Introduction To New Series, Index And Bibliography

Index Of Posts In This Series

The Danger Of Stupidity
Understanding Suicidal Americans
David Brooks Says Smart People Caused Trumpism
Why I’m Angry At David Brooks
A Somewhat Charitable View Of Vaccine Refusers
Symbolic Violence In Politics


I’ve spent a lot of time going through The Public And Its Problems by John Dewey, and now it’s time to move on. That series led me to the conclusion that there are people pushing hard to create two separate communities in the US. Democracy isn’t possible in a society of two communities. One plausible way forward is to think about division: who is pushing it, and why and how they do it.

My tentative answer: there is an oligarchy inside our democracy that can seize power by creating a divided electorate. They use their wealth to weaponize the lines of division. They hire people to creat propaganda and other means of blunting the ability of people to understand their material, emotional and spiritual needs, and the steps that might improve them. Oligarchs do this to cement their own power and material wealth. They are joined by other people who think they benefit from helping the Oligarchs. Then there are the religionists who want to impose their morality on the rest of us at any cost. There are others who aren’t much more than nihilists.


The Oligarchy. The theory that there is an oligarchy in the United States is based on the work of Jeffrey Winters and Benjamin Page, in a paper titled Oligarchy In The United States?, published in 2009. Winters and Page see Oligarchy in terms of “power resources, particularly material power resources as manifested in wealth”, as well as political and cultural power. They argue that possession of great material resources gives owners political power, and

… carries with it a set of political interests: interests in preserving and protecting that wealth, interests in ensuring its free use for many purposes, and interests in acquiring more wealth. That is, highly concentrated material wealth generally brings with it both enormous political power and the motivation to use that power in order to win certain kinds of political-economic outcomes. Possession of great wealth defines membership in an oligarchy, provides the means to exert oligarchic power, and provides the incentives to use that power for the core political objective of wealth defense (which, depending on the national and historical context, means property defense, income defense, or both).

The three interests identified by Winters and Page are shared by all members of the Oligarchy. They all seek those ends in their own ways but their ggals are the same. Their individual actions reinforce each other in ways that hammer the rest of us. To be quite clear, I don’t think there’s some vast conspiracy among the Oligarchs or anyone else. It’s just that their interests converge. I think of it as a self-organizing limited Oligarchy.

The Ideology. Money alone isn’t enough. The rest of us have to consent, to accept the outcomes as fair. That’s where neoliberalism comes in. It tells people that this is a fair system, that it rewards people for their natural merit, their hard work, their persistence, and their good behavior. It also tells people that if they aren’t well-off, if they are in debt, too poor to pay for health care, unable to give their children a decent life, it’s their own fault, and there’s nothing to be done but suffer.

Neolliberalism became the dominant ideology of both legacy parties beginning in the late 70s. Successful people called it meritocracy, so it didn’t bother Democrats. Republicans used its laissez-faire component to dismantle the safety net and the regulations the Oligarchy didn’t like and Democrats did little to stop them.

Then the Great Crash crushed that ideology into dust for everyone who could think clearly. That, of course, didn’t include politicians. With Obama in charge, Democrats tried to restore the previous regime. Republicans blocked even Obama’s miserly proposals to help regular people, while throwing money at the Oligarchs. Then Trump. Anyone who can think at all can now see that the entire system of neoliberalism has wreaked havoc on the vast majority of us.

As a palliative, Republicans offered racism and nationalism, first quietly, and as the visible economic and cultural damage grew, more and more overtly. Now they’ve added authoritarianism in the Trumpian vein, and weirdo fantasies in the Qanon vein, and the Big Lie about stolen elections as a combo meal.

Divisions. We are a complex nation. There are many ways of dividing us from each other: race, class, wealth, income, education, and location and more. Or we might be divided along the lines suggested by the theory of moral foundations, or by other differences in moral concerns.

Target audience. There are a number of us who are ready to burn it all down in the hopes of restoring white supremacy or some other regime in which they are the dominant power. They are easily manipulated by propaganda from the Oligarchy. Here’s a good description from Thomas Edsall in the New York Times.

Sadly many people truly believe the gunk Trump and the Trumpists spread, the Qanon fantasies, the racist crap, the moral terror of Critical Race Theory, lies about crime, and the Big Lie. We all know Republicans we thought were connected to reality who believe some or all of the garbage. How did we get to be so absurd? One possibility is suggested by something Charles Sanders Peirce wrote in The Fixation of Belief (1877):

The irritation of doubt is the only immediate motive for the struggle to attain belief. It is certainly best for us that our beliefs should be such as may truly guide our actions so as to satisfy our desires; and this reflection will make us reject every belief which does not seem to have been so formed as to insure this result. … [T]he sole object of inquiry is the settlement of opinion. We may fancy that this is not enough for us, and that we seek, not merely an opinion, but a true opinion. But put this fancy to the test, and it proves groundless; for as soon as a firm belief is reached we are entirely satisfied, whether the belief be true or false.

There’s a lesson for all of us here, and it applies to me as much as followers of Q. Bad habits of thought inflate people’s perception that other divisions are crucial to their self-perception. And, the large number of divisions gives those who want two tribes fighting each other have plenty of choices.

One other group seems problematic: the religious zealots. This group wants to impose its morality on all of us, and will stop at nothing, including absurd unconstitutional laws, to do so. The Oligarchs can easily make promises to this group, because their wealth means they won’t be bothered by whatever laws the zealots want.

The Results. The ultimate result of the internecine wars in the majority is an impasse in government. Nothing can change because democracy doesn’t work when there are two distinct groups with nothing in commmon. The Oligarchs are able to influence what’s left of government with their lobbyists and campaign cash. They cement their power and protect their wealth and statues.


So there’s my story as of today. In this series, I’ll take up these points and try to find support and contradiction. I’m not going to take a particular book for this, but I’ll use those I’ve read and new material. I’ll update this page with new posts, and add a bibliography section to keep track of the new material.

Philip Mirowski, Never Let A Serious Crisis Go To Waste.

Joshua Rothman, Why Is It So Hard To Be Rational. This article describes several theories about rationality and the difficulties we face in trying to be rational. Look for the charming reference to Pride and Prejudice’s Charlotte Lucas.

Nicole M. Stephens and Sarah Townsend, Research: How You Feel About Individualism Is Influenced by Your Social Class This article in the Harvard Business Review discusses some research on the difficulties faced by working class people trying to enter the meritoracy. I didn’t read the underlying materials.

The Politics of The Green New Deal: The Opposition Of The Rich

Posts in this series:

The Green New Deal Challenges The Domination Of Capital

Part 1 on Labor

The Green New Deal: Part 2 On Capital

Every discussion of the Green New Deal begins with the assertion that it can’t pass. In the US this means one thing: the donor class doesn’t like it. We need to confront this fact.

If the richest people in the US strongly supported the Green New Deal, it would be on its way to passage with the support of enough Republican legislators. As evidence, let’s look at a widely read study by Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin Page of Northwestern of legislative actions and voter preferences. Here’s a short description. In this rebuttal of their critics, a group of researchers including Gilens and Page say this:

When only the affluent strongly support a proposed policy change, that policy is adopted 46 percent of the time; when only the middle-class strongly support a policy, that policy is adopted only 24 percent of the time.

The affluent are, not surprisingly, better at blocking policies they dislike than achieving policy change they desire. When a policy is strongly opposed by the affluent (less than 25 percent support) but not strongly opposed by the middle-class, that policy is adopted only 4 percent of the time. But when a policy is strongly opposed by the middle-class but not by the affluent, the policy is adopted 40 percent of the time.

Blocking the Green New Deal is obviously a priority of the capitalists in the donor class, and given their selection of old men in the Senate who won’t live to suffer the damage of climate disaster, the donor class will likely get its way in the near term.

Page and Jeffrey Winters published an article in December 2009 titled Oligarchy in the United States?. Here’s a less academic version. They think that oligarchs, meaning the very richest among capitalists, share three goals which I summarize as:

1. Protecting and preserving wealth
2. Insuring the unrestricted use of wealth
3. Acquiring more wealth.

I think most capitalists share those goals, and the richer they are, the more they agree.

In the past when confronted with economic disaster capital used its political and ideological power and of course its money to get the government to bail it out of economic difficulty, to direct the efforts of the government to deal with the problem (not necessarily solving it), and to enable capital to profit from dealing with the problem. We don’t have to look back but a decade to see this.

The Green New Deal is a direct threat to that approach. Capitalists. and their political allies are angry and outraged at the very idea that something should be done. It must be infuriating to hear politicians say that government should protect the working class and local communities from climate change and its consequences. It especially terrible because that protection will sometimes come at the expense of the three goals of the capitalists.

For example, Section 4.4 calls for increased research and development of new and renewable energy technologies and industries. Section 4.1 establishes a goal of:

providing and leveraging, in a way that ensures that the public receives appropriate ownership stakes and returns on investment, adequate capital (including through community grants, public banks, and other public financing), technical expertise, supporting policies, and other forms of assistance to communities, organizations, Federal, State, and local government agencies, and businesses working on the Green New Deal mobilization ….

In the past, the government has created valuable knowledge and technical expertise, and turned it over to the private sector to exploit at no or very little cost. Not only that, but there were no price controls to protect the consumers who are, of course, working class, not capitalists. This source of profit dries up under the Green New Deal. Capital is not permitted to impose excessive prices as it routinely has, for example in the drug business.

Section 4.5 adds this:

directing investments to spur economic development, deepen and diversify industry in local and regional economies, and build wealth and community ownership, while prioritizing high-quality job creation and economic, social, and environmental benefits in frontline and vulnerable communities that may otherwise struggle with the transition away from greenhouse gas intensive industries;

In the past, capital has invested where it chose for its own reasons. Capitalists use that power to extract tax preferences from state and local governments. Or they choose to locate in places with compliant, meaning non-union, workers, who are much easier to exploit. Section 4.5 seeks to change that. Section 4.7 calls for better jobs with higher pay. Section 4.6 insists on deep involvement of the community in planning for reaching the goals of the Green New Deal.

Taken together, these provisions should lead to a more resilient economy by spreading work and production across the nation. It’s true that the Green New Deal will reduce the freedom of capital to invest for its own benefit without regard to the costs it imposes on workers and society,and perhaps lower returns. Politically, making the economy work for everyone should be seen by the vast majority as a more important goal.

Until now, wealthier people, not all capitalists, have acted to ensure that factories, refineries, and other heavy polluters are kept in poor communities. The Green New Deal calls for moving to cleaner energy and production, and offers a path to that future. It also calls for cleaning up the mess the capitalists have imposed on society. It requires industry to go green as well, reducing pollution and damage to the people nearby. Thanks to the requirement for heavy community involvement, the balance of power related to the location of work should shift towards the working class. This, we can hope, will lead to a healthier and happier population.

It will also affect the profitability of some businesses because it forces capital to eat costs it has imposed on people and on the environment for decades. But the cost of improvements will be partly offset by government contributions of technology, financial assistance, and technical support under Section 4.1. And following Econ 101 logic, forcing capital to internalize all of its costs improves market outcomes by making the costs of production obvious.

The good things offered by the Green New Deal are not enough for the capitalists. They have always had their way, and they won’t give up without a fight. They’ve already started operating their most trusted tool: Shrieking About Socialism. I’ll look at that next.