The powerful culture wide taboo against discussing or analyzing the dynamics of our market economy will lead to the fall of our democratic civilization. UCLA Professor Jared Diamond studied four civilizations that perished and three that survived. The civilizations of Greenland Norsemen, Mesa Verde Native Americans, Central American Mayans and Easter Island perished. The Norse settlement in Greenland perished after 400 years partly because Norsemen could not overcome their taboo against eating seal meat and fish.1 Diamond listed two choices that those societies which adjusted and survived made while those that failed did not:
- Willingness to reconsider and change core values
- Long term planning
Our mainstream nation abides by a culture wide taboo against mentioning or analyzing the social adequacy of capitalism and its offspring of imperialism and empire. The taboo stifles discussion of a positive role for public planning. We are therefore unable seriously to reconsider and change our core values or long term public planning. We choose three current examples for the purpose of illustrating this taboo and demonstrating the danger that the taboo presents to all of us.
Retired West Point Colonel Alexander J. Bacevich, now a professor at Boston University has a new book, The Limits of Power: the End of American Exceptionalism,2 that is an insightful analysis of the current sad state of our American democracy. A conservative, Bacevich says that we American citizens with our wish for endless consumer goods purchased on credit are the root cause of an imperial presidency and American empire that aggressively pursues the War on Terror and imperialism abroad with the uncritical support and funding of a one party congress. He says that Congress’ function is to provide the funding for this imperialism while at the same time insuring the re-election of incumbent Members. 3 Our government he says is broken and dysfunctional, and is using ineffective inappropriate military power against criminal terrorists that can only be controlled by effective police work.
Princeton professor of political science emeritus Sheldon Wolin has a very persuasive new book, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism4 in which he shows how the United States is becoming, if it is not already, a totalitarian state posing as a democracy. He says that corporate and state power are now one, and that we voting citizens are politically uninterested, infantilized, obedient, distracted, and divided, effectively controlled by our corporate masters, as they pursue imperialism. He says that both the media and academia are “self-pacifying” and thus are not critical of their corporate masters or our trend toward totalitarianism.
Former Vice President Al Gore has his alarming book, An Inconvenient Truth 5, where he documents the current state of global warming and the danger that we are fast approaching the point of no return.
A citizen who wishes to be informed should read each of these books. They show that our planet is in peril and that our ballot box democracy is very nearly dead. Taken together, these authors give us desperately needed observations about our current environmental danger and the peril to our democracy. Each writes as if we citizens had sovereign governmental power and that we could control our politics and our environment if only we had the wisdom and the will to do so. Bacevich says the root problem is our own weakness, financial irresponsibility, and uncontrolled desire for consumer goods. Wolin says simply that we will have to get smarter. Wolin very accurately describes the current corporate rule and corporate control of our votes and thoughts without dealing with the dynamics of capitalism. Gore argues that we can control global warming within our market economy and still maintain material “progress.” Each writer fails to ask how we got into this condition. Each ignores root economic causes. Each falls into the trap of analyzing politics and political science separate from economics, when our plight compels that they be considered together as political economy. The analyses of these writers are typical American social science under the iron grip of the powerful taboo against public planning and criticism of our market economy. Because of this taboo these authors could not survive professionally in mainstream America if they were to talk about the root economic causes of our imperialism and our American Empire. Because of this taboo, Professor Wolin had to give a rather passive strange name to his book, “Inverted” Totalitarianism when the context suggests that he really means “Money-Controlled” Totalitarianism, or Capitalistic Totalitarianism.
Vice President Al Gore, Professor Bacevich, and Professor Wolin give us only half-truths when they fail to “follow the money,” namely to deal with the increasing wealth, power, and devastation that is generated from things as they are. Wolin’s journalists and fellow professors “self-pacify” for an important reason: They want to keep their jobs and their paychecks. Bacevich does not ask why Americans are addicted to consumer goods and credit. It of course has largely to do with incessant advertising, outsourcing of jobs, and inadequate pay. Gore does not talk about the powerful economic interests that must pursue short term profits and cannot survive by limiting carbon emissions. Each fails to ask: What caused us to get to our present plight? Who gets money and power from things as they are? Who has the money and power to prevent any reform by us voters? Who is thwarting and trumping our voting power to end the Iraq War right now? What is the effect, if any, of the vast disparity of wealth and power in the United States?
The fact is that we can understand and deal effectively with our problems only by analyzing both politics and economics, by “following the money.” As California Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh proclaimed years ago, “Money is the mother’s milk of politics.” For several centuries, lawyers have ferreted out the truth during cross examination of a witness by showing that he/she was “paid off,” that he/she received payment for his/her testimony. We voters, citizens, journalists, and professors must “cross examine” our market economy, our capitalism to see who is “paid off” and who thereby derives overwhelming political power. We must not allow ourselves to be deterred by hysterical charges that we are “communistic” or “socialistic.” It is not evil for members of our human community to think, plan and work together cooperatively. It is anti-intellectual simple mindedness blindly to leave our problems to the “market” for a “solution,” especially when the capitalist market is the root cause of our problems. If we are to maintain a civilized democracy and a sustainable planet, we simply cannot avoid analyzing the dynamics of capitalism. Vast institutions of wealth and political power have created and now profit from the status quo. We cannot control or curtail this anti-social power unless we know what creates it. To understand what is going on, why corporate totalitarianism is creeping over us, why we are losing our jobs and our houses and why global warming seems out of control, we must understand how our market economy works and how it interacts with our government.
Capitalism, the accurate name for our market economy must constantly move and grow, with a dynamic something like a tornado or a fast growing cancer. There never has been and there never can be a sustainable stable capitalism, since capitalism thrives on competition testing who can be the greediest and most socially irresponsible. We have never voted to choose capitalism. It is a human creation, but it grew like a fast growing cancer side by side with our self-governing political process without any input or control from the vast majority of us.
At the root of capitalism there is:
PRIVATE HIRING: A private person with money hires a person without money for the lowest possible wage in order make as much profit as possible for the person who already has money. The core axiom repeated over the decades by thousands of private employers, created a small very rich and politically powerful elite group of employers6 while it produced millions and millions of employees who remain relatively poor with no wealth or power. The employers’ imperative to get employees at the lowest possible wage lead to the closing of productive jobs in the US and the outsourcing of those jobs and production to Mexico, then to China, and then to India. We did not vote or choose to stop being producers. We do not choose or vote to become a nation of consumers… We did not vote or choose to create global warming. The dynamics of capitalism make the choice for us, and for our employers. The profits of the capitalist employers give them means to make campaign contributions to our elected officials and to lobby them so as effectively to control them. The meager wages of employees gave us at most the right to vote which capitalist money and power then trumps. Democrats are especially guilty of lying to us when they repeatedly promise to protect the “the little guy” and give him health care and then invariably vote as the drug and insurance companies demand.
This private hiring twists into:
MONOPOLY: Competition among capitalist-employers inevitably leads to the elimination of small employers, to price fixing, and to a monopoly of a few large firms, with capacity to produce more than they can sell at a profit. Henry Ford recognized this characteristic in the 1920s when he unilaterally raised the wages of his employees so that they could buy his Fords. Almost all other employers pay us employees such low wages that we cannot afford to buy what we have produced. We would lose our jobs and economic depression would result if nothing was done Capitalism thus needs public money to provide the necessary purchasing power to consume the products of capitalism. We never voted that our economy based on private hiring and competition should change into monopoly.
Monopoly then swirls to:
AN ALLIANCE BETWEEN GOVERNMENT AND CAPITALIST EMPLOYERS: Capitalism badly needs our tax money to keep going. Our Government becomes a critical component of capitalism and to an ever increasing degree, capitalism and capitalist employers control the government. We employees have less and less voting power to get what we need from our government because of the increasing power of employers’ money over our elected officials. Capitalist employers get more and more of what they want such as tax relief for the wealthy and cutting social spending for us so as to make more and more of us desperate to work for ever lower wages. We never voted for this alliance.
This moves into:
IMPERIALISM: When profit making opportunities dwindle at home, capitalists, using the Government, the CIA and the Military go abroad to seek new profit opportunities, new resources, additional customers, and employees willing to work for lower wages. Capitalism at home tends to move inevitably toward capitalism abroad: an American Empire, Imperialism and sometimes War. We have never voted to send or protect capitalism in other countries.
At the same time capitalism destroys our planet home by
USING UP OIL AND RESOURCES, POLLUTION, AND GLOBAL WARMING: In its relentless search for profit, capitalist employers devour oil, minerals, timber, soil, and water, and dangerously pollute the earth and atmosphere. Good places to live, and to fish and to hunt are ruined. Al Gore fails to recognize that the dynamics of capitalism compel capitalist employers to seek profit as their sole motive lest they perish in the competition with other employers. We have never voted to plunder the planet.
Voracious capitalism moves yet again to:
FINANCIALIZATION: The capitalist elite, finding too few profit making opportunities making things that humans need began increasing investment in speculation by buying, selling, and spinning off existing companies to produce the short term profit upon which the survival of capitalism depends. Capitalism, in this phase thus produces nothing new: no jobs, no food, no medical care, and no highways. It produces nothing except more profit and more political power for capitalists. We never voted for this innovation of capitalism.
Capitalists use this money and political power to create:
CORPORATE STATE CAPITALISM: Capitalism mutates so as to merge corporate power with state power so that we now have corporate state capitalism whose powers are exercised solely to create socialism for the global elite at the expense and starvation of the rest of us. As we now see from the bailouts, the elite causes the government to print massive amounts of paper money to rescue the businesses of the elite. It does nothing for us except to impose the burden of taxation and inflation on us employees. We suffer the loss of our jobs, houses and things we need cost more and more, due to uncontrolled inflation. We live in a constant state fear. We are approaching what Wolin calls “totalitarianism posing as democracy.” We certainly have never voted for this.
During all of this, in order to control our thoughts, Capitalists have been creating:
THE PROPAGANDA ARM OF THE CORPORATE CAPITALIST STATE: The power elite control the main sources of information that we citizens and voters need wisely to govern ourselves. They will tell us nothing about the features of capitalism that destroy both our planet and our democracy. The capitalist elite own and control all the major print and electronic media, public relations and advertising agencies. The mainstream media is owned by those who profit from things as they are, and provide uncritical support of war, imperialism, and all activities that contribute to keeping things as they are. This includes the NYT, Washington Post, PBS and NPR as well as TV and radio. The media have the power to inflame, to manipulate, to fail to cover, to deny and to ridicule. The capitalist elite thus impose the ideas, ideology and taboos that benefit the elite upon us. Through research grants and endowments, corporate capitalism controls universities and college professors and what they research and teach. It controls reporters and journalists. It controls even what we citizens think about. We thus get no information analyzing capitalism and its effects on us. We never voted that the media should have this power. The market economy at this stage makes us employees powerless, frustrated, restless, angry, and unhappy. Lacking the truth about the causes of our plight, some of us employees turn toward racism, bigotry, jingoism, evil enemies and other false solutions. There is a risk that we employees would act negatively toward the capitalist elite.
To preserve its power and privilege the Capitalist Elite moves toward:
CONTROL OF ELECTIONS, DECLARATION OF MARTIAL LAW, and FASCISM WITH A FRIENDLY FEMININE FACE: The power elite entertain and divert us with a non-serious circus-like election process. The government and the capitalist elite can then ignore the plunder of our planet home, ignore our lack of jobs, ignore our hunger, ignore our illnesses, and ignore our needy old ages. We employees are in effect placed into wage slavery if we have any jobs at all. If we riot, we are placed in detention camps. If we starve nobody in control cares. If we march and protest at political conventions, we are arrested as terrorists.
THE UPSHOT OF ANALYZING POLITICS AND MONEY POWER TOGETHER
We are not yet in the final state of capitalism’s mutation, but as Bacevich and Wolin show us, we are very close. We have never voted for any of these changes in our market economy. No political movement exists to stop this final mutation. Our belief that we are governing ourselves is totally illusory. Our democracy is nearly lost. Nobody is taking any meaningful effective steps to deal with global warming. The dynamics of capitalism are ongoing. The great danger is that it will mutate into fascism. The point of following the money, and of evaluating politics and economics together is to make certain that we understand and permanently eradicate the causes of our imminent fall.
As Professor Rick Wolff wrote:
“The egalitarian… society envisioned by social democracy cannot be secured so long as it leaves in place a group of people with incentives and means to prevent that.”7
The “means” that Wolff is talking about is simply the profits, the money that we allow capitalists to accumulate under capitalism. The tremendous disparity between the wealth of the elite and the relative poverty of the rest of us has political consequences that we now observe. We must find a way to curb that wealth and power. Shocking as it may seem, we may have to prohibit private hiring by large employers altogether. Our democracy and our civilization cannot survive otherwise. The money of the power elite nullifies our voting power. The dynamics of capitalism are devastating our fragile planet of finite resources. Our planet simply cannot support vast accumulations of wealth and power by the few unless millions of us are to be left to starve. We must learn from; the mistake of President Franklin D. Roosevelt who brought us “band-aid” solutions for the pain of the Great Depression, but left in place an economic system founded on short term greed, and small elite with the wealth power and incentive to repeal all of his reforms. Our civilization, like the civilizations of Rome, Norse Greenland, Mayan Central America, and Easter Island will fall unless we comprehend the causes of our difficulties and expose the unrecognized dynamics of capitalism. Once we do this, we will be free to re-examine our core values like material “progress” and we can begin to plan for realistic sustainable civilized alternatives.
- Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or to Survive, Viking Adult, 2004. [↩]
- Alexander J. Bacevich, The Limits to Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. Metropolitan Books, 2008; Also discussed in interview with Bill Moyers on August 15, 2008. [↩]
- The vital role of Congress in supplying the funding for the American Empire is so important that Manuel Garcia Jr. calls it MICC, the Military Industrial Congressional Complex. See Manuel Garcia Jr., “Oiling the War Machine,” Counterpunch, July 11, 2008. [↩]
- Sheldon Wolin, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, 2008, Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J; See also Paul Street, “Totalitarianism: It can Happen Here,” Dissident Voice, August 23, 2008. [↩]
- Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth, Rodale Books, 2006. [↩]
- The word “employers” should be understood to include those who invest money in the firms of employers. We consider the emphasis by some on “corporations” as the source of our trouble to be misleading in that capitalism would function much the same if corporations were abolished and all the hiring was done by individual employers or large partnerships of employers. [↩]
- Rick Wolff, “Today’s Haunting Specter (or What Needs Doing),” MRzine, June 6, 2007. [↩]