Welcome To The Machine

Oligarchy

It’s been fairly obvious for sometime that the ability of the average US citizen to effect policy change within his/her own government has become increasingly difficult. Despite such developments as the internet site, stuff ‘Change.org’, search and the apparent ease with which Joe Public can contact their Congressional representatives since the development of the World Wide Web, we’re surely still vaguely conscious of ‘banging our heads against a brick wall’, given the invariable political ‘form-letter’ responses, (or, more likely these days, ‘form-email’). Empty reassurances that our concerns are their’s also, give cause for little confidence in our political representatives, or indeed, their desire to truly represent us at all.

The steady upward flow of wealth from middle to ‘elite’ classes over the last decade, obvious not just in the United States but, to a lesser degree, throughout much of the western world, has been accompanied by a similar decrease in ‘people power’ and a huge ballooning of corporate control over the policies of government.

Some nations blatantly accept this situation and make no effort to disguise the oligarchic nature of their societies. Saudi Arabia is one prime example. Others mimic democracy, holding sham elections that guarantee the ruling party’s return to power, given no allowable opposition. Russia is presently one such nation, ruled by a powerful president brooking no dissent.

Perhaps the most sinister and concerning of political situations today is that of a nation professing complete democratic rights for its citizens, flaunting full and fair elections with viable opposition parties, yet ensuring all (or most) elected representatives remain strictly under the control of elite, powerful, organizations whose vested interests they will represent to the full, while outwardly expressing concern for those citizens who elected them into office.

The true term for any nation whose power no longer rests with the electorate, but is instead channeled into the hands of a relatively few elite, powerful, individuals or corporations, is an “oligarchy”. The term “plutocracy” is sometimes coined to define a similar situation.

There have been numerous writers over the years warning of an impending US oligarchy. Indeed, there have been times in the past when this nation has been decidedly oligarchic. In particular, the era post Civil War to the Great Depression, when a quarter of Americans were ineligible to vote, political campaigns were funded by the wealthy, and ballot rigging was commonplace.

The German sociologist Robert Michels (1876-1936) believed every democratic state must eventually evolve into oligarchy. He called it his “Iron Law of Oligarchy”.

“Bureaucracy happens. If bureaucracy happens, power rises. Power corrupts.”

The US throughout its history has staggered between democracy and oligarchy, often dependent on the president in power and his authority over the Congress of the time.

In today’s America the situation is somewhat different from that which passed before. During the boom years of the 1950s, while Europe lay in ruins and struggled to rebuild its shattered economies, the US economy bloomed. Factories hummed and workers found their living standards rising so fast it took their breath away. A new class was born, the ‘middle class,’ and parents expected their offspring to do even better than they had. It seemed the American Dream had finally come true – at least for many.

The birth of the 21st century saw the economic tide begin to turn. For many Americans that dream metamorphosed into something more akin to a nightmare. Suddenly, jobs were being lost; housing markets teetered on collapse; kids with college degrees struggled to find employment. What had gone wrong?

The answer was really remarkably simple. While economists argued about fiscal policy, and media analysts quoted stock market figures, the nation’s elite had quietly pulled the plug.

A group of the most powerful and influential in the country sought for world economic domination. To achieve this concept they drew up a document outlining their grand idea, their “Project For A New American Century”. Part of that scheme was the taming of the Middle East to secure the oil and other energy sources in the region. That part of their plan went disastrously wrong when Iraq refused to be subjugated.

Cheap labor in China, India, and other Asian countries caused these corporate elites to shift most of the US manufacturing base overseas. Cheap labor meant more profit, a booming US stock market, but a huge and sudden drop in living standards for the many US citizens thrown out of work. It also meant that corporations had cash to spare to buy out smaller competitors, making their now multinational corporations virtual monopolies in the marketplace.

Thus began the transition from democracy to oligarchy.

Was this another of those political swings America had suffered over the course of its relatively short history? No, it was the beginning of a movement that, if allowed to reach fruition, would result in the virtual enslavement of millions, and a radical change in western society capable of producing a scenario similar to that so graphically depicted by George Orwell in his novel, “1984”

Perhaps nowhere is this ‘economic internationalization’ more apparent than in the United Kingdom. In the centuries following the loss of the American colonies Britain developed a deep psychological need to maintain some sense of oneness with that developing nation. Gradually, UK politicians began to coin the phrase ‘special relationship’.

Despite closer geographical ties with the rest of Europe, successive British governments discovered it more advantageous to ally with the US, than the rapidly improving German or French economies.

Tony Blair’s demolition of the socialist Labour Party in the 1990s, a move that caused a massive right-wing swing away from the people and their unions and into the grip of corporate control, allowed US corporations to have a field day, infiltrating British companies and financial institutions. By his actions, Blair placed the Labour Party squarely on political par with the right-wing Tories, reducing the three party political system in Britain to one as effectively as the two party system in the US had been annihilated (in all but name) by Ronald Reagan a decade before.

With all political opposition to ‘big business’ gone, Britain was ripe for the picking. The British government – whether under a Labour or Tory banner – was only too willing to assist the wolf packs straining to move in and take over British companies and services.

One prime example has been the gradual, methodical, dismantling of the National Health Service. Under David Cameron’s political leadership, US medical companies have already taken over health services once run by local authorities, and more takeovers are in the offing. One can only wonder how much cash is changing hands to smooth the path?

The so-called economic and political ‘elite’ live in a world so far removed from that of the ordinary Joe they could as well be on another planet. They consider themselves far above the mass of the population, and no more care for their welfare than is necessary to maintain their own power-base. At best, we could be considered their pets; at worst, dispensable.

Some readers may find this hard to swallow. After all, haven’t political systems had their ups-and-downs throughout history? True, but this is not about one nation’s internal political struggles. Today, it’s about economic control of the whole world.

A recent study by Professor Martin Gilens of Princetown University and Professor Ben Page of Northwestern University emphatically concludes:

What do our findings say about democracy in America? They certainly constitute troubling news for advocates of “populistic” democracy, who want governments to respond primarily or exclusively to the policy preferences of their citizens. In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule — at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.

A possible objection to populistic democracy is that average citizens are inattentive to politics and ignorant about public policy; why should we worry if their poorly informed preferences do not influence policy making? Perhaps economic elites and interest group leaders enjoy greater policy expertise than the average citizen does. Perhaps they know better which policies will benefit everyone, and perhaps they seek the common good, rather than selfish ends, when deciding which policies to support.

But we tend to doubt it. We believe instead that – collectively – ordinary citizens generally know their own values and interests pretty well, and that their expressed policy preferences are worthy of respect. Moreover, we are not so sure about the informational advantages of elites. Yes, detailed policy knowledge tends to rise with income and status. Surely wealthy Americans and corporate executives tend to know a lot about tax and regulatory policies that directly affect them. But how much do they know about the human impact of Social Security, Medicare, Food Stamps, or unemployment insurance, none of which is likely to be crucial to their own well-being?

Most important, we see no reason to think that informational expertise is always accompanied by an inclination to transcend one’s own interests or a determination to work for the common good. All in all, we believe that the public is likely to be a more certain guardian of its own interests than any feasible alternative.”[bold added][1]

While Gilens and Page baulk at pronouncing their nation an oligarchy, or plutocracy, their findings leave little doubt that the United States of America is no longer the democracy it claims. As a consequence, any ongoing attempts – whether militaristic or economic – to convert other nations to the US way, will result in nothing less than a proliferation of US oligarchy throughout the globe.

[1] “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens”Gilen & Page, April 2014

For those readers not disposed to tackle this 42-page document a brief summary can be obtained at the BBC website:

“Study: US is an oligarchy, not a democracy” BBC, April 17th 2014