These two short sentences speaks for itself, it is obvious that is very consistent with what Neumann wrote is 30-40s.

    1. Susan the other

      More of the new free trade laws we are being force-fed. Soon free trade pacts will have the legal effect of constitutions. But they won’t be able to organize or afford much policing. And if the sale of Monsanto poison cannot be stopped by federal authorities, Monsanto will not get it both ways. Local, clean, ecologically healthy food and food production will also not be stopped by federal authorities. Except to inspect for e-coli and all their little friends. Federal regulations will help ecologically sound agriculture. It will all come down to trust.

      1. nonclassical

        susan-think again: http://www.thenation.com/article/168627/nafta-steroids#

        Trans-Pacific Partnership (NAFTA highway)

        “The TPP has been cleverly misbranded as a trade agreement by its corporate boosters. As a result, since George W. Bush initiated negotiations in 2008, it has cruised along under the radar. The Obama administration initially paused the talks, ostensibly to develop a new approach compatible with candidate Obama’s pledges to replace the old NAFTA-based trade model. But by late 2009, talks restarted just where Bush had left off.

        Since then, US negotiators have proposed new rights for Big Pharma and pushed into the text aspects of the Stop Online Piracy Act, which would limit Internet freedom, despite the derailing of SOPA in Congress earlier this year thanks to public activism. In June a text of the TPP investment chapter was leaked, revealing that US negotiators are even pushing to expand NAFTA’s notorious corporate tribunals, which have been used to attack domestic public interest laws.

        Think of the TPP as a stealthy delivery mechanism for policies that could not survive public scrutiny. Indeed, only two of the twenty-six chapters of this corporate Trojan horse cover traditional trade matters. The rest embody the most florid dreams of the 1 percent—grandiose new rights and privileges for corporations and permanent constraints on government regulation.

        ountries would be obliged to conform all their domestic laws and regulations to the TPP’s rules—in effect, a corporate coup d’état. The proposed pact would limit even how governments can spend their tax dollars. Buy America and other Buy Local procurement preferences that invest in the US economy would be banned, and “sweat-free,” human rights or environmental conditions on government contracts could be challenged. If the TPP comes to fruition, its retrograde rules could be altered only if all countries agreed, regardless of domestic election outcomes or changes in public opinion. And unlike much domestic legislation, the TPP would have no expiration date.

        Failure to conform domestic laws to the rules would subject countries to lawsuits before TPP tribunals empowered to authorize trade sanctions against member countries. The leaked investment chapter also shows that the TPP would expand the parallel legal system included in NAFTA. Called Investor-State Dispute Resolution, it empowers corporations to sue governments—outside their domestic court systems—over any action the corporations believe undermines their expected future profits or rights under the pact. Three-person international tribunals of attorneys from the private sector would hear these cases. The lawyers rotate between serving as “judges”—empowered to order governments to pay corporations unlimited amounts in fines—and representing the corporations that use this system to raid government treasuries. The NAFTA version of this scheme has forced governments to pay more than $350 million to corporations after suits against toxic bans, land-use policies, forestry rules and more.”

  10. e.L. Beck

    Call it for what it really is, and get it over with: We no longer live in a democracy, since the political candidates everywhere are largely pre-ordained by the powers-the-be.

    We live in a plutocracy.

  11. Andrew Watts

    If oligarchs rule America it is in no small part due to the political incompetence of the masses. Whether it’s the low participation rate when election time comes rolling along, or the willingness of those who do participate to vote based solely on non-ability factors; race, religion, party, sex, appearance, age, etc. It doesn’t help that there is a majority of people who care more about the Super Bowl than the presidential elections. Television ratings are truth. This general inattentiveness towards politics betrays a desire on behalf of the majority of people towards a paternalistic though benevolent rule.

    Throughout history there has always been a time when the American people have overcome their political apathy. Social Security did not come into existence because a paternalistic FDR bestowed it upon the American people. Even the majority of the Republican Party eventually bowed to the inevitability of an old age pension program. The organized support of the American people made Social Security possible. Their apathy will lead it to it’s destruction. When pessimistic people proclaim that Social Security will not be there for them I wonder if it will not become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    At times when popular opinion has been turned against wealth and unrestricted fortune building the masses have succeeded more often than not in asserting themselves against oligarchic rule. Unfortunately these times are rare. Which is just one of the many advantages that the oligarchs wield besides their money.

    As the oligarchs and technocrats have thoroughly proven themselves to be incapable of good governance, I have no small amount of hope that the people will once again stir. The current political inertia that plagues the United States and other countries won’t last. As it cannot.

    1. lambert strether

      Category error: “The masses” cannot have political competence. Only associations of people for purposes can have competence (poor, poor wording, maybe somebody can help).

      I’m seeing the phrase “the masses” growing like kudzu over all these oligarchy discusions. The kudzu needs to be ripped up by the roots and burned.

      Adding… I wish I could call for backup from Ran Domino. This is one of the few things we agree on!

    2. Dr. Insula

      ” When pessimistic people proclaim that Social Security will not be there for them I wonder if it will not become a self-fulfilling prophecy.” Brilliant distillation of the truth! The oligarchs (via Faux and other Republican bullhorns) have saturated the airwaves with this mantra so often that many of my very educated (unfortunately, not in economics) friends actually believe that, and so they are not willing to invest a little time and effort to discover that SS is not, you know, “broke,” at all, or that a relatively minor change in taxable earnings (remove 106K cap) would solve this minor problem!

    3. Andrew Watts

      Lambert: Using the term “the masses” fits adequately when describing the situation I perceive. It’s usage all but implies that the majority of people are unorganized, unmotivated, and lacking any collective agency. The fact remains that the majority of individuals are not organized in social and/or political organizations. While our oligarchic class understands the necessity of collective organization and acts accordingly. This is the primary advantage they possess over the rest of us. Not only are their actions obstructed from popular view, they understand how inherently weak individuals are in any democratic society.

      Dr. Insula: That unwillingness to consider anything other then the propagated official line is all too common. It’s also one of the things that will cause people to either give up entirely on democratic participation or to continually elect their betrayers.

      1. Otter

        It appears, Andrew, that you agree completely with Insula; ‘that the majority of people are’ _organized, _motivated, and possess great ‘collective agency’, albeit not holding mebership cards. ‘The fact remains that the majority of individuals are’ well organized by ‘the propagated official line’ ‘to continually elect their betrayers’.

        The most common characteristic of successful graduates (both “left” and “right”) of ‘Faux and other Republican bullhorns’, and common universities too, is to react with unwarranted hostility to keywords without attempting to understand the overall meaning of the speech/text in which they are imbedded.

        I used to know a fellow who proclaimed to all, “You can tell you are a failed revolutionary, because you are still alive.” Whatever modicum of truth it might contain, it is an insatisfactory definition of failure, since you can never know when you are sucessful, and more importantly, since it provides no guidance to choosing policies which might lead to success (or failure, as you choose).

        Doubtless there are many symptoms of revolutionary failure. Surely among the clearest is to be found standing proudly on the summit of ideological purity, watching all of ones natural allies limping away bruised and bloodied by the scourge of truth.

  12. allcoppedout

    It seems very obvious we have no real politics and only corrupt administrations manipulating the public vote from time to time. Critique is largely left to academe and its periphery, perhaps as a niche market. The contradictions are massive in scale. With massive increases in technical know-how and productivity we are made to feel increasingly skint and insecure. The rich, who always claim they need to be rich to be motivated to do their wizardry, get vastly richer as all this occurs – in total contradiction of ‘trickle-down’. The arguments in all this are ancient.
    The answer is a banking system subject to strict rules open to public scrutiny. We have the technology, but allow the crooks running the system to keep it close to themselves. To suggest this is equivalent to denying the divine right of kings or religious lunacy guarded by instruments of torture.

    1. Dave

      Government is the only real oligarchy here. They are the only ones who literally get their money at the point of a gun. The “civilians” have to persuade or deceive.

      As another example beyond Biden, perhaps CALPERS should serve well. They are bankrupting the people of CA by force. Government employee unions have become a major oligarchy and no taxpayer has any choice but to pay. When I was young, government employees had fairly low pay, but good benefits and incredible job security. Now they have an excess of everything, while the folks they “serve” have a declining standard of living.

      1. masaccio

        Oligarchy means rule by the richest. Historically, as Winters shows in his book on the subject, Oligarchs enforced their will through armies. Now they get the government to do it for them. The government is not the oligarchy. It is merely one of many tools for the oligarchy to dominate your life.

        You are seeing things through the wrong lens. Your only hope for protection from the outrageous demands of the rich is to get government on your side.

        1. Expat

          Agreed, but we need candidates to vote for. Considering what you get for your vote, the US has amazingly high voter turnout. I still hear people saying that although they are unhappy with (the wholesale betrayal by) Obama, it was still better to vote for him rather than the other one. The only difference would seem to be whether you prefer to have a person of colour doing the dirty work or the usual white businessman.

          Some time ago I heard an interview with two political scientists who study the parties. “There is a difference between the parties,” they both vehemently asserted. However, when pressed, the only difference they could come up with was the fact that the Republican party was uniform and the Democratic base was split. No difference in values.

  13. OmAli

    “It’s a lousy bargain, and it doesn’t have to be that way”

    It’s for sure a lousy bargain, but if the Dems refuse to use the tools at their disposal, what ‘other way’ are we likely to get? (Other than a lousier bargain, if we don’t do something.)

  14. Jim

    Its not just the inherited wealth of American oligarchs. Look at the hidden wealth of the last 100 years sitting in “Tax emempt foundations” and their surrogates in various “Think Tanks.” This is where the vast majority of American Policy is formulated and sold to an unsuspecting American public. Pick any social, political, financial and military sphere of influence and it can be traced back to a Foundation and Think Tanks.

    1. anon y'mouse

      this right here is the only reason i can think of where the proposed sortition method of election would cause a break-down. a representative group of U.S. citizens might be smarter about trying to enact the laws, rules and other guidelines that the ‘people’ truly desire, but ultimately people can only be so well-informed about things outside of their personal purview without a huge allotment in time and training (specialization, yaddayadda). a draft system of public service would put even more of us at the mercy of the “only rational/conceivable course of action, given the circumstances” think-tank/lobbyist method of limiting the discussion to those favouring the oligarchy. it would give an even more legitimate-seeming screen to the commonly trussed out observation of “getting the government we deserved.”

  15. kevinearick


    Banking is a family business. Over time, a small number monopolize the banks, then government, and then everything else, to ensure that the new family formation banking enterprise is eliminated, which places a premium on intelligent family formation. Ask any old person; government grows itself by destroying effective new families, hence global Planned Parenthood, replacing it with the dumbest version possible, replicating robots. “Free Trade” is about global financial leverage AGAINST labor, and always has been.

    Banking is your feedback mechanism to improve the family work ethic. Naturally, the empire pays to destroy the work ethic, replacing it with demographic financial leverage, which, sooner or later comes crashing down. If you are minority labor, you want to breed on the work ethic by employing a banking system to drive down capital cost accordingly. That was the point of the farming co-ops back in the day.

    There are two ways to increase power; drive the empire back in time and jump new family formation forward. The idiots have printed and thrown $15T + into the black hole. Why wouldn’t they print another $30T? Why isn’t the baseline in your family Madison or Einstein level discourse? An empire gets dumber every day, as it fails to measure advances in new family formation, until it, the majority, can no longer afford to ignore reality. At that point, it tends to get ugly, fast.

    From the perspective of the empire, I have lost every battle, as it has successfully prevented me from re-joining the workforce for five years. From the perspective of labor, I have already won the war, because the output gap between empire education and my students has widened dramatically. Whether they choose to employ the propulsion to build bombs or ships is irrelevant to me; I’m old.

    So, here we are in ‘frisco’ again, a ton of construction and a ton of homeless people. Social services will get you all the food, clothing, and housing you want. What it will not get you is work boots and a drivers license. Back in the day, when America actually worked, the unions pulled people up from the bottom. Now, they are just another middle class family replicating machine, serving the banks and the families that own them, building an ever larger pension Ponzi machine, grinding to a halt with the inertia of relative scale.

    The Wongs have been replaced by Wells Fargo, in a City Hall built for the purpose, moving faster and faster digitally, and slowing materially as a result, hence $4 gallon, coming on rail cars, and a transportation terminal built on the assumption of high speed rail before it is even approved, and a preemptive lawsuit to prevent anyone from stopping it. Remember that little game we played in San Diego with the second convention center expansion? Have you noticed that all the union construction workers here are moving in super slow-mo?

  16. marcos

    Who cares about any of this when there are racists, sexists and homophobes using language that makes people feel uncomfortable?

    Pay no attention to the oligarchs behind the curtain and proceed in an orderly, solemn manner bearing gold bricks on red velvet pillows with golden tassels in tribute to your economic overlords, serf.


      Well gee golly willickers!!!! marcos, I care. If I am Trayvon Martin, and I am a BLACK MALE TEENAGER, and some dumb white asshole calls the cops on me, and when the cops say walking is not a crime, and the dumb white asshole, takes his perfectly legal hand gun, gets in his perfectly legal car, and stalks and confronts and gets in a fist fight, where the precious rule of law for standing my ground allows me to be hunted and executed and the fucking police do nothing until millions of UNITED BLACK MEN AND WOMEN WEARING HOODIES FLOOD THE STREETS DEMAND JUSTICE, yea, I’d say racism and racists like you are more of problem for kids like Trayvon, who didn’t live long enough to feel the sting of Obama’s betrayal.

      Too bad maybe you and some of the other rich assholes who got crushed by bigger fish on Wall St can start a foundation or something, you can do that in between figuring currency trades or whatever you do to make money out of thin are and complain about your ideals being betrayed. Boo Hoo. Get used to the Obama coalition, the young, the Black, the Hispanic, the gay, a majority of women, lots of organized labor, lots of evironmentalists, because, when he’s out of office, the struggle will continue, because when he’s gone, the real 11th dimensional game of chess that everyday people have to play to just to live a life will go on. We have to have one eye on oligarchs and another on the assholes like you who would shoot us as soon as look at us.

    2. Synopticist

      As long as the black, female or gay peons are treated no worse than the white male peons, there are lots of “progressives” who think that’s OK.



    America Builds an Aristocracy BY….

    Ray D. Madoff, a professor at Boston College Law School, is the author of “Immortality and the Law: The Rising Power of the American Dead.”


    Bankers then realized that if they could persuade their state legislatures to repeal that rule (as well as state income taxes on trusts), they could attract business. And in more than a dozen states the banking lobbyists were successful. The rule against perpetuities was repealed, and dynasty trusts — tax-exempt trusts that could benefit generation after generation of heirs — were born.

    This did generate business. One study found that nearly $100 billion in trust funds moved to states that repealed their rule against perpetuities.

    Dynasty trusts can grow much larger than the $3.5 million exemption amount would suggest. A couple can, for example, put $7 million (their two $3.5 million exemptions) into a life insurance policy owned by the trust. They apply their exemption at the start, and the trust is forever free from taxes — even when, after the death of the second spouse, the life insurance policy pays off at $100 million. Alternatively, a trust can use the $7 million as seed money for a profitable business that the trust then owns.

    An ordinary trust dissipates as money is distributed to the beneficiaries. But a dynasty trust can avoid this by discouraging outright distributions and instead encouraging trustees to buy, for the use of the beneficiaries, things like houses, artwork, airplanes and even businesses. Because the trust retains ownership, the assets can pass tax-free and creditor-proof to the next generation.


  18. curlydan

    Here’s another dataset to show the influence of the rich or oligarchy of families: The FY12 IRS Data Book. See pg 15.

    Since 1980, the growth rate (CAGR) in taxes collected by the government has grown by the following rates:
    Business Taxes: 2.6%
    Individual Taxes: 3.0%
    Employment Taxes: 3.5%
    Estate Taxes: 1.3%

    Is it any surprise that the taxes that affect the wealthy the most have grown the least? And they will fight tooth and nail to keep it that way.


  19. Jim

    Ed Walker states: “As the nation state evolved the rich struck a deal: the state would took on the burdens of protecting private property from foreigners, peasants and other oligarchs…”

    The specific foundations of the modern American nation state were created between 1860 and 1900.

    But it was the Northern Union which largely launched, what is today, our modern financial capitalist class.

    The Northern Union reorganized our financial system and established links to our emerging nations money markets. One outcome was the creation of a new class of financial capitalists who were largely autonomous of British influence and (between 1861 and 1865) largely dependent on the policies of the U.S. Treasury. As Richard Bensel has argued, during the Civil War, the Union financed the war effort by floating an enormous national debt and created a (then) dependent financial class to manage the debt service. But because the Treasury lacked the administrative capacity to manage financial markets, this then dependent financial community turned on the State that largely created it.

    The emergence of northeastern bankers as leading financial agents for the railroads and for economic development generally, can be traced to their role in Treasury operations during the Civil War.

    The impact of the Civil War propelled the Republican party into the role of the major political agent of economic development—through its role in promoting the protective tariff, the gold standard and the creation of a domestic national market —and it was primarily the Republican party and its linkage to the American state that carried out American industrialization between 1870 and 1900.

  20. Anonymity_Agent

    You see. When facts are not obscured under layers and layers of social programming-and are laid out as they are here for the rest of everyone to see, as clear as old glory waving in the wind
    well then, there is another viable lens of clarity to look through.
    I think it was very interesting early on in the article, mentioning the pundit class.
    As in, the folks who sit and criticize no action. Just like those old men muppet puppets of jim henson.
    The young are wary of such garble.
    There will be several databases dedicated to voluminous free information.
    Resources for thought untarnished by interests of media mind control.
    As for the oligarchs, please lets remember. Internet.
    As for the oligarchs who sit in their dirty oily money bath.
    They are at this point enslaved themselves in the snare of capital they cling to. Surrounded by the fence they built.

    The stale mouth wealthy are in such a tank of exclusivity. They have “accounts” filled with “money” but are less than 3,000. So limited actually, in ability to move freely. All the way down to their marriage options.

    And~they are certainly not in on the party of old monarchy, i.e scandinavia or arab bloodlines.

    Sigh. america…tennessee.carolinas.georgia.wealthy Inbreds. Waltons.
    Adding the obamas to the list does not ensure enough genetic diversity.

  21. Ken Ward

    It is helpful that Mr Walker discusses some of the conceptual difficulties that arise in attempts to theorise about an American oligarchy. One consequence of how hard it is to ‘measure the power of working through corporations’ etc is that probably far more Americans would agree that the US political system is oligarchical than would agree on any list of the principal oligarchs. How can we infallibly identify the American counterparts of the just-deceased Berezovsky? For example, is Romney an oligarch, though he doesn’t feature on the Forbes billionaires list? A very rich man who seeks the presidency seems more deserving of the title ‘oligarch’ than, say, George Soros.

  22. Tim

    Excellent article. It discusses the inevitable answer as to why we are obviously socially sociallist and economically fascist. Interesting combination! Who woulda thought it was possible 50 years ago?

    We need a “What is American Government Today?” Vote Yves.
    Here are the Choices:
    Democratic Republic

  23. Bill Frank

    Oligarchy within our democracy? Oligarchy yes, democracy no. Democracy is dead in this nation, it can not exist when the oligarchs own the economic, political, education and information systems. This is the cold reality of America, circa 2013. Anyone who thinks voting can change things is simply afraid to face that reality.

  24. Tim Chambers

    The new left, with its identity politics and its cultural issues, essentially pulled the party rightward on economic issues beginning in the 1970s. It alienated labor’s rank and file very early on and was co-opted by Carter, the Clintons and the D.L.C., who were basically Southern Republicans before the realignment of the 1970s. The Democratic Party that represented labor has been out of business for the last forty years. There is no economic left to speak of in this country anymore, just a bunch of fuzzy headed academic idealists, who don’t care to practice what they preach.

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