Robert Johnson on the Oligarchs: “They’re All Standing on the Deck of the Titanic Looking in Each Other’s Eyes”

Clip from Robert Johnson, former Senate Economist, Executive Director of the Institute for New Economic Thinking, and a Senior Fellow and Director of the Global Finance Project at the Roosevelt Institute, and transcribed by The Transcriber, who added commentary. Originally published at Corrente.


Lambert here: Yes, the metaphor is a little different from Johnson’s But not all that different.

* * *

Jesse’s Café Américain post on Jeffrey Sachs included an additional YouTube, Robert Johnson on Oligarchy, at the 2012 Impact Festival in New York. Well matched:

Filmed July 25, 2012
Posted by DeepDishTV


Robert Johnson: I think the, call it the oligarchy now is audacious. They don’t really care if they’re legitimate. There was a time – you know, I always hear Jurgen Habermas was paraphrased by saying, “Legitimate if you can, coerce if you have to, and accommodate if you must.” And I think we’ve gone past – I almost started, this was really eerie because we didn’t compare notes – I almost started my discussion about John Ralston Saul’s book, The Unconscious Civilization, and I think we’ve gone beyond – I’m grateful we have gone beyond the unconscious civilization. A lot of people don’t buy the package anymore that’s emanating from those corporations you talked about.

But there is a sort of, “Okay guys, you’re mad, how are you going to stop me?” mentality at the top. Now I’m going to say that that fight has to happen, but there’s also, you know, they always talk about Marx and capitalism, capitalists versus labor. A lot of the interesting fissures in a system are intra-capitalist conflict, and right now, I guess the way I’d put it in a metaphor is it feels like there are an awful lot of the elite that know this system is not wholesome, and they’re all standing on the deck of the Titanic looking in each other’s eyes, and they’re asking a question with their eyes, “Are we going to help this navigator? Are we going to help this captain get off the ice? Or are we going to get the food and the jewels from the safe and put them in our lifeboat?” And my sense is that most of them are trying to get stuff into their lifeboat, and that system isn’t going to cohere. And in that dysfunction there is opportunity.

* * *

Lambert here: I’m not a worse is better kind of guy. However, as far as “How are you going to stop me?” I’d say we’ve been in that power relationship before, if not this exact situation, and we’ve come out on the other side, and better. There’s always no alternative. Until there is. I’ve run this Thomas Nast cartoon once, but here it is again:

Caption: UNDER THE THUMB. The boss: “Well, what are you going to do about it?”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
This entry was posted in Guest Post on by .

About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Jim S

    Dear oligarchs: hubris. You’ve studied history and you think you’ve avoided the mistakes this time, but you always wind up here and you always will.

    Nice bit, Lambert. Thanks.

      1. Jim S

        Naw, the rich get their news by executive summary anyway, right? But the NSA is surely recording our words for posterity.

  2. Maju

    There are two issues here: on one side what the Johnson says is very much true: the “leaders” (greedy parasitic vampires) have no plan worth that name nor care much about it other than keeping their mercenary forces ready to defend their ill-gotten gains. On the other, the peoples around the World, with very limited exceptions, seem to lack the class consciousness needed to get organized and initiate the otherwise urgent revolutionary process that puts these oligarchs in their place (jail or execution), what feeds the feeling of impunity among the bosses.

    So it looks, at least right now, as a very slowly evolving final act. We know it’s final, we know that this situation is totally untenable but it is a time, to use a famous Gramscian quote, “in which the past isn’t yet fully dead, and the future isn’t yet fully born”.

    And this situation is, for me at least, a huge emotional drain: knowing that we are at the very end of an era, much like the late 18th century, but not seeing yet almost anywhere the breach through which we are going to transit to the new one.

    1. MaroonBulldog

      Why do you think there’s a new era coming after this? If, as you suggest, the masses lack the consciousness to organize simple revolutionary activity, where are they going to get the consciousness to organize and coordinate the feeding of 7,000,000,000 people?

      To me, the new era looks a lot like post-modern Malthusian Hell.

        1. Murky

          Yea! Ranting out some spoon-fed ideology of evil rich capitalists verses good but poor masses does not foster any quality of discussion. The world almost never divides up so conveniently into good and evil, black and white. There just might be a good capitalist out there somewhere; such things have been known to happen. Take the example of Soros; he has given many millions to socially progressive foundations, most recently the Institute for New Economic Thinking. Or take Carnegie who established the public library system in the USA, a clear example of good. And there will be dregs and horrors of humanity among the so-called masses too, because no single group is all good, pure and holy. Racing to judgement about ‘capitalists’ or ‘masses’ or any other slice of humanity without a full context of fact and history just leads to shallow and mob style thinking.

          There… I feel better now.

          1. Cassiodorus

            The concern with the elites has nothing to do with good or evil. It’s about confronting the unsustainable nature of capital accumulation. Being an elite is being a beneficiary of capital accumulation — you can experience all sorts of gross comforts, but they’re only manifested as privileges, and you have to maintain them through a narcissistic hogging of the world.

            If we of the 99% had our collective act together, we could bring paradise to Earth. The process of bringing paradise to Earth would, however, involve (among many other things) the end of elite privilege.

          2. Maju

            Don’t forget Engels, mecenas of Communism.

            It’s not about the good or evil nature of individuals, although of course power corrupts (a lot, and also attracts those already corrupt) and capitalist property and wealth is just a form of power. It’s about objective class interests: overall people who benefit from this predatory system have a vested interest in it and people who are being obviously exploited and/or marginalized in it (the vast and growing majority) have a vested interest in radical change into some other more democratic form of society and economy, i.e. socialism in its various forms.

            Said that, individuals may choose a camp which is not their natural one because of free conscious (ethical or corrupt) choice, or also because of ideological brainwashing (TV, religion, school and all that). But nobody has any interest in being exploited like a slave, dumped like trash to a slow death in the streets or having their environment destroyed. Only those who get exclusive profits from such activities, i.e. the capitalists (and secondarily their mercenary minions in the armed forces, media, political arena, etc.) have interest in this system as it is.

          3. fouad sayegh

            Mob thinking at the top is okay but at the bottom it is not. What you are missing is that the former begets the latter.

          4. Massinissa


            Read about the Homestead Strike/Massacre at one of Carnegie’s plants and see if you can call him a ‘good capitalist’ still!!

          5. Murky

            @ Maju

            Please, don’t hold up Marx or Engels as the men with answers for suffering humanity. Look how the ideology of Marxism played out in communist Russia. Millions murdered in gulag prison camps. Likewise with Chinese communism. Marxism promised a utopian worker’s paradise, but instead turned into human disaster on a colossal scale.

            Marxism has already has already been historically tested on human populations with dire consequences, and historians now regard the entire Marxist edifice as a failed ideology. But there are still many, like you, who still think it has answers for all of us.

            It would serve humanity very well to distrust any and all ideologies wholesale. Ideology finds itself rooted in a variety of domains, including economics, religion, and politics. The damage that ideology does, is that it coerces thought into a preset mold, thereby killing free thought and empowering a straightjacket of group-think. Listening to how Republicans and Democrats squabble is a perfect example of how North Americans have been divided and disempowered by ideology. Ideology is, in my opinion, EVIL.

            We do agree on the problem, that the Global Financial Crisis resulted in grotesque economic inequality and extreme social injustice. We just disagree on the tools needed for solutions.

            Currently there is a wealth of good literature about the Global Financial Crisis. We can look to economics, sociology, demography, and historical sciences for new thinking and emergent solutions.

          6. Massinissa


            “Nothing has contributed so much to the corruption of the original idea of socialism as the belief that Russia is a socialist country”.

            – George Orwell

          7. gepay

            I believe this:
            “If only there were evil people somewhere
            Insidiously committing evil deeds
            and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us

            and destroy them.

            But the line dividing good and evil
            cuts through the heart of every living soul
            And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
            —Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
            I also believe that there are elites who are rich beyond greed who mostly run the world. (“This is a system?” Mr. Natural) Howvever they are made up of layers of new and old money sources starting with what’s left of the Royal Families of Europe. Yes, mostly they are families like the Rockefellers and the Agnellis and the Krupp/Thyseens etc. Talented individuals like Kissinger are the last public link between us and them. Layers and layers. Occasionally they fight among themselves. Whatever faction Lehman Bros was closest to has been thrown off the bus. While a person like Bill Gates has been welcomed in. Someone like Pablo Escobar became rich enough but wasn’t invited. Other gangsters are though as I believe in Peter Scotts paradigm of the Deep State – . Demaris ‘Captive City’

            From the moment of its incorporation as a city in 1837, Chicago has been systematically seduced, looted, and pilloried by an aeonian horde of venal politicians, mercenary businessmen, and sadistic gangsters. Nothing has changed in more than a century and a half. The same illustrious triumvirate performs the same heinous disservices and the same dedicated newspapers bleat the same inanities. If there has been any change at all, it has been within the triumvirate itself.
            In the beginning, the dominant member was the business tycoon, whether it be in land speculation, railroads, hotels, meat packing, or public utilities, Pirates like Potter Palmer, Phillip Armour, George Pullman, Charles T. Yerkes, and Samuel Insull fed the city with one hand and bled it dry with the other.
            Around the turn of the century, with the population explosion out of control, the politician gained the upper hand over his partners in the coalition. It remained for the gangster to complete the circle in 1933 following the murder of Mayor Cermak. Today it is nearly impossible to differentiate among the partners – the businessman is a politician – the politician is a gangster – the gangster is a businessman.
            I think the present President of the US comes from Chicago.
            Wall Street is now run by crimials who money launder drug money when not busy defrauding us.
            The Jewish billionaire oligarchs are now in as are many other billionaires from around the world.

            Lenin wrote “What to do? What to do? but we now know how that turned out.
            Armed revolution does not seem feasible at this time but it surely does seem that world situation is devolving into another World War or anarchy. So many guns and violent people in the US. And no alternative appearing yet.

          8. Maju

            I don’t hold any single man nor woman as the one with the answers, much less people who died long ago. I was just mentioning one example of “good capitalist”, probably much better than the ones mentioned above.

            You can’t blame communism for the gulags anymore you can blame christianity for the inquisition, pogroms, witch hunts and loss of scientific mentality for a thousand years. Nor anymore you can blame the capitalist system for a zillion massacres from Ireland and America to Palestine and Fukushima. What happens in Guantanamo? What happens with the homeless? What happens with the colonial wars and exploitation…? What about Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

            Sure: Stalinism was an abhorrence but Stalin is not Communism anymore than Cromwell or Hitler are Capitalism. They are just particular developments. And in the case of Stalin and Hitler, they belong to a particular period of Capitalist history: that of Fordism or the Mass Worker, now gone for good.

            In spite of all Stalinism and other “deviations”, 20th century Communims has produced many good things, for example Cuba, which is, with due criticisms, a true socialist state in which people enjoy the basic social and economic rights equally, unlike in its neighbors (USA, Haiti, Mexico). Utopies do not exist but the basic rights to a home, health and an overall dignified life can be guaranteed in a system that works and is not outstandingly predatory of Earth – and Cuba shows how.

            “We do agree on the problem, that the Global Financial Crisis”…

            I do not think that the crisis is primarily financial: that’s just a shallow analysis: the crisis is deeply structural and the financial bubble (and hence burst) was just a virtual construct not too different from Keynesian “money printing” strategies, just that privatized (Thatcherism), in order to defer the crisis that was already looming in the 1970s. It created a mirage of affluence of some 15-20 years but it did nothing to address the structural problems of Capitalism: just pretend and extend. It has helped however to concentrate more wealth in the top echelons, aggravating the contradictions rather than reducing them. It was like getting morphine to treat a cancer: only the pain was eased for some time, no real solutions.

            This is a systemic crisis which does not seem to have any solution within the system but requires a radically different approach, what implies a revolution of some sort.

        2. efschumacher

          >I reject “the masses” as an analytical category.

          You could think of it as the rentier, the (sub)urban bourgeosie and the proletariat. We’ve seen the income growth figures that equates these: enormous growth for the 0.1% rentier, losing ground for the bottom 80% proletariat, and just better than breaking even for the 19.9% bourgeosie.

          The proletariat will not be inspired to lead anything, but may be driven herd-wise by elements of the other two factions. For the most part, they won’t thank anybody, whatever the outcome.

          The (sub)urban bourgeosie includes the educated and professional classes (if you’re reading this: you’re in it), is the class that does all the creating, runs the show and generally does the bidding of the rentier. The single most important element in the control strategy is to keep the bourgeoisie riven, fissured and divided. This, the 19.9%, is the class that must cohere if any meaningful change is to happen. It’s a not so trivial task because these people stand on opposite sides of all sorts of pungent issues like regulation, gun control, abortion, ‘socialism’ versus ‘capitalism’, climate change, whether the people who created every productivity revolution should be ‘entitled’ in retirement to any of the very gains that they made happen, and whether the Dodgers were better than the Capitals last weekend.

          I think I’ve seen a similar (more detailed) analysis to this somewhere else, but the original author seemed to think the (sub)urban bourgeosie were the problem, whereas in fact they are the diverse instrument set for maintaining the conduit for rentier enrichment and control.

          So, tools, lay aside your differences, cohere, and rise up, you have nothing to lose but your 5 percent gains aggregated over the last 40 years.

          1. Jessica

            The way you describe the 19.9% is analogous to the bourgeoisie vis-a-vis the landed aristocracy in Europe in the 1800s. Even after they had taken over in France, it was amazing how long that new leading class remained willing to cede political power to the obsolete aristocracy in the rest of Europe. In some analyses, it was only WW1 that finally finished off the landed aristocracy. Because the new bourgeois was both internally divided and scared of the working class.
            One thing that is unique about the new knowledge worker class (“creative” class) is that they can only reach their full potential as a class by creating a much more inclusive system. If they try to just replace the 0.1% and make themselves into a new elite, they will continue to be throttled as a group.
            Because knowledge production is inherently different from thing production. Any system that holds knowledge back in order to collect rents must hold back the development of knowledge and of those who would otherwise do it.
            That does not mean that the knowledge worker class couldn’t try. In fact, given how subservient to the rentiers the knowledge worker class has been, it is hard to imagine them not first trying to find a way to create “rational 0.1%-ism” or “0.1%-ism without the 0.1%”.

          2. ArkansasAngie

            No more wedgies.

            So long as they have us wedged against each other over social issues they keep us from forming coalitions that can break their hold.

            I seriously do not care about abortion, immigration, NRA, gay marriage, et al.

            We all know that the financial crisis was caused by criminal activity. That is the issue to focus on and rally around.

          3. Nell

            “The single most important element in the control strategy is to keep the bourgeoisie riven, fissured and divided. This, the 19.9%, is the class that must cohere if any meaningful change is to happen. It’s a not so trivial task because these people stand on opposite sides of all sorts of pungent issues”

            Excellent point. I have just this weekend begun to see signs of some coherence around a specific issue, the land value tax. I have read support for this from the right and from the left. Possibly because it is viewed as an anti tax haven measure.

          4. squasha

            If there is hubris in the cloudlands inhabited by the vulture class, it is also evident in the soothsaying language invoked by economic theorists sitting in the middle of the bus, waving an occasional hand when not firing a bullet point at the immiserated slowly dying outside, delineating the future of various catagorical units of population. Perhaps we might try listening to the impoverished this go-round rather than consulting the tucked-up oracle.

          5. Yves Smith


            It was also because a lot of them died or were mutilated in WWI. War (in England, and to a lesser degree in France) was welcome because the aristos assumed it would be a short affair, and cavalry charges and war generally was romanticized. WWI blew a howitzer through a generation of young men, particularly among the noble classes.

        3. Lexington

          It says something about the success American popular culture has had in enforcing ideological homogenity that even Americans who perceive that there is something seriously wrong with country’s economic and political composition find any analysis that includes a discussion of class deeply distateful.

      1. Maju

        Things change. The agony may possibly be extended for a long period (what can we know about the future?) but something is clear: catastrophic social collapse as happened to the USSR in the 1980s or is happening to us now in the 2010s can’t and won’t persist forever: eventually revolutionary changes will take place.

        Anyhow the only alternative under Capitalist predatory conditions is total ecological collapse of the planet, a process already way too advanced: nuclear and “conventional” pollution all around, depleted oceans, destruction of the natural refuges everywhere, accelerated extinction of one species after another and of course global warming. Space travel and colonization are just science fiction for many centuries to come: we only have this planet and Capitalism is definitely destroying it at accelerated pace.

        So, if not revolution, pathetic extinction. But there’s no other foreseable future, really.

        1. Susan the other

          I agree with you Maju that this chaos is stressful. We all look to the things that have given us hope in the past and those things aren’t working very well. Like the Boston Marathon. Who will ever think of marathons the same way again? But Robert Johnson’s observation that opportunities come in a crisis is a little encouraging. I really take issue with some of the comments here that the 1% is in control (not so, it’s their system that is in fact out of control); that the 19% in the “middle” is the creative class (but look at the mess they have created!); and that the bottom 80%, the proles, are braindead. Please. I’m pretty sure it is the 1% who have gone braindead. They “really haven’t had a good new idea in 2000 years.” (from “Catch 22” – such a good quote).

          1. efschumacher

            Mmmm, I’m not saying the “proles are braindead”. I’m saying they are distracted, whether through fatalism, laziness, hopelessness, misdirection or some combination of the above.

            Used to be that in England they had the Grammar School system, that creamed off the (academically) top 20%, gave them better educational opportunities than the rest, and loosed them to run the country, indeed, to run the world. That system was meritocratic in that it didn’t matter that you had a working class background if you could make the grade academically. It allowed a constant flow upwards from the proletarian class. But it was never going to be more than 20%, although it didn’t exclude some of the rest from getting on financially. So no, the proles aren’t brain-dead, there is plenty of intellectual vigor there. But the vast bulk of them will still retain the chains.

            The story I hear is that those kinds of educational opportunities are coming to be increasingly unavailable in this country – which has long been trumpeted by the foghorn of propaganda as the place where even Joe Q. Public can ‘make it’. Maybe he can, but not in any significant proportions.

          2. efschumacher

            Moreover, even Jane Austen dramatizes the brain-dead vapidity of the 1% back in the 1800’s.

            Whereas Julian Fellowes seems to want us to be sympathetic to their shared struggle with the rest of us in the birth of modernity.

    2. jake chase

      I don’t think we are at the end of anything, except perhaps the delusion of endless prosperity. Bubbles burst. Plutocrats control the money machine and have used it to save themselves. Everyone else is on his own, but life does go on. Solutions have always been individual. They still are. Everything else is fantasy. Good luck chums.

      1. Chris

        Solutions have always been individual? Expound, because that doesn’t sound intuitive to me.

      2. They didn't leave me a choice

        Your message just opened my eyes, thank you.

        The true conflict of this era is not about oligarchs versus humans.

        It’s about individualist filth like you versus humans.

        We will wipe you scum out.

        1. skippy

          @above… Jake has issues and is an rugged old fart, but… hes not completely devoid of humanity (We will wipe you scum out… sigh)… walk a few decades in his shoes… eh.

          Skippy… Jake is knowledgeable and experienced, he should have the right to voice an opinion and not get dismissed in a flamethrower accident.

          1. AbyNormal

            true that Skippy. i always take a deep cleansing breath before diving into the Jake swirl…i surface with a sense of self empowerment.

            Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.
            mother teresa

          2. jake chase

            Corruption and evil are not new. Our institutions have been allowed to become cancerous as people were deluded by visions of prosperity and progress and enslaved by debt. Meanwhile, those on the inside were busy going to the bank and manufacturing propaganda about patriotism and wealth building and education and government service, and the entire ediface was (and is) a swindle, as anybody could see if he dug deeply enough or even bothered to connect the dots.

            Rage is easy, as are empty threats, and optimistic broohaha from collectivists who always turn out to be Lenin or Stalin or Castro and will probably be even worse in the coming decades. The biggest swindles have been put across by Progressive governments. Most notable are the Income Tax and the Federal Reserve, the first of which keeps the poor poor and the second of which keeps the rich rich. As we speak the government octopus is busy crafting ever more regulations to deter enterprise and preserve monopoly.

            Herewith one small example: in our State a trained nurse cannot become a Medicare Certified Home Health agency without obtaining a Certificate of Need from the Division of Health Care Services. As the methodology for computing need is incomprehensible, I cannot determine how one does that, but I would not be surprised if in our County it cannot be done, because one giant Agency controls all the business and that is the way they want to keep it.

            All this is too bad, because my wife could do a lot of good. Fortunately, she will not be compelled to hire herself out to some accredited agency at a minimum wage and suffer its whims and demands. My advice to her is if they won’t let you become an agency, just keep playing golf. People have let government so fuck things up that worrying about it is just wasted time. Democrats, Republicans, just different packs of jackels. All of you will realize this if you live to be seventy. Meanwhile, take care of business as best you can.

            You can shoot the messenger but the message remains.

          3. ambrit

            Dear skippy;
            Too true that. Ecology should give us our frame of reference here. When a biosphere loses too many so called “peripheral” species, the whole thing grinds to a halt and re sets. Diversity is an essential feature of any healthy system.
            The other thing about flamethrowers is that they will occasionally blow up on the back of the wielder, leaving crispy critters everywhere.

          4. just me

            Could you please give us some background on They didn’t leave me a choice too? (screaming idiot lights can be telling us something useful?)

            (mho – my own theory is that if everybody knows each other, everybody will help each other — biology is destiny, and the cooperative survive — it’s this “other” business that’s the trouble)

    3. R Foreman

      Oh well, we have lots of time to think about it and let it really sink in. Most of the rational economic thinkers I am reading say the latter half of this decade will get very bad indeed. So as ever larger numbers huddle on street corners, with increasing numbers of houses going untenanted, fewer and fewer people will drive around increasingly expensive cars, then we will have the time to decide a course of action, even if that means doing nothing at all and reminiscing about the good old days of 2007.

      1. ambrit

        Re @ RForeman;
        JGordon is looking saner and saner as time progresses. The important point here is just who the “we” in your comment will end up being. (Not snark, but a question about survival strategies for the near term future.)

        1. Massinissa

          With the exception of his goldbuggery and sound money type stuff, which I feel to be truly abhorrent and absurdist, I actually end up agreeing with most of what Gordon says.

          Though when he mentions gold or bitcoin I usually stop listening at that point ^_^

    4. banger

      My impression is that the oligarchs don’t really have that much power. The world is ruled not by a few families but by an emergent network–a kind of entity with its own agenda. It is well known, for example, that many CEOs are sympathetic to things like the environment and the plight of the world–but they cannot act in any other way–the system won’t allow it. It is the system itself that is the problem not the oligarchs themselves though many of them, it is true, are truly misanthropes.

      1. masaccio

        Can you point to something that has happened in the last 10 years or so that runs contrary to the desires of the oligarchy?

        Maybe the network operates to carry out the will of the oligarchs.

        1. banger

          That’s the point I’m trying to make. The system itself, without necessarily being controlled by anyone has a life of its own and distributes power towards the class that created it.

      2. traveler

        “…many CEOs are sympathetic to things like the environment and the plight of the world–but they cannot act in any other way–the system won’t allow it. It is the system itself that is the problem not the oligarchs themselves…”

        You’re very kind but this doesn’t ring true. The oligarchs have a vast array of choices. Any oligarch could walk away at any time. Simply withdraw. Change course. Perhaps even make atonement. Such an act would be no more outrageous than what they’re already up to.

    5. Stan Musical

      If Gramsci said that, he was cribbing from Mathew Arnold’s:

      Wandering between two worlds, one dead,
      The other powerless to be born,

      I agree we’re still in some sort of limbo, but while we turn in circles the planet’s other denizens are slowly (or quickly) dying off. They’re an “other” 99%.

      And regardless of how well off, Americans, especially, are a 10%, if not 1%, at the top. Returning to the US after time spent in the “third” world, which is in fact much more real, much less infused with the Spectacle, (I’m pleased DeBord’s insight is getting polularized), produces culture shock, just at the amount and variety of material goods on offer. It verges on the hallucinatory if you’re not used to it.

      Energy use by us “first-worlders” is wasteful to an extreme degree and polluting, and indulgence of our many “needs” we could go without–driving everywhere, creating garbage made of non-biodegradable material (often encasing processed food), drinking industrial chemical concoctions we call “soft drinks”–and so on and so forth, puts us squarely on the side of the big capitalists whether we are aware of, or can accept it.

      Solidarity against the oppressors can begin with bourgeoied-up Americans consuming less and educating themselves about how the oligarchs are really–I mean really–screwing over the “other” 6 billion people on the planet.

  3. Murky

    Thanks for the video clip; it’s a good though very brief introduction to Robert Johnson. Wikipedia has a brief article about Johnson, mostly noting that he is Executive Director of the Institute for New Economic Thinking. The best content I found on Johnson was a Youtube clip in which he verbally demolishes the economics profession. He says economists have become lackeys to Wall Street, and then he makes specific suggestions of how to get the profession back on track. Here is the clip:

    1. just me

      From the youtube info:

      Interview with Robert Johnson
      Economist and Director of the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET), New York

      “I think the economics profession was making tremendous money in consulting for the financial sector. Many of the theories were not investigational illumination how financial markets worked. They were portraits painted like a marketing document. They did a great disservice to mankind and we’re cleaning up after that right now.”

      “When the people become anxious they want the expert to tell them what’s going to happen. And they feel good when their anxiety is relieved because they think they understand the future. But if the expert instead of telling the truth is telling snake oil, a false story, when that is unmasked the expert becomes the scapegoat.”

      “Economists are very much accused of “only seeing the economy through the eyes of the model” as opposed to seeing the economy and building a model as a map of what reality is. Formalism is very different to science.”

      “There are several modifications to economics teaching that need to take place. The first is rather than teaching introductory economics as an indoctrination in method they should teach it as a course in the philosophy of science where the subject is economics and its assumptions and the trade-offs and the flaws as well as the strings are explored sceptically on behalf of the student.”

      looks interesting — reminds me of Yves’ post on Professor Outis Philalithopoulos…

      1. jake chase

        You might as well teach Creation Science as Economics. Perhaps they already do; it’s been a while since I hung around a university.

        Among other things that are broken is our university system. Most students learn more about football and sexual technique than anything else. Of course, both are great fun, but do we really need three hundred thousand business students and God knows how many in ethnic studies, art history, geography, literature, etc. All a person needs to know is how to read and how to count. It shouldn’t take thirty years, but these days it not only does but most degree recipients haven’t mastered either skill and don’t seem to care about using them.

        Fifty years ago, everyone I knew at college understood the routine was bullshit and the only sensible objective was to land some kind of job with a future. I never found one and was not surprised since there really weren’t very many back then.

        Think it’s tough being poor in bad times? Some of you should try it on during good times. That is when it really gets personal.

        Oh well, what’s the point? Soft headed social critics are really just as delusional as poor saps who swallow advertising slogans. But nothing can convince them of the futility of their nostrums. Writing in to these blogs is just impersonating Syssyfus. I know I’ve spelled it wrong. So what?

        1. madrona

          “Think it’s tough being poor in bad times? Some of you should try it on during good times. That is when it really gets personal.”

          Preach on, brother Jake! (virtual high-five) Been there, felt that.

  4. mmckinl

    The oligarchs game plan is quite obvious … Just look at the fire power they put on the streets of Boston … Just look at the legislation that allows information gathering that would make the former East Germany blush …

    Just look at how our rights to assemble, habeus corpus and local determination are being legislated away by Congress and through trade agreements that are little more than trump cards for corporate hegemony.

    A totalitarian state is just around the corner … the elites are going nowhere. With half the population a month or two away from being homeless and hungry the violence that follows will be used to crack down even harder.

    Just look around … at Greece, Spain, Cypress. The protests have done little to stop the fascism. The elites will use the ring wingers to suppress everyone else. How long was Franco in power?

    All the institutions are already coopted. Universities, Unions, Religion and Governance are cowed or cooperating. Local police are militarized and Federally deputized. The National Guard Federalized. And there are plenty of folks ready to lend these people a hand for their own gain.

    Just look at what is directly in front of you … The elites don’t need lifeboats. They already own anything of value and now they intend to use all the weight of the government against us. Look at our justice system, look at our state and federal governments … They own them lock, stock and barrel.

    1. Cassiodorus

      The unsustainability of the existing system is not changed by the fact that nearly all of it is under some form of neoliberal elite control.

      1. mmckinl

        “Unsustainability” for Who? You must be talking about the lower 99%. It is quite sustainable for the elites. When the system goes bankrupt they will establish a new currency and loan themselves the money to keep everything they have …

        Just look at the banksters. JP Morgan, Wells, Bof A, Citi and of course Goldman Sachs. They were all bailed, they will be bailed again. The Chairmen of the Bank Of England and the ECB are Goldman alumni … The Fed is next.

        You are correct, there is not enough to go around, the current situation is unsustainable. And that is why the next political and social model will be fascism and a police state. Given from what I have seen of Americans they will embrace order over freedom … nothing but sheep.

        How do they maintain this order? Food and fear. It is no accident that Monsanto has carte blanche and OBTW they have just purchased Blackwater now known as XE. They will control the food supply.

        Social order and the economy? Through their massive data bases with which they can issue no fly orders that will be expanded to train and ship with all travel and lodging managed through credit cards that they own.

        Jobs, education? With the info they store they can blacklist anyone for good jobs, schools. You will never hear that you have been black listed. It will be a series of failed applications,interviews and credit downgrades.

        1. fouad sayegh

          The Americans, the Greeks, the Spaniards and even the Italians seem to have caved in. I am still hopeful watching the French for an encore.

          1. mmckinl

            Indeed … And Greece and Spain had, “Socialist Goverments”, and bailed their banks without question …

            I don’t hold out much hope for Francois Holland. His ratings are already in the tank and falling. He will bail the banks.

            The next President of France will most likely be that Bilderberg favorite, the IMF sweetheart, Christine Lagarde.

          2. Maju

            Having the tag “socialist” in your logo does not make you socialist. The Socialist International today is analogous to the US Democratic Party with a single and rather anachronic exception: the Sandinista Front (which got in it in the 1980s in a rather different pre-Blairite context). Today European and other “socialist” or “labour” parties are just, like the Democratic Party in the USA, managers of hardcore Neoliberalism with just the occasional populist penchant for this or that mostly pointless reform.

            A different but highly comparable situation is the “communist” regimes of East Asia (China, Vietnam, etc.), which are today hyper-capitalist with just some state planning more in the fascist sense than with any kind of socialist meaning. Today the only examples of socialism available are Cuba, Venezuela and a handful of other American states, where the welfare of the people and social cohesiveness is still the first priority.

            You should not look merely at labels but contents.

          3. Massinissa

            I dont know Mckine, Im kind of expecting the next French president to be Marine Le Pen. She did incredible in the last presidential election, and wouldnt it be fitting for the next president to be an almost literal fascist?

            Then again, being protectionist and eurosceptic, im not sure the elites that be would really approve of the Front National having power, fascistic or not. Dont forget that the French system has constantly denied the party seats in parliament due to the way its denied, despite its very large support among the electorate.

          4. mmckinl

            @ Maju ~ “Having the tag “socialist” in your logo does not make you socialist.”

            Exactly why I used parentheses around the term “Socialist Governments” …

        2. just me

          You are correct, there is not enough to go around, the current situation is unsustainable. And that is why the next political and social model will be fascism and a police state. Given from what I have seen of Americans they will embrace order over freedom … nothing but sheep.”

          Want to shake you! (nicely, of course)

          March 5th, 2011 9:03 PM
          VIDEO: America Is NOT Broke

          By Michael Moore

          …WE HAVE HAD IT! We reject anyone who tells us America is broke and broken. It’s just the opposite! We are rich with talent and ideas and hard work and, yes, love. Love and compassion toward those who have, through no fault of their own, ended up as the least among us. But they still crave what we all crave: Our country back! Our democracy back! Our good name back! The United States of America. NOT the Corporate States of America. The United States of America!

          So how do we make this happen? Well, we do it with a little bit of Egypt here, a little bit of Madison there. And let us pause for a moment and remember that it was a poor man with a fruit stand in Tunisia who gave his life so that the world might focus its attention on how a government run by billionaires for billionaires is an affront to freedom and morality and humanity.

          To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, democracy is in our grasp, so long as we have hands to clasp.

          I mean, it could be fun and lively, not horrible and deadly. Like breathing again. Being us again. I myself would like to pursue happiness. With everybody. My American Dream, tyvm.

    2. SóloSéQueNoSéNada

      Once the the Dollar falters as the Reserve Currency, it is game over (inflationary depression) for the United States. Americans will wake up to their poverty.

      However, a police state is certainly not in the cards. In general, Americans are so ignorant, cowardly, and overweight that a Revolution is simply inconceivable. I fully expect them to starve in front of their flatsceen TVs, wimpering into oblivion while watching some spinoff of Real Beverly Hills Housewives.

      1. mmckinl

        The dollar will be the last currency to fail. Although the petro-dollar hegemony is being tested there is no alternative.

        Only the US has the military might to back a world reserve currency … Of all the giant industrial countries (Germany, Japan, China)only the US produces 50% of its own oil.

        This is a contradiction: “However, a police state is certainly not in the cards. In general, Americans are so ignorant, cowardly, and overweight that a Revolution is simply inconceivable.”

        Once Americans lose their flat screens, along with their houses and jobs there will be trouble. Over 50% of American families are within a couple of months of being homeless and hungry.

        Unlike European countries where most have extended family that is much less the case in the US. These people will be immediately desperate for the basics … Already the “Sequester” is reducing help.

        A “police state” is definetly on the cards … whether we will have velvet glove fascism or iron fist fascism is the only question left to answer if revolution is not on the list.

        What you fail to appreciate is that when the US goes down most other countries will already be on their knees. When the US goes down the entire world economy is going down with it …

        1. Don Levit

          Military might backs a world currency, huh?
          For how long?
          For how long are the masses going to be ruled by the military?
          For how long will the military back the elites?
          The only force in backing the U.S. dollar is the force of taxation.
          Unfortunately, taxes are so low in relation to our total debt, I am not sure even taxation has that much influence anymore.
          Don Levit

          1. mmckinl

            Don Levit ~ “The only force in backing the U.S. dollar is the force of taxation.”

            Only partially true … The value of the dollar is based on demand for the dollar and the ability to pay. Dollars are in demand for taxes, legal tender, loans in dollars, foreign reserves and trade such as the petrodollar.

            For any currency to be viable there must be enforcement of contract. Legal tender is the start but the courts, sanctions and ultimately use of force are the pillars of strength.

        2. SóloSéQuéNoSéNada

          Countries can simply use local currencies in bilateral trade settlement. No military strength is necessary: just stop doing business with anyone who rips you off.

    3. banger

      Exactly right–moreover there is no real political opposition. The “left” such as it was has entirely disappeared as a force. The system is very robust. The main reason is that the current oligarchy is not like other oligarchies in history–this one is an emergent network where the power is diffused across the network and no one node is all that powerful–in fact as an emergent system it is, in itself, the actual Emperor of the Empire, i.e., the system itself is the power and the individual oligarchs are not necessarily in charge.

    4. Massinissa

      Im aware that the question about Franco was rhetorical, but Franco was in power from 1936-75. Thats 39 years.

      Goddamn, I honestly didnt realise it was that long until I looked it up. Thats almost half a damn century.

  5. Jessica

    “Lambert here: I’m not a worse is better kind of guy.”
    I read this more as saying that the elite will not act together in a coherent way, but fragments of the elite will do things that make sense for the fragment but are harmful for the elite as a whole. That can be to our benefit.
    I would say that the Republican refusal to help Obama cut social security is an example of that.

  6. Schofield

    Nope it’s about confronting our necessary human nature which by default struggles to balance power and always will do. It’s about refusing simple minded utopianism, like Communism, Neo-Liberalism or state imposed religions, which appears to provide balance but in reality concentrates far too much power in the hands of the few. It’s about how we can best diffuse power but still effectively meet our needs both individual and collective. Galileo and the Catholic Church (as welfare state) perfectly illustrates this. It is the end always a work in progress!

  7. casino implosion

    This guy is coming out of the Soros nexus, where the motives are ambiguous at best.

    1. Ms G

      I agree entirely. To me a tell is the pervasive vagueness, metaphors and lack subject-verb-object sentences dealing with the who, what, when and why of our kleptocracy and its actors. In other words, Johnson’s speech describes a world with no agency, no history and lots of vague, pseudo-poetically expressed, notions.

      Compare to, and contrast with, Jeffrey Sachs’s rather more incisive and direct words on, apparently, a similar subject.

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        Hmm. As it happens, the transcriber has been good enough to transcribe both speeches! I think you’re right. And Johnson’s speech was in 2012, whereas Sachs was just last week. So it looks like, for some fractions of the elite, the language has moved from lack of agency to agency in a year. That’s an interesting restult.

        1. Ms G

          In the same vein, one could ask of Soros what exactly he means by an “Open Society” — fully open to looting operations by speculators or something else? I know (in my completely subjective state of being and thinking) the answer.

  8. Dennis Redmond

    One point worth emphasizing: the plutocrats have one critical weakness, and that is the fact that their domination of the political system, as well as their suicidal economic policies, are very much limited to the US and EU. Powerful anti-neoliberal social movements, political uprisings, and developmental states are on the march all across Latin America, northern Africa, Eurasia, East Asia and Southeast Asia. That’s a sea change from the early 1990s, when neoliberalism was dominant pretty much everywhere.

    1. banger

      Good point–there is some limited hope in that direction–but it is in no position to actively oppose the Empire.

    2. from Mexico

      @Dennis Redmond

      This is what I see going on. I perceive neoliberalism as a system in structural crisis. The use of the state’s instruments of violence in the United States, deployed against its own people, comes into play as power is being lost, not as a manifestation or demonstration of omnipotent power. Many places in Latin America have already gone through this stage.

      The crisis of neoliberalism is far more advanced in Latin America than it is in the United States or Europe. But the people of the US and Europe will eventually learn. It´s just that they are not very far along on the learning curve.

      South America is split. Yesterday I was in La Paz, Bolivia. Bolivia, together with Argentina, Venezuela, Cuba, Uruguay, Ecuador and Brazil, are in open revolt against neoliberalism and the United States. I understand that Peru is now switching from a pro-neoliberalism to an anti-neoliberalism stance. Today I am in Bogota, Columbia. Columbia, along with Chile and Mexico, are still very much in the US/neoliberal camp.

      So Latin America, which is the place where neoliberalism was first imposed, is now in the process or rejecting neoliberalism. I see the European perifery being the next place to begin rejecting neoliberalism. This is not an overnight process, however. These things take time.

      Church ain’t over till the fat lady sings, and in the US and Europe the fat lady isn’t even near singing. The transition did not happen anywhere in Latin America without the neoliberal state, always with the backing of the United States, trying to maintain control by violent means. Economic liberalism and state violence go together like Thelma and Louise. Those who think the oligarchy has triumphed and is all-powerful with its instruments of state violence have it all wrong, in my opinion. Again, these things take time and the people must experience neoliberal victimization personally, but change is in the air.

  9. banger

    As I’ve commented before, the “oligarchs” are really an emergent and networked intelligent system. This system is very complex and much more robust than most critics understand. Our world is radically different than the one we saw develop during the immediate post-WWII era. The intellectual class as a whole has largely failed to understand the new political arragements that have developed. We exist in a world of new entities. Major corporations that are more complex than any Empire that ever existed and grow increasingly complex each year. The web of power now contains its own intelligence–still somewhat vague and tending to resemble the “intelligence” of social insects but infinitely more creative and adaptive.

    Part of the problem is that political science has not fully grasped the developments of Systems, Chaos, and Complexity Theory. In part because we still live under the illusion that “individuals” or groups of individual are the main actors in modern life–they’re not.

    1. Maju

      The only novelty about that is it’s global dimension, Banger: oligarchs always had their networks, their shadow party behind the formally ruling (managing) ones. And even that is not really that new.

      Much more interesting in my understanding is the development in the last decades of parallel network of intelligence (communication among intelligent beings at least) that is not dependent (or almost not) on the oligarchs and their vertical adoctrination systems. Thisphenomenon of the Internet, which is here to stay, can only be paralleled to that of print. Print caused radical changes in our world, and was almost without doubt the seed of the bourgeois revolution, not just political but also intellectual and technological.

      This is similar but much bigger and faster and the primary benefitted class is not anymore the bourgeoisie but the social worker. That is the real change that we are experiencing in our lives and whose overall effects only future historians will be able to discern properly.

      The other change is negative: it is the “bouncing” at the limits of Planet Earth: the absolute limit of predatory expansion – or “growth”, as economists like to call it.

      Seen it objectively this means the collapse of the capitalist system because if something we know from Chaos Theory is that total control is impossible. So corporations are not, like any power, so all-powerful, much less too intelligent: they have to obey the laws of physics, biology and Chaos itself. They ride the wave and try to keep their position but every wave ends with a collapse – and that is not something they can impede at all. In the end they are just as exposed to the elements like everyone else.

      As the article suggests with a different metaphor: they are reaching the end of the wave and they do not know what to do next. Mostly they do not even want to think at all about it: just keep surfing as they have done all this time and pretend that the wave will last forever.

      When a society collapses, revolutions tend to happen, precisely to purge the vices changing the rules and try to prevent a further collapse that way.

      1. banger

        Really, what I’m saying is that the oligarchy is becoming a virtual entity. This is a new thing because the world system is so much more complex that at any time in history. This is a single system that encompasses the entire world with a huge population.

        What you says, of course makes sense–as individuals they don’t want to think about it but they also believe that they, even the most powerful among them has little control over anything–I want to say “it’s the system, stupid.” Remember, never before has there been a society that even comes close to what we are facing this period of history is unique. We not only have a global economy incredibly interlinked but we have machine intelligence coordinating much of this and it will only increase.

        1. Adam Noel

          Although I generally agree with what you are saying I do not think the oligarchy has become a virtual entity as much as the oligarchy is of sufficient size to ensure crowd dynamics begin to take place (I believe this phenomena could still emerge sans computers, for example). Up until this point in history the oligarchy was not large enough, did not wield enough power and was constrained by geography. The problem now is that a critical threshold has been reached causing a group dynamic to begin to take place.

          The anonymity of the oligarchic elite (Due to the sheer size of it) allows the group to function independent of the desires of the group itself. I think crowd psychology has finally reached the level of the elites when before it was only controlling the crowds. The result is a sort of dilemma where even if the elites want to act in the interest of the people they will likely just lose their power if they acted. The only way to dissolve the system would be for all of them to act in unison but the chance of them all acting is practically zero.

          1. bhikshuni

            That explains Soros’s so-called (conveniently self-serving) reluctance to donate to non-profits he thinks won’t use the donation to his satisfaction.

          2. banger

            Exactly, whether you call it “crowd dynamics” or a virtual entity it has, in some sense, a life of its own. I suggest that it is and will move beyond that into the realm of artificial life. Hopefully this life form will be less craven than it members–I think this is a possibility.

  10. Chris Engel

    Stunning words.

    I think the news from Sachs and the continued noise from Buffett and Soros are evidence of his point.

    Exciting times to live in, I just hope my at-will contract doesn’t get cancelled abruptly in the mess :>

  11. impermanence

    As long as people want something for nothing, the Elite are more than happy to throw a low-cost crumb our way every now and again [and make us pay for it!].

    Additionally, people will do ALMOST anything to get out of having to take responsibility for their own lives.

    Add these two factors and you have a history of modern first-world human civilisation.

  12. DolleyMadison

    With intellectuals on both sides of the aisle sounding the alarm, yet NO ONE is stepping up to stop the carnage, you gotta wonder what its gonna take.
    On HuffPo, David Stockman offers a sweeping, revisionist account of US economic history, refuting myths about the Reagan years and the demise of the Soviet Union, the growth of the warfare state, and how the Fed enriches the powerful and shelters them from free markets. Above all, he shows that blaming our economic problems on “capitalism” is preposterous, and lacks an understanding of how the economy has been deformed and destroyed by crony capitalism.

    1. Murky

      Stockman has recently published a book titled, The Great Deformation: the Corruption of Capitalism in America. Runs 700 pages, but the pages turn fast as it’s packed with characterizations of Wall Street CEOs, US government cronies, and juicy stories of how Wall Street turned the American economy into a casino. I’m only into it 100 pages, but already Stockman has completely demolished the myth that the TARP bailout had to be done. Remember the stories of how the banking system would shut down, ATMs would go dark, medicine and food wouldn’t be delivered to cities, and that and social catastrophe of a Great Depression would hit in full force? Complete nonsense. The carnage would have been confined to the canyons of Wall Street, the big investment banks would have all gone bust, and the rot of the American banking system would have been cleaned out in one fell swoop. It’s a good read! For anybody interested in Stockman’s views that doesn’t’ have time for a thick book, there is a recently posted video on Youtube, only 53 short minutes, in which Stockman makes most of his points quite clearly.

  13. craazyman

    #Who’s the elite anyway?

    Are these just people with lots of money? What about Brittany Spears and Lady Gaga? Are they elite? What about Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens? or Bruce Springsteen? or even Rachel Ray the TV cooking queen?

    Ever notice there’s no protest music these days? What? Did they forget how to play a guitar?

    What about the baseball players? Are they elite? And what about some dude from the projects that gets a job in the mailroom on Wall Street and now makes 100 million a year? Are they elite? You can’t do that anymore because the elite run things now and they’d never let a mailroom guy do anything. Yes, they probably are elite.

    What about a congressperson or senator? Are they elite? Maybe not yet, while they’re bending over taking elite sausage in the mouth. Maybe they’ll never be elite or maybe they will be.

    What about the president? He doesn’t seem very elite to me. He seems like . . . I don’t know what he seems like. A bad dream maybe. Or something that you’d make up if you were living on another planet writing science fiction about strange worlds in the sky where life is confused. At any rate, he doesn’t seem elite to me.

    The people who seem like they could be part of the elite are mostly hungry animals bent on stuffing themselves so full of money they expand like a corpse in the sun. They’re bruised red and purple with money and their eyes are vacant sockets picked clean and dry and their mouth is a rubber hole locked in an “Oh” expression.

    That’s what they seem like to me. A color photograph from a war zone. Something that a German expressionist painter would draw with a black background and lots of dark reds and blues and purples. Although I admit that’s kind of a cartoon. It’s hard to see somebody like that as “elite”. but I suppose they are.

    I live in a cheap rental apartment but next to me are townhouses worth millions. I wonder if the folks who live there are elite. It’s hard to say. I walk by them to the bus and they come and go with their kids. I don’t notice them at all. I couldn’t care less. Maybe they’re elite. But they don’t seem like it. They just seem like folks going to work and kids running out the door screaming. maybe at night they turn into reptilians. anything is possible.

    I frankly don’t think there are any elite except a few money bag CEOs, a few dozen lobbyists and a few lawyers. It’s amazing how few of them there are, and how much trouble they cause. They only cause so much trouble ’cause people follow them around and do what they say. That’s the problem. Everything else is just people’s imaginations but it’s a big “just”.

        1. Paul Tioxon

          I Wallerstein, Giovanni’s good friend and associate, is seen in the following 2 vids at the March 20 2013 Moscow Economic Forum. The first talk is a very brief overview with the headline, World in Great Depression, unemployment all over the world bad and getting worse. If that isn’t bad enough, he speaks in roomful of people who seem there for him. Capitalist want their money back in 3 years and if they can’t they don’t invest. Hence, liquidation and hold. The USA is done as hegemon and no one is ready to fill the breach, including the competing currencies. Hence, the uncertainty in investment decisions leads to liquidity preference. What happens when every one is liquid but some decide that only one currency will be recognized? The anxiety spills out to society at large while the Titanic passengers stair at one another admiringly as the their piles of cash in ill fated currency go down to DAvey Jones’ locker. Then, May 1st can be talk like a pirate day for everyone looting in the streets!

    1. Ms G

      “I live in a cheap rental apartment [in New York City].”

      It is much easier not to be bothered by the wealthy when one has secure and affordable shelter in one’s root (physical) community. Which is another way of saying I’m jealous :)

    2. JEHR

      For me, the elite have a combination of money and power that they use for increasing their money and power in an ever-expanding cycle. Those are the elite and anyone can join that wants both money and power.

  14. Andrew Watts

    I believe there is a faction of the upper class (as they like to style themselves) who looked at Occupy Wall Street and other activists groups with the attitude “So, how do we get out of this?”. Far from being openly hostile to these groups they viewed them as a source of direction or vision.

    The World War(s) and the Great Depression shattered the confidence in the leadership skills of the old Anglo-Saxon Establishment. This led to the rise of the technocratic class. In the present I have no doubt that faith in the technocrats has already begun to wane. The only question that remains is who is going to provide the necessary leadership and subsequent policies that will guide the country.

    1. Andrew Watts

      (Continued, partly in response to banger)

      Our corporations are modeled after and still resemble a military organization. In terms of it’s hierarchy and corporate organization there is no fundamental difference. The military discipline in which corporate goals have been pursued over the years partly explains the success it’s achieved. The lack of organized opposition explains the rest. The success of Ralph Nader, and his Nader’s raiders should demonstrate what even a small group of organized activists can do to undermine Corporate America.

      The American oligarchy is just as decentralized as most believe it to be. However there is no dominating intelligence guiding it. Considering that not all of the oligarchs share similar goals or even moral values. It would be a grave mistake in judgment to equate the likes of the Koch brothers with George Soros. The important thing to remember about the organization of the American oligarchs is that they exercise their power through connections. The base relationship is family. This power-relationship extends to business associates and from the personal level to the institutional level.

      The oligarchy isn’t like the Matrix. It is neither as complex or omnipotent as people might think.

  15. Timothy Gawne


    Such a pleasure after the pablum of the New York Times or CNN.

    You know, the rich really aren’t that smart. What they are is totally shameless and oblivious.

    The rich of the classical Roman empire drove their society into the ground. Some perished (Emperor Valens, anyone?) But most did great, they stole everything not nailed own and shifted it to the gated community of Constantiople, where they lived in luxury for over 1000 years.
    I wonder if the American rich are going to find a new Constantinople in time?


  16. steelhead23

    What are we going to do about it, indeed. There is much to this question that deserves analysis. WE have institutions that are supposed to prevent or ameliorate the economic damage being foisted on us by the antics of the rentiers. Yet, as clearly presented on these pages, the rentiers have corrupted the institutions we counted on to keep them in check. If institutional control has faiied, delegitimating the government, what exactly are WE to do?

    1. nobody

      We should stop thinking about the problem at the level of the “institutions that are supposed to prevent or ameliorate the economic damage,” and instead realize that nearly *all* of the institutions are in states of crisis, failure, or major malfunction.

      We need to transform all of the institutions that are vital or salvageable from within, and create new institutions to replace those that have become irredeemably pathological or predatory.

      And there need to be some fundamental shifts of ethos, attitude, and consciousness: from hyper-efficiency and over-optimization to resilience, from competition to cooperation, from ego-supremacism to relative interpersonal egalitarianism, from status-seeking to mutually respectful, from burning the seed corn to storing up for seven years of lean.

  17. A Real Black Person

    Centralization and concentration of resources are features of highly complex societies. Does it really matter as to whether it is a self-appointed elite or an elite that arises from free market competition that hold an increasing share of power? Would left-leaning academic elites do a better job of running societies than right-leaning capitalists?

    Is anyone familiar with the book, The Collapse of Complex Societies, by Joseph Tainter?

    1. nobody

      Yes, Tainter has been mentioned here and it would seem that at least several of the regular commenters are familiar.

      No, left-leaning academic elites are probably not likelier to do a better job of running societies than right-leaning capitalists, or at least not sufficiently better.

      But most people are of neither the 0.01% power elite, nor the 0.01% academic elite.

      Societies would be better run if the people who do the real work and the people who are deprived of the opportunity of meaningful work (or any work at all) had a meaningful say in the running of them.

    2. Maju

      The issue of power is central, regardless of the right/left sometimes blurry division. As the bureaucratic elites of the USSR demonstrated (among other many possible examples), ideology alone guarantees nothing.

      Power resides on the ability to organize, which can be under formal public control (left or socialism) or under that of private actors (right or capitalism). In any case it always need additional elements like bureaucracy and armed forces of some sort, be them public, private or mixed.

      Putting the economy formally in the hands of the public is an element of democratization but alone is clearly not enough, same for political structures, etc. All must be ideally in the hands of the public, what implies a radical democratization at all levels, with full guarantees for the people to exert control on managers, be them political, economical or of whatever kind: inept, corrupt or simply liar managers must be revocable with immediate effect, power in general must be decentralized, so people can exert a more direct influence on it at their local level and, through that local level, as well as directly through the global intercommunication networks, on other higher levels of power.

      This is extremely challenging, of course, but what else can we do that works in a planet pushed to the limits?

      Democracy at all levels, also economic, mediatic (social property) and certainly much more radical in the political aspect than what formal delegation systems allow for, is necessary not just for ethical or ideological reason (that also) but because of feedback and realism reasons. Only those on the ground, locally, at a productive task, etc. can inform the system of what works and what does not. Bureucratization (~corporatization) of some level may be unavoidable but this must be controlled from the grassroots in almost real time, what modern technologies do allow for.

      This issue of power, of democracy, is central to our civilizational challenge.

      1. A Real Black Person

        No, it’s not. Let me tell you why. In urbanized societies with large populations, what if too many people want to enjoy a certain amount of something and there isn’t enough of it to go around? Democracy has not really solved this problem…because different groups fight for asymmetric power and control. This is why you don’t see democracies in very poor countries. People vote based on religious affinity, ethnicity, and social class and they frequently vote to diminish the rights of other people, especially if they believe if they are right. For example, Sunnis will vote for more water to go to more Sunnis, a disproportionate amount of that water will go to a small elite of wealthy and politically connected Sunnis, while the rest will go the other Sunnis. Poor Sunnis will get the least. Social hierarchy and a pecking orders have been recurring solutions to distribute resources and among large groups of people that humans living in civilizations have come up with. Equitable distribution of resources are in only possible and sustainable in rural populations of closely-knit homogeneous people. It’s technically possible at large scale, possible
        but the whole aversion to helping those who people perceive as too different from them, kicks in.

        In large urban areas where people frequently interact with strangers, who may look different and have different values, equitable distribution of resources has no appeal.

        1. Maju

          I understand that your criticism is to this formality of pseudo-democracy in which the bourgeois class always keep power because they control the economy (in the past they were also the only ones allowed to vote but they had to make concesions). A real democracy cannot allow the economy to be out from the control of the people as collective entity as it is now.

          Another element you mention and that seems central to your reasoning is communitarianism, which is a complex matter of course. However I see absolutely no reason why sunnis and shias, blacks and whites, men and women, gay and straight, religious and atheists, or whatever other differential identies, cannot freely discuss their differences as individuals who live in the same neighborhood or work in the same factory (and therefore have shared interests). Unless power structures coerce them to behave differently, in which case the problem are those power structures, for example religious sects with economic and other power interests in which people (shia, sunni and whatever else alike) are just brainwashed pawns for their power games.

          Naturally the solution goes through dilution of such differences (and it may require direct confrontation of the communist-democratic camp with the religious hierarchies or whatever other bloodsucking structure like banks or whatever). Nobody said that freedom and dignity was easy to achieve. But it is necessary.

          1. A Real Black Person

            What you fail to understand is that you want to continue fighting an uphill battle against human behavior. We are NOT capable of putting our differences aside in any meaningful capacity. As long as there is social hierarchy, it will be impossible for everyone to have freedom and dignity.
            As long as there are people who pine for a homogeneous tribal existence, where everyone who participates in a society adheres to the same set of core beliefs, there will be tendency to treat people who refuse to or can’t fit into this ideal homogeneous society like @#$#@$. Ask teenage kid. There’s no better feeling in the world than the feeling of fitting in. There’s no worse feeling in the world then not fitting in.
            To drive home my point, I’m going to quote a recent post on NC.

            From :
            Michael T. Klare: Entering a Resource-Shock World: How Resource Scarcity and Climate Change Could Produce a Global Explosion;

            Thorstein says:
            April 22, 2013 at 8:08 am

            “…You see, when I was a child, back in the 50s, I could vote twenty times and more: my parents voted for me, both my maternal and paternal grandparents voted for me, as did my maternal and paternal aunts and uncles. We all lived in the same Congressional District.

            That’s no longer true in the U.S. and it’s increasingly not true of other “first world” countries. My children’s aunts and uncles all live in other jurisdictions, where they resent paying taxes for other people’s children’s schooling. The servers who wait on them in restaurants are not their second cousins. They leave small tips.

            Since the 60′s, we’ve been trying to build communities of strangers, and it’s not been working very well. Boomers aren’t directly to blame, but we were present at the scene of the crime.”

  18. A Real Black Person

    What you are actually suggesting, is suggesting less complexity. If you are suggesting less complexity, you are suggesting for less civilization. It’s the layers of middle men and rent-seekers that deprive the common person of their own personal agency. The layers of middle men and rent seekers are also key features of civilization, of complex societies increased divisions of labor, means that large groups of people become dependent on other large groups of people to do more of what they used to do by themselves. As a group of people become wealthier they outsource as much work as possible to other people or machines. When an affluent married couple with children can outsource all the cultivation of food, clothing, housework and child-rearing to nannies and maids, they can focus on philanthropy, the arts and science.

    Work was never about meaning, it was about subsistence. Historically, the idea of work having meaning was only for a small number of people who were able to do intellectually stimulating work for the rulers.

    What people are actually complaining on across the political spectrum , without them realizing it, are the fruits of civilization.

    I say, bon appétit.

Comments are closed.