The post below regarding democratic governance in an oligarchy offers some insight, maybe, into the events of the past thirty years (and especially the past nine). We’ve been headed down the path of tyranny … Guantanamo, torture, surveillance and wiretaps, loss of civil liberties and freedom of movement. I’ve been spurred on by curiosity, of course, but that curiosity is coupled with anticipation that a trap is going to be sprung at some point. Chris Hedges commented on the precedent set by Obama when he ordered the murder of an American citizen … “things are relatively quiet now, he said (and I paraphrase), “but that power will be important down the road when there is unrest.”
I say thirty years because the critical act that set all of this in motion was the Reagan tax cuts. The oligarchy is always with us, but high marginal tax rates tend to keep them in a cage. The game “Monopoly” is an amazing source of wisdom from the past because it mimics real life. Wealth is as often accidental as the result of great skill, and more often inherited. In the board game, victory follows shortly after one player attains critical mass – enough wealth to deal severe blows to the other players. Then he knocks them off one by one. If we were to introduce a high marginal tax into the game, rather than just a $75 luxury tax, that boring damned game would go on forever!
That game did not arrive on a flying saucer, by the way. It came form the 1920’s, a time much like now. Here’s Wikipedia on the origins of Monopoly:
Monopoly is a redesign of an earlier game “The Landlord’s Game”, first published by the Quaker and political activist Elizabeth Magie. The purpose of that game was to teach people how monopolies end up bankrupting the many and giving extraordinary wealth to one or few individuals.
We’ve traveled that road now, and we have a few individuals now who have accumulated extraordinary wealth. Michael Moore claimed in Madison that 400 individual owned more wealth than half of all Americans. I haven’t fact-checked that, and find it a little hard to believe. But I do know that the top 1% owns more than the bottom 95%. (That is less dramatic – MM likes to say shocking things because he is a good publicist.)
Suppose, for sake of argument, that we allow that that top 1% “earned” that money in some fashion. Elizabeth Magie would remind us that this is not how it works … but assume it’s true anyway. Do we have the right to tax that money away?
Yes! Absolutely we do. But that “right” is like all “rights – we created it out of thin air. Only force (or as Black Flag would say, “violence”), keeps that “right” in place. There’s no justice or morality behind it. It’s like war itself – the rich are mere collateral damage. We don’t mean to hurt them, but we must. Perhaps Spock put it best: “The needs of the many, outweighs the needs of the few.” (That phrase is so poorly worded and comma-spliced because Spock was gasping for breath and about to die, OK?)
The mere accumulation of vast wealth in the hands of a few, as we have allowed to happen since 1980, explains much of what we see around us today. Such extremes foster resentment in the lower classes, and there is always the possibility of an uprising. That threat creates the need for surveillance, gated communities, loss of habeas corpus, torture, Guantanamo and indefinite detention, airport screening and long lists of people who are not allowed to fly, draconian drug laws and a massive prison complex.
I’m slow to learn, but have suffered from cognitive dissonance all these years. I knew there was no real threat posed by Muslims or “terrorists,” and yet our leadership was behaving as if these threats were real. I assumed that the only reason was to keep us in a state of fear to spur us into supporting their wars.
That is indeed part of it. But there’s another part, one even more sinister. There is fear of uprising. The laws we passed, the rights we took away, the prisons we built are all there to keep the rabble in line. Extremes of wealth bring this about – without a draconian state to protect them, wealthy people fear an uprising.
So, as it turns out, the oligarchy is not anti-government after all! They only want a government that works for them. It was never about Muslims or “terrorists.” It was about us.
(By the way, I’m a privileged white guy, middle class and all of that. I’m not threatened by all of this. It’s not about me. It’s about those who have lost their jobs, their health care, pensions, homes, and who will lose their unemployment benefits, Social Security and Medicare. If they manage to organize, we will have violence.)