follow us in feedly
Want to see what’s ahead for America’s young? Pay attention to what’s already happened in Japan
08.28.2013
01:15 pm

Topics:
Class War
Economy
Thinkers

Tags:
Japan
Charles Hugh Smith


 
This is a guest post from Charles Hugh Smith. His newest book is Why Things Are Falling Apart and What We Can Do About It

Social recession is my term for the social and cultural consequences of a permanently recessionary economy such as that of Japan—and now, Europe and the U.S.

Forget Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of expansion (“growth”) or recession—what really matters is the social recession, which continues to deepen in America.

The term social recession has two distinct meanings: around 2000, the term was used to describe the erosion of social cohesion via the decline of institutions such as marriage and the rise of social problems such as teen pregnancy.

Many commentators pinned the responsibility for this erosion of social constraints and bonds on rampant individualism and overstimulated consumerism, while others pointed to urbanization, the commodification of child care, women entering the workforce en masse and similar trends. Poverty was explicitly rejected as a causal factor, hence the term “social recession.”

This notion of social recession was aptly described by Robert E. Lane, author of the 2001 book The Loss of Happiness in Market Democracies:

There is a kind of famine of warm interpersonal relations, of easy-to-reach neighbors, of encircling, inclusive memberships, and of solidary family life… For people lacking in social support of this kind, unemployment has more serious effects, illnesses are more deadly, disappointment with one’s children is harder to bear, bouts of depression last longer, and frustration and failed expectations of all kinds are more traumatic.

(For more on the subject, please see “The Social Recession” (The American Prospect.)

I use the term social recession to describe a very different phenomenon, the social and cultural consequences of permanently recessionary economies such as Japan, and now Europe and the U.S.

I have defined and used social recession in this way since 2010:

The Non-Financial Cost of Stagnation: “Social Recession” and Japan’s “Lost Generations”
(August 9, 2010)

Here are the conditions that characterize social recession:

1. High expectations of endless rising prosperity have been instilled in generations of citizens as a birthright.

2. Part-time and unemployed people are marginalized, not just financially but socially.

3. Widening income/wealth disparity as those in the top 10% pull away from the shrinking middle class.

4. A systemic decline in social/economic mobility as it becomes increasingly difficult to move from dependence on the state (welfare) or parents to the middle class.

5. A widening disconnect between higher education and employment: a college/university degree no longer guarantees a stable, good-paying job.

6. A failure in the status quo institutions and mainstream media to recognize social recession as a reality.

7. A systemic failure of imagination within state and private-sector institutions on how to address social recession issues.

8. The abandonment of middle class aspirations by the generations ensnared by the social recession: young people no longer aspire to (or cannot afford) consumerist status symbols such as autos.

9. A generational abandonment of marriage, families and independent households as these are no longer affordable to those with part-time or unstable employment, i.e. the “end of work”.

10. A loss of hope in the young generations as a result of the above conditions.

I have described the “end to (paying) work” many times:

End of Work, End of Affluence   (December 5, 2008)

End of Work, End of Affluence II: Cascading Job Losses (December 8, 2008)

End of Work, End of Affluence III: The Rise of Informal Businesses (December 10, 2008

Endgame 3: The End of (Paying) Work   (January 21, 2009)

Demographics and the End of the Savior State   (May 17, 2010)

What happens to the social fabric of an advanced-economy nation after a decade or more of economic stagnation?

For an answer, we can turn to Japan. The second-largest economy in the world has stagnated in just this fashion for almost twenty years, and the consequences for the “lost generations” which have come of age in the “lost decades” have been dire. In many ways, the social conventions of Japan are fraying or unraveling under the relentless pressure of an economy in seemingly permanent decline.

While the world sees Japan as the home of consumer technology juggernauts such as Sony and Toshiba and high-tech “bullet trains” (shinkansen), beneath the bright lights of Tokyo and the evident wealth generated by decades of hard work and the massive global export machine of “Japan, Inc,” lies a different reality: increasing poverty and decreasing opportunity for the nation’s youth.

The gap between extremes of income at the top and bottom of society—measured by the Gini coefficient—has been growing in Japan for years; to the surprise of many
outsiders, once-egalitarian Japan is becoming a nation of haves and have-nots.

The media in Japan have popularized the phrase “kakusa shakai,” literally meaning “gap society.” As the elite slice of society prospers and younger workers are increasingly marginalized, the media has focused on the shrinking middle class. For example, a bestselling book offers tips on how to get by on an annual income of less than three million yen ($30,770). Two million yen ($20,500) has become the de-facto poverty line for millions of Japanese, especially outside high-cost Tokyo.

More than one-third of the workforce is part-time as companies have shed the famed Japanese lifetime employment system, nudged along by government legislation which abolished restrictions on flexible hiring a few years ago. Temp agencies have expanded to fill the need for contract jobs, as permanent job opportunities have dwindled.

Many fear that as the generation of salaried Baby Boomers dies out, the country’s economic slide might accelerate. Japan’s share of the global economy has fallen below 10 percent from a peak of 18 percent in 1994. Were this decline to continue, income disparities would widen and threaten to pull this once-stable society apart.

Young Japanese, their expectations permanently downsized, are increasingly opting out of the rigid social systems on which Japan, Inc. was built.

The term “Freeter” is a hybrid word that originated in the late 1980s, just as the Japanese property and stock market bubbles reached their zenith.  It combines the English “free” and the German “arbeiter,” or worker, and describes a lifestyle which is radically different from the buttoned-down rigidity of the permanent-employment economy: freedom to move between jobs.

This absence of loyalty to a company is totally alien to previous generations of driven Japanese “salarymen” who were expected to uncomplainingly turn in 70-hour work weeks at the same company for decades, all in exchange for lifetime employment.

Many young people have come to mistrust big corporations, having seen their fathers or uncles eased out of “lifetime” jobs in the relentless downsizing of the past twenty years. From the point of view of the younger generations, the loyalty their parents unstintingly offered to companies was wasted.

They have also come to see diminishing value in the grueling study and tortuous examinations required to compete for the elite jobs in academia, industry and government; with opportunities fading, long years of study are perceived as pointless.

In contrast, the “freeter” lifestyle is one of hopping between short-term jobs and devoting energy and time to foreign travel, hobbies or other interests.

As long ago as 2001, The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare estimates that 50 percent of high school graduates and 30 percent of college graduates now quit their jobs within three years of leaving school.

The downside is permanently downsized income and prospects. Many of the four million “freeters” survive on part-time work and either live at home or in a tiny flat with no bath.  A typical “freeter” wage is 1,000 yen ($10.25) an hour.

Japan’s slump has lasted so long, that a “New Lost Generation” is coming of age, joining Japan’s first “Lost Generation” which graduated into the bleak job market of the 1990s.

These trends have led to an ironic moniker for the Freeter lifestyle: 
Dame-Ren (No Good People).
The Dame-Ren get by on odd jobs, low-cost living and drastically diminished expectations.

The decline of permanent employment has led to the unraveling of social mores and conventions.  Many young men now reject the macho work ethic and related values of their fathers. These “herbivores” also reject the traditional Samurai ideal of masculinity.

Derisively called “herbivores” or “grass-eaters,” these young men are uncompetitive and uncommitted to work, evidence of their deep disillusionment with Japan’s troubled economy.

A bestselling book titled The Herbivorous Ladylike Men Who Are Changing Japan by Megumi Ushikubo, president of Tokyo marketing firm Infinity, claims that about two-thirds of all Japanese men aged 20-34 are now partial or total grass-eaters. “People who grew up in the bubble era (of the 1980s) really feel like they were let down. They worked so hard and it all came to nothing,” says Ms Ushikubo. “So the men who came after them have changed.”

This has spawned a disconnect between genders so pervasive that
Japan is experiencing a “social recession” in marriage, births, and even sex,
all of which are declining.

With a wealth and income divide widening along generational lines, many young Japanese are attaching themselves to their parents, the generation that accumulated home and savings during the boom years of the 1970’s and 1980’s. Surveys indicate that roughly two-thirds of freeters live at home.

Freeters “who have no children, no dreams, hope or job skills could become a major burden on society, as they contribute to the decline in the birthrate and in social insurance contributions,” Masahiro Yamada, a sociology professor wrote in a magazine essay titled, Parasite Singles Feed on Family System.

This trend of never leaving home has sparked an almost tragicomic counter-trend of Japanese parents who actively seek mates to marry off their “parasite single” offspring as the only way to get them out of the house.

An even more extreme social disorder is Hikikomori, or “acute social withdrawal,” a condition in which the young live-at-home person will virtually wall themselves off from the world by never leaving their room.

What we’re seeing in Japan is the confluence of three dynamics: definancialization, the demise of growth-positive demographics and the devolution of the consumerist model of endless “demand” and “growth.”

Japan is the leading-edge of the crumbling model of advanced neoliberal capitalism: that consumerist excess creates wealth, prosperity and happiness.

What consumerist excess actually creates is alienation, social atomization, narcissism,and a profound contradiction at the heart of the consumerist-dependent model of “growth”: the narcissism that powers consumerist lust and identity is at odds with the demands of the workplace that generates the income needed to consume.

Japan and the Exhaustion of Consumerism

The Hidden Cost of the “New Economy”: New-Type Depression

The Future of America Is Japan:  Stagnation

The Future of America Is Japan: Runaway Deficits, Runaway Debts

The younger generation of workers raised in a consumerist “paradise” are facing an economic stagnation that reduces opportunities to earn the high income needed to fulfill the consumerist demands for status symbols. Given the hopelessness of earning enough to afford the consumerist lifestyle, they have abandoned traditional status symbols such as luxury autos and taken up fashion and media as expressions of consumerism.

But the narcissism bred by consumerism has nurtured a kind of emotional isolation and immaturity, what might be called permanent adolescence, which leaves many young people without the tools needed to handle criticism, collaboration and the pressures of the workplace.

Narcissism is the result of the consumerist society’s relentless focus on the essential project of consumerism, which is “the only self that is real is the self that is purchased and projected.”

Narcissism, Consumerism and the End of Growth  (October 19, 2012)

In my analysis, this is the direct consequence of the supremacy of a consumerism that is dependent on financialization: an economy dependent on debt-fueled consumption to power its “endless growth” is one that will necessarily implode from its internal contradictions: debt and leverage eventually exceed the carrying capacity of the collateral and the national income, and the narcissism of consumerism leads to social recession, a crippling state of “suspended animation” adolescence and great personal frustration and unhappiness.

The ultimate contradiction in this debt-consumption version of capitalism is this: how can an economy have “endless expansion and growth” when pay and opportunities for secure, high-paying jobs are both relentlessly declining? It cannot. Financialization, consumerist narcissism and the end of growth are inextricably linked.

This leads to a dispiriting no exit:It’s as if there is a split in the road and no third way: some young people make it onto the traditional corporate or government career path, and everyone else is left in part-time suspended animation with few options for adult expression or development.

We need a third way that offers people work, resilience and authentic meaning. In my view, that cannot come from the Central State or the global corporate workplace: it can only come from a relocalized economy in revitalized communities.

For more on this topic:

Generational Wealth and Upward Mobility
(October 24, 2012)

Priced Out of the Middle Class
(June 28, 2012)

Do We Have What It Takes To Get From Here To There? Part 1: Japan
(November 8, 2012)

Degrowth, Anti-Consumerism and Peak Consumption
(May 9, 2013)

Tune In, Turn On, Opt Out
(May 17, 2013)

Will Crushing Student Loans and Worthless College Degrees
Politicize the Millennial Generation?
(May 31, 2013)

The Recession That Never Ended: 2008 -2013 (and Counting)
(August 26, 2013)

This is a guest post from Charles Hugh Smith. His newest book is Why Things Are Falling Apart and What We Can Do About It

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
What Marx got right


 
This is a guest post from Charles Hugh Smith. His newest book is Why Things Are Falling Apart and What We Can Do About It

The crisis of capitalism has not been resolved; it’s simply been papered over.

First, a disclaimer: this is an interpretive discussion of some aspects of Marx’s analysis (which was based on the capitalism he observed in the late 19th century) applied to present-day cartel-state capitalism. It is not a scholarly or academic presentation.

The discussion covers a lot of ground, though, so please refill your beverage container and strap in….

That Marx’s prescription for a socialist/Communist alternative to capitalism failed does not necessarily negate his critique of capitalism. Marx spent hundreds of pages analyzing capital and capitalism and relatively few sketching out a pie-in-the-sky alternative that was not grounded in historical examples or working models.

So it is no surprise that his prescriptive work is an occasionally risible historical curiosity while his critique stands as a systemic analysis.

Marx got a number of things right, one of which appears to be playing out on a global scale. You probably know that Marx expected capitalism to experience a series of ever-larger boom-bust cycles that would eventually precipitate revolution and overthrow of the existing financial-political order.

One driver of these cycles was the interplay of increasing production and declining labor costs. In broad-brush, Marx recognized that industrial capital (as opposed to finance capital) could only increase profits and accumulate more capital by raising production and/or establishing a price-fixing cartel or monopoly.

Mechanization characterized industrial capitalism in the late 19th century, and Marx observed that as mechanization increased productivity, the marginal value of labor decreased on a per unit basis.

Here is a real-world example: When I first visited China in 2000, there was a massive glut of television production: the capacity to manufacture TVs had expanded far beyond China’s domestic demand for TVs. To wring out a profit in a highly competitive industry, manufacturers had to ramp up production while lowering the unit cost of labor and the unit cost of each TV to undercut the competition.

If an assembly line of 100 workers could produce 1,000 TVs a day, the only way to lower the price of the TV is to either lower the wages paid to the workers or invest capital in machinery that enables the same 100 workers to produce 2,000 TVs a day.

At 2,000 TVs a day, the per unit labor cost falls in half. For example, at 1,000 TVs a day, the labor cost per TV might be $40. At 2,000 TVs per day assembled by the same 100 workers, the labor cost per unit drops to $20.

The key point here is that labor’s share of the total production cost declines. If workers had taken home $1 million in pay to make 100,000 TVs at the old production rate of 1,000 TVs/day, they now take home $500,000 to make 100,000 TVs at the new production rate.

In other words, labor’s share of value creation constantly declines as mechanization boosts productivity. Marx described the impact of another factor: oversupply of labor. As rural agricultural workers flooded into cities for jobs that paid cash, there was an abundance of factory labor. Competition for jobs pushes wages lower, so workers faced a double-whammy: their share of production relentlessly declined as productivity rose, and the pressure on wages constantly rose as per unit labor costs declined.

The competition to outproduce industrial rivals with cheaper per-unit production costs and labor’s competition for jobs both generate a structural crisis in capitalism: as production of goods rises, both the cost per unit and the number of workers earning enough to buy the goods declines.

Keep reading ‘What Marx Got Right’ from Charles Hugh Smith after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
The NEXT American revolution: Concentrated wealth and power will either implode or fade way
07.04.2013
11:33 am

Topics:
Class War
Economy
History
Thinkers

Tags:
Charles Hugh Smith


 
Some July 4th thoughts on revolution as a process rather than an event from Charles Hugh Smith. His newest book is Why Things Are Falling Apart and What We Can Do About It

The next American Revolution will not be an event, it will be a process. We naturally turn to the past for templates of the future, but history has a way of remaining remarkably unpredictable. Indeed, all the conventional long-range forecasts made in 1900, 1928, 1958, 1988 and 2000 missed virtually every key development—not just in the distant future, but just a few years out.

The point is that extrapolating the present into the future fails to capture sea changes and developments that completely disrupt the supposedly unchanging, permanent Status Quo. The idea that the next revolution will take a new form does not occur to conventional forecasters, who readily assume the next transition will follow past critical junctures: armed insurrection against the central authority (The first American Revolution, 1781), civil war (1861) or global war (1941).

I submit that the next American Revolution circa 2021-23 will not repeat or even echo these past transitions. What seems likely to me is the entire project of centralization that characterized the era 1941-2013 will slip into irrelevance as centralization increasingly yields diminishing returns.

Everything centralized, from the Federal Reserve to the Too Big To Fail Banks to Medicare to the National Security State depends on the Federal government being a Savior State that must ceaselessly expand its share of the national income and its raw power lest it implode. All Savior States have one, and only one trajectory—they must ceaselessly expand and concentrate wealth and power or they will fail.

They are like the shark, which dies once it stops moving forward: the Savior State must push forward on its trajectory of expansion or it expires.

Stasis is not possible, nor is contraction; the promises made to the citizenry cannot be withdrawn without political instability, but the promises cannot be kept without fatally disrupting the neofeudal financialized debtocracy.

You see the dilemma: The Savior State cannot stop expanding, but the financial system that generates its revenues can no longer support its vast machinery of debt and phantom collateral. This is why I suggest all the centralized concentrations of wealth and power will either implode or fade into irrelevance.

If all the phantom wealth and collateral vanishes in a market clearing event, the Federal Reserve will simply become irrelevant to the vast majority of people. A handful of nimble speculators may well benefit by picking over the carcass of financialization and centralized omnipotence (i.e. central banking), and perhaps the 1/10th of 1% will still have enough assets influenced by the Fed to care, but the forces of disruption will replace centralization with decentralization.

Here is another example: Medicare may not cease to exist, but it will become increasingly irrelevant to most people because it will not longer function. The remaining doctors willing to treat Medicare patients will be working 13-hour days for sketchy pay, and as each one burns out and leaves the system, the system contracts. Eventually it contracts to the point of irrelevance.

The revolution will be in work and social innovations enabled by technology. The conventional view is that technology will magically enable the permanence of the present; this will be proven incorrect, as what technology enables is not the waste, entitlement and centralization that characterize the present but social innovations, some of which are already visible.

If we sought to summarize the profound transformation ahead in one sentence, it would be this: Wages are no longer an adequate model for distributing the surplus generated by the economy.

The current Savior State model responds to this by increasing taxes on the dwindling minority with fulltime jobs and increasing entitlement payments to all those without government or private-sector jobs. This model will collapse, politically, socially and economically, as no society or economy can squander half or more of its productive labor force while increasing the burden on the dwindling cohort of productively employed. The inevitable result of this dynamic is a destabilizing tyranny of the majority.

Technology is not just disrupting old industries and companies, it is disrupting the entire Savior State/cartel-capitalism model. The disruption has barely begun, but it will pick up speed over the next decade.

I suspect the next American Revolution will begin in the 2015-16 timeframe. A series of interlocking crises will lead to reforms that preserve the Savior State/ cartel-capitalism for another few years, at a lower level of consumption, i.e. burn rate.

But the process of revolution will be far from complete; this initial response of the centralized neofeudal debtocracy will buy time for the Status Quo, and every conventional onlooker will be infused with optimism and hope that the system established in the Great Depression, World War II and its Cold War aftermath—the secular religion of consumerism (i.e. aggregate demand), permanent war footing and the National Security State, and universal dependence on the Savior State and its ceaseless expansion of concentrated wealth and power—will continue.

But this Springtime for the Savior State/cartel-capitalism partnership will be brief, and by 2018-19 all the systemic flaws and disruptive trends will reassert themselves with renewed vigor.

The entire current model of governance, social order and the economy will be revolutionized not by overthrow but by the process of irrelevance. What will become relevant will no longer be in the control of the Savior State or its partner, financialized cartel capitalism.

Those currently holding all the concentrated power and wealth cannot believe they will become irrelevant, but that’s the result of projecting the present as if it is permanent and immutable.

The new system will be better, more humane, more flexible, more transparent, with more opportunity, for it will be everything the current corrupt, sclerotic, parasitic and exploitative system is not.

Previously on Dangerous Minds from Charles Hugh Smith:
Concentrated wealth and power are intrinsically sociopathological by their very nature

Global Crisis: The Convergence of Marx, Orwell and Kafka

Will crushing student loan debt and worthless college degrees radicalize the Millennial generation?

Wage Slaves: Are You Loving Your Servitude Yet?

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Will crushing student loan debt and worthless college degrees radicalize the Millennial generation?


 
This is a guest post from Charles Hugh Smith. His newest book is Why Things Are Falling Apart and What We Can Do About It

The existing social and financial order is crumbling because it is unsustainable on multiple levels. The central state is not the Millennials’ friend, it is their oppressor.

No generation of young people is ever politicized by hunger in distant lands or issues of the elderly. It’s no rap on youth that self-interest defines what issues have the potential to radically transform their political consciousness; the transformative cause must reveal the system is broken for them and that it intends on sacrificing their generation to uphold the status quo.

The Millennial generation, also known as Gen-Y (Gen-Y comes after Gen-X), is generally defined as those born between 1982 and 2004.

The oldest Millennials were children during the first Iraq War in 1991 (Desert Storm) and just coming of age in 2001 (9/11 and the war in Afghanistan) and the start of the second Iraq War (2003).

The Millennials have entered adulthood in a era characterized by permanent low-intensity wars and central-bank/state managed financial bubbles—2001 to the present. In other words, the only experience they have is of centralized state mismanagement on a global scale.

The gross incompetence of the government and central bank—not to mention the endless power grabs by these centralized authorities—has not yet aroused a political consciousness that the system is irrevocably broken, not just for older generations but most especially for them.

Anecdotally, it appears the Millennial generation is still operating on the fantasy that all they need to do to get a secure, good-paying job and a happy life is go to college and enter the status quo machine of government/corporate America.

There are two fatal flaws in this fantasy: the $1+ trillion student loan industry and a transforming economy. The higher education industry in the U.S. operates as a central state-enabled and funded cartel, limiting supply while demand (based on the fantasy that a college degree has critical value) soars. This enables the cartel to keep raising prices even as the value of its product (a diploma) sinks to near-zero.
 

 
Since the Federal government issues and guarantees all student loans, the higher education cartel is (like sickcare, national defense and the mortgage industry) effectively socialized, i.e. funded and managed by the central state.
 

 
If you understand the student loan system is predatory, parasitic and exploitive, you have reached first base of a meaningful political awareness. If you understand the central state (Federal government) funds and enforces this system, you’ve reached second base. If you understand the vast majority of college degrees do little to prepare you to be productively employed in the real economy, you have reached third base.

If you understand the status quo is unsustainable and does not operate according the the fantasy model you’ve been told, congratulations, you’re close to home base.

I have covered all the salient issues repeatedly:

The Fatal Disease of the Status Quo: Diminishing Returns

College Grads: It’s a Different Economy

Bernanke’s Neofeudal Rentier Economy

Degrowth and Anti-Consumerism

Centralization and Sociopathology

Present Shock and the Loss of History and Context

Generation X: An Inconvenient Era

The Nearly-Free University

The central state is not your friend, it is your oppressor. The loan shark that won’t let you discharge your student loan debt without appealing each ruling against you three times is the government (and its hired-gun proxies).

The oppressor who demands you work your entire life to pay interest on public debt squandered on neocolonial wars and various cartels (sickcare et al.) is your central state.

The entity who demands you pay higher taxes so the generation entering retirement gets all that it was promised, even though the world has changed and the promises are no longer sustainable? The central state.

The oppressor that will devote its enormous resources to investigate and crush you if you actively resist the bankers and financiers who pull the political lackeys’ strings? The central state.

At some point, the Millennial generation will have to awaken to the fact that the only way to change its fate is to grasp political power and redirect the policy and mindset of the nation. Centralization is the black hole that is destroying the nation’s social and economic vigor. Decentralization, transparency, accountability, adaptability, social innovation, a community-based economy—these are the key features of a sustainable social order.

The existing social and financial order is crumbling because it is unsustainable on multiple levels. The status quo will cling to its false promises and corrupt centers of power until the moment the whole thing implodes.

Related links of interest:

Dear Class of ‘13: You’ve been scammed: How the College-Industrial Complex drove tuition so high

Overdue Student Loans Reach Record as U.S. Graduates Seek Jobs

Bureaucrats Paid $250,000 Feed Outcry Over College Costs

Welcome, Robot Overlords. Please Don’t Fire Us?

My Generation’s Disease

Podcast with Mike Swanson of WallStreetWindow.com on student loan debt and the Nearly Free University: Charles Hugh Smith On the Forces of Centralization and Soaring Education Costs. I always enjoy discussing issues with Mike, a polymath with a wide range of interests and experiences.

This is a guest post from Charles Hugh Smith. His newest book is Why Things Are Falling Apart and What We Can Do About It
 

 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Concentrated wealth and power are intrinsically sociopathological by their very nature


 
This is a guest post from Charles Hugh Smith. His newest book is Why Things Are Falling Apart and What We Can Do About It

Centralization and Sociopathology: The Consolidation of Control

I have long spoken of the dangers inherent to centralization of power and the extreme concentrations of wealth centralization inevitably creates.

The Master Narrative Nobody Dares Admit: Centralization Has Failed (June 21, 2012)

The Solution to Concentrated Power: Decentralize, Diffuse and Devolve Power (June 22, 2012)

To Fix Healthcare, Let 100 Solutions Bloom (February 26, 2013)

C.D., a longtime contributor to my blog, Of Two Minds, recently highlighted another danger of centralization: sociopaths/psychopaths excel in organizations that centralize power, and their ability to flatter, browbeat and manipulate others greases their climb to the top.

In effect, centralization is tailor-made for sociopaths gaining power. Sociopaths seek power over others, and centralization gives them the perfect avenue to control over millions or even entire nations.

Even worse (from the view of non-sociopaths), their perverse abilities are tailor-made for excelling in office and national politics via ruthless elimination of rivals and enemies and grandiose appeals to national greatness, ideological purity, etc.

As C.D. points out, the ultimate protection against sociopathology is to minimize the power held in any one agency, organization or institution:

After you watch these films on psychopaths, I think you’ll have an even greater understanding of why your premise of centralization is a key problem of our society. The first film points out that psychopaths generally thrive in the corporate/government top-down organization (I have seen it happen in my agency, unfortunately) and that when they come to power, their values (or lack thereof) tend to pervade the organization to varying degrees. In some cases, they end up creating secondary psychopaths which is kind of like a spiritual/moral disease that infects people.
If we are to believe the premise in the film that there are always psychopaths among us in small numbers, it follows then that we must limit the power of any one institution, whether it’s private or public, so that the damage created by psychopaths is limited.

It is very difficult for many people to fathom that there are people in our society that are that evil, for lack of a better term, and it is even harder for many people in society to accept that people in the higher strata of our society can exhibit these dangerous traits.

The same goes for criminal behavior. From my studies, it’s pretty clear that criminality is fairly constant throughout the different levels of our society and yet, it is the lower classes that are subjected to more scrutiny by law enforcement. The disparity between blue collar and white collar crime is pretty evident when one looks at arrests and sentencing. The total lack of effective enforcement against politically connected banks over the last few years is astounding to me and it sets a dangerous precedent. Corruption and psychopathy go hand in hand.

A less dark reason for avoiding over centralization is that we have to be aware of normal human fallibility. Nobody possesses enough information, experience, ability, lack of bias, etc. to always make the right decisions.

Defense Against the Psychopath (video, 37 minutes; the many photos of political, religious and secular leaders will likely offend many/most; if you look past these outrages, there is useful information here)

The Sociopath Next Door (video, 37 minutes)

As C.D. observes, once sociopaths rule an organization or nation, they create a zombie army of secondary sociopaths beneath them as those who resist are undermined, banished, fired or exterminated. If there is any lesson to be drawn from Iraq, it is how a single sociopath can completely undermine and destroy civil society by empowering secondary sociopaths and eliminating or marginalizing anyone who dares to cling to their humanity, conscience and independence.

“Going along to get along” breeds passive acceptance of sociopathology as “the new normal” and mimicry of the values and techniques of sociopathology as the ambitious and fearful (i.e. almost everyone) scramble to emulate the “successful” leadership.

Organizations can be perverted into institutionalizing sociopathology via sociopathological goals and rules of conduct. Make the metric of success in war a body count of dead “enemy combatants” and you’ll soon have dead civilians stacked like cordwood as proof of every units’ outstanding success.

Make lowering unemployment the acme of policy success and soon every agency will be gaming and manipulating data to reach that metric of success. Make higher grades the metric of academic success and soon every kid is getting a gold star and an A or B.

Centralization has another dark side: those ensconced in highly concentrated centers of power (for example, The White House) are in another world, and they find it increasingly easy to become isolated from the larger context and to slip into reliance on sycophants, toadies (i.e. budding secondary sociopaths) and “experts” (i.e. apparatchiks and factotums) who are equally influenced by the intense “high” of concentrated power/wealth.

Increasingly out of touch with those outside the circle of power, those within the circle slide into a belief in the superiority of their knowledge, skills and awareness—the very definition of sociopathology.

Even worse (if that is possible), the incestuous nature of the tight circle of power breeds a uniformity of opinion and ideology that creates a feedback loop that marginalizes dissenters and those with open minds. Dissenters are soon dismissed—“not a team player”—or trotted out for PR purposes, i.e. as evidence the administration maintains ties to the outside world.

Those few dissenters who resist the siren song of power soon face a choice: either quietly quit “to pursue other opportunities” (the easy way out) or quit in a blast of public refutation of the administration’s policies.

Public dissenters are quickly crucified by those in power, and knowing this fate awaits any dissenter places a powerful disincentive on “going public” about the sociopathology of the inner circle of power.

On rare occasions, an insider has the courage and talent to secure documentation that details the sociopathology of a policy, agency or administration (for example, Daniel Ellsberg and The Pentagon Papers).

Nothing infuriates a sociopath or a sociopathological organization more than the exposure of their sociopathology, and so those in power will stop at nothing to silence, discredit, criminalize or eliminate the heroic whistleblower.

In these ways, centralized power is itself is a sociopathologizing force. We cannot understand the present devolution of our civil society, economy and ethics unless we understand that concentrated power and wealth are intrinsically sociopathological by their very nature.

The solution: a culture of decentralization, transparency and open competition, what I call the DATA model (Decentralized, Adaptive, Transparent and Accountable) in my book Why Things Are Falling Apart and What We Can Do About It.

This is a guest post from Charles Hugh Smith. His newest book is Why Things Are Falling Apart and What We Can Do About It

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
We’re doomed: No More Industrial Revolutions, No More Growth?
01.02.2013
12:00 pm

Topics:
Economy
Thinkers

Tags:
Charles Hugh Smith


 
Our brainy friend Charles Hugh Smith posted this chilling essay about the “limits to growth” mankind faces in this century at his essential Of Two Minds blog. As he points out, the innovations of recent decades have more often than not served to destroy jobs, not create them. (I can’t source this because someone told me this conversationally, but apparently there is one factory, owned by Samsung, that manufactures nearly all of the world’s supply of a certain size HD flatscreen (not the entire TV, just the screen). The factory, I was told, employs fewer than twenty workers! Keep that in mind as you read the following).

The common feature of the transformative technologies of the 20th and 21st centuries is that they were one-offs that cannot be duplicated.

What if the engines of global growth that worked for 65 years (since 1945) have not just stalled but broken down? The primary “engines” have been productivity gains from industrialization, real estate development and expansion of consumption based on the continual expansion of debt and leverage—in short-hand, financialization.

The Status Quo around the globe has responded to the obvious endgame of financialization (the 2008 financial crisis) by doing more of what has failed: expanding credit and leverage, flooding the global economy with liquidity (money available for borrowing), credits and subsidies for real estate development and a near-religious belief in “the next industrial revolution” that will spark rapid growth in employment, profits and productivity.

“The usual suspects” for the next engine of growth include nanotechnology, biotechnology, unconventional energy and Digital Fabrication, i.e. 3-D printing and desktop foundries. But are any of these capable of not just replacing jobs and revenues in existing industries, but creating more jobs and expanding revenues and profits?

There is a growing literature on this very topic, as many start questioning the quasi-religious faith that there will “always” be another driver of growth, i.e. the expansion of wealth, profit, employment and assets.

The Status Quo dares not even entertain this question because the only way to service the fast-rising mountain of debt that is sustaining the Status Quo is to “grow our way out of debt,” i.e. expand the real economy faster than debt.

The past 250 years has been one long “proof” that we can indeed “grow our way out of debt” because the low-hanging fruit of industrialization and cheap, abundant energy enabled wealth to be created at a faster pace than debt.

Clueless Keynesians mock those questioning the possibility that the low-hanging fruit has been plucked by noting that doomsdayers were actively decrying the ballooning debt of the British Empire in the mid-1700s. We all know how that story ended: what looked like crushingly massive debt in 1780 was reduced to a trivial sum by the rapid expansion of industrialization.

But suppose the end of cheap, abundant energy (replaced by abundant, costly energy) and the Internet spells the end of centralized models of growth? What if all the innovation currently bubbling away only produces marginal returns?

Take biotechnology for example. Those with little actual knowledge of biotech are quick to latch onto the potential for genetic engineered medications, biofuels, etc. What they don’t ask is if these technologies can scale up while costs decline, i.e. the computer technology model where everything progressively gets cheaper and more powerful.

Biofuels may have promise, but it still takes “old fashioned” energy to collect the feedstock, and it is a non-trivial task to keep micro-organisms alive on the scale that would be needed to produce a useful amount of liquid fuels, i.e. a few million barrels every day. Some processes may not scale up, and others may not see any significant reduction in fuel costs once the full input costs are calculated.

Genetic engineering also may not scale up—it may be limited by key barriers of individual patient complexity and by intrinsic costs that do not drop enough to make a difference.

Consider the diseases that have almost been eradicated—polio, for example—and the lifestyle diseases such as diabesity. The wave of diseases that were eradicated were caused by bacteria or viruses: a vaccine or agent that disabled or killed the bacteria/virus wiped out the disease.

Diabesity, cancer and heart disease are not caused by a single virus or bacteria. The “one med/vaccine works for all” model has failed and will always fail because diabesity and other lifestyle diseases have multiple, non-linear causes that are beyond the reach of a single “solution.” These diseases may well be tied to epigenetic factors, for example, the interaction of “junk DNA” with environmental stresses that extend back into the individual genome.

What we face is the confusion of symptoms and effects with causes. Lowering cholesterol is not the “magic bullet” many hoped for, and neither was hormone therapy.

In the technology sector, it is clear that the Internet is destroying entire sectors of employment. The jobs that have been lost for good have not been replaced by jobs created by the Internet, nor is there any credible evidence to support this hope: automated software continues chewing up one industry after another, and the politically protected fiefdoms of healthcare (sickcare), education and government have yet to taste the whip of real innovation.

Rather than add jobs, we will lose tens of millions of jobs as faster-better-cheaper breaches the walls of these massive politically protected fiefdoms.

Healthcare spending is clearly in terminal marginal return: our collective health continues to decline in key metrics even as spending doubles, triples and quadruples. The same can be said of defense, education and many other industries.

Sectors such as agriculture have already seen employment decline by 98% even as production rose; there are still improvements in agriculture (robotic milking machine, for example) but the low-hanging fruit in agriculture as well as in medicine, education, etc. have all been picked.

The next wave of innovation will destroy protected profit centers and employment; even the Armed Forces are not immune, as the “ships of the future” will have relatively small crews and robotic drones will replace high-cost, high-employment weapons systems.

The semi-magical belief that technological innovation will create wealth in such quantities that all other problems become solvable may well be false. We may have entered an era of marginal returns, where innovations destroy jobs, wealth, assets and debt—the very foundations of “growth.”

I have begun to speculate about a future where energy might be abundant but few can afford to consume much: money and income may be scarcer than energy.

The one innovation that might energize an entirely new field of employment is digital fabrication, the decentralization and distribution of production. But this will also creatively destroy jobs dependent on the present supply chain.

National governments have over-promised entitlements to their citizens on a vast scale, and the current “solution” to the mismatch of promises to national surplus is to borrow monumental sums to fund the promises. If innovations actually shrinks employment, incomes and wealth, then the base for taxes and debt will quickly shrink to the point that the debt is unserviceable. The Status Quo will collapse financially, even if energy and labor are both abundant.

Consider END OF GROWTH - six headwinds: demography, education, inequality, globalization, energy/environment, and the overhang of consumer and government debt. (via Zero Hedge)

The point made in this lengthy essay is a powerful one: the common feature of the transformative technologies of the 20th and 21st centuries is that they could only happen once. They are one-offs that cannot be duplicated. Doing more of what has failed will only set up a grander failure as returns on all our debt-based “investments” become ever more marginal and the return on increasing complexity drops into negative territory. Once complexity yields negative returns, the systems that depend on complexity quickly destabilize and implode.

Read more
No More Industrial Revolutions?

The Collapse of Complex Business Models

This is a cross-post from Charles Hugh Smith’s Of Two Minds blog. You should bookmark it and read him daily. Charles Hugh Smith’s newest book is Why Things Are Falling Apart and What We Can Do About It

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Why Things Are Falling Apart and What We Can Do About It
11.13.2012
10:56 am

Topics:
Books
Economy
Thinkers

Tags:
Charles Hugh Smith


 
With the holiday shopping season about to shift into high gear (I’m sure I’m not the only one who heard Christmas carols prior to Halloween… what’s that all about anyways?) here’s an early tip for that thoughtful, philosophical type on your list, the newest book by our esteemed, super-smart pal Charles Hugh Smith, Why Things Are Falling Apart and What We Can Do About It:

Things are falling apart—that is obvious. But why are they falling apart? The reasons are complex and global. Our economy and society have structural problems that cannot be solved by adding debt to debt. We are becoming poorer, not just from financial over-reach, but from fundamental forces that are not easy to identify or understand. We will cover the five core reasons why things are falling apart:

1. Debt and financialization
2. Crony capitalism and the elimination of accountability
3. Diminishing returns
4. Centralization
5. Technological, financial and demographic changes in our economy

Complex systems weakened by diminishing returns collapse under their own weight and are replaced by systems that are simpler, faster and affordable. If we cling to the old ways, our system will disintegrate. If we want sustainable prosperity rather than collapse, we must embrace a new model that is Decentralized, Adaptive, Transparent and Accountable (DATA).

We are not powerless. Not accepting responsibility and being powerless are two sides of the same coin: once we accept responsibility, we become powerful.

This week only there is a 20% discount on the Kindle edition: $7.95 (normal retail $9.95). There is also a print edition of Why Things Are Falling Apart and What We Can Do About It.

Read daily essays from Charles Hugh Smith at his Of Two Minds blog.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Wage Slaves: Are You Loving Your Servitude Yet?


 
A guest post from our esteemed, super-smart friend, Charles Hugh Smith, publisher of the Of Twos Minds blog and author of the new book, Resistance, Revolution, Liberation: A Model for Positive Change

Aldous Huxley imagined a world in which the Status Quo satisfies its lust for power by “suggesting people into loving their servitude.”

Yesterday I discussed the Convergence of Marx, Orwell and Kafka as a means of understanding the global crisis. It’s not just financial fraud on a vast scale, or debt or leverage or derivatives or a hundred other arcane mechanisms of parasitic predation; it’s the partnership of a mindlessly expansive Central State with Monopoly Capital and the media machine that serves them.

I considered including Aldous Huxley in the convergence, as he too anticipated the essential nature of modern life. But perhaps his insights are more complementary than convergent, for he understood the media and State’s capacity to not only present a deranged and destructive Status Quo as “normal” but to persuade the serfs to embrace it.

Aldous Huxley foresaw a Central State that persuaded its people to “love their servitude” via propaganda, drugs, entertainment and information-overload. In his view, the energy required to force compliance exceeded the “cost” of persuasion, and thus the Powers That Be would opt for the power of suggestion.

He outlined this in a letter to George Orwell:

“My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power, and these ways will resemble those which I described in Brave New World.
Within the next generation I believe that the world’s rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience.”

As prescient as he was, Huxley could not have foreseen the power of electronic media hypnosis/addiction as a conditioning mechanism for passivity and self-absorption. We are only beginning to understand the immense addictive/conditioning powers of 24/7 social and “news” media. What would we say about a drug that caused people to forego sex to check their Facebook page? What would we say about a drug that caused young men to stay glued to a computer for 40+ hours straight, an obsession so acute that some actually die? We would declare that drug to be far too powerful and dangerous to be widely available, yet the Web is now ubiquitous.

Servitude comes in many gradations and forms. Relying on the Federal Reserve to constantly prop up our pension and mutual funds lest reality cause them to collapse is a form of servitude; we end up worshipping the Fed’s every word and act as mendicants worship their financial saviors.

That the Fed is unelected and impervious to democracy or the will of the people is forgotten; all that matters is that we love our servitude to it.

I have discussed the atomizing nature of social media and the way it conditions self-absorption in 800 Million Channels of Me (February 21, 2011), and the way that the consumerist ethos generates insecurity, alienation and social defeat. The only “cure” for social defeat is to love the servitude of consumption, convenience and the resulting debt-serfdom: The Last Refuge of Wall Street: Marketing To Increasingly Insolvent Consumers (December 12, 2011).

I have covered these topics in depth in my books Resistance, Revolution, Liberation: A Model for Positive Change and Survival+: Structuring Prosperity for Yourself and the Nation.

The Central State has the power via welfare (individual and corporate) and bailouts to buy complicity. Since the human mind rebels against hypocrisy and insincerity—we can all spot a phony—we subconsciously persuade ourselves of the rightness and inevitability of servitude and self-absorption.

And that is how we come to love our servitude; we persuade ourselves to believe it’s acceptable and normal rather than deranged and destructive.

This is a guest post from Charles Hugh Smith, publisher of the Of Twos Minds blog and author of the new book, Resistance, Revolution, Liberation: A Model for Positive Change

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Global Crisis: the Convergence of Marx, Orwell and Kafka


 
A guest post from our esteemed, super-smart friend, Charles Hugh Smith, publisher of the Of Twos Minds blog and author of the new book, Resistance, Revolution, Liberation: A Model for Positive Change
 
The global crisis is best understood as the convergence of the modern trends identified by Marx, Orwell and Kafka. Let’s start with Franz Kafka, the writer (1883-1924) who most eloquently captured the systemic injustices of all powerful bureaucracies—the alienation experienced by the hapless citizen enmeshed in the bureaucratic web, petty officialdom’s mindless persecutions of the innocent, and the intrinsic absurdity of the centralized State best expressed in this phrase: “We expect errors, not justice.”

If this isn’t the most insightful summary of the Eurozone debacle, then what is? A lawyer by training and practice, Kafka understood that the the more powerful and entrenched the bureaucracy, the greater the collateral damage rained on the innocent, and the more extreme the perversion of justice.

The entire global financial system is Kafkaesque: the bureaucracies of the Central State have two intertwined goals: protect the financial Elites from the consequences of their parasitic predation, and protect their own power and perquisites.

While Marx understood the predatory, parasitic nature of Monopoly Capitalism, he did not anticipate the State’s partnering with Cartel/Crony Capitalism; in effect, the State has appropriated the appropriators, stripmining the citizenry to protect the financial sector from the consequences of their “business model” (leverage, fraud, embezzlement and the misrepresentation of risk). But the State doesn’t merely enable (“regulate”) the predation of financiers; it also stripmines the citizenry to fund its own expansion into every nook and cranny of civil society.

This is where Orwell enters the convergence, for the State masks its stripmining and power grab with deliciously Orwellian misdirections such as “the People’s Party,” “democratic socialism,” and so on.

Orwell understood the State’s ontological imperative is expansion, to the point where it controls every level of community, markets and society. Once the State escapes the control of the citizenry, it is free to exploit them in a parasitic predation that is the mirror-image of Monopoly capital. For what is the State but a monopoly of force, coercion, data manipulation and the regulation of private monopolies?

What is the EU bureaucracy in Brussels but the perfection of a stateless State?

As Kafka divined, centralized bureaucracy has the capacity for both Orwellian obfuscation (anyone read those 1,300-page Congressional bills other than those gaming the system for their private benefit?) and systemic avarice and injustice.

The convergence boils down to this: it would be impossible to loot this much wealth if the State didn’t exist to enforce the “rules” of parasitic predation. In China, the Elite’s looting proceeds along somewhat different rules from the looting of Europe and the U.S., but the end result is the same in all financialized, centrally managed economies: an expansive kleptocracy best understood as the convergence of Marx, Orwell and Kafka.

This has been a guest post from Charles Hugh Smith, publisher of the Of Twos Minds blog and author of the new book, Resistance, Revolution, Liberation: A Model for Positive Change

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Peak Everything: The ‘Solution’ is Collapse


 
A guest post from our esteemed, super-smart friend, Charles Hugh Smith, publisher of the Of Twos Minds blog and author of the new book, Resistance, Revolution, Liberation: A Model for Positive Change

So the root problem is the system, human nature, blah blah blah. There are no “solutions” that can fix those defaults. Thus the “solution” is collapse.

Policies create incentives and disincentives. Some are intended, some fall into the category of unintended consequences. Regardless of their intention, policies that create windfalls (“easy money”) or open spigots of “free money” (or what is perceived as free money by the recipient) quickly gather the allegiance of everyone reaping the windfall or collecting the free money.

This allegiance is soon tempered into political steel by self-justification: humans excel at rationalizing their self-interest. Thus my share of the swag is soon “absolutely essential.”

Humans don’t need much incentive to pursue windfalls or free money—seeking windfalls in the here and now is our default setting. Taking the pulpit to denounce humanity’s innate greed, avarice and selfishness doesn’t change this, as seeking short-term windfalls has offered enormous selective advantages for hundreds of thousands of years.

That which is painful to those collecting free money will be avoided, and that which is easy will be pursued until it’s painful. Borrowing $1.5 trillion a year from toddlers and the unborn taxpayers of the future is easy and painless, as toddlers have no political power. So we will borrow from the powerless to fund our free money spigots until it becomes painful.

It won’t become painful to borrow from our grandkids for quite some time, and it will probably not become progressively painful, either, because we will suppress the pain with superlow interest rates and other trickery. The pain will more likely be of the sudden, unexpected, “this can’t be happening to me” heart-attack sort: the free-money machine will unexpectedly grind to a halt in some sort of easily predictable but always-in-the-future crisis.

“Solutions” that turn off the free money spigots are non-starters, not just from self-interest but from ideology. Any attempt to tighten the spigots steps on ideological toes, as each spigot is ideologically sacred to one political camp or another.

Liberals don’t want to hear about scamming of their sacred “we must help everyone in need” welfare programs, and conservatives don’t want to hear about cartel looting of their sacred “free enterprise” system.

And so we have gridlock, what I call profound political disunity. Everybody at each trough of free money fights tooth and nail to keep their spigot wide open, and so the “solution” is to borrow 10% of the nation’s output in “free money” every year until the free-money machine breaks down.

Each ideology worships their own version of cargo-cult economics: if we wave the dead chicken over the enchanted rocks while dancing the humba-humba, prosperity and abundance will magically return and we can “grow our way out of debt.”

We’re like a sprawling family bickering over the inheritance: we’ll keep arguing over who deserves what until the inheritance is gone. That will trigger one final outburst of finger-pointing, resentment and betrayal, and then we’ll go do something else to get by.

The “solution” is thus collapse. This model has been very effectively explored in The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization by Thomas Homer-Dixon. The basic idea is that when the carrying costs of the society exceed its output, the whole contraption collapses.

The political adjunct to this systemic implosion is that the productive people just stop supporting the Status Quo because it’s become too burdensome. The calculus of self-interest shifts from supporting the bloated, marginal-return Status Quo to abandoning it.

So the root problem is the system, human nature, blah blah blah. There are no “solutions” that can fix those defaults. The “solution” is collapse, as only collapse will force everyone to go do something more sustainable to get by.

Until then, arguing about “solutions” is a sport to be enjoyed sparingly.

Here’s my latest YouTube presentation with Gordon T. Long on “Peak Everything.” Lots of interesting charts:

 

 
Charles Hugh Smith’s new book is Resistance, Revolution, Liberation: A Model for Positive Change. Read the Introduction and Chapter One here.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
How to cripple Wall Street with a simple three-Item agenda


 
A guest editorial from our super smart pal, Charles Hugh Smith, cross-posted from his essential Of Two Minds blog.

There are really only three ways to cripple Wall Street’s democracy-killing concentration of wealth and power: take our money out of Wall Street and the TBTF banks, eliminate private money from elections and abolish Wall Street’s dealer, the Federal Reserve.

There are only three things—and only these three—that will cripple Wall Street’s democracy-killing concentration of wealth and power:

1. Transfer the 99%‘s money out of Wall Street and the Too Big To Fail Banks

2. Remove campaign contributions from our democracy in a way that the corporate legalist lackeys in the Supreme Court cannot overturn, i.e. entirely publicly financed elections

3. Abolish Wall Street’s dealer, pusher and protector, the Federal Reserve.

My reasoning is very simple:

Everything else people want to see happen cannot happen if:

1) Wall Street and the SDI (systemically dangerous institutions) a.k.a. too big to fail banks, control most Americans’ financial assets and debts

2) The Federal Reserve exists to enable and protect the SDI’s wealth and power via Primary Dealers, the discount window and other pusher/dealer mechanisms

3) Wall Street and the other SDIs can use the billions of dollars they skim from our accounts, IRAs, 401Ks and pensions to buy political influence and protection from regulation and competition.

Therefore these are the necessary foundations of any real change.

As long as Wall Street and the other SDIs control much of the nation’s financial markets, assets and debts, and the Federal Reserve exists to protect and enable their predation and parasitic skimming, they will have the means to reap billions in profits which can then be funneled into our cash-corrupted political system of for-sale toadies and apparatchiks.

The only real leverage we have is our money and our compliance. Leaving our money in Wall Street and the Too Big to fail banks enables their dominance. Leaving our money in checking accounts, money market funds, savings accounts and brokerage accounts, and then using credit and debit cards issued by the SDIs, is to remain deeply complicit in their dominance.

This concept is now entering the cultural dialog, for example this recent entry on Zero Hedge: Want To Defeat The Banks? Stop Participating In The System!

Frequent Of Two Minds contributor Harun I. summed the argument up even more forcefully:

I applaud this movement only if people are coming to the recognition that, collectively, we as a nation have been wrong and now need to move in a different direction. We must now engage in discussing how best to do so.
However, I remain skeptical. Why are the TBTF banks still operating? From fraud to extortion to money laundering for drug cartels, the list of crimes against humanity is quite clear and long. Exactly what does it take before people will stop doing business with demonstrably corrupt entities?

And now there is a General Strike scheduled. I am all for it. But understand that our government will borrow the shortfall and nothing meaningful other than an increase in public debt will occur.

However, if you want to see an instantaneous and dramatic effect, every person close every account they have with all the TBTF banks and their subsidiaries on the same day.

Immediately or almost immediately they would have to be taken into receivership, their assets marked to market and sold off. The End.

Why destroy the TBTF banks? Most of them are Primary Dealers. The Fed then comes under pressure as it becomes the only lender of resort.

Then, once we have gotten their attention we tackle monetary reform, lobbying, and term limit in Congress and the Supreme Court.

It is time for government to “fear the people”. Rest assured that if government does not fear the people, nothing will change.

As for the Supreme Court’s legalist worship of the Corporate State: I believe this court will be remembered by history as the court which veered close enough to Corporate-State fascism to give it a big wet kiss. Corporate “rights” of personhood? No problem, you got it! The “right” to fund unlimited campaign contributions? No problem, you got it!

“Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power.” Benito Mussolini

We might profitably ask how the Founding Fathers would have responded to calls that the U.S. Constitution should contain a clause granting the East India Company the same rights of personhood as U.S. citizens, and then further granting it the unlimited right to buy political favors as a function of “free speech.”

One wonders how any of the Revolutionary War veterans among the Founding Fathers might have responded to such toadying claptrap. Yet this is precisely what the corporate toadies in the flowing black robes claim is “defended” by the U.S. Constitution.

A close reading of the Constitution reveals no amendments or clauses granting private corporations personhood, or granting them the right to inject unlimited sums of money to sway elections. If we turn to the Federalist Papers, we find fear of a “tyranny of the minority”—and what is a private corporation but an extreme minority bent on purchasing a limited but oppressive, exploitative and parasitical tyranny?

The legalist lackeys on the Supreme Court have hidden far too long behind the reputation of the Court—a reputation punctured by history, we might note—as a forum of disinterested legal debate. Rather, the court is nothing but another collection of imperfect human beings who are easily swayed by the tenor of the times and the ideological agendas of the wealthy and powerful. (“These are not the campaign reforms you’re looking for. Move along.”)

Given that we have a court that worships Corporate-State fascism slicked over with a thin veneer of democracy for public relations purposes—every single attempt to limit corporate campaign contributions has been struck down by the court—then our only choice as a people is to ban all private money contributions and institute a system of 100% publicly financed elections. Yes, it’s imperfect, and yes, it’s messy and costly, but nowhere near as corrupting and costly to liberty as the Corporate-State fascism we now endure.

Libertarians may be aghast at this option, but we have been reduced by the legalist lackeys in the Supreme Court to this choice: either we continue to be ruled by the corrupting corporate-State nexis of unlimited corporate/private Elites funding of elections, or we go with public financing. Thanks to the Supreme Court, there is no other choice.

As a lagniappe thought: one of the primary concerns of many “OWS/we are the 99” supporters is rising income disparity. That is a legitimate concern in any nation claiming to be a democracy with a free-market economy. Yet a close examination of the roots of income disparity and rising poverty leads straight to the Federal Reserve.

Winners And Losers: The New Economy (Zero Hedge)

What Mr. Gross and Mr. Frank and many others don’t see is that it is the creation of fiat money that destroys wealth and misdirects the investment of capital into less productive assets. That is, monetary inflation destroys capital (wealth). The reason why the production of goods and services do not bear higher yields than financial assets is that the production of goods and services suffers from a lack of real capital. Remember that real capital comes only from the saved profits of production and from the savings of workers from wages earned in production.

You obviously cannot print wealth, but if you try that fiat money distorts the entire economy by directing investment to things which appear to appreciate but what is really happening is that the dollar is depreciating. As a result, fiat money and real capital are invested in financial assets because they appear to have greater yields than returns from the production of goods. Prices rise (price inflation) and it creates the inevitable boom which always busts. The fall out is that we are stuck with things people don’t want (in the present re/depression it is housing). And we fall for it every time.

Allow me to simplify the argument:

1. The Federal Reserve has financialized the economy as an intrinsic expression of its reason for being.

2. Financialization necessarily creates systemically rising income disparity.

I think that’s all we need to understand to grasp the utmost importance of abolishing the Federal Reserve, a private banking monopoly created and protected by our Congress. Limiting Wall Street and the TBTF banks is structurally impossible as long as the Federal Reserve exists.

Written by Charles Hugh Smith, cross-posted from Of Two Minds.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
The End of Work: A conversation with Charles Hugh Smith

Charles Hugh Smith, author of Survival+ and An Unconventional Guide to Investing in Troubled Times discusses why the Great Recession is here to stay, the structural unemployment that will affect many people and the future of the US economy. Plus, investing your money and time in your own life and in your own community and not getting burned by a publicly traded company you’ve never personally visited. Charles Hugh Smith blogs daily at Of Two Minds.com.
 

 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
The 40-Year Cycle of Cultural Change
07.15.2011
11:32 am

Topics:

Tags:
Charles Hugh Smith


 
Another guest essay from Charles Hugh Smith, cross-posted here from his essential Of Two Minds blog:

The U.S. is due for another cultural revolution, led by the younger generations, perhaps including a fifth Great Awakening.

There seems to be a 40-year cycle of cultural change in American society. The classic exploration of generational types and cycles, The Fourth Turning, identified a four-generational, 80-year cycle of profound crisis and transformation:

1781 - end of the Revolution and establishment of the nation
1861 - Civil War
1941 - Global war and end of the Depression
2021 - end of the Savior State and debt-based “prosperity,” Peak Everything and geopolitical conflict over resources

In terms of cultural revolutions, these seem to sweep through every 40 years or so, a two-generational cycle within the longer cycle. It’s not an exact cycle, but consider these dates and eras:

1740: The First Great Awakening: The Protestant evangelical movement of the 1740s played a key role in the development of democratic concepts in the period of the American Revolution and helped foster a demand for the separation of church and state.

1776-1781: Revolutionary War, cultural shift away from the British Empire and toward an American identity.

1820: Second Great Awakening: sparks the rise of the Abolitionist movement which sets the cultural, social and spiritual stage for the Civil War.

1860: the Civil War

1890s: The Gay 90s, a period of American expansion and new freedoms of expression, clouded by the Panic of 1893 which sent the economy into a 6-year depression.

This era was the culmination of the Gilded Age, the industrialization of the U.S. economy between 1865 and 1900. By the beginning of the 20th century, per capita income and industrial production in the United States led the world, with per capita incomes double that of Germany or France, and 50% higher than Britain. Not coincidentally, the birth of the modern industrial labor union occurred around 1890.

1925-30: The Roaring Twenties, an era “marked by a general feeling of discontinuity associated with modernity and a break with traditions. Everything seemed to be feasible through modern technology. Formal decorative frills were shed in favor of practicality in both daily life and architecture. At the same time, jazz and dancing rose in popularity, and as such the period is also known as the Jazz Age.”

1967-1970: The Counterculture, which included the culmination of the Civil Rights Movement and the birth/expansion of the feminist movement, Eastern spirituality in the U.S., back-to-the-land self-sufficiency, rock music as a cultural force, the nonviolent anti-war movement, the anti-nuclear movement, experimentation with communal living and drugs, Futurist concepts, and a widespread expansion of freedom of self-expression and experimentation. Many observers believe this ear also launched a Fourth Awakening as evangelical denominations expanded and “Jesus freaks” found religious inspiration outside mainline churches.

The book What the Dormouse Said: How the 60s Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer makes a strong case that this era set the stage for the ultimate technological medium of experimentation and self-expression, the personal computer, which then led irresistably to the World Wide Web (all the foundational technologies of the Internet were in place by 1969—The first permanent ARPANET link was established on November 21, 1969, between UCLA and Stanford Research Institute.)

Which changed the world, of course. Those darn hippies!

1970 + 40 = 2010: That takes us to the present. Right now the nation is wallowing self-piteously in a fetid trough of denial and adolescent rage/magical thinking that the nation’s bogus, debt-based “prosperity” has crashed and cannot be restored, though Ben Bernanke and the clueless “leaders” the citizenry has fecklessly elected keep trying to glue Humpty Dumpty back back together again.

Unfortunately, all they’ve accomplished is to glue their own fingers together.

The “too big to fail” banks and Corporate Cartels effectively own the Federal machinery of governance, the Savior State’s fiefdoms are expanding their reach and power like uncontrollable cancers, and the “leadership”—mostly self-glorifying. grossly incompetent, self-absorbed, greedy Baby Boomers, but with a few equally clueless 40-somethings present just to prove that age is no protection against self-delusion and supreme greed—has resolved to surrender to the Financial Power Elites and State fiefdoms, and fiddle around with “extend and pretend” strategies until they can exit the stage with bulging bags of swag.

Their only goal is to not be the one blamed when the whole corrupt contraption finally collapses under its own weight. If there was ever a more pathetic, corrupt, cowardly and incompetent set of “leaders” in the nation’s history, they must have done their skimming during periods of relative prosperity. Now we need real leaders, not TV-ready simulacra spouting bloated slogans that contain the magic word “change.”

Gen X and Gen Y, this is your “lights, camera, action!” call, if not for political power, then for a cultural revolution. I for one am ready for a Fifth Awakening, a Cultural Revolution, and a restoration of self-rule and the real, non-financialized economy.

I hope that you all had a happy Bastille Day, yesterday. It’s time we tore down the Bank Bastille that’s imprisoning us all.

Another guest essay from Charles Hugh Smith, cross-posted here from his essential Of Two Minds blog:

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Poverty in America, part 1
07.13.2011
04:42 pm

Topics:
Class War
Economy
Politics
Thinkers

Tags:
Charles Hugh Smith


 
A guest essay from our super-smart friend Charles Hugh Smith, cross-posted from his essential Of Two Minds blog. Charles is the author of Survival +: Structuring Prosperity for Yourself and the Nation.

Poverty is on the rise in America, and buying passivity with cheap bribes has limits when applied to a fraying middle class.

If jobs are not coming back, then we as a nation need a conversation about poverty in America. The Status Quo assumption is that this is just another garden-variety recession, and that employment will bounce back, along with the “animal spirits” that drive borrowing and spending.

As of August 2011, it will be three years since the global financial meltdown. In three years, the Savior State has borrowed and blown $6 trillion maintaining the Status Quo, and the Federal Reserve has printed almost $3 trillion and shoveled that vast sum into “risk assets” to keep housing on life support and the stock market rising. The Fed has also devalued and debased the dollar, stealing wealth from the citizenry and holders of U.S.-denominated debt in the process, to serve two goals: 1) spark inflation and thus avoid deflationary deleveraging of the nation’s fast-growing mountain of debt, and 2) to enable servicing that debt with cheaper dollars.

None of these grandiose manipulations has healed the economy or fixed the structural problems which made the meltdown inevitable. The irony here (among many) is that so many people believe the Power Elites controlling the nation have some sort of god-like ability to maintain their grip on the levers of power.

While it’s certainly true that the wealth of the Power Elites has increased as a result of the meltdown and Fed/Savior State response, ultimately the Financial and Political Elites’ power depends on the passivity and complicity of the citizens. This means the Power Elites must buy off or co-opt the majority of citizens to keep them politically neutered and mallable.

The Status Quo has two basic methods of buying the citizen’s complicity: a vibrant economy that supports a middle class that thus has a stake in maintaining the Status Quo, and cash bribes to everyone else to keep quiet, i.e. “social benefits” a.k.a. entitlements and welfare. This renders everyone either dependent on cash payments from the Savior State or a stakeholder in the Status Quo.

Corporate welfare is not a bribe but a mutually beneficial power grab. The Cartel Corporatocracy seeks to eliminate competition from below and guarantee low-risk profts via cartels and quasi-monopolies. It achieves these goals by purchasing the partnership of the Savior State, which smothers competition with thickets of regulations and greases the quasi-monopolies sought by the Corporatocracy. But it’s hardly a one-way exchange; in extending its control over the economy and society to serve the Corporatocracy’s interests, the Central State’s own Elites gain more power, too.

Some observers see the middle class as the natural enemy of the State and Corporatocracy, but this misses the essential relationship of the Power Elites to their citizenry: the need of the Elites to buy complicity and passivity by the cheapest methods available.

It’s certainly possible to use repression to keep a populace under control, but repression is expensive and it doesn’t encourage productive “buy-in”; rather, it encourages opting out and resentful compliance. This leaves less for the Elites to skim off.

Over time, it’s rather obvious that regimes that rely on heavy-handed repression tend to fall while those that offer a small, low-cost stake to citizens are much more profitable to the ruling Elites and also more stable.

The crumbling of the credit-bubble economy has mortally wounded the middle class, and this has created a serious problem for the Power Elites. In extending the credit-bubble economy—that is, “wealth” is created via exponential expansion of debt—to housing, the Power Elites undermined the multigenerational bedrock of middle class wealth.

With housing equity stripped away, the erosion of middle class income and non-housing wealth has now been exposed.

The Power Elites’ other wealth technique, globalization, has also gutted the middle class below the top 10% level of technocrats, and decimated the working class that had aspirations of joining the middle class, i.e. the lower middle class.

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Jobs (in the U.S.) (February 9, 2011) Global Corporate America has decoupled from the American middle class; its interests are now international rather than domestic.

The Power Elites’ response—borrow and blow trillions to prop up the engine of their own wealth, the banks, borrow trillions from future taxpayers to maintain the current Status Quo, and devalue the U.S. dollar—have all failed to reflate housing or middle class incomes. Rather, these actions only succeeded in enriching the top 10% who own the majority of stocks. The prop-job in stocks has yielded a propaganda coup, as the Status Quo has successfully identified a rising stock market as “proof the recovery is here,” but this propaganda is starting to wear thin as 90% of the populace are realizing they are still poorer than they were three years ago.

Buying Off Washington To Kill Financial “Reform.”

The Power Elites cannot understand why making credit cheap isn’t creating jobs. Like decrepit generals fighting the last war, they keep sending waves of credit into the system to overpower deflation and reignite “animal spirits,” but the waves of credit are being mowed down by deleveraging and the exhaustion of credit as a stimulus.

In other words, they are clueless to the reality that conventional economics has failed. They have no Plan B. Their only plan, such as it is, is to borrow more money and spend it propping up the current Status Quo. Unfortunately for them, the middle class is unraveling at the edges, and the surest evidence of that is the loss of middle class jobs.

Without good-paying jobs with benefits and rising housing equity, then the citizens have no stake left in the Status Quo.

That leaves entitlements and welfare as the cash bribes for keeping quiet. What’s remarkable about the current pastiche of social benefits is how cheap it is to the Power Elites; extended unemployment ($158 billion), food stamps ($68 billion), Section 8 housing ($20 billion), and Veterans Administration medical care for vets ($47 billion)—all together that’s $293 billion, a mere 7.7% of Federal spending.

(These statistics are drawn from:
Is the Recovery “Self-Sustaining”? Here’s a Test (March 22, 2011)
Social Welfare, Socialism and Healthcare (May 19, 2009)
Can We Please Stop Pretending the GDP Is “Growing”? (June 2, 2011)
.
And of course it’s the taxpayers who will foot the bill for the deficit spending, not the Elites

The ideological political-theater stages faux “combat” over welfare, but this is for show: outside the circus, cash bribes for complicity and silence work equally well for both flavors of the Status Quo political Elite.

The “Left’s” concern for the poor is transparently phony; the “Left’s” only concern is to keep the underclass fat, dumb and distracted while enriching its own private fiefdoms such as education: public school fiasco in Atlanta. What terrifies the “Left” is the same thing that terrifies the “Right”—that the citizenry might break free of the bonds of dependency on the Savior State and start demanding a real stake in the economy rather than just a cash bribe to keep quiet.

This is why welfare and middle class entitlements (in various flavors) have continued growing for decades, under both “Left” and “Right” regimes.

It’s been quite a scam: the Savior State borrows immense sums from future taxpayers to bribe the current crop of citizenry, and these same citizenry pay the rising interest on that growing debt via their taxes.

In other words, the debt-serfs pay for the bribes that keep them complicit.

The problem is that the Status Quo has overshot systemic equilibrium. To keep the game going, the debt load is rising at almost $2 trillion a year at the Federal Level, and the Fed’s manipulations are requiring a cool trillion a year in printed money shoveled into risk assets.

The interest on that skyrocketing debt will eventually crimp the borrowing binge, and the Fed’s games are igniting not job growth but inflation, which further saps what’s left of middle class purchasing power.

The Fed’s manic manipulations are losing their effectiveness. Like insulin in a pre-diabetic patient, the Fed’s massive injections of money are not stimulating jobs or productive investment; each new announcement of “easing” generates a smaller jolt of ever-shorter duration. At some point the economy will respond to the Fed’s “easing” injection by going straight into diabetic shock.

There are two cultural issues in play as well. One of the key characteristics of the middle class is high expectations for future power and prosperity. The poor have lower expectations and so it’s relatively easy to buy them off with small sums.

The middle class, however, is less satisfied with crumbs, and getting paid to stay home and watch TV does not appeal to their values or expectations of life in America.

The other issue is the destructive nature of dependence on the Savior State, a dynamic I explored in The Cycle of Dependency and the Atrophy of Self-Reliance (July 2, 2011).

Making people dependent on the Savior State is not “ending poverty”—it is creating a deeper, more pervasively destructive poverty of lost opportunity and shriveled enterprise. People naturally want to contribute to something meaningful and to be respected, and being paid to sit home watching TV does neither. What it does do is fuel a low-intensity resentment against dependency and a pathological incentive for victimhood, neither of which are healthy for the society or those reduced to dependency on the Savior State.

The Power Elites are slowly losing their grip on the middle class. Once people no longer have a stake in the Status Quo, then they might become dissatisifed with the cheap bribes to stay home and rot away, consuming Pringles and “entertainment” on the telly.

Those citizens who are paying the tab for the Power Elites’ debt excesses are also seeing their stake in the Status Quo slip in value: being reduced to a tax donkey does not fulfill their expectations.

The bottom line is poverty on several levels is rising in America, and cash bribes are not a stable “solution,” though they certainly are a cheap one to the Power Elites.

This is a guest essay from Charles Hugh Smith, cross-posted here from his essential Of Two Minds blog

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Let’s buy Congress back from the special interests who own it


 
Another guest essay from our super smart friend, Charles Hugh Smith, cross-posted from his essential Of Two Minds blog. If you like what he writes here, please share it on social media.

Here’s a thought: How much would it cost to buy congress back from special interests who now own it?

We all know special interests own the U.S. Congress and the Federal machinery of governance (i.e. regulatory capture). How much would it cost the American citizenry to buy back their Congress? The goal in buying our Congress back from the banking cartel et al. would not be to compete with the special interests for congressional favors—it would be to elect a Congress which would eradicate their power and influence altogether.

A tall order, perhaps, but certainly not impossible, if we’re willing to spend the money to not just match special interest contributions to campaigns but steamroll them.

A seat in the U.S. Senate is a pricey little lever of power, so we better be ready to spend $50 million per seat. Seats in smaller states will be less, but seats in the big states will cost more, but this is a pretty good average.

That’s $5 billion to buy the Senate.

A seat in the House of Representatives is a lot cheaper to buy: $10 million is still considered a lot of money in this playground of power. But the special interests—you know the usual suspects, the banks, Wall Street, Big Pharma, Big Insurance, Big Tobacco, the military-industrial complex, Big Ag, public unions, the educrat complex, trial lawyers, foreign governments, and so on—will fight tooth and nail to maintain their control of the Federal machinery, so we better double that to $20 million per seat. Let’s see, $20 million times 435….

That’s $8.7 billion to buy the House of Representatives.

It seems we’re stuck with the corporate toadies on the Supreme Court, but the President could scotch the people’s plans to regain control of their government, so we better buy the office of the President, too.

It seems Obama’s purchase price was about $100 million, but the special interests will be desperate to have “their man or woman” with the veto power, so we better triple this to $300 million.

Add these up and it looks like we could buy back our government for the paltry sum of $14 billion. This is roughly .0037% of the Federal budget of $3.8 trillion, i.e. one-third of one percent. That is incredible leverage: $1 in campaign bribes controls $300 in annual spending—and a global empire.

Once we bought back our government, what would be the first items on the agenda? The first item would be to eradicate private bribes, a.k.a. private campaign contributions and lobbying.

If you allow $1 in campaign contributions, then you also allow $10 million. There is no way to finesse bribery, so it has to be cut and dried: no member of Congress can accept any gift or contribution of any nature, monetary or otherwise, and all campaigns will be publicly financed.

Is this system perfect? Of course not. There is no perfect system. But the point here is that a system which allows even a $1 private contribution to a campaign cannot be restricted; after the courts have their say, then all attempted limitations prove worthless.

So it’s really all or nothing: either we put our government up for auction to the highest bribe, or we ban all gifts and private campaign financing and go with public financing of all elections in the nation.

That is the only practical and sane solution. Any proposal that seeks to finesse bribery will fail, just like all previous attempts at campaign finance reform.

Any member of Congress who accepts a gift, trinket, meal, cash in an envelope, etc. will lose their seat upon conviction of accepting the gift. Once again, you can’t finesse bribery. It has to be all or nothing, and the only way to control bribery is to ban it outright.

As for lobbying, thanks to a Supreme Court dominated by corporate toadies, it will be difficult to ban lobbying outright. However, that doesn’t mean Congress shouldn’t try to force the toadies on the Supreme Court to make a distinction between a corporation with $100 billion in assets and billions to spend on bribes and a penniless citizen.

(Those two are not coincidental; in a nation run by and for corporations, the citizens all end up penniless unless they own or manage said corporations, or work for a Federal fiefdom which can stripmine the nation at will.)

Congress should pass a law banning paid-for lobbying. If a citizen wants to go to Congress and advocate a position, they are free to do so—but they can’t accept money to do so. If they receive any compensation from any agency, enterprise, foreign government, other citizen, you name it, from any source, then they will be sentenced to 10 years of fulltime community service in Washington D.C., picking up trash, etc.

If the Supreme Court toadies strike down that law, then here’s another approach:

Require all paid lobbyists to wear clown suits during their paid hours of work.

In addition, all lobbyists are required to wear three placards, each with text of at least two inches in height.

The first placard lists their total annual compensation as a lobbyist.

The second lists the special interest they work for.

The third lists the total amount of money that special interest spent the previous year on lobbying, regulatory capture, bribes to politicos and political parties, etc.

Every piece of paper issued by lobbyists must be stamped in large red letters, “This lobbying paid for by (special interest)”, and every video, Powerpoint presentation, etc. must also be stamped with the same message on every frame.

The second item on the agenda is a one-page tax form. The form looks like the current 1040 form except it stops at line 22: TOTAL INCOME. A progressive flat tax is then calculated from that line. Once again, you cannot finesse bribery or exemptions, exclusions, loopholes and exceptions. Once you allow exemptions, exclusions, loopholes and exceptions, then you’ve opened Pandora’s Box of gaming the system, and the financial Elites will soon plow holes in the tax code large enough to drive trucks through while John Q. Citizen will be paying full pop, just like now.

The entire charade of punishing and rewarding certain behaviors to pursue some policy has to end. Any deduction, such as interest on mortgages, ends up creating perverse incentives which can and will be gamed. It’s really that simple: you cannot finesse bribery or exemptions, exclusions and loopholes, because these are two sides of the same coin.

The tremendous inequality in income, wealth, power and opportunity which is distorting and destroying our nation all flow from the inequalities enabled by bribery and tax avoidance. The only way to fix the nation is to eliminate bribery (campaign contributions and lobbying) entirely, and eliminate tax avoidance entirely by eliminating all deductions, exemptions, loopholes, etc. State total income from all sources everywhere on the planet, calculate tax, done.

When you think about how tiny $14 billion is compared to the $3.8 trillion Federal budget and the $14.5 trillion U.S. economy, it makes you want to weep; how cheaply we have sold our government, and how much we suffer under the whip of those who bought it for a pittance.

Another guest essay from Charles Hugh Smith, cross-posted from his Of Two Minds blog. If you like what he writes here, please share it on social media.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Page 1 of 2  1 2 >