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The Crisis of Capitalism

and The Rise of Fascism

Recorded meeting from 9/27/2020
From The Poor People’s Campaign

 

Join the We Must Do M.O.R.E. campaign to mobilize, organize, register and educate voters for the upcoming election. 

 

Any individual can register for this training. Organizations and faith communities are encouraged to participate as well, by getting trained and taking the Prophetic Pledge

 

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Poor People's Campaign 2020 Voter Protection Partnership

The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, Forward Justice, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund have partnered to provide voter protection support in 10 key states — Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas — during 2020’s general electoral cycle. We need people in those states to be our eyes and ears on the ground on election day. Sign up below to get trained!

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Kentucky Senate Town Hall

Join us on Tuesday September 29th at 7:30pm ET/ 6:30pm CT for the Mississippi Senate Town Hall streaming live at poorpeoplescampaign.org/livestream – both candidates have been invited to speak directly to the issues and priorities of poor and low-income constituents and to take questions from Kentucky PPC leaders.

Forward Focus

Did you know there are five vacant homes for every homeless person in this country? Click below to read more from this week's Forward Focus policy briefing on housing and homelessness.

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From the MOVEMENT FOR A PEOPLE'S PARTY

 

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The People's Party Debate Response
Tuesday, September 29

10:45 PM Immediately Following the Debate

Post-debate analysis by climate scientist Dr. Peter Kalmus and other guests, hosted by MPP’s Nick Brana

The goal of a people’s party is to represent the interests of the wide majority of us and create a system to sustainably maximize well-being for ALL.

 

We believe we deserve a system that honors everyone for the content of their character, not the color of their skin, the land where they happened to be born, or the numbers in their bank account. One that brings powerful law-breakers to justice. One that makes sure the planet and its magnificent beings are cared for before any corporation exec’s profit margins. One where the power of our nation’s wealth serves all of us, not just failed banks or masters of war.

 

So many of us realize Congress currently does the bidding of Wall Street, corporations and billionaires — no matter which party is in power. That’s left most of us behind. The result is all our hard work and sacrifice has made the rich much richer, but not ourselves. It’s not our energy or work ethic that’s the problem. It’s the system.

 

The elites have escaped justice for major financial crimes, and continue to lock into place an abusive unsustainable system threatening our lives and the planet. Things must change — dramatically, and fast.

 

In 1944, FDR proposed an Economic Bill of Rights guaranteeing employment, food, clothing, leisure, a living wage, housing, health care, social security, education and freedom from corporate control. It’s the end of the age of oil. We’ve begun the renewable, digital age. We can and must bring a new system to life that delivers Roosevelt’s vision.

Learn about the People's Party
and join over 100,000 supporters STRONG!

 

From the MOVEMENT FOR A PEOPLE'S PARTY website:

 

The goal of a people’s party is to represent the interests

of the wide majority of us and create a system to sustainably

maximize well-being for ALL.

 

We believe we deserve a system that honors everyone for

the content of their character, not the color of their skin,

the land where they happened to be born, or the numbers

in their bank account. One that brings powerful

law-breakers to justice. One that makes sure the planet

and its magnificent beings are cared for before any

corporation exec’s profit margins. One where the power

of our nation’s wealth serves all of us, not just failed banks

or masters of war.

 

So many of us realize Congress currently does the bidding of Wall Street, corporations and billionaires — no matter which party is in power. That’s left most of us behind. The result is all our hard work and sacrifice has made the rich much richer, but not ourselves. It’s not our energy or work ethic that’s the problem. It’s the system.

 

The elites have escaped justice for major financial crimes, and continue to lock into place an abusive unsustainable system threatening our lives and the planet. Things must change — dramatically, and fast.

 

In 1944, FDR proposed an Economic Bill of Rights guaranteeing employment, food, clothing, leisure, a living wage, housing, health care, social security, education and freedom from corporate control. It’s the end of the age of oil. We’ve begun the renewable, digital age. We can and must bring a new system to life that delivers Roosevelt’s vision.

Chris Hedges: American Bloodlands

The enraged, polarized segments of the population are rapidly consolidating as the political center disintegrates.

By Chris Hedge

September 11, 2020 "Information Clearing House" -  The tinder that could soon ignite widespread violent conflagrations throughout the United States lies ominously stacked around us. Millions of disenfranchised white Americans, who see no way out of their economic and social misery, struggling with an emotional void, are seething with rage against a corrupt ruling class and bankrupt liberal elite that presides over political stagnation and grotesque, mounting social inequality. Millions more alienated young men and women, also locked out of the economy and with no realistic prospect for advancement or integration, gripped by the same emotional void, have harnessed their fury in the name of tearing down the governing structures and anti-fascism. The enraged, polarized segments of the population are rapidly consolidating as the political center disintegrates. They stand poised to tear apart the United States, awash in military-grade weapons, unable to cope with the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout, cursed with militarized police forces that function as internal armies of occupation and de facto allies of the neofascists.

The spark that usually sets such tinder ablaze is martyrdom. Aaron “Jay” Danielson, a supporter of the right-wing group Patriot Prayer, was wearing a loaded Glock pistol in a holster and had bear spray and an expandable metal baton when he was shot dead on August 29, allegedly by Michael Forest Reinoehl, a supporter of antifa, in the streets of Portland. A woman in the crowd can be heard shouting after the shooting: “I am not sad that a fucking fascist died tonight.” On Thursday, Reinoehl, allegedly armed with a handgun, was shot and killed by federal agents in Washington state.

Once people start being sacrificed for the cause, it takes little for demagogues of the radical left and the radical right to insist that self-preservation necessitates violence and is a prerequisite for victory.

 

Violence is a narcotic. It fills the emotional void. It imparts a feeling of God-like omnipotence to the powerless. It instills feelings of comradeship and belonging to the alienated. It gives to social outcasts, crippled by humiliation and rejection, a sense of meaning and higher purpose. It obliterates the despair that once defined their lives and replaces it with feelings of ecstatic self-importance and self-adulation, a state of being outside the self. The world suddenly becomes a Manichean battleground between them and us, the forces of dark and the forces of light. 

When I wrote War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, a reflection on the culture of war after two decades as a correspondent in Central America, Africa, The Middle East and the Balkans, I meant it. I have seen this dark elixir at work in other disintegrating societies. I know too intimately the rush that violence engenders, the overpowering lusts that seize a mob or armed unit when it destroys, even human beings, and the heady attraction of suspending all personal morality and individual responsibility for the wild intoxication of violence. It is the absence of empathy, perhaps the best definition of evil.   

The words left and right, once violence becomes the primary form of communication, are meaningless. These are death cults. They venerate and worship death. The martyrs justify the murder of the enemy, including the detested voices that call for understanding, reconciliation and nonviolence. To suggest anything other than the total annihilation of the enemy—and the enemy includes all who do not fully and uncritically support the cause—is apostasy. It is the dead who rule. Their voices cry out from beyond the grave demanding vengeance and new heroes and martyrs to take their place. There are constant and repeated acts of remembrance for the fallen.

This cult of the dead is integral to combat units in the military. Those who attend the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program, an 8-week course held at Fort Benning, Georgia, to become an Army Ranger must select a “Ranger in the sky” who was killed in action. Recruits, who are warned not to pick Pat Tillman, are required to know the details of the dead Ranger’s personal life before enlistment and his military career. They must carry this information on a piece of paper with them at all times. It is an inspectable item. Idealists, seeking to lift themselves up from the depths of social obscurity and be fêted as heroes, become, whether as Army Rangers or members of violent militias, willing sacrificial victims. But as deaths accumulate, these martyrs, once so important and precious, disappear into faceless, nameless piles of corpses.

The Nazi Party in 1930 found its primary martyr in the 19-year-old brownshirt Horst Wessel who led a branch of the Nazi paramilitaries that attacked Communists, especially those who made up the rival Communist militia the Red Front-Fighters’ League (RFB). Wessel was shot dead by Albrecht “Ali” Höhler, a Communist militant and petty criminal — later assassinated by the Nazis — after a complaint was made to the party about Wessel by his Communist landlady. Wessel instantly became a “martyr for the Third Reich.” The Horst Wessel song became the official anthem of the Nazi Party. Fascist and Communist violence, with deaths on both sides, exploded in the streets of Weimar Germany in the early 1930s. The mayhem, much of it instigated by the fascists, eventually exhausted the German public and made it susceptible to the right-wing and fascist promises to impose law and order.

Martyrdom also played a central role in the eruption of the war in the former Yugoslavia. On March 1, 1992, a wedding procession of Bosnian Serbs in Sarajevo was attacked by Ramiz Delalić, a career criminal and a Muslim known by his nicknameĆelo. The father of the groom, Nikola Gardović, was killed. A Serbian Orthodox priest was wounded. The shooting of Gardović, like that of Wessel, was used by Serb nationalists to whip up a blood fury. It saw Serbs erect armed barricades and roadblocks throughout the city, that led not long afterwards to a war in which most of Bosnia was destroyed, 2.2 million people were displaced from their homes and at least 100,000 died.

I watched many funerals in Gaza for Palestinian martyrs. They were little more than recruiting ceremonies for militants and suicide bombers. A truck with a generator in the back and huge loudspeakers on the cab would be at the head of the funeral procession. The speakers would blast out verses from the Koran, along with slogans calling on heroes to fight and die for Palestine and become a “shaheed,” or martyr. Young boys would run alongside or behind the truck. The funeral processions made their way slowly down the dusty, narrow streets of the refugee camps, past the concrete hovels, the walls decorated with pictures of the newest martyr or murals that depicted past attacks, such as a bus with the Israeli Star of David on it being consumed in a fiery explosion. “Don’t be merciful to those inside,” the Arabic script read below the picture of the bus. “Blow it up! Hit it!”

“It is the first death which infects everyone with the feeling of being threatened,” wrote Elias Canetti, a Bulgarian refugee from Nazi persecution, in “Crowds and Power”:

“It is impossible to overrate the part played by the first dead man in the kindling of wars. Rulers who want to unleash war know very well that they must procure or invent a first victim. It need not be anyone of particular importance, and can even be someone quite unknown. Nothing matters except his death; and it must be believed that the enemy is responsible for this. Every possible cause of his death is suppressed except one: his membership of the group to which one belongs oneself.”

The flashing red lights are all around us. Joe Biden and the Democratic Party will do little to restore the social bonds or address the social inequality and disenfranchisement of tens of millions of Americans, now facing evictions and bankruptcy, which is fueling the social collapse. Donald Trump and the Republican Party, along with media outlets such as FOX News, in a bid to retain power, are fanning the flames of violence, seeing in the incitement of far-right mobs a route to a ruthless police state.

In armed conflicts, facts and truth no longer matter. Lies, if used to further the cause, become righteous. Truth, if it hurts the cause, is blasphemy. If your side commits an atrocity, it’s justified by an atrocity, real or invented, carried out by the enemy. The ends always justify the means. The moral universe is banished, replaced by a self-serving pseudo-morality.

“In the beginning war looks and feels like love,” I wrote in War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. “But unlike love it gives nothing in return but an ever deepening dependence, like all narcotics, on the road to self-destruction. It does not affirm but places upon us greater and greater demands. It destroys the outside world until it is hard to live outside war’s grip. It takes a higher and higher dose to achieve any thrill. Finally, one ingests war only to remain numb. The world outside becomes, as Freud wrote, ‘uncanny.’ The familiar becomes strangely unfamiliar — many who have been to war find this when they return home. The world we once understood and longed to return to stands before us as alien, strange, and beyond our grasp.”  

      

Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for fifteen years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East Bureau Chief and Balkan Bureau Chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor, and NPR. He is the host of the Emmy Award-nominated RT America show On Contact. - "Source" -

Meet the Hidden Architect Behind America's Racist Economics
By Lynn Parramore

GOVERNMENT & POLITICS | HISTORY

Nobel laureate James Buchanan is the intellectual linchpin of the Koch-funded attack on democratic institutions, argues Duke historian Nancy MacLean

Ask people to name the key minds that have shaped America’s burst of radical right-wing attacks on working conditions, consumer rights and public services, and they will typically mention figures like free market-champion Milton Friedman, libertarian guru Ayn Rand, and laissez-faire economists Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises.

James McGill Buchanan is a name you will rarely hear unless you’ve taken several classes in economics. And if the Tennessee-born Nobel laureate were alive today, it would suit him just fine that most well-informed journalists, liberal politicians, and even many economics students have little understanding of his work.

The reason? Duke historian Nancy MacLean contends that his philosophy is so stark that even young libertarian acolytes are only introduced to it after they have accepted the relatively sunny perspective of Ayn Rand. (Yes, you read that correctly). If Americans really knew what Buchanan thought and promoted, and how destructively his vision is manifesting under their noses, it would dawn on them how close the country is to a transformation most would not even want to imagine, much less accept.

That is a dangerous blind spot, MacLean argues in a meticulously researched book, Democracy in Chains, a finalist for the National Book Award in Nonfiction. While Americans grapple with Donald Trump’s chaotic presidency, we may be missing the key to changes that are taking place far beyond the level of mere politics. Once these changes are locked into place, there may be no going back.

An Unlocked Door in Virginia

MacLean’s book reads like an intellectual detective story. In 2010, she moved to North Carolina, where a Tea Party-dominated Republican Party got control of both houses of the state legislature and began pushing through a radical program to suppress voter rights, decimate public services, and slash taxes on the wealthy that shocked a state long a beacon of southern moderation. Up to this point, the figure of James Buchanan flickered in her peripheral vision, but as she began to study his work closely, the events in North Carolina and also Wisconsin, where Governor Scott Walker was leading assaults on collective bargaining rights, shifted her focus.

Could it be that this relatively obscure economist’s distinctive thought was being put forcefully into action in real time?

MacLean could not gain access to Buchanan’s papers to test her hypothesis until after his death in January 2013. That year, just as the government was being shut down by Ted Cruz & Co., she traveled to George Mason University in Virginia, where the economist’s papers lay willy-nilly across the offices of a building now abandoned by the Koch-funded faculty to a new, fancier center in Arlington.

MacLean was stunned. The archive of the man who had sought to stay under the radar had been left totally unsorted and unguarded. The historian plunged in, and she read through boxes and drawers full of papers that included personal correspondence between Buchanan and billionaire industrialist Charles Koch. That’s when she had an amazing realization: here was the intellectual linchpin of a stealth revolution currently in progress.

A Theory of Property Supremacy

Buchanan, a 1940 graduate of Middle Tennessee State University who later attended the University of Chicago for graduate study, started out as a conventional public finance economist. But he grew frustrated by the way in which economic theorists ignored the political process.

Buchanan began working on a description of power that started out as a critique of how institutions functioned in the relatively liberal 1950s and ‘60s, a time when economist John Maynard Keynes’s ideas about the need for government intervention in markets to protect people from flaws so clearly demonstrated in the Great Depression held sway. Buchanan, MacLean notes, was incensed at what he saw as a move toward socialism and deeply suspicious of any form of state action that channels resources to the public. Why should the increasingly powerful federal government be able to force the wealthy to pay for goods and programs that served ordinary citizens and the poor?

In thinking about how people make political decisions and choices, Buchanan concluded that you could only understand them as individuals seeking personal advantage. In an interview cited by MacLean, the economist observed that in the 1950s Americans commonly assumed that elected officials wanted to act in the public interest. Buchanan vehemently disagreed — that was a belief he wanted, as he put it, to “tear down.” His ideas developed into a theory that came to be known as “public choice.”

Buchanan’s view of human nature was distinctly dismal. Adam Smith saw human beings as self-interested and hungry for personal power and material comfort, but he also acknowledged social instincts like compassion and fairness. Buchanan, in contrast, insisted that people were primarily driven by venal self-interest. Crediting people with altruism or a desire to serve others was “romantic” fantasy: politicians and government workers were out for themselves, and so, for that matter, were teachers, doctors, and civil rights activists. They wanted to control others and wrest away their resources: “Each person seeks mastery over a world of slaves,” he wrote in his 1975 book, The Limits of Liberty.

Does that sound like your kindergarten teacher? It did to Buchanan.

The people who needed protection were property owners, and their rights could only be secured though constitutional limits to prevent the majority of voters from encroaching on them, an idea Buchanan lays out in works like Property as a Guarantor of Liberty (1993). MacLean observes that Buchanan saw society as a cutthroat realm of makers (entrepreneurs) constantly under siege by takers (everybody else) His own language was often more stark, warning the alleged “prey” of “parasites” and “predators” out to fleece them.

In 1965 the economist launched a center dedicated to his theories at the University of Virginia, which later relocated to George Mason University. MacLean describes how he trained thinkers to push back against the Brown v. Board of Education decision to desegregate America’s public schools and to challenge the constitutional perspectives and federal policy that enabled it. She notes that he took care to use economic and political precepts, rather than overtly racial arguments, to make his case, which nonetheless gave cover to racists who knew that spelling out their prejudices would alienate the country.

All the while, a ghost hovered in the background — that of John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, senator and seventh vice president of the United States.

Calhoun was an intellectual and political powerhouse in the South from the 1820s until his death in 1850, expending his formidable energy to defend slavery. Calhoun, called the “Marx of the Master Class” by historian Richard Hofstadter, saw himself and his fellow southern oligarchs as victims of the majority. Therefore, as MacLean explains, he sought to create “constitutional gadgets” to constrict the operations of government.

Economists Tyler Cowen and Alexander Tabarrok, both of George Mason University, have noted the two men’s affinities, heralding Calhoun “a precursor of modern public choice theory” who “anticipates” Buchanan’s thinking. MacLean observes that both focused on how democracy constrains property owners and aimed for ways to restrict the latitude of voters. She argues that unlike even the most property-friendly founders Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, Buchanan wanted a private governing elite of corporate power that was wholly released from public accountability.

Suppressing voting, changing legislative processes so that a normal majority could no longer prevail, sowing public distrust of government institutions— all these were tactics toward the goal. But the Holy Grail was the Constitution: alter it and you could increase and secure the power of the wealthy in a way that no politician could ever challenge.

Gravy Train to Oligarchy

MacLean explains that Virginia’s white elite and the pro-corporate president of the University of Virginia, Colgate Darden, who had married into the DuPont family, found Buchanan’s ideas to be spot on. In nurturing a new intelligentsia to commit to his values, Buchanan stated that he needed a “gravy train,” and with backers like Charles Koch and conservative foundations like the Scaife Family Charitable Trusts, others hopped aboard. Money, Buchanan knew, can be a persuasive tool in academia. His circle of influence began to widen.

MacLean observes that the Virginia school, as Buchanan’s brand of economic and political thinking is known, is a kind of cousin to the better-known, market-oriented Chicago and Austrian schools — proponents of all three were members of the Mont Pelerin Society, an international neoliberal organization which included Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek. But the Virginia school’s focus and career missions were distinct. In an interview with the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET), MacLean described Friedman and Buchanan as yin and yang:

“Friedman was this genial, personable character who loved to be in the limelight and made a sunny case for the free market and the freedom to choose and so forth. Buchanan was the dark side of this: he thought, ok, fine, they can make a case for the free market, but everybody knows that free markets have externalities and other problems. So he wanted to keep people from believing that government could be the alternative to those problems.”

The Virginia school also differs from other economic schools in a marked reliance on abstract theory rather than mathematics or empirical evidence. That a Nobel Prize was awarded in 1986 to an economist who so determinedly bucked the academic trends of his day was nothing short of stunning, MacLean observes. But, then, it was the peak of the Reagan era, an administration several Buchanan students joined.

Buchanan’s school focused on public choice theory, later adding constitutional economics and the new field of law and economics to its core research and advocacy. The economist saw that his vision would never come to fruition by focusing on who rules. It was much better to focus on the rules themselves, and that required a “constitutional revolution.”

MacLean describes how the economist developed a grand project to train operatives to staff institutions funded by like-minded tycoons, most significantly Charles Koch, who became interested in his work in the ‘70s and sought the economist’s input in promoting “Austrian economics” in the U.S. and in advising the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.

Koch, whose mission was to save capitalists like himself from democracy, found the ultimate theoretical tool in the work of the southern economist. The historian writes that Koch preferred Buchanan to Milton Friedman and his “Chicago boys” because, she says, quoting a libertarian insider, they wanted “to make government work more efficiently when the true libertarian should be tearing it out at the root.”

With Koch’s money and enthusiasm, Buchanan’s academic school evolved into something much bigger. By the 1990s, Koch realized that Buchanan’s ideas — transmitted through stealth and deliberate deception, as MacLean amply documents — could help take government down through incremental assaults that the media would hardly notice. The tycoon knew that the project was extremely radical, even a “revolution” in governance, but he talked like a conservative to make his plans sound more palatable.

MacLean details how partnered with Koch, Buchanan’s outpost at George Mason University was able to connect libertarian economists with right-wing political actors and supporters of corporations like Shell Oil, Exxon, Ford, IBM, Chase Manhattan Bank, and General Motors. Together they could push economic ideas to the public through media, promote new curricula for economics education, and court politicians in nearby Washington, D.C.

At the 1997 fiftieth anniversary of the Mont Pelerin Society, MacLean recounts that Buchanan and his associate Henry Manne, a founding theorist of libertarian economic approaches to law, focused on such affronts to capitalists as environmentalism and public health and welfare, expressing eagerness to dismantle Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare as well as kill public education because it tended to foster community values. Feminism had to go, too: the scholars considered it a socialist project.

 

The Oligarchic Revolution Unfolds

Buchanan’s ideas began to have huge impact, especially in America and in Britain. In his home country, the economist was deeply involved in efforts to cut taxes on the wealthy in 1970s and 1980s and he advised proponents of Reagan Revolution in their quest to unleash markets and posit government as the “problem” rather than the “solution.” The Koch-funded Virginia school coached scholars, lawyers, politicians, and business people to apply stark right-wing perspectives on everything from deficits to taxes to school privatization. In Britain, Buchanan’s work helped to inspire the public sector reforms of Margaret Thatcher and her political progeny.

To put the success into perspective, MacLean points to the fact that Henry Manne, whom Buchanan was instrumental in hiring, created legal programs for law professors and federal judges which could boast that by 1990 two of every five sitting federal judges had participated. “40 percent of the U.S. federal judiciary,” writes MacLean, “had been treated to a Koch-backed curriculum.”

MacLean illustrates that in South America, Buchanan was able to first truly set his ideas in motion by helping a bare-knuckles dictatorship ensure the permanence of much of the radical transformation it inflicted on a country that had been a beacon of social progress. The historian emphasizes that Buchanan’s role in the disastrous Pinochet government of Chile has been underestimated partly because unlike Milton Friedman, who advertised his activities, Buchanan had the shrewdness to keep his involvement quiet. With his guidance, the military junta deployed public choice economics in the creation of a new constitution, which required balanced budgets and thereby prevented the government from spending to meet public needs. Supermajorities would be required for any changes of substance, leaving the public little recourse to challenge programs like the privatization of social security.

The dictator’s human rights abuses and pillage of the country’s resources did not seem to bother Buchanan, MacLean argues, so long as the wealthy got their way. “Despotism may be the only organizational alternative to the political structure that we observe,” the economist had written in The Limits of Liberty. If you have been wondering about the end result of the Virginia school philosophy, well, the economist helpfully spelled it out.

A World of Slaves

Most Americans haven’t seen what’s coming.

MacLean notes that when the Kochs’ control of the GOP kicked into high gear after the financial crisis of 2007-08, many were so stunned by the “shock-and-awe” tactics of shutting down government, destroying labor unions, and rolling back services that meet citizens’ basic necessities that few realized that many leading the charge had been trained in economics at Virginia institutions, especially George Mason University. Wasn’t it just a new, particularly vicious wave of partisan politics?

It wasn’t. MacLean convincingly illustrates that it was something far more disturbing.

MacLean is not the only scholar to sound the alarm that the country is experiencing a hostile takeover that is well on its way to radically, and perhaps permanently, altering the society. Peter Temin, former head of the MIT economics department, INET grantee, and author of The Vanishing Middle Class, as well as economist Gordon Lafer of the University of Oregon and author of The One Percent Solution, have provided eye-opening analyses of where America is headed and why. MacLean adds another dimension to this dystopian big picture, acquainting us with what has been overlooked in the capitalist right wing’s playbook.

She observes, for example, that many liberals have missed the point of strategies like privatization. Efforts to “reform” public education and Social Security are not just about a preference for the private sector over the public sector, she argues. You can wrap your head around those, even if you don’t agree. Instead, MacLean contends, the goal of these strategies is to radically alter power relations, weakening pro-public forces and enhancing the lobbying power and commitment of the corporations that take over public services and resources, thus advancing the plans to dismantle democracy and make way for a return to oligarchy. The majority will be held captive so that the wealthy can finally be free to do as they please, no matter how destructive.

MacLean argues that despite the rhetoric of Virginia school acolytes, shrinking big government is not really the point. The oligarchs require a government with tremendous new powers so that they can bypass the will of the people. This, as MacLean points out, requires greatly expanding police powers “to control the resultant popular anger.” The spreading use of pre-emption by GOP-controlled state legislatures to suppress local progressive victories such as living wage ordinances is another example of the right’s aggressive use of state power.

Could these right-wing capitalists allow private companies to fill prisons with helpless citizens—or, more profitable still, right-less undocumented immigrants? They could, and have. Might they engineer a retirement crisis by moving Americans to inadequate 401(k)s? Done. Take away the rights of consumers and workers to bring grievances to court by making them sign forced arbitration agreements? Check. Gut public education to the point where ordinary people have such bleak prospects that they have no energy to fight back? Getting it done.

Would they even refuse children clean water? Actually, yes.

MacLean notes that in Flint, Michigan, Americans got a taste of what the emerging oligarchy will look like — it tastes like poisoned water. There, the Koch-funded Mackinac Center pushed for legislation that would allow the governor to take control of communities facing emergency and put unelected managers in charge. In Flint, one such manager switched the city’s water supply to a polluted river, but the Mackinac Center’s lobbyists ensured that the law was fortified by protections against lawsuits that poisoned inhabitants might bring. Tens of thousands of children were exposed to lead, a substance known to cause serious health problems including brain damage.

Tyler Cowen has provided an economic justification for this kind of brutality, stating that where it is difficult to get clean water, private companies should take over and make people pay for it. “This includes giving them the right to cut off people who don’t—or can’t—pay their bills,” the economist explains.

To many this sounds grotesquely inhumane, but it is a way of thinking that has deep roots in America. In Why I, Too, Am Not a Conservative (2005), Buchanan considers the charge of heartlessness made against the kind of classic liberal that he took himself to be. MacLean interprets his discussion to mean that people who “failed to foresee and save money for their future needs” are to be treated, as Buchanan put it, “as subordinate members of the species, akin to…animals who are dependent.’”

Do you have your education, health care, and retirement personally funded against all possible exigencies? Then that means you.

Buchanan was not a dystopian novelist. He was a Nobel Laureate whose sinister logic exerts vast influence over America’s trajectory. It is no wonder that Cowen, on his popular blog Marginal Revolution, does not mention Buchanan on a list of underrated influential libertarian thinkers, though elsewhere on the blog, he expresses admiration for several of Buchanan’s contributions and acknowledges that the southern economist “thought more consistently in terms of ‘rules of the games’ than perhaps any other economist.”

The rules of the game are now clear.

Research like MacLean’s provides hope that toxic ideas like Buchanan’s may finally begin to face public scrutiny. Yet at this very moment, the Kochs’ State Policy Network and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group that connects corporate agents to conservative lawmakers to produce legislation, are involved in projects that the Trump-obsessed media hardly notices, like pumping money into state judicial races. Their aim is to stack the legal deck against Americans in ways that MacLean argues may have even bigger effects than Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court ruling which unleashed unlimited corporate spending on American politics. The goal is to create a judiciary that will interpret the Constitution in favor of corporations and the wealthy in ways that Buchanan would have heartily approved.

“The United States is now at one of those historic forks in the road whose outcome will prove as fateful as those of the 1860s, the 1930s, and the 1960s,” writes MacLean. “To value liberty for the wealthy minority above all else and enshrine it in the nation’s governing rules, as Calhoun and Buchanan both called for and the Koch network is achieving, play by play, is to consent to an oligarchy in all but the outer husk of representative form.”

Nobody can say we weren’t warned. 

Lynn Parramore

  • Senior Research Analyst

Wolff Responds: The Road to Fascism
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