Monday, June 10, 2013

Authoritarian Capitalism Goes Mainstream

After calling attention to authoritarian capitalism for years here, it’s interesting see the attention being paid to it now. That’s a good thing. So much has been written about it, and we are finally having a discussion about its existence. I’ll just leave a few comments.

We look upon the national security state as some kind of all-powerful Moloch, almost as if they are aliens from another planet. But this incident is a good reminder that in the final analysis, the national security state is just people – ordinary Americans just like you and me, and in this case, very ordinary. And that should give you hope. For when the state becomes so big and so pervasive, eventually it needs to recruit so many people that it can’t just recruit true believers, it has to recruit people with consciences, which is apparently what happened. For all the electronic surveillance stuff out there, ultimately it is meaningless unless analyzed by a nervous system attached to a human being with all of the foibles and weaknesses of a human being. We tend to forget that.

This is ultimately what spelled the demise of the repressive systems in Eastern Europe and elsewhere – there were so many watchers that eventually they outnumbered the watched. Maybe not literally outnumbered them, but the ratio went so high that it ceased to have any meaning. I read somewhere that there are more people with the highest top-secret security clearance than there are people in the entire Washington DC area. That’s not very secure at all. The sheer massiveness of any complex system ensures it’s downfall.

There’s another aspect to this story that I haven’t seen commented on. What makes the national security state function? What justifies it? Money. I couldn’t help but raise a serious eyebrow at the alleged leaker’s $200,000 salary. That’s $200,000!!! For a 29-year-old!!!! This in a country where most people young people are unemployed, making minimum wage, or crushed by debt burdens even into their forties and beyond. Initially I assumed this was your standard well-connected Harvard/MIT grad who could command a similar salary in the private sector. But no, it turns out he was a GED recipient with a few years of community college under his belt.

Can you understand why people making that kind of money have a huge interest in keeping silent and maintaining the status quo? I can. Thankfully, at least one person apparently valued freedom and honesty more than the gravy train, a rarity in money and status-crazed U.S.A. Such people are, and always have been, the line separating tyranny from freedom. That and public outcry, which may actually start happening at last in the somnambulant republic.

And the entire national security/surveillance industry itself seems to be mainly just a government-run scheme to generate private-sector profits from taxpayer money. As Naked Capitalism explains:

U.S. intelligence budgets are classified, as are nearly all intelligence contracts. But the overall budget is generally understood to be running about $45 billion a year. Based on interviews I’ve done for an upcoming book, I estimate that about 50 percent of this spending goes directly to private companies. This is big business: The accumulated spending on intelligence since 2002 is much higher than the total of $33 billion the Bush administration paid to Bechtel, Halliburton and other large corporations for reconstruction projects in Iraq…

And the drones, and the defense contracts, and the armored assault vehicles for rural towns with only three police officers, etc, etc. It’s not about keeping anyone safe, it’s about money, pure and simple.

It seems like taxpayer money is the only thing that’s keeping capitalism going. In other worlds, the taxes garnished from our meager incomes are going to subsidize the lavish lifestyles of the overprivileged financier/political class.  So a poorer and poorer American public is being asked to fund its own oppression. I don’t think this can go on forever. If there’s any consolation, it’s that oppressive, authoritarian regimes have a short shelf life, overall.

But on a darker note, as long as we have this high-tech 24 hour, cell-phone, Internet, cloud computing, online banking, high-speed transaction, database-driven Amazon/iPad/Facebook/Instagram/FourSquare world, the potential for this type of thing will continue to exist, and will persist, no matter what laws we pass. The potential for abuse will not go away, even after this scandal. The panopticon will always be there in a high-tech society, and the only choice is whether use it or not. Like the nuclear bomb, it seems we are condemned to live in its shadow until we can no longer maintain the technology.


  1. You raised another pertinent question. What happens to the nuclear bombs when we can no longer maintain the technology?

  2. We'd better disarm them before then! And deal with the nuclear waste too.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.