How the economy was lost / Paul Craig Roberts | National Library of Australia
Edward Bernays was profoundly anti-democratic in that he believed that human beings are prone to making decisions based on emotions. The coercion that Mr. Bernays and Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels used was circular in the sense that it posited a view from outside of psychology—that of the propagandist, without explaining how this is possible. The current bourgeois panic that this political personality or that is a threat to the continued existence of humanity should be flipped to ask: what crazy-assed, dysfunctional society would create the circumstances where anyone, either individually or collectively, can end the world?
But why should something so dangerous be entrusted to anyone rather than gotten rid of? Did I tell you about my friend who regaled me with stories of dropping acid LSD while guarding a nuclear missile silo? As a teenager in suburban Atlanta in the early s, Dixiecrat Lester Maddox was governor, mostly black work gangs in prison stripes lined the roads and the Ku Klux Klan in full regalia solicited contributions at traffic stops in the outlying towns.
Heavily armed police regularly kicked in the front doors of counterculture houses looking for draft dodgers and drugs. They held guns to the heads of the inhabitants while they illegally searched houses and sent a junior cop for a search warrant when they found something. Back in New York, moderate Republican Nelson Rockefeller passed the most onerous drug laws in the country and specifically targeted poor neighborhoods of color for enforcement. Three and a half million Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians were murdered, hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans, El Salvadorans and Hondurans were murdered, a million Iraqis were murdered, a hundred thousand Libyans were murdered.
The problems are systemic, not personality quirks. In contrast to liberal assurances to the contrary, slavery and genocide are actual historical outcomes of American representative democracy. But as history also has it, nothing like democracy has really been tried. Plutocracy and class rule are its antithesis. Ending these requires ending capitalism. In this sense, electoral politics are a distraction until economic is a reality. Occasionally a phrase supports a wide range of political posturing while bearing little determinable relationship to actionable politics. Few using it are communists, a politics that recognizes concentrated economic power as both cause and effect in the skewed distribution of income and wealth.
And the entire point of capitalism is the concentration of these that functions as circular proof of the social utility created by capitalists. As corollary to American democracy, the phrase ignores centuries of evidence that political power is determined by economic power. Of current relevance is its place in the programs of Democratic Socialism , a rebranding of New Deal type social welfare programs that proponents I am one apparently intend to fit into existing American political economy. However, the improbability that Western capitalists, particularly American capitalists, will loosen their grip to facilitate functional versions of these programs was better understood in the late nineteenth century than it is today.
Missing from the inequality meme is any plausible explanation of the social mechanisms that have placed most wealth in a remarkably small number of pockets over the last four decades. The coincidence of this rising concentration with the ascendance of financial capitalism would seem to provide a clue. By rendering the product of labor fungible, finance facilitates its concentration.
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By itself, money produces nothing. It is a claim on real wealth. The business of finance is the redistribution of social wealth, and with it, power. Graph: The stock market is a proxy for the power that connected capitalists have over economic production. The greater the leverage over this production, the greater the concentration of power.
Since global central banks have flooded finance with cheap leverage through low interest rates. With GDP as a crude measure of economic production, the ratio of stock prices to it is a measure of this leverage. The result: a continuation of the process of concentrating income and wealth in ever fewer hands. Source: St. Louis Federal Reserve.
The far-too-easy answer back is: so what? Oligarchy was the founding form of the American republic. The long march toward universal suffrage is so implausible a basis of social equity that the poorer half of eligible voters rarely do so. To point to what any with eyes can see, Wall Street has transmogrified a large portion of the accumulated product of labor into the possession of connected insiders in a single generation. The people who produce nothing but claims on wealth now own nearly everything.
Complicating this picture is the radical unsustainability of the capitalist project. It is hardly incidental that economic metrics like GDP Gross Domestic Product count the goods produced without deducting the harms that are indissociable from them. Looming environmental crises substantially diminish prospects for continued human existence.
Should the worst come to pass, the whole of four centuries of capitalist production would be worth less than the total of all the goods and services ever produced by it. The flip side of the concentration of income and wealth is that the harms from capitalist production have been distributed equally.
Graph: Ronald Reagan led the revival of financial capitalism in the U. Since then, the share of economic production that has gone into the pockets of the very rich has risen steadily in near exact proportion to what has been taken from the pockets of everyone else. Finance—the pirate capitalism of investment banking and engineered inflation in the value of assets owned by the very rich, were known a century and a half ago to be the predictable outcomes of financial capitalism.
The quasi-money of stocks illustrates the growing claims of the rich on most economic production. Source L. Times, wti. Calls for progressive taxation leave the social mechanics of upward redistribution through finance substantially unaddressed. This is how social Democrats can argue against income inequality while rallying all available social resources to save the system that produces it.
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Within capitalist mythology, initial economic distribution is legitimate because it reflects the economic value that was created. Finance creates and redistributes claims on it. If subsequent redistribution is the goal, why not accomplish it more straightforwardly by ending upward redistribution in the first place? The question of how to get from here to there politically, revolution versus reform, gets to the ultimate viability of American political economy.
In terms of the public weal, the last forty or so years have been a slow grind toward oblivion for most people in the West. Granting earnestness of intent— whether deserved or not, capitalism since the Ronald Reagan — Margaret Thatcher revival has produced an abundance of consumer goods along with environmental catastrophe, unhinged, seemingly unstoppable militarism and widespread political disaffection.
Democratic Socialism and its soft-Left variants are reform movements whose proponents appear intent on working within the existing concentrations of political and economic power. Self-described socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Ortiz said as much when she recently promised to help get democrats elected. The problem is that these existing political and economic relationships are singularly responsible for the current political moment. Treating them as incidental to it is a fundamental misreading of history. The income and wealth concentrations that are products of this epoch are put forward as inexplicable, the workings of mysterious forces that are beyond human understanding.
In fact, the major historical outlines of the last forty years have precedence in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Europe and the U. Financial capitalism was understood at the time— a century and a half ago, to be a later stage of industrial capitalism. Had governing forces only followed their liberal, Democratic Socialist social welfare prescriptions, political reconciliation would have prevailed, and violence been precluded.
Their subsequent refusal to fund social welfare programs follows the logic of capitalism precisely. The conundrum for bankers is how to best put the money they create into their own pockets. The base strategy is to make loans to related entities that are never intended to be repaid. This leaves the institutions that made the loans on the hook while the proceeds are long gone by the time the loans default.
In the present, an analog to the parsing of economic goods from harms finds corporate executives borrowing money to be repaid by the corporations they control in order to buy company stock that boosts the value of the stock options they have granted themselves. Company indebtedness is then used as leverage to squeeze labor— to cut pay and benefits. It is also used to legitimate the relocation of factories to low-wage countries and to argue that environmental regulations are reducing profits.
To repeat, this was all well understood as capitalist looting a century and a half ago. The paradox of capitalist democracy has always been the assertion of flat equal political representation in the presence of hierarchical economic distribution. Being white, propertied and male were the initial conditions for American suffrage.
As late as , functional suffrage was a proxy for economic class. Real democracy begins with economic democracy. This would seem bizarre were the roles of the political parties political in the sense usually put forward. An alternative explanation, the socialist critique, is that social Democrats exist to make class warfare launched from above politically palatable. Example 1: George H. Doing so required the liberal bona fides of Bill Clinton.
It was Republicans who balked because they wanted more. The self-serving explanation for this moderating role is pragmatism.
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The liberal contention that Republicans are worse is true in the sense that they more straightforwardly represent the interests of rapacious capitalists. However, left to Republicans alone, this system would have run off the rails and remained there centuries ago. Bill Clinton was elected to repair and restore the carnage wreaked by twelve years of Reagan-Bush. Barack Obama was elected to repair and restore the carnage wreaked by eight years of George W.
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The Democrats do have a political program. It is to restore and repair American capitalism for the next round of carnage and looting. Pragmatic and plain language schools of thought have long histories in the U. Technocracy— one of the foremost tendencies applied to American liberalism , is related to these as a non-ideological, evidence-based, mode of governance.
However, as the evidence-based academic discipline of cultural anthropology has suggested since the time of Margaret Mead, there are no universal premises that stand outside of culture. Over the last forty years this evidentiary paradox has derailed the American Left in approximate proportion to the political power wielded by capital. Apparently unbeknownst to its practitioners, pragmatism is paradoxical in that there is no pragmatic way to define its realm. In this case, is it pragmatic to take this asymmetry into account?
Alternatively, would the Koch Brothers scuttle the deal if their asymmetrical power were left out of the pragmatic calculus? This appears to be the starting position of the Democratic Socialists. A problem: if the existing distribution of political and economic power is un-pragmatic in the sense of having produced the problems in need of resolution, then few, if any, calculations that proceed from it are likely to be pragmatic.
This was a clear-cut case of managing the polity for the benefit of existing power. Within the terms of democratic representation, the polity clearly outnumbered those whose commercial interests were tied to maintaining the status quo. What was meant by political pragmatism was that the balance of economic power was against the public interest. Under theories of representative democracy, why would this be relevant? Why is it in any way intuitive that commercial interests are able to override the public interest?
The folly of this conflation could be seen when young Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was unable to answer the question of where the money needed to implement a program of increased social spending might come from. Otherwise, where is the political program that might challenge that deference? Bailouts for the looting class that cost trillions? The largest military in the history of the world with nary a defensive war to be fought that costs trillions? Prisons to incarcerate the largest number and proportion of citizens in the history of the world that cost trillions?
Developed infrastructure and incentives for the rich to avoid paying taxes? Important aside: taxes do not fund government expenditures. Computer keystrokes do. Within the existing distribution of power, the most likely fate of the Democratic Socialists can be found in the myriad soft-Left movements that preceded the recent ascendance of right-wing nationalism.
But with history as a guide, the way to get political power is to seize it, not to beg for handouts. What transforms American elections from participatory politics into farce is the exclusion of crucial issues. Environmental crisis, the threat of nuclear annihilation and the wildly skewed distribution of political and economic power will affect how people live in coming years, regardless of how effectively they are excluded from electoral consideration.
Each of these are historical accumulations— they exist in different time-space than the binary oppositions of political marketing. Environmental crisis has been accumulating since the dawn of the industrial revolution. The threat of nuclear annihilation emerged from WWII as the lunatic id of technological innovation. Class relations have determined the realm of official power since the birth of capitalism. This history grants presence to each, regardless of how hidden they are in any given political moment.
If a bomb is dropped on a city in the forest, it destroys the lives of those it is dropped on regardless of whether you and I hear it. The subtexts of modernity are automatically written to preclude reflection. Recently, U. The Saudis are currently funding a dirty war in Yemen that puts the lives of millions of human beings at risk. Sources: tradingeconomics. During the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early s, senior members of the George H.
After Bill Clinton unilaterally abandoned the promise , Russia began rebuilding its short and intermediate range nuclear arsenal to counter the NATO threat being amassed on its borders. This was followed by an American sponsored coup in Ukraine that threatened the annexation of the Russian naval port at Sevastopol, Crimea. Ellsberg worked for the Rand Corporation during the development and testing of U.
The U. Following the German surrender, the Americans hindered Japanese efforts to do so until the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki could be annihilated to demonstrate the ferocity of the American weapon. As per Mr. Ellsberg, by the late s the U. The rest would be collateral damage. The motives were twofold. In the first, U. In the second, the number of civilian casualties was functionally irrelevant to the American plan. If more Americans survived than Russians— no matter how few that might be, the plan would be considered a military success.
Erased from the American consciousness of the present is that the senior U. General Curtis LeMay, who led the bombing of Tokyo with incendiary devices that burned , Japanese civilians alive, spent much of his time as the head of SAC Strategic Airforce Command trying to launch a nuclear first-strike against Russia. Series description. Related publisher series CounterPunch. Related places Montana, USA. Yellowstone River, USA. Seattle, Washington, USA. Related events WTO Protests of Iraq Wars. Related book awards Oregon Book Award Finalist.
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Helpers lemontwist 21 , MARSlibrary 2. Series: CounterPunch Series by cover 1—7 of 19 next show all. Late Friday, China announced it was expanding its existing complaint against the United States at the World Trade Organization, hours after the countries slapped tit-for-tat tariffs on billions of dollars of cross-border trade. And China's foreign ministry said retaliatory tariffs of equal size and scope had taken effect "immediately. There was confusion about exactly what US products would be hit in the initial wave of tariffs as China's Commerce Ministry had not published an updated list.
Economists have warned escalating trade frictions could throttle global growth and strike at the heart of the world trading system, causing economic shockwaves and potentially disrupting years of global growth. US trade data released on Friday showed exports hit a record, as importers bumped up purchases, particularly of tariff-targeted US soy beans, to build up supplies before the new duties hit. Analysts said this was the quiet before the storm, with US exports likely to fall off in the third quarter as both sides feel the effects of worsening trade relations.