[Welcome naked capitalism readers. - BDBlue]
[I'm happy with this post, and I want some responses, so, dammit, I'm going to sticky it. Note that the implicit programme listed toward the end could fit happily with our meetup project. -- lambert]
The bottom line in America today is that while everyone who isn’t paid not to know [for example], knows how to fix what’s wrong with America (for example, instead of the mess called Health Care Reform, pass single payer), nothing that really fixes anything fundamental will be allowed to occur.
America is controlled by what economists call rent-seeking behaviour. Virtually everyone important has a revenue stream, and they don’t want anyone to take that revenue stream away. So pharma and insurance companies, who would have been damaged badly by single payer (they would have lost hundreds of billions) made sure that a plan to provide everyone with better health care for a third less than current costs was never even considered.
The most important game in America today is the contest for control of government, so that government can directly or indirectly give you money. Health care “reform” in which the government decided to force Americans to buy private health insurance or be fined is merely the latest (and most blatant) example. Virtually every industry, from finance to telecom to agriculture is involved in this game. It is in all their interests to make sure the game continues, but they do fight amongst each other for the spoils.
This game will continue until the US can no longer afford it. Indeed, even now, some industries are taking it on the chin, loosing out to their better connected cousins. For example, the current downturn has seen the prison-industrial complex losing ground. They get most of their money from State governments, and the States simply cannot afford to keep locking up so many people at so much cost.
This is the downward spiral of a great power in senescence. It ends in collapse, reformation or revolution, when it becomes clear that the rents of the Ancien Regime can no longer be afforded, and too many of those who were bought off are thrown off their dole.
The Tea Partiers, however misguided they may be in many respects, have been thrown off the dole. Whatever they are called, they will not be going away.
So what is to be done? I have to rush off into RL, so the rest will be only semi-coherent, but:
I guess what I've been trying to say -- and here we can get into all sorts of class disclosure, since I still have more assets than billions of people, am petit bourgeois by upbringing, though not in my productive relations, enjoy gonadal privileges, and all that, so discount as you will -- goes something like the following:
1. The legacy parties are only about redistributing rent streams among elites. Period.* (No, the parties were not always only about (re-)directing rent. In regimes under the spoils system or "honest graft," "everybody got a share," as Milo Minderbinder would say. The Civil Rights Act wasn't only about rental streams, even if watching Jesse Jackson, Jr. you might not think so.)
2. If we built the record of where the Overton Window gets slammed shut on the left or the right, I'd bet the "set point" would be exactly where rents get distributed elsewhere than elites (the left: single payer; the right: abolishing the Fed).
3. As Ian says, the system of rents is not sustainable. Collapse, reformation or revolution will come.
4. I don't see where a revolution** will come from, and I don't see (after HCR) where reform will come from. So, collapse (Greenland; Iceland). We can't know when collapse will come. The collapse could be soon, it could be later, it could be serial (cf. Matthew 24:36); our rentiers are nothing if not resourceful in using
our their government to extract blood from our bodies. (I'd bet the Dems have pumped enough of our blood into the zombie banking system so that collapse won't happen before the 2010 midterms, and maybe not until after 2012, as long as the elites don't panic and turn on each other.)
5. Taking the 13% who think that Obama's health care proposal isn't liberal*** enough as a (perhaps slightly underestimated) proxy for the strength of liberalism, I don't think we have the power to affect the country's trajectory. If, as Ian said, the only fight that matters now is the fight for the government, that's a fight we can't win. We don't have the numbers, and we don't have the money.
6. That's why the opportunity cost, for us, of investing in the legacy parties is unacceptable, even leaving aside values: Incremental gains (again, see HCR) won't protect us from collapse anyhow, and prevent us from creating more resilient systems that will protect us. Blogging is important in this context to (a) set the record straight, (b) develop relations among the like-minded, and (c) share thoughts and ideas.
7. Although new ideas, new forms of discourse, and resilient systems have no value in the pre-collapse context, they will have great value in a post-collapse context (see, again, Stirling).
8. The idea of "happiness" is very important. Rent seeking behavior brings happiness to nobody (not even our corrupt and perverse elites). Do you want to keep being unhappy? Why?
9. The Buddhist idea of "merit" is very important. Policies and values that I/we support may not come to be, as collapse plays out, until after I'm/we're dead and gone. That doesn't mean there's not merit in pushing for them. This perspective will apply particularly in the coming imposition of "entitlement reform." For my generation, it's going to be important to frame discourse not as "I paid for it, I want it" (even though that is true under the deal O'Neill cut with Reagan) but in terms of what's best for the new world that is to come. (It's not a coincidence that Obama tried to buy off the youth with a single payer student loan system; I'm betting that enough of them see being on their parent's insurance policy until the age of 26 under HCR as a sign of something seriously wrong anyhow, so Obama's spoils distribution will have little impact. And, after all, they'll still be in debt.) Importantly, violence is without merit.
10. Many small drops make a tide. Even the 13% can make a difference en masse by removing themselves from as many rental relationships as possible.
This post may strike some as quietist, pessimistic, or even defeatist. In fact, I think it's exactly the opposite of all three!
And now, if you've come this far, the flip side ...
NOTE * I should qualify this with the idea that elected representatives from the legacy parties who are "small time" enough not to see their positions as the equivalent of unpaid internships in the system of rents aren't subject to these strictures. But the spectacle of Kucinich -- liberalism's supposed baseline at the national level -- actually whipping the House floor for an HCR bill he'd opposed in principle only one day before Obama left a pony's head in his bed -- should open everyone's eyes to the rot at the national level.
1. I see a lot of OFB pushing the idea, but I don't see it locally. I realize my state is not all states -- MI is different from MA is different from ME is different from MS -- but since the press and the access bloggers are totally instrumental and untrustworthy in their reportage, I need to see some signs of it, on the ground, where I am.
2. I grant that Versailles is pushing a conflict between the Dems and the tea partiers as a ratchet effect tactic, and there's no reason to think that Versailles won't try to make the conflict as vicious and evil as necessary to allow our elites to continue to live in the style to which they have become accustomed, but I'm not sure that the baseline level of hate against a single target is present. Unlike Germany in the 1930s, which had a compact land mass, a reasonably homogenous population, and the single target of the Jews, the United States in 2010 is continental in scope, has a wildly various population, and no single target for hate.**** Where's the critical mass of people who'll target one single enemy as the new Jews? Yes, blacks, gays, women, liberals are certainly all hated by fractions of the populace, but that varies by generation, geography, age... So how do those fractions get welded into a whole? Maybe I'm just wildly optimistic, but I don't see it. (I'd also argue that the society in which another authentically fascist movement, the KKK, flourished was a lot more like Germany in the 1930s than the United States today.)
3. These thoughts are distinct from the idea that the United States has become corporatist, and also distinct from the realization that new powers of surveillance and social control have been putting us in "lobster in the pot" mode for some time. There won't be camps. There might be ankle bracelets, internal passports, and drones. Look! Over there! Teabaggers!
NOTE *** Whatever "liberal" might mean. Not "progressive," certainly. That bed can't be unshat.
NOTE ON NOTE *** Joseph Cannon critiques this:
You are foolish to think that a "baseline level of hate against a single target" is necessary.... Amorphous enemies will do. So will multiple enemies. In fact, the enemies were both amorphous and multiple in Germany; you misread German history.
That's why the Reichstag fire hoax targeted socialists, not Jews. That's why the concentration camps held lefties before they held Jews. That's why Klaus Barbie rounded up Freemasons. ... There will be a baseline level of hate against an ever-shifting number of ill-defined targets. That will be the true danger of the thing.
I need to reread my Richard Evans, but I think Cannon has the right of it on the history -- if not the parallels. I'm reading the holocaust back into history, instead of seeing how history accelerated into the holocaust. My bad.
UPDATE The Move Your Money idea needs to be generalized; don't just move your money, move everything you can!
UPDATE One could view this entire post as validating the concept of inequity aversion.
UPDATE Minor copy editing tweaks, in honor of our NC readers.