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ObamaCare and the Devolution of the Relationship of Citizen to Government

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Yves has written a number of posts on devolution, starting with Welcome to the World Where Things Don’t Work Well. Naturally, one thinks at once of ObamaCare:

While extreme outcomes make for better stories, it may be that the US (and perhaps other advanced economies) go through a period of whimpers rather than bangs, of a grinding fall in competence that consumers accept because it’s just too hard to demand better. I don’t relish the prospect but I’m also at a loss to suggest remedies. …. [W]e also have an ongoing, hidden tax of things not working as promised but it being too costly in terms of time and money to get that rectified….

In some ways ObamaCare can be seen as a case study for devolution. I’m going to look at devolution in the context of what ObamaCare shows about the relation of citizen to government.

(And at this point I’m going to freely admit this won’t be the longest post in the world, or as full of linky goodness as I’d like; I’m a bit behind the eight-ball partly because of the site review, and also from other stressors.)

So, devolution of the relationship between government and citizen.** To begin with, ObamaCare often speaks of consumers, rather than citizens. From the healthcare.gov*** blog:

You’ve got questions. We’ve got answers.

We know there are lots of questions surrounding the new Health Insurance Marketplace coming in 2014. That’s why we’ve updated HealthCare.gov with you – the consumer – in mind.

From the Glossary:

Navigator

An individual or organization that’s trained and able to help consumers, small businesses, and their employees …. Their services are free to consumers.

In fact, the only places on healthcare.gov where “citizen” occurs concern immigration status and privacy. Contrast Social Security, whose very card seems to be built around the concept of citizenship:

We issue three types of Social Security cards depending on an individual’s citizen or noncitizen status and whether or not a noncitizen is authorized by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to work in the United States.

Why does this matter? Well, let’s do a thought experiment. Let’s suppose that instead of “Senior Citizens,” we had “Senior Consumers.” How would Senior Consumers “manage” their retirements, in the course of their working lives? I’m guessing they would have gone onto Marketplaces [Exchanges], maybe assisted by Navigators, and… Well, let’s just go ahead and adapt ObamaCare’s glossary definition for “Health Insurance Marketplace”:

Retirement Marketplace

A resource where individuals, families, and small businesses can learn about their retirement savings options; compare retirement plans based on costs, benefits, and other important features; choose a plan; and enroll in coverage. The Marketplace also provides information on programs that help people with low to moderate income and resources pay for retirement. The Marketplace encourages competition among private retirement plans, and is accessible through websites, call centers, and in-person assistance.

And one more:

Social Security

See Public Option

Got the picture? Once you start looking at ObamaCare as a paradigm, rather than a program, or a political battle — indeed, as a change in the Constitutional order — your perspective might change. (One can also imagine “Marketplaces” for public education, police protection, etc. The possibilities — and the rents — are limitless!) I’ll admit I’m taking for granted that a transition from citizen to consumer is a devolution; see Frederick Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants on this point. Readers can hash that question out in comments!

Next, if the actual purpose of ObamaCare is not to devolve people’s expectations of government, the administration and its defenders are certainly achieving that as a side effect. When I was growing up, the space program — ludicrous now in retrospect considering climate change — was a central symbol of the power of the state and, when you think about it, a pretty amazing and successful project, in its own terms. (And I remember, a mere fifteen years into the neo-liberal dispensation, when the Hubble telescope’s distorted mirror was discovered, saying: “Eesh. Can’t we do anything right?”)

The space program was of course not flawless, and had mistakes and casualties. Nevertheless, one did not hear, as with ObamaCare today: “Oh, the launch date is really a soft launch! Just wait a few months!” Or “Why so critical? A space rocket is really complicated to engineer. Expect glitches!” Or “Relax! The payload for the rocket was a lot greater than we expected, and that’s why the rocket never left the launching pad!” Or “We did great because we got 26 million miles toward the moon, even if the moon is 47 million miles away!” And one did not hear the same lame, weak, and above all disempowering excuses from the President on down to thousands of Obots.

The ObamaCare exchange project had three years; by contrast, LBJ rolled out Medicare for all over-65s in one year. And at launch, even after a series of requirements were ruthlessly triaged (with some triaged in defiance of the law), the ObamaCare exchanges were unusable for large numbers of people in many states (including me). Why should government performance like that be acceptable? Many of those vigorously defending the ObamaCare rollout are users of Apple products, like iPhones and iPads. If Apple has launched a product like this, the twitter would be aflame, and Apple’s stock price would have vaporized.

Why are ObamaCare’s apologists not demanding of their government, as citizens, that it deliver a quality product on time, instead of rationalizing failure and shifting blame? If they were evaluating their cell phones, instead of the largest domestic initiative since LBJ, they’d be asking why the Exchanges weren’t designed by Jony Ives, instead of looking like they were thrown together by a body shop using some cheap e-commerce library. Don’t the American people deserve the best? To put this another way, if President Romney had launched RomneyCare, instead of President Obama launching RomneyCare, the Obots would be comparing the ObamaCare launch to Project Orca.

NOTE * I’m going to use the term ObamaCare, rather than ACA or PPACA since that’s the term most people use. Obama says it’s fine.

NOTE ** There could be an implicit teleology here; Graeber makes the argument somewhere that for the average Roman, being a peasant was better than being a slave, so the collapse of the Roman Empire was, for the average European, a step up.

NOTE *** The very URL http://www.healthcare.gov is Orwellian, since, as a child of six knows, health insurance, which is what the exchanges deliver, is not the same as health care, which the exchanges, like the equally parasitical insurance companies, do not deliver.

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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.

142 comments

  1. Capo Regime

    Lambert & Yves et al.

    Big fan for years. Encourage people to check out NC etc. Interestingly as of late people tell me that NC hard to get to via google. Sites referring to NC pop up but not NC itself and top is a bloger site of NC no longer active. People get the wikipedia entry and go to link of actual site and at times link does not work.

    You guys appear to have annoyed the borg.

    1. pretzelattack

      I have to start typing in “nakedcapitalism.com” and at some point a link to the site pops up, but yeah googling it doesn’t work well for some reason.

    2. jrs

      Google blocks this site if you have safe search on (which it will keep reverting to by default in my experience, whether or not you want it). It has a problem with the NAKED in the title. Thinks a political and economic blog is pron site or something :) No wonder this place is so popular.

      But anyway you shouldn’t be using google. Use ixquick.com or duckduckgo.com or something, at least let’s get a little pushback to all the companies pimping for the NSA. It’s the least we can do, quite literally :)

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        That makes sense. In fact, it’s exactly the same kind of false positive that throws good comments into the spam folder here.

        And Google changed its algorithm recently. This cannot be a new issue for them, so I bet NC was on some kind of white list, and with the algorithm change, that white list got blown away or has a different place in the pipeline or something.

        Anybody know how to get whitelisted at Google? Pick up the phone? [I crack myself up!]

      2. Yves Smith

        I don’t have safe search and I experienced the same thing. Got five sites that had ripped off a NC post and not my own posting of it!

      3. ian

        My employers proxy has started blocking this site too. I got the sternly worded popup when I went to check it at lunch.
        I think the word “naked” is doing it. I would suggest changing the name to something like “noclothesoncapitalism.com”

    3. nobody

      I have noticed that too in the last few weeks. I use DuckDuckGo now if I’m searching for an old NC article.

  2. dearieme

    If you’d wanted to get it off to the same good start as the space programme then you should have hired a few Nazi engineers. Though I’ll concede that they’d be a bit old by now.

    1. anon y'mouse

      would a few Estonian/Russian hackers do?

      the Chinese spammers would have had the thing up 30 minutes after the law had passed.

  3. Amateur socialist

    Comparisons to the space program would require identifying massive well funded lobbyists and trade associations who actively spent millions trying to prevent NASA from being created. You might as well try finding those economists and think tanks who were willing to insist (for fat consulting fees, naturally) that exploration of space was an impossible and unnatural economy destroying folly.

    1. Banger

      Excellent point! The space program was not, during the sixties when the most remarkable progress was made, much of a political issue. No interests were being harmed. However, Medicare was very controversial, conservatives opposed it vehemently. However they did not have the political potency they do now.

  4. Mcmike

    The space program was publicly imbued as the moral and strategic equivalent of war. As an example of the government strutting its stuff in a death match with the soviets.

    And of course (as mentioned above) it was effectively an extension of the military industrial complex’s gravy train/ techno wankfest. No ones ox got gored.

    Further, back then the cronyism balance had not yet tipped. We pursued major project for a public reason, and the profiteering was a side effect. Now, pilfering is the point, and the public purpose is often a lie merely given for cover.

    1. jrs

      Yea it was propaganda against the “dire threat” of the Soviets. Can’t start performing worse than the commies, the whole country could go full communist. Afterall communist propaganda would say that communism is better at large scale industrial projects, a perfectly planned and rational economy don’t you know (sure that’s snark with regards to the USSR but that was the sales pitch).

      If the Obamacare exchanges perform poorly, oh well, what are you gonna do, implement single payer? Try to shut down the government? But doesn’t the latter just make Obamacare look almost good in comparison?

  5. Eleanor

    For heaven’s sake, stop saying that Frederick Pohl wrote The Space Merchants. It was a collaboration between Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth. I have always considered Kornbluth the better, stronger writer. He died young in 1958. Pohl outlived him by many decades and ended up getting single credit for the work they did. The Kornbluth family felt so strongly about Pohl and his treatment of Kornbluth that the death of Kornbluth’s widow was not announced until after Pohl died in 2013, though she died a number of years ago. Apparently she could not bear the idea of Pohl saying kind words about her after her death.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      You are quite right. Let me go change it. (In fact, Space Merchants is the only book with Pohl’s name on the cover that I really like, so Kornbluth’s collaboration must have made a difference.)

      Adding… Done, and quite the prescient novel, eh? Just a few harmless alkaloids…

      1. just me

        I’ll say.

        In a vastly overpopulated near-future world, businesses have taken the place of governments and now hold all political power. States exist merely to ensure the survival of huge transnational corporations. Advertising has become hugely aggressive and boasts some of the world’s most powerful executives.

        Through advertising, the public is constantly deluded into thinking that all the products on the market improve the quality of life. However, the most basic elements are incredibly scarce, including water and fuel.

        Also see “Why I Left Google”:

        http://blogs.msdn.com/b/jw_on_tech/archive/2012/03/13/why-i-left-google.aspx

        The days of old Google hiring smart people and empowering them to invent the future was gone. The new Google knew beyond doubt what the future should look like. Employees had gotten it wrong and corporate intervention would set it right again.

  6. JC48

    When a force aims to conquer a country, it’s first goal after invasion is always to take over all media.

    For me, this country and its laws have devolved because the media has been successfully bought up by corporations who obviously have special interests. The media known as Fox can say almost anything it wants and has found a style which engages the less critical mind (shall we say). The other corporate networks/news simply present blather, and citizens are left with a very small grasp on what is truly happening in their country. Even NPR is now infiltrated by the Koch boys. With this in mind, I think it’s a downright miracle that the ACA even exists–with or without the linguistic nuance “consumer or citizen”. Whether it’s the ACA or any other government program, there will be no directional change in this country without campaign finance reform–devolution will simply continue its spiral.

  7. Ed S.

    Lambert,

    The metamorphosis from “citizen” to “consumer” is too consistent to be attributed to ignorance on the part of the writers. I regularly think of the “define or be defined” as the key to politics.

    The PTB are well on their way to defining away the entire concept of “citizenship”. On one hand, maybe that’s not a bad thing (extreme tribalism can be hazardous to everyone’s health). On the other hand, citizenship connotes a level of collective participation and ownership of outcomes in society.

    Maybe I’m old-fashioned, or just old, but I think that after 200 years of forebearers investing in the US, I’m more than simply a “consumer”. In some small way, I own (a vanishingly small) part of the place. So call me citizen

  8. Banger

    The fact the thing kind of works impresses me and it’s a good sign. IT projects tend to run into big time trouble due to the fact that consultants, usually from large and politically powerful companies are involved. Fraud, abuse, incompetence is rife in that area so it’s a good sign that these sites are as good as they are and the Administration deserves a few kind words on that basis.

    However, the fact our government generally performs poorly in many areas today compared to the great work it did in running WWII, the space program and many other well-designed and well-run programs shows us what we have lost. The right’s attempt to destroy the federal government’s non- “security” work has been unrelenting since the thirties. The federal government has had islands of corruption from time to time but after the 80s the corruption began to be systemic with the rise of consultants. Most of my life has been spent in or around the federal government and I’ve witnessed the gradual devolution of that institution now riddled with bullet holes from the right’s crusade against social democracy.

    The project of the right-wing was to make sure government became as incompetent as possible and, in starting in the 80s and blooming in the 90s the Democrats followed suit. I don’t have time here to get into the hows and whys but the pressure to destroy the federal government has been unrelenting.

    The main reason that the right so vehemently opposes implementation of ACA seems to be that it might work better than expected and it might not mean the end of civilization. The whole right-wing narrative that has won the day in this decade will lose its power to deceive if Obamacare comes close to delivering a successful product. To be clear, I believe the ACA is not good public policy, it is wasteful and insures that the most criminal parts of the health-care system are rewarded for their criminality. However, the left has been broken, in part, due to its support of a center-right Administration so it’s not about to revive so I don’t mind that the ACA is implemented. I know my step-daughter will now be able to afford insurance and she needs it. Perhaps if the ACA is repealed then there is a chance the left will be galvanized and start agitating for real reform–it would have worked in 09 had the left not abandoned the field and committed mass-suicide.

    The supporters of ACA may be right–with this law maybe we can start to revive social-democracy and maybe the opposition to the ACA is so desperate because of that fact. I still don’t support Obama or the ACA but I’m open to that possibility precisely because of the vehement right-wing opposition to the implementation of this law.

    1. human

      Pray tell, what does the ACA have to do with social democracy?!?!?! This is strictly fascist policy on steroids…the legislation already illegally unilaterally modified by this executive.

      And, I’m confused…Is it health insurance or health care that your step-daughter needs? “Being able to afford insurance” is not going to pay for her health care.

      1. Banger

        I never said it was a social democratic solution in any strict sense it approaches a social democratic solution in that it is an attempt to solve the problem. As I said and have said since 09 is that ACA is bad public policy but it is, at least public policy.

      2. Banger

        As for my daughter in law with the ACA she has a chance at getting proper care where without it her chances are not good. The fact is, as I’ve said over and over again, the left abandoned the struggle when Obama was elected by believing in some clearly false fantasy rather than the obvious. We failed to mobilize to support a progressive approach and this is the best we can hope for. I did my best at the time to persuade others that this approach sucks but few listened.

        1. Yves Smith

          Call me back in 2 years.

          Seriously. I guarantee you and she won’t be all that happy.

          Obamacare’s seemingly better prices (lower monthly charges) come with large deductibles and copays.

          In other words, it will prove to be expensive insurance that does not cover much.

          And the real test will be what happens to people who have serious problems, like need back surgery or are diagnosed with cancer. Right now, many people find they have to fight tooth and nail to get procedures approved, and many die or get much worse before they get treated (or have their coverage cancelled due to “fraud” which is VERY broadly defined under health insurance law and that wildly permissive definition, which includes simple, inconsequential omissions, is preserved under Obamacare).

          So if it looks only OK now, trust me, satisfaction will drop as experience with the program for the newly insured increases.

          1. Banger

            The bill as written is full of problem as we’ve discussed here and I know that which is why I believed progressive should have refused to support it in 09–we would have been better off without it in my view. However, it is here and there is no alternative at the moment. How the law is implemented will determine whether you are right or wrong but the answer is not in the law itself. If the political situation is such that making this law yet another opportunity for fraud and criminal behavior and the people are sufficientlly hip to that then the pressure will mount to do “something” about it and the government will respond if the pressure is there. The “law” these days is not so rigid–law is enforced very selectively depending on the balance of political power in Washington.

          2. Stan Musical

            Thanks for Lambert and Yves and others for minding the many details that expose the ACA for what it is, a gift to health insurers at the expense of us citizens.
            That we are id’ed as consumers in the macro sense is telling–we supposedly don’t make anything, we just consume it, only the owners of the means of production produce. So yes, define or be defined.
            I’ve been uninsured most of my adult life. I eat healthily and take care of myself, and so far so good. I’ve never used an ER except in two medical emergencies, an accident and a tooth that blew up; in the latter case I sat moaning in extreme pain for 2 hours in an ER and another hour after I was seen before they got me the pain killers I’d been finally prescribed. And no one I dealt with during those 3 hours treated me with an ounce of kindness, not a gram in fact; my pleas for pain relief were met with annoyance. This is what medical care as a for-profit business leads to, so why should I pay for that? Why should I agree to that by going along with this odious ACA?

            But we’ve been been well-trained and raised like sheep to slaughter so everyone’s crashing servers in order to “not be late” signing up and risking a fine.
            I’m not alone, I suspect, in being in the demoralizing position of anger at the Rethuglicans for their thuggish behavior while not caring for the ACA either. What a mess we’ve made of things!

          3. Lambert Strether Post author

            We are also trying to fight through the idea of “thin networks” and what it means when you need to seek care “out of network.” Probably varies by the state (for pity’s sake). Again, the complexification is just unbelievable. Politically, it’s very clever, because when people fight their way through to a solution they’re satisfied with, they’re invested in it, and become very leery of change. Which is why it’s important to be critical now and not later.

          4. ian

            As with any insurance policy, what you pay through premiums and co-pays is only half the story. The other half is the amount of bullshit you have to swallow when you file a claim. I can’ see how anyone can call this a success (or a failure) for some time yet.

      3. jrs

        Yea. But we’re going to have to admit at some point that it helps some people or at least gives the *appearance* of helping some people (appearance if the insurance companies don’t actually provide uh the healthcare itself when push comes to shove).

        So masses of people are thrilled to have the ability to sign up for health insurance or Medicaid when they didn’t have it before. So it will probably prove quite popular. So it’s a great program of Obama’s. But this annoys those who realize pretty much EVERYTHING Obama does is horrible and seems to serve some ulterior motive (from police and security state policy, to the TPP, to covering up for BP, etc..). So what do we have here a flower (even if not single payer) growing in a toxic waste dump? It must surely be toxic too … Yea probably, but it is a measure of how much more cynical you likely are than your fellow man happily thrilled with lower prices via the exchanges. It chafes idealists too, right or left, who want a world without economic rent, whether idealistic plans that are little tried, or just what every other country in the world has.

        1. Banger

          After Obama was elected the left completely collapsed. I’m a pragmatist and I see no possibility of any kind of progressive or even rational reform of any American institution because there is no coherent progressive movement. ACA is, at this point the best we can hope for since the left has lined up to support a center-right President out of fear of the extreme right.

          1. Lambert Strether Post author

            I don’t identify “the left” with career “progressives.” In fact, supporting Obama is a pretty good litmus test for determing people not on the left.

            That said, I really don’t know what “the left” means, as a category, any more. It’s fuzzy and inchoate. Which, IMNSHO, could be a result of people newly defining themselves. I’d be willing to take a sort of Pascal’s wager on that, rather than become too discouraged. “Until it’s not,” ya know.

            1. Crazy Horse

              Lambert, actually there is a very simple litmus test to determine which category American citizens fall into. And the categories are not the time-worn notions of “Left” and “Right”. The distinction lies between a brainwashed class of citizens of an Orwellian society vs. truth seekers who believe that there is such a thing as scientific assessment of fact and physical reality.

              The litmus test took place on September 11, 2001. The government sold an outrageously improbable– indeed impossible– conspiracy theory to explain the attack on the World Trade Center– one that among other things required a suspension of the laws of Physics. Citizens of all economic classes unquestioningly herded themselves into the camp of the Sheeple, where they have remained while their life savings were siphoned off by the Bankster class, Homeland Insecurity removed the last of their Constitutional freedoms and rights, and their national foreign policy morphed into one based upon rendition, torture and assassination by remote control.

              Unquestioning acceptance of the government 911 conspiracy theory simply renders one incapable of understanding the transition from flawed democracy to fascist kleptocracy that US society has undergone.

          2. Yves Smith

            It most assuredly did not “collapse”. Obama went very aggressively after critics on the left. Google “Jane Hamsher” and “veal pen” for details. It was very deliberately attacked by the Administration and many of the folks not targeted were cowed or co-opted.

            1. Banger

              I knew all about Hamsher and Obama’s attacks on the left–what I mean is a collapse of what was once the left–did fragments of it continue to dissent? Of course and still do but these fragments are weak, and unable to put pressure on anyone other than the Occupy movement which did something for awhile that had a political effect but nothing since then.

        2. Montanamaven

          I’m surprised that you did not use the word “purist” instead of “idealist” like the progressive establishment urges their people to do. Like Banger, I’m more of a realist or skeptic. I worked hard for single payer. I met “Lets Get It Done” at a rally for the “Mad as Hell Docs” who drove all the way from Oregon to make their case in D.C. Maybe a couple hundred people showed up. That’s when my “idealistic” hope for a health care system like in Europe began to die. Here in Montana, the Democratic shills thru SEIU sabotaged single payer by changing the time of “Health Care Town Halls” and limiting the seating and other tired tricks so that the “thrilled” masses didn’t hear about Medicare for All. It was the Democratic Party and their DLC guy Obama that killed any attempt for a non-profit National Healthcare system. Such a system is not “idealistic”. It is practical.
          And the Democrats could have pushed through Medicare for All or at least started with lowering the age to 55 and raising the minimum age for Child insurance to 27.
          There is a reason that the Democratic Party is often referred to as a roach motel where movements go to die.

          1. Lambert Strether Post author

            Had exactly the same experience, both in RL and in the blogosphere. Very, very nice. And they all listen to Garrison Keillor! (Stereotyping viciously, but you know what I mean.)

    2. Cassiodorus

      Oh boy! My crap income qualifies me for subsidies on insurance I’m obliged to buy and which qualifies me for co-pays and deductibles I won’t be able to afford while it puts the insurance companies on permanent subsidy!

      Neofeudalism is not an abstraction. It’s the elites finding clever ways of confiscating everything you own so you can be forced to pay them for the products of your own labor. The ACA is another step in that direction.

        1. Banger

          Peasant revolts never work. If any revolt happens in this country it will come from the right, in fact, the current shutdown is an example of that revolt and if things get worse it will be violent right wingers who will dominate the scene.

      1. Banger

        Cass, you should know as well as I do that we are moving towards a neo-feudal future. There is no escape from that future, none. The left is, for a variety of reasons, out of the picture and has, in my view, largely given up the struggle. There is no avenue at all for reform. So we have to learn to live with reality and go to plan B.

        1. anon y'mouse

          all I know is you’re on here every day saying so, as though encouraging for that to become what happens.

          I guess if you batten down the hatches around here, enough people might get discouraged, huh?

          1. Montanamaven

            Banger can speak for himself, but I take his comments as a first step towards enlightenment. The truth shall set you free. It may not set the country free, but, speaking for myself, taking off the blinders and seeing the way of the world really may work feels better to me than being a cog. I admit I naively bought the whole pitch of changing the party from within that talk show hosts like Thom Hartmann and progressive magazines like The Nation and even The Progressive preach. I tried it. I tried hard. I rose quickly in the party until I was told to behave myself. I saw the innards and they are rotten.

            1. anon y'mouse

              you talk about the party. I have no truck with “the party” as they are as you depict.

              he talks repeatedly about how pathetic “the left” (whatever the hell that is!) is. lots of disparagement, and how great the motivations are that the tea-party/libertarian right has.

              he’s daily on here talking about how the left holds no hope for the future. I have no idea who holds any hope for the future anymore, but he sure seems to harp on against that one side all of the time and spends a lot of column-space doing it.

              1. Banger

                Now I have to define the left? Please, give me a break, you know what I mean. At any rate, the left as currently constituted whether it is made up of cynical WH flacks, denizens do DKOS or followers of Chonsky have proven that under their “watch” they have failed to preserve progressive policies that Richard Nixon was too frightened to touch. The right made sure that would never happen again–those of us who wanted to give up the struggle while our fellows went to grad school, bought real estate and slept through the eighties.

                There are anarchist kids out there today trying to courageously trying to find their way and maybe there’s some hope there. But other than those folks, look at the results and tell me how well we’re doing.

                1. Lambert Strether Post author

                  Er, yes, you do have to define it. As I say above, I’m not sure it’s even a meaningful term any more.

                  It implies our politics are linear, left to right. I’m just not sure that’s true any more. (In fact, if one wishes the legacy parties, rotten as MM says, to break up, that had better be true — resorting to metaphor, they will break up when the popular tectonic plates beneath them move.)

                  1. Banger

                    Ok, here is my definition of the left: it is a political position that sees that the ordinary citizen ought to have the benefits of modern civilization and that money is not and should not be the final arbiter of value. This vision sees society as a communitarian enterprise–what is good for my neighbor benefits me–if my neighbor develops himself or herself then I benefit–if my neighbor happy and healthy then I benefit too. The highest virtue for the left is love and compassion.

                    In contrast, the right is concerned with hierarchy, stability and power. The right believes that humans are depraved and need to be restricted and punished rather than be encouraged and nurtured. The tougher and more difficult the conditions of society the stronger the citizenry. The thing that gets the right fired up is the notion that we are connected to each other in society. In this they are completely opposed to what we call the paleo-conservative position which has rapidly gone out of favor.

                    The weakness of the left is that people have the sentiment without the will to live it. As Yeats said: “the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” We keep circling around Yest’s prophetic poem and this time it is plain and stark.

                    Just one more thing, I believe the left is also the movement that represents reason and science as well and using that, along with compassion as a flag might fire some people up–we need something.

                  2. Montanamaven

                    I’m with you Lambert. It can’t be linear. There is not one side that is good and one side that is bad either. I’ve found it strange when “progressives” or People on the “left” think they are the ones with reason and the other side is crazy. It’s just not that simple. I hate this whole meme now with the ACA that one side is grownup and the other side is crazy. There is something to be said for being conservative; to be cautious and to keep what is tried and true. But those people need to acknowledge that they need those who dream and yearn for change. You need both; yin and yang; Confucius and Tao.
                    Except on sites like this, we have little meaningful conversations. But the kids starting something with Occupy and Wikileaks. We need to start new conversations. This Obamacare is actually starting to make people think about alternatives at least in my little town.

                    1. Lambert Strether Post author

                      Pragmatically, the Democrats can govern with 50% plus two or three of voters; Bush governed for years with numbers in the 30s.

                      But what the Democrats can’t do is get into the business of permanently demonizing 48% or 47% of the voters as stupid or crazy and survive for long; that’s hubris, or a recipe for splitting the country — continuing the work the Republicans did when they were up. It’s madness.

            2. aletheia33

              thank you for this bit of personal witnessing. i wish you could tell us more about the incident where you saw the reality. it would be very edifying. no need to name names of course.

          2. Banger

            Some of us have been trying to kick field goals with Lucy holding the ball and, like she did to Charlie Brown, the ball was yanked up and we found ourselves up in the air–there was an exception to all this–that was the late sixties and early seventies when I was part of something both foolish and grand.

            I have pointed out directions to go in for years and nobody wanted to listen they wanted to repeat the same old tired and ineffective techniques that had been thoroughly gamed by the authorities. BTW, younger radicals are beginning to get the idea.

            Neo feudalism is kind of inevitable if you understand that this country has little common values or has the nihilistic values of connected to selfishness. If the left wants to have power it must organize wholistic affinity groups that supply the needs of comrades, i,e., jobs, housing, food, and conceptual frameworks. Cooperatives, coops and so on need to be the focus as well as a deep understanding that the assault on humanity is not just a matter of classical class-exploitation but something deeper, an assault on humanity and consciousness itself. We need to wake up and stop pursuing the old illusions–we do not live in a society that is friendly to our values though I believe that if we were firm in our visions and offered a visible alternative way of living that many of our fellow would at least respect us.

            1. Lambert Strether Post author

              If neo-feudalism is inevitable, it should be easy to define. So please do so!

              If ObamaCare — a market set up by the state to optimize rental extraction — is indeed a paradigm, does it fit within a “neo-feudal” society, or not? Please give an example of a neo-feudal relationship

              1. Banger

                Great question and this one I’m happy to answer.

                I believe some variant of feudalism is the most natural sort of political arrangement and it happens when central authority breaks down. In the case of this country we are moving away form rule of law into uncharted territory–just check out the work of people like David Cay Johnston on how the law is really applied. Each locality will have its notables and great families–if we have trouble with the law we go to connected lawyers who know the judges and the cops who supply the muscle or in othercontexts we go to large corporations to plead our case. They, not abstract legal principles, will determine how our affairs will turn out. In many cases we are already there.

                Cops can now beat us up without cause and we can do little about it unless we are connected to powerful forces–the law won’t help. In other words we are moving towards a society with a variety of personal relationships that determine our status and our ability to thrive or not thrive. These relationships are based on family, clan, religion, industry, corporation and so on. Imagine the Godfather system of political arrangements and that is where we are headed. Our feudal masters could be benign or not and our situation will depend on their attitudes and our ability and willingness to serve them.

                This process is slowly taking place and we will probably not notice them–Chris Hedges and other critics say much the same thing. However, this also gives progressives a chance to create their own arrangements and create virtual “free cities” within the patchwork of political relationships.

                There are several inexorable forces driving this. First is globalization which creates a large overall imperial system that guarantees some kind of security framework. Feudalism went in decline because separate small entities just cannot compete with larger States in war. Witness the debacle that Germans faced during the Thirty-Years War. Second, is that we lack common values other than money (and that cannot be a sustainable value system) so there is very little reason to make bonds with people we regard as alien in some way. Third, is that corporations are feeling their power and don’t understand why they should be subordinated to the state–eventually they will get tired of bribing public officials to lean in their direction, hence the decades long campaign on their part to “shrink” government sufficiently such that it can be drowned in a bathtub and real power can be asserted without the phony niceties. Without a strong national authority, without common values, and with powerful forces working against the nation state some form of feudalism seems to me inevitable. Oh, I will add one more which is a continuation of corporate power and is one everyone tends to be afraid of–that is, the rise of international crime based on tightly organized and well-armed groups that prosper, hidden from view (the press doesn’t like to cover it) within many societies. If I need protection, will I trust the police or my local Capo? I’m not so sure–why should the police help me? I know the Capo will help me because he knows I will owe him a favor or some money. I could go on.

                1. Lambert Strether Post author

                  This picture has much plausibility (and I like the idea of “free cities”). I’ve seen others make the case that the US would disintegrate into warlordism, and feudalism would seem a natural extension of that. However, I’m not sure what happens to the corporations in this model. Do they disintegrate? Become first families, as it were? My sticking point (and perhaps Hudson addresses this) is that feudalism is also a mode of production, rather like sharecropping, slavery, or wage labor. But I am not seeing that in this discussion of “neo-feudalism.”

                  1. Banger

                    I didn’t have time to get into how corporations will fare in this emergent world. But we can assume that they will increasingly take over functions that are now public and internally workers will be subject to more control an they will be more carefully monitored for loyalty, conformity, and so on. If you are a skilled worker your life will not be much different if you are towards the bottom of the income ladder your life will continue to deteriorate and we will see the continued Walmart-ization of labor.

                    The interesting part of this will be what sorts of conflicts will arise from other corporations–will management merge so that, say, cellphone companies will collude and engage in anti-competitive practices as they are today such that separate corporations are mainly colluding and in some areas competing? My guess is that competition will decrease and collusion will be the rule. This allows for more stability. My guess is that conflict is likely to center around various management cliques within corporations not between corporations–based on some very incomplete observations.

              2. JTFaraday

                “Please give an example of a neo-feudal relationship”

                I think most people probably spell it

                J – O – B.

                    1. jrs

                      You know I’ve feudalism actually had some good points and a certain amount to recommend it. I’m not so sure about where we’re going.

          3. jrs

            I certainly don’t get the appeal of “the right”. Some libertarians may be ok on some things and mean well. Granted. Collalition build on the police state? Fine.

            But I quite honestly don’t think such positions represent any sort of real right in this country. Or not any that can count any more members than “the left”. I frankly don’t think most of the right on this country is EVEN reliably anti-authoritarian. In rhetoric maybe, but not down deep. Has rightism EVER realiably gone together with anti-authoritarianism? There are reasons why it doesn’t.

            1. ian

              I think the correct way to see this is that the political spectrum is not 1 dimensional, linear “left vs. right”.
              Its more like one of those Meyer-Briggs personality profile things – there are multiple independent axes.
              The left vs. right is a convenient (and mentally lazy) abstraction.

        2. JC48

          The fact is that when any protests or rallies take place, the police are there ready to fight and attack–that is my experience. It is our police state combined with the corporations (who the police think are their friends & benefactors) who are successfully preventing any movement from developing. Even the massive NSA/FBI surveillance system in place provides local police with information on people local police suspect might be leading rallies. It’s not uncommon.

          1. just_kate

            Yep – I’ve seen this on a really small scale too. A few people who showed up at a busy intersection holding signs against TARP followed quickly by a ridiculous number of police cars surrounding them. Seemed obvious to me that the overkill level of response was the message.

          2. Banger

            This is exactly why I get so frustrated with the activist left–those tactics do not and cannot work anymore (duhhhh!). Look armored knights on horseback did not work after Agincourt. So change tactics. I’ve offered my recommendations in forum and no one wants to look at anything new that might require effort and commitment–and even worse, maybe losing some money and luxuries!

            People get on my case because I attack the left as moribund and ineffective– how can anyone look at the past few decades and think anything different? Saying that “it’s not fair” just doesn’t cut it.

            1. anon y'mouse

              this is what I see from your posts day after day after day:

              “the left is toast. it has no vision worth paying attention to anymore. the right has vision. the right is composed of good, moral, misguided people.”

              this is what you’re saying today:

              “the left’s tactics do not work, and therefore they are toast.”

              so, which is it? I don’t really care about left/right whatever, but I admit that when defining my outlook on life it leans left. there are a TON of people out there writing everywhere now who most likely (although it can’t always be verified) are offering explanations, visions, etc. of possible future directions which appear to me to be left.

              the only vision I see coming from the right is (and it may well be a caricature) a gun in every pot, religion in the textbooks and inadequate access to proper reproductive care because a woman might “misuse” her own choice/body to have an abortion. I have no idea WHAT the peasant class republican believes about the much more important issues of economics, power relations and so on.

              so when you’re talking “vision” I don’t think the right has it. libertarians who want to be left alone so that they can exploit workers because that seems “fair” because they were privileged enough to be in the business-owning class and not the working class doesn’t seem to cut it for me either.

              if you want to say the right has the advantage of tactics, I concede that.

              tactics =/= vision but they probably are linked. perhaps the more repressive the vision, the easier the tactics are for all I know. you seem ready to criticize those who appear left-leaning because they don’t have a cohesive tactic. one needs a cohesive vision prior to a cohesive tactic. perhaps once the former exists, the tactics themselves don’t even matter much. you’ll just get mass adoption/conversion.

              that may be a fantasy. perhaps we’ll have to STRUGGLE for every step of the way. but if we do have to struggle with our fellow peasants, it suggests to me that this would be a big clue that the vision was not inclusive enough, equitable enough, etc. for all of them to come over to our side.

              it would be really reprehensible to me, a leftwardsortaleaning person, if we get people who won’t go along with the plan because someone somewhere might be having an abortion, or participating in sodomy, or wearing a pentacle or something. that would be foolish in the extreme. more freedom and inclusivity and choice is saner and better morally on private issues. it is mass coercion of the financial and political systems that people should recognize as having true power over their lives.

              1. Moneta

                Forget about the left and the right. It means nothing in today’s world. It’s a worthless strategy that just pits everyone against the other.

                You’ve got to target those pensions and get momentum… either you create a movement to kill those underfunded DB plans or you create one that tries to force government to give an equal amount to all those without a DB.

                Everyone wants a big fat pension… why not work on such a movement!!!

              2. Banger

                So what do you recommend we do? I never said to give up–I”m just describing what I see–am I wrong? I’m sure in some ways I may be so show me. In fact one aspect of leftist ideas is for people to work together, share, make common cause to connect. One reason the left does poorly in this country (see my definition of the left in answer to one Lambert’s request) is that we have bought into this “individualistic” world view. It is a world-veiw, btw, that is utterly irrational. I challenge anyone to defend it–human beings are not constructed that way yet we persist in seeing our world through those eyes.

                1. Moneta

                  No necessarily… the left can believe in taxes and services through the state while the right believes in charity.

                  In this case, the left’s contribution becomes impersonal while the right is hands on and better connected to the people.

                2. anon y'mouse

                  I don’t know, and am ready to admit that.

                  many of the things you say re: your personal and social ideals I agree with. I just don’t see why you harp on about the left being “dead” and having no vision. there are a lot of visions being brought forth out there right now, but they are not one cohesive vision yet.

                  what I see the main problem is, is this: lefty type people (not equivalent to the D party, the artist-formerly-known-as the Progressive party, or whatnot but may include some of its members) wants to appeal to a person’s highest and best motives in a rational manner and adopt policies/actions that benefit the majority. politics is about wrangling in the muck, pulling out some of your opponents innards, and then screeching that you’ve found a demon and getting a bunch of idiots in need of a scapegoat because their cow’s milk soured to tie it to a tree and burn it for you.

                  Lefty leaning people seem a bit shy about forcing their ideals on others, in a brainwashing way, a scamming way, a misdirectional way rather than the rational way. and we really are talking about social policies that will touch on how people see the world, themselves, and others.

                  if your worldview is that people are basically evil/bad, and they need authority to bring them into line, or some -neutral seeming- force like the market to be an arbiter of what is just, or that having money is a sign of allgoodthings (moral rectitude, discipline, brains, good genes, whatever) then you’re really at odds with people who think that, under the correct social circumstances, people will do the right thing more often than not, want to improve themselves without a taskmaster standing over them, don’t believe that the market has any magical powers to sort good from bad (may even sort FOR bad), and that the power granted by great fortunes, personal or corporate, has unjust and undue influence over individual lives.

                  are these what one means when they say left/right? I have no idea. but if so, I don’t see how the two sides can ever come together out of anything but the direst necessity.
                  and, without a willingness to dive into the muck, I don’t see how lefty-types are ever to win in the political arena. unless they just ignore the slanging and keep on with their hopeful message about the possibilities of a new social/political organization.

                  1. Banger

                    There are many visions, of course, but there is no collective vision and no process to achieve a collective vision. The irony is that the left, if it is about anything, is about collectivism and we can’t get away from that. That means that the collective welfare is more important than my individual welfare. It turns out, if you study social and neuro science that human beings are hard wired for connection with others and that, if we are honest, many of our most satisfying moments (even in our hyper-individualistic culture) happen when we merge with another or others in some way.

                    When I critique “the left” I am saying that it is not a movement and not a collective enterprise but a series of fragments that have a lot of trouble joining together. I have experienced a “coming together” during the late sixties and a few other times in my travels outside the USA.

                    Also, I do not have a view of people are good/bad, as individuals every person I’ve ever met is a mixture of the full spectrum of human possibilities. That I do sometimes describe as good/bad are ideologies. For example, the philosophy of Ayn Rand is so overwhelmingly bad (bad for me means that which drives us apart from others and the world) that I would be remiss in my duty as a citizen to not point that out.

            2. Moneta

              If you want change, you’ve got to kill those underfunded DB plans. Folding them would starve Wall Street and would finally get all the people on the SAME side fighting for the same rights.

              As long as the top 10-15% get their benefits, they have no reason to fight… those DB plans cover cops BTW…

        3. Lambert Strether Post author

          I would really like the word “neo-feudal” defined. Do you have a link or a source? On the surface, it doesn’t make sense to me, because where are the kings, the lords, the oaths of fealty, the dominant role of the one universal and apostolic catholic church, the pre-capitalist productive relations, and all the rest of what makes feudalism feudalism?

          If it’s just a metaphor, then we should think about it carefully, because at least one way to make “the left” (for want of a better term) less fuzzy and inchoate is to sharpen our analytical tools.

          1. anon y'mouse

            not an anything here. but you’ve given the definition yourself—

            “all RENTS!!! all the time!”

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NfXb7cDGEVo

            dollars=votes

            big biz has the dollars, therefore it is good and just that they own the politicians and run the country.

            we have to be “more competitive” with the rest of the world, based upon parameters that are never clearly defined.

            do we need the tired rituals of cape & ermine if what we really have is class (sub)consciousness? are us lowers supposed to be like the sans culottes? should we go around measuring the silk content of neckties, and stringing people up?

            corporate control and dication of every area of life to its owners’ benefit===how the rest of us work, eat, live, bathe, and so on. and how THEY can make money off of it all.

            the TPP is an example of this. once that agreement is done, nation-states and their laws are irrelevant. corporate control really WILL rule the world.

          2. Banger

            See my answer to you upstream. BTW, I could probably give you a less impressionistic definition but that’s all I had time for.

    3. Lambert Strether Post author

      Good sign in what way? I’m glad that some (not all) suffering will be alleviated, but if ObamaCare is indeed going to be a paradigm, the price (rather rent) will be very, very high.

  9. JGordon

    As to why we’ve had a brief period of “good” governance in the west (perspectives differ), I’ve heard the idea floated around that it was because of all the freely available resources and cheap fossil fuel energy. And I’m particularly enamored of that idea because it makes everything that’s going on today fit together nicely. However now that energy is becoming expensive and resources are increasingly depleted it’s only natural to expect (and look forward to if you are an optimist such as myself) more despotism and corruption from government.

    Regarding the article above, I think that it’s very important we’re having this discussion. Heretofore in the Western world people have gotten used to trusting government–to believing in the fallacious idea that government is a force for good and there to help the average guy. But while there has been good governance, ocassionally, from time to time, in the past several thousand years of recorded history the far more typical approach governments have towards their subjects is as farmers have towards sheep: fleeced when convenient and slaughtered when resources run scarce. We are entering into the slaughtering phase. Those who maintain their irrational belief in the idea that good governance is possible will of course be the ones most easily led into the abattoir.

    1. Banger

      My view kind of lies between a Jeffersonian ideal and the ideals of anarchism. But, as a pragmatist, I’ve noticed that social democracy does provide excellent results when it’s done right. In recent years it has been successfully attacked in the USA and is now being vigorously attacked in Europe. The more social democratic a country is the healthier and more prosperous the average person. Are there negative effects from social democracy–yes, but they are outweighed by a sense that we are here to take care of each other and if each person is nurtured and his/her basic needs are met then good things will happen.

      Today, government in the U.S. has lost sight with the ideals of social democracy and tends to cater to many other forces. This is all due to the fact the non-“security” parts of the USG have been riddled with bullets, mortar shells, bombs, sabotage, engineered corruption, and so on at least since the 1980s.

      1. Anarcissie

        Social Democracy was invented to ward off socialism. As the threat of socialism advanced, the capitalist ruling class favored or condoned it. As the threat receded in recent decades, social democracy was gradually rescinded. It will continue to be rescinded as long as the threat remains distant.

        1. Banger

          Parts of the oligarchy in the USA did reluctantly support social democracy but a large part of that community opposed it from the start–it even attempted to stage a coup against Roosevelt. In Europe certainly social democracy had to be instituted or social chaos would have resulted, at any rate, most of the left and right supported it until the past few years.

          1. Lambert Strether Post author

            I think the reaction of TBTB to the New Deal was “Never again!” It took them generations to get there, and the help of the Democrats, but they did it.

      2. diptherio

        “I’ve noticed that social democracy does provide excellent results when it’s done right.”

        Hmmm…ISTM that while social democracy may have worked pretty well on a domestic level, it has not been able (indeed, has not tried) to limit international exploitation and violence. How did French and American social democracy work out for the Vietnamese?

        And perhaps the “excellent results” realized by social democracies at home are dependent upon the exploitation and violence that is being carried out in foreign lands…I can’t prove it, but I strongly suspect it…

        1. NotTimothyGeithner

          The Fifth Republic started after ’56 (Suez) and left Algiers which was part of France proper not just a colony.

          The French left Vietnam in 1954. Both Vietnam and the Suez seizure were done by the Fourth Republic.

          In recent history, there is Libya and Mali, but France and Italy had arguments for being concerned about Libya. Mali rebels were supplied by the arms in Libya.

          I don’t know much about French intervention in Sub-Saharan Africa and their colonies in South America post-colonialism, but the Fifth Republic isn’t doing too bad.

          Their biggest mistake was buying into the threat of German economic imperialism and desiring to stick it to the U.S. by making the joint currency a pan European venture.

    2. jrs

      I dont’ believe the relatively good government such as it was (I mean look we dropped the atom bomb and sent Japanese Americans to internment camps – good is very relative – but parts of the government functioned efficiently and even benefitted most people) was due to generous resources. I think it was due to the workers movement and fear of red revolution.

      But I do believe with no real pushback of any sort (where’s that workers movement now?) and resources in alarming decline, the plutocrats have decided to grab it all. They have the motive to do so (perceived scarcity plus plain old greed) and the means (no real opposition).

    3. NotTimothyGeithner

      It wasn’t the cheap cost of fossil fuels. If it was the cheap cost of fossil fuels, why are the fossil fuel exporting countries so crummy?

      Consider why slavery didn’t take off in the Northern States versus the Southern states. There is a good reason devoid of cultural concerns. First, slaves are terrible laborers compared to a free, well compensated man. Besides malnutrition, why would a slave do a good much less an exemplary job? The answer is they wouldn’t. Despite popular fiction, archaeological evidence indicates the pyramids were constructed were relatively few skilled craftsmen not slave armies. Lets go back to colonial America, what is the situation? The glaciers ripped out the good dirt from New England. New England is a rocky desert with trees. The climate is nice, but farming there is back breaking work. The only way to do it is to devise labor saving methods. Slaves will die or run away because slaves don’t benefit from innovation. The soil and climate of the South will grow virtually anything with little effort. Slaves can do the work. What was the result? In 1775, New England’s estimated literacy rates among women not men were higher than the male aristocracy of Europe. In a sense, they made the desert bloom because labor was the most important commodity because there was nothing to dominate. Around this period, international proto-financiers started investing in Argentina because they thought the mineral wealth would lead to a country dominated the New World. What happened? The mineral wealth became the most important resource, and the little people didn’t care.

      West Virginia is the perfect case. Despite the mineral wealth and largess of Senator Byrd, the place is backwards because labor isn’t the top resource. Its the cheap fossil fuels which can be dominated to the benefit of a few.

      Despite the fossil fuel economies, I am a genuine optimist. People are smart. The relatively cheap costs of fossil fuels have kept us down for so very long.

      1. fresno dan

        that is a good point that the places that actually have the fossil fuels tend to have lower standards of living.
        I’m not an optimist, but if decentralized solar power production, and energy conservation – maybe there will not only be environmental benefits, but economic/equality benefits.

    4. bluntobj

      Indeed, when resources become stretched, overreach by the elite becomes apparent, and devolution inevitably follows as more resources are diverted to serve the needs of the elite and maintain their position.

      Devolution inevitably becomes collapse as belief in the system fades, and it becomes difficult to police the masses.

      In order to combat this fading belief and loss of adherence to order and respect for authority we will see more “shock and awe” policing events; Kill one, terrify ten thousand (to borrow an old phrase).

    5. Lambert Strether Post author

      Ever read Temple Grandin? She’s a wonderful writer. But there are times when I think TPTB think of us literally as animals, and are herding us into a well-designed chute.

      “A peaceful land, a quiet people. That has always been my rule,” as Roose Bolton says.

  10. Eureka Springs

    As one who appreciates brevity I don’t think the word ‘consumer’ is descriptive enough to describe the old citizen under Obamney, not care, neoliberalism. Indentured consumer or captive consumer would be much better. We are consumers, without choice, even without bargaining abilities.

    1. Jim Haygood

      In the early 1980s, Gore Vidal sardonically called them ‘consumer-depositors’ in thrall to the financial elites. How right he proved to be in 2008, when the banksters collected trillions in aid at gunpoint (despite vehement objections from consumer-depositors) to patch up their fraud-vaporized balance sheets.

      Control both their deposits and their consumption, and the people are de facto enslaved.

  11. ambrit

    Friends;
    This very public Cluster F— aspect of the ACA might well be a feature, and not a bug. Something like d—ing with faint praise. How better to hamstring a public program then to design it to not work? Then the great unwashed masses can sit back and say: “See? Those guys at Fox wuz right! These Commie programs don’t work. There a game on da Langerie League tonight?” Knowing Obamas track record, (watch what he does, not what he says,) this wouldn’t surprise me one bit.

    1. Jim Haygood

      You can’t make this shit up:

      Need health insurance? The Obama administration has you covered. Simply dial 1-800-FUCKYO to reach the next available health-care provider.

      Far from being a mistype, that’s the official number that Health and Human Services wants Americans to dial when seeking health care. Obamacare’s national call center really did list its number as 1-800-318-2596, helpfully spelling out President Barack Obama’s tendency to blatantly flip the bird in plain view.

      After allowing for the lack of letters attached to 1 on a traditional American telephone keypad, the number spells out a clear message.

      http://dailycaller.com/2013/10/03/need-health-care-coverage-just-dial-1-800-fuckyo-to-reach-obamacares-national-hotline/#ixzz2gfnN6jQA

      Maybe it’s just some of that traditional Masonic numerology that they’re so enamored of in D.C. …

    2. Doug Terpstra

      It does seem like crisis opportunism — or worse, crisis engineering. It’s almost as if they were following some sort of demolition blueprint or a kind of doctrine designed to induce systemic shock toward total societal helplessness and compliance. While it’s true that constantly recurring debt emergencies (even while the “Fed” counterfeits money for banks at the same time), massive illegal surveillance, and terrorist threats from all directions might cause paralyzing trauma, it’s a rather cynical view to actually infer active planning from that. It borders on foil-hat conspiracy-mongering.

      We know better. After all, most of our political leaders are fundamentally honest, family-oriented folks, who are essentially fair-minded, just, and above all demonstrably peace-loving. The idea that some faction of America’s elite would fabricate, let alone exploit, a crisis — that they would commit fraud, violate the constitution, start wars, foment coups, rebellions or anything of that sort in order to seize wealth and amass power — implies reckless endangerment at best … and at worst, evil intent with malice aforethought. It insinuates an hideous level of greed and power-lust, pathological duplicity and propensity for violence on the part of our elite. That is simply unthinkable.

      So stop it! As Clinton said to someone suggesting 9-11 was an inside job (while wagging his trademark finger of (un)adulterated truth), “How dare you?! How … dare … you?!

  12. Jackrabbit

    They are only being truthful.

    Citizenship implies one person one vote and equality under the law.

    Consumers vote with their money and get the services (justice, healthcare, etc.) they can pay for.

    What TPTB would tell you is this: EVERYBODY KNOWS that we live in a market-based, consumer societyimplying that everyone freely accepts this system over any alternative. If you persist in being critical (pointing out that they financial system almost collapsed, that the US pays double for healthcare what other advanced countries pay, etc.) you will get challenged with: Do you know of a better system?

  13. NotTimothyGeithner

    The simple answer is Obots and Democrats bots are no different than the Conservative followers. Obama can only be failed, not fail himself.

    An Obama war is a smart war because…Obama.

    Obama wouldn’t abuse powers because…Obama.

    Much of their self worth is wrapped up in the idea the Democrats are moral juggernauts. Its an anecdotal story, but a retired, history professor whom I know from my Democratic days was trying every Obot argument. I started to question his stated values and how this was working. After a time, he started to say he was in the party of JFK as an emotional appeal to justify supporting a “conservative democrat,” and I told him JFK has been dead for over 45 years so what does JFK* have to do with your current, crummy candidates** and electeds now. This guy is still living in 1960 when Ike was boring and Kennedy was going to build nukes left and right. Getting him to acknowledge the missile gap myth and subsequent arms build up was like pulling teeth because his love of JFK was so wrapped up in his identity.

    *I’m not a particular fan of JFK myself. He cut taxes on the wealthy which should never be done. Its always the first mistake.

    1. Banger

      You need to learn more about JFK and what he was up against. Jim Douglas wrote a book called *JFK and the Unspeakable* which has one of the most interesting accounts of the Cuban Missile Crisis I have ever read. JFK was flawed like all of us but he is hero of mine.

  14. ScottW

    There are so many more opportunities for frustration with our consumer society than existed when I was a young adult in the 60’s/70’s. A few examples of what did not exist now, but does now:

    1. Cell phones
    2. Cable TV
    3. Internet
    4. Compulsory Auto Insurance
    5. Health Insurance
    6. High Stakes Education Loans
    7. Digital Job Applications
    8. Cars too Technologically advanced to work on yourself
    9. High mortgages/High Rent
    10.401K’s
    11.Computers
    12.Electronic Medical records
    13.Airline travel for the masses

    All of these have “evolved” since the post-60’s and each make us dependent on others to solve problems arising from their use. So many more opportunities for frustration than in the ’60’s, as we face problems with their functionality, and always will.

    Now something that has been around since the 60’s is the DMV and I actually think it works no worse, and may be a bit better with online renewals of license/registration than in the old days.

    Bottom line is technology will always have bugs, just like the old tube t.v.’s had problems with the horizontal.

    1. ScottW

      And maybe the biggest change is disposible prodcuts. Don’t fix’em, just throw them away and buy a new one.

    2. anon y'mouse

      perhaps this is why everyone references those polls (that I have never seen the originals of) that state that the late 60’s-mid 70’s was the time of “peak happiness” here in America.

      yeah, my phone can make my microwave popcorn now. but i’m not any happier than when muscle cars roamed the earth.

    3. fresno dan

      you forgot tomatoes. (well, most fruits…but tomatoes are my personal bete noir)
      if you can’t grow your own, you can only purchase simulacrums.

    4. Lambert Strether Post author

      “problems with the horizontal” — great metaphor.

      And we’ve got problems with the vertical too….

      * * *

      Unless this metaphor is dead dead dead because it belongs to the days of analog teebee, and I am just classifying myself as a geezer?

  15. LionelMandrake

    “Why should government performance like that be acceptable?”

    Because unlike Apple, government programs are funded using stolen money. Your “acceptance” is not required. The creative destruction of capitalism punishes those who do not meet consumers’ expectations or needs. No such mechanism exists for the government due to their monopoly on violent coercion.

    As you know Lambert, the government is not a household. It is a violent, coercive organization that funds itself through theft, bribes and threats.

  16. Rob Lewis

    I take your point, but lighten up a bit. OF COURSE the Obamacare rollout took longer and had more bugs than the Apollo program. Duh, we have a lot more computers today! (not to mention a clientele many orders of magnitude larger than NASA’s)

    Also, no one seems to have considered the possibility that the wingnuts may have staged coordinated Denial Of Service attacks on the health insurance exchanges to try and sabotage the launch. I consider it more likely than not.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      Simplicity is a virtue, not simpler. Anything overly complex is doomed to open failure. A simple system for everyone would be impenetrable to the kinds of attacks the Democrats who are trying to deflect from Democratic complicity try to hide behind.

      The phrase “the best laid plans of mice and men” apply to this. By the way, any system dependent on the cooperation of 50 governors without adequate funding or guidelines made available to cash-strapped states is doomed to be a disaster whether they are good governors or not.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      First, people shouldn’t put up with the nonsense. Why give a free pass as soon as implementors start whining it’s hard? Second, the complexity of Obama’s system architecture is directly caused by the requirement to retain rental extraction by private insurance companies. It’s like they attached a giant anchor to the rocket and tried to launch anyhow.

      The likelihood of a DDOS is vanishingly small. Such things are easily detectable. If it were happening, the Democrats would have instantly seized on it as a way of avoiding responsibility.

  17. indio007

    The relationship of citizen to government is one based on fraud.

    A citizen is one owing a duty of allegiance in return for a duty of protection.
    However the State explicitly disavows any such duty and the court’s have held the State has no duty of protection to the citizen.

    The relationship is better characterized as a boondoggle.

    1. diptherio

      “However the State explicitly disavows any such duty and the court’s have held the State has no duty of protection to the citizen.”

      That’s a shock even to me. Do you have a link to the ruling?

      1. indio007

        I should add this case just for good measure.

        “What makes the City’s position particularly difficult to understand is that, in conformity to the dictates of the law, Linda did not carry any weapon for self-defense. Thus by a rather bitter irony she was required to rely for protection on the City of NY which now denies all responsibility to her.”
        Riss v. New York, 22 N.Y.2d 579,293 N.Y.S.2d 897, 240 N.E.2d 806 (1958).

        We are nothing more than chattel in the eyes of the one’s with power. ehem… Mike Bloomberg

  18. Eric377

    In comparing the space program with the ACA exchanges, you must keep in mind that there was no powerful political force that was in place with the dedicated goal of ending the space program in the early years while many launches failed. If the country were as united in desiring ACA to be a success there would be a lot less spinning of these early results either pro and con. If it had been as divided on space exploration in the late 1950’s as it is on ACA today, Mercury, etc. might never have been funded.

  19. Montanamaven

    I used to observe that starting in the 1980s, seemed to me that John and Joan Q. Public turned into Joe and Jean Six Pack. It coincided, not coincidentally, with the push to have Joe and Jean be part of the elite by having a stake in the stock market thru those individual retirement plans that became the 401Ks. Wasn’t it also near that time that the Personnel Department became Human Resources. So we are not even consumers. It is much worse. We are commodities/resources.

  20. LizinOregon

    I share the concern about the change from citizen to consumer, but have had that concern for quite a while given the dreadful shift in language to business speak. But I would argue that the reason Medicare was up so fast is that it used the Social Security infrastructure already in place and didn’t involve building a complex new IT system. To me the real argument is that single payer would have smoother and more equitable. It was the policy choice, not government incompetence.

  21. bluntobj

    There are many good comments here about the consumer vs. citizen definitions.

    Lambert, this post was good food for thought even though I rolled my eyes at the global warming reference.

    It’s understandable why there is a shift from citizen to consumer in government langauge.

    All citizens are equal under the law, and that law is just and does not play favorites.

    But is that actually what we have these days? I would say no.

    A “citizen” is legally on the same level as a wall street billionaire; and this really chafes for most of the billionaires.

    A more effective strategy for removing this galling equality is to change citizens to consumers.

    Consumers = cattle, and cattle are milked and farmed. You can breed them, sell them, or butcher them in lean times. You don’t have feelings for them or think of them as your equal. They won’t revolt or misbehave unless a powerful fear causes them to stampede, or a big bull is leading them.
    Of course, that’s why bulls are castrated and dehorned to become steers, and lead to slaughter.

    I think this is the glow of the rising sun of a return to nobility and modern feudalism.

    I agree with JGordon that benevolent government is a fallacy, and we’re going to see much more proof in the coming years.

  22. Banger

    Some of us have been trying to kick field goals with Lucy holding the ball and, like she did to Charlie Brown, the ball was yanked up and we found ourselves up in the air–there was an exception to all this–that was the late sixties and early seventies when I was part of something both foolish and grand.

    I have pointed out directions to go in for years and nobody wanted to listen they wanted to repeat the same old tired and ineffective techniques that had been thoroughly gamed by the authorities. BTW, younger radicals are beginning to get the idea.

    Neo feudalism is kind of inevitable if you understand that this country has little common values or has the nihilistic values of connected to selfishness. If the left wants to have power it must organize wholistic affinity groups that supply the needs of comrades, i,e., jobs, housing, food, and conceptual frameworks. Cooperatives, coops and so on need to be the focus as well as a deep understanding that the assault on humanity is not just a matter of classical class-exploitation but something deeper, an assault on humanity and consciousness itself. We need to wake up and stop pursuing the old illusions–we do not live in a society that is friendly to our values though I believe that if we were firm in our visions and offered a visible alternative way of living that many of our fellow would at least respect us.

    1. Banger

      Sorry about this thi ended up posting in the wrong place after numerous server error messages– please ignore.

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        It seems that, at least for now, this is a consequence of better performance for the site overall. Thanks for the comment, and all we can do is ask for your patience as we tune stuff…

  23. jfleni

    Right on about Devolution! It’s about time too.

    The country has failed in hundreds of ways, mostly very recently, because certain odious Billionaires (The kangaroo-in-chief, the poison-dwarf-bros, the neocom lunatics, criminal bankers, and others) and their butt-kissers and shills at that muddy ditch near a minor river (aka Dogpatch-DC) overwhelm regular people in their normal desire for a government that works for them.

    Well, Federations can fail too. The artificial campaign for racist neo-Confederacy is a perfect opportunity to give them what they say they want, wave goodbye, and let the rest of us get on with our important business.

    Write if you get work there bubba (or at least send a letter before your morons destroy the Post Office); Meanwhile The North will rise again!

  24. Jim

    Potential power for those on the margins (radical left or radical right) primarily involves the organizational capacity to mobilize others.

    For the past 200 to 300 years this mobilization( by both the radical left and radical right) has been largely based on class anger/rage and then hatred.

    There is now an active portion of the right in this country which has again become partially successful in mobilizing around such resentment–an intensive energy which is always ready to explode. In addition there is a portion of the radical left in this country which is anxious to respond to such success with its own attempt at mobilizing class resentment.

    Essentially both tendencies seem perfectly happy with fomenting class hatred and both appear to give serious consideration to the possible necessity of civil/class war.

    This might be our future, but we have only to look at powerful 20th century political movements on both the right and left to see where this usually ends—in the catastrophe of a right or left gulag.

    Both the radical left and radical right have historically tended to operate under the false premise that the effective mobilization of millions of spontaneous individuals takes place primarily through a type of class cohesion– but the inevitable consequences of this type of erroneous thinking is an ending in some kind of labor, prison or extermination camp (for the countless millions who don’t go along).

    Once virtue is divorced from power then the saints without conscience tend to rule–because as many activists on the left and right have said) you must not be afraid to get your hands dirty.

    Is it possible to have of politics of virtue?

    And, if so, how do we get there?

  25. luxtexente

    Interesting, In the first place government should never have a consumer base of any kind. Governments should sell nothing, ever. That is just wrong. On the other hand I have always felt that government has encouraged “equality” and “diversity” to exploit emerging markets and to create a consumer/client base for corporations. Once the need for a diversified consumer/client base is gone there won’t be a need for that group or in other words, once the market for equality is gone, freedom will be gone. As long as corporations can make money on equality, people will be free, once a particular group isn’t a money maker anymore, they won’t be free. Back to the Past.

    1. bluntobj

      I would disagree here. Anyone receiving payments from the state is a consumer of that state. The ability to extract rents from them increases, and their true utility lies in their submission to power. Corporations are simply using the state to generate revenue, and the state allows it as it keeps the state in power and expanding.

  26. mac

    I wonder if the real or imagined problems with ACA would be the same with another President, I have no idea which one because folks have found all in my life time to be very bad, my life time starts in the mid 1930’s.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      The problems would be the same, since the ACA is after all a Republican plan. The problems are intrinsic to ObamaCare’s system architecture, which is designed to preserve the ability of the insurance companies to extract rent.

      1. bluntobj

        I would agree, Lambert, since there is no difference between the teams. Indeed, the president and the blue team are republicans. The champagne must flow in the owner’s box…

  27. Hugh

    We are called consumers because we are meant to be consumed. It has been said a thousand times but Obamacare is an insurance system set up to deliver rents to the insurance corporations and to the rich who own them. It is only incidentally about healthcare. And even there it is mostly bullshit. It is an invitation to corporations to cut back on the healthcare plans their employees currently have. And it is a mandate on millions to buy insurance that they will find too expensive and too skimpy to use. In other words, it is, as always, about the looting. When will we understand that we live in a kleptocracy? Use this analysis and you can see exactly why Obamacare is structured the way it is. Try to explain it has some partial but well intentioned liberal experiment suffering birth pains and you are lost in a land of inconsistent fairy tales. It is a mandate, no, wait a right. It has to be corporate because it is our culture. We want it even though most Americans would probably prefer Medicare for All. It is so important it needed to be delayed 4 years, or 5 years for many businesses. It’s all about keeping prices down although a lot of people have seen their premiums go through the roof in the last few years. It is a con on a con by a con. In the last 5 years, Obama has shown he only cares about the rich and bankers. He has not shown that he gives a flying fuck about the rest of us. Why on earth would anyone think that Obamacare would break with this pattern?

  28. steve from virginia

    Pretty funny.

    Best way to deal w/ Obamacare is ignore it and it will go away.

    Does anyone think young persons with thousands of dollars of student debt can effectively subsidize multi-billion dollar insurance companies? If this was the Dems’ plan it’s a failure from the start!

    The same sort of plan is in place in Massachusetts, it seems to work but I don’t know, I don’t care, I don’t live in Massachusetts.

    A way to ‘beat’ Obamacare is get on SS disability. It’s easy b/c it’s the informal unemployment comp for people whose bennies have been exhausted. W/ disability you are enrolled in Medicare.

    Better way to beat Obamacare is stay healthy and avoid doctors. Don’t smoke, use drugs, lock up the guns, obey traffic laws, etc. Most peeps kill themselves w/ fast food, cars and stupidity.

    Best way to beat Obamacare is move to another country, one with single payer. Italy is very nice, food wine dolce vita. Who needs this … shit?

    1. ian

      Almost agree with you.
      The best way to get rid of it is to embrace it and insist on it’s speedy, complete and exact implementation. No exemptions, no waivers, no delays, none of this bullshit of moving it to an off year so it won’t affect incumbents chances in elections.
      The GOP missed a golden opportunity (but that is hardly surprising).

  29. Gaianne

    Bangor Oct 3 1:40 PM–

    Misplaced or not, this is more to the point than your other comments. Obamacare will help some, and harm some, while it continues and promotes the looting by the elites. It the deep sense it hardly matters, except as a symptom of where we are and a sign of the trajectory of our fate.

    The key point is that the left has to wake up from the dreams and actual successes of the 1960s and realize that it was dealt decisive and total defeat in the decades following. (National) Government and the corporations it serves have become malign. (Government at lower levels is also going bad.) Humane relationships can only be rebuilt–especially at first–outside of these hostile contexts. This is a long slog–that starts only after waking up has occurred! In the meantime, the evils that have already been set in motion will displace the memory of 20th century horrors, and only slight amelioration will be possible. Amelioration is worth doing, since some outcomes are worse than others, but to succeed even in this it must be faced that for the foreseeable future, all outcomes are bad.

    To retake control of the basics–food, water, shelter, clothing–in ones own life will be difficult but basic, and this must be the nucleus around which groups coalesce.

    –Gaianne

    1. bluntobj

      To retake control of the basics–food, water, shelter, clothing–in ones own life will be difficult but basic, and this must be the nucleus around which groups coalesce.

      –Gaianne

      ^^ This.

      Opt-out.

  30. bh2

    ObamaCare is engineered like the Lada auto; something nobody would voluntarily touch with a barge-pole, but no real alternative is allowed.

    One wonders which brother-in-law of which administration official was graced with the contract to implement the online “experience” for people now getting an apology notice and no satisfaction. Evidently the pre-release of this system got the same kind of bogus stress testing which similarly declared the TBTF banks were safe and sound.

    Oh, and remebmer this program will be administered by the IRS.

    What could possibly go wrong?

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