Historically, prolonged extreme concentrations of wealth and outrageous income inequality tend to play out in two ways:
1) Violent Leftist/popular revolutions, such as the French Revolution, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and the Russian Revolution.
2) The rise of a Fascist state, as the elites use “fear of the other” to gain support for policies that suppress freedom and democracy, and increase coercive control of the impoverished masses. Fascism never rises without support of the elites.
In the United States, with its strong pro-capitalist institutions and values, we’re more at risk for fascism than we are for violent Leftist revolution. There are strong currents of popular fascism in the racist, xenophobic blatherings of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. More and more our lawmakers are controlled by corporate interests. Disturbing incidents where police and military are used against U.S. citizens are on the rise.
Occupy Wall Street is the nearest thing to a popular “Leftist” movement we’ve seen in long time, but it’s really more of a centrist movement. While there are elements of OWS that are calling for an end to capitalism, private property, and money-lending, a more common demand is for reasonable financial reform and regulation, such as reinstituting the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 (which separated commercial banking from investment banking).
The alternative to either of these grim scenarios (historically, the Leftist extreme has led to guillotines and gulags, the extreme Right to gas-chambers and world war) is a re-balancing of wealth via reform and strengthening the civic state.
The global Occupy Wall Street movement is an opportunity for the 1% to keep most of their wealth and promote social stability, but only if they seize this moment as an opportunity to push through significant reforms that strengthen the civic state.
Unfortunately, most of the 1% is preoccupied with either defending their own work ethic (which isn’t the point) or making fun of the “hippie” protestors, or just waiting for the whole thing to blow over.
If OWS does blow over without any significant reforms being enacted, then the 1% might find themselves in big trouble down the road. They might have to deal with a real Leftist movement (one that wants to abolish the corporate entity altogether, instead of just mildly reforming it).
A more likely scenario is that the elites will find themselves in bed with fascist elements in order to protect their wealth and control the citizenry. What would U.S. fascism look like? I think “Stage 1″ would include:
- isolated incidences of election rigging
- vast expansion of the intelligence community
- secret surveillance of U.S. citizens
- erosion of laws that protect the poor and the weak
- continued concentration of wealth (rich get richer, poor get poorer)
- war profiteering (private contractors getting rich from tax-payer funded wars)
- scapegoating of the poor and powerless (blaming economic malaise on migrant workers and single mothers)
- use of torture and prison camps by the state (Guantanamo)
- corporate collusion in all of the above
Arguably, we’re already experiencing most symptoms of “Stage 1″ fascism. What would “Stage 2″ look like?
- rampant election rigging
- total corporate control of the media
- erosion of free speech and freedom of assembly
- expansion of the definition of “treason”
- “disappearances” of prominent activists
I don’t think we’re at Stage 2 yet, and hopefully we won’t ever get there. Unfortunately I can’t rule it out. Operation Condor (linked to at least 60,000 political assassinations in South and Central America) received support from the United States; Secretary of State Kissinger was at the very least fully aware of Condor and still faces questioning/extradition requests from France, Chile, Spain, Argentina, and Uruguay for his role in the disappearance, detention, torture, and wrongful death of citizens in relation to Operation Condor.
Laurence Britt’s article “Fascism Anyone?” (originally published in Free Inquiry magazine) looks at the 14 common characteristics of fascist governments. The same page includes an excerpt from Milton Meyer’s “They Thought They Were Free” which discusses how “decent men” became Nazis, basically through inertia and accepting gradual steps towards fascism. These men kept thinking their country would “come to its senses,” but it never did.
I describe Stage 1 and Stage 2 of a fascist state, but in fact there is no clear division. It’s simply a line I have drawn for my own comfort. It is my hopeful defense against my own gradual acceptance of fascistic national policies. When do I speak up? (now). When do I get out? (Hopefully never — I’m a patriot and I love my home — but if political activists in the United States start “disappearing” then I will seriously consider living somewhere else in the world.)
I hope that I am overreacting to signs of fascism in the U.S. — if someone would like to explain to me how I’ve misread the signs above I would be happy to listen.
How Do We Restore Growth?
We restore growth by creating real wealth. Real wealth raises quality of life for everyone.
We should abolish taxes for the poor, lower taxes for the middle class, and raise taxes for the extremely rich (call it the 0-9-90 plan — take that Herman Cain). This sounds extreme, but even if you taxed the bribing, scheming Koch brothers 90% of their annual income, they would still be vastly richer than the rest of us. According to Forbes, Charles Koch has a personal net worth of $25 billion. If his income tax rate were 90%, he’d still be worth $25B. He’d just get richer a lot more slowly.
Does a 90% maximum income tax rate sound high to you? Does it sound socialist? Would you be surprised to learn that the maximum U.S. income tax rate hovered between 79% and 91% from 1936 to 1963, and was above 70% right up until 1981? There’s a strong precedent for high tax rates for the rich in the United States.
Cutting middle-class taxes to 9% would free up tons of expendable income, most of which would be plowed right back into the economy, thus creating a job boom.
We should redirect government spending away from the Pentagon, private security contractors, and the expansion of the intelligence state.
We should redirect government spending towards public schools, financial aid (grants and scholarships) for university and early-childhood education, scientific R&D, and upgrading our infrastructure (water, communications, transportation, and energy). When there aren’t enough jobs, tax-payer money should be used to create jobs, and to better prepare citizens for the skilled jobs that do exist.
We should re-institute Glass-Steagall, at least the parts that separate the commercial and investment banking sectors. We should reform the U.S. corporate charter to make it legal for corporations to consider factors like the environment, worker safety, and community health on the same level as shareholder profits (right now corporations can be sued by shareholders if they put any consideration ahead of maximizing corporate profits).
None of the these measures can happen without campaign finance reform and/or congressional reform (such as Warren Buffet’s plan), so those should be priority measures.
Don’t Wait For Your Country to Come To Its Senses — Make It Happen
I considered not writing about OWS because I wasn’t sure if it fit into the mission of this blog. But “systems for living well” must include collective systems, not just personal systems. I’ve noticed many self-help and self-improvement bloggers avoid political topics altogether. I suppose they don’t want to alienate potential readers. IMO, that’s a bullshit cop-out. You can’t separate the personal from the collective — it’s all connected.
It doesn’t matter how skilled, clever, efficient, well-trained, well-educated, healthy, hard-working, motivated, or innovative you are if your state falls victim to an extremist regime. The state can take your wealth, your freedom, and your life in the blink of an eye. There is no protection or insulation from a corrupt, broken state.
If the United States was in any danger of veering too far to the Left, I would be railing against that. I co-own a couple of businesses, and I’m a big fan of personal property and the existence of a private sector.
But the fact is, even the election of centrists like Clinton and Obama hasn’t stopped a steady rightward tilt of this country for the past 30+ years. The military-intelligence complex continues to grow, restrictions on corporations continually weaken, and resources for the poor and underprivileged continue to shrink. Control of banking and media is dangerously concentrated. The rich are too damn rich.
Let’s use OWS as an opportunity to reform some things that are broken. I’ve shared my ideas regarding where we should start. What do you think? Republicans and Libertarians welcome — I won’t censor or delete any comments as long as they are civil.