I’ve been reading Erich Fromm’s Escape from Freedom and it’s synthesizing a few things together for me in new ways — prime among them the realization that collective narcissism is the shared root ideology of both Christian nationalism and Nazism. First off, I’d recommend it:
Next, I’d like to thank it for reminding me about the insidious dangers of Calvinism and the Protestant Work Ethic, as described in sociologist Max Weber‘s most cited work in the history of the field. Beyond the problematic authoritarianism of John Calvin as a person himself, the ideology of predestination coupled with a paradoxical obsessive compulsion with working yourself ragged is a noxious brew that fed the Protestant extrusion of American capitalism as well as the murderous violence of its Manifest Destiny.
Calvin — like Luther before him — was reacting to the social and economic upheavals of his day which, during the Reformation, were all about the middle class emerging from the security and certainty of feudalism into a far more dynamic world of competition, isolation, and aloneness. It held promise but also peril — hope along with, inescapably, fear.
During the Middle Ages, humankind had retreated from the aspirational virtuousness of the Greek and Roman civilizations and descended into almost 1000 years of darkness, as compared to the dazzling intellectual brilliance of the millennium before it. Those who would prefer cultish cowering in self-righteous ignorance over the humility of fallible science and critical thinking managed to topple a glittering civilization and scatter it to the wolves. It was a return to cruel and arbitrary happenstance, a horrifying Hobbesian world of pestilence and pathology.
The filibuster is an archaic rule that was at first only there by accident, then whittled into a sharp blade of minority rule by Southern plantation owner John C. Calhoun — a man credited with laying the groundwork for the Civil War.
The South Carolina plutocrat strategized on behalf of wealthy aristocratic ambitions in the 1820s and 30s. Dubbed the “Marx of the master class” by historian Richard Hofstadter, Calhoun consumed himself with an obsession over how to establish permanent rule by his 1% brethren. He was an early proponent of property over people — the original “just business” kind of cold calculating supremacist that would come to typify the darker southern shadow culture of America.
Calhoun came to the conclusion that the Founders had made a grave mistake when creating the nation, and had put in too much democracy and too little property protection. He had a conviction that collective governance ought to be rolled back, because it “exploited” the wealthy planter class such as himself. During his time in the Senate he engineered a number of clever devices for the minority to rule over the collective will of the public — dubbed a “set of constitutional gadgets” for restricting the operations of a democratic government by a top political scientist at the time.
Public choice theory and Charles Koch
Slaveholding Senator John C. Calhoun inspired a series of men in the future to take up the torch of minority rule and its apparatus. James McGill Buchanan combined ideas from F. A. Hayek with fascist strains of Calhoun’s ministrations in the Senate to pack a conservative economic punch with public choice theory.
New lie, same as the old lie. The old lie is that America was never intended to be a democracy — which is doublespeak nonsense. But “conservatives” have been fighting fervently for this original Big Lie since time immemorial.
So: Charles Koch is the new John C. Calhoun. He and his vast navel-gazing empire of “think tanks” and other organs of self-regurgitation have managed to brainwash enough people and operate enough bots to make it almost a coin toss whether the average citizen believes the nation was founded as a democratic republic or an authoritarian theocracy.
The filibuster is one of the strongest minority rule tools in their toolbox.
Mythology has it that “reckless Democratic spending” is to blame for the ballooning of the national debt — though the historical record shows otherwise.
In fact, the conservatives‘ beloved demi-god Ronald Reagan was the first President to skyrocket the debt, thanks to some bunk ideas from an old cocktail napkin that linger to this day — the Republican monetary theory in a nutshell is (I shit you not) that we should take all our pooled tax money and give it to… billionaires. Because, you know, they’re clearly the most qualified people to make decisions affecting the 99% poor people. Supposedly they’re the smartest folks to entrust with our money.
Except it’s not true, as year after year and study after study shows. Nor for all their finger-waggling at Democrats over the national debt has the GOP turned in a balanced budget since Nixon. Republicans are the most gigantic hypocrites on economics writ large, but particularly so for the national debt — with Reagan, Bush I, Bush II, and Trump all turning in record debt increases, primarily through tax cuts for the wealthy and the Gulf and Afghanistan wars.
Meanwhile, Bill Clinton balanced the budget, created a surplus, and reduced the debt during his 8 years in office, and Obama inherited the deepest recession since the 1929 Great Depression.
The financial crisis of 2008-09, itself caused by the reckless Republican zeal for deregulation — this time of financial derivatives — was a wholly GOP-owned debacle that the next president paid for politically. Nevertheless, President Obama had the debt again on a reduction path as a percentage of GDP — but then Donald “I bankrupted a series of casinos!” Trump oozed his way into the highest office in the land.
During the Trump administration, Republicans patted themselves on the back for giving a $2.7 trillion tax cut to billionaires for no reason, while the economy was relatively hot already (after being rescued by Obama). Not only was no progress made on diminishing the debt, but the national debt actually increased (both nominally and as a percentage of GDP) under Trump’s first term even before the sudden arrival of a novel coronavirus caused it to leap into the stratosphere like a 21st century American tech oligarch.
Only when President Biden arrived on the scene and took the helm of fiscal and monetary policy did the national debt begin cooling off once again — all while dramatically and quickly scaling up covid-19 vaccine production and distribution and passing over $3 trillion in Keynesian legislation meant to get the dregs of the middle class reoriented to a place on the map vis-a-vis the 1% once again.
Republican national debt bullshit
I am hereby calling bullshit on Republicans’ crocodile tears over the national debt, which they suddenly remember only when a Democrat is in town and summarily ignore while their guy is in the hot seat burning through cash like it’s going out of style.
We need to have a better collective narrative for Democratic success on the economy. The Republicans are no longer the kings of the economic world — if they ever were. It feels more like smoke and mirrors each passing day, with climate change denial, the Inflationary Boogeyman, and other GOP Greatest Hits playing ad nauseum on the AM social media waves.
Here are at least a few things to remember about the national debt, that Republicans generally get wrong:
wars are very expensive
booms in social services are expensive too; but not as expensive as wars
there is not any perceivable truth in the old GOP party line that Democrats always overspend and Republicans are always thrifty
Reagan and both Bushes presided over two of the biggest spikes in public debt in recorded history, outside of FDR who had both the Great Depression and WWII to contend with
Clinton, Carter, Johnson, Kennedy, and Truman all decreased the debt
be wary of graphs that don’t “normalize” to GNP — it’s an attempt to “lie with statistics” by obfuscating the roles of inflation and the growth of the economy itself
there is more than one way to look at and evaluate the level of public debt
Inequality is the difference in measures of economic well-being between individuals in a group, among groups in a population, or among countries. Also known as economic inequality; inclusive of both income inequality and wealth inequality.
In the United States, the data broadly shows shared economic growth and prosperity in the post-WWII period until the 1970s, when things begin to take a turn: economic growth slowed and income inequality began to increase. For the past 40-50 years, income growth for lower and middle class Americans has stagnated while income growth at the top of the distribution remained growing strongly. Meanwhile as wages have stagnated, costs have risen dramatically, especially in key universal areas like housing, utilities, health care, and education.
Those at the top of the wealth distribution who benefit financially from the growing inequality find numerous ways to justify the architecture of the system, and retain much of the power and control over its design. Yet an overwhelming majority of the available historical and present-day data indicates that stark income inequality has wide-ranging negative effects on societies as a whole, from exacerbating social ills to deleterious effects on basic human needs.
Endangers the basic viability of democracy by concentrating power vs. distributing it broadly
A concept that describes the impact to the world of children in poverty, under excessive inequality, and in other circumstances that contribute to the loss of that individual’s gift to the world. It is one of many ways to try and measure the effect of the negative externalities of lightly regulated capitalism.
There is both a human cost and an actual financial impact on collective wealth: it goes down. It will be lower than it otherwise could have been. We all miss out, because the size of the economic pie is smaller for all of us. We are surely impoverished intellectually and spiritually as well by the loss of these missing geniuses.
How can we justify not helping the poor on any basis then?
We all lose out; the pie is smaller
It’s a very small amount of money relative to other traditional parts of public budgets
It improves various measures of civil society, public health, crime, and other public services
And if we still insist on metering talent development out to spite our own face, then who do we allow to have that kind of mental space, to spend enough time pondering the Big Questions? Who do we assume will do those things?
How do you prevent monopoly capitalism under a minimalist state?
The answer is: you don’t — which is “working as intended” to a libertarian. Both because their contempt for the government is so great they would sacrifice our very national treasures if it meant squeezing another cent out of the public coffers, and because they are fans of monopoly capitalism. Greed is good — so what if the invisible hand must be made to slap around the little guy? Money is a religion, and these people are True Believers.
Some people like to argue that more economic inequality is a good thing, because it is a “natural” byproduct of capitalism in a world of “makers and takers,” “winners and losers,” “wolves and sheep,” [insert your favorite Manichaean metaphor here]. However, too much inequality is deleterious for both economics and politics — for with oligarchy comes the creep of fascism.
Those who amass exorbitant wealth often increasingly use a portion of their gains to capture politics. While the mythological promise of trickle-down economics is that we must not have progressive taxation, because giving more money to the already wealthy is the only way to spur economic investment and innovation and create jobs — in actual fact the majority of tax cut windfalls go to stock buybacks, offshore tax havens, regulatory capture, political lobbying, and campaign donations. All this is a runaway amplifying feedback loop that tilts the playing field further away from equal opportunity, social mobility, and democratic process.
In the oligarchy, your vote doesn’t matter
Wealthy elites seek to preserve the power structures that have benefitted them, and keep them (and their descendants) in the ruling class. It is a slow recreation of the aristocratic societies of old Europe that we fought a bloody war of independence to separate ourselves from. Yet the erosion of civil values, public engagement, and collective will — largely as fomented by the conservative elite over the past 50 years in America — and the ascendancy of the myth of “rugged individualism” have conspired to create a perilous condition in which corruption operates so openly in today’s White House  and Wall Street that democracy itself is in great danger. The creep of fascism is felt in the fell winds that blow.
Moreover, we have learned these lessons once, not quite a century ago, yet have forgotten them:
“Where there is a crisis, the ruling classes take refuge in fascism as a safeguard against the revolution of the proletariat… The bourgeoisie rules through demagoguery, which in practice means that prominent positions are filled by irresponsible people who commit follies in moments of decision.”
are not merely empowered to separate us from discerning fact and fiction. They separate us from debate; civic discourse; meaningful conflict; From coalition-building; compromise; concession. They separate us from each other.
Communities seem quaint
Common ground, a shifting place
Quicksand beneath one’s feet
We are all swamp things now
The eyes ogle, waiting for us to falter — for sport
Our shelf lives grow ever shorter
While billionaires transfuse the blood of the young
The youth don’t want my mid-life crisis
It bores them so
My tone grates on America’s next greats
Ideologies wage the fifth world war out on the vast placeless social media savannah
Faux fantastical beasts feast upon felled paper tigers
One can only hope the most outsized egos
Are the biggest dinosaurs
When the meteor comes
Regardless of whether or not you agree that slashing spending, fiscal austerity, balanced budgets, and a low federal deficit are good ideas, the fact remains that the Republican Party does not generally live up to its aims of expense reduction and small government.
As hard as it is to believe, there are still some people who think that Reagan cut the size of government, although Reagan was a big spender and laid the groundwork for the immense national debt we live with today.
Then there was Ol’ Dubya with his two disgraceful wars, TARP bailout, auto bailouts, fiscal stimulus, and tax cuts. Not to mention yanking the election out from under Al Gore’s popular win via a leg up from Florida governor brother Jeb.
Turns out, not even gridlock is a decent strategy for preventing escalating expenditures, under the theory that not getting anything done would prevent the government from growing. Apparently not:
Total gridlock is the worst outcome, where impact to the budget is concerned. Total Democratic control of the White House and Congress is the most fiscally responsible since the presidency of Richard Nixon. So the idea of Republican leanness is a fallacy whether you believe that’s a worthy goal or not — and there’s a lot of evidence to suggest the tide is turning toward a wider appreciation of John Maynard Keynes’ approach to sensible fiscal spending when there is unemployment (puts idle resources to work and reduces government welfare expense; gives people a sense of purpose; builds community), if it is accomplished by debt financing (i.e., issuing Treasury Bonds — allowing individuals, pension funds, and so on to invest in the United States as sort of national asset class) and is used to build goods and structures that benefit the public at large: infrastructure, research and development, public resources, public health services, job training, paid volunteer work, parks and public spaces, etc.
Keynesian and Classical theory have oft been at odds, but are better understood now as complements: in a healthy, roaring economy, government should take its boots off the throttle and avoid tipping over into the kind of speculatory gamesmanship that got us into hot water in 2007-8. But in a depression or recession, or when the economy is recovering sluggishly, it should be a goto solution to start thinking about where to apply government funds (i.e. our money!) to things that need doing anyway; services that invest in our economy’s greatest resource: its citizens; programs that position us for the future by having the luxury to think ahead boldly.
Although the economy has recovered nicely for some — especially those in higher tax brackets — it has clearly left a number of Americans behind. It’s only added to a trend that had already started in the 70s, when inequality began widening in the U.S. The populist white, nationalist ire unleashed in the 2016 presidential election was something perhaps few saw coming, even though in hindsight the far right has been whipping their base into a frenzy for years — arguably since Reagan, if not with Nixon. That means there’s still a healthy place for government spending, especially in areas we already know we’re in sore need of a boost: roads and bridges, a public health care option, basic research, advanced manufacturing, the pivot to a renewable energy economy, to name a few. Luckily, that’s what Hillary Clinton wants to do:
Use the revenue from closing corporate loopholes and cracking down on tax inversions to invest in small business, long-term growth, R&D, advanced manufacturing, and job training
Manufacturing Renaissance Tax Credit: to help revitalize communities hit hardest by the collapse of manufacturing
Create an American Parks Trust Fund to invest in the country’s natural preserves
Restore and refresh more than 3000 city parks within 10 years
Create a new Water Innovation Lab and a Western Water Partnership to help manage our water challenges over the coming decades
Become the world’s clean energy superpower: install more than half a billion solar panels by the end of term 1; generate enough renewable energy to power every home in American within 10 years; create a grant and award-based Clean Energy Challenge with states, cities, and rural communities; Solar X-Prize; tax incentives for renewables; foster energy innovation
Help build the new tech economy on Main Street: create a lifelong learning system more geared towards 21st-century jobs; invest in STEM education; invest in science and tech R&D; help ensure benefits are flexible and travel with workers, not their employers; commit to 100% of households with broadband access by 2020; deploying the 5G wireless network; building free wi-fi infrastructure in punlic places and transport hubs; launch digital community projects to improve connectivity more affordably
Expand the role of national service, both paid and volunteer, with expansions of programs like the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Habitat for Humanity, the Red Cross, and the creation of a National Service Reserve for millions of Americans to contribute volunteer time to local challenges in their own communities
by the way: Her plan plans to finance itself by making wealthy individuals and corporations pay their fair share in taxes, and would not appreciably add to the deficit beyond any existing projections from the OMB;but here’s the best explainer I have found about whywe should seriously loosen our collars over the national debt.There is no reason to pay it down; and indeed, it would be dangerous and deleterious to even try to, because we’d be starving the economy of the circulation it needs to keep operating and growing:💰money💰.
There are a lot of Silicon Valley engineers guzzling soylent in dark holes who ought to get out more and read a book that has lots of words in it and hasn’t been published by O’Reilly.
More people should stop and ask themselves if they even truly believe they’re “creating value,” or just furiously constructing Rube-Goldberg devices to fleece the last remaining dollars from the formerly middle class.