HERE IS AN INTERESTING FINDING. THE SUCCESSFUL ASSAULT ON AMERICAN LABOR BY U.S. CORPORATE INTERESTS HAS BEEN PARALLELED BY A RAPID RISE IN INCARCERATION
COINCIDENCE—OR SOMETHING CREEPIER?
I VOTE FOR CREEPIER
Actually, that is trivializing a deeply corrupt, anti-democratic, and racist pattern of behavior which makes a nonsense of ‘Land of the Free” and “Home of the Brave.’
Back in 2004, I came to the conclusion that there was a serious gap between the image that the U.S. projected, both internally and to the rest of the world, and the reality. Actually, I had begun to notice it much earlier—soon after arriving in the U.S. in mid-July 2001, but had been somewhat distracted by moving from Ireland, 9/11, and getting rather deeply involved in military matters.
For a time I worked for the Pentagon. As I comment regularly—we authors get around! Research is a wonderful thing—and I have become pretty good at it—but sometimes it is good to experience things from the inside. Or so I rationalize.
I don’t really believe that. Yes, it was fascinating—but an author cannot really be both observer and player. Our job is to illuminate the human condition—but from a writer’s perspective.
Nonetheless, my intellectual interest in economic matters wasn’t entirely on the back-burner, so I kept my eyes and ears open—and started to collect data—and in 2004 commenced a very serious study of the U.S. economy, and the American Business Model, in particular. I have maintained it to this day.
Quite early on—in 2004 itself, in fact, I forecast the Great Recession with some accuracy—though I based my forecasting on the structural flaws on the U.S. economy (including financialization) rather than the precise causes. Nonetheless, I was certainly on the right track, and I picked the correct date (within a month). The latter was pure luck, I suspect. I am as skeptical of my own forecasting as anyone else's.
However, it has taken me some time to get a handle on the sheer scale of what has been going on—partly because this perversion of the Constitution by the privileged was, and remains, so outrageous. The evidence was there—albeit fragmented—but, for a while, I couldn’t believe my own eyes (and I pride myself on being swayed by the evidence, wherever it leads).
In this case, I was incredulous.
Surely (for example), people wouldn’t imprison millions of their fellow citizens just to stop them voting—and/or for commercial profit?
Well, they would, and they do—on a scale which is mind-boggling—and politically significant. Once a felon, you rarely get your voting rights back—even after you have served your time. You have been politically neutralized for life. The U.S. has a self-righteous, unforgiving, streak which seems to manifest itself most where the unfortunate are concerned.
Essentially, a relatively small number of the ultra-rich, aided by a much larger number of followers (who would also like to be rich, and don’t much care how they get there) have learned how to game the Constitution to their own advantage.
Good things can be used for bad purposes—and the U.S. Constitution, albeit a remarkable document, is very far from perfect, and badly needs to be undated to cope with changing circumstances. For instance, it was written when slavery was still legal, fails to address equal rights for women, and is entirely inadequate when it comes to the role of corporations in society. In short, it is seriously out of date.
Its effectiveness also depends upon a well-informed electorate, a reasonably honest political system, an impartial judiciary, and zealous media—all of which are conspicuously lacking.
This counter-attack by the elite has involved using a much wider variety of tools than I initially appreciated—and has been executed by the best and the brightest with quite remarkable skill and zeal. The ultra-rich have the resources to buy the top talent in every required field—and that is exactly what they have done.
Whereas one would like to think that the statement, “Every man has his price,” is not entirely true—it is certainly the case that talent is very far from synonymous with integrity. The ultra-rich have been able to find some exceptionally able people who are prepared to do whatever is required without fear or scruple.
This was, and remains, an ‘every means available’ approach carried out without any regard for principle, and with a cynical ruthlessness that I found hard to grasp for a considerable time. I still do—although the facts of the matter are pretty clear.
But, if people are greedy enough—and really don’t care—they will do anything, up to, and including, fomenting war. Given that mindset, imprisoning millions of people is simply a regrettable political necessity—and maybe not so regrettable where racism is a factor (which, I suspect, is often the case). .
But, whether they believe it or not, they practice the doctrine that all is fair in pursuit of power and profit—and, at a certain level, the two are virtually indistinguishable. After all, unfettered capitalism means just that. There are no limits. You adhere to no moral code. You do whatever is necessary to achieve your objectives.
War, by their standards, is no more than another profit opportunity—albeit a particularly attractive one because the money flows are so large—if you are in the right place at the right time—and if you let others do the fighting and dying.
The ultra-rich rarely do the dying. By and large, it is the privilege of the less fortunate and the poor.
As best I can assess it, this Right Wing movement is less a single organized conspiracy, than a consensus by ‘those who have’ that the progress made by the less privileged in the 60s and 70s (and earlier) must be resisted by every means possible—with a heavy emphasis on re-writing the legal system to the advantage of the ultra-rich and their corporate interests, all under the cover of an ongoing media campaign of unparalleled sophistication.
The underlying point here is that such propaganda works. In fact, it is astonishingly effective to the point where peoples ability to think rationally, based upon the best information available, can be undermined. They can even be persuaded to vote against their own interests—and their trust in institutions can be undermined.
Propaganda has doubtless been around, in some form or other, since man walked the earth—it is certainly not a new innovation—but, in its present advanced form, it owes a great deal to the prowess of such commercial practitioners as Edward Bernays whose great claims to fame were that he persuaded women to smoke, and was something of a role model for the Nazi propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels. The roots of modern propaganda are commercial. The techniques that can persuade people to buy can be used to influence people’s politics as well—or for really any purpose. All they require is the appropriate expertise and access to large quantities of money. The ultra-rich have both.
In turn, a considerable number of research institutions and false-front organizations have been set up to issue reports which give credibility to the actions of the ultra-rich. These have been supplemented by reports from academia where, once again, money has had no problem in securing biddable academics to write what was necessary—regardless of such concepts as academic freedom, intellectual honesty, or conflicts of interest.
Amending the legal system required getting control of the political system—a relatively straightforward task given the financial resources of the ultra-rich—and made largely legal by the dubious decisions of the Supreme Court.
In fact, the Supreme Court has been pivotal in enabling the ultra-rich, a tiny minority of the U.S. population, to remain dominant. It is truly ironic—and tragic--that the very institution which exists to preserve the integrity of the Constitution should be the instrument of its corruption.
The Supreme Court has frequently displayed a disturbingly pro-business, anti-worker bias, but it really went over the top when it classified corporations as legal people (which clearly they are not) with their associated constitutional rights in 1886. More recently it has blocked efforts to restrict money in politics to the point where one dollar one vote is edging out genuine democracy.
Mass incarceration is merely a byproduct of a movement by the ultra-rich to regain their traditional dominance. They have been wildly successful—particularly in accomplishing their counter-revolution without attracting much attention. It speaks volumes about the power of propaganda—and the advantages of owning the media.
The American people have been too entertained, distracted, and diverted to notice. If you want to dominate a population, keep it busy and insecure. Keeping it legally drugged rounds off the mix—and is profitable in itself. Above all, don’t give people time to think. Vacations are frowned upon. It is no accident that the U.S. is the only economically developed nation which does not have a minimum vacation law (and the fewest worker rights).
The imprisonment of millions is just a cost of doing business.
So far, somewhat to my frustration, I haven’t succeeded in coming up with a satisfactory name for this counter-revolution by the 1 percent—but it is very much a reality. I tend to think of it as ‘The Big Squeeze’ because its most obvious manifestation has been the squeezing of pay since the 70s to the point where earnings, in real terms, as far as most Americans are concerned, are in decline.
But, it is much more than a Big Squeeze. It has been an offensive on a truly massive scale focused on just about everything which the ultra-rich perceive as possibly preventing them getting even richer—and it has taken place at global, federal, state, and local level.
It has involved the corruption of the political system, the buying of the judiciary, the crushing of the trade unions, corporate welfare on an incalculable scale, financial engineering, the distortion of the tax system to favor the rich, the exporting of millions of jobs, the destruction of much of the U.S. manufacturing base, the firing of thousands of journalists, the cowing of the media, and the deliberate and systematic undermining of trust in government.
This has been total war as far as the ultra-rich have been concerned—and they have waged it without mercy. They have also been entirely indifferent to the National Interest—even where National Security has been concerned.
In practical terms, it constitutes a renaissance of the rich.
They started losing ground with the passing of the first Anti-Trust laws at the beginning of the 20th century, lost further under FDR, and the New Deal, in the 30s, and lost again in the 60s, with the Voting Rights Act and the War on Poverty under LBJ. Since then, they have re-gained just about everything they have lost, and are politically and financially more powerful than ever before.
They have learned how to outmaneuver democracy—and not just in the U.S. (although it is the most egregious example).
In practical terms, if we don’t re-think how democracy works at present—and the devil is in the details—what has happened in the U.S. is increasingly going to happen elsewhere. The rich think and operate globally. Being rich is its own nationality—and imposes its own particular form of ruthless nationalism.
It makes the point that power is never given away. It has to be taken by force. It is the product of force—physical, economic, legal, psychological—same difference.
The theory is that “We The People” have the power in the U.S.
This excerpt from Runaway Inequality: An Activist's Guide to Economic Justice provides further context and background. The full piece is well worth reading—and fleshes out my thesis
The U.S. locks up the most people in the World
By every measure the U.S. leads the world in prisoners, with 2.2 million people in jail and more than 4.8 million on parole. No nation tops that – not China with 1.7 million, not Russia with 670,000. The chart below shows the dramatic rise of the state and federal prisoner population as well as local jail inmates since the Better Business Climate model [the neo-liberal philosophy of cutting taxes, government programs and regulations] took hold.
Adult Persons in Jail or Prison