And The Erosion of Democracy
In last week’s post about Food I mentioned three doctrines—shape ideology, redesign the economy, and marginalize the public—which I had handpicked from the 2016 film on U.S. democracy called, Requiem for the American Dream. In it, Noam Chomsky, one of the most highly-regarded intellectuals alive, offers these and seven other principles in detailing how a concentration of wealth and power in America has led to what might be the lasting legacy of our time—the death of the middle class and the utter destruction of democracy.
One does not have to be particularly savvy or astute this election season to see how these forces are playing out all across our democracy. As the cost of elections has skyrocketed, political parties have been driven into the pockets of major corporations, which provides funds in return for legislation that will increase the wealth of those corporate partners.
So much for the writing on the wall. This is writing it with a stick across your fucking face.
It’s like a math problem from 2nd grade: If Johnny has six apples and needs seven more so that he can be assured of whipping Martha’s ass in the Who Has More Apples Contest, which is kind of how it seems elections are won these days, and so he asks Tommy for some of his, because Tommy’s dad owns a goddamn bank and has a shit load of apples just laying around his fucking kitchen for no purpose other than keeping them out of the hands of others. Tommy agrees to give Johnny eight apples, one more than he needs, because, hey, he’s just that kind of big guy—and besides that, Martha’s been a bitch to him since kindergarten. In return for those eight apples, however, Johnny has to pass a resolution allowing Tommy and his dad to make apples cheaper to own and more expensive to buy so that everyone other than Tommy and his dickhead of a dad lose, but especially their poor, unfortunate teacher who kind of liked getting an apple now and then from her students, but she gave Tommy a C- the previous semester so to hell with her, too, and so forth and so on, until by the end you’re not sure if there was even any fucking question to begin.
Honestly, the arena has become so polluted, top to bottom, with disregard and disrespect, it’s disgusting and I wouldn’t blame anyone for throwing their hands up in universal exasperation at the way some of these rich assholes behave. But this is what we have, right? It’s democracy.
Anywho, I thought now would be a good time to share these 10 principles for those of us who still have a shred of hope that this erosion of democracy can be stopped, or at the very least understood better, if for no other reason than to know what lies ahead (Hint: Aristotle nailed it 2,200 years ago):
Republics decline into democracies and democracies degenerate into despotisms.
Aristotle, like America’s founding fathers, understood that “the principal architects of policy,” as Chomsky narrates in the opening scene, “are the people who own society.” Power was put in the hands of the super wealthy. Because, as everyone knows, these fuckers with unearned confidence are way more responsible/intelligent/educated/worthy… need I go on? The truth is they just had more to lose, and by lose I mean taken by the larger population of poor people, who might grow tired of always drawing the short end of that stick being used to wear them down into submission.
In the early days of American independence it was the merchants and manufacturers who made sure their own interests were taken care of. These days, it’s financial institutions and multinational corporations who are calling the shots. People who Adam Smith labeled in 1776, the masters of mankind, these owners of society all sharing the same awful motto: All for ourselves and nothing for anyone else.
These very richest of the very richest understood very well that an excess of democracy was great for most, but a super shitty threat to themselves. So they turned their power and wealth into political will and used it to do just the opposite, prevent democracy, and in so doing have brought unprecedented levels of inequality, irreversible climate change and a hopelessness for the future upon all of human society.
In the absence of a popular majority reaction from those with less, who was to stop them? Who is to stop them now?
Without further ado, let’s get to the list.
The 10 Principles of the Concentration of Wealth and Power
In consideration of your reading time and the weight of this particular topic, this week I am just going to just cover the first five. To jump ahead or get a truly in-depth look at the matter I suggest you bounce over to the link provided above and watch the film.
- Reduce democracy
- Shape ideology
- Re-design the economy
- Shift the burden to the masses
- Attack Solidarity
- Run the regulators
- Engineer elections
- Keep the rabble in line
- Manufacture consent
- Marginalize the population
As I hope I’ve made clear, the framers of American democracy believed that with freedom should come oversight and that oversight should be in the hands of those with the most to lose. Because with the power to vote the poor might organize and take away the property of the rich, the structure of the formal constitutional system turned that responsibility over to the Senate, essentially reducing democracy.
Back in his day, Aristotle thought the same but offered a solution. Today, it’s called a welfare state, but in effect reduced inequality between the rich and poor by offering publicly funded provisions to the poor to keep them from revolting.
This is the constant, continuing struggle in America. Shifting between these two tendencies, one that reduces democracy and the other that reduces inequality, periods of regression, periods of progress, some of which have brought about hard fought victories in terms of women’s rights, minority rights, climate change, the labor movement, etc. The backlash to these, however, as we are more plainly seeing today, was then unimaginable.
In the early 70s, at the height of several of these democratic movements, the rich began to feel that there was an excess of democracy, especially amongst young people with their war protests and wanton sex and drug use. The rich blamed the schools, the universities and churches for failing to indoctrinate these hippies into society, and so what happened next? Tuitions began to soar. Public education was reduced to mechanical skills, undermining creativity and independence. Slogans such as No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Teach to the Test were used to exert control and subordination.
One area not mentioned? Private business. And why was that? Because little shits like Tommy and his dad from the earlier math problem considered their affairs and the affairs of the other masters of mankind to be of national interest and so were allowed to have lobbyists, to buy campaigns, and staff the executive branch. All the general population could do was watch. And, if lucky, get stoned.
Re-design the economy
In the 1950s the US economy was primarily based on production. It was the great manufacturing center of the world and financial institutions existed primarily to support it, helping merchants make payroll during lean periods or expand their showrooms and such to sell more product. Banking was regulated and separate from investment activities so they couldn’t harm regular people.
That all changed in the 70s when the financial sector grew into this complex, speculative, soul-sucking instrument of banks, investment and insurance firms. Changes were made so that they could make more money through the manipulation of money or by making risky investments. At this same time, production abandoned its loyal American workers and moved overseas. There, the labor was cheaper and there, no one was breathing down their necks about saving the fucking planet. Abroad, no one could get in the way of the business of making profit.
So now, working people have to compete with each other all over the world for jobs, while highly paid professionals are protected. Business became the business of the country, not production. To support that objective policies were designed to increase worker insecurity, to keep them from asking for decent wages or better working conditions, to encourage them with worthless assets and inflated housing prices, to give them the illusion of wealth. In reality, they got more debt, less freedom, less leisure, and less time even to consider why.
Shift the burden to the masses
When your customers are local you tend to pay the workers well so they can purchase the stuff you produce. This was the case when the U.S. was primarily a manufacturing center. When the rich realized that their money made more money in a market invested in products made for the ultra-rich, they stopped thinking of everyone else and focused only on this small percentage of the population.
Increasing, not sutaining, profit became the new quarterly goal. Growth upon growth meant bonus after bonus to the masters of mankind. But there was still this pesky little thing called a tax, and so they instituted policies which lessened it on the dividends their money made and shifted the burden of sustaining society on the rest of the population, the working people, through wage and consumption taxes.
It’ll trickle down, they said. And we dumb motherfuckers believed them, and still today continue to buy their bullshit.
In a normal functioning society, people have empathy for one another and act in a manner that benefits everyone. To the masters of mankind, however, solidarity is quite dangerous. If the money they’re making is taxed and used to help the old woman down the street buy groceries, how is it then working for them? Or to send a poor kid to school. Or pay the health care costs for someone’s chronic illness.
I cringe every time I hear someone say, “My kids are grown, why do I have to support public schools?” It’s the kind of sentiment that makes sense to the masters of mankind—or their puppets—because you're only supposed to care about yourself. That’s rule number one. And so they work and lobby and vote to defund those institutions, thus making it harder to spread their wealth, especially to the poor, the ones who actually tilled the soil, removed the rock, cut the timber and raised spectacular monuments dedicated to this great society and continue to fund the labor and cost.
Defunded institutions can’t operate efficiently and so they’re privatized, which trap students and others in debt, which cannot be paid off without working for, you guessed it, that motherfucking joker Tommy and his wealthy motherfucking cronies, the corporate elite, the masters of mankind.
Hope you enjoyed my take on five of these 10 principles of the concentration of wealth and power. I do so enjoy sticking it to the man—power to the people!
Stay tuned for next week when I cover the remaining five principles.