The Idiots Who Rule America
Posted on Oct 20, 2008
By Chris Hedges
Our oligarchic class is incompetent at governing, managing the economy,
coping with natural disasters, educating our young, handling foreign
affairs, providing basic services like health care and safeguarding
individual rights. That it is still in power, and will remain in power
after this election, is a testament to our inability to separate
illusion from reality. We still believe in "the experts." They still
believe in themselves. They are clustered like flies swarming around
John McCain and Barack Obama. It is only when these elites are exposed
as incompetent parasites and dethroned that we will have any hope of
restoring social, economic and political order.
"Their inability to see the human as anything more than interest driven
made it impossible for them to imagine an actively organized pool of
disinterest called the public good," said the Canadian philosopher John
Ralston Saul <http://www.johnralstonsaul.com/menu_en.html> , whose books
"The Unconscious Civilization"
ion.html> and "Voltaire's Bastards"
<http://www.scottlondon.com/reviews/saul.html> excoriates our oligarchic
elites. "It is as if the Industrial Revolution had caused a severe
mental trauma, one that still reaches out and extinguishes the memory of
certain people. For them, modern history begins from a big explosion-the
Industrial Revolution. This is a standard ideological approach: a star
crosses the sky, a meteor explodes, and history begins anew."
Our elites-the ones in Congress, the ones on Wall Street and the ones
being produced at prestigious universities and business schools-do not
have the capacity to fix our financial mess. Indeed, they will make it
worse. They have no concept, thanks to the educations they have
received, of the common good. They are stunted, timid and uncreative
bureaucrats who are trained to carry out systems management. They see
only piecemeal solutions which will satisfy the corporate structure.
They are about numbers, profits and personal advancement. They are as
able to deny gravely ill people medical coverage to increase company
profits as they are able to use taxpayer dollars to peddle costly
weapons systems to blood-soaked dictatorships. The human consequences
never figure into their balance sheets. The democratic system, they
think, is a secondary product of the free market. And they slavishly
serve the market.
Andrew Lahde <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Lahde> , the Santa
Monica, Calif., hedge fund manager who made an 870 percent gain last
year by betting on the subprime mortgage collapse, has abruptly shut
down his fund, citing the risk of trading with faltering banks. In his
farewell letter to his investors he excoriated the elites who run our
investment houses, banks and government.
"The low-hanging fruit, i.e. idiots whose parents paid for prep school,
Yale, and then the Harvard MBA, was there for the taking," he said of
our oligarchic class. "These people who were (often) truly not worthy of
the education they received (or supposedly received) rose to the top of
companies such as AIG, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and all levels
of our government. All of this behavior supporting the Aristocracy only
ended up making it easier for me to find people stupid enough to take
the other side of my trades. God bless America."
"On the issue of the U.S. Government, I would like to make a modest
proposal," he went on. "First, I point out the obvious flaws, whereby
legislation was repeatedly brought forth to Congress over the past eight
years, which would have [reined] in the predatory lending practices of
now mostly defunct institutions. These institutions regularly filled the
coffers of both parties in return for voting down all of this
legislation designed to protect the common citizen. This is an outrage,
yet no one seems to know or care about it. Since Thomas Jefferson and
Adam Smith passed, I would argue that there has been a dearth of worthy
philosophers in this country, at least ones focused on improving
Democracy is not an outgrowth of free markets. Democracy and capitalism
are antagonistic entities. Democracy, like individualism, is not based
on personal gain but on self-sacrifice. A functioning democracy must
defy the economic interests of elites on behalf of citizens. This is not
happening. The corporate managers and government officials trying to fix
the economic meltdown are pouring money and resources into the financial
sector because they only know how to manage and sustain established
systems, not change them. Financial systems, however, are not pure
scientific and numerical abstractions that exist independently from
"When the elite begin to think that money is real, the crash is coming,"
Saul said in a telephone interview. "That is just a given in history.
Because what they've done is pull themselves out of the possibility of
looking in the mirror and thinking, this is inflation, speculation, this
is fluff. They can't do it. And when you say to them, gosh, this is not
real. And they say, oh, you don't understand, you're so old-fashioned,
you still think this is about manufacturing. And of course, it's basic
economics. And that's what happens every single time.
"The difficulty is you have a collapse, you have a loss of face by the
people who are there, and it's not just George Bush, it's very, very
deep," Saul said. "What we're talking about is the need to rethink the
departments of economics, of political science. Then you have to rethink
the whole analytic method of the World Bank. If I'm the secretary of the
treasury, and not a guy like [Henry] Paulson, but I mean a sort of
normal secretary of the treasury or minister of finance, and I say, OK,
we've got a real problem, let's get the senior civil servants in here.
Gentlemen, ladies, OK, clearly we have to go in another direction, give
me some ideas. Well, those people don't have any other ideas because at
this point they're about the fourth generation of what you might call
neoconservative globalist managers, unfairly summarized. So they then go
to the people who work for them, and you work down; there's no one in
there with an alternate approach. I mean they'll have little
alternatives, but no basic differences in opinion. And so it's very
difficult to turn anything around because they've eliminated all
opposing ideas inside. I mean it's the problem of the Soviet Union,
Saul pointed out that the first three aims of the corporatist movement
in Germany, Italy and France during the 1920s, those that went on to
become part of the Fascist experience, were "to shift power directly to
economic and social interest groups, to push entrepreneurial initiative
in areas normally reserved for public bodies" and to "obliterate the
boundaries between public and private interest-that is, challenge the
idea of the public interest."
"There are a handful of people who haven't been published in mainstream
journals, who haven't been listened to, who have been marginalized in
every way," Saul said. "There are a couple of them and you could turn to
them. But then who do you give the orders to? And the people you give
the orders to, they are not going to understand the orders because it
hasn't been a part of their education. So it's a real problem of a good
general who suddenly finds that his junior generals and brigadiers and
corporals, you want them to do irregular warfare and they only know how
to do trenches. And so how the hell do you get them to do this thing
which they've never been trained to do? And so you get this kind of
disorder, confusion inside, and the danger of what rises up there is
populism; we've already had populism in a way, but we could get more
populism, more fear and anger."
We may elect representatives to Congress to end the war in Iraq, but the
war goes on. We may plead with these representatives to halt Bush's
illegal wiretapping but the telecommunications lobbyists make sure it
remains in place. We may beg them not to pass the bailout but 850
billion taxpayer dollars are funneled upward to the elites on Wall
Street. We may want single-payer, not-for-profit health care but it is
not even discussed as a possibility in presidential debates. We, as
individuals in this system, are irrelevant.
"I've talked to several Supreme Court justices, several times in several
countries," Saul told me, "and I say, look, in your rulings, can you
differentiate easily in cases between the social contract and the
commercial contract, and to which the answer is, we can no longer
differentiate. And that lies at the heart of the problem. You don't have
the concept of the other, and of obligation of the individual leading to
individualism. You can't have that if the whole legal system has slipped
over the last, really, 50 years, increasingly, to a confusion between
the social contract and the commercial contract. Because they are two
completely different things. The social contract is about the public
good, responsible individualism, imagining the other. The commercial
contract is a commercial contract. They're not supposed to be confused.
They don't actually fit together. The commercial contract only works
properly when the social contract works in a democracy."
The working class, which has desperately borrowed money to stay afloat
as real wages have dropped, now face years, maybe decades, of stagnant
or declining incomes without access to new credit. The national treasury
meanwhile is being drained on behalf of speculative commercial
interests. The government-the only institution citizens have that is big
enough and powerful enough to protect their rights-is becoming weaker,
more anemic and less able to help the mass of Americans who are
embarking on a period of deprivation and suffering unseen in this
country since the 1930s. Consumption, the profligate engine of the U.S.
economy, is withering. September retail sales across the U.S. fell 1.2
percent. The decline was almost double the 0.7 percent drop analysts
expected from consumers, whose spending represents two-thirds of U.S.
economic activity. There were 160,000 jobs lost last month and
three-quarters of a million jobs lost this year. The reverberations of
the economic meltdown are only beginning.
I do not think George W. Bush or Barack Obama or John McCain or Henry
Paulson are fascists. Rather, they are part of a cabal of naive,
mediocre and self-deluded capitalists who are steadily weakening
political and economic structures to a point where our democracy will
become so impotent that it can be blown aside, probably with broad
popular support. The only question is how this will happen. Will there
be a steady and slow decline as in the late Roman Empire when the Senate
ended as a farce? Will we see a powerful right-wing backlash from those
outside the mainstream political system, as we did in Yugoslavia, and
the rise of a militant Christian fascism? Will there be a national
crisis that allows those in power to instantly sweep away all
constitutional rights in the name of national security?
I do not know. But I do know that what is coming, as long as our
oligarchy remains in charge, will not be good. We will either recover
the concept of the public good, and this means a revolt against our
bankrupt elite and the dynamiting of the corporatist structure, or we
will extinguish our democracy.