Tuesday, December 29, 2015

High End Versus Low End Governing

One thing I commonly hear in stories of civilizational collapse is the "high taxes/debt" issue. I tend to think of these more as symptoms rather than causes of collapse. But looking at civilizational patterns, what more often happens is less high taxes, but rather a shift in wealth from the state to powerful individuals, and a subsequent loss of the ability of the state to maintain the upkeep of civilization. That is, it is looting by the rich which causes collapse, and a melding of government and private interests, not "greedy bureaucrats" that is the root cause. Taxes often do go up in these circumstances, but they go up on those without the insider connections to keep them low, which is the average person.

It's another rewriting of history, where the political mood of our time is invested in making big, bad government into the villain in order to further demonize collective governance. The "taxes cause the fall of civilization" meme is an old one. In its retelling, greedy bureaucrats live in sybaritic luxury by levying confiscatory taxes on hard-working, salt-of the earth capitalist farmers and merchants so that they can lay around and do nothing. Eventually the taxes get so high due to expanding government that the farmers walk away from their plows and the merchant ships stay in port. Useless, lazy bureaucrats get fat on the hard-work and sweat of the entrepreneurial classes. Thus civilization falls. It's easy to see who gains from perpetrating this narrative.

Proponents of this view of civilizational collapse might have a hard time squaring that with the fact that tax rates are at historic lows right now, and that trillions of dollars escape taxation altogether. Taxes in the U.S have been perennially lowered since 1980, especially on the wealthy, and it's hard to argue that we've entered a golden age since that's been happening.

A more plausible cause of collapse is the ability of the rich and powerful to escape taxation while the common person cannot. The burden falls ever more on the average citizen during a time of declining incomes, meaning decreased revenues for the state. The state loses its ability to get things done. Rather than the ever-expanding government of their imagination, contracting government proceeds a collapse, which is hard to square with exponentially expanding tax revenue theory.

The thing that makes civilization work is the ability of a central government to get things done - defend the borders, keep law and order, adjudicate disputes, maintain infrastructure, and so forth. As more of the state's wealth is siphoned off into private hands, the state's ability to do all of these things is hampered. That's what we see in history. It is the private powers who lay around in ostentatious luxury while contributing less and less to the wider society, helped along by the fact that moneyed and ruling classes merge to become one and the same. See this:

History Lesson

As money flows into private hands, they become the de facto government. When that happens, justice is enforced by whim, and the freedom of the average person doesn't increase, it declines.

As bureaucrats can't collect revenue, they become "entrepreneurial" i.e. corrupt. The tax revenue isn't there to support them in the manner in which they have become accustomed, so they do things like shake down people and demand bribes. The reason you have to grease palms in Latin America isn't because taxes are too high. Police in Nordic countries make good incomes, so they don't do that. It's less human nature than institutional circumstance. As government becomes more and more corrupt, people lose faith in it, and the cycle reinforces itself.

I've written a lot about Neofeudalism--where the resources built by the public commonwealth are seized by a tiny oligarchy who then restrict access to them via tollbooths which they use to siphon the wealth of the wider society into their own pockets while offering nothing in return. The philosophical justification for this is, of course, Neoliberalism, aka, free market fundamentalism under the tutelage of economic "science."

In our previous survey, we saw Michael Hudson describe this as one of the primary recurring patterns throughout history. Certain controls on the accumulation of the wealthy are dismantled. As wealth inequality increases, eventually more and more of the population becomes indebted to a small minority. Those debtors then lose their "stake" in society, often losing their ability to participate as citizens in the process, and the society falls apart. Societies become adversarial instead of cohesive - predator and prey instead of cooperation. This is fatal. Ibn Khaldun pointed out that that well-run, cohesive societies with a sense of common purpose - he used the Arabic word asabiyah, tended to out-compete and supplant adversarial, unequal ones over time. Often these societies were based around smaller, flatter social structures than the top-heavy ones they supplanted. Successor societies then put moderate curbs on wealth accumulation to preserve that cohesion, but those curbs are eventually dismantled. We've seen this just in a few hundred years of history of the U.S.

Wealth falls into private hands where it is distributed not by public necessity, but by the whims of the wealthy and powerful. Rather than the superior allocation predicted by Market fundamentalists, it leads to widespread misallocation as the wealthy compete for status. And so we get more and more luxury apartments while infrastructure crumbles, artwork going for hundreds of millions of dollars while public funding for the arts dries up, stadium luxury boxes while schools can't afford to replace lightbulbs, solid gold trashcans and toilet seats, single record albums selling for two million dollars, and things like that. Meanwhile, streetlights flicker out, bridges collapse, and urban areas become lawless.

We can see the disintegration of societies into Neofeudalism as part of a larger historical pattern of transition from a "high end" to 'low end" society.

What brought this to mind was this article by Noah Smith: Stop-and-Seize Turns Police Into Self-Funding Gangs (Bloomberg). Smith, following the work of historian Ian Morris, talks about "high end" and "low end" methods of running a society:
In his book "Why the West Rules -- for Now," historian Ian Morris draws a distinction between two ways of running a country. He calls these “high-end” and “low-end” strategies. High-end states have efficient, centralized bureaucracies and a credible legal apparatus, while low-end states rely on local authorities to do things like collecting taxes and providing security. According to Morris, high-end states are more effective at creating rich, powerful, technologically advanced civilizations, but they are also more expensive -- when resources are strained, countries sometimes revert to the cheaper, low-end solutions. Often, transitions from high-end to low-end strategies follow wars, famines and other disasters that reduce the state’s ability to finance its activities directly.
Modern rich nations, with their extensive court systems, bureaucracies, militaries and infrastructure, look distinctly high-end compared with the feudal lands of past centuries. But in the U.S., I see some troubling signs of a shift toward low-end institutions. Bounty hunting was a recent example (now happily going out of style). Another example is the use of private individuals or businesses to collect taxes, a practice known as tax farming. A third has been the extensive use of mercenaries in lieu of U.S. military personnel in Iraq and elsewhere. Practices such as these can save money for the government, but they encourage abuses by reducing oversight.
So we can conceive of collapse as a transition period between "high-end" and "low-end" modes of society.

Smith goes on to describe how local police are essentially becoming unaccountable extralegal gangs who shake down the people they are supposed to be protecting, since the government funding from which they derive their revenue keeps getting cut back every year. I'm sure we can all relate to getting some silly ticket for going a few miles over the limit when driving through a small, decaying local hole-in-the-ground community even though everyone else was going the same speed and there was no threat to safety (this happens to me in the near ring suburbs).
"A thriving subculture of road officers…now competes to see who can seize the most cash and contraband, describing their exploits in the network’s chat rooms and sharing “trophy shots” of money and drugs. Some police advocate highway interdiction as a way of raising revenue for cash-strapped municipalities.'

“All of our home towns are sitting on a tax-liberating gold mine,” Deputy Ron Hain of Kane County, Ill., wrote in a self-published book under a pseudonym…Hain’s book calls for “turning our police forces into present-day Robin Hoods.”

This is exactly the process of devolution that Morris describes. With government unable to pay police as much as they need or would like, police are confiscating their revenue directly from the populace.
The threat to individual liberty from stop-and-seize is painfully clear. Without requirements for an arrest or for a warrant, the power to confiscate cash is a clear diminution of property rights.

Effectively, the police have been given official sanction to commit literal highway robbery without the threat of punishment...Even more fundamentally, though, stop-and-seize is part of a worrying trend of less government accountability. The lack of oversight virtually ensures that the quality of government services will decline. This has been painfully apparent in abuses by bounty hunters, mercenaries and private prisons. But if the police are transformed into independent, self-funding armed gangs, the quality of policing -- and thus the effectiveness of all our legal institutions -- is sure to decline. 
This is exactly the process of devolution that Morris describes. With government unable to pay police as much as they need or would like, police are confiscating their revenue directly from the populace. So this transition from "high end" to low end" parallels the collapse dynamic, and it's what were seeing today. Centralized authority can no longer afford to maintain its vast network, so local authorities take matters into their own hands. Thus, a dissolution to more "local control" is not always the peaceful, desirable process it is often portrayed as.

Essentially, the police are turning into modern-day warlords. This probably happened during Roman collapse also, as local sheriffs and authorities continued collecting taxes, but used them to fund their own wealth and privilege instead of sending them on to the imperial state coffers. They also took over the power vacuum as the Roman state disintegrated. Surely the Romans stamped down on the practice where they could, but they couldn't stop it everywhere because they did not have the resources to do so. Eventually, the local police-cum-warlords became the new de facto rulers, and eventually the de jure rulers as well. More wealth was confiscated through police seizures than by robbery in 2015.

Cullen Murphy, in his book Are We Rome, points to an devolution of concern for public service, and a transformation of that service into private benefit, as a key factor in the unraveling of the empire. In other words, the ruling elite (senators, landholders, equites, generals) cared less and less about the Roman res publica, (the public thing) and just decided to loot the damn place. Roman politics depended ever more on sycophancy and quid-pro-quo patronage. As the Romans relied extensively on tax farming (publicans), we can assume more and more of those taxes ended up being diverted to private coffers, starving the government and army of the revenue required to get things done. Soldiers loyal to Rome were replaced by mercenaries loyal to their general, and their general was loyal only to himself.

Eventually, politics was just individual actors jockeying for power, with everyone else just caught in the crossfire and frozen out of policymaking. Any concern for a greater "idea" of Rome, that is the public welfare, was dismissed as quaint. We see that tendency today, with people just disengaging completely from the political process because they have no effect on it whatsoever. It's just a contest between the handpicked champions of the billionaire oligarchs for who will inherit the imperial purple and keep the gravy train going while individuals are left to fend for themselves.

America's Oligarch Problem: How the Super-Rich Threaten US Democracy (Der Spiegel)

How America Became an Oligarchy (Web of Debt)

Fortunately, I found  that chapter of Are We Rome available online:
To be sure, a lot of Rome-and-America comparisons are glib, and if you’re looking for reasons to brush parallels aside, it’s easy enough to find them. The two entities, Rome and America, are dissimilar in countless ways. But some parallels really do hold up, though maybe not the ones that have been most in the public eye...One core similarity is almost always overlooked—it has to do with “privatization,” which sometimes means “corruption,” though it’s actually a far broader phenomenon. Rome had trouble maintaining a distinction between public and private responsibilities—and between public and private resources. The line between these is never fixed, anywhere. But when it becomes too hazy, or fades altogether, central government becomes impossible to steer. It took a long time to happen, but the fraying connection between imperial will and concrete action is a big part of What Went Wrong in ancient Rome. America has in recent years embarked on a privatization binge like no other in its history, putting into private hands all manner of activities that once were thought to be public tasks—overseeing the nation’s highways, patrolling its neighborhoods, inspecting its food, protecting its borders. This may make sense in the short term—and sometimes, like Rome, we may have no choice in the matter. But how will the consequences play out over decades, or centuries? In all likelihood, very badly.
http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2007/06/murphy200706

And just look at the behavior of our politicians: dining with CEO's, getting cushy consulting jobs, raising funds for their next election, passing rubber-stamped sweetheart deals for their backers, all while turning a blind eye to the fact that an increasing number of the nation's citizens live in poverty. Here's Murphy:
The phenomenon ...was called the “privatization of power,” or sometimes just “privatization,” by the historian Ramsay MacMullen in his classic study Corruption and the Decline of Rome (1988). MacMullen’s subject is “the diverting of governmental force, its misdirection.” In other words, how does it come about that the word and writ of a powerful central government lose all vector and force? Serious challenges to any society can come from outside factors—environmental catastrophe, foreign invasion. Privatization is fundamentally an internal factor. Such deflection of purpose occurs in any number of ways. It occurs whenever official positions are bought and sold. It occurs when people must pay before officials will act, and it occurs if payment also determines how they will act. And it can occur anytime public tasks (the collecting of taxes, the quartering of troops, the management of projects) are lodged in private hands, no matter how honest the intention or efficient the arrangement, because private and public interests tend to diverge over time.
Sarah Chayes’s new book Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security shows how far along this disturbing phenomenon has progressed in America:
A top government official with energy industry holdings huddles in secret with oil company executives to work out the details of a potentially lucrative “national energy policy.” Later, that same official steers billions of government dollars to his former oil-field services company. Well-paid elected representatives act with impunity, routinely trading government contracts and other favors for millions of dollars. Meanwhile, ordinary citizens live in fear of venal police forces that suck them dry by charging fees for services, throwing them in jail when they can’t pay arbitrary fines or selling their court “debts” to private companies. Sometimes the police just take people’s life savings leaving them with no recourse whatsoever. Sometimes they steal and deal drugs on the side. Meanwhile, the country’s infrastructure crumbles. Bridges collapse, or take a quarter-century to fix after a natural disaster, or (despite millions spent) turn out not to be fixed at all. Many citizens regard their government at all levels with a weary combination of cynicism and contempt. Fundamentalist groups respond by calling for a return to religious values and the imposition of religious law.
What country is this? Could it be Nigeria or some other kleptocratic developing state? Or post-invasion Afghanistan where Ahmed Wali Karzai, CIA asset and brother of the U.S.-installed president Hamid Karzai, made many millions on the opium trade (which the U.S. was ostensibly trying to suppress), while his brother Mahmoud raked in millions more from the fraud-ridden Bank of Kabul? Or could it be Mexico, where the actions of both the government and drug cartels have created perhaps the world’s first narco-terrorist state?
In fact, everything in this list happened (and much of it is still happening) in the United States, the world leader — or so we like to think — in clean government...And here’s a reasonable bet: it’s not going to get better any time soon and it could get a lot worse. When it comes to the growth of American corruption, one of TI’s key concerns is the how the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision opened the pay-to-play floodgates of the political system, allowing Super PACs to pour billions of private and corporate money into it, sometimes in complete secrecy. Citizens United undammed the wealth of the super-rich and their enablers, allowing big donors like casino capitalist — a description that couldn’t be more literal — Sheldon Adelson to use their millions to influence government policy.
Kabul on the Potomac (Juan Cole). Or listen to pretty much any episode of Congressional Dish.

Indeed, the public’s trust in government remains at historic lows, and the public’s feelings about government run more toward frustration than anger, and no wonder.

If David Graeber's right, low-end societies are also the fermentation grounds for what comes next. He says that centralized states are run by warfare, bureaucracy , slavery, and centralized commodity money. By contrast, periods of dissolution give way to chartlist theories of credit money, local economies, and population decline. Feudalism is government by personal relation, which works better in small-scale systems. These systems are also the incubators of what comes next, and who knows what that could be.

One thing that strikes me is the vast span between when things are first invented and when they are widely adopted. Sometimes it is centuries before these things become commonplace, whether it is indoor plumbing (as far back as 1700's), smallpox vaccine (ditto, with even earlier precedents), the germ theory of disease or the steam engine. Were the 1970's a dress rehearsal for the future? Did those things just come about ahead of their time? Will we eventually see a world of Permaculture farms, of greenhouses, of urban gardens, of aquaponics, of living machines, of 3-D printing, wind and solar farms, methane gas digesters, and earth sheltered houses? Maybe all of those appropriate technologies of the seventies are the future after all.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Fun Facts

It's the last fun facts of 2015!

8% of the world’s financial wealth – some $7.6 trillion – is hidden in places like Switzerland, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Singapore, and Luxembourg. That is more wealth than is owned by the poorer half of the world’s 7.4 billion people.
http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/tax-havens-costs-of-hidden-wealth-by-j--bradford-delong-and-michael-m--delong-2015-09

Every minute, someone gets arrested for marijuana possession in the U.S.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonkblog/wp/2015/09/28/every-minute-someone-gets-arrested-for-marijuana-possession-in-the-u-s/

Alcohol is killing Americans at a rate not seen in at least 35 years
http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/health/ct-americans-alcohol-deaths-20151222-story.html

The average American golf course uses 312,000 gallons of water per day.
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91363837?a

The "traditional" engagement ring is not traditional at all. Before World War II, only 10% of proposals involved diamond engagement rings; that number skyrocketed to 80% by 1990.
http://time.com/money/4069874/engagement-rings-diamond-moissanite-alternatives/?xid=tcoshare

Football has roughly 11 minutes of actual play time.
http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748704281204575002852055561406

Plastic played a large role in the war effort, used in everything from military vehicles to radar insulation, which really sparked the industry. Petroleum companies built plants to turn crude oil into plastic...When the war ended, the industry faced a glut,that was cured by creating all kinds of new uses for the material.
http://www.treehugger.com/green-home/26-not-so-fantastic-facts-about-plastic.html

The head of the world chess federation, ...Kirsan Ilyumzhinov: “...is best known for his belief in aliens — he has repeatedly recounted an instance when he was abducted in 1997 by “people in yellow spacesuits”
http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2015/11/we-truly-live-in-an-insane-world.html

Almost 2/3 of American Families Couldn't Afford a Single Pill of a Life-Saving Drug.

One in Four Americans Suffer Mental Illness; Mental Health Facilities Cut by 90%.

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/5-depressing-signs-america-just-isnt-country-it-used-be

In 2013 it was estimated that in property terms London's top 10 boroughs were worth more than all of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales combined. London's housing stock is worth as much as Brazil's annual GDP

[London] generates 22% of UK GDP despite accounting for only 12.5% of the UK population.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-248d9ac7-9784-4769-936a-8d3b435857a8

Until about 1400 there were more Christians in Asia than there were in Europe.
http://tankmagazine.com/issue-65/talk/peter-frankopan

71% of Americans surveyed believe the many shootings and other acts of mass violence in we've seen in 2015 are now a permanent part of life in our country.
http://boingboing.net/2015/12/14/poll-71-believe-mass-shootin.html

Suicide is the second-most common cause of death for Americans between 15 and 34, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Across all ages, it is the 10th-most common cause of death, and caused 1.6 percent of all deaths in 2012...Gun deaths are mostly suicides.
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/09/upshot/gun-deaths-are-mostly-suicides.html

Gun shop owners across the US have reported a marked increase in interest in their products over the holidays. In November, the FBI ran more than 2.2m gun background checks, a 24% increase from last year. Gun background checks hit a new record on Black Friday, when 185,345 were processed by the FBI.
http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/dec/24/gun-sales-christmas-holiday-shopping-industry-boom

93 Of The Poorest 100 Counties In America Are In "Red" States.
http://www.addictinginfo.org/2015/12/21/republican-poverty-93-of-the-poorest-100-counties-in-america-are-in-red-states/

Nearly half of America's youth say that the "American Dream" is dead.
http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-12-10/nearly-half-of-youth-say-american-dream-is-dead-harvard-poll?platform=hootsuite

98 percent...of reduction of global poverty, calculated using the poverty line $1 per person per day, was due to China...without China, global inequality would have been broadly  constant over the past 25 years, and in effect its 2011 level would have been higher than in 1988. With China, however, global inequality has decreased.
http://glineq.blogspot.com/2015/12/the-ambivalent-role-of-china-in-global_89.html

The Typical American Lives Only 18 Miles From Mom
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/12/24/upshot/24up-family.html

United States law bans the trading of futures contracts on onions.In 1955, two onion traders cornered the onion futures market on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. The resulting regulatory actions led to the passing of the Onion futures Act on August 28, 1958. As of 2015, it remains in effect.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onion_Futures_Act

Monday, December 21, 2015

Growth Madness

This may be the most unintentionally hilarious line from any story I've read this year:
Most notably, the group of economists is much more convinced than the general American public that immediate and bold action on climate change is necessary—and essential—to secure continued economic growth.
Economists: Buckle Up, Climate Change Is Going to Be a Rough Ride (Slate)

So, we need to take action on limiting our destruction of the biosphere to...wait for it....keep growth going!

If we don't halt climate change soon, we might not be able to grow!

I have no words. I mean, what can I say to make that more ridiculous?

It reminds me of the debates around inequality. Never mind the social justice aspect, never mind that just about every social malady known to man is higher in more unequal societies. No, the reason we need to deal with inequality is that it may harm growth! In other words, growth is not a means to an end, it is the end, and the only one that matters.

What will benefit people more, more growth or a more equitable society?

You can see why so many of us believe the growth mania is so ridiculous. And of course it has no end point.

Here's an example of growth madness: China's workforce could rise rather than fall (Marginal Revolution). The fall in the workforce of the billion-plus nation of China is causing economists around the world great consternation. What will we do without all the cheap labor? We'd have to move all the factories again, and that would cost money! But this post says not to worry. If China just decides to remove the possibility of retiring, we could drive more old people into the workforce and problem solved! Or we could just drive more women into the workforce, too:
Official pension ages in urban areas are 50 for blue-collar women, 55 for white-collar women and 60 for men.  Those could be raised by the government thereby boosting the labor force...if China adopted measures to retain older workers in the labor force, its working population would barely fall at all until at least the mid-2030s...With more women working, China in 2040 might have a labor force as large as it has today.  If the retirement issue and the gender issue are both solved, China’s labor force in 2040 likely will be 10 percent higher than it is today.
So we can send women and old people into the workforce to fix our "problem" of a workforce that needs to grow forever and ever. Tell me, what is the point of a country getting richer if more and more people have to work longer and harder?

It's ironic that the Chinese are supposedly Neoliberalism's great "lifted out of poverty" success story, yet they are already having to delay retirement even as they supposedly get richer? WTF? In fact, without China, global inequality would have been broadly constant over the past 25 years, and in effect its 2011 level would have been higher than in 1988! (source). So what is the benefit again? What is the point of getting richer if we have to work longer and need two incomes where one used to suffice? Why is nobody asking that? It seems a growing economy leads to more work, not less.

And we're talking about a country where existing growth has turned the air literally toxic to breathe:

Beijing grinds to halt as second ever 'red alert' issued over severe smog (Guardian)

China's grim history of industrial accidents (BBC)

But without growth, will we lose the social progress made over the past few hundred years? Maybe so.
Whatever the ethical merits of the case, the proposition of no growth has absolutely no chance to succeed. For all the many hundreds of years humanity survived without growth, modern civilization could not. The trade-offs that are the daily stuff of market-based economies simply could not work in a zero-sum world.
“It would be a nonstarter to have zero growth within a given country in terms of creating conflict between groups,” Professor Greenstone told me. “If one were to take this further and make it international, it feels like an even bigger stretch.”
Let’s examine what our fossil-fueled growth has provided us. It has delivered gains in living standards in even the poorest regions of the world.
But that’s only the beginning. Economic development was indispensable to end slavery. It was a critical precondition for the empowerment of women.
Indeed, democracy would not have survived without it. As Martin Wolf, the Financial Times commentator has noted, the option for everybody to become better off — where one person’s gain needn’t require another’s loss — was critical for the development and spread of the consensual politics that underpin democratic rule.
Zero growth gave us Genghis Khan and the Middle Ages, conquest and subjugation. It fostered an order in which the only mechanism to get ahead was to plunder one’s neighbor. Economic growth opened up a much better alternative: trade.
The Oxford economist Max Roser has some revealing charts that show the deadliness of war across the ages. It was a real killer in the era of no growth. Up to half of all deaths among hunter-gatherers, horticulturalists and other ancient cultures were caused by conflict.
The bloody 20th century — stage for two world wars, the Holocaust and other war-based genocides — still doesn’t even come close.
Naomi Klein, a champion of the leftward fringe newly converted to the environmental cause, gleefully proposes climate change as an opportunity to put an end to capitalism. Were she right, I doubt it would bring about the workers’ utopia she appears to yearn for. In a world economy that does not grow, the powerless and vulnerable are the most likely to lose. Imagine “Blade Runner,” “Mad Max” and “The Hunger Games” brought to real life.
The good news is that taking action against climate change need do no such thing. It will not be easy, but we can glimpse technological paths that will allow civilization to keep growing and afford the world economy a positive-sum future.
More than how to stop growth, the main question brought out by climate change is how to fully develop and deploy sustainable energy technologies — in a nutshell, to help the world’s poor, and everybody else, onto a path to progress that doesn’t rely on burning buried carbon.
Imagining a World Without Growth (New York Times)

Of course, trade doesn't create wealth, it just transfers it around. It's the harnessing of fossil fuels that has done that. Trade had been going on for thousands of years before growth went exponential. It never prevented collapse. And notice the scare tactics - grow or end up in a Mad Max scenario. Well, endless growth seems to be heading that way anyway:

The Ominous Story of Syria's Climate Refugees (Scientific American)

So if I understand this right, we need to keep growing so the world's growing populations don't turn on each other in a zero-sum competition for resources. But to make sure that we keep growing we need to add more and more people so that growth doesn't stop. Circular reasoning?

And this is the guiding philosophy of the planet! No wonder we're doomed.

Growth is going to come to halt one way or another. The only question is how we prepare for it and what the outcomes will be.

It’s time to move beyond growth for growth’s sake (Aeon)

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Corn-Pone Hitler?


I had intended to write about ¡Trumpismo!, and given the comments to my last piece, now seems like a good time. I don't normally like to cover domestic politics, since it's mostly irrelevant to the "big picture" issues I like to deal with here, but I do think the alternative candidates running now do reveal something about the future, chiefly that the center cannot hold and things are breaking down. As I've said so often, sometimes countries just go crazy.

First, the obvious. Trump is running a right-wing populist proto-fascist campaign. His campaign is predicated on national decline and humiliation, and animated by white racial grievance. The current Neoliberal duopoly has basically painted a happy face on several decades of decline in living standards for the vast majority of people in the previously rich industrialized countries, along with widespread unemployment, corruption, a crisis in housing affordability and a gutting of social services.

Given that, how could we not expect some kind of counter-reaction to emerge? Sooner or later it was going to happen. It makes sense that the person able to break through the corporate-owned media's peddling of Neoliberal economic orthodoxy and consent manufacturing would be someone with both the financial means and media savvy to do so.

The mainstream parties offer no solutions to the problems named above. Neither does Trump for that matter, but at least he acknowledges the situation, which is more that can be said for the hapless mainstream political parties. Both parties have had their crack at bat over the last few decades with precisely the same result: they have both have failed to do anything substantial for anyone outside of the donor class. As I've said before, American presidents are similar to their former Soviet counterparts, presiding over and caretaking a system that has no future and is rapidly falling apart. Nation-states have ceded real power to do anything apart from enforce the Neoliberal consensus that the only real duty of governments is to manage international capital markets. The mainstream "safe" candidates have presided over a precipitous and ominous rise of hopelessness, despair and decline, coupled with an epidemic of fraud, graft and corruption at the highest institutions of society. Is it any wonder people are losing faith in institutions? The mainstream parties are the parties of the small circle of winners at the top of society - the financiers, the university presidents, the executive directors, the CEO's, the superstars, and all the grifters who are making out like bandits at the expense of the rest of us.

The Predictability of Political Extremism (Naked Capitalism)

To me, what's most fascinating about Trump is the degree to which he reveals how disgusted downscale white voters are with the party they have been fanatically supporting since Reagan. It is a constant source of wonderment from astute political observers the world over, that the white American working class consistently votes for a party that seems to want to destroy them based on their rhetoric and legislative aims. This is chalked up to a number of reasons, usually tied to the manipulation of racism and religious fundamentalism.

That's partially true, of course, but what I think is the case is that people vote Republican because it's their "team." That is, what the Republicans do and how they govern is largely irrelevant to the people who vote for them. For example, people are Packers fans whether or not the team makes it to the Superbowl or loses a few games. It's their "team," and  being a fan  is a par of your identity. People are loyal to their team through thick and thin, win or lose (just ask Cubs fans). Voting Republican is largely an exercise to affirm one's affiliation to a particular segment of the American population - uneducated, white, rural, religious, gun-toting, church-going and fetus-fetishizing. The Republican party has become the party of affiliation for the downscale whites who have been left behind by Neoliberalism; what I've termed the "rump." As it cynically catered to this demographic to gain political power, it soon adopted all their worst elements - their bellicose and hypocritical religiosity, their lust for war and violence and disdain for the arts and culture, their xenophobia and their hatred. The Republicans are the "team" of rural whites and the executive class. Strange bedfellows to be sure, and that difference is partly behind the recent internal Republican civil war and the rise of Trump.

At the same time, the Democrats are increasingly portrayed as (exclusively) the party of gays, women, and minorities. Inaccurately, in my opinion. I think that the Democrats have let themselves be tarred and feathered with the most extreme elements of the "New Left" at the same time as they abandoned their commitment to putting up even a token resistance to Neoliberal consensus. This is why they are seen as "anti-white." In defense of the Democrats, at the time of the Reagan "revolution," there were plenty of Democrats who were pro-union and opposed to deregulation, outsourcing, and mass immigration. But they pretty consistently lost, so they figured that since that rhetoric got them no votes and alienated the donor class, they might just as well abandon those opinions and start getting the corporate cheddar that was necessary to buy the airtime needed to win modern elections. That was how they survived as a party.

So let's talk about immigration.

Now, I don't think that mass immigration is part of any so-called "conspiracy" against whites in this country. It's all about the money. Cheaper immigrants have always been used to keep wages low and suppress the wages of native-born workers. Employers would hire genetically-engineered chimpanzees or aliens from Zeta Reticuli if they thought they could break the back of the working class, without giving two fucks about the Americans they were screwing over. If blonde, apple-cheeked Nordics were happy to wash dishes for a few bucks an hour, they would be displacing the native population too. The Market cares for nothing besides cheap labor; it has no loyalty to nation, race or class. As I've said before (and as Morris Berman has repeatedly pointed out), there is no loyalty or solidarity in American society; it is purely a competition between alienated individuals over who can rook over the next guy and end up with the most. As Berman writes, unremitting competition is not a social glue, its a solvent, so it's no wonder America is coming apart at the seams.

A century ago, it was immigrants from Central Europe, particularly Austria-Hungary and the old Hapsburg empire who fit that bill. And many of them weren't considered white at the time. They were too swarthy and too Catholic for that. Most immigration prior to that was from Western Europe, particularly the British Isles, along with some French and Dutch. But the new wave was the Central slice of Europe west of France and east of Russia, from Scandinavia down through Sicily: Germans, Austrians, Swiss, Poles, Italians, Scandinavians, Bohemians, Serbians, Greeks, Croatians, Dalmatians, Romanians, Moravians, Hungarians, Slovaks, Bulgarians, and so on, including large numbers of Jews along with Irish fleeing the famine. Milwaukee, where I live, is pretty much comprised of those people today; the descendants of the Central European peasants whose ancestors crossed the Atlantic to survive, in contrast to the Anglo-Saxon-dominated East Coast. My own ancestors were a part of that wave from what is today Eastern Germany (now Poland since the end of the Second World War). My great-grandparents never did bother learning English, getting by with their native Plattdeutsch.

And you heard the exact same rhetoric then as you do today - that the new immigrants were a threat to native workers, which was not entirely false, and that were more loyal to their homelands than America, which turned out not to be true. Now the great-grandchildren of those same immigrants are attending Trump rallies and demanding that the borders be closed.


Note that every spike in immigration is followed by an economic collapse. The supply of workers grows too large, driving down wages. The drop in wages depresses consumption and leads to an economic crisis in a capitalist system devoted to overproduction. The jobs then dry up and the crab mentality sets in. Competition for increasingly scarce jobs leads to xenophobic finger-pointing and scapegoating. In the past, however, the adults were in charge, and took steps to rectify the situation, keeping it from boiling over.

Not anymore.

The current wave is a bit different. They look a lot more like the original inhabitants of this part of the world we wiped out a long time ago. They know how to be poor, which gives them an inherent advantage in a contracting society. The big difference between this wave and the ones that preceded them is that the age of mass employment is over. This is very different from the relatively open country that the previous wave of immigrants found themselves in (many of whom ended up in a largely empty Middle America from Pennsylvania to Oregon). The other is that, since they did not have to cross an ocean and their ancestry is on this continent, there is a lot less pressure or need for them to assimilate. Plus it's a lot easier to get here and harder to close the border, since the ocean is not involved. Rather, America is changing to accommodate them. Sure, previous waves of immigration produced ethnic niche communities and material which catered to them, but they were eventually assimilated. In just a couple of decades, we have essentially become a bilingual society - you can conduct every aspect of life entirely in Spanish (not necessarily a bad thing in my opinion - Americans should learn to speak more languages).

This mass immigration is cheered on conservative websites that cater to the libertarian, business-oriented, anti-worker, think-tank-funded country-club arm of the Republican party--the ones funded by people like the Koch Brothers. I'm thinking of sites like Marginal Revolution and Bloomberg. "Left-leaning" economists like Noah Smith and "small-'L'-libertarian economists like Tyler Cowen are constantly beating the drum for more immigration, even as they freely acknowledge the death of the working class and the rise of automation. That mass immigration and unlimited free trade are good things is one of the few things that the mainstream corporate-funded Left and Right consistently  agree on.

The Moral Is the Practical (MR)

Does increasing inequality weaken the case for additional low-skilled immigration? (MR)

An Immigrant Won't Steal Your Raise (Bloomberg)

In fact, the Left and Right uniting against Neoliberal corporate rule is the elites' worst nightmare.
That's the reason behind the divide-and-conquer strategies that have been deployed so effectively by the wealthy and the media - to keep people from realizing their common enemy. It's an old tactic - Jay Gould quipped that he could hire half the poor to kill the other half. Today it would be rural gun-toting white Christian fundamentalists fighting Hispanic lesbian union activists or latte-sipping urban hipster professionals. Simple pie.

In fact, they've been so good at divide and conquer that they are tearing the nation apart for their own selfish ends. As long as people are preoccupied on racial/gender issues on so forth, they will never form a united opposition to the forces that are skinning us alive. The problem is that they've done it so effectively that the the country simply cannot function to accomplish any coherent goals at all. This power vacuum is good for powerful elites who can use their money to act as a de-facto government unto themselves. By cynically manipulating the fissures in American society, big business has successfully neutralized any opposition to its hostile takeover of the levers of power, but it has left a hollowed out country desperate for a savior in its wake. As Lincoln so aptly said, a house divided against itself cannot stand.
“Open borders? No, that’s a Koch brothers proposal,” [Bernie] Sanders said in a wide-ranging interview with the website. “That’s a right-wing proposal, which says essentially there is no United States.” 
Sanders frequently targets the libertarian industrialists Charles and David Koch as unhealthy influences on American democracy — but he’s not the first to notice their support for an open borders policy. 
The conservative Breitbart and the white supremacist VDARE website each blasted the Koch brothers for sponsoring a “pro-amnesty Buzzfeed event” in 2013, and two writers for the Koch-sponsored Reason — former contributing editor David Weigel and current editor-in-chief Nick Gillespie — have always been supportive of immigration reform.
That’s at odds with what many Republicans believe, and Sanders told Vox that an open border would be disastrous to the American economy. 
“It would make everybody in America poorer — you’re doing away with the concept of a nation state, and I don’t think there’s any country in the world that believes in that,” Sanders said. “If you believe in a nation state or in a country called the United States or (the United Kingdom) or Denmark or any other country, you have an obligation in my view to do everything we can to help poor people.” He said conservative corporate interests pushed for open borders, not liberals.
Bernie Sanders explodes a right-wing myth: ‘Open borders? No, that’s a Koch brothers proposal’ (Raw Story)

Note how it is couched in the rhetoric of "freedom." Footloose and desperate labor is a plutocrat's dream. As I like to say, if you see the words "Freedom" or "Liberty" in connection with "Economics," look very closely at where the money is coming from and who benefits for their proposals.

However, on the ground, Republican voters are not stupid. they are well-aware that if they hire workers to fix their pluming or install a new roof, those workers are all going to be speaking Spanish. They know that the kitchen staff of every restaurant they go to is filled with people straight out the beanfields of Mixoacan.  And they don't understand why those people can travel thousands of miles not speaking a word of English and have a job ready and waiting for them while their own unemployment benefits are running out and they are turned down for even the most trivial service job. They also wonder why their children are the ones populating urban schools and parks. And if you point this out, the corporate-owned media is eager to denigrate you with labels like "racist" and "nativist." Trump is largely a reaction to this.


Now, I don't think that immigrants are in any way "threatening" America's culture. Quite the opposite, actually. You cannot threaten American culture because there is no culture. America's only "culture" is making money. It is not so much a civilization as a business proposition. Its soul is hollow and empty inside, and there is nothing in it's back heart besides pandering to the lowest common denominator, Social Darwinism, and the eternal need for "more." You can't destroy what never existed.

What it will do it make it crowded enough that the uniquely American fantasies of rising living standards in perpetuity and social mobility will wither and die on the vine. Right now the generations who experienced those things are having an emotional tantrum and looking for a daddy/Santa Claus figure who will promise them all the goodies they think they so richly deserve, and Trump is all to happy to occupy that role in the service of his own ego. When yet another savior fails to deliver, there will be yet another meltdown, accompanied by all the same symptoms -  political extremism, class warfare, ethnic scapegoating and mass shootings of the poor by the poor. After a few centuries of madness, we may end up with a society more in line with a shrinking world and with a polity that can be trusted to make mature decisions not based knee-jerk reactions and fear.

Robert Reich has been touring the country promoting his latest book, and to his credit, he is one so-called leftists who tries very hard to understand the perspective of those who disagree with him. What he finds is that on the economic issues, there is surprisingly little difference between the so-called liberals and conservatives who are constantly played against each other:
It turned out that many of the conservative Republicans and Tea Partiers I met agreed with much of what I had to say, and I agreed with them. For example, most condemned what they called “crony capitalism,” by which they mean big corporations getting sweetheart deals from the government because of lobbying and campaign contributions.
I met with group of small farmers in Missouri who were livid about growth of “factory farms” owned and run by big corporations, that abused land and cattle, damaged the environment, and ultimately harmed consumers.They claimed giant food processors were using their monopoly power to squeeze the farmers dry, and the government was doing squat about it because of Big Agriculture’s money.
I met in Cincinnati with Republican small-business owners who are still hurting from the bursting of the housing bubble and the bailout of Wall Street. “Why didn’t underwater homeowners get any help?” one of them asked rhetorically. “Because Wall Street has all the power.” Others nodded in agreement. Whenever I suggested that big Wall Street banks be busted up – “any bank that’s too big to fail is too big, period” – I got loud applause.
In Kansas City I met with Tea Partiers who were angry that hedge-fund managers had wangled their own special “carried interest” tax deal. “No reason for it,” said one. “They’re not investing a dime of their own money. But they’ve paid off the politicians.”
In Raleigh, I heard from local bankers who thought Bill Clinton should never have repealed the Glass-Steagall Act. “Clinton was in the pockets of Wall Street just like George W. Bush was,” said one.
Most of the people I met in America’s heartland want big money out of politics, and think the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision was shameful. Most are also dead-set against the Trans Pacific Partnership. In fact, they’re opposed to trade agreements, including NAFTA, that they believe have made it easier for corporations to outsource American jobs abroad. A surprising number think the economic system is biased in favor of the rich. (That’s consistent with a recent Quinnipiac poll in which 46 percent of Republicans believe “the system favors the wealthy.”)
Reich goes on to describe the attraction of Trump to these voters. He couples the rhetoric and white racial affiliation of the Republican party with the pro-capitalist "everyone can get rich rhetoric," while mining the grievance of Americans who see the inexorable decay of their living standards and communities along with feeling like strangers in their own country. To some extent, he's doing what the Democrats did long ago - steal rhetoric from the other side that appeals to the marginalized middle. The Leftist views find no articulation of these views on the Democratic side save for Bernie Sanders. So why not vote for Sanders? Well, especially for the older white voters of Middle America who grew up during the Cold War, the constant demonization of "socialism" (and Bernie's Jewishness) are deal-breakers. But they can feel good about Trump.
I...began to understand why many of them are attracted to Donald Trump. I had assumed they were attracted by Trump’s blunderbuss and his scapegoating of immigrants. That’s part of it. But mostly, I think, they see Trump as someone who’ll stand up for them – a countervailing power against the perceived conspiracy of big corporations, Wall Street, and big government.
Trump isn’t saying what the moneyed interests in the GOP want to hear. He’d impose tariffs on American companies that send manufacturing overseas, for example.  He’d raise taxes on hedge-fund managers. (“The hedge-fund guys didn’t build this country,” Trump says. “They’re “getting away with murder.”) He’d protect Social Security and Medicare. I kept hearing “Trump is so rich he can’t be bought.”...
What I Learned on My Red State Book Tour (Robert Reich)

The Revolt of the Anxious Class  (Robert Reich)
A focus group of Trump supporters conducted by pollster Frank Luntz earlier this week revealed that, by and large, Trump's backers are pessimistic about the future of the country and passionately hate President Barack Obama and the mainstream media. They're wary of Muslims and steadfast in their support of their candidate, even to the point of being willing to follow him in an independent presidential bid if he leaves the Republican Party.

In September David Brady and Douglas Rivers of the Hoover Institution took a closer look at the demographics of Mr Trump's enduring coalition. They painted a picture of Trump supporters as largely older, less wealthy and less educated. They found that more than half of Trump-backers are female. About a third are over the age of 65. Only 2% are younger than 30. Half of his voters have a high-school diploma, but just 19% have a college degree. Just over a third earn less than $50,000, while 11% make six figures or more. Ideologically, Mr Trump's people are all over the board, with 20% identifying as moderate, 65% as conservative and 13% as very conservative. When the New Yorker entered the race, he pulled support from nearly every candidate in the field.

All of this raises what the Washington Post's Max Ehrenfreund calls a "fundamental, universal and uncomfortable" truth about Donald Trump and his now more than four-month run as the man to beat in the Republican primary. He spoke to a number of psychologists and came up with three key sources of Mr Trump's appeal. "We like people who talk big," he writes. "We like people who tell us that our problems are simple and easy to solve, even when they aren't. And we don't like people who don't look like us."
Who are Donald Trump's loyal supporters? (BBC)

In other words, the peasants that have been dutifully turning out and voting in radical right politicians over the last few decades are fully aware they're being screwed. They just don't see Democrats as a viable alternative, and who could blame them? And a true leftist movement which could articulate these fears and unite the diverse elements in American society who are usually at war with one another has been successively stymied to date. Trump says the things everybody knows are true, but cannot be articulated by parties dedicated to the pursuing policies demanded by the donor class. And unlike Sanders, Trump has enough celebrity to make past he media gatekeepers. He is fully aware that modern elections are a circus, and treats it as such. In fact, the media has been so discredited by parroting the Panglossian corporate rhetoric in the face of decline that they have undermined their credibility to such an extent that anything they say, even if it's true (such as there were not thousands of Muslims in New York celebrating 9-11, or that climate change is real), will be dismissed.

It's no surprise populism needs to be the "right-wing" variety in a country like the U.S. As I've said before, the Republican party is no longer a party, it is an authoritarian movement, and authoritarian movements need a leader. What's also interesting is the degree to which Putinism, a Russian nationalist authoritarian movement, is admired by right-wing Republicans in the US. I guess Russkies are OK as long as they aren't commies.

Donald Trump's Putin Admiration Is Completely Within the Political Mainstream (Gawker)

Note that the desire for a strong and decisive leader whom humiliated males emasculated by an economy that no longer needs them as workers or soldiers can live vicariously through is preciously the same sentiment that propelled the rise of politicians like Hitler and Mussolini, among others.

Which brings us to the Fascist part. In an intelligent article at Slate, the columnist uses Umberto Eco's definition of Fascism to point out that Trump's campaign first the bill rather nicely:
Part of the problem of talking about fascism, at least in American political culture, is that there’s nothing close to a common definition. ...Most often, it’s a political insult, usually directed from the left to the right, but often in the reverse too, always in service of narrow partisan points. This is too bad because fascist and fascism are terms that actually mean something apart from contemporary political combat and the particulars of early- to mid–20th-century Europe. And while that meaning is fuzzy, contested, and contingent, there are elements that scholars can agree on.
[Umberto] Eco emphasizes the extent to which fascism is ad hoc and opportunistic. It’s “philosophically out of joint,” he writes, with features that “cannot be organized into a system” since “many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanacticism.”
...A cult of “action for action’s sake,” where “thinking is a form of emasculation”; an intolerance of “analytical criticism,” where disagreement is condemned; a profound “fear of difference,” where leaders appeal against “intruders”; appeals to individual and social frustration and specifically a “frustrated middle class” suffering from “feelings of political humiliation and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups”; a nationalist identity set against internal and external enemies (an “obsession with a plot”); a feeling of humiliation by the “ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies”; a “popular elitism” where “every citizen belongs to the best people of the world” and underscored by contempt for the weak; and a celebration of aggressive (and often violent) masculinity.
How does [Trump] build favor with Republican voters? He shows bravado and “strength,” disparaging weak opponents. He indulges racist rhetoric and encourages violence against protesters. He speaks directly to the petite bourgeoisie in American life: managers, public employees, small-business owners. People squeezed on all ends and desperate for economic and cultural security against capitalist instability and rapid demographic shifts, as represented by President Obama. Elect him, Trump says, and he’ll restore your security and American greatness. “You’re going to say to your children, and you’re going to say to anybody else, that we were part of a movement to take back our country. … And we will make America great again.”
Why Fascist Is the Term That Best Describes Donald Trump (Slate)

Trump has also called for the mass detention and incarceration of individuals based on nothing more than their ethnic/religious affiliation.

Here's what I think. I think Trump is a narcissist and opportunist, and that he realized that the Republican party had become a right-wing authoritarian movement comprised of the downwardly mobile angry white temporary majority, and that furthermore it had built effective distributed institutions to catapult the propaganda and rally troops to the cause, but it lacked a single charismatic leader (with the long-dead Reagan as a stand-in). The organization was there, built by a diffuse group of unconnected plutocrats to get lower taxes and higher profits; it just needed someone to come along who knew how to wield it effectively and had no shame in pandering to its worst elements.

How Donald Trump courted the right-wing fringe to conquer the GOP (Washington Post)

Most of the evidence shows that many of the opinions Trump is spouting contradict things he himself said years ago. I doubt he believes half the things he says, but he realized that by articulating the things conventional politicians can't or won't say to avoid offending their donors, he can fill a vacuum in American politics. And if this rabble includes the most ugly racist and crackpot elements in society, who cares so long as it gets you more power and popularity? The only thing that matters is getting the votes to win, because winning is all that counts in a morally nihilistic society.

This article is by far the best analysis yet of the Fascist angle of Trump's campaign and the American ultra-right in general: Donald Trump May Not Be a Fascist, But He is Leading Us Merrily Down That Path (Orcinus) It's quite long, and you need to read it all. One thing it points out is that most of the popular definitions of Fascism are simply wrong:
What it’s decidedly not, no matter what you might have read, is the simple-minded definition you’ll see in Internet memes attributed to Benito Mussolini: “Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.” As Chip Berlet has explained ad nauseam, not only did Mussolini never say or write such a thing, neither did the fascist philosopher Giovanni Gentile, to whom it is also often attributed.

For one thing, as Berlet explains: “When Mussolini wrote about corporatism, he was not writing about modern commercial corporations. He was writing about a form of vertical syndicalist corporatism based on early guilds.” ...the term “corporatism” and “corporate” meant an entirely different thing in 1920s Italy than it means today...

Another thing that fascism decidedly is NOT is the grotesque distortion made by Jonah Goldberg, to wit, that fascism is a kind of socialism and therefore “properly understood as a phenomenon of the left.” This claim, in fact, is such a travesty of the idea of fascism that it functionally negates its meaning, rendering it, as George Orwell might describe it, a form of Newspeak. Indeed, it was Orwell himself who wrote that “the idea underlying Fascism is irreconcilably different from that which underlies Socialism. Socialism aims, ultimately, at a world-state of free and equal human beings. It takes the equality of human rights for granted. Nazism assumes just the opposite.” Fascism, in reality, is a much more complex phenomenon than either of these definitions...
Yet in many ways, Trump's campaign is quite different from the Fascist campaigns that have existed historically:
...as we consider the attributes of real fascism, we also can begin to discern the difference between that phenomenon and the Trump candidacy. Fascists have, in the past, always relied upon an independent, movement-driven paramilitary force capable of enacting various forms of thuggery on their opponents...Trump, however, has no such force at his disposal.
 What Trump does have is the avid support not only of various white-supremacist organizations, as well as that of very real paramilitary organizations in the form of the Oath Keepers and the “III Percent” movement, many of whose members are avid Trump backers, but neither of which have explicitly endorsed him. Moreover, Trump has never referenced any desire to form an alliance or to make use of such paramilitary forces.

What Trump has done is wink, nudge, and generally encouraged spontaneous violence as a response to his critics. This includes his winking and nudging at those “enthusiastic supporters” who committed anti-Latino hate crimes, his encouragement of the people at a campaign appearance who assaulted a Latino protester, and most recently, his endorsement of the people who “maybe should have roughed up” the “disgusting” Black Lives Matter protester who interrupted his speech.
That’s a clearly fascistic response. It also helps us understand why Trump is an extraordinarily dangerous right-wing populist demagogue, and not a genuine, in-the-flesh fascist. A serious fascist would have called upon not just the crowd to respond with violence, but also his paramilitary allies to respond with retaliatory strikes. Trump didn’t do that.

That, in a tiny nutshell, is an example of the problem with Trump’s fascism: He is not really an ideologue, acting out of a rigid adherence to a consistent worldview, as all fascists are. Trump’s only real ideology is the Worship of the Donald, and he will do and say anything that appeals to the lowest common denominator of the American body politic in order to attract their support – the nation’s id, the near-feral segment that breathes and lives on fear and paranoia and hatred.

There’s no question these supporters bring a singular, visceral energy to the limited universe of the GOP primary, though I don’t know anyone who expects that such a campaign can survive the oxygen and exposure of a general election. Indeed, it is in many signs an indication of the doom that is descending upon a Republican Party in freefall, flailing about in a death spiral, that it is finally resorting to a campaign as nakedly fascistic as Trump’s in its attempts to secure the presidency.
 Trump is not fascist primarily because he lacks any kind of coherent, or even semi-coherent, ideology. What he represents instead is the kind of id-driven feral politics common to the radical right, a sort of gut-level reactionarism that lacks the rigor and absolutism, the demand for ideological purity, that are characteristic of full-bore fascism.

That does not, however, mean he is any less dangerous to American democracy. Indeed, he may be more dangerous than an outright fascist, who would in reality be far less appealing and far less likely to succeed in the current milieu. What Trump is doing, by exploiting the strands of right-wing populism in the country, is making the large and growing body of proto-fascists in America larger and even more vicious – that is, he is creating the conditions that could easily lead to a genuine and potentially irrevocable outbreak of fascism.

Recall, if you will, the lessons of Milton Mayer in his book, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-1945 – namely, the way these changes happen not overnight, but incrementally, like the legendary slow boiling of frogs... It is by small steps of incremental meanness and viciousness that we lose our humanity. The Nazis, in the end, embodied the ascension of utter demonic inhumanity, but they didn't get that way overnight. They got that way through, day after day, attacking and demonizing and urging the elimination of those they deemed their enemies.

And this is what has been happening to America – in particular, to the conservative movement and the Republican Party – for a very long time. Donald Trump represents the apotheosis of this, the culmination of a very long-growing trend that really began in the 1990s....All of which underscores the central fact: Donald Trump may not be a fascist, but his vicious brand of right-wing populism is not just empowering the latent fascist elements in America, he is leading a whole nation of followers merrily down a path that leads directly to fascism.

Consider, if you will, what did occur in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s remarks about “roughing up” Black Lives Matter protesters: Two nights later, a trio of white supremacists in Minneapolis invaded a Black Lives Matter protest there and shot five people, in an act that had been carefully planned and networked through the Internet.

What this powerfully implies is that Trump has achieved that kind of twilight-zone level of influence where he can simply demonize a target with rhetoric suggestive of violent retribution and his admirers will act out that very suggestion. It’s only a step removed from the fascist leader who calls out his paramilitary thugs to engage in violence.

America, thanks to Trump, has now reached that fork in the road where it must choose down which path its future lies – with democracy and its often fumbling ministrations, or with the appealing rule of plutocratic authoritarianism, ushered in on a tide of fascistic populism. For myself, I remain confident that Americans will choose the former and demolish the latter – that Trump’s candidacy will founder, and the tide of right-wing populism will reach its high-water mark under him and then recede with him.
Trump seems to be sort of a Rorschach test, people see in him what they wish to see, which is obvious from the divergent views in the comments. This is a quality that the most successful politicians need to have in order to succeed. Everyone sees in him their own fears and their own needs.

Personally, it's hard to take the hyperbolic rhetoric, mugging for the camera and shock of comical orange hair seriously as some sort of threat to civilization. But then again, I'm sure a lot of people made fun of Hitler's spittle-flecked speeches and silly-looking mustache and cowlick too. But the joke was on us. It wasn't so funny anymore in the prison yards of Dachau or the ruins of Berlin circa 1945. My guess is that Trump is nothing so sinister, and I hope that's the case. But I guess we'll have to wait and see.

P.S. More evidence of the dieoff: Drug overdose deaths in the US reach record levels (BBC)

Saturday, December 12, 2015

When Does Inequality Decrease?

Since I've been describing the origins of inequality recently, this article is relevant: Economics Can’t Answer Why Inequality (Sometimes) Declines (Cliodynamica). Indeed, economics can't explain a lot of things, since it is a mostly a PR movement for markets and wealth accumulation rather than an actual science. But Turchin's work, unencumbered by such political concerns, is dedicated to finding patterns in history.
He discusses Thomas Piketty's recent book about Capital.
Piketty provides a good explanation of why inequality increases. It’s good not in the sense that everybody agrees with it, but in the sense of being good science: a general mechanism that is supported by mathematics and by data...[but] how does [Thomas] Piketty explain the decline of inequality during the middle of the twentieth century? It was a result of unique circumstances—two destructive world wars and the Great Depression. In other words, and forgive me for crudeness, shit happens. This is not a particularly satisfactory conclusion...
Of course we know that inequality clearly does not increase forever, because in the long sweep of history, we've never (yet) seen a society where one person own everything. But what are the forces that bring it down? Turchin is unsatisfied with exogenous (coming from outside the system) explanations. Something inside the system must bring it down - inequality must call forth some sort of internal Robin Hood force, as it were. He cites an expert on international inequality, Branko Milanovic:
...Branko Milanovic addressed the question of what brings down inequality...there has to be some endogenous process that is triggered when inequality gets too high, and brings it down. Periodic operation of such a mechanism is what would generate repeated cycles.
Branko admitted that “malign” forces that could bring down inequality are not well-studied. As to “benign” ones, he cited three that fall under the acronym TOP: technology, globalization, policy. The only one that makes sense to me is policy—indeed, governments can reduce inequality by taxing high income and wealth. As to the first two, technology and globalization, I think that they rather explain why inequality increases.
Turchin then looks at a theory from a different scholar.
In a later talk, Walter Scheidel addressed the “malign” forces...he identified four forces that have reduced inequality in historical societies:
   - Mass mobilization warfare
   - Transformative revolution
    - State collapse
    - Pandemics
Note that all of them are “malign”, because they all involve violence. So violence is the great leveler. But of course some forms of violence result in increased inequality. Take war. Many conquest wars, for example those in which a band of warriors conquers egalitarian farmers, turns them into serfs, and sets the victors up as the ruling class — such wars obviously result in increased inequality.
This is why Walter focuses on mass-mobilization warfare. Societies that are forced to mobilize all citizens capable of bearing arms (or, at least, all males) are usually—always?—forced to reduce inequality. Same thing with revolutions—not all of them reduce inequality. Some simply exchange one set of oppressive elites for another. But others do level the weath [sic] quite dramatically.
I think Walter is on to something, and his theory can be made endogenous. That is, when inequality becomes too high, the chance of a state collapse or transformative revolution increases. Alternatively, or additionally, hugely unequal societies are defeated by more equal ones, which either eliminates them, or forces them to reduce inequality to rise up to this existential challenge.
Military mass mobilization as a driver of equality

This is the point made in the Ian Welsh article I've cited often: The Technology of Violence and its Effect on Prosperity and Freedom. Throughout history, societies where the majority of the citizenry were mobilized in defense of it have been more equal. Ian looks at republican Rome and Switzerland as exemplars. A society where the majority of the population is malnourished, hungry, and weakened with disease because the elites divert all the society's wealth to themselves is not one that can successfully defend itself against invaders, and it certainly isn't powerful enough to conquer territory. Even greedy, sociopathic, self-interested leaders come to realize that over time.

The structure of the medieval world, centered around serfdom, had much to do with the fact that the methods of warfare were mostly in the hands of professional mounted knights, who were also society's wealthy landowners (it takes a lot of land to raise a horse), or paid mercenaries who were itinerant tradesmen in the art of war. One reason for the success of Genghis Khan's Mongols was the tribal cohesion and egalitarian nature of the steppe nomad life - there were few starving peasants, and all the nomads were crack horsemen and archers, rather than just a handful of elites. This allowed them to sweep across settled, agricultural societies of peasants where most people lived at the subsistence level.

It is no coincidence that the age of mass mobilization of soldiers that occurred with the advent of firearms coincided with the increase in living standards during the Enlightenment period (and a dramatic population explosion as well). This really took off after the French Revolution with Napoleon's Grande Armée. Other countries realized that they needed to mobilize as many troops as possible and shove a rifle in each of their hands in order to compete with something like that. They also realized that military power was industrial power and vice-versa. Prussia developed an educational system to train all of its citizens to be good obedient soldiers and factory workers; it is that education scheme we still use in America to this day. And Bismarck began state-supported health care for all citizens, something the U.S. still lacks to this day (with the resultant bad outcomes). Here's Ian:
If, on the other hand, effective warfare requires significant wealth, as with Medieval knights, who require a multitude of serfs to support even one fighter, well, expect that those who aren’t good at fighting won’t be prosperous.  People today don’t realize how many peasant revolts there were.  What is instructive about them is the slaughter involved: the slaughter of serfs and peasants. Often huge rebellions would be put down with only a handful of casualties.  Knights were very good at killing peasants armed with makeshift weapons.
If you can kill them and they can’t do anything about it, how much of what they produce is really theirs?
How armaments are made also matters. Even cheap weapons, if they must be made in centralized factories and cannot be made by individuals and small groups, will not be as useful to widespread prosperity as otherwise.  The Jeffersonian style yeoman farmer society takes a serious blow in the war of 1812, when it becomes clear that the British centralized manufacture of weapons is more effective than making weapons locally.
I've noted before that the timing of the Liberal reforms in England was due to the fact that during the Boer War, a study of the English working population revealed that they were so physically deteriorated by the Industrial Revolution that a medical survey found that one in three potential recruits was unfit to serve due to childhood malnourishment, chronic disease, physical deterioration from repetitive work, and so forth, brought about by the overcrowding, pollution, and other assorted maladies of industrialization. Black lung, cholera, stunted growth, and so forth, were some of the symptoms. It was only then that living standards started to improve in Britain; before that, the elites were perfectly happy overlooking the poverty and misery they had unleashed. Despite this fact, economists constantly assert that it was the "natural" workings of Industrial Revolution free-market capitalism that improved living standards and lifted people out of poverty over time, a complete and total fabrication. Similarly, there were concerns about the crippling effects of sweatshops on women's reproductive health. No fertile women, and the country might have a shortage of new recruits for the army:
Women were becoming essential to the Berlin economy, in the factories for wages to some extent, but also as seamstresses working at home for a pittance in the proletarian districts on the outskirts. In 1906, the Christian Home Workers' Association drew attention to their conditions with an exhibition. The poster designed by the Berlin artist Kaethe Kollwitz - memorialised today in Kollwitzplatz - depicted a woman with sunken, exhausted eyes...One newspaper article of the time, entitled The Effect of Sewing Machine Work on the Female Genital Organs, concluded that long hours hunched over the Singer sewing machine could result in women not being able to conceive children. Others (invariably male) worried about women who increasingly worked in factories near men who were not their husbands. Where might this lead? An august committee of the Reichstag opined that a woman's proper place was "at the cradle of her child".
Berlin 1914: A city of ambition and self-doubt (BBC)

Note that the great age of the middle Class in the United States was just after the mass mobilization of World War Two. And not just the U.S. - the Beveridge Report which laid the foundation for Britain's welfare state was written to give soldiers something to fight for instead of returning to the aristocratic inequality and grinding depression of the "Wigan Pier" years. And Germany was rebuilt with American money to make sure that the depredation that led to rise of the Nazis would not be repeated. Funny thing that, the poverty and desperation unleashed by capitalism tends to produce demagogues, including the Communist ones, as we're seeing yet again.

This trend does not bode well for us. The United States does not mass mobilize soldiers for the army anymore; rather, it relies on a small, volunteer army using high-tech, and increasingly automated, weaponry. Not to mention digital technology makes spying on that population easier than ever with fewer people than previously thought possible. So the chronic illnesses and poverty of formerly middle-class Americans can be safely ignored by elites, who do not need these people as either soldiers or workers (about which more below). I don't have the transcript, but in this podcast with Jim Kunstler and Eric Garland, Garland relates a story where he talks with an Army recruiter in Illinois (I think), who tells him that between physical deterioration, chronic illnesses and psychotropic medications, the vast majority of potential recruits are dismissed immediately, and of those who are not, most of them can't even pass the basic aptitude test required to enlist. This is the state of Middle America today, and the elites just don't care.
During the Korean war, around 70% of draft-age American men served in the armed forces; during Vietnam, the unpopularity of the conflict and ease of draft-dodging ensured that only 43% did. These days, even if every young American wanted to join up, less than 30% would be eligible to. Of the starting 21m, around 9.5m would fail a rudimentary academic qualification, either because they had dropped out of high school or, typically, because most young Americans cannot do tricky sums without a calculator. Of the remainder, 7m would be disqualified because they are too fat, or have a criminal record, or tattoos on their hands or faces. According to Sergeant Haney, about half the high-school students in Clayton County are inked somewhere or other; according to his boss, Lieutenant-Colonel Tony Parilli, a bigger problem is simply that “America is obese.”
That leaves 4.5m young Americans eligible to serve, of whom only around 390,000 are minded to, provided they do not get snapped up by a college or private firm instead—as tends to happen to the best of them. Indeed, a favourite mantra of army recruiters, that they are competing with Microsoft and Google, is not really true. With the annual exception of a few hundred sons and daughters of retired officers, America’s elite has long since turned its nose up at military service. Well under 10% of army recruits have a college degree; nearly half belong to an ethnic minority.
The pool of potential recruits is too small to meet America’s, albeit shrunken, military needs; especially, as now, when the unemployment rate dips below 6%. This leaves the army, the least-favoured of the four services, having either to drop its standards or entice those not minded to serve with generous perks. After it failed to meet its recruiting target in 2005, a time of high employment and bad news from Baghdad, it employed both strategies zealously. To sustain what was, by historical standards, only a modest surge in Iraq, around 2% of army recruits were accepted despite having failed to meet academic and other criteria; “We accepted a risk on quality,” grimaces General Snow, an Iraq veteran. Meanwhile the cost of the army’s signing-on bonuses ballooned unsustainably, to $860m in 2008 alone.
Who will fight the next war? (The Economist)

Electing to Ignore the Poorest of the Poor (New York Times)

‘Income inequality’ is just another name for how we wage war on the poor (Raw Story)

Its a symbiotic relationship. When elites need the citizenry, the curb their rapaciousness. When they do not, as is the case today, their rapaciousness increases without bound until collapse. It's especially easy where 1.) elites can segregate themselves from the wider population they rule over, and 2.) the society subscribes to belief system that allow them to turn a blind eye to inequality like meritocracy, the level playing field, the Cult of Personal Failure, or Just-worldism. Mitt Romney famously fumed about half of Americans taking no responsibility for their lives and being dependent upon government, even as his early career was spent dismantling and strip-mining formerly viable companies for profit and shipping jobs abroad.

Mass economic mobilization as a driver of equality

What this shows, though, is that it's not just military mobilization, it's economic mobilization too. David Blacker makes this case in his book, which, although ostensibly about education, can be seen as a proxy for living standards in general under Neoliberalism.

When tycoons were dependent upon having access to plenty of workers, they invested in the infrastructure needed to train them, keep them reasonably healthy, and get them to the job - schools, clinics, sewers, trains and trolleys, and made sure they had reasonably good places to live ("worker housing" was an early obsession of the first Modernist architects). It was the "all hands on deck" phase of capitalism as Blacker calls it, and it was against this backdrop that America developed. You needed workers to expand production, and without those workers there was no expansion, and hence less profit. Workers dropping dead from exhaustion on the job would not be good for profits (although that still sometimes happened anyway). To crib from myself, "The Post office, public schools, parks, libraries, zoos, and the like were created as a part of this expansion. Today all of those are under merciless assault." Elites today no longer invest in "human capital" development because they just don't need it anymore. We have machines and third-wold workers, thank-you very much. And now they are busy clawing back those benefits they grudgingly gave up in the past.

In an "all hands on deck" situation, the workers themselves gain a new sort of power, precisely because they are needed. They also worked shoulder-to-shoulder. Well-placed strikes could disable the entire economy. For example, one reason the British Navy switched from coal to oil as its primary fuel source was to weaken the power of its domestic coal mining unions (though not the only one - oil is more energy-dense and smokestacks give away your position to the enemy). As Turchin and others well know, unions were a major factor in the reduction in inequality under capitalism, perhaps THE major factor, along with other mass movements like Chartism, something universally dismissed by economics, which claims that inequality reduction is just a "natural" phenomena of capitalism. This was supposedly explained by something called the "Kuznets curve". Economist Simon Kuznets noted that inequality rose inexorably during the Industrial Revolution, and then fell during the postwar years, and declared this to be a natural law of capitalism, thus conveniently ignoring the role of unions and warfare. And the economics profession followed suit, which is why arguing the opposite, as Piketty did, was so controversial. To think something else, that spiraling inequality was actually the natural state of capitalism, was to be dangerously close to Marxism. As Turchin concludes:
...we need a better understanding of why violence in some situations increases inequality and in others decreases it. Second, I think there are mechanisms other than violence that can reduce inequality. However, I am not very sure of this. Perhaps it’s just the optimist in me that wants to believe it...In my opinion, economics is perfectly capable of explaining why inequality increases, but fails to do so for inequality decreases, because they are a result of extra-economic forces. So if we want to understand how historical societies reduced inequality, we need to go beyond economics and bring insights from history, sociology, and anthropology.
Indeed, any "real" economic science would have included those things a long time ago, along with ecology, energy and thermodynamics, but I digress.

Another factor may be government spending. History shows that it is the expansion of government, not its contraction, which tends to increasing living standards for the masses, but this may mix up effects and cause. Expanding government fueled by military conquest caused rising living standards for the core people of the Roman Empire; less so in the periphery. The Enlightenment took place against vast trading regimes funded by the actions of central governments determined to conquer and exploit aboriginal territories. Napoleon's imperial wars ended the peasant misery of the Ancien régime (trading one form of death for another), and set the stage for the rise of French during the Second Empire (" La Belle Époque"). Similarly, France's "Les Trente Glorieuses" emerged from the rubble of World War Two. And the government spending is what finally ended the global Great Depression of the 1930's in every country, that is, the increased demand provided by the government (including military spending) is what saved capitalism from sinking into permanent stagnation (which we appear to be looking at yet again). Let's look at history. During the Great Compression, government expanded. Today, austerity, unemployment, peace, and shrinking living standards go hand-in-hand.

Confrontation with an external enemy tends to spur benefits for ordinary people. Why was the GI Bill signed, and why was education practically free for thirty years? Because we were "competing" with the Soviet Union technologically. The SU, being socialist, had no qualms about making education free for all, and it was obvious that soaking it's own people in unpayable debt for a basic education would cause the US to fall behind; hence free education. With the demise of Communism and the Neoliberal takeover of the world, this is no longer a concern. American companies don't need to compete against Germany, for example, who offer a free education. Rather, they can just hire the Germans, get educated workers paid for by German taxpayers, and tell Americans to go to hell. Competition is for the workers, not the capitalists. The workers compete against each other in a Hunger-Games style tournament for jobs. Cooperation is the order of the day between monopoly capital and international governments. The big companies in Silicon Valley all agreed to cooperate to keep wages down and fight for more immigration, for example.

The postwar build-out of the suburbs came from a similar motivation. Land distribution was motivated by giving soldiers land so that they wold have something to occupy their time, since having a large, landless mass of people who are trained to kill with nothing to lose is a recipe for instability, and they knew it in 100 AD as much as 1945. In turn, that suburbanization spurred economic activity. Thus the rapidly expanding economy and expanding middle class went hand-in-hand. It's hard to see how the economy can recover so long as the majority of workers in it are getting poorer and losing jobs. After all, the elites and the Chinese can only spend so much.

The Majority of Millennials Have $1,000 or Less in Savings (Howmuch.net)
As an American academic, Blacker identifies this agenda as the basis for the massive problem of student debt in that country. The US ruling class have arrived at the conclusion that educated and skilled graduates are surplus to requirements in the neoliberal phase of capitalism. Globalisation means that sector of the workforce can increasingly be supplied from overseas on a cheaper basis; and by saddling American students with crippling personal debt, the public funding of higher education can be shrunk significantly.

Blacker notes that in 2012, US student debt was over $1 trillion, which was more than the total for credit card debt. He grimly states: ‘There is almost no escape from this iron cage that has been carefully refined by our banking overlords and puppet politicians ... a system of government-backed mass peonage, a kind of debt bondage with copious historical analogs’ (p.132). Having already alluded to the Nazi ‘endgame’, Blacker is here inviting us to draw a comparison between the predicament of students in the US today and another notorious example of state terror: slavery in the antebellum South. Half-jokingly, he posits that some form of Lincoln-style military occupation might be the only method of ending this economic bondage: ‘In the name of the UN, perhaps it is time for the blue helmets to roll in and to cordon off our universities … before they sell off still more unsuspecting 18-year-olds into lives of unremitting debt bondage’ (p.133).
http://www.zero-books.net/books/falling-rate-learning-neoliberal-endgame

Who's Profiting From $1.2 Trillion of Federal Student Loans? “There is a large student-loan industrial complex. Rising costs of college and flat family incomes have created enormous business opportunity for every step of the loan process.” (Bloomberg)

In other words, higher living standards are a dollars-and-sense decision by elites. So are lower ones.
One major reason that increased government spending on things like infrastructure repair advocated by prominent economists is so vigorously opposed by big business and their political/media shills is precisely because it would employ large amounts of people, thus creating a labor shortage and driving wages up.

This was the Great Depression model - government spending would employ the unemployed masses, and it worked, which is why they do NOT want it implemented now. Low wages have led to historically unprecedented high profits and kept workers cowed, to the point of working for virtually (or even literally) free. Neoliberalism is dedicated to the goal of shrinking wages by numerous means such as removing the safety net, open borders, labor deregulation and outsourcing, and automation, and it has been very successful at achieving this goal. But lower wages lead to inequality, obviously. The depressed demand cause by these lower wages has been papered over by financialization - making money through rent-seeking and debt slavery, but even economists are starting to conclude that Market fundamentalism is hard to propagate when most people are too poor to buy stuff. Eventually there's just too much debt to ever be paid off and, as Nicole Foss has pointed out, if they can't take your money, the only thing left to take is your freedom.

As for revolution, revolutions from below tend to, at least in the short run, level the playing field. Revolutions tend to emerge when the middle classes become frustrated and no longer have the upward mobility they once did. This frustration often boils over into an attack on the upper classes. Communist revolutions may have made everyone equally poor, but it still made them equal, and redistributing the wealth really did make the median person better off in the short term.  If the assassination of a few key leaders can derail the movement, it tends to wither on the vine (like the Gracchi brothers). By contrast, revolutions led by the elites (like the Neoliberal economic revolution), tend to have the opposite effect. These actually increase inequality. That is, revolutions can came from the bottom or from the top, as Christopher Lasch noted:
The book's title[Revolt of the Elites] is a take-off on Jose Ortega y Gasset's The Revolt of the Masses, a reactionary work published in 1930 that ascribed the crisis of Western culture to the "political domination of the masses." Ortega believed that the rise of the masses threatened democracy by undermining the ideals of civic virtue that characterized the old ruling elites. But in late twentieth-century America it is not the masses so much as an emerging elite of professional and managerial types who constitute the greatest threat to democracy, according to Lasch. The new cognitive elite is made up of what Robert Reich called "symbolic analysts" — lawyers, academics, journalists, systems analysts, brokers, bankers, etc. These professionals traffic in information and manipulate words and numbers for a living. They live in an abstract world in which information and expertise are the most valuable commodities. Since the market for these assets is international, the privileged class is more concerned with the global system than with regional, national, or local communities. In fact, members of the new elite tend to be estranged from their communities and their fellow citizens. "They send their children to private schools, insure themselves against medical emergencies ... and hire private security guards to protect themselves against the mounting violence against them," Lasch writes. "In effect, they have removed themselves from the common life."
The privileged classes, which, according to Lasch's "expansive" definition, now make up roughly a fifth of the population, are heavily invested in the notion of social mobility. The new meritocracy has made professional advancement and the freedom to make money "the overriding goal of social policy." Lasch charges that the fixation on opportunity and the "democratization of competence" betrays rather than exemplifies the American dream. "The reign of specialized expertise," he writes, "is the antithesis of democracy as it was understood by those who saw this country as the 'last, best hope of earth'". Citizenship is grounded not in equal access to economic competition but in shared participation in a common life and a common political dialogue. The aim is not to hold out the promise of escape from the "laboring classes," Lasch contends, but to ground the values and institutions of democracy in the inventiveness, industry, self-reliance, and self-respect of working people.
http://www.scottlondon.com/reviews/lasch.html

Class warfare is always taking place; its just a matter of which side is winning.

The Typical Male U.S. Worker Earned Less in 2014 Than in 1973 (Wall Street Journal)

The Middle Class Is Now a Minority (Gawker)

Richest 20 Americans Own More Wealth Than The Entire Bottom Half Of The Country: Report (International Business Times)

Fifth of US adults live in or near to poverty (Financial Times)

Despite the widespread circulation of the apocryphal  Tytler nostrum, there has never yet been a society brought down because of too much wealth held by its middle class combined with too many restrictions placed on elite wealth accumulation.

There is a cycle here. By their rapaciousness, elites hollow out the very society that is the source of their wealth - Pliny once estimated that half of Roman North Africa was owned by just six people. For days as you journeyed into Rome, you saw nothing but vast latifundia worked by slaves, and inside Rome was a vast landless proletariat mollified by bread and circuses who needed to be constantly pandered to because they were ready to revolt at any time. That's not an empire on the rise; it's one beset by senescence. Inequality is not a spur to greatness, it's a sign of decay. That's a message to the present-day US (and most of the West in general).

I think one of the reasons people had a "let the banks collapse" attitude during the last crisis is because they sensed this. Such a collapse would cause untold harm and suffering, but it would be a reset, and the people in Middle America clamoring for Mellonist policies were, perhaps unconsciously, desiring for such an economic collapse to do what governments were prevented from doing: put a stop to the endless wealth redistribution to elites. That fact that such a reckoning was delayed only means the problems continues to worsen, hence the rise of politicians like Sanders and Trump, who have similar appeals to very different classes of citizenry.

It's also worth noting that collapse is often a voluntary response to extreme inequality. People withdraw from the system when it has nothing more to offer them. A lot of people in late Rome thought that running away and joining the barbarians was a lot more appealing than being a slave or on the dole. On the other side of the Alps, the natural resources for industry had not yet been depleted (timber, mines, topsoil, etc.), so that's where economic activity moved to. I think one of the reasons people are so eager to embrace collapse is that it is a great reset - it halts the endless deterioration of middle-class living standards and the endless accumulation of wealth at the top (and the associated aggrandizement and flaunting of that same wealth). You see this all the time in the peak oil stories where former hedge-fund managers and financiers are forced to come crawling to the formerly marginalized farmers and carpenters hat in hand and beg for a job in the new post-collapse order. I think this is wishful thinking by the marginalized of the so-called "new" economy; I doubt think things will unfold like that.

Turchin's final words convey concern; he very much hopes that Robin Hood forces can be called forth without the instigation of either a major war or economic collapse. But, looking at history, it's hard to see how. As long as less and less of us are needed as soldiers or workers, it looks as though the lower classes will have less of a revolution, and more of a genocide.

Return of the Oppressed (Aeon)