The Chronic Crisis of American Democracy: A Review

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Yves here. KLG again uses a book as a point of departure for his discussion, here one by Benjamin Studebaker. It provides a compact and persuasive analysis of how the US has gotten itself into what sure looks like a legitimacy death spiral, with people in and near power having successfully insulated themselves from the consequences of their policies, particularly economic policy, on ordinary citizens. Cries about defending democracy are facially absurd when these same self-professed guards denounce populists and others with legitimate grievances.

KLG provides a short recap:

Benjamin Studebaker often makes sense of our distemper.  I was struck when reading his recent book how closely he tracks our current predicament:

  • The crisis of Our Democracy(TM) which has so many exercised.
  • Recognition that the US is no longer the “land of opportunity.”
  • That our rule of law and system of justice are currently on trial together as they “find the man and show us the crime” rather than vice versa.
  • How the disconnect between the legitimate needs of the people and the practice of the state have diverged so that the endpoints are not on the same map.
  • How the political response to social and economic problems is not their solution but the lowering of expectations: There is no alternative!
  • With the result being the social entropy all around us at every level.

Another reference work perhaps too often ignored of late: Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation. A 50,000 foot statement of its thesis is that the progress of capitalism eats up society. But forces in opposition to this destruction manage to slow and obstruct the process sufficiently so as to allow for countries and communities to adapt. It appears that the destructive progress of capitalism has accelerated as the forces that would normally throw sand in the gears have been weakened or co-opted.

By KLG, who has held research and academic positions in three US medical schools since 1995 and is currently Professor of Biochemistry and Associate Dean. He has performed and directed research on protein structure, function, and evolution; cell adhesion and motility; the mechanism of viral fusion proteins; and assembly of the vertebrate heart. He has served on national review panels of both public and private funding agencies, and his research and that of his students has been funded by the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, and National Institutes of Health

We must save Our Democracy™!  Thus sayeth my legion of friends and colleagues of the Professional Managerial Class (PMC).  My response, when I can muster the energy, is usually “What democracy would that be?”  This is usually met with a “You can’t be serious!” death stare.  Most recently, the conviction of Donald Trump on “34” felony charges has been met with satisfaction bordering on ecstasy among many of these friends, who view this as convincing evidence that we as a nation are finally on the right path to getting Our Democracy™ back.  I anticipate they will continue to be surprised for a while yet.

Books from academics and others lamenting the decline of Our Democracy™ are not difficult to find.  Most are fairly dreary when not tendentious.  But my “greatest hits” include The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy by Christopher Lasch (1995) and Listen, Liberal: Or Whatever Happened to the Party of the People by Thomas Frank (2016).  I have awaited The Chronic Crisis of American Democracy: The Way is Shut (2023) by Benjamin Studebaker since he announced it as a forthcoming work. [1]  I have read Studebaker for a while and thought he would have something interesting to say.  This he does, in six well-focused chapters on what has happened to Our Democracy™.

The book begins (The Unsolvable Problem) with a gloss of wisdom from the conventional if somewhat dissenting “Nobel Laureate” Joseph Stiglitz (2013) that:

…as our economic system is seen to fail for most citizens, and as our political system seems (sic) to have been captured by moneyed interests, confidence in our democracy and in our market economy will erode along with our global influence.  As the reality sinks in that we are no longer a country of opportunity and that even our long-vaunted rule of law and system of justice have been compromised, even our sense of national identity may be put in jeopardy.

Indeed, and virtually all of this is derived from globalization and neoliberalism.  As the people, if not their soi disant leaders, have always understood, the loss of agency in political economy means a near-total loss of control over what matters.  In 2016 both political party establishments, i.e., the Uniparty, were challenged by Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.  As both candidates criticized our political economy, the “American elite closed ranks.”  Nevertheless, Donald Trump won and Our Democracy™ was immediately placed in grave peril.  The response would have the same if Bernie Sanders had won.  Our long national nervous breakdown continues.  From Studebaker:

If you talk about the economic problems, you get accused of legitimizing the grievances of the populists, of aiding and abetting the bad people. (emphasis added). [2]  To avoid this, American elites have increasingly become trapped in an insular cultural discussion…too busy denouncing the deplorables to make any effort to properly understand the problem or respond to it.

This then makes the elites look out of touch, which they are, and does nothing but fuel the “resentments,” which I would call legitimate grievances, that drive populism forward.  This seems so obvious that it makes my head hurt that this is misunderstood.

But my origins are firmly based in the “deplorable” union, working class demographic, even if I am now nothing if not (outwardly) PMC.  My working life, professional and otherwise, has coincided with the ascendance of Neoliberalism, with its transformation of citizen into consumer.  Class is implicit throughout The Chronic Crisis of American Democracy, but a thorough discussion of class is beyond the scope of this succinct, focused work.

Studebaker describes very well how “the workers, the professionals, and the employers” are forced to remain at cross purposes throughout our political economy.  Workers are abused when not neglected.  Professionals have been rendered as precarious as the workers whose good jobs have decamped for parts unknown as many professional careers have simply disappeared in substance if not in form.  Employers are sometimes driven to engage in practices such as wage theft to remain in business in a global economy that by definition takes no notice of how and where people actually pursue their livelihoods.  The implicit question throughout this book is this:  Is the economy for the people (including workers, professionals, and employers, most of whom are small business owners) or are the people for the economy?  The obvious and correct answer for American elites is that the people are for the economy.

Which leads to the question of reform.  Is it possible?  That is difficult to imagine, and the core argument can be described as follows (False Hope):

  • In the long run, elected politicians need to prioritize winning elections…they can’t pursue any of their further goals if they don’t win elections. Politicians who do not prioritize willing elections tend to be outcompeted by those who do.
  • Because the unsolvable problem (Chapter 1) is unsolvable…politicians cannot get votes for tackling it
  • If politicians need votes but they cannot solve voters’ problems, they must find a way to get votes without solving problems. They do this by fostering false hope in a dawn that never comes.

In other words, politicians have mastered the dark art of getting votes without solving problems.  They do this primarily by “fighting” for those things the people want and need, such as rewarding jobs, actual healthcare instead of “access to affordable healthcare,” a pleasant livable natural and built environment, and a dignified retirement.  This, of course, includes virtually all politicians of the Uniparty.

The Left is described as a “Hope Industry,” with little to show for its efforts but “fighting” for the people and “raising consciousness,” (e.g., The Squad), while the Right (e.g., Douglas Murray) has let its obsession with culture devolve into a lament of the abandonment of “traditional values.”  As someone who might fairly be called a Left Conservative [3], I view this as not completely out of bounds, but while many of the traditional values of my living memory may have been traditional they valued wrong and inhuman things.  This continues.  In any case, the Uniparty lives:

Very few of these Republicans actually support challenging the power of oligarchs and corporations.  Like the Berniecrats, they maintain their bona fides by taking provocative social and cultural stances.  Like the Berniecrats, their opposition to the party establishment makes their party look more dynamic than  it really is. They serve the status quo.  They suck their supporters into an endless series of trivial struggles, never touching the economic system that is at the root of so many people’s resentment (legitimate grievance) and (attendant) misery.

Reverse the order and nothing changes.  Both the notional Left and Right (and so-called Center) engage in “circular thinking…(in)…an unwinnable culture forever war, without seriously grappling with the economic conditions that make that war unwinnable.”  Studebaker reminds me of  G.A. Cohen and the primacy of materialism in understanding what has gone wrong, along with Bertell Ollman’s work on Alienation as a consequence of our modern political economy that has resulted in a sham democracy.  In this culture war, “progressives are overcome by gluttony, sloth, and lust…(while)…the Conservative is overcome by wrath and envy.”  Sounds about right, with the two leading seven deadly sins, pride and greed, scattered equally on both sides.  The Center just wants “better gatekeeping” because “the system is fundamentally sound.”  In this they are pathetic, really.

In Studebaker’s formulation, our Chronic Crisis is a consequence of the collapse of the legitimacy of our system in the eyes of those who are left out, left behind, and ignored.  Following Bernard Williams, a modern whose work I find accessible:

Legitimacy crises are driven by resentment (caused by legitimate grievances).  The more resentment, the less legitimacy there is.  Resentment is in turn driven by lack of ‘identification’ with the actions of the state.  When the political system doesn’t solve the unsolvable problem, but instead defends the interests of oligarchs and corporations, citizens increasingly feel unable to identify with political decisions.  They start to suppose that the state is ignoring their interests because its procedures are dysfunctional or have been captured by some enemy group…Political debates become increasingly meta…(Those on opposing sides of arguments are)…denounced as useful idiots, fellow travelers, or worse.

Nothing gets done, except for the exquisite care and overfeeding of those whose advocates are denizens of K Street in Washington, DC.  This only exacerbates the crisis.

Thus, we have ended up with a Dream Eating Democracy that seeks to restore full legitimacy to the state and the political economy “not by addressing the causes of resentment but by lowering expectations.”  This is just another way of saying, “There is no alternative” to the neoliberalization of all life in which everything is a function of or product of the Free Market.  If one is seen as a failure, his entrepreneurship is ineffective and his brand is faulty.  Several political philosophers have described the fundamentals of Neoliberalism in this way, and the best in my reading is Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution by Wendy Brown.

This chapter is particularly rich, because Studebaker points out that Isaiah Berlin’s concept of negative liberty has facilitated much that is fundamental to Neoliberalism.  Without going into detail (some of which was covered here in a previous post on the distinct worldviews of Isaiah Berlin and Hannah Arendt), Berlin divided the concepts of liberty into two types: “

(1) Negative liberty, where you are free to the extent that no human beings or human organization stops you from doing what you would otherwise do

(2) Positive liberty, where you are free to the extent that you are able to realize your potential to be your own master.”

What has happened during the neoliberal turn is that the elites have adopted negative liberty as the one, true conception of liberty without stopping to consider that negative liberty works well only for those who are already of the elite classes.  This is the glaring flaw in Liberalism as political philosophy.  The nature of our political economy is to eat the positive dreams of those who are not free to realize their potential because of an accident of birth.  This is invisible to the elite and the primary source of the inexplicable (to them) “resentment” of workers, professionals, and employers.

No Escape discusses the “fate of those Americans who continue to feel resentment.  Every political path these Americans might take is blocked.  They cannot reform the global economic system, and they cannot overcome it by revolutionary means.  The political professionals do not represent them.  Their interests continue to be ignored, and politics continues to disappoint them.  And yet, these Americans must go on living.  They must continue to do the best they can to pay their bills, to pay down their debts, to keep their businesses open.

What becomes of them?  A creeping fatalism leads to a kind of politics without politics in the form of faith, family, fandoms  and futurism.  Faith and family are in trouble by any number of metrics and are not reliable sources of community, perhaps because the neoliberal consumer in place of the citizen has no place in a community that includes faith and family.  As expressed by Studebaker, “the American political system is not capable of delivering the economic reforms that would be necessary…to sustain any kind of family model.  President Biden’s Build Back Better bill included funding for childcare.  Rather than raise American wages to enable parents to spend more time at home, Biden sought to give Americans money to pay other people to raise their children while stuck at work.  Even this proposal failed to pass.”  This.  There is no place for the family in our modern political economy other than to reproduce the human means of production, for whatever the elites demand.

Fandoms are legion and reading of them one can only think of Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death.  As for futurism: “Problems of the economy are overcome not primarily through political means but by continuing with the process of economic development until it ‘runs its course’ in some sense.”  Futurism is little more than the endorsement of existing economic trends.  That this course leads to the abyss remains unappreciated by the elites but is increasingly felt by the workers, professionals, and employers who remain close to the ground.

The futurist has no interest in overthrowing democracy, not because the futurist cares about democracy, but because futurists have come to view politics as little more than a peripheral, annoying interloper in economic affairs.  The right libertarian might be excited to go to Mars with Elon Musk, while the left-accelerationist might hope that the process of trying to go to Mars will end in the annihilation of Musk’s empire.  Both think that something of value will eventually be accomplished by continuing down this path, by sticking with this system and seeing where it leads.

It leads nowhere good, and this may be seeping into elite consciousness if not conscience.  This section ends with a lucid discussion of the American subaltern.  The concept if from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci (which means the elites have no use for it).  The subaltern is “totally excluded from representation” in the polity, and this fits with replacement of citizen with consumer in Neoliberalism.  The life of the consumer is a life of rapidly diminishing returns.  People are subjects and subalterns, not citizens, in our polity:

Ordinary citizens in modern western democracies never fully actualize the capacities (ascribed) to them…They are always subjects of a political system they do not and cannot control…Citizens (without agency as citizens, i.e., as subalterns) are blamed for everything that happens…that as citizens, it is their basic duty, their responsibility, to politically engage.  Yet (when they do) their political efforts do not issue in anything real.  When they don’t do politics, they are blamed for failing to act, and when they do try to do politics, they find they cannot do it, except in the most superficial and meaningless senses.

In the Age of Citizens United, where one dollar equals one vote, the vast majority – precarious workers; professionals, fallen and otherwise; and small employers struggling to make a payroll and a profit large enough to stay in business – cannot exercise their rights of citizenship.  What may be finally dawning on the PMC is that they and the multifarious subaltern are both ruled by oligarchs and there is nothing that either “class” can do about it.  Yet.  And therein lies the tragedy of politics and political economy in this modern but immoderate world.  Instead of citizens we are subalterns ruled by our need to consume as a tactic to achieve a steadily diminishing level of self-realization and self-determination.  The result is the social entropy that we see all around us.

What If This Book Is Wrong?  It is bleak, but without the diagnosis there can be no intentional cure.  The Chronic Crisis of American Democracy in some ways echoes Theodor Adorno and Max Horkeimer in Dialectic of Enlightenment, which showed that a “narrow, instrumental reason penetrates every part of society, including academia and the arts.”  That artists and and professors and scientists have tended to deny this is beside the point.  However, if this “instrumental reason can be critiqued, it can be politically challenged.”

But how?  Walter Schiedel (the book rests at the end of my table unread, alas) has written that necessary change will require “war, revolution, state collapse, and pandemics.”  We seem to be in the full-blown midst of two of these at this moment, both of which could get out of hand at any time.  State collapse is unlikely in the immediate future, as is revolution.  Whatever our political establishment is, institutional inertia is one of its signal properties.  I would add climate collapse to the list as a likely fifth and most likely cause in the slightly longer term.

So, what can we do?  A first thing would be to recognize the class nature of our society and that we are all in this together.  Difficult, perhaps impossible, but essential nevertheless.  And it is essential for the world to get smaller and more human.  A way forward, painful but possible, and possibly inevitable comes in a reflection from Studebaker’s student days, discussing Aristotle’s distinction between the “virtuous craftsman” and the “vulgar craftsman” in the Politics:

The vulgar craftsman, because he is guided by the profit motive, conflates that which earns him money with that which provides for the good.  As a result, even when the vulgar craftsman has leisure, he does not put that leisure toward virtuous purpose.  Instead of deliberating how to act, about the good and the beautiful, the vulgar craftsman uses his leisure to deliberate about how to produce in such a way that he will further maximize his potential financial gains…for this reason…Aristotle endorses with enthusiasm the Theban notion that rulers should abstain from participation in the market.

Perhaps a bit airy, but nevertheless the truth.  I have been writing here about “vulgar craftsman” in science for the past two years.  They are a self-justifying menace who are destroying my profession.  Vulgar craftsmen are also a self-justifying menace in politics who are destroying our world.  Other exemplars can be added by the dozen.

The subtitle of The Chronic Crisis of American Politics comes from Tolkien, The Return of the King.  Aragorn goes in search of the army of dead men who years before broke their oath to fight for Gondor against the dark lord Sauron and were cursed to remain among the living.  They said to all who wandered near them: “The way is shut.  It was made by those who are Dead, and the Dead keep it, until the time comes.  The way is shut.”  No sensible person takes this road.  Therefore, those who are unsensible must.  As Aragorn puts it, “I do not go gladly; only need drives me.  Therefore, only of your free will would I have you come, for you will find both toil and great fear, and maybe worse.”

The good people of Middle Earth needed heroes in their crisis.  Planet Earth need stewards with the will to regain their senses in our crisis.  Both Wendell Berry and Harland Hubbard have said “What we need is at hand.”  We have no choice but to pick up the tools and get to work.  We all can name tasks required by the dozen.  But the course will be difficult and will require virtuous craftsmen, everywhere and in everything.  They will be our modern heroes.

Selah.

Plus one final note.  A common question from the workers, professionals, and employers who have been eclipsed in our political economy is “What good are the intellectuals?”  The common, in all senses of the word, response of the elite to this question is “We are the intellectuals, or more importantly, have them on retainer.”  The Crisis of American Democracy is one book that shows what an independent intellectual and scholar can contribute to our path forward if there is to be such a path.  Studebaker here is much like George Scialabba, another independent intellectual whose most recent collection Only a Voice: Essays covers similar material, and is likely to be more available, as are his other collections.  Highly recommended.

Notes

[1] Funny thing about that is I cannot really recommend this book to anyone as a worthwhile purchase.  When the book was published last year the retail price was ridiculous.  The hardback is currently listed at Blackwell’s for $142.28 and $53.87 for the paperback, but it is Out of stock/Not available for sale.  At Amazon it is currently available at $139.99, but you can “rent” it for your Kindle at $19.12 or “buy” it for same at $39.49.  A few weeks ago, I received a notice from the author that it was available at a 90% discount direct from Palgrave Macmillan, which made it affordable.  And yes, it was well worth ~10% of the retail price.  But I will never understand the book business, except that at the highest levels management seems not to care about their readers or their captives who are not on their so-called “A List.”

[2] Thomas Frank’s most recent book, The People, No: A Brief History of Anti-Populism which seems to have canceled him from the mainstream media, covers the true nature of populism and why it is so frightening to the powers that be.  These “bad” people are generally the contents of Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables.”

[3] Not necessarily a contradiction in terms, as illustrated by Christopher Lasch.  Studebaker misses the point when he lumps Christopher Lasch with Samuel Huntington and Victor Davis Hanson in his section entitled “The Right’s Obsession with Culture.”  Lasch was certainly heterodox in his thought and Studebaker refers to his The Culture of Narcissism when writing that “we became vapid narcissists, interesting only in advancing ourselves.”  Well, there is a lot of truth here, but this leaves out Haven in a Heartless World: The Family Besieged, The Revolt of the Elites, The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics, and Women and the Common Life: Love, Marriage, and Feminism(posthumous, edited by Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn).  Other essential Left Conservatives with much to teach are Wendell Berry, E.F. Schumacher, and Herman Daly.

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105 comments

  1. zagonostra

    If think one of the main tale aways from Carroll Quigley’s “Tragedy and Hope” is to give a partial answer to the question, “What good are the intellectuals?” And that is, that the people who hold political and economic power have the “intellectuals on retainer,” they are good for keeping the elites, elites.

    Reply
  2. DJG, Reality Czar

    A wonderful essay. Compliments. I think that we all suspected this dire diagnosis, although, like you, KLG, I think that we can avoid the worst of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse that you list. I am reminded of how Hannah Arendt was always humane and active—even after being expelled from her native Germany and then forced to leave France, her first land of exile. Likewise, Gramsci, in spite of years of mistreatment and imprisonment, retained a sense of purpose.

    It may be that what one has to do is insist on running against the brick wall (of class, of overdeveloped capitalism). No matter what.

    Like you: “But my origins are firmly based in the “deplorable” union, working class demographic, even if I am now nothing if not (outwardly) PMC. My working life, professional and otherwise, has coincided with the ascendance of Neoliberalism, with its transformation of citizen into consumer.”

    My father was in the printers union his whole career. It helped in getting jobs, helped in retaining self-respect and craft, and helped in dealing with the owners.

    Since I left the University of Laputa in the mid-70s, I have seen plenty of people drinking the poison chalice. Everything was going to be solved by markets and “private enterprise,” and the most notable casualties are workers’ rights, labor unions, agriculture, and U.S. feminism (except for the upper-middle-class white version).

    Yet it is also possible that the 2024 election in the U.S. of A. will be pivotal. You have Trump, the embodiment of neoliberalism, against addled Biden, the embodiment of the cowardice of U.S. elites. And the voters are starting to complain louder than ever.

    Reply
    1. DJG, Reality Czar

      I want to add something about a word that comes up in the essay more than once: resentment.

      This feeling is obvious in U.S. life, and it is no accident that it would show up in this essay. The Mauve Party and the Aqua Party each are spurred on by their differing resentments.

      Another essayist I follow points to the psychological / cultural side using the word: ressentiment.

      Here’s a definition: “a psychological state arising from suppressed feelings of envy and hatred that cannot be acted upon, frequently resulting in some form of self-abasement.”

      It’s natural for democratic societies to show some resentment and ressentiment. The last fifty years or so of neoliberalism seem to have made these into the two dominant emotions of society, endlessly expressed. Isn’t that what Fcbook is for?

      Reply
      1. DJG, Reality Czar

        KLG’s footnote 1: Extremely bizarre.

        I find it amazing that a political-science book of 224 pages is going for USD 130.

        Further, the digital formats are priced way up high, too.

        Surely, the editors at Palgrave Macmillan UK know that the book has a wide appeal. This isn’t some limited anthropological study of the folkways of Winnetka.

        Having worked many many years in publishing, I can only blame the price on the marketing geniuses. Of which publishing has attracted many.

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        1. JBird4049

          I think that the print runs have been reduced both in size and frequency. Some of my favorite fiction writers have warned their readers that the publishers have already decided that there will be no second print run even if there is a market for it. It was decided before the first edition has been published, never mind sold.

          There are still the now increasingly expensive electronic copies available of course. The authors do not sound very happy about this as both they and their fans love physical copies.

          The used book market means that comparatively cheaper copies will be available eventually. As someone who really does not have that much money, it hurts when the prices remain high, and academic books in particular stay high for years after being published. It does explain why the philosophy section of a favorite used bookstore is locked.

          So, even when the publishers can make a profit from selling more physical books, they refuse to do because it is not profitable enough. They seem to be following the methods of the apartment rental companies who keep units off the market to push prices for the other units up. Since both the housing and books have increasingly become monopolies or at least highly concentrated, going to a different company is not possible.

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          1. Revenant

            This might an instance of algorithmic pricing. Certain academic books with very limited availability get priced on scarcity by one algorithm and, when there is a price increase because stock reduces, other algorithms see this but misinterpret it as signalling an increase in effective demand (whereas, if anything, demand has reduced because somebody now has their book!). These algorithms then rsude the price of their copies. The first algorithm, no single club golfer it, sees and raises this price increase and so on, tit for rat, until obscure and vanishingly important treatises on rat gut histology, rheological properties of synthetic mineral oils or catalogues raisonées of eighteenth century Balkan hermit artists suddenly command $1m price tags. There were several examples of this on NC a few years ago.

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            1. hk

              It’s also partly driven by institutions: some (actually, many–most social science academic books that don’t become textbooks) books literally have no market other than university libraries, which do not care for the price of a copy that much.

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        2. aj

          I googled the author and found his announcement blog post from May of 2023 where he recommends buying the paperback version and states that it should never sell for more than $50. Guess that didn’t go the way he hoped. A shame, really as I refuse to pay that much for a book. Even the ebook is $40, which is about what I would be willing to pay for a good hardcover.

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        3. Acacia

          Agree with @hk’s comment, above.

          I have worked with academic publishers and their view is generally that the market is very small, ergo they tend to do small print runs and tend say that justifies higher prices.

          There may be around 3,700 academic libraries in the US, but there are fewer than 150 R1 universities in the US, per the Carnegie Classification. They are the only certain consumers of academic books.

          The problem I see is that they are apparently eyeballing the yuge endowments of the Ivys and other élite institutions, and have decided they can jack up prices to charge USD 130 for a single book, knowing that the institutions will just pay to keep their research libraries “leet”. The publishers are in effect writing off grad students and many faculty as buyers — i.e., just ordinary “textual workers” —, not to mention the reading public that is willing to tackle dry academic prose.

          Sadly, USD 130 is not unusual — it’s becoming more like the going rate, now —, nor is it usual that a publisher will only release an expensive hardback edition.

          Ebooks will be cheaper, but Kindle is vastly inferior to PDF, it’s all about vendor-lock-in, enriching Bezos, etc., so personally I would never go there.

          Reply
  3. Carolinian

    There’s really nothing very new about our current situation and history has many similar examples. That’s because the drive toward hierarchy is “baked in the cake” and ideas to keep it under control–democracy, Marxism–are butting up against something that is irrational and instinctive. Religions such as Christianity at least try to provide a metaphorical explanation via “sin” or “original sin.” This thing within us becomes “the Devil made me do it” as Flip Wilson used to say. Perhaps the great weakness of we, the dominant species on the planet, is our vanity which makes us think we have it all under control when we don’t.

    Reason is the way out but that often conflicts with the pursuit of self interest that seems to have risen to the top in a society where secularism is now dominant. Perhaps, paradoxically, a belief in the irrationals–Hell–is the only thing to keep us on the rational path. But seems like rationality has always been a walk on a teetering edge.

    Reply
    1. PlutoniumKun

      I’ve sadly come to the conclusion over the years that the basic argument made by Polanyi applies to all complex societies – they have the seeds of their own destruction built into their structures. This obviously applies to free markets and capitalism for all the reasons set out by Polanyi (and Marx and Minsky, etc), but it probably also applies to pretty much any variety of social democratic or socialist society too. I’ve been fascinated by recent studies into modern Russia and China revealing how elites from the past somehow have resurrected themselves despite the most extreme methods possible being used to eliminate them. No modern political structure yet invented can overcome the underlying social and anthropological forces which end up concentrating power and resources into an elite which almost inevitably becomes more selfish and self serving until such time as it destroys itself and pulls the rest of the system down with it.

      Of course, some societies can maintain some sort of stability and even growth for centuries, although most of the successful ones seem to have been relatively simple, autocratic ones, and they almost inevitably become increasingly rotten over decades and centuries. More complex modern societies can go on a long time if there are, by accident or design, strong self correcting mechanisms (both the parliamentary UK and constitutional USA have had historically very good innings), but its only a matter of time for them, and so many others.

      But predicting a final fall is very difficult – the US seemed to be on the verge of collapse in the 1930’s and the late 1960’s, but roared out of these crises stronger than ever. So its foolish I think to be certain that the current rot is necessarily fatal. But it would also be unwise not to think that a collapse could be far more dramatic and rapid than anyone but the most pessimistic expects.

      Reply
      1. Froghole

        Thank you for this. Mention of complex societies, and their tendency to self-immolation, also reminds me of: this classic: https://risk.princeton.edu/img/Historical_Collapse_Resources/Tainter_The_Collapse_of_Complex_Societies_ch_1_2_5_6.pdf. And also this one: https://yalebooks.co.uk/book/9780300254068/the-rise-and-decline-of-nations/

        The present arc of the US is not a little reminiscent of the late-stage USSR, insofar as there is a chronic principal/agent problem. The corporate class in the US have captured the sinews of the economy every bit as much as the nomenklatura, and keep confusing their interests with those of the state. Moreover, they have captured the two governing parties as surely as the nomenklatura – specifically the agro-industrial, resource-extraction and MIC sections of the nomenklatura – had the CPSU in their grip.

        As Fritz Bartel has argued, the US was able to avoid disaster in the 1970s and 1980s because its electoral processes gave its elites cover to break promises to the American people; the Soviet system lacked any such vent, so was more vulnerable when promises had to be broken: https://www.hup.harvard.edu/books/9780674976788. However, the electoral vent is presumably becoming decreasingly effective when there is no evident alternative to an elite locked into neoliberal predicates, and which allow politicians to avoid having to render account for their decisions. We see this also in the EC/EU: Alan Milward argued that one of the main reasons for the creation of the ECSC was to enable national politicians to transfer the blame for difficult decisions (such as the overdue rationalisation of the Belgian coal industry) onto a supranational authority: https://www.routledge.com/The-European-Rescue-of-the-Nation-State/Milward/p/book/9780415216296, and one of the reasons for the collapse of trust in the political process is surely because of the perceived lack of accountability and of alternatives. Complexity is convenient to any governing elite, because it diffuses accountability and permits the deflection of blame onto others, but the resulting absence of accountability permits elites to ignore popular opinion for most of the time and, as such, facilitates predation by elite opportunists. In this way complexity and the associated emasculation of accountability create the seeds of any polity’s destruction.

        Reply
    2. Kouros

      In “Surface Detail” Iain M. Bain has a society who’s oligarchs developed a virtual hell where the conscience of troublemakers was downloaded, and then extracted, so that to shuff out any future protests…

      A higer culture, what we would call God, finds the location of the servers hosting these hells and blows them up…

      What needs to be blown up is the idea of hierarchy, especially hereditary, not based on merit, and couple that with an exorbitant death tax. People have stood against these ideas for quite long, especially in the more nomadic phase, prior to agriculture and dissapearance of game.

      Reply
    3. Hepativore

      A lot of this hierarchical drive in humans stems from the fact that we are descended from the great apes, which are some of the most hierarchical animals in existence, and are closest relative, the chimpanzee, defines strict roles for the members within its group which are violently enforced by other group members. People like to point to the bonobo as an example of how humanity has strayed from some sort of pre-civilizational egalitarian paradise, but the bonobo split off from the chimpanzee long after humans and chimpanzees diverged from a common ancestor. Because of this, the bonobo faced vastly different selection pressures in terms of how its behavior was shaped.

      We see the same endless patterns of brutal hierarchies being formed, overthrown, and new just-as-brutal if not worse hierarchies being formed by the victors since the dawn of humanity, and this will likely continue as long as humans exist. This is because these behaviors were once useful as a survival trait in prehistory. People are “selfish” because hominids evolved in environment when food, territory, and mates were precious and hard to come by. I am not sure if you could call this something akin to a secular version of “original sin”, but this is not humanity’s fault, as nature and ecology are neither fair nor nice.

      I am not sure if there is a solution as it all comes from the same problem of being stuck with hard-concoded drives that were evolved millions of years ago which are dangerous and maladaptive for civilization with its modern weapons or trying to make stable societies when we have such volatile instinctive predilections.

      We really are stuck in an endless loop of hierarchy, instability, full-circle revolution, hierarchy I think; much like the fictional moties in the book, A Mote in God’s Eye.

      Reply
      1. SufferinSuccotash

        I think it was George Orwell in one his essays who argued that hierarchies were not only inevitable but necessary to hold societies together until the Industrial Revolution. With nine-tenths of humanity stuck in subsistence-level agriculture it was economically impossible to sustain more than a tiny minority of people capable of governing. At least this was the case after the advent of agriculture and the growth of cities. But over the past two and a half centuries it’s actually become possible for a majority of humanity to manage human affairs. At least in theory, this should have led to a “euthanasia of the elites,” to paraphrase Keynes’ prediction about rentiers.
        But in practice it hasn’t. We’ve experienced a very partial and inadequate degree of popular control in governmental affairs–this is the “democracy” we’re supposed to man the barricades to defend. But as far as the private sector is concerned the degree of popular control resembles that at the court of Versailles during the reign of Louis XIV. But it’s at least possible that we’re moving on to the reign of Louis XVI instead.
        A journalist who was about to be guillotined during France’s Reign of Terror allegedly complained that he hated having to die because he really wanted to see what would happen next. My sentiments exactly.

        Reply
  4. Anti-Fake-Semite

    America’s decline and fall is baked into the cake and is unavoidable at this stage. The question realists need to ask themselves is how they can rescue themselves and their loved ones from this sinking littoral combat ship. 80% of the population are beyond help at this stage. The American Dream is too intoxicating a religion to let go of; witness Old Glory proudly flying at homeless encampments.

    Reply
  5. Carla

    “The subtitle of The Chronic Crisis of American Politics comes from Tolkien, The Return of the King.” I believe the author means “The subtitle of The Chronic Crisis of American Democracy comes from” etc.

    Reply
      1. hk

        There is a follow up volume coming, which seems to apply the logic to “democracy” more generally, so there’s that….

        Reply
  6. Balan ARoxdale

    But how? Walter Schiedel (the book rests at the end of my table unread, alas) has written that necessary change will require “war, revolution, state collapse, and pandemics.” We seem to be in the full-blown midst of two of these at this moment, both of which could get out of hand at any time. State collapse is unlikely in the immediate future, as is revolution.

    I am nonplussed why the author dismisses these outcomes, since I assumed those were exactly what the previous sentence was referring to. Perhaps this was written a few years ago.
    I feel compelled to add a tertiary outcome of recent attacks on international institutions and the apparent success of “armed resistances” abroad are not helping “modern” states cohesion or credibility. A few more years of this and I would not care to bet on which direction the western middle class is going to jerk in.

    Reply
  7. Louis Fyne

    Continental USA is too diverse of a geography with too diverse of a populace to be held together by one rigid political system…true in the Article of Confederation days, true today.

    politically, the US should really look more like Spanish-speaking South America. Canada’s population is small (until the 21th cent., homogeneous) and it hugs the southern belt along the US border

    it’s a historical fluke that the Northeast has managed to keep a hold over the entire continent.

    Reply
    1. Carolinian

      I’m not sure we are all that diverse other than in class terms. If you look at a state like mine it’s a kind of mini me with its own dominant families and groups.

      If the Northeast dominates it’s because that’s where the money flows to despite their claims that they are somehow holding up the poor part of the country with their taxes (paid on all that inflow).

      Reply
    2. JBird4049

      The United States used to be much decentralized down to the county and city levels both culturally and in government. The country is composed of fifty states, provinces, but as the wealth has concentrated so has the government, which has become corrupt, incompetent and authoritarian. The flow of wealth from the general population to the increasingly concentrated elites has pushed all three along.

      Reply
  8. Clark T

    Good Lord. I just went to the Palgrave Macmillan site, which redirected me to something “new” called SpringerLink. There, you can buy the hardback for $139.99 USD, the same price offered by Amazon. So, I guess the “affordable” price mentioned by KLG is no longer available?

    Reply
    1. Michaelmas

      Well, you could buy it for £89.64 from eBay in the UK. But I wouldn’t.

      I’d instead recommend Anti-System Politics: The Crisis of Market Liberalism in Rich Democracies by John Hopkin, from the London School of Economics and published by Oxford University, which you can order for around $12-22 online and which, it sounds like, covers the same ground as the Studebaker and more besides, as it also examines neoliberalism and its discontents — especially the rise of what Hopkin calls cartel politics and NC readers call the Uniparty — in the UK, Italy, and Southern Europe, which results in some additional comparative insights.

      Perhaps most to the point, Hopkin is very much orientated toward specific data, and makes some points about just how mightily politicians themselves are trapped by the economic strictures that neoliberalism’s architects have managed to impose in the last forty years.

      Reply
      1. eg

        I very much enjoyed Hopkin’s book and I continue to see evidence of its thesis played out in every election since its publication.

        Reply
      2. Clark T

        Thank you for the recommendation. I’m still gobsmacked that the ask for a 213-page book is enough to cover a stack of paperbacks.

        Reply
  9. eg

    Kennedy’s observation remains applicable — those who would make peaceful change impossible make violent revolution inevitable …

    Reply
  10. carolina concerned

    “In the age of Citizens United, where one dollar equals one vote…” The book and this article missed the point. “elected politicians need to prioritize winning elections.” No. Politicians, in the American system, have to prioritize raising money and supporting the party rather than the voters. If political professionals lose elections, they still have jobs as political professionals. And they still have jobs networking with big money donors. This is the reason that the political process has decoupled from the voters, and has merged with the donor class interests. At the same time, the donor class has decoupled from the traditional industrial economy. The obvious and only solution will be some effective and comprehensive, tightly regulated, form of a public financed political system as the fundamental change. Nothing else will work unless this revolutionary step is taken. The only other available solution is going to be finalized after this election cycle. That is that the donor class will have won, and the donor class will be too strong to overcome in the future.

    Reply
    1. Carolinian

      There’s a case to be made that the real villain here is the incumbency racket. We term limit our presidents but legislators are allowed to carry on forever and that’s what produces corrupt “professional politicians” (from a small state–not much competition) like Biden. When the country was founded the Congress only met part of the year and the members had day jobs. Now many of the country’s wealthiest zip codes are clustered around DC.

      But absent some national disaster it’s hard to see how we will ever get Congress to reform itself. The way things are going, however, various fresh national disasters are more than conceivable.

      I’m sure the elites for all their isolation know how thin the ice really is which explains the ever more hysterical rhetoric about Trump, MAGA, the deplorables etc. Deep down they know they have it coming.

      Reply
    2. Michaelmas

      carolina concerned: No. Politicians, in the American system, have to prioritize raising money and supporting the party rather than the voters … This is the reason that the political process has decoupled from the voters, and has merged with the donor class interests.

      Exactly.

      The Hopkin book, Anti-System Politics, analyzes this cartel politics as the primary problem.

      Reply
    3. JonnyJames

      Yes, the classical Greek term is oligarchy. But can we really “vote” against their interests when Academia, MassMedia, the PMC, etc. are owned by them?

      Reply
  11. Steve Sewall

    Yves, all this moaning and groaning from KLG and Studebaker serves only to paint us deeper into the corner of a fate – the impending loss of democracy – that never needed to happen and need not happen now if we wake up and make effective use of the (media) resources available to us.

    America can have the kind of problem-solving political discourse that Americans yearn for at local, state and national levels of government. This discourse can make allies of citizens and elected leaders in addressing and resolving the issues of the day. Simple as that.

    Granted, Stiglitz is right to say that “our political system seems (sic) to have been captured by moneyed interests.” But how did these interests manage to do so? Key question, because the answer to it brings us closer to the answer of how to restore integrity to American political discouse.

    And the answer stares us in the face from our device screens. We live in a media-driven society, more so with each passing year. And moneyed interests (media owners, the political donor class) have used the nation’s top-down commerical media (e.g. blizzards of election-time attack ads) to perfect what KLG calls “the dark art of getting votes without solving problems.” Beautifully put.

    And when this dark art lost traction, Big Money used media to divide and polarize the electorate to the point where most Americans now fear a second civil war. Then that tactic backfired, disastrously so, making a second civil war a real possibility. (Unless you think civil war – or succession – by design, like Texas looking to set up a rival stock exchange to the NYSE. Hmmm.)

    For the past 50 years I’ve lived in Chicago and rural Connecticut, mostly among the 60% of Americans who can’t afford a $500 medical bill. About 40% of my friends prefer Trump to Biden simply simply because they hate the corruption of Democrats and politics in general. They feel (and are) voiceless in the political decisions that affect their lives. Yet they know their communities well – far better than their elected leaders (e.g. about how to address Chicago’s gang problem).

    America could easily begin to restore integrity to its political discourse if one or more ot its MEDIA OWNERS had the good sense to create programming taps the MARKET OF THE WHOLE of all Americans with a stake in the safety and welfare of their communities, states and nation.

    The target (and opportunity) for real change in America lies with media owners and uses of media that creates ongoing, problem-solving dialogues among citizens and leaders instead of depriving them of it.

    Yves: what the hell, what keeps us talking at Naked Capitaliism like armchair quarterbacks about the crisis of democracy when could and should be acting to help save it?

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I do not mean to seem harsh, but I have no idea where your beliefs about media come from.

      The media is owned by wealthy people who want to curry favor with the like-minded in their circles, or use their bully pulpit to buy favors and influence laws and policy. And that is for their and their friends’ interests, not those of the great unwashed.

      This was clear even when power and wealth were way less concentrated than now. As the late, great Micheal Thomas told me, he knew the New York Times was over as an even mildly adversarial paper as of the early 1980s, when Punch Sulzberger got on the board of the Met. “He was dining with people he should have been dining on.”

      I must confess to not recalling if it was Seymour Hersh or IF Stone, but there is a great long article from about 1973 about how deeply the New York Times was in bed with what we now call the security state, and how proud the Times was of its role in promoting official propaganda.

      Starting in the 1990s or so, the traditional newsroom writer, who was a smart literate person from a blue collar background, and therefore did not hold what we now call elite authority structures (“elite” as applied to upper classes was a crank term prior to 2008) in esteem. They have been substantially replaced by kids from Ivy and equivalent schools who nearly to a person would rather do access journalism than hard-hitting stories that might offend powerful people.

      The money in media has substantially evaporated due to the Internet destroying newspaper classified ads, which provided 1/2 of total revenues, which started in the early 2000s. They have never recovered. Broadcast news has always been a money-loser and traditional TV networks have lost share big time to narrow-cast channels. So they more than ever need cheap programming, which again means running planted stories and press releases, with some dressing up (a few calls to get additional quotes) to create the appearance of reporting.

      I could go on for pages but will stop here.

      You can’t plot a path if you don’t know where you are on the map. Your views of how media works are sorely misplaced.

      Reply
      1. JonnyJames

        Thanks Yves, Chris Hedges, the late Robert Parry, the late John Pilger, Julian Assange, et al. (giants of journalism) agree. Gary Webb would also agree

        Reply
      2. Steve Sewall

        Yves, if chastened, I’m honored. Thanks!

        Where do my beliefs about media come from? I’m 82 and grew up with I F Stone via my dad, who taught English at Yale and respected liberals there. My spot on the media map was long with Noam Chomsky, who endorsed in print a media project of mine in the early 1990’s. Today Noam strikes me as in 100% critique, 0% solution mode.

        Today, my spot on the media map is with the memory of Marshall McLuhan himself. To the end of his days, wisely or not, he kept his eye firmly on humane uses of media as THE key to the viability – survival? – of modern society. Being McLuhan, he had a literary source. He maintained that

        “Our situation [today] is very like that of Poe’s sailor in “The Maelstrom,”
        and we are now obliged not to attack or avoid the strom [storm] but to
        study its operation as providing a means of release from it.

        – The Mechanical Bride, 1951

        This does it for me. Extreme detachment. Maximally non-ideological. My solitary spot on the media map. Seemingly no place from which to plot a viable path, and that keeps up nights. But it’s only spot I know of from which it’s possible to see the forest for the trees.

        Yves, for this very reason I’m grateful to you for responding so thoughtfully to my comment. Thanks to other responders as well. Gloomy or otherwise, Naked Capitalsm has been my go-to news site since 2008 and the global meltdown. (I donate when I can.)

        Re: McLuhan – for the curious, this nifty page chronologically lists McLuhan’s many references to the sailor in Poe’s “Maelstrom.”

        Reply
        1. Zephyrum

          I grew up with quality liberals in California. Protesting the Vietnam war, being concerned with ecosystems. Pete McCloskey showed us that social responsibility could be bipartisan. Conscientious objectors fought draft boards on principle. Conservatives yelled at longhairs to get a job, but listened to a new way of thinking. It felt productive. Nobody claimed a monopoly on the truth. It was a different time.

          As for Yves’ “smart literate person from a blue collar background”, that seems to have died out. I remember them. Smart, skeptical, reasonable. They were not sweet, but they were fair.

          Reply
    2. flora

      re: Granted, Stiglitz is right to say that “our political system seems (sic) to have been captured by moneyed interests.” But how did these interests manage to do so?

      Part of the answer was by attacking the money power of labor and organized labor unions. Moving manufacturing jobs offshore undermined labor power and finances. How many votes does labor/working class or even Main Street now have in Congress? My guess is few to none. (Lots of lip service, no action.) All the money is now on the owners’ side; that’s who we’re talking about when we say ‘the donors’.

      Prior to the neoliberal, Chicago School, greed-is-good economics taking over both parties’ thinking the working class v owning class financial backing was relatively evenly divided, imo. Large unions contributed to the Dems. Wealthy owners contributed to the GOP. (This is very simplistic, but in general it tracks, imo.)

      Then came the Dem pols starting to undermine the Unions starting with Carter. In the 1980’s the offshoring and outsourcing of manufacturing became the rage… with the backing of many Dem pols.
      That further eroded the financial strength of unions and the working class. Today there is no strong financial counter to the owners’ money.
      And here we are. (The Citizens United SC decision hasn’t helped.) / my 2 cents.

      My only effort is to shop local at locally owned establishments. Keep my money on that side of the table.

      Reply
      1. flora

        shorter: politicians have always been “for sale.” Mark Twain wrote several funny jokes on that topic. There used to be at least two buyers – labor and owners. Now there’s only one buyer: the Wall St / billionaire owners (for lack of a better description). Now we have the uniparty.

        Reply
        1. Steve Sewall

          Agree. But don’t many or even most Americans already know this? Know the uniparty? I think most do, but feel helpless in the face of it.

          I believe Americans will flock to media that give them a direct voice with their leaders on the political decisions that affect their lives.

          At local, state and national levels. Start local. Go national.

          Reply
    3. mrsyk

      You’ve made assumptions here that might be worth apologizing for. Manners count. I imagine there are more than a few people here’re making tolerable effort, more than the yappin goes on in the comments. Anyway, a few points:
      If you’re asking me to agitate, well, I just haven’t had much luck with that, but I do give it a go, gently, with strangers I encounter at the market, pet shop or liquor store. The runaway number one idea behind discourses which followed was, in a word, huh?. It’s not us you have to convince. As well, I think many of the people here make the effort to discuss matters such as this with family and friends. Sometimes it goes pretty good (the young adult crowd dominates this side). More often it doesn’t go so good. There’s been tales here of losing long time friends and estrangements within families over Gaza. This sort of stuff poisons the air. At what cost….how’s my timeline looking? Oh. Which brings up the number one problem, there are bigger fish to fry in the worrying about stuff I have no control over department.
      That’s Vietnam way back there in the rear view, looking quaint.

      Reply
        1. Steve Sewall

          No problem! And apologies if I’ve implied that people at this site are not making efforts. My “we” was collective, myself included.

          Agitation was never my cup of tea. At Berkeley in the late ’60’s I avoided street demonstrations. I liked working in small groups. With people who might be able to get things done. It was always iffy back then.

          I don’t fight with people, and if I lose a friend, it’s them pulling away from me, not vice-versa.

          None of us, I believe, ever have no control. There’s always a teeny tiny bit.

          Cheers!

          Reply
    4. Kouros

      US never had a democracy and always tiptoed on the explicit authoritarian plutocracy path, from the get go. As an authoritarian plutocratic republic, it continues to masquerade as a demagogic republic with vestigial democratic apendages, kept as a legitimization tool.

      Reply
      1. Steve Sewall

        Hard to argue with this. Cuts to the chase. My only possible responses are to argue a) that the US was once a democracy or b) that it could become one now. I’m thinking. Thanks.

        Reply
          1. Steve Sewall

            Yes.

            What’s the chance that the prospect of a second civil war – utter conflagration – might prompt cooler heads among the oligarchs, including a media mogul or two, to create media programming that actually makes citizens and leaders responsive and accountable to each other in resolving the issues of the day? Success with such a media in a city like Chicago on a universally desired issue like citywide safety might spur similar media in other cities – then states and the nation itself.

            But this possibility is unlikely given that autocracy would probably fend off conflagration.

            Reply
  12. Trisha

    The U.S. Congress is deeply implicated as both causing and ignoring the drastic declining economic situation embroiling most Americans, yet the voting public re-elected Congressional “representatives” at a 98% win rate in the 2022 general election. Forty-one states had a 100% win rate in congressional races! In the 2020 general election, congressional incumbents had a 96% win rate, with 38 states seeing a 100% incumbent win rate in congressional races.

    So in my book, a fair share of the blame goes to the voting public for enabling these political actors who spin endless narratives to “win” votes yet consistently act against, ignore, or pay lip service to public interests. A good example is the “battle” over reproductive rights, which Obama promised to enact into federal law, but conveniently failed to fulfill his campaign “promise” once elected despite having a majority in both the House and Senate.

    To be fair, about a third of voters have simply tuned out and no longer bother to vote in the November general elections. In the most recent primary election in my state – Oregon – turnout was 34%.

    Reply
    1. eg

      Fewer and fewer vote as they realize that the whole process isn’t responsive to them regardless — it’s a vicious circle, and one which suits “our betters”

      Reply
    2. John Wright

      The voters should not be blamed for not having a good choice causing them to avoid voting.
      Their non voting behavior is similar to the consumers who avoided Sears, K-mart and other US retailers causing their decline.
      The difference is that voting/not voting does not seem to change the arc of US history as political power is preserved.

      Reply
    3. JonnyJames

      Sorry, that is a very superficial treatment of politics that I don’t find helpful at all. I think you got it twisted the wrong way round. IMO, you need to start with analyzing power, the centers of power, and go from there.

      Reply
      1. Trisha

        So you deny the agency of individuals over their vote? I find that a very superficial treatment of politics. You ignore a fundamental political fact that politicians can’t get elected unless people vote for them.

        Reply
    4. flora

      Imo, political parties should be required to have open primaries, not closed primaries. Either that, or it should be much easier for new parties to get on the ballot in the general election.

      Reply
    5. mrsyk

      Take a look at the stats you present in the first para. Now take a step back and ask yourself why?. Think about Georgia and PA 2020. The 2016 Dem primary. Think of all the money sloshing about at the top. Consider that it’s the optics that count. Pretty sure I’m connecting the dots here. The optics present a compelling reason to consider voting an absurd theatrical production not worth your energy. We are not afforded the luxury of voting people out of office unless that incumbent has been singled out for replacement by someone much higher up the food chain. Thinking that our participation in the process provides it with un-earned validity seems defendable to me.

      Reply
      1. Trisha

        Regardless of optics and money, individuals still have agency over their vote, which is not a luxury but a right. It’s very simple, when they exercise that right, they are accountable for their vote. That said, I can see we’re not going to vote ourselves out of this mess. Yet I still go to the polls and vote for what I want, even if I never get it, rather then vote for what I don’t want (often referred to a “lesser evildom”), and get that instead.

        Reply
  13. Jesper

    Approval rating for the US congress:
    https://www.statista.com/statistics/207579/public-approval-rating-of-the-us-congress/
    Is the very low approval rating due to bad PR or is it an accurate reflection of proportion of voters who benefit from the actions/inactions of the lawmakers?

    Here is one view from Canada about what might causing problems in Canada:
    https://www.fairvote.ca/first-past-post-must-go/

    During the recent federal ERRE hearings, 88% of the experts who testified were in favour of proportional representation. First-past-the-post was supported by almost no-one – except the big party incumbent politicians!

    First past the post countries seem to end up with two, sometimes three, almost identical political parties. Moneyed interests have the option of being invested in the outcome of elections or not. If moneyed interests only invest in one party then they’ll more than likely have invested in the losing party and thereby wasted their money. If they on the other hand invest in both parties then they’ll win no matter what.

    Reply
    1. JonnyJames

      Yes, and there are alternatives. First past the post (called “winner takes all” in the US) is one electoral method, and of course we have IRV (Instant Runoff Vote, or sometimes called STV, single transferable vote), and proportional representation type electoral systems as well.

      But when there is an entrenched oligarchy that wields most of the resources and power, there will be no way to “vote” against their interests, no matter what electoral system is used.

      Reply
      1. Kouros

        You forgot sortition, or random selection, as was done in democratic Athens… Representative democracy, but with a twist… Bears some resemblance with how the blueprint for the next generation is created when the gametes are produced…

        Reply
        1. OnceWere

          Personally, I like the idea of giving sortition a try in the modern age. Not so much for the executive, judicial, or legislative branch. There’s an obvious problem in expecting random people pulled off the street to have the competency to write legislation, judge cases, or manage a government department. But I have a funny idea that they’d do a better job keeping the bastards honest (as a body of citizens simply voting yea or nay to legislative proposals) than the British House of Lords or the US Senate do as they are currently constituted.

          Reply
  14. spud

    the immense damage carter and reagan made should not be forgotten, but it was reversible. all political and economic infrastructure was still there in tact.

    but what was done from 1993-2001 was not reversible.

    https://qz.com/840973/everything-we-thought-we-knew-about-free-trade-is-wrong

    “”By the time Clinton became president, America’s free-trade crusade—backed by the IMF—broadened beyond simply slashing trade barriers, into clearing the path for foreign investment. Though it bore scanty resemblance to the simple model that Ricardo sketched out, its prophets—a.k.a. Davos Man, free-marketeers, the Washington Consensus—still touted free trade deals as benefiting all. When Trump blames US leaders for favoring “globalism” over “Americanism,” it’s this world order he is condemning. The North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) is its watershed.

    “By the late 1980s and early 1990s, however, when Nafta was being drawn up first by George H.W. Bush, then by Bill Clinton—the Keynesian presumption that workers are also consumers had long since been jettisoned. Tellingly, the most crucial focus of its many thousands of pages was on installing legal protections that encouraged and protected American corporate investment (which for Mexico marked a departure from its 1980s policies more focused on nurturing local industry and human capital).

    Nafta—and many free trade agreements that followed it—opened up Mexico to corporate capital, while enshrining weak labor protections and environmental standards. By facilitating “race-to-the-bottom” offshoring, it did little to boost the skills base or purchasing power of Mexico’s consumer class.

    In at least one sense, however, Nafta worked: Investment gushed into Mexico.”

    “Despite its many flaws, Nafta set the stage for the US-led multilateral trade pacts that followed. In addition to opening up developing nations to the fickle flows of global capital, US negotiators demanded excessively lengthy patent, licensing, and copyright protections that enriched corporate giants in pharmaceuticals, entertainment, and information technology, says CEPR’s Baker—at the expense of both American consumers and its trading partners’ industries. And despite the careful attention to those details, American leaders consistently avoided confronting a problem that, not long after Nafta, began warping the US economy into the unstable mess that brought Trump to power.””

    what trump did however, is break the back of the free trade cult, this opened the door, the nafta democrats quickly shut that door.

    i have always said, there was a slight chance at reversing the mess bill clinton and the neo-liberals made, but the worse thing that happened to that slight chance, was the 2018 election and the return to power of the clintonites.

    trump offered a UBI and M4A, democrats turned him down

    then trump offered 2.2 trillion dollars and a 2k check. democrats turned him down

    pelosi even admitted the democrats drove the country into depression to defeat trump

    Trump for all his faults poses no existential threat to the republic. What’s more Sanders and Robinson are deeply underestimating the damage a Biden presidency will cause.

    https://benjaminstudebaker.com/2020/08/31/the-left-case-against-supporting-joe-biden-in-the-general-election/

    The Left Case Against Supporting Joe Biden in the General Election
    A Biden Administration Will Create a Whole New Generation of Bad Democrats

    by Benjamin Studebaker

    Reply
  15. Oh

    Ordinary citizens in modern western democracies never fully actualize the capacities (ascribed) to them…They are always subjects of a political system they do not and cannot control…Citizens (without agency as citizens, i.e., as subalterns) are blamed for everything that happens…that as citizens, it is their basic duty, their responsibility, to politically engage. Yet (when they do) their political efforts do not issue in anything real. When they don’t do politics, they are blamed for failing to act, and when they do try to do politics, they find they cannot do it, except in the most superficial and meaningless senses.

    So true. Yet people make futile attempts to change things by voting. Sad that they don’t realize that it’s all a fake routine.

    Reply
    1. JonnyJames

      The descent into full-blown oligarchy, run by a kakistocracy should have become glaringly obvious in recent years: If one steps back and looks at the MassMedia manufactured “viable” candidates shoved in our faces it should be obvious that these people (DT, JB,) etc. are little more than cruel jokes. Our “choices” are between two serially-mendacious, cognitively-challenged, amoral, assholes. What a great democracy eh.
      The tragically humorous comedy material is written for us.

      Reply
    2. jobs

      Even sadder to me is that this time they will vote for candidates supporting countries committing genocide.

      Why not just not vote, instead of supporting that awful kind of person?

      Reply
      1. John Anthony La Pietra

        What if there’s a way to vote without supporting such awful people?

        IMO, those of us who don’t want to vote for genocide can have more of an impact choosing to vote against genocide.

        If the vessel for that mass action isn’t ideal for you, maybe you can come help improve it.

        But please take the first step. If you won’t vote genocide, vote Green.

        Reply
  16. K.M.

    I am afraid that everytime we discuss the issue related to the system of governement the discussion is misguided.

    A system of government is a tool to be used to reach a specific target (let’s call it service of public interests) in a specific context defined by time and place.

    Every discussion of the system of governement has to include the three elements at the same time: tool , target and context.

    The system of government as a tool is necessarily shaped by the context but the target does not change: the service of public interests under different contexts.

    When we identify a system of government as democracy, theocracy or autocracy or whatever we often do so by associating it to a specific context of past experience that is not longer relevant .

    A good system of governement is by necessity an ad hoc system that draws from all the wisdoms accumulated through thousand years of human experiences and history and that addresses the challenges associated with a specific context to serve public interests.

    Call it democracy or whatever is not important.

    Reply
  17. Zephyrum

    It’s seven o’clock in the evening here in Moscow on a lovely warm afternoon. I’m looking out the window from the RZD railway lounge at the apartments towers going up across the way. There are construction cranes everywhere. The new apartments are quite nice–ours is a year old. The urban planning seems excellent with grocery stores, cafes, and services on the bottom floors, large open space areas with many trees planted, and the mandated children’s playground at every building. The economy is strong; the stores are full, the restaurants are busy, and everything is cleaner, better, newer, and nicer than you dare imagine.

    A few days ago we went to the VDNH exhibition center for the Russia Exhibition that’s been running the last few months. VDNH is like Disney World in Orlando, except real. Families strolling, children playing, people calmly listening to music, eating ice cream, enjoying life. There’s a Ferris wheel in the background, and aerial trams running overhead. Sitting on a park bench in front of the Stone Flower Fountain it occurred to me that this scene was, in fact, the American ideal.[1]

    The Russians stole our American Dream and made it theirs!

    How did Russia do this? During Soviet times everyone here was acutely aware of what life was like (or what movies showed it was like) in America. They yearned for it. Then they had to survive the trials and tribulations of the 1990s with factories closing, people losing their life savings in failed banks, and roving gangs of robbers breaking down apartment doors. Our new apartment door is 4 inches thick with a set of locks that would make Maxwell Smart envious, a legacy of that era. But through it all the Russians kept their eyes on the goal. And they have built it, and live in it, and are amplifying it into the future we could have had.

    Perhaps American Democracy isn’t just ill, perhaps it’s the wrong answer entirely. While Russia was building the American Dream, America was building the Russian nightmare–or so it appears with police dragging dissidents off planes and confiscating their passports.

    Clearly it’s time for America to choose a new direction. We won’t, of course, because the PMC is sitting fat and happy on top of the food chain and in full command of the criteria for virtue. Their vast certitude about the righteousness of their opinions precludes any alternatives. That doesn’t mean that change won’t come, but it won’t be by choice. How wasteful, and how sad.

    [1] My Russian friends would immediately add that I am describing Moscow. Kazan and St Petersburgh are similarly nice. But once you move past the top 10 or 20 cities in Russia the largess is not quite so evenly distributed.

    Reply
    1. Es s Ce Tera

      I’ve said this before, but I think Putin, who critiques American politics as ineffective and unmanaged, controlled by bureaucrats to an extent that even politicians have little influence in affairs and the state is rudderless because it can’t achieve anything from one election cycle to the next, has set a very good example by creating what is essentially government by To-Do List. Russian politicians and officials are fond of reciting checklists – what has been achieved and when, what hasn’t and why not, what next steps are, expected timelines, adding items to take away for next time, etc. It makes for boring and tedious listening but it publicly holds them to their own commitments. Perhaps Western leaders should take note that politics *should* be boring lists and then government might become representative?

      I recall how even in the 90’s when he was just coming into power he had aides following him making lists. He would meet a babushka in the streets, listen intently to her troubles, get her name, tell an aide to do something or check something, move on while the aide remains to get the details, etc. It actually worked, stuff got done.

      Reply
      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Putin LOVES being a pothole President, of finding concrete things that can be fixed and getting them done. He almost seems to enjoy the big meetings where some normal folks get to tell him what is wrong. How many welcome complaints? Putin keeps reinforcing the message that that is a very big part of the job of being in charge and complaints should be addressed, not blown off.

        To your point, this produces bureaucratic discipline that then gives them the confidence and ability to tackle bigger things.

        Reply
        1. John Wright

          I worked for Hewlett-Packard for 20+ years, part of the time was when “Bill and Dave” were active in the company.

          There was a practice of “management by walking around” in which senior executives would get away from their desks and visit shop floors and different operations.

          One of my co-workers mentioned having lunch with a bag lunch equipped Dave Packard on a loading dock in the early years.

          I suspected that this practice improved the quality of the information that flowed upwards, as lower level managers would worry that hiding bad news would be detected during the “walking around” phase by senior management. As a consequence lower level managers might be more forthright in their communications with higher-ups,

          Putin appears to be following a similar practice.

          Reply
      2. Zephyrum

        You both raise good points. My Russian babushka mother-in-law writes complaint letters when things need attention, and amazingly these letters get action. At one point a medical emergency crew copped an attitude about helping her neighbor and she wrote a scathing critique. Two levels of manager called to ask her to withdraw the letter with promises that they would do better. This tells me that these are taken very seriously.

        Reply
        1. Yves Smith Post author

          The Kremlin website allows anyone to send letters to Putin . I don’t think this would be operating if letters were ignored. It would be too easy to make it a butt of jokes if so.

          Reply
  18. David

    “But how?” and “So, what can we do?” I dimly recall an article of some 20 years ago, in Harpers I think, which said that the only successes of the left have come when they could make up their collective minds and choose one reform at a time. There are many Lefts. And plainly, many faults to remedy. But a proposal of multiple reforms that threatens all of the Powers and Principalities would only alert them all and unify them. And even if temporarily successful, would produce enough painful consequences and alienate enough voters to blow up any left-ish coalition. So don’t ask for everything. Pick one cause, preferably one that divides the ruling class.

    Perhaps there is some way to completely change the banking system. Nobody likes bankers.

    Reply
  19. Roger

    The reality is that the period in the US between the mid-1930s and the mid-1970s was the exception not the rule, created by the such very specific circumstance as a class compromise driven by the Great Depression that delegitimized capitalism and the post-WW2 dominance of the untouched US over a world very much destroyed by the war.

    Prior to that, the ruling class had dominated throughout the colonial period and hijacked the Constitution to maintain that dominance. Bourgeois capitalist dominance was intensified by the defeat of the southern landowners in the Civil War and the growth of massive corporations after 1870. The level of capitalist class concentration, through both monopolistic corporations and investment trusts such as Blackrock, is perhaps greater than that prior to the Great Depression.

    The difference is that the working class/middle class oppositional forces, such as trades unions, have been utterly defeated, devastated and tamed. While at the same time widespread political corruption has been legalized by such things as the Supreme Court ruling that money is speech, the ability of politicians to trade upon insider knowledge without fear of prosecution, and the revolving door between politicians and state bureaucrats and corporations/capitalist funded think tanks/lobbying organizations.

    I tend to agree with the lack of hope of the author, change will come from outside the US not from within it. Especially with the increasing atomization of the populations through COVID/electronic devices/identity politics etc., and also now the increasingly authoritarian reactions to any protests, or even words, that do not agree with the ruling class controlled state.

    Reply
    1. Kouros

      Excellent points that need to be repeated. The American Dream, the Golden Age is but an accident that just stalled for a couple of decades the triumphant march towards concentration. Technological advancement is an artefact of human ingenuity and it was alsways highjacked and ultimately helps to accelerate concentration of wealth.

      Reply
    2. seabos84

      & on this 80th anniversary of D-Day …
      In 1945, given millions of Americans having been trained with the 30.06 M1,
      AND had traipsed through the devastation in Asia & Europe,
      Maybe the American 1945+ ruling cla$$e$ were a wee bit less hell bent on taking everything?

      Maybe the American ruling cla$$e$ were a bit afraid surviving 1932 starvation & 25% unemployment ??

      In 2008 I’m 48 & having lunch with a bunch of young teachers at my Seattle high school & no one knew about “All In The Family” …

      rmm

      Reply
  20. David in Friday Harbor

    Thank you for this Book Report, Yves and KLG. I had wanted to read Studebaker’s book. Now I don’t have to. All political systems work for their self-selected elite castes. It has ever been thus.

    Neoliberal America has looted its way from roughly 40 billionaires in 1992 to over 800 billionaires today. This system has been a resounding success for our self-selected elite caste, accomplished solely through looting — the exploitation of natural resources and industrial production have actually collapsed during this massive expansion of elite wealth.

    Like KLG, I am a lumpen-PMC from blue-collar origins. I live quite well on the edges of this totalitarian and repressive system. I am burdened by feelings of guilt that I try to suppress through the practice of gratitude and daily acts of kindness. But I’ve stopped kidding myself that change is going to be possible without a violent collapse resulting in unimaginable suffering.

    Reply
    1. JonnyJames

      I always (half) joke that I’m an uppity peasant with an edjamacation. As some comments above suggest, we could always move away, like some Romans moved to Constantinople when Rome was decaying.

      Reply
  21. JonnyJames

    This is always an important topic, thanks for the discussion. I agree, the book is way over-priced and I will not buy it. Discussions of Frankfurt School political philosophy, Gramsci, Polanyi etc. are great, but we can read those free of charge at a library or usually buy their works for less than 20 bucks.

    A couple of other books that I did not see mentioned, that I would recommend is Democracy Inc. (Sheldon Wolin, 2010), Death of the Liberal Class (Chris Hedges, 2011). These are quite affordable books, but deal with the US experience primarily.

    Also, I think the definitions of loaded political terms need to be defined, and working definitions established. The terms “democracy” “liberal” “republic” “conservative”, “authoritarian” “socialist” are examples. Everyone thinks they know what “democracy” is, but try to explain it in detail. What kind of democracy? What about forms of direct democracy?

    I find this website helpful in defining terms and explaining the TWO-DIMENSIONAL political spectrum as well. It is a great starting point for anyone interested: https://www.politicalcompass.org/

    Depending on how one defines “democracy”, some have argued that the US has no functioning democracy at all, it is a Public Relations Democracy. To boil it down, the SCOTUS Citizens United decision formalized unlimited political bribery. That pretty much makes a mockery of even loosely defined “democracy”. The US is an oligarchy, clearly.

    Of course, Michael Hudson has written about classical Greek and Roman civilization and how democracies become oligarchies.

    We also need non-political scientists to comment. From a social psychology and anthropology standpoint, are large-scale human civilizations capable of democracy at all? Humans evolved from small hunter-gatherer groups for the majority of evolution. Are humans hard-wired to live in such communities? Is modern, urban life incompatible with democracy? I don’t know, but maybe someone with this background has suggestions.

    Reply
  22. Gulag

    “The Left is described as a “Hope Industry,” with little to show for its efforts.”

    Back in the 1920s Carl Schmitt argued that at a most fundamental psychological level we all are confronted with the overcoming of anxiety (Angst) before the unknown. He also called the political, Utopian, or largely a mechanism for the overcoming of such anxiety of the unknown through Wille zur Macht or Will to Power.

    Consequently he saw the effort to control reality as an expression of anxiety and of will to power, accomplished by means of Utopia.

    Talk about no way out! Discussing economic decline and the absence of positive feedback loops sounds like the easy stuff.

    Reply
  23. haywood

    Terrific book report on a well crafted and mostly accessible bit of populist political theory.

    How to get this book: I picked my digital copy up from an international online library called LIBGEN that you should all familiarize yourself with.

    The academic book market is a racket and, especially with egregious pricing examples such as this, we shouldn’t feel guilty seeking out community oriented libraries for our needs. Natural consequence of a market failure and I’m sure the author would agree.

    Reply
  24. Susan the other

    How does Liberty liberate us from liberty or Democracy from democracy? We are stuck in a circular paradigm. The reason Berlin scoffed at the phrase “freedom and equality for all” is because it is an oxymoron of massive self contradictions. We even sacrificed the holy grail of industrialization, the means of production, for absurd profits and unsustainable exploitation made possible by oil and technology designed to self perpetuate it all. Not that we have not achieved some good progress, we have, but at what cost? We are just not that good at disciplining ourselves. We’ve got libraries full of legislation, law, precedent, code and best practices. But none of it addresses the problem which, in spite of our ideals, is inequality. And the absurd reason it persists is because…. An absence of freedom. We don’t have either equality nor freedom because they cancel each other out like anti particles. What we need to resolve this social entropy (genius description) is a little entanglement. And maybe a definite leftward bias to our spin.

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  25. Gil Schaeffer

    Let’s stop calling the US a democracy or a failed democracy at all. The US is not a democracy in the first place and never has been. Democracy means one person, one equal vote. The Senate, the Electoral College, and the Supreme Court are all violations of that basic principle. See Robert Dahl, How Democratic Is the American Constitution? (2002), or Aziz Rana, The Constitutional Bind (2024). We have to focus directly on the minoritarian structure of the electoral and representative system itself to understand how the elites hold on to power.

    Reply
  26. Kouros

    “There is no place for the family in our modern political economy other than to reproduce the human means of production, for whatever the elites demand.”

    I know several young couples that have forsworn issuing copies of themselves.

    Bubonic plague broke the back of western feudalism.

    Natural attrition, which will be slow and then faster and faster, might do the same. The problem in North America is the $hitty housing stock, that being made out of “wood” is prone to decay. In Italy, or France, or Germany, you will be easily fing decent housing for nothing with a collapse in population.

    And future patriarchs would fill entire apartment buildings with their progeny… maybe with some lessons learned…

    Reply
  27. aj

    This is the first time I’m coming across the ideas of Negative vs Positive liberty. I had to reread that section several times to take it in and will have to do some more reading as well. This so succinctly captures the problem that I’ve always had with Libertarianism but have had trouble articulating. I’m not a huge fan of the naming convention (negative vs positive is too correlated with bad and good), but defining distinct concepts is always useful.

    The No Escape section was dismally accurate in describing how I feel about politics.
    And I learned a new word today: “subaltern”

    All in all, a great essay

    Reply
  28. ChrisPacific

    Good essay, especially the False Hope part. I think we have seen this in evidence with the uniformly awful Covid response that has taken hold around the world, as well as the lack of response on climate change. Properly dealing with the problem is difficult and requires sacrifice and compromise. Not dealing with the problem has severe consequences in the long term, but relatively minor ones in the short term. It becomes tempting to pretend the problem doesn’t exist, or is less severe than claimed, and politicians spring up to enable this view. They are able to leverage it to acquire and retain power, which then gives it a false stamp of legitimacy (this is true because the government says it is). An example is private businesses pointing to compliance with (manifestly inadequate) building code standards as an excuse for not improving ventilation or air quality monitoring.

    I think the only solution is a collective shift in attitude, to the point where political approaches are forced to change in alignment. It’s not particularly obvious how this can be accomplished, but it has happened in the past, in both a negative direction (the Nazi party in WW2) and a positive one (the end of apartheid in South Africa). It’s a difficult problem, but not necessarily an intractable one.

    Reply
  29. MFB

    Democracy defined as holding elections at which you get to choose the delegate of the oligarchs who implenents the policies of the oligarchs, as opposed to democracy where you get to choose your leader and then implement policies which you want.

    Crisis as in “Somebody has noticed what we are doing! Quick, to the Cancelmobile!”

    A wonderful and profound essay indeed.

    Reply
  30. Ignacio

    A late comment here. As we are approaching elections for the EU Parliament I have seen advertisements (via YouTube) only from the so called Partido Verde (the Spanish Green Party) which are the essence of the PMC approach: vote us because we will fight extreme right populists! This shows that the “greens” are nothing but establishment types that would bring anything but political change. Besides, having seen the spectacle of the German warmong… er “greens”, in my view, these readily represent better the “extreme right” they claim to fight: warmongers willing to consolidate the neoliberal regime in favour of the oligarchs. That is true extreme right IMO. TINA at its best.

    Thank you KLG. This post contributes to explain the political chronic sclerosis we are all immersed in.

    Reply
  31. seabos84

    Here is The First Draft!! [of my whack theo-philo-whatever-ology, Make Shtuf Work.]

    I.A.) people need to get some degree of comfort calculating expenses and costs by the hour,
    given a (40 hour work week)*( 52 weeks in the year) = 2080 hours
    B.1.) example – it costs my wife & I appx. 2 bucks an hour for our WA/Seattle schools investment
    2.) our water costs us about a buck an hour,
    before 2022 retirement ALL my retirement contributions were about 4 bucks an hour…
    (C. how many know an annuity formula with which you calculate how you can save 208 a year at 4% interest for 30 years and have over $11,600 at the end? 10 cents an hour times 2080 = 208)

    II.A.1.) Administrative processes MUST have online flow charts detailing the steps of the process. Each step must have a median time estimate to completion.
    2.) ya can’t be a policy peep unless you’ve spent a decade in the job you’re making policy about.
    IF you can’t do II.A.1. with out also estimating the number of family wage paid citizens spending the time to do the step – unemployed by the public sector for-evah.
    B.) Legislation, rules, laws, regulations must have an online spreadsheet to each clause detailing how money PER HOUR is being hoovered out of whose pocket, and, which thieving gate$bezo$mu$kwalton… household of the 1% is getting the money.

    III.A.) Legal system must be funded & organized such that each side gets the same amount of money for their lawyers AND the same amount of time for the lawsuit.
    B.) When some 1% lackey$ and their puppet ma$ter$ have been found to be ripping off 10 or 1million or 100 million citizens for anything over a tenth of a penny per citizen, that 1% owes $11,600 per dime (always round up) per person.
    C.) Wealth must capped at 1000 median household income.
    [I think all of III.) will need a constitutional amendment. Some of the hard baked corruption we live in predates the Romans …]

    Reply
  32. B Popolo

    “The subaltern is “totally excluded from representation” in the polity, and this fits with replacement of citizen with consumer in Neoliberalism.”

    So, we have some rarified notion of American citizenship under a distant federal government and more recently post WWII we have the emergence of the worker-consumer.

    Worker-consumer doesn’t exactly scream political Enfranchisement to me.

    Interesting that Studebaker has a section on futurism given stock market participants running headlong into AI mania, automation on hyperdrive to produce a PMC-free future.

    Reply
  33. B Popolo

    I hate to have to defend Hilary Clinton because I can’t stand her, but she did not call the working class deplorable. This is what she said, and it is generally apt:

    “You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. (Laughter/applause) Right? (Laughter/applause) They’re racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic – you name it. And unfortunately, there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people – now have 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive hateful mean-spirited rhetoric. Now, some of those folks – they are irredeemable, but thankfully, they are not America.

    But the “other” basket – the other basket – and I know because I look at this crowd I see friends from all over America here: I see friends from Florida and Georgia and South Carolina and Texas and – as well as, you know, New York and California – but that “other” basket of people are people who feel the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures; and they’re just desperate for change. It doesn’t really even matter where it comes from. They don’t buy everything he says, but – he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won’t wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they’re in a dead-end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.”

    Again, can’t stand Hillary, not sorry she lost, but continuing to misquote her seems discrediting.

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Clinton’s non-walkback the next day:

      Clinton apologized the next day in a very Clintonesque manner: “I regret saying ‘half’ — that was wrong,” she said in a statement. What was the magic number? She didn’t say. She did, however, double down on calling out Trump’s bigotry and racism.

      https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2021/08/31/deplorables-basket-hillary-clinton/

      So her remark could just as well have been a wink and nod to her supporters that she really meant all rather than half but saying that would be too impolitic.

      Moreover, I have yet ANYWHERE see anyone try to correct references to the Clinton “deplorables” remark, even though (absent press stories right after she said it) it is widely if not pervasively invoked the way KLG did. In other words, your comment comes off as concern trolling. In Lambert’s and my experience of moderating way over 2 million comments, concern trolling is just about never done in good faith.

      Reply
      1. B Popolo

        Maybe more than half of Trump’s supporters are racists, etc. who can say?

        Still, I don’t see where she says that the working class qua working class is deplorable, which is how I see people using it

        Reply

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