Monday, December 04, 2017

A Fitting End to a Country Grown Too Old

Remember when North America was called the New World? Well, in some ways, it's rather old, very old. The United States boasts of being the world's oldest constitutional democracy and, even if that means brushing a few other nations such as Switzerland under the carpet, it clings to that claim.

These are, however, technicalities. The United States has not been a functioning democracy for a good many years. The gang that launched this enterprise, the Founding Fathers, weren't fond of democracy. (see Louise Isenberg's, "White Trash, the 400 Year Untold History of Class in America.") And it's not surprising that today's Ruling Fathers are following so closely in their footsteps.

In 2014 two American professors, Martin Gilens (Princeton) and Ben Page (Northwestern) published a paper entitled, "Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups and Average Citizens." Their study, published by Princeton, revealed how America's Congress had fallen under the control of narrow, monied interests to the exclusion of the public interest. Congress no longer served the American people. It served the emerging oligarchy, the Donor Class. Democracy, at least liberal democracy, was over, extinguished.

Even senator Lindsey Graham recently exhorted his Republican colleagues to back the hopelessly corrupted tax bill by openly warning that if it failed, "the financial contributions will stop."  In other words, Congressional Republicans had taken the King's shilling, had grown dependent on these wealthy donors, and now must do their bidding. That is nothing less than a blatant confession of utter corruption.

In yesterday's New York Times, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein wrote of how America was now broken, perhaps irreparably, by the Republican Party.

If in 2006 one could cast aspersions on both parties, over the past decade it has become clear that it is the Republican Party — as an institution, as a movement, as a collection of politicians — that has done unique, extensive and possibly irreparable damage to the American political system.

Trump is the culmination of a rancid corruption that goes back several years.  I can remember when then Republican House leader John Boehner strolled the floor of the house depositing white envelopes on the desks of his party's members. Inside were cheques from the tobacco industry and they arrived just as the House prepared to take up that year's tobacco subsidies.

Since Boehner's walk on the House floor we've had the US Supreme Court decision in Citizen's United, as fine a piece of corporatist corruption as perhaps any in America's history, and now the culmination of the America's transition to transactional government, the Republican tax bill.

In an act of sublime stupidity, Trump's Gullibillies believed they were voting to "drain the swamp." The stupid fools could not see they were instead electing a government of swamp creatures who would strip them of everything from their democracy to their health care and burden them with even more debt that they and their kids and grandkids will be left to shoulder. Fools, damned fools.

In today's Guardian, Dana Nuccitelli sees the same moral and intellectual perversion in the Republican tax gambit as in the GOP's policy on climate change.

The parallels between the Republican Party positions on taxes and climate change are striking. Both are morally appalling and reject the available evidence and expert opinion.

The Initiative on Global Markets’ panel of economic experts was recently asked about the Republican tax plan. Among the experts who took a position either way, there was a 96% consensus that the plan would not substantially grow the economy more than the status quo, and a 100% consensus that it would substantially increase the national debt.

Economists also agree that we should be paying down the debt when the economy is going strong. When the next recession inevitably strikes, governments need monetary flexibility to respond. That’s when it makes sense to run a deficit (for example, see the 2009 stimulus package, which helped pull the US out of the Great Recession and cost less than the Republican tax plan).

These Republican economic contradictions make no sense, but they’re familiar to those of us who follow climate change news. The only consistency in climate denial is in its contradictions – deniers claim global warming isn’t happening, but it’s a natural ocean cycle, and caused by the sun, and galactic cosmic rays, and Jupiter’s orbital cycles, and it’s really just a Chinese hoax, and in any case it’s not bad.

And the Gullibillies, fed a rich diet of lies, keep faith with the faithless. They're taking it up the arse and they don't even realize it.

A 2012 survey found that Americans who only watch Fox News are less informed than Americans who watch no news at all. At the time, 55% of Americans including 75% of Republicans reported watching Fox News. The network is powerful – a recent study found that Fox News might have enough influence to tip American elections – and on the whole it prioritizes ideological messaging over factual accuracy.

Trump’s attacks on the so-called “fake news” media have further eroded Republicans’ trust of news sources that lack a conservative bias. As David Roberts wrote for Vox:

The US is experiencing a deep epistemic breach, a split not just in what we value or want, but in who we trust, how we come to know things, and what we believe we know — what we believe exists, is true, has happened and is happening … the right has created its own parallel set of institutions, most notably its own media ecosystem … “conservative media is more partisan and more insular than the left.”

Because so many conservatives rely on right-wing media sources for their news, it’s easy to misinform them through a constant stream of lies.

For example, Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin promised that his department would produce an analysis showing that the tax cuts will pay for themselves. One economist in the department leaked to the New York Times that such an analysis doesn’t exist and Treasury staffers weren’t even asked to study the issue. It was a lie. Mnuchin also claimed the plan would only raise taxes on Americans who earn more than $1 million a year – the exact opposite of reality and another blatant lie. In fact, the entire Republican case for their tax plan was based on lies.

Similarly, climate denial is based on endless myths and misinformation – Skeptical Science has catalogued and debunked about 200 of them. And recent research showed that these myths are quite effective at misinforming their audience.

This brings to mind Kevin Phillips' 2005 book, "American Theocracy." In one chapter of the book, Phillips explores how previous global hegemons rose to dominance and then fell again.

...conductors of the orchestra of American hubris wave star-spangled batons and the chorus resounds: Washington rules, the world manufactures for the United States, and our current-account deficit reflects nothing more than global anxiety to invest in U.S. prosperity. Who knows, the Treasury may even be planning a statue of an American consumer supporting the world on his back.

However, if pride goeth before a fall, cocksureness about the manageability of U.S. public and private indebtedness may as well, given threats that range from debt crises to currency humiliation. Crippling indebtedness is like the ghost of leading world economic powers past, a familiar Shakespearean villain come to stalk the current hegemon.

...None of these hegemons [Holland, Spain and Britain] started with well-developed finance. They began with simpler vocations. Castile, the heart of Spain, was a culture of high-plateau wool growers and skilled soldiers who had spent centuries reconquering the Iberian peninsula from Muslim emirs before conquistadores found gold and silver in Central and South America. The Dutch, as we have seen, had a unique talent for vocations having to do with ships, seas and winds. The English pioneered coal development and superseded the Dutch as masters of the seas. But after several generations of success in soldiering, seafaring, or manufacturing, these peoples, in their respective heydays, were drawn farther in the direction of globalism, financial services and capital management.

...Excluding the unusual case of Spain, the leading economic powers have followed an evolutionary progression: first, agriculture, fishing and the like, next commerce and industry, and finally finance. Several historians have elaborated this point. Brooks Adams contended that 'as societies consolidate, they pass through a profound intellectual change. Energy ceases to vent through the imagination and takes the form of capital.'

In 1908, ...Winston Churchill, then president of the British Board of Trade, vented a similar historical interpretation in finding 'the seed of imperial ruin and national decay' in 'the unnatural gap between the rich and the poor' and 'the swift increase of vulgar jobless luxury.'

...The word "rentier" - meaning a person living off unearned income - comes from the French, as do so many other words connected with money and plunder: financier, profiteer, buccaneer. Over the last four centuries, however, it was first Spain, then Holland and Great Britain, and now the United States that created the most notable rentier cultures. Each ultimately became vulnerable as a result.

...Because intermittent high debt ratios were so central to the evolution of each of the leading world economic powers, each became comfortable - too comfortable - with debt as a long-standing experience, practice, and tactic. Particular overconfidence was instilled by memories of how often previous debt problems had been surmounted, even at extreme levels (100 to 200 percent) of GDP or GNP.

...Understandable as this cockiness might be, history teaches a crucial distinction: nations could martial the necessary debt-defying high-wire walks and comebacks during their youth and early middle age, when their industries, exports, capitalizations, and animal spirits were vital and expansive, but they became less resilient in later years. During these periods, as their societies polarized and their arteries clogged with rentier and debt buildups, wars and financial crises stopped being manageable. Of course, clarity about this develops only in retrospect. However, even though war-related debt seems to have been part of each fatal endgame, the past leading world economic powers seem to have made another error en route. They did not pay enough attention to establishing or maintaining a vital manufacturing sector, thereby keeping a better international balance and a broader internal income distribution than financialization allowed."

This history was written, repeatedly, over several centuries. Phillips, a Republican stalwart, penned these passages in 2005. Here we are on the eve of 2018 with America staring down this very same gun barrel. The insanely stupid Gullibillies don't realize their predicament or that it's the Republicans' finger on the trigger.


Anonymous said...

Trump's reckless tax cuts and deregulation are just what the doctor prescribed: they will fail spectacularly and drive a stake into this absurd neocon/neolib ideology (i.e., Milton Friedman's neoclassical economics.)

Neoliberals are huge weasels on this (and everything else.) They have been working with neocons the entire time to: 1) slash taxes; 2) slash spending; 3) slash regulation; 4) go to 1!

Both neocons and neolibs use the household budget analogy: a country has to live within its means. But what about the part about putting the bills on the credit card to pass down as an inheritance? They never mention that part!

Since Reagan, the US has borrowed $19T to dole out to the rich in tax cuts. The wealth of the wealthiest has grown 2500%! (The wealth of bottom 80% has declined.) Now the American people owe the rich $19T - and the rich now own their government! (Mr. Trump: play with that debt!)

Trump is like Copernicus and Planck: one foot in the new era, one foot in the old. But unlike neoliberal liars, he is bringing some actual change. Hopefully progressives will stop acting like hysterical infants and start contributing something to the coming era.

The Mound of Sound said...

I can accept most of your views, Anon, except your support for that deranged sexual deviant. You support that pervert, that's on you. It's not change he's bringing but ruin. Before you criticize progressives as "hysterical infants" think hard on what you're associating yourself with. Birds of a feather I suppose.

Trailblazer said...

Whilst many will take great satisfaction watching the demise of the USA we should, perhaps, consider who will, inevitably, fill their boots.
Should we be fortunate the transition will be long and painless; it could also be a nightmare.
Wherever I look nowadays I see hatred and conflict; these are not easy times.


The Mound of Sound said...

I did a post on these major power transitions a while back. It referenced a report that found about two-thirds of these events involved warfare. Bookending that was a US Navy article warning that, unless America woke up, the Chinese were apt to succeed the U.S. "without a fight." There was an ominous but unmistakeable "over our dead bodies" tone to it.