Monday, January 13, 2014


Cover art

Traditional dictatorships rule through fear and secrecy. You will certainly be well aware of the climate of oppression, and of the consequences if you step out of line, but you will rarely be able to determine how they operate in any detail until the regime falls. Even then, you won’t learn much.

The U.S. is neither a traditional dictatorship, nor, any more, a democracy (though it has the trappings of one). Instead it has become—fairly blatantly—a plutocracy.

Merriam-Webster define a plutocracy as: “A country that is ruled by the richest people.” That is demonstrably the fact.

One should probably expand that definition to read: “A country that is ruled by the richest people for their own benefit.”

We are not talking about a benevolent plutocracy here. The American brand of plutocracy is predatory. The deck is stacked to ensure that the rich get richer, and the rest—which is most of us—get poorer, for as long as the rich retain power (which will be forever if they have anything to do with it).

The interesting thing about American plutocracy is that it relies less on secrecy—though it is secretive when it can get away with it—than on the sheer mass of information that is out there. The system counts on the near certainty that volume, detail, technicalities, and complexity will conceal its malfeasance even if all its behavior is a matter of public record. It also holds the decided advantage that even if some of its more egregious behavior comes to light—since it holds the levers of power, it will either not be prosecuted, or will escape with a slap on the wrist (a  token concession to public opinion).

In truth, it is not that afraid of public opinion since it controls both Congress and the media. It can and does manage public opinion with ever increasing sophistication—and has the resources and expertise to do so.

The Great Recession and its consequences (or lack of them)  is a perfect sample of this pattern of behavior. Has there been a mass reaction against the people who caused it?

No. The plutocrats have us pretty much where they want us. Rugged individualism has been replaced by docile conformity. Concessions on social issues? They have granted a few. The legalization of marijuana? Gay marriage? They like us drugged and distracted. What they don’t want is for us to focus on their financial activities—and how they control the levers of power.

Pullitzer Prize winner David Cay Johnston is one of the very few who has the guts and talent to expose our plutocrats and the underlying fact that the U.S. economy is rigged to favor them.

His latest book, THE FINE PRINT, shows:

 “a gamut of ways in which big corporations, especially regulated utilities, cheat ordinary people (as well as each other) out of their money. Some of the examples could leave you feeling so disgusted and powerless that you might wonder if you were better off not knowing. But if you enjoy learning about the dirty little secrets behind the ways powerful businesses make their profits, you probably will like this book.”

Let me quote a little more from the Washington Post review:

Yet each chapter validates what many Americans have come to believe: Much of our economy is rigged. Johnston posits that a big reason it has gotten this way is that we’ve let huge corporations take over our political system, so that laws and regulations too often are written and enforced primarily for their benefit. Rather than encourage competition, which holds down prices, government lets our most influential companies escape it. So in telecommunications, for instance, we wind up with the AT&T-Verizon duopoly, which, through one technology or the other, controls more than 60 percent of the U.S. telephone business.

To repeat myself, the information—and the answers—are out there if we are prepared to look.

But do we look, react and make use of this ammunition? No, largely we do nothing (apart from an alarming number voting against our own interests).

Buy the book. It might just fire you up. The present situation is unsustainable.




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