Sorry for the interruption.Ur regularly scheduled oligarchy will resume shortly.
Sorry for the New Deal interruption. Your regularly scheduled oligarchy will resume shortly.
The politics of capital versus labor have remained unchanged for at least six hundred years. America has followed exactly the same arc as pre-Renaissance Florence: oppressed workers revolt and obtain some political power for a short period of time – four years (1378-1382) in the case of Florence, forty years (1932-1972) in the case of America. Then the oligarchs stage a counter-revolution.
the power in the state rested theoretically with the 21 guilds. In point of fact, however, it had, practically without interruption, been appropriated by means of cunningly veiled manipulations by the seven greater guilds. Under their self appointed guidance the town had amazingly prospered, the personal wealth of the manipulators had vastly increased, and even the woolen workers (had) at least (found) regular employment…
– Ferdinand Schevill, The Medici (1949).
I open with this quote because I want to talk about here is the “appropriation of power by veiled manipulations”. Over the last thirty years, just about every public function of government and the rights of citizens has been abolished, neutered, or privatized – whether at 3 AM in a Congressional markup session, or by an overreaching SCOTUS proclamation, or by Executive Order. To pretend that America is still a democracy is simply delusional. Habermas’s public sphere has been demolished.
It didn’t matter who won the completely rigged 2016 selection. (Rigging included: ignoring, smearing, and finally stealing votes from Bernie; billions of free TV for Trump; the massive corporate media tilt to HRC; GOP Crosscheck voter suppression; crooked e-voting machines owned by – take your pick: Soros or the Dominionists.) Both Trump and Clinton were committed to looting and demolishing what little is left of the New Deal and putting the grandchildren of the Robber Barons back in charge.
If you are looking for encouraging words, you won’t get them from me. There are no public spaces (no, not even the internet) anymore. There are no meaningful democratic mechanisms anymore. Its all been privatized or revoked. Just so I don’t get accused of exaggeration, here are thirty examples of what I’m talking about, and that’s without going into military matters. Digest the entire list and tell me we are still a democracy. I’ll wait.
1. Primary Education. Privatized via Charter Schools, long-time target of disruption by Fundamentalists and lately by Identity Politics extremists ((I gave up at transgendered children. It is provocative psychobabble to claim a pre-pubescent child has a clue what he is asking for regarding sexual identity; plus itconfirms every negative stereotype about “liberals” since George Wallace came to DC.).
2. Higher Education. made into a ruinously expensive lottery ticket that enslaves young people in debt. Non-STEM curriculum reduced to vocational training in business, criminal justice. Liberal arts vaporized or made into laughingstock like PoMoCultural Studies.
3. Healthcare the only completely private healthcare system in the First World, and the worst performing and most expensive.
4. Medicare. about to be privatized by Trump. Clinton would have done it too, just different looters.
5. Pensions: private pensions all but gone. Social Security, its “lockbox” long since looted, is about to be declared bankrupt.
6. Prisons massive public expenses incurred for War on Drugs, aka New Jim Crow. Creating an underclass for control and profit. Private prisons, slave labor, in-prison company store, debtors prisons, prisons as municipal profit center.
Access to information/privacy
7. Snail Mail. drowned in often-fraudulent, cut-rate, junk mail. Unprecedented pension requirements set to bankrupt USPS, then trying to privatize that Constitutionally mandated government function.
8. Telephone: Verizon is now AT&T sans regulation. Massive often-fraudulent robocalls. Complete surveillance by NSA, etc.
9. Broadcast Media consolidated corporate propaganda, now anti-alt news govt agency. Anti-Russian, anti-progressive agitprop.
10. Internet spam, hackers, scammers, relentless feedback questions – all leading to acceptance of walled gardens, gatekeepers, censors. Net neutrality about to be revoked.
11. Scientific objectivity media lets it be gamed with corporate funded junk science and fundie “teach the controversy” tactics.
12. Impossible to avoid click-thru licenses that strip you of your rights to sue and otherwise legally burden you.
13. Software licenses are destroying right of first sale. Trying to claim you only lease tractors, cars.
14. Cable TV has refused to deliver portable boxes you can own for 20 years. Local monopolies allow outrageous fees and bundling.
15. Digital media completely encrypted via HDCP, DCMA, piracy warnings all over everything.
Law enforcement/political rights
16. Campaign finance. Citizens united and unlimited bribery.
17. Rule of Law crooks don’t get prosecuted: NINJA loans, Wall St. collapse, Clinton/DNC corruption, GOP voter suppression
18. Lawless corps Uber, AirBnB can break all the laws they want. They have billions to tie up lawsuits, and no Federal law stands a chance of getting passed.
19. GOP Constitution subversion not acting on Garland nomination, govt shutdowns over nothing.
20. e-Voting machines private, corrupt, worthless. Crosscheck racist voter suppression.
21. Political protest first amendment zones, kettling, cointelpro, “anarchist” disruptors, DHS surveillance (any excuse).
22. Worthy and unworthy protestors RW gun nuts/anti-abortion are OK. Peaceful LW gets full-spectrum dominance/disruption.
23. Guns everywhere thanks to SCOTUS and they have all the rights. Vigilante violence is the road to fascism.
24. Political party duopoly two private, non-profit corps. Try to sue and lawyer winds up mysteriously dead, case dismissed.
25. Third Way Dems are DINOS they are for globalization, privatization, and austerity. Same as GOP. Where is working man’s party?
26. Outsourcing 30 years of demolishing our manufacturing base and impoverishing our citizens to benefit the 1%
27. Bailouts $11 Trillion of bailouts in 2009. No prosecutions.
28. ZIRP (zero interest rate policy) enriching arbitragers, killing price discovery, and hiding industry failure for EIGHT YEARS
29 Stock buybacks Thanks to ZIRP, buybacks have exceeded income. Corps are borrowing against the future to pay out. i.e., looting.
30. Killing cash A license for banks and crooked govt to steal straight from your bank account. No place to hide. Last act of failed government is looting.
What is the bottom line here?
Welcome to the “surveil and monetize” (S&M) economy. (No government, just the economy. Remember, “there is no such thing as society”.) Its where corporations get in the middle of every transaction and extract a rent or fee – which may be as small as some marketing/demographic/personal info. But the databases are gigantic and growing every day. Google and Amazon know more about you than you do. Any idiot who uses Facebook has volunteered to be monitored by a Stasi on steroids. As Snowden said, a turnkey tyranny has been put in place. Trump is merely the capstone of the arch. A perfect fascist combination of too-rich-to-fail businessman and strutting egomaniac politician. He is what Grover Norquist wanted when he said “all I need are five fingers that can hold a pen”.
After 2016, I see no future for our First Republic. It is dead. It was killed the same way the Florentine wool workers’ government was killed:
What weakened (the ciompi government)…was the open hostility between the shopkeepers and woolworkers lumped together in the same broad category of the lesser arts. Neither in the fourteenth nor any later century have the small bourgeoisie and the industrial workers found it easy to merge their interest…the merchants held obdurately to the view that the government of the city was their god-given prerogative and never ceased weaving plots to re-establish themselves in power…By a sudden attack…on the wool workers in their crowded slums they brought them to submission, and then, by a special legislative act had the charters of the two proletarian guilds revoked.
– Ferdinand Schevill, “The Medici” (1949)
Same old. Same old. We all have lived through fifty years of truculent resistance by racist, sexist hate mongers, and libertarian anarchists, lavishly funded by right wing billionaires. As in Florence, the small shopkeepers in America (the “rugged”, self-made small businessmen) despised the workers and sided with the oligarchs. Its no coincidence that an early prime mover of the American oligarchic counter-revolution was Milton Friedman, the son of a prototypical, bitter, small business sweat-shopper [NOTE].
Over the last forty years, the citizenry, the flesh of the body politic, has been turned to dust and blown away. What we see are the bare bones of the Constitution, the three branches of government, which will be kicked hither and yon by whatever foul gangsters Trump brings into power. I am pretty close to pulling back completely from politics; because the kind of incremental, petitioning, call-your-critter, Mr. Smith goes to Washington, pollyanna stuff that is still indulged in by many well meaning politically aware people just doesn’t work for me any more – in fact, I doubt it works at all. It is a pea-shooter against a howitzer.
We, like Florence, are reverting to the Status Quo Ante – a vicious commercial oligarchy lording it over impoverished workers, backed up with hired armies of mercenaries. My vote doesn’t count, my money isn’t mine, my civil rights are laughably easy to ignore or take away. I am a fucking wool worker. Against the wishes of the vast majority (i.e., in the absence of democracy), the country is being re-engineered into a third world nation, and the economics figures prove it.
a condition of high prices and too little work…is the normal and ordinary condition to be found in poor and backward economies the world over…Jobs, not just good jobs, but any jobs, were also hard to come by for a large proportion of the Portuguese population (in 1974), and this was not an abnormal or cyclic situation. It was the normal situation. One need only look at economic life in the..poor and backward pockets of (our) country to realize that high prices and scant work have long been normal in such places…I cannot see any way of understanding stagflation except as a normal consequence of economic stagnation…it is not just a problem of inflation or unemployment…It is a condition in its own right, the condition of sliding into profound economic decline.
– Jane Jacobs, “Cities and the Wealth of Nations” (1984)
In closing, the only hope we have is to play up any genuine fight between Trump and the Deep State. If we are Florence, we have its weaknesses.
An observation on oligarchies, the validity of which is confirmed by countless instances, is that their strength depends on their unbroken unity…(an) immediate danger to its ascendency arises from a split among the rulers themselves. It is the uncurbed ambition of individual leaders and the consequent hidden struggle among them for control that has in innumerable historical cases drawn an oligarchy on to its destruction.
– Ferdinand Schevill, “The Medici” (1949)
It is a tiny hope. Ever since Reagan and his “no enemies on the right” shtick, the oligarchs have stuck together. Of course, when you were stealing as much as they were, why rock the boat. But, we are now up against the wall economically. We have looted everything that is easy to loot (except Social Security, but that is post lockbox looting). The stock market is over-leveraged. Corporate balance sheets are loaded with debt that rising interest rates will make fatal. China is eating our lunch economically all over the world in just about every industry. Maybe, as they have to fight over a decreasing pie, the oligarchs will go after each other. (Or, there is the theory that now that Trump won, the Establishment will simply let the economy collapse and blame it on Trump. Then back to neoliberal business as usual.)
That’s my ray of sunshine for the new year. Ciao. Got to go read the latest from James Kunstler. Then Dmitiri Orlov.
Here is the section about Florence in one place:
…the power in the state rested theoretically with the 21 guilds. In point of fact, however, it had, practically without interruption, been appropriated by means of cunningly veiled manipulations by the seven greater guilds. Under their self appointed guidance the town had amazingly prospered, the personal wealth of the manipulators had vastly increased, and even the woolen workers… had..at least (found) regular employment…
The prolonged financial crisis of 1339-1343 put a stop to this development, for it brought with it a veritable landslide of business failures attended by shattering unemployment. The obvious reaction of the suffering population was to blame the collapse on the merchant oligarchs…the crisis terminated with nothing more sweeping than a slight reduction of the influence of the greater guilds…such was the slight substance of the political reform…it inaugurated an interlude of about forty years…of struggle…between oligarchy and democracy.
The merchant class would not abandon hope of regaining the full measure of their lost supremacy (over the working class)…by tricky devices in which they were adept, they made such steady headway that the slowly gathering resentment of the cheated little folk culminated at last in the greatest domestic disturbance in Florentine history – the Revolt of the Ciompi (wool workers)…who were the recipients of starvation wages and who were forbidden by law to attempt to improve their lot by organizing as guilds…When the new (leader of the assembly) tried to put the petitioners off with crooks words, the angered multitude broke into the palace…The upshot…was that the wool workers were granted the right to organize two guilds of their own.
What weakened it…was the open hostility between the shopkeepers and woolworkers lumped together in the same broad category of the lesser arts. Neither in the fourteenth nor any later century have the small bourgeoisie and the industrial workers found it easy to merge their interest…the merchants held obdurately to the view that the government of the city was their god-given prerogative and never ceased weaving plots to re-establish themselves in power…By a sudden attack…on the wool workers in their crowded slums they brought them to submission, and then, by a special legislative act had the charters of the two proletarian guilds revoked.
– Ferdinand Schevill, “The Medici” (1949)
Shortly after his arrival (in America) Friedman’s father went into business on his own, first as a sweatshop owner, then as the owner of a dry goods store…their family income was always small and uncertain.
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- The Encyclopedia of Public Choice, edited by Charles Rowley, Friedrich Schneider, page 146.
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