Will the American Oligarchy Accept Limits or Choose World War Three?

I recently came across this piece from the Century Foundation titled “A Bolder American Foreign Policy Means More Values and Less War.” Its central argument is that the US must “recenter values” like “multilateralism and human rights that are core to its identity.”

The Century Foundation calls itself a “a progressive, independent think tank,” and this particular piece appears to mean well but is just as disconnected from reality than all the neocon think tanks’ war mongering policy papers saying Washington will prevail as it takes on Russia, China, Iran, and whoever else it feels like.

The Century Foundation authors possess a Hollywoodized idea of America that isn’t a land filled with brutal class struggle but virtue, which flow out into its foreign policy that stands for international humanitarian or human rights law. I think anyone with a basic understanding of current events or recent history knows how ridiculous this is, and yet it is repeated ad nauseam by every purported think tank. I suppose this is a classic example of Upton Sinclair’s saying that “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it,” but I think the Century Foundation is onto something with its focus on values. It’s just that it has it backwards. The problem is that values are what has the US  on the brink of starting World War III in multiple locations.

So what are the core values that do have it such a position – and whose are they?

I think the story of former US President Herbert Hoover is instructive. He had interests in mines in Russia until they were seized by the Bolsheviks. [1] Hoover never forgot about it and remained terrified of Communists for the rest of his life – and for good reason considering how much he stood to lose.

Though Hoover got booted out of office in 1932, he played a central role in organizing capitalists to counter worker organization both in the US and abroad. His legacy lives on at Stanford’s neocon Hoover Institution. Throughout his life, he remained a major admirer of pre-Soviet Russia: “At the top was a Russian noble family and at the bottom 100,000 peasants and workers with nobody much in between but the priesthood and the overseers.”

That pretty much sums up the capitalist class’ enduring vision not just for Russia, but everywhere. Ownership of Russian mines or Opium Wars in China might not factor much into my or your everyday life, but you can bet it’s an important part of American ruling class ideology. Whose values? The dominant value at play there is a belief that as Western capitalists they have a right and a duty to exploit and profit off of every corner of the globe. Just like capital must dominate labor, it must expand and find new sources of revenue. If governments in Russia and China impede that progress, they must be destroyed.

Rather than bromides like more American “values,” the following are some questions or thought exercises for think tanks to consider – whether they want to win another war or maybe even quit starting so many of them.

Can You Practice Realpolitik with Gangsters? 

The US is a market state that is dominated by and run for transnational capital. Its foreign policy and the military are a tool of the American oligarchy. Therefore, any serious policy discussion needs to deal with the fact that national interests as they’re expressed today are not in any real sense national but representative of the interests of a small cohort of the super wealthy.

When US officials go on about spreading “freedom,” they’re not lying. It’s just their idea of freedom is a state devoted to high profits – free from the political whims of local populations that could degrade an investment’s expected return.

Let’s remember there likely wouldn’t be any problem with Russia had Putin not put an end to the 1990s shock therapy administered by the Western finance capitalists who were making a killing by pillaging Russian resources. Like Bert Hoover, they’re haunted by that opportunity snatched away from them, and they’ve been trying to get it back for a quarter century now.

The question is will American capital ever voluntarily give up? Will it ever say “okay, we’re satisfied with what we’ve got here, you do your thing in your sphere of influence”?

It’s not like Moscow and Beijing haven’t tried. Russia for example floated the idea of joining NATO or working out some other security arrangement. For decades after the end of the USSR, Russia tried to be accepted into the West’s club to no avail.

China, too, constantly repeats the refrain that the world is big enough for both Beijing and Washington. It invited the US to join it in its Belt and Road Initiative. The US could have helped steer projects that would have benefited both countries. While such cooperation between the two big powers wouldn’t be a panacea for all the world’s problems, it would likely mean a lot better spot than current one.  Instead the US wanted the whole pie and instead we got the TPP, sanctions, export bans, a new Cold War, a spy balloon scandal, the disastrous effort to weaken Russia before taking on China, the successful effort to sever Europe from Eurasia to disastrous effect for Europe, and the desire to see a Ukraine sequel in Taiwan and/or the South China Sea.

There is a lot of confusion over why the West keeps escalating in a losing effort. Why, for example, are Western governments going around begging for shells to send Ukraine rather than accepting the L? The desperation seems to stem from the creeping realization that their system is coming undone. The entire post-WWII elite American mindset is built on the foundation of worldwide profit expansion via silicon and fire, and if they throw everything at Russia and lose, well a whole new domino theory could come into play – one where parasitic Western finance capital is driven back. (Granted it might in most cases be replaced by a more local form, but it’s nonetheless frightening for the Western honchos.)  Just look at what’s happening to France in Françafrique! And the US in the Middle East!

The fact that the West can no longer even manufacture enough weapons to supply its proxy wars almost certainly means that the dominoes will keep falling. This is a jolt to the system – described here by Malcolm Harris in his 2023 book Palo Alto:

War Capitalism could put on a blindfold and run into a maze of horrific, absurd plans with confidence because it had class power echolocation for a guide: As long as the rich strengthened and the working class weakened, then things had to be going in the right direction. It didn’t matter that capitalists were investing in finance sugar highs, monopoly superprofits, and an international manufacturing race to the bottom rather than strong jobs and an expanded industrial base. The twenty-first century was going to be all about software anyway, baby. The robots will figure it out. Silicon Valley leaders sat on top of this world system like a cherry on a sundae, insulated from the melting foundation by a rich tower of cream.

They likely still feel insulated from the consequences of their actions, which fall most heavily on their proxy fighters and the working class dealing with inflation and declining living standards, but the panic over this system’s implosion is real – and with good reason. The idea that the US  can just spend more money and develop more wonder weapons is breaking down in humiliating fashion.

The great danger is that a Western capitalist class with no memory of a world war views the fight against Russia or China as more than just an effort to strategically weaken them. To evoke Hoover, they must regain access to their mines in Russia or risk losing them everywhere, which would make this an existential fight for Western governments and the capital they serve. On the opposing side, Russian officials have already said its military operation against the West in Ukraine is an existential one. Well, then we have opposing nuclear-armed sides both viewing this as an existential fight.

The Great Irony in the West’s Predicament Is That Finance Capital’s Own Greed Has Eroded Its Ability to Satiate Its Greed Around the World.

They hollowed out the West in order to make a quick buck. Where the manufacturing isn’t completely gone, it’s entirely degraded (Boeing). Government has been reduced to a collection of worthless sycophants only looking to cash in on their servitude.

It was American elites’ greed that caused the American working class to lose 3.7 million decent paying jobs from 2001-2018 – and that’s only from shipping jobs to China.

Les Leopold in his book Wall Street’s War on Workers calculates that Wall Street strip mining of the US (including China, NAFTA, stock buybacks, etc.) has led to 30 million laid-off Americans since 1996. No wonder they’re desperate for new markets. But let’s focus on China for a moment, which vies for the number one spot on the enemy list with Russia.

The wilful decimation of the US’ manufacturing over recent decades destroyed its research capacity. It means the US relies on components made in China for aircraft carriers and submarines. It means a trillion dollars in defense spending helps enrich China – the very country which is supposedly behind the increased defense spending in the first place.

It was impossible to know this would happen, they say, despite warnings at the time that this very situation would arise. Workers knew. Here’s a piece from the New York Times back in 2000 titled “Unions March Against China Trade Deal”:

Thousands of steelworkers, truck drivers, auto workers and other union members rallied on Capitol Hill and swept through the halls of Congress today in a show of muscle intended to block a trade agreement with China.

Their message, conveyed by union leaders and rank-and-file members who came from as far away as Michigan and Nebraska, was that trade was working for American corporations but not for American workers.

…[the union members] said, they are only opposing a deal with a country that does not respect workers’ rights and would stop at nothing, in their view, to steal the jobs that are the backbone of the American middle class.

Not surprisingly, when Politico did a 20-year-anniversary story on China’s accession to the WTO, most US lawmakers didn’t want to talk about their vote to normalize trade relations with China in 2000 (which paved the way to the WTO). But four American “experts” who did the planning and negotiating of the normalization of trade ties with China are described in the POLITICO piece as having zero regrets. Why would they? They were rewarded with better positions.

It’s entirely unclear how exactly the US would conduct this war it wants so much with China considering it’s so reliant on it for minerals and components crucial to the American military. As Army Technology points out:

The US Department of the Interior released a list of 35 minerals it deems essential to the economic and national security in 2018 (updated in 2022), amongst them many [rare earth elements]. The problem for the US is that the local production of these materials is hugely limited.

The extent of reliance on imports varies from mineral to mineral. Beryllium is mainly used to create lightweight material used in fighter jets, lithium is essential for modern battery production and tin is used in electronics, including soldier semiconductors, a sector that is projected to reach a value of $17.5bn by 2030.

Whereas the US produces some of the minerals mentioned above, it entirely relies on China and other countries for many other supplies. Cerium is used in batteries and in most devices with a screen and magnets forged from neodymium and samarium are impervious to extreme temperatures that are used in fighter jet fin actuators, missile guidance, control systems, aircraft and tank motors, satellite communications and radar and sonar systems.

Here again, it was Wall Street that moved rare earth and other mineral processing to China, that sold off mining operations to Chinese companies, and reaped the rewards for doing so. Matt Stoller and Lukas Kunce tell the story in a 2019 piece at The American Conservative:

In the 1970s and 1980s, the Defense Department invested in the development of a technology to use what are known as rare-earth magnets. The investment was so successful that General Motors engineers, using Pentagon grants, succeeded in creating a rare earth magnet that is now essential for nearly every high-tech piece of military equipment in the U.S. inventory, from smart bombs and fighter jets to lasers and communications devices. The benefit of DARPA’s investment wasn’t restricted to the military. The magnets make cell phones and modern commercial electronics possible.

China recognized the value of these magnets early on. Chinese Premier Deng Xiaoping famously said in 1992 that “The Middle East has oil, China has rare earth,” to underscore the importance of a rare earth strategy he adopted for China. Part of that strategy was to take control of the industry by manipulating the motivations of Wall Street.

Two of Xiaoping’s sons-in-law approached investment banker Archibald Cox, Jr. in the mid-1990s to use his hedge fund as a front for their companies to buy the U.S. rare-earth magnet enterprise. They were successful, purchasing and then moving the factory, the Indiana jobs, the patents, and the expertise to China. This was not the only big move, as Cox later moved into a $12 million luxury New York residence. The result is remarkably similar to Huawei: the United States has entirely divested of a technology and market it created and dominated just 30 years ago. China has a near-complete monopoly on rare earth elements, and the U.S. military, according to U.S. government studies, is now 100 percent reliant upon China for the resources to produce its advanced weapon systems.

Can the US expect its proxy warriors to keep enlisting if they’re armed with sticks and kitchen knives going up against hypersonic missiles?

A 2020 Bank of America study found that it would cost American and European firms $1 trillion over five years to shift all the export-related manufacturing that is not intended for Chinese consumption out of China. Has there been any movement on this or is there just an assumption that AI will figure it out?

Let’s say, for arguments sake that the US ponied up $1 trillion tomorrow to help firms bring back this manufacturing, what other problems would arise? There’s at least one, which is already evident from the CHIPS Act and Inflation Reduction Act. According to this tracker, $263 billion has been invested and 113,400 jobs have been created, but a major problem has arisen. There aren’t enough workers with the necessary skills.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company had to delay the production start date of its Arizona plants to 2025 due to a lack of workers, and a major shortage is expected to continue in coming years. The shipyard building the US Navy’s new frigate can’t find workers, leading to a three-year delay – at least. Apply that to other industries, add in the country’s crumbling infrastructure, and the price keeps climbing.

There’s also the issue of how to check the power of parasitic finance capitalists that would immediately start to erode any efforts to improve the national situation.

Reining In US Finance Capitalism 

This brings us to another great irony.

Anyone in the US government with a few marbles left and a desire to make the US a strong nation state again should be looking to an unlikely source for advice on how to rein in the US oligarchy; they should talk to Russian President Vladimir Putin who successfully tamed the oligarchy in his country – at least at points where it would impede national interest.

The American system has failed to reform even slightly on its own, which means the hollowed out imperial force is now being repeatedly exposed and driven back by force abroad. There are parallels to Russia during the First World War when industrial and bureaucratic shortcomings, economic hardship, and a government lacking legitimacy led to the rise of the Bolsheviks.

I have yet to see a think tank recommend that yet, but at the rate the US keeps starting wars, they’d better think of something fast.


[1] It’s interesting to note that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s great grandfather had a textile empire in Russia. He had one of the biggest fortunes in the country, but the enterprises were nationalized following the 1917 revolutions.

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  1. Altandmain

    The brutal reality is that the US ruling class are going to have to be defeated. That’s happening now at the hands of Russia.

    The rich don’t want to share power or wealth, neither with other nations, nor with their own fellow citizens. They feel entitled to the wealth of the world and they want all of it, leaving everyone else with no wealth. That’s the real reason for this whole situation. As the article notes, other nations would have been willing to reach a diplomatic settlement. This is not a system that can be reformed.

    The problem for the ruling class is that their tactics are self destructive. Destroying the US manufacturer base may have increased the net worth of the rich and broke the back of the New Deal, but it also meant that the US also lost its industrial base. With that comes the loss of many blue collar workers, engineers, production managers, etc, who either have to take a new job, or face a weak welfare state. We can see the end result of that with the US struggling to increase the artillery production to match Russia today.

    It’s also become apparent that the US is losing scientific leadership. Research tends to be expensive to do, especially when it is truly revolutionary, with no certainty of returns. In other words, that’s not something that capitalists want. They what short term profits. Financial schemes like stock buybacks or private equity are used.

    Another part of the reason why is due to poor education for the poor. In an unequal society, access to education is driven by wealth. The rich send their kids to elite private schools and postsecondary institutions. The poor have schools that are underfunded and the rich are unwilling to pay the taxes to keep them well funded. This also leads to the antithesis of any claim of meritocracy and rewards well off, but incompetent people.


    We can see the end results with the US struggling with things like hypersonic missile development. Infrastructure seems to be something that the US government is also struggling in and the US certainly compares unfavorably to nations like China.

    It’s also become clear that the US military isn’t very good. Plutocracy doesn’t result in a good fighting force, with large numbers of people who volunteer for something they see as worth dying for. The other issue is that the US is dominated by private sector contactors that see military spending as a profit center, unlike the Russians or Chinese who have much larger state sectors in their military.

    So all around, it’s a loss and one self inflicted by the rich, although they would never have the honesty to admit this.

    The main worry is that the rich would rather perish with the rest of us in a nuclear war than lose power. That’s certainly a possibility as the rich begin to panic that they are losing power.

    1. timbers


      “Let’s remember there likely wouldn’t be any problem with Russia had Putin not put an end to the 1990s shock therapy administered by the Western finance capitalists who were making a killing by pillaging Russian resources. Like Bert Hoover, they’re haunted by that opportunity snatched away from them, and they’ve been trying to get it back for a quarter century now.”

      Well phrased and very similar to what I have expressed to acquaintances over the years, when the Putin/bad comes up – the core issue driving our hostility towards Russia stems from the the existence of a bunch of super rich greedy elites running the West who can’t bear the fact that Putin took “their” oil/gas/etc that they stole form Russia fair and square, and is instead now being squandered on Russian high school education and social assistance programs and public infrastructure. In their minds, Putin is Public Enemy #1.

      The irony of negotiating with gangsters is another important point, and perhaps why I cringe at every report or suggestion that Putin/Russia/China is ready to “negotiate”. That just isn’t how this can have a happy ending. We are light years past that.

      “The brutal reality is that the US ruling class are going to have to be defeated.”

      Yes. Does the Russian leadership know this? I hope so.

      1. untethered jana

        When I speak to most people I know, they can’t get past Putin is Hitler. China bad.

        The class struggle is beyond their capacity because they are so brainwashed that we are the good guys. This is heavily supported by Hollywood. Try this experiment: speak with an American about most subjects and they will refer you to a TV show or a movie. It’s all smoke and mirrors, playbook adopted from Nazi Germany and perfected the propaganda which is so extensive, the mastery of Goebbels on full display.
        The destruction of human beings through poverty, disease, abortion, debt, religion, poor education, pollution of our waters, skies, and land, unhealthy food, and dangerous legal and illegal pharmaceuticals is mind-blowing. They have essentially incapacitated the masses mentally and physically through propaganda and keep us fighting among ourselves.
        It’s not personal, it’s business.

        1. Mikel

          “It’s all smoke and mirrors, playbook adopted from Nazi Germany and perfected the propaganda which is so extensive, the mastery of Goebbels on full display.”

          There have been many lively discussions about the USA’s influence on Nazi Germany, especially the USA’s Jim Crow system.
          I think Nazi Germany comes in 2nd to the USA in perfecting propaganda in the modern era.
          Edward Bernays, Taylorism, Madison Ave, Hollywood…

      2. Neutrino

        One aspect of the Putin stabilization was to tell the oligarchs that they could keep what they stole during the privatizations, but nothing more. That reset relations internally and allowed some broader policies like turning around declining life expectancy. Think of that as a stake in the ground, or a red line of sorts.

        1. GM

          It wasn’t enough though — the very existence of the oligarch class is a mortal threat to the existence of the the state, and they should have been taken out entirely.

          Ivan the Terrible, Lenin and Stalin did it previously, it is not as if there is no precedent.

          You see the consequences now — internally the struggle between the pro-Western oligarchic faction and the patriotic (also oligarchic in many ways, but a bit less destructively so) one has not been resolved, as a result of which an existential war that could have and should have been finished in weeks has been dragging for a third year now and it is about to completely spiral out of control once NATO enters openly (something it absolutely must never have been allowed to have a chance to do).

          P.S. It is a separate question whether Putin could have taken them out decisively without everything collapsing even further. He gets a pass on it if the assessment on that question was made behind closed doors and the conclusion was that the risk of the federation falling apart was too large (remember that in those years oligarchs were governors of many regions — only later did Putin change the governor appointment system and placed compliant bureaucrats in those positions). But he definitely does not get a pass if he was installed in power primarily in order to make sure the communists never came back and the stolen wealth was largely kept (which suspicion remains very strong). Regardless, none of that changes the fact that Russia is still divided internally and that is kneecapping the war effort.

          1. Piotr Berman

            I read that personal sanctions against “Putin’s oligarchs” were implemented by copying Forbes list of the richest folks in Russia, so there are no opportunities of being “pro-Western oligarchs” unless you have already moved your loot abroad and live there, in which case you are a Russian oligarch no more. I conjecture that it significantly cut on capital flight and the need to maintain a hefty trade surplus.

      3. Kouros

        I plan to go this Tuesday for chep tickets, to watch on the big screen “Civil War”, to at least in my imagination see the defeat of the US. I am curious on the take of the movie, whether the class strugle and inclome inequality and outrageous behavior of the US elites will come into play, or will all be all about wokeism and idpol.

        Russian victory in Ukraine will retrench the US oligarchy, that will bide their time, but will be undeterred. As Aristotle was saying, the arc of history favors oligarchy…

    2. SocalJimObjects

      I don’t see how Russia’s inevitable victory in Ukraine will somehow translate to the defeat of the US ruling class. Even with Ukraine’s looming loss, it’s not as if the world will stop using the US Dollars the next day. The US is separated by two huge oceans from Asia and Europe, and no country is going to take the fight to the US homeland, so there’s no reason whatsoever for US elites to not feel secure. And no, there won’t be a revolution either, because Americans are just not that brave, if I have a cent every time I read an article from some right winger calling for a revolution, I would be richer than God.

      If anything is going to save us from WWIII, it’s probably nature, like some kind of deathly virus and/or some huge scale natural disaster.

      1. Mikel

        “If anything is going to save us from WWIII, it’s probably nature, like some kind of deathly virus and/or some huge scale natural disaster…”

        Only if it sufficiently disrupts the realtionships for a sustained period among the global oligarchy.

      2. Snailslime

        Russia would probably agree, in fact they explicitely pointed out that Ukraine IS a luxury for the US, a vanity project.

        But the US insisted on treating Ukraine AS IF it was existential and incessantly told this to their european vassals and the whole world.

        And in doing so they overinvested, not in money, they can easily tank that, not really material either though in the medium term it has rendered them more vulnerable and reduced their already seriously limited ability to project hard power further.

        They will re-fill their stocks eventually though, even if it takes a while and as you rightly pointed out, nobody is going to invade them in the meantime.

        They overinvested in prestige and “believability” though, they invested and lost too much of the myth of american military superiority and invincibility, the confidence that America and Friends would win ww III and easy peasy at that if it ever actually came.

        Sure, there were plenty of reasons to doubt that before, but it is one thing when the US eventually has to retreat after decades after some initial success, and ab completely different thing when it increasingly IS revealed that it wouldn’t get a foot on the ground in a war with a serious opponent.

        When it stands to be expected that US forces would be butchered in huge numbers and their most sophisticated technology would be matched and successfullycountered from day one.

        They have grown accustomed to not being able to defeat a sustained insurgency, claiming that mobody can do so, so it isn’t any reason for mighty America to be ashamed of it’s failures (though this of course isn’t true, the fact that the US sucks at counter-insurgency doesn’t mean that countless insurgencies throughout history haven’t been crushed completely).

        They still claimed, absurdly, that they would surely win any conventional war, despite being experienced in and prepared for that even less.

        The decimation of their proxy seriously called that into question.

        The dollar system and it’s attractiveness to international speculaters, kleptocrats and parasites of all kinds is one important pillar of american hegemony, but it is not enough, never was, never will be, not by itself.

        Not without superiority in hard power and the ability to project it worldwide or at least a convincing illusion that it can do so.

        US hegemony can’t work without plenty of fear and if countries and governments around the world increasingly stop being afraid of the US (and with every clearcut defeat they grow less so, the more so the more decisive american defeat was), that cannot but weaken it’s stranglehold.

        And that goes both for the defeat of the most powerful NATO proxy in history on the battlefield and of course for the defeat of the sanctions.

        There is also the problem that the specific way the US conducts it’s war in Ukraine increasingly makes it look like a dirty coward, by itself leading to the global majority looking at it ever more with open contempt instead of fear or respect.

        This is sort of a problem because one the ways of the US empire managers to cope with being run out of town by insurgents repeatedly has been to use their media and entertainment arm to portray those same insurgents as dirty cowards who never fought fairly and never would have stood a chance in proper battle against american (and by the way Israeli, as Israel is suffering from exactly the same problem, the IDF having been shown as cowardly posers and bullies, while Hamas came off as daring badasses) supermen, who in turn were depicted as valiant knights or almost superhuman spartan warriors (never mind that in reality for decades now they have been “fighting” almost exclusively from the Air and via drones wherever there was any serious risk expected).

        Ukraine makes Russia look Like the heroic, noble,manly man, “spartan” (the ahistorical, romanticizing fantasy version of the spartans, of course) and the West like craven terrorists, the Ukrainians themselves like a disgusting nazi version of ISIS one can hardly wait to see crushed and that is a quite remarkable unintentional achievement considering that the Russians DID invade (as provoked and even necessary as it may have been), so one totally would expect kneejerk sympathy at the very least to be all on Ukraine’s side, something that increasingly IS failing even across the West and almost certainly also came as a huge shock to Washington and it’s satrap capitals.

        1. Altandmain

          Precisely this.

          Keep in mind that no single defeat is going to be responsible for the fall of the US ruling class. It is a series of losses until we get to the straw that breaks the proverbial US elite’s camel’s back.

          Each is just a hole the ruling class dig deeper. They lost Afghanistan, so they went to fight Russia. Note the aggressive rhetoric these days towards China. Everyone can see that another major dispute is coming.

          I think that the rich are going to be shocked when they realize that they need the Chinese manufacturing industry more than China needs the US. The US pushed a myth of invincibility that peaked during the Gulf War and the breaking of the USSR.

          The rich over-invested in war, economic war through sanctions, and regime change attempts. They poured an enormous amount of resources into propaganda. Well, propaganda can’t cover up for reality.

          Reality is that the US is declining and for the bottom 90% of the Western population, living standards are falling. The rich never wanted the New Deal and were forced to do it, so they’ve spent decades dismantling it. Reality is that the Western liberal “democracy” is fast losing legitimacy and is being exposed as kleptocracy. No amount of propaganda can cover that.

          You can see this among the Democratic Establishment. They see the economy as a “messaging” problem. Not a problem of the economy really being bad. The idea that they should be trying to improve the quality of life for most Americans never enters their corrupt minds. They just make sure that rich people who are their donors steal more wealth.

          There isn’t an understanding that the rise of Trump and Bernie and similar politicians didn’t happen in a vaccum and have become a referendum on their legitimacy. There will be many more anti-Establishment politicians in the coming years unless they get rid of the Democratic pretense although if they do that, it could accelerate the process of American decline.

          Other realities like the US manufacturing base being weak, the US banking system nor being indispensable, as the cutting of Russia from Swift showed, and that other currencies other than the US dollar can be used. Russia beating the sanctions was a shock to them. So too is China building its own chip industry.

          As I said, the main issue is what happens when the US empire falls apart. The USSR broke up without a nuclear war. Will the US accept its fate without one or would the ruling class destroy us out of spite?

    3. GM

      The main worry is that the rich would rather perish with the rest of us in a nuclear war than lose power. That’s certainly a possibility as the rich begin to panic that they are losing power.

      The thing is, that’s not what they plan.

      If it ever gets to a nuclear war, they plan to ride it out in their mansions in the mountains, on various private islands, and in New Zealand (COVID was a trial run — there was reportedly a mass exodus of private jets from both North America and East Asia towards NZ in February 2020, and also internally within the US towards the wealthy enclaves in the mountains).

      This creates a serious problem for any force trying to counter them — if those lunatics are ready to blow it all up because they think they will be insulated from the consequences, what is there to stop them?

      Deterrence works on the assumption that countervalue strikes are actually countervalue. But what if “value” in this case is much more subjective than conventionally understood and even major population centers are not seen as too valuable to lose by those with real power? Then there is no deterrence. Which is, if you think about, precisely what we see now — Russia has been being attacked directly by NATO pretty much daily since late 2022, something unimaginable under conventional understanding of MAD previously…

      Sergei Karaganov had a recent article that directly faced that problem:


      It also appears necessary to alter (to some extent, publicly) the list of targets for nuclear retaliatory strikes. We need to think hard about who, exactly, we intend to deter. After the Americans, “in defense of democracy” and for the sake of their imperial ambitions, have killed millions in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Iraq, committed monstrous acts of aggression against Yugoslavia and Libya, and against all warnings deliberately cast hundreds of thousands—maybe even millions—of Ukrainians into the fire of war, there is no guarantee that the threat of retaliation, even against cities, is a sufficient deterrent for the globalist oligarchy. Simply put, they do not care even about their own citizens, and will not be frightened by casualties among them.

      Maybe it would be worth designating this oligarchy’s gathering places as targets for the first wave, or even for preemptive retribution strikes?

      God struck Sodom and Gomorrah—mired in abomination and debauchery—with a rain of fire. The modern equivalent: a limited nuclear strike on Europe. Another hint from The Old Testament: to cleanse the world, God unleashed the Great Flood. Our Poseidon nuclear torpedoes can trigger similar floods by tsunamis. Today, most brazenly aggressive states are coastal. The globalist oligarchy and the deep state should not hope to escape as Noah and his pious family did.

      But even he doesn’t quite get it — he thinks losing NYC and the SF Bay Area is going to deter the oligarchy. I am not so sure — what if the oligarchy counts on being able to board its private planes and leaving those areas towards the southern hemisphere before the missiles fly? And are ready to play the game of nuclear chicken all the way to the end?

      The other solution is to go after them directly. But here we run into both practical and conceptual problems.

      On the latter, the sad reality is that the whole “multipolarity” thing is not a quest towards a better world, but a fight between mafia clans. The USSR was built on such ideals, but it is long gone, and we are back to the historical normal now. Think of it as the West aiming to replicate something like what the Corleonesi clan did in Sicily back in the 1980s on a global scale — wipe out/subjugate all the other clans using extreme violence and ruthlessness. But it wasn’t the case that the other clans were fighting for social justice and development, they were mafia families too. Same situation right now with Russia — it is a neoliberal regime run by and for the elites, and they only very reluctantly started to resist when their Western counterparts demanded too large a share of the loot. And it’s to this day not the case that all of them are united in that resistance — very far from it, there is a very strong faction that prefers to submit to Western rule in exchange for going back to the good times of the 1990s and 2000s (good times for them, that is), even if it means a somewhat smaller cut of the loot. It is a big reason why the war has been fought in the pathetically weak way we have witnessed over the last couple years — either Putin himself thinks the same way and does not want to irreversibly sever all ties with the West, or he is too afraid that if he does something too drastic, they will overthrow him. “Something too drastic” meaning taking meaningful kinetic measures to stop the flow of weapons into Ukraine or enforcing deterrence by going after the Western oligarchy. That last move is particularly dangerous internally — we all know how Western media likes to portray Putin as a mass murderer who kills his political opponents, and there may well have been some of that in the past, but the key word is “some”, and it was always covert. But what would happen if he is to send some missiles directly at Blackrock’s HQ during working hours and take out the likes of Larry Fink for the crime of having appropriated a quarter of Ukraine and driving this senseless war? It is quite likely that he will have huge problems internally because his own bankers and other oligarchs will be mortally scared they will be taken out openly too, plus the unspoken truth is that they have always seen themselves as belonging to the same group as the Western financial oligarchy, their in-group isn’t the grunts dying in the trenches in Donbass, and that is still true to this day despite all the evidence that the Western financial oligarchy doesn’t at all see the Russian rich as part of their group. These are the kind of illusion that are very hard to do away with…

      Then there is the issue of the practicalities. Let’s say you are Russia (and let’s say we add China and Iran to the mix, it doesn’t change all that much), and you have decided to decapitate the Western oligarchy while sparing population centers, i.e. only using conventional means. Well, you have a numbers problem. The reason oligarchy (not just the Western one) wins over time is its distributed and dispersed nature (plus the fact it arises out of the most fundamental defects of human nature — gluttony, greed, sloth, envy, etc.), while if you are going to fight it, you need to impose strong central rule, and that creates singular points of failure. The likes of the Bolsheviks, the Chinese and Korean communists, etc. were very good at it early on when they themselves were highly distributed while also united towards a common goal, but over time as they took power they themselves devolved into a distributed oligarchy in the 1970s and 1980s.

      In military-technical terms, how many people do you need to take out to decapitate and defang the beast, where are those people at any given time, can you track their locations, do you have the means to deliver the strikes, etc. etc.? Unfortunately, the answers are not positive here — it is many thousands of people scattered in various locations outside major population centers all over the world, and aside from those in Europe, mostly out of range for cheap conventional missiles that can be delivered quickly. Even in Europe it is a problem — the INF Treaty made sure Russia doesn’t have the kind of massive stockpile of ground launched cruise missiles, and short- and medium-range ballistic missiles that you would expect it to have given what e.g. Iran has in its arsenal now and the historical R&D and manufacturing capabilities of Russia in that area. And even if you combine the Russian and Chinese navies, and park all those ships in the Caribbean, along the US coasts and around Australia and New Zealand, then you still have a salvo that is an order of magnitude smaller than it needs to be. So you can’t take them out all at once, it is physically impossible. But if you start taking them out openly piecemeal, then those that you have not taken out after the first such strike may well launch the nukes in retaliation (plus we are back to the problem above about what your own oligarchic traitors will do in such a case). Even if you drop a nuke on Davos while they are gathered there, that will only take out a small fraction of them all.

      So the picture is extremely bleak right now — if those lunatics are ready to go to the end, there is little anyone can do to stop them. An October 1917-style event internally in the West could in principle do it, but the mass mind control mechanisms today are so effective that there is zero prospect of that happening any time soon…

      It didn’t have to be that way, but you know the old saying — there will be never be communist revolution in the US because most Americans think of themselves as temporarily inconvenienced millionaires. The desire to dominate and exploit others is too strong and people will readily support a system that dominates and exploits them in exchange for the vague promise that one day they will get to do the same themselves. That’s the basic human failing that will bring an end to all of us eventually…

    4. Sally

      The problem is that we have a “ruling class.” It’s existence is contrary and enimical to a representative democracy.

  2. Ben Panga

    “There’s also the issue of how to check the power of parasitic finance capitalists that would immediately start to erode any efforts to improve the national situation.”

    Truer words never written!

    Hard to see how any meaningful improvement, not just in the geopolitical realm, can happen without solving this. How that might be done is beyond me. I suspect things will have to get much worse first.
    Thanks for the detailed and interesting post Conor

    1. digi_owl

      Glad to see someone still know how to make biting political cartoons.

      And that is quite the rictus grin on Biden.

        1. John Wright

          John Kerry may be an example of why change will NOT come from the US leadership class.

          A young John Kerry, back from serving in the US Navy in Vietnam, protested the Vietnam War.

          But an older, politically sensitive, Senator John Kerry, fell in behind George W. Bush’s Iraq war effort.

          I remember the late Kurt Vonnegut’s statement about the Bush Vs Kerry 2004 election.

          “Two C students from Yale, members of Skull and Bones”.

          Some wines improve with age, Kerry did not.

          1. GC54

            Another great Vonnegut comment on those times

            “I never imagined that the country would one day be run by a Bush, a Dick, and a Colin.”

  3. DJG, Reality Czar

    I realize that it is considered obsolete to point to many U.S. problems as results of underlying racism. Liberals can’t p-p-p-possibly be racist, and conservatives think that they are redeemed now that they don’t use the expression Uppity Negro.

    Yet I will point out: The U.S. still suffers from being organized like a plantation, and like the U.S. South, it is engaged in colonialism–a kind of self-colonialism, stripping away its own assets. In the grand and big house, the masters and mistresses lose great fortunes on speculation and games of whist. The plantation overseers, who enforce the system through torture devices like “right to work” laws, beat the crap out of the slaves. The slaves are just trying to get by–but their superiors are appalled that the slaves fail to appreciate the lifetime offer of employment. Ungrateful wretches.

    Further, as I have harped on, so much is reinforced by U.S. discourse, which is Baptist testifying and Methodist sermonizing, forever. Victoria Nuland and others like her are only too happy to lead the diligent deaconesses of the Methodist Bible Society for Redemption of the Souls of Heathen Babies and Papist Children around the world, showing the uneducated the right way to do things. You can forget the Epistle of James and good works.

    James 2:17: “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.”


    I think that Yves Smith points in a correct direction: values. But that means realizing that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution do not mention capitalism. The Constitution is agnostic as to economic organization–yes, post office, roads, canals, but that doesn’t mean free-market capitalism. Neither state document mentions political parties. Yet the vast majority of U.S. citizens “believe” otherwise.

    It’s going to require a battle such as that waged by FDR to create the New Deal–at a time when no U.S. politician is as talented as FDR, who relied on the insightful Eleanor Roosevelt, a force of nature, to further his political goals. (Useful exercise in the “First Lady Sweepstakes”: Eleanor Roosevelt, Hillary Clinton, Jill Biden. Choose.)

    How does one undo so much propaganda? How does one prepare for this battle?

    1. digi_owl

      IMO USA use racism as a proxy for classism.

      And likely something inherited from England via WASPs.

      1. cfraenkel

        Yes, the classism came first. It was originally brought over by the English aristocracy’s second and third sons, since that’s how they saw the world. The feudal lord of the manor, and everyone else. At first, the plantations were manned by England’s (and Scotland’s) poor, and only when that labor pool couldn’t supply enough hands did the English oligarchy start importing labor from Africa. They’d already been supplying the Spanish oligarchy with African labor in the Caribbean when the indigenous population had been worked to death.

        1. JBird4049

          Yes, the classism came first. It was originally brought over by the English aristocracy’s second and third sons, since that’s how they saw the world.

          The book White Trash: The Four-Hundred Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg is a good start to understand how real class is in the United States of America. The term “human manure” is quoted in the book.

          1. Lena

            Thank you for the recommendation, JBird. I see that my local library has several copies of Isenberg’s book. I definitely want to read it.

    2. DJG, Reality Czar

      Yikes. Conor points to values (not Yves Smith).

      Thanks to Tinky (below).

      And thank you, Conor.

    3. Carolinian

      We are like the plantation days in the sense that the planters spent a lot of time worrying about the slaves rising up and killing them. They even used this as the excuse to continue slavery (it was fading in the border states). And out of the same fear when the war was over the Klan was started to intimidate the former slaves.

      But it would be a mistake to suggest this was somehow unique to the South or that violence isn’t always used to maintain class distinctions. Not to be snarky but this tendency toward dominance should be born in mind by those who think we humans are inherently “nice.” I would suggest the only way to counter our inherent nature is not morality but reason. We need to become smarter, not nicer. Maybe the latter will happen as a result.

      The founders, operating in the so called age of reason, had the right idea but limited weapons against the powerful force of unreason (including their own). As Franklin quite reasonably said: “if you can keep it.’

  4. HH

    Yves has hit a home run in this piece. I would add that it is not just short-sighted greed of the oligarchs that is ruining the U.S. It is the uncoordinated squabbling among them, reflected in the gridlocked Congress of their flunkies in Washington. The U.S. oligarchy lacks the cohesion to create coherent national policies promoting the health and competitive viability of the nation. The U.S. corporate gangsters are so fixated on their own pieces of turf that they are incapable of working toward greater national goals, and this will be our downfall.

      1. Lena

        Give Conor some love, people! Thank you Conor for this excellent piece.

        Echoing a commenter above, I don’t know how we get out of this circle of hell when the majority of the population believe Putin=Bad, China=Bad, and in the Dems case, Biden=Good. People who support either of the established political parties are brainwashed zombies. It is difficult to discern what their values are. Many of them continue to believe Israel=Good. The propaganda machine is working very well indeed, even when nothing else is.

        We may dream of a FDR-type savior (Bernie had his moment!) or a grassroots revolution (hoping for a bloodless one!) but it ain’t coming, not in my lifetime. A well-meaning evangelical friend says she prays for “revival” but it’s not the kind NC readers are looking for. I have no answers.

        1. CA

          “Give Conor some love, people! Thank you Conor for this excellent piece…”

          Conor Gallagher, this essay is superb. I am very grateful for it, and will make that known.

  5. john r fiore

    One can go back to 1851, president Fillmore sendind the japanese Shogun a demand via letter and then thru Commodore Perry, gunboats, that it was the “duty and obligation” of the US to force japan to “open up” or face consquences. Fillmore saw the success of the British gunboats forcing the opening of china 10 years earlier. Never did Fillmore question the barbarity of the opium wars on the chinese people. Next, I would add that it was the much beleaguered Boris Yeltsin and Viktor Chernomyrdin who saw thru the “shock therapy” (immediate privatization of everything) in 1993 and asked the “experts” to leave. Yeltsin, to his credit, also questioned and criticized all ideas of NATO expansion publicly asking “why is it necessary that europe needs a security bloc guaranteed by the americans…”, and so, a younger, tougher ex KGB and deputy mayor of St. Petersburg, one Vladimir (name vladimir by his parents because Saint Vladimir brought christianity to Russia) Putin to be his PM and succeed him.

    1. yep

      You credit Yeltsin with empty words, and being replaced with someone better. Millions of people saw thru the “shock therapy”, but couldn’t do anything about it. The much beleaguered guys were in charge. Their actions speak much louder than words.

    2. Cat Burglar

      Recall — it was the Russian Congress of People’s Deputies (aka the last democratically elected Russian parliament) that opposed shock therapy.

      The Congress impeached him, so security forces shelled the building and arrested the legislators –this was all supported by the Clinton Admnistration. Shock therapy was demonstrated to be more important to the US than democracy in Russia.

      Americans that lament the passing of democracy in Russia should ask themselves who was responsible for it.

  6. Paul Art

    Yes thanks Conor and Yves. This was a great piece.
    The only solution that seems practical is a massive culling of the greedy. It is good and healthy for the entire World. Negotiations were tried by FDR and the New Deal but the greedy are like the Scorpion on the Frogs back. They just can’t help themselves ergo grab that can of pesticide. I hope they start with Bill Clinton and Robert Rubin along with Larry Summers.

  7. Kurtismayfiekd

    The problem is that if the elites cannot push their agenda outwards, they will point it inwards. I am afraid for the future generations who have to live under their thumb.

  8. digi_owl

    Given that the likes of Pelosi is raking it in from legal insider trading, fat chance Congress will do anything.

    And if one start to enumerate the western leaders and advisers that have a blood feud going with Russia as the heir of USSR it will likely be a large one.

    Welcome to the neo-gilded age, everyone. Lets hope that humanity survives this one as well.

  9. The Rev Kev

    If the elite were mostly composed of hard-headed business people, then it might be that they would understand that a serious course correction is necessary. But they aren’t. These are the people that wrecked the world economy in 2008 and all that happened was that the US government bailed them out without anybody going to jail for what they did. Hell, they even gave themselves bonuses just after. And they know that if they wreck things again, that they will never have to pay a price for it. But things are changing. They use to use the Pentagon to punish any country that did not do what they wanted but those days are coming to a close. But they will not change how they act and this quote explains why-

    ‘People of privilege will always risk their complete destruction rather than surrender any material part of their advantage. Intellectual myopia, often called stupidity, is no doubt a reason. But the privileged also feel that their privileges, however egregious they may seem to others, are a solemn, basic, God-given right. The sensitivity of the poor to injustice is a trivial thing compared with that of the rich.’

    – John Kenneth Galbraith, The Age of Uncertainty

    These people cannibalized the world for centuries and when that was not enough, they cannibalized America itself but in doing so, destroyed the mechanisms that they use to keep control with. They still imagine that they can use finance instead of a real economy to control the world but not going to happen. The world is changing too much.

    1. digi_owl

      Ironically Galbraith was a trustee of of the Century Foundation who’s publication triggered the above article.

    2. B Popolo

      “If the elite were mostly composed of hard-headed business people, then it might be that they would understand that a serious course correction is necessary. But they aren’t.”

      Agree. The wars make zero sense from an economic perspective, particularly when you consider that the economic problem the elite has named is inflation.

      Russia, China, mid-east? You’ve got to be kidding me.

      1. Gregory Etchason

        War makes sense if it’s your business model. It’s no coincidence that last week before the Iran counteroffensive, Biden stated “The US will send Israel missiles for the “Iron Shield.” Wala now comes the direct government transfers to Raytheon, Gen Dynamics and Lockheed.
        Winning isn’t their priority. Only destruction and chaos leading to more orders for weapons.
        The most damning thing is many “progressives seemed to have kissed the ring of the Military Industrial Complex as the last bastion of a living wage for many workers in the US.

        1. Dick Vas

          Business makes sense if conquest is your goal in a capitalist state. Capitalism is not an economic system – it is a system of conquest using primarily economic means. Where necessary, it also uses murder, rape and pillage at every scale; from individuals to nation-states. I could go on but why? The PC (which includes the PMC) is as myopic as any other well-compensated class under capitalism.

  10. carolina concerned

    Great summary review article and comments. It is readily obvious now, as indicated by the current state of our presidential election, that the US government is firmly controlled by the elite classes. The general population, as in government of the people, by the people, and for the people, have lost influence for the foreseeable future. As evidence, the supreme court has been formally sold out for the rest of our lives. The future of the values of world culture depend on Eurasia. We really need Europe, especially Germany and France, to break from reliance on the US and develop a freer trade, and even military, alliance with Russia and China. We need a new world order whose foundation is the values that have been rejected by the US.

  11. i just dont like the gravy

    I haven’t had a chance to finish reading all the comments, but in case anyone is curious, the answer is Americans will choose war.

    I’m investing in canned food & ammo futures. This is not financial advice talk to your local CFA.

    1. Lena

      I think “choose war” is the correct assessment. My liberal Dem friends are lusting for it. We are lost.

      Stocking up on canned goods is a smart idea. I suggest store brands. Dollar stores are also a place to get them cheap. A friend told me you can eat Dinty Moore type stews without even heating them up. Try this at your own risk. Also stock up on manually operated can openers for when power is gone.

      1. juno mas

        The problem with a steady diet of canned food is the surfeit of salt. Bad for your health…but if it’s the only alternative to sate hunger, then goferrit. An alternative is become active with your local organic farm.

        1. Lena

          I’m very careful about my nutrition, always have been. I rarely consume canned goods although some are okay if you check the ingredients well. I confess my cat does eat nothing but canned food. She is so picky.

    2. digi_owl

      Largely because there is nothing to really lose, thanks to fortress USA’s oceanic moats.

      The chance that NYC or SF will see anything like the bombing campaigns USAF has inflicted on others over the decades is highly unlikely, at least at present.

      For that to happen, China or Russia would have to turn Mexico or Cuba into their very own Ramstein or Diego Garcia. And DC would have a collective stroke at the mere mention.

      1. redleg

        You are missing something important- nuclear weapons. China and Russia without a doubt have the capability to lay waste to vast areas of the USA. They have the warheads and the delivery systems available for use right now. They don’t need bases in Mexico or Cuba to do this.

        I think that your view is precisely how the US ruling class sees the situation, and is why all of us are in grave danger.

      2. ex-PFC Chuck

        If Russia finds itself faced with a doomsday scenario they will release their Poseidon torpedoes. These are nuclear-powered and carry a 50MT thermonuclear warhead. They are carried by nuclear-powered submarines on routine patrols. The nuclear propulsion of these torpedoes enables them to be hundreds or thousands of miles away from their detonation points when they are released. These points will be in deep water not far off of the North American continental shelves of both oceans. The detonation of the 50 megaton warheads will create tsunamis of radioactive water that are hundreds of feet high when coming ashore, and will make what’s left of coastal cities uninhabitable.

  12. Rob Urie

    Excellent piece Conor.

    My wife called from D.C. this morning where she is visiting a friend. She (wife), who lived in Manhattan during the flush years of Wall Street, said that D.C. is the richest place she has ever seen.

    In the midst of US-sponsored war and genocide, the political class is so rich it doesn’t know what to do with all the money.

    The only workable solution is provided in the comments. Ending the propaganda would open up a lot of political space.

  13. B Popolo

    The “right people” could still make a trade relationship with China (and others around the world) work for them, which is why I don’t believe all the war mongering is in the service of capitalism.

    Rather, US capitalism itself is so debased and removed from the activities that ostensibly produce corporate profits that no capitalist elite are paying any attention to the destructive impacts that essentially neoconservative/ cold war liberal foreign policy people– who have been removed and sheltered from basic material questions for an even longer period of time– are having on the economic prospects of even the wealthy.

    American foreign policy and American elite finance are both taking place in two distant yet separate and distinct simulacra far from the remains of real trade, living off deficits and (in particular) the low-no interest private credit expansion that low interest rates enabled.

    Much of this private credit creation never reaches the real economy at all, except when the beneficiaries of unproductive asset inflation chase after the goods and services elite American finance no longer has any interest in providing, increasing inflation for everyone else. Those with no access to this credit driven simulation factory are going to take it from both ends until the whole fantasy economy collapses in ruin.

    In other words, it has long been apparent that the America capitalist elite is not interested in manufacturing. They are no longer interested in trade either. They don’t need it. They distribute “profit” to themselves practically out of thin air.

    Something else is motivating the war mongering.

    1. Cat Burglar

      Consider the case made by Aurelien — a lot of policy can be explained by ignorance, fear, and inertia.

      As individuals, policymaking types have clear career pathways set out for them, and all they have to do is work on their accreditation, serve their time, tick the boxes, and provide policy options that hew to all accepted assumptions. NATO was to expand because that is what NATO does.

      We get to find out what happens when the simulacra hit the icebergs.

    2. Jeremy Grimm

      “If the elite were mostly composed of hard-headed business people, then it might be that they would understand that a serious course correction is necessary. But they aren’t.” — The Rev Kev at 8:52 am

      To me this raises the question: What is the composition of the Elites, the-powers-that-be? That question in turn suggests the questions:
      How are u.s. Elites structured? What are their motivations and interests?
      The u.s. Elites are not the bourgeoisie in a conflict with the u.s. proletariat. I do not believe the Professional Managerial Class [PMC] has any more sway over u.s. Elites than plantation overseers had over plantation owners. I believe the u.s. Elites are composed of contending groups with some shared and some conflicting motivations and interests. Elite motivations and interests orbit Wealth, Status, and Power but different components of the Elite are differently attracted by these poles. I also believe that not all actors in the u.s. Elite are individual humans. Some actors are human organizations driven by motivations and interests derivative from the humans that gave them birth and compose them but many of those motivations have grown ever more alien to human motivations. Many of those motivations exist within nonhuman time frames and fruit in nonhuman payoffs — for example quarterly returns without regard for future decay, or the destruction and conquest of rival organizations without concern for collateral destruction of human life. Sociopaths share some but not all of these motivations and live within human not quarterly time — although there appear to be synergies between human and organizational socialpathies.

      The u.s. oligarchs — a category which, to me, equates with those components of the u.s. Elite whose primary motivations orbit Wealth and Status — engineered globalization and the dismantling of u.s. Industry. They lined their pockets and crushed the Power of Labor. Different components of the u.s. Elite, whose primary motivations orbit Power and Status are behind the pursuit of the many wars the u.s. has been a part. I believe the interests of Petroleum Cartels the MICIMATT [Military-Industrial-Congressional-Intelligence-Media-Academia-Think-Tank] and the Neocon elements of the u.s. Elite align with pursuit of the many u.s. wars. I believe all components of the u.s. Elites regard the rest of Humankind as a resource to be exploited.

      Industrial and bureaucratic shortcomings, economic hardship, and a government lacking legitimacy may have led to the rise of the Bolsheviks. I suspect that other mechanisms of Collapse — Climate Chaos, crop failures, flooding and drought, resource depletion and end of the Age of Fossil Fuels may impact the u.s. before that can happen. I expect the responses to these threats by the u.s. Elites will continue to grow their chaotic madness.

      1. Lefty Godot

        Elite motivations and interests orbit Wealth, Status, and Power but different components of the Elite are differently attracted by these poles.

        One other pole affecting the “orbit” is religious fanaticism. A lot of the Christian Nationalist and other fundamentalist extremist factions (both Christian and Jewish) are funded by the super-wealthy. And that’s been going on since the latter days of the 19th century. Buying your way into the ideal afterlife is just as attractive as buying your family the best in this life.

  14. ISL

    Excellent piece, Connor. The Key sentence quote in the article is:

    “Part of that strategy was to take control of the industry by [China] manipulating the motivations of Wall Street.”

    which is pure BS, because manipulation was not needed. At is heart the problem is the incentives (legal corporate structure, created by the US oligarchy). Unless the incentives are changed (think failed, multi-decade war on drugs), the outcome will remain the same.

  15. Philip

    Outstanding piece, Conor. It pulls together two of the most important questions facing humanity. One being that history offers no precedent for an empire voluntarily accepting its own slow decline; the other, most thoroughly opened up by thinkers like Michael Hudson, that US defeat in Ukraine throws a terawatt beam on the folly even for a ruling class of hyper-financialising the West while exporting manufacturing.

  16. Ignacio

    Thank you for this Conor. Prof Hudson calls the parasitic finance capitalists “rentier capitalism”. The later term being more technical is equally descriptive.

  17. old ghost

    Is this a typo in the article?

    “At the top was a Russian noble family and at the bottom 100,000 peasants and workers with nobody much in between but the priesthood and the overseers.”

    Should the number be 100 million, not 100 thousand?

    1. Conor Gallagher Post author

      I went back and double-checked. That is the correct quote from Hoover https://hoover.archives.gov/sites/default/files/research/ebooks/b1v1_full.pdf (pg 103).
      While the average noble estate would have serfs numbering in the hundreds, it’s likely Hoover was referring to a noble family with which he was familiar: “ This estate contained about 1,500,000 acres, comprising agricultural land, great forests, important copper deposits, an iron, steel and chemical industry, with a population of about 100,000 peasants and workers. The property belonged to a distant branch of the Romanoff family, then headed by Baron Mellor Zakomelsky.”

      1. AG

        I had to do a little research into noble families before WWII:
        For pre-1917 Russia one paper said 80.000 aristocrats owned as much land as 50 mio. minor land owners/peasants.

        One thing Western elites never understood – as they never understood their own working-class – the post 1917-sit. completely changed the status of every one of these 50. mio.+ individuals. They suddenly had a voice. This revolutionized urban life, and upset all levels of daily conduct in the cities which scared the hell of the Hoover-types and their acolytes. Because if not totally distorted they knew that the emancipation was humane and deeply just. However post WWII-historic studies like in Germany have managed to vilify and simplify these cataclysmic events. And as a result in order to defend Putin one must quote him on saying that the USSR was a mistake and one must align with people like frm. US-Ambassador Matlock and find the Bolsheviks the worst species on the planet. Suddenly Reagan and his lot are the good guys!

        p.s. Wiki claims:

        “(….)A 2018 study in the American Economic Review found “substantial increases in agricultural productivity, industrial output, and peasants’ nutrition in Imperial Russia as a result of the abolition of serfdom in 1861″(…)”

  18. Glen

    Thanks Connor, great article. I have been watching this transformation my whole career. I think it could be reversed, but it would take a huge transformation of America, and I don’t see how that is politically possible at this point. Obama was our last, best chance for this; he campaigned on it, won everything, and then betrayed the country. He got rich and powerful which seems to be the end all, be all.

    Our elites, masters of the universe, oligarchs, DC politicians still have it very, very good, and cannot understand exactly how weak and wobbly they have made the country. They have no first hand experience with the horrors of war, nuclear or not. They have always gotten MOAR, get bailed out when it implodes, and nobody goes to jail, ever. They are uniquely unqualified to be in charge, making decisions at this point in America’s history.

    I have no idea what they will do. If Biden continues to try push in Ukraine, the Middle East and China, he will lose the conflicts, and the election. If he gives up on any of that, I suspect he will double down on blaming his political opponents, and take it out on average Americans. He’s painted himself into a corner mostly because he cannot ever accept that him and his peers have wrecked America, and the American Empire.

  19. JonnyJames

    Excellent article, thank you Mr. Gallagher. You use accurate language and call it as it is.

    Re; manufacturing coming back to America – not nearly enough trained workers, AND the overhead costs are much too high in the US vs. China and other countries. Housing, so-called health insurance, medicines, education, are among the most expensive in the world, AND a crumbling and antiquated electrical grid infrastructure and transportation infrastructure also underline this point. It’s wishful thinking

  20. Terry Flynn

    Friend of mine is senior consultant in UK. Has decided we should cosy up to China not USA. He is NOT CCP sympathiser. Merely someone who sees which way the wind is blowing. Very “capitalist” but knows the west is a ponzi.

    I’m interested in how he thinks things should proceed.

  21. VietnamVet

    Connor. An outstanding post. It put words to reality.

    The corporate-state Western Empire is bound to fall. The outsourced USA cannot withstand the shock of withdrawing back home and living within its limited resources and sick workforce without access to the goods and raw materials from 75% of the rest of the world because they will be unaffordable. The Elite are so detached and arrogant that they don’t see that the NATO/Russia and Israel/Iran conflicts (World War III) will destroy them and the rest of humanity once the first tactical nuclear weapon is ignited and unleashes the world’s ICBMs to avoid their loss in a first strike. They only see the profit in war and exploitation of people and the earth’s resources.

    The only alternative is the restoration of secular democratic republics in the West with Armistices, effective DMZs to separate the combatants, and an end to the propaganda. The return of actual facts and the truth is necessary to assure peace during coming Second Cold War in a multi-polar globe with the West the weaker, poorer, block of nations.

    1. sarmaT

      The return “of actual facts and the truth” implicates that they were present at some point. They were not.

      You are still stuck in “inside the box thinking”. DMZ where? In someone else’s backyard, or in yours? How about Atlantic Ocean? Armistices with whom? Signature of USA/NATO/EU assures only one thing. That whatever is signed will be broken at first opportunity. Would you trust USA/NATO/EU doing what they signed, if you personally made some agreement with them?

      I do agree on the second Cold War being just around the corner. The coflicts happening now are all about moving the new Iron Curtain. NATO pushed it too far east, and Russians are pushing it back westwards. Currently NATO dreams about it being at Dniper, but prepares for Danube. Many Eastern Europeans hope that it will move further westwards.

  22. Feral Finster

    It should be abundantly obvious by now that the sociopaths who rule over us would without hesitation kill us all rather than accept limits on their power.

  23. hoki haya

    these are highly valuable and insightful articles. may i again recommend that you hold one last round of editing before publication? credibility!

  24. AG

    Enjoyed the text by Conor and the commentariat.

    As to von der Leyen – today she is better known as co-heiress to the candy-producing BAHLSEN company, which is based in her hometown Hannover. Bahlsen producing cookies and biscuits has a revenue of over 500 Mio. Euros. I don´t know how exactly the von der Leyen clan is queued into the wealth there.

    Her father was once CEO of the company.

    From English Wiki:
    “(…)German politician Ernst Albrecht (1930–2014) was member of the management board of Bahlsen in the 1970s and the press gave him the nickname “Cookie Monster”.(…)”

    So much about cookie monsters lately…

    Albrecht being Ursula´s Dad. He almost became candidate for chancellory for the CDU (beaten out over that by CSU boss Franz Josef Strauß, MoD under Adenauer and MoF under Kiesinger).

    * * *

    As war, defeat and oligarchy go – I always found much sympathy for Noam Chomsky´s argument, that Vietnam in its essence was not a defeat but a brilliant victory – since in the long run it achieved the major goal.

    The labour-movement, the populace of Vietnam was devastated. The threat of offering a succesful example for popular uprising to other nations was destroyed, so no other nation dared to commit the same mistake. (aka “rotten apple theorem”)

    Vietnam might have upset certain economic rules of the house but those rules could be changed. And the house has been running affairs since.

    So I am not so sure about how much Afghanistan was a defeat.

    It caused troubles for everyone around. But not the US.
    Same true for Iraq etc.

    If the Monroe Doctrine gave away one axiom it´s the understanding that the US will accept any cost to its alleged political ideas and nominal allies unless the empire itself is under threat – a threat that is contained by the infamous backyard rule – which for the last time was threatened by Imperial Japan – which shows you how far the backyard reaches.

    Proximity would demand taking responsibility. And that´s no-go for any emperor. The emperor rules by proxies after all. And those proxies take the bullet.

    p.s. from infamous secret NSC-68 devised by Paul Nitze in 1950, outlining what is still Alpha and Omega for US security:

    “(…) The antipathy of slavery to freedom explains the iron curtain, the isolation, the autarchy of the
    society whose end is absolute power. The existence and persistence of the idea of freedom is a
    permanent and continuous threat to the foundation of the slave society; and it therefore regards
    as intolerable the long continued existence of freedom in the world. What is new, what makes the
    continuing crisis, is the polarization of power which now inescapably confronts the slave society
    with the free.
    The assault on free institutions is world-wide now, and in the context of the present polarization
    of power a defeat of free institutions anywhere is a defeat everywhere.(…)”


  25. CA


    November 30, 2008

    Keep Your Distance

    Chapel Hill, N.C.

    ON election night, Nov. 8, 1932, Herbert Hoover, in the company of friends and neighbors at his home on the Stanford campus, sifted through returns that were rendering a verdict on a presidency begun so hopefully on a March day in 1929. As she observed him — his eyes bloodshot, his face ashen, his expression registering disbelief and dismay — a little girl asked, “Mommy, what do they do to a president to make a man look like Mr. Hoover does?”

    The campaign had been brutal. Detroit had to call out mounted police to protect the president from the fury of jobless auto workers chanting “Hang Hoover!”

    “I’ve been traveling with presidents since Theodore Roosevelt’s time, and never before have I seen one actually booed with men running out into the streets to thumb their noses at him,” said a Secret Service agent. “It’s not a pretty sight.”

    Even so, the returns on election night exceeded Hoover’s worst fears. The president suffered the greatest thrashing up to that point in a two-candidate race in the history of the Republican Party, and his opponent, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, became the first Democrat to enter the White House with a popular majority since Franklin Pierce 80 years earlier.

    Two features made his defeat especially galling. One was that he knew the outcome was less an expression of approval for the challenger than a rejection of the incumbent. The other was that, despite being a pariah, he was expected to soldier on for nearly four more months — until March 4, 1933. The 20th Amendment, moving Inauguration Day to January, was close to being ratified but would not take effect until 1937. He was fated to be the last lame-duck president of the old order.

    Hoover determined to exploit this interim to salvage his presidency. No sooner had the ballots been counted than he invited Governor Roosevelt to confer with him. The overture gave every appearance of being an exceptionally generous offer to share power with the man who had vanquished him. In fact, it was the first step of a scheme to undo the results of the election. Hoover acted, the historian Frank Freidel later wrote, “as though he felt it was his duty to save the nation, indeed the world, from the folly of the American voters.”

    On Nov. 22, Hoover welcomed Roosevelt to the White House. Throughout the meeting, he treated his successor as though he were a thickheaded schoolboy who needed drilling on intransitive verbs. He sought to bully the president-elect into endorsing the administration’s policies at home and abroad, especially sustaining the gold standard at whatever cost. Alert to Hoover’s intent, Roosevelt smiled, nodded, smiled again, but made no commitment. A frustrated Hoover later vowed, “I’ll have my way with Roosevelt yet.”

    Hoover returned to the attack in February. He sent the president-elect a hectoring 10-page handwritten letter that misspelled Roosevelt’s name (as “Roosvelt”). As a consequence of the flight of gold and runs on banks, Hoover wrote, there was “steadily degenerating confidence in the future.” His wise policies, he claimed, had brought an upturn in the summer of 1932. Since then, though, he said, there had been a sharp decline because the country was unnerved by Roosevelt’s election, for it feared that the new president would embark on radical experiments. Hoover concluded by asking Roosevelt to restore confidence by stating publicly that there would be “no tampering” with the currency and that “the budget will be unquestionably balanced, even if further taxation is necessary.”

    Three days after writing this letter, Hoover told an archconservative senator that “if these declarations be made by the president-elect, he will have ratified the whole major program of the Republican administration; that is, it means the abandonment of 90 percent of the so-called new deal.” To another Republican senator, he spelled out what he demanded that his successor renounce: aid to homeowners burdened with mortgages, public works projects and plans for a Tennessee Valley Authority. He also wanted Roosevelt to raise tariff barriers and impose a national sales tax…

    William E. Leuchtenburg is the William Rand Kenan, Jr. professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

  26. .Tom

    Thank you Conor, excellent stuff.

    Also, thank you Yves for publishing Conor’s excellent stuff.

  27. ex-PFC Chuck

    Thank you for the great post Connor.
    Your mention of “greed” brings to mind a tweet by John Cleese of Monty Python fame that I saw a while back: “When I lived in Santa Barbara, I asked one of the nice rich people why the very rich are so greedy. He replied ” John, you’ve got it wrong. They’re not greedy because they’re rich. They’re rich because they’re greedy “

  28. chris

    After initially feeling terrified last night, tonight I’m more bemused about the situation with respect to our elites. I like to think up analogies or frameworks to discuss things with people who are too high on their own MSM sanctioned supply. The only example I can think of in this case, that provides a framework to discuss how screwed we are without being accused of racism or shouted down for epistemic trespass is Agincourt.

    Can you imagine what it felt like to be an armorer the day after you heard about Agincourt? That a bunch of peasants and mud took out the tanks of their day with funny little things that they got from trees? And that they could make the sky dark with a rain of arrows capable of piercing armor? And that the people sending the arrows towards the elegant knights on their horses were illiterate, barely trained peasants who practiced the longbow regularly? And you’re an armorer trying to sell your wares to knights and nobles? Maybe you’re smart enough to innovate a design. Maybe you just walk away. But it has to be very clear soon that the day of the knight has passed. The French nobility just doesn’t want to accept it yet.

    That’s where we are now, I think.

    Our concept of combined arms, of battlefield control, of the scale of an economy necessary to compete with us on the battlefield, is completely destroyed. We just don’t want to admit it yet. But when we do, and when the world acknowledges it too, what will happen to the dollar? What will happen to ISDS agreements? What will happen to investment strategies? What will happen to the price of oil when the KSA decides to practices solidarity with Gazans? What would happen to the elite and their goals if gas cost 6$/gallon everywhere in the US? What happens when inflation makes housing even more expensive to own and operate and you have mobs of people raiding gated communities? What happens when we have to stop our wars abroad because a middling figure like Biden wants to impose martial law at home?

    I think we are looking at a year in which decades of change occur. I think a lot can happen between now and November. I think our elites won’t realize that they’ve become the terrible edifice Shelley describes in Ozymandias until they’re irrelevant.

    1. AG

      like the Agincourt thought
      (was recently rewatching Netflix´ “THE KING” from 2019 or so)

      Reading Conor´s text tonight it reminded me of what I had read recently about the significance of historical continuity in economic terms, by the example of France vs. GB.

      While France had been subject to hostile forces entering its national territory and threatening the nationstate itself, GB in essence after 1066 never faced that problem ever again.

      Eventually France as continental power often at war, with the Agincourt shock and the battles that followed and were lost too, was always spending on huge armies since.

      The continuity of power and wealth of GB´s elite were never upset as much as in France in similiar ways.

      Whenever France was invaded or went to war the continuity of its wealth production was interrupted, threatened or in fact changed.

      Historians apparently see the large standing army and the repeated wars of France in respone to the dangers it faced as one major cause for the limited role of banks in France since the 19th century in contrast to GB.

      Since France could not accumulate its wealth and reinvest it but spent it on short-term war-machinery instead.

      p.s. They say the deforestation of GB due to its longbows and fleets led to the demise of the longbow much earlier than militarily would have been justified – they simply lacked cheap raw material for the bows (English yew tree?) and shifted arms focus.

      p.p.s. Martyanov recently said that if Tata were to be sold GB would lack its own steel as G20 member!

    2. Pat

      I think you are missing one factor in all of this. The elite have realized two things. One that the rules that protect them are hanging by a thread (Israel blowing up the Iranian consulate could have openly destroyed them completely but the other side still acknowledged them. But who can trust really trust the Israelis or the underhanded Americans to not screw that up.) And more importantly, over the past decade it has become abundantly clear to anyone paying attention that both remote assassin attacks and bunker busting attacks are very possible. Not all of them, but at least some of the Masters of the Universe also have that sinking feeling in the pit of their stomachs that they are not just touchable but could end up very dead if they are on the wrong side as everything that used to protect them while they send the real toy soldiers into battle no longer exists.
      All those things you mention won’t just be under attack from reality but will be undermined by this group as they try to find some new means of protection. Just consider it an extra batch of C4 on the support beams.

  29. Paul P

    Given the threats that all nations and people are faceing, nuclear war, climate change, pandemics, toxic contamination, AI, one take-a-way from this essay is that the Hobbsian values that have rulled nations and prenation entities are no longer adaptive in Darwin’s meaning. Humans lack the culture and institutions to work together,
    share, accept equality, I wish I could find better words. Climate change is not going to wait as we fight for dominance. That the power of the ruling class must be tamed is a good start They are mad.

  30. Joe Well

    I’m kind of amazed you mention Herbert Hoover and the Soviet Union but not the American Relief Administration he led, which saved millions of lives in the USSR, and quite possibly Communism itself.

    I’ve always thought our great leaders must have learned their lesson about saving lives in regimes they wanted to topple.

    1. Conor Gallagher Post author

      If I remember correctly, Hoover thought he could kill communism in Russia with the relief because he believed that only hungry people were communists. Surplus crops in the US find a market, full bellies in Russia, no more communism, and Herbert gets his mines back. It just didn’t work out the way he wanted. You might be right about the lesson learned.

  31. Kalen

    Great article however surprisingly never it used word hegemony which explains it all and most of all explains why hard headed elite businessmen/oligarchs that run all economy and politics seemingly act against their own vital interests. Why attack Russian and Chinese oligarchy who openly want to continue globalist project and declaratively and de facto seek no destruction of Western oligarchy or replacing it with their own. What they want is merely equality, equitable deals and respect.

    The only reason as I see for such counterproductive belligerent behavior escalating to open wars is that in their mind all of their power lays in hegemonic premium or advantage of a hegemon that expresses itself with dominant position of US dollar as global currency reserve, global dollar trade and its derivatives as globally dominant investment vehicles. Defending dollar position is critical to western hegemony and was a subject of two Yellen pilgrimages in last twelve months met with Chinese deep concern about global position amid seemingly uncontrollable US national debt expansion and huge continuing US budget deficits.

    The understandable to Wall Street oligarchs analogous situation might be that value of Western hegemony stock if even slightly corrected or diminished as it was purchased by using extremely leveraged margin loan would require them to massively boost collateral to unattainable level they can’t afford or entire stock could be liquidated at once. Giving even small concessions may in western mind result in disastrous collapse and that’s what stokes fear.

    The western oligarchs made a poker bet by deindustrialization but now are pulling a gun as they run out of money to double down or even call so they would rather blow the losing game and world with it exactly like gangsters do when they lose.

  32. .Tom

    Hi Conor, I have one nit to pick with this. To what extent are these American Oligarchs really American, like other people?

    Or maybe I can put the same question differently. You say “The US is a market state that is dominated by and run for transnational capital. Its foreign policy and the military are a tool of the American oligarchy.” What’s the relationship between the oligarchs that own transnational capital and the American oligarchy?

    What I’m driving at is: To what extent is the American oligarchy practically transnational?

  33. spud

    i am still sunned over this paper Connor, you did america and the world a great service. much of this i already suspected and predicted, but i wish Leopold would have named names, these people, and especially the four who would not man up, need be named. they engaged in treason and crimes against americans.

  34. spud

    i am still sunned over this paper Conor, you did america and the world a great service. much of this i already suspected and predicted, but i wish Leopold would have named names, these people, and especially the four who would not man up, need to be named. they engaged in treason and crimes against americans, as well as humanity.

    pulling the weed above ground, is not enough, you need to get to the roots. that is bill clinton, tony blair and other sociopaths, were merely the enablers. we need to get to the people who advised, and financed these creatures.

  35. SocalJimObjects

    Is anyone here watching the new show from Amazon Prime called Fallout? It’s a pretty good show based on a video game series, helmed by the very people who gave you HBO’s Westworld.


    In one episode, a character is talking about fiduciary duty and how companies are supposed to make money for their investors, but when a certain company happens to make money by selling advanced weapons to the government and n**lear bunkers to the general population, …. you can probably guess what follows next. Hollywood is telegraphing what’s coming folks.

  36. Susan the other

    The American oligarchy, along with all the other oligarchies, will accept limits. Once we turn the corner into an ecology economy, war will by definition become an anachronism. I fell asleep last night on the almost amusing thought that war has already accepted its own limits because nobody wants to be the first to drop a nuke. So we now have sort of weapon-enhanced resolutions to our differences. If some stupid Zionist bombs the Iranian embassy in Demarcus, Iran opens the lines of communication to describe how and when they will “respond” and that they are forced to do so because the UN refused to condemn Israel’s behavior. In the end this kind of negotiating with expensive high tech missiles used to destroy very expensive infrastructure is totally and hilariously unsustainable and the oligarchs will be the first to wince. This is evolution at its finest.

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