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June 21, 2013

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There seems to be a long-term reciprocating polarity between plutocracy and populism, the former openly championing the cause of wealth and property against the claims of the masses, the latter trying sporadically to represent the ordinary people.

Seriously, the claims of the masses? Doc, this doesn't strike you as a bit of a tired cliche?

I'd prefer "claimants with suspicious masses who before Obamacare would have been kicked off their sporadic health insurance."

When the cliches tire, opt for wordiness.

There's a lot of phrases that are so shopworn that they should have their jersies retired. I would put "carefully orchestrated" right about at the top of that list. Also, anything that has the word kabuki in it that isn't literally describing kabuki.

Not that I don't share McKTx's opinion, here, butI probably wouldn't have said anything, just as I wouldn't have (again) remarked about how workers seems to only apply to certain classes of people who are a subset of all workers.

I think there is such as thiig as "human nature" as long as it is remembered thatgeneralizations about groups often don't apply to individuals.

A lot of human history, which viewed from afar appears irrational, becomes uderstandable if people en masse are seen as territorial packhunters, kind of like wolves.

And by "underrstadble" I don't mean "good" or "beneficail". The idea that people are created in the image of God strikes me as completely wrong, both in terms of what humans are like and in terms of what a diety would be like.

I'm not completely sure if you mean that "claims of the masses" is a tired cliche simply as a phrase, or whether you mean it's so as a concept ... or both, McKTex.

I'm not completely sure if you mean that "claims of the masses" is a tired cliche simply as a phrase, or whether you mean it's so as a concept ... or both, McKTex.

Both.

Dammit, missed this one:

Those who have position, wealth, or power and don't want to share them with women and/or minorities have, of course, developed new ways to discriminate.

I was at the White Rich Guys' Club the other day and this topic came up--again. After that, I met with my daughter and her other MBA friends and had drinks. Some of her friends were 'women of color.' I think we're failing at keeping *them* down.

I wouldn't have picked 'claims of the masses' as a problem. The Google Ngram viewer has this

http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=claims+of+the+masses&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=

Which seems to illustrate an interesting movement, though I'm not sure how much you can rely on this as reflecting sentiment. Still, you see three big peaks in the 20th century, around the 10s, leading into the 40s and then in the 70s

Is it your position, then, McKT, that sexual and racial discrimination no longer exists in the USA? And that no one is championing the cause of wealth and property against other claims (whether these be by the "masses" or not - I admit here to being unconsciously influenced by the Philippine "masa")?

We may think that "claims of the masses" is a tired cliche. But isn't the relevant point whether politicians are using that tired cliche, or something that means the identical thing with different words, in their campaigns?

Any of us who are not populists may find the idea silly. But that doesn't mean that it isn't real. And any of us who dislike the "tired cliche" need to come up with another shorthand way to express the concept -- because nobody is going to take the trouble of writing out a paragraph every time they discuss it.

Similarly, "plutocracy" isn't a very accurate expression (as a literal term) for what we are currently seeing in US politics. In particular, almost nobody admits to believing that the rich should run the country. And simply having a lot of people claiming that they do do so doesn't really meet the definition of plutocracy.

When it comes to technology, I really seer only two ways that a technology falls into disuse.

First, it may prove to have a serious downside. That covers things like the gun (in Japan) or poison gas. For GM foods to get abandoned, it will have to be proved that they have an actual, demonstrable, downside. Not just that they are "unnatural" or suspect, but have an actual negative impact of some kind.

Second, a technology may just seem to be too much trouble and/or expense -- that is, not worth the cost. That is essentially what happened after going to the moon: people were not willing to bear the expense because they didn't see any real benefit. Likewise with Roman technology: it wasn't that people didn't appreciate the benefits, just that they were not willing to pay the price because the economic benefits were no longer large enough.

After that, I met with my daughter and her other MBA friends and had drinks. Some of her friends were 'women of color.' I think we're failing at keeping *them* down.

Statistics indicate that the median white family has 20 times more wealth than the median black family. But what use are statistics when McTex has an anecdote!

The impression that I get, McT, is that you feel like the good doctor is insulting you because he is describing how things have changed and things haven't. Do you disagree that people who have power tend to want to hold on to it? The whole 'gubmint' line of argumentation that you occasionally (often?) go to seems to be part and parcel to that idea.

Unless you believe that White Rich Guys (which is an interesting twist of the rule of adjective iconicity, in which the features which are most invariant and associated with the noun are closest) are somehow immune to wanting to keep what they have, I'm not sure why this causes you so much distress.

WJ: Similarly, "plutocracy" isn't a very accurate expression (as a literal term) for what we are currently seeing in US politics. In particular, almost nobody admits to believing that the rich should run the country. And simply having a lot of people claiming that they do do so doesn't really meet the definition of plutocracy.

Leaving substance aside for the moment, I find this linguistic position rather curious. If I understand you, we can only call something what the people involved actually call it. If they don't say it's a plutocracy, it's not. By these standards the USA was never imperialist, or even colonialist (all of our colonies were administered through the "Bureau of Insular Affairs" - we had no "Colonial Office," like the Brits). No one is a fascist except a follower of Mussolini. No one is a fanatic. There are no "welfare queens."

More common usage would be "If it quacks like a duck," etc. If the rich really run the country, it's a plutocracy, whether anyone openly "admits to believing" they should or not.

Clearly my use of the term is short-hand, as it has to be in a blog post. You may dispute the facts, may argue that just because half of the Senate are millionaires and because the Koch brothers can (and do) fund political "speech" in gross disproportion to their numbers, it doesn't mean the rich are actually running - or are on their way to running - this country.

But if they are, their failure to admit it publicly should not preclude our calling them a plutocracy.

Those who have position, wealth, or power and don't want to share them with women and/or minorities anyone

FTFY

dr ngo (emphasis added): Those who have position, wealth, or power and don't want to share them with women and/or minorities have, of course, developed new ways to discriminate.

Response from McKTex: I was at the White Rich Guys' Club the other day and this topic came up--again.

Are you saying you and your associates meet that last, emphasized criterion? I doubt that, so I have to wonder why the sarcasm.

Beyond that, see comments from dr ngo, Turbulence and lj.

10:20 was wonderful, I don't use ngrams enough. Since the phrase feels antique and is actually seemingly in permanent decline, I thought there might be a substitute.

Tried Hardt and Negri's "multitude" but that has been declining since 1850 and H & N didn't give it a boost. "Worker" in decline since 1980. "Public" steady, as is "proletariat" with a slight upward trend since 1988. "Consumer" peaked in 1980;slow decline. "Labor" down since 1980.

But "audience" is steeply up since 1980. Yup. Such is late capitalism. I'm open for suggestions.

The 99% have no name.

I didn't even follow that link earlier, but now that I have, I can see hours of fun in my future. Of course, it might turn out to be several minutes of fun. But right now it looks like hours.

Similarly, "plutocracy" isn't a very accurate expression (as a literal term) for what we are currently seeing in US politics.

Yes. It most definitely is. How else you explain so many public policies that (rather effectively, I'd say) promote the concentration of wealth we observe and the political power that accumulates to that wealth?

In particular, almost nobody admits to believing that the rich should run the country.

One of our two major political parties is pretty much wedded to this concept (Mitt Romney-see).

And simply having a lot of people claiming that they do do so doesn't really meet the definition of plutocracy.

Your non-sequitors are showing.

"the former openly championing the cause of wealth and property against the claims of the masses, the latter trying sporadically to represent the ordinary people."

Seriously? The "populists" are actually engaged in the pursuit of power for themselves, to which end they encourage the 'ordinary people' to think that, if the populists are given power, they will use it on behalf of the ordinary people, against the wealthy. But, once they've got they power, they use it for themselves, and to purpetuate the circumstances of the ordinary people. Without the mob, after all, who would they have to keep them in power?

Populists, far more than the 'plutocrats', require that there be a lot of poor people around.

Wow, Brett. Anyone who even attempts to represent the ordinary people is, by that very action, more suspicious than those who crassly serve only the interests of the rich? The natural aristocracy?? Sheesh.

PS: "trying sporadically" was in my original sentence for a reason.

Yet I suppose I should thank Brett for making my point about the Old being perpetually New Again in American politics. Nothing he said couldn't have been said - wasn't said - a century or more ago against the "populists" and progressives of that era.

Doc, this doesn't strike you as a bit of a tired cliche?

Very Serious People tell us Social Security is in desperate need of reform.

Assume that either of the following solutions will address the alleged shortfall, and tell me which you think is a better choice:

1. Employ chained CPI when calculating benefits going forward
2. Raise the SS base wage cap to $135K

Thanks.

The "populists" are actually engaged in the pursuit of power for themselves

Actually, I think Brett has a point.

When folks claiming to 'speak for the people' gain power, they quite often forget to speak for the people once there.

When folks who speak for the wealthy gain power, their sponsors make damned sure they don't forget who put them there.

The 99% have no name.

'The 99%' is the name. When you say it, everyone knows who you're referring to.

That's what names are.

Populists, far more than the 'plutocrats', require that there be a lot of poor people around.

You forgot to mention that liberals are the real racists and that college professors, class action attorneys, and Hollywood stars are the real power elite that run things in this country.

What are you? Some kind of WINO*?

*whiner in name only

There was a time when the social norms clearly and openly marginalized anyone that wasn't a white male.

Those days are gone.

However the marginalizing isn't gone. Now we have one political party that seeks to marginalize everyoe who isn't rich, regardless of ethincity, race or gender.

Bobbyp, look at people's interests. Do 'plutocrats', by which we mean businessmen, need the poor around? Hell, no! How do you make money when people can't afford your products? You want to make money by business, you need plenty of reasonably well off folks around, comfortable enough they'll actually spend that lucre you have your eyes on.

If your source of power and fortune is in government, on the other hand, you WANT concentration of wealth, because it makes for easier control. Fewer, more exposed targets to leach off of.

And, take Obama as an example. You might think him in the 'populist' column, but look how he lives. He's leading a lifestyle no millionaire could afford. One vacation of his costs more money than it would take to eradicate poverty in whole cities! And yet, he spouts the right rhetoric, and you get mad a the plutocrats, with their far less lavish lifestyles.

Bottom line, you need to stop paying attention to the rhetoric, and look at the reality it's meant to conceal.

I will give you this, though: As government increases it's share of wealth, and the extent of it's control, a class of 'businessman' rises who gets rich, not by producing things people want, but by pleasing those in government. Either they buy regulatory advantages, or immunity to the attacks on their competitors. (In the name of 'populism'!) The more government you've got, the larger this parasitical class of 'business' grows. THESE people you might term 'plutocrats', but they are fundamentally reliant on the 'populists' for their success, and have the contempt of the shrinking class of normal businessmen.

For me, the bottom line is, the biggest, nastiest, most powerful corporation around is the government. Never forget that.

Honestly, Brett. Take a look at the real world. The class of business men who run the Republican party didn't get rich by being part of "big government". Big government pays mostly middle class wages, or maybe upper middle class wages: the Post Office, the people who work for various agencies. Those folks don't get rich until they have managed to get to the very top of an agency and then the real money comes from quitting government service to go inot being a lobbyist.

And that route in not frequently taken. usually it's business to top government position to lobbying.


The Koch bros, the DeVoes, those type of people don't "please those in governmet." They buy politicians (that's what Citizens United was for" so that government can please them.

And the people who make big money producing nothing are the derivatives traders and corporate raiders.

There is a parasitical business class: the sugar growers, the corporate farms. the military industrial complex...they feedoff the taxpayers by buying politicians.

And when our government is at it's nastiest, ist genrally to please a corporation. Same with Canada, with the perncious effects of Keystone on the conservative government as an example.

You want to make money by business, you need plenty of reasonably well off folks around, comfortable enough they'll actually spend that lucre you have your eyes on.

In the US, the three largest employers are:

1. Dept of Defense
2. Walmart
3. McDonalds

So, there's that.

Most profitable companies are tech giants Apple, Microsoft, IBM, and oil companies, and finance.

And WalMart.

So yeah, somebody's gotta buy those Iphones. And the customer demographic for the financial sector is definitely upscale.

But gasoline, tube socks, and ammo - not so much.

I'm not sure your theory holds water, completely.

"2. Raise the SS base wage cap to $135K"

Won't accomplish anything unless you cap benefits at a lower level.

That's the way I see it, anyhow.

Won't accomplish anything unless you cap benefits at a lower level.

On what basis do you make this claim?

He's leading a lifestyle no millionaire could afford.

You can't be serious. That is an absurdly incorrect claim.

Well, he's living in a $314,664,000 house without paying an estimated $1,756,000 a month rent. :)

On what basis do you make this claim?

After doing some extensive reading, I have to conclude that this is one of those things that I thought I knew that wasn't true, and therefore must retract.

Thanks for the challenge. I learned something today.

I would have tended to put it: "he's living a lifestyle that few millionaires could afford", but that same thing would also be true of previous Presidents going back oh, I'd say, at least 20 years. Maybe more than 30.

Won't accomplish anything unless you cap benefits at a lower level.

FWIW, my take on SS.

30 years ago, it occurred to some bright light that the boomers were going to retire, and it would stress SS.

So, for the last 30 years, anyone who works for a wage has been paying into SS at a rate greater than what was needed to fund current operations.

The surplus went into a trust fund. It was mostly invested in T-bills or other government bonds, if I understand correctly.

Now, it occurs to what passes for bright lights these days that 'revenue will not cover operations'. In other words, it's time to draw down the surplus, as planned.

As a practical matter, that means the US government must honor its sovereign debt and pay back SS for the money it borrowed.

Unless I'm missing something fairly significant, solving the 'social security problem' is not required, because we've been solving it fo the last 30 years.

The decision at this point is whether to pay back our debts or not.

This is the point at which I call myself more conservative than 99.99% of soi-disant conservatives, because my first reaction is "we spent the money, so let's pay the damned bill".

he's living a lifestyle that few millionaires could afford

I actually know a generous handful of millionaires, and I feel comfortable saying Obama is living a lifestyle that would make most of them crap their pants and wake up in a cold sweat.

Do you want that job? I didn't think so.

Does anyone really believe that Barack Obama, or any President of any political persuasion, decided to put up with the grabass, whining, never appeased, roiling mass of bullshitting needy, rights monopolizing, main chance aggrandizing motherf8ckers who call themselves the American people so that he can score the perks, including screwing his wife in the Lincoln bedroom?

OK, Bill Clinton, minus the wife, I'll give you that.

Jesus, we think a lot of ourselves.

Well, the book royalties. Secret Service protection right into the grave.

Let me think about this.

Of course, if they were just like us, they'd be just like us, which would be a sorry show.

Brett would do cannon ball into the White House swimming pool if he were elected President and then of course drain it and turn into a shooting range.


It's nice to see that some things are constant in this world. I was afraid that, after a few months of being too busy to read ObWi much, I would come back to find that someone here had changed his or her mind about something:)

--TP

"..., I would come back to find that someone here had changed his or her mind about something:)"
The recent NSA revelations have seemingly caused some bifurcations here as they have among members of various ideologies.

Concerning 'populists' my view is about as cynical as Brett's, although I'd make a few distinctions.

Populist Type A:
Is not in the top ranks of power that he wishes to be in and sees no way to compete within the ranks of the current power elites* (not the right kind of connections).
Appeals to the masses to become his springboard to a position where he can rearrange the chairs inside the elites without changing the system one iota.
Will, once established on top, drop all pretences of populism. Cynical egoist.

Poupulist Type B
Has already a high position in the current power structure. Sees that the behaviour of his peers runs the real risk of undermining the whole system and threatening their and his future in power. Adopts populism as a pressure relief valve and is possibly even willing to sacrifice a bit for it (using cheaper dope is better than hanging from a rope). Realist egoist.

Populist Type C
Intends to genuinely challenge the system by using 'the masses' as a permanent power base. Will constantly buy them off at the cost of the earlier elites and hopes that they will protect him from the latters' revenge. aka The Tribune of the People. Only a few are able to ride the wave without getting crushed by it at the end.

Populist Type D
Wants to genuinely reform the system and not just for his own benefit but sees no possibilty to do that from within the elites. Appeals to 'The People' are sincere. Usually doomed to failure. The naive idealist. Often gets corrupted to transform into one of the other types.

---
OK, this will be pouring a bit of oil into the fire but you (no specific target) will demand examples
A: Reagan, Bush the Lesser
B: FDR, maybe Kennedy
C: Huey Long
D: no likely candidate for president, a few congresscritters qualify (Warren, Franken)
A few governors may vie for C but most are actually A, if they try populism at all.

*to go with the classical template: those are the Optimates. Guys that think they are entitled to rule and see any challenges by the commoners as unnatural and any appeal to reason from their own ranks as the worst possible treason

I was afraid that, after a few months of being too busy to read ObWi much, I would come back to find that someone here had changed his or her mind about something:

OK, so I actually had a vodka martini, and it was pretty good.

No fried pickles, though.

(not the right kind of connections).

Bush the Lesser

?!?!

"The recent NSA revelations have seemingly caused some bifurcations here as they have among members of various ideologies."

Nah, it just widened already existing cracks among the left on national security issues--or to put it in personal terms, which unfortunately seems to be how issues are often perceived, whether Obama is ever wrong in the way that Bush was.

Yes, as I've remarked before, it drove a wedge into the fault line between those who were merely giving Obama the benefit of any slightest doubt, and those who flatly didn't care.

Drove a wedge into some fault lines on the right, too, of a similar nature. Well, at least the President can be glad to know Dick Cheney has his back.

Won't accomplish anything unless you cap benefits at a lower level.

Just to expand on (or, take a different direction from) my earlier reply to this:

It could actually be so that bumping up the FICA wage cap would not make that much of a difference in the financial position of SS. I suspect that it would help, but I actually don't know. In any case, the choice I presented was intended to be more or less hypothetical.

Sorry if that wasn't clear from the way that I presented it.

The point I actually wanted to make was that, assuming that there is a real-world shortfall in SS funding going forward, different people will have different assumptions about what the best way to address them are.

The two choices I listed are typical of the proposals on offer.

One solution would reduce the retirement benefits to basically every working person in the US. And by 'working person' I don't just mean Joe Lunch Pail, everyone who earns a wage - whether $20K or $200M - pays into SS. The reduction would, however, matter a hell of a lot more to folks at the lower end of the spectrum.

The other solution would cost the top (approximately) 15% of wage earners somewhere between $0 and $1200 a year.

So, $1200 is not nothing, but it's also not going to impoverish folks making low six figures.

And, they would be paying into a fund that they will benefit from in the long term.

The same contrast can be made, over and over and over and over and over again, in the context of *many* public policy debates.

Where should the sequester cuts come from? FAA or food stamps?

For example.

So, 'the masses' vs. 'the wealthy elites' may be rhetorically long in the tooth, but the reality is still with us.

Yes, as I've remarked before

Really? Where? I'd like to calibrate by Bellmore decoder ring and see which comment you feel corresponds to this statement.

"it drove a wedge into the fault line between those who were merely giving Obama the benefit of any slightest doubt, and those who flatly didn't care."

I'm not sure which group is which. Some of us support Obama on some issues and to varying degrees are critical of him on other issues. Some others (well, one here, but it's a much more common group elsewhere) seem to side with him no matter what.

hence the decoder ring calibration. But Brett knows who cares and who doesn't, and I'm sure he can tell us what we are thinking.

Hartmut,

Insofar as your classification system is useful, it appears to rely on a conflagration of ex-post imputation of motive with observed interest. This is dangerously close to the Bellmore paradigm where attributed motives are assumed to be identical with interests and thus somehow magically offer real world explanatory power...cf "liberal will to power" and other fanciful constructs.

PS: Where does Harry Truman fall on your scale?

"Drove a wedge into some fault lines on the right, too, of a similar nature."
There was a split among libertarians too. Some said there were more important issues to worry about than the NSA poking its nose where it didn't belong. Others then accused them of being LINOs—libertarians in name only.

Speaking of fault lines in the right, the recent vote on the Farm Bill displayed one: between the Republican politicians who wanted to screw a very large number of people while retaining subsidies for coprporations, and the Republicans who wanted to screw a slightly less large number of people while retaining the subsidies.

Republicans, your party's values are on display.

Pro-life, my ass.

dr ngo and bobbyp, I would take "plutocracy" to mean explicit rule by the rich. What we have in America today is a situation where the rich have increased influence (compared to a few decades ago), but far from complete control.

You might make a case that we are trending towards a plutocracy. You might make a strong case that a significant number of Republican Congressmen are working hard to get us there. But that we are a plutocracy already? Not so much.

wj-we are pretty much ruled by the rich and their lickspittle, but OK I grant you we have elections to decide on gay marriage, the local sheriff, and the teaching of evolution in public schools. On the really basic stuff--not so much.

For my cite, I give youhttp://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-brenner/plutocracy-in-america_b_2992965.html>this. See also the recent work of Kevin Phillips.

You may argue that the rich have merely won the battle in the war of ideas, but to deny we have what amounts to a de facto plutocracy is, IMHO a distinctly mistaken take on the nature of what we observe in our current political and economic system.

On the subject of rich people not working for the government destroying the economy for fun and profit, Matt Taibbi has an article at Rolling Stone on new information about corruption at the rating agencies, those wonderful folk who were assigning AAA ratings based not on data, but because they were paid to do it.

link

Okay, my post with the link to the Matt Taibbi article didn't go through. Anyway, in case it languishes in some internet limbo, go to Rolling Stone and read it if you are interested. It's about evidence that came out in court about corruption at the ratings agencies (Moody and Standard and Poors ), neither of which are government agencies, but which helped bring about the global financial crisis.

Okay, that's two in a row that didn't make it. There was no link in that second post. What is wrong with this website? I never have this problem anywhere else. Ever.

Imagine a population composed 99% of people like me and 1% of people like John Jordan. What would a populist politician (of any type) sound like? Now imagine a population where the 99% is people like Brett. Same question.

To make it more realistic, imagine that the 1% in either case consists 0.99% of pikers like Jordan and 0.01% of really rich people. Would that change your answer?

I pose the question this way because long-timers in this joint are probably aware of two things: Brett and I are fairly similar economically, and about as far apart as you can get in almost every other way. An aspiring populist politician in Brett-world would sound very different from and aspiring populist in Tony-world, I think.

In the refined case, where the 0.01% are financially as far above the John Jordans as he is above people like me and Brett, you might see something peculiar: "populists" who appeal to "the masses" on gun rights vs abortion rights, gods vs gays, purity of essence vs diversity -- in short, anything to avoid economic populism, because that might lead to an unholy alliance between the Bretts and Tonys of the world. If you see "populists" focusing on non-economic issues, you might reasonably suspect that "populism" is just a show, and we live in a plutocracy after all.

--TP

PS:
bobbyp, your comment appeared while I was writing this, which is just a more convoluted way of saying what you already said

Donald Johnson, could your problem be that there's a time-out on the comments box?

bobbyp, I don't feel secure enough in my knowledge of US history to give a judgement on all US presidents. Maybe I should withdraw the lesser Bush from the example list, less because of russell but it would imply that Dubya was the prime mover in his ascendancy. He used the tools of and behaved like a Type A but not fully at his own direction.
As I said I share Brett's cynicism on this specific topic and by default distrust anyone going 'populist', something that comes very easy to a post-WW2 German. I also have a very low opinion of the ancient Romans while seeing strong parallels between republican Rome and the US. The Dems by and large play the role of the populares while the GOP fully embraces the role of the optimates.
main difference: even the optimates did not try to cut panem et circenses because (unlike today) their necks would have been in immediate danger of getting cut. Oh, and Clodius decied to work for the other side for lack of a Caesar to employ him.

bobbyp, I wasn't thinking so much of the local stuff you mention. But more of things like redistributive programs (from food stamps to welfare), progressive income taxes, inheritance taxers, etc. Granted that capital gains do get taxed at a lower rate than other income (which, IMHO, they shouldn't), but they do get taxed.

Are we more plutocratic than we were a while ago? Yes. Could we stand to get less plutocratic than we are today? Again, yes. But unless you see plutocratic and populist as the only two available choices, rather than as end-points on a spread of positions, I don't see that we really count as plutocratic at the moment.

Donald, I'll repeat this again. Typepad seems to randomly choose comments and spam bins them. I have to open up the superuser account to get them out.

I did not intend to imply, in the OP, that "populists" were virtuous, sincere, and superior to "plutocrats." Some commenters have focussed on disputing this unstated and unmeant proposition, Brett most viscerally, Hartmut most analytically.

My point had nothing to do with their motives or morality. For whatever reason, their policies have tended to pull us in a different direction. I see, as noted, a long sine wave (?) over the past century and a half, from plutocracy ascendant, then to relative populism - more policies directed toward improving the "common weal," fewer toward enhancing property rights - and then back again.

WJ: obviously there's a spread of positions, but to insist that "plutocracy" applies only to an extreme case at one "end-point" is to rob the term of usefulness. In that sense, the world has never seen a pure plutocracy -- nor a democracy, nor an absolute monarchy, nor capitalism, nor socialism, nor any other "ideal type" which we deploy understand the world. I don't find this very helpful.

wj,

Food stamps and welfare are maybe 1-2% of GNP. Given the relentless redistribution of income upward, this pittance is an outrage. The wage share of national income is falling. Upper marginal tax rates have trended downward since Kennedy. Inheritance taxes were actually ZERO for a year under Bush. FICA taxes were doubled back in the 80's to "save" Social Security...and the monies were used to fund other government goodies and/or put spending on the national credit card while continuing the cutting of high marginal rates.

And what Doc ngo said.

I think I have been slightly misunderstood too. I see 'populist' more as the outer garment, i.e.a style. One can be 'pro people' without donning this garment. I could name some European despots that did a lot for the commoner (against the will of the feudal elites) but shunned any kind of populism (and would not have grasped the very concept).
Of course today little can be achieved without at least a varnish of populism even by the most 'anti-people' guys. It's tragicomical though to see how totally some of them fail at the attempt (and purely tragic how many still fall for it).


Just for fun I looked up "populism" on Wikipedia:

"Academic and scholarly definitions of populism have varied widely over the past centuries and the term has often been employed in loose and inconsistent ways to denote appeals to ‘the people’, ‘demagogy’ and ‘catch-all’ politics or as a receptacle for new types of parties whose classification is unclear. A factor traditionally held to diminish the value of ‘populism’ as a category has been that, as Margaret Canovan notes in her 1981 study Populism. Unlike conservatives or socialists, populists rarely call themselves ‘populists’ and usually reject the term when it is applied to them.[1]

Nonetheless, in recent years academic scholars have produced definitions of populism which enable populist identification and comparison. Daniele Albertazzi and Duncan McDonnell define populism as an ideology that "pits a virtuous and homogeneous people against a set of elites and dangerous ‘others’ who were together depicted as depriving (or attempting to deprive) the sovereign people of their rights, values, prosperity, identity, and voice".[2]

Rather than viewing populism in terms of specific social bases, economic programs, issues, or electorates — as discussions of right-wing populism have tended to do[3] — this type of definition is in line with the approaches of scholars such as Ernesto Laclau,[4] Pierre-Andre Taguieff,[5] Yves Meny and Yves Surel,[6] who have all sought to focus on populism per se, rather than treating it simply as an appendage of other ideologies.

Although in the US and Europe, it currently tends to be associated with right-wing parties, the central tenet of populism that democracy should reflect the pure and undiluted will of the people, means it can sit easily with ideologies of both right and left. However, while leaders of populist movements in recent decades have claimed to be on either the left or the right of the political spectrum, there are also many populists who reject such classifications and claim to be neither "left wing", "centrist" nor "right wing."[7][8][9]"


The Tea Party movement is intended to fool it's members into thinking they were part
of a populist movement while suckering them inot voting for the party of plutocracy. It's faux-populism.

In America rightwing populist movements have had a huge element of prejudice and hatemongering. The Know-Nothings and th Tea Party both claim to repsresent "the people of the United States" on the assumption that those who are not with them either aren't people or aren't good Americans. That anti-everyone but us message is dominant. Remember how for the first week or so the Tea PArty was all anti-Wall Street? It was bait and switch: get the rubes in as anit-Wall Street, then switch to hatemongering since the Republican party is pro-Wall Street.

See Sarah Palin's "real" Americans. She's such a regular gal and a good ol' hockey mom.

"Daniele Albertazzi and Duncan McDonnell define populism as an ideology that "pits a virtuous and homogeneous people against a set of elites and dangerous ‘others’ who were together depicted as depriving (or attempting to deprive) the sovereign people of their rights, values, prosperity, identity, and voice".[2]

as Ernesto Laclau,[4] Pierre-Andre Taguieff,[5] Yves Meny and Yves Surel"

I, the people, refudiate everything these snotty, snot-nosed snots spew from their ivory towers.

Aren't these the same hopey-changy elitists who think just because they went to Harvard that they can tell we real Americans we can't hunt elephants for their ivory any way we please in Alaska and Africa and right here in Altoona and all the other great "A"-list states? Where the heck do they think the ivory comes from to build the towers they sit in on high and look down their noses at us?

Laclau, Taguieff, Meny, and Surel? If I wanted vichyssoise as my last last meal, I guess those are the kind of people I'd want sitting on my death panel, but let me tell you I'll take my parlez-vous American from Smith, Jones, and Rabinowitz, merci beaucoup!

That said, one of the great victories of the American species of elitism was coopting and keeping the Occupy Wall Street populists away from the Tea Party populists and vice versa, just as it was the genius of Richard Nixon to enlist working class organized labor to kick a little hippie butt back in the early 1970s for fear their common interests might dawn on them and we'd have the kind of convergence in the streets happening in Egypt, Turkey, and Brazil as we speak.

The thought of the elitist conservative Koch Brothers and say, Hollywood-type liberal elitists who love exploiting those freebie internship gofers all hunkered down in one bunker trying to sort who brought the guns and who brought the cocaine is cinematic in its possibilities.

It's imo telling that several of the best known populists learned their trade from the Left but made use of their acquired skill in the service of the Right and were not necessarily shy about it. Ironically that is used by the modern Right to paint them as actually being left not right ('Hey, it's called National SOCIALISM and Mussolini started as a commie, so how dare you draw parallels between us and them?').
The German term 'völkisch' (an 'old right' term appropriated by the Nazis) is often translated as 'populist' but that can lead imo to dangerous misunderstandings because it comes much closer to 'nativist'. A bit of a quagmire due to shift of meaning. Similarly, propaganda was at times just a different term for advertisement while 'Werbung' had yet to shed its exclusive meaning of wooing and recruiting to take over as the German term for 'product ad'.
My immpression is that today in German the term populistisch has lost any left/right specifity and is used as short term for 'appeal to the (ignorant) masses by making promises that in reality cannot be kept' with it being implied that the person making those promises is fully aware that they can't be kept. It has also been reduced to a tool in the box used sparingly by everyone (more jobs, lower taxes, higher wages etc.). Those who rely on nothing else are not taken fully seriously and (currently) play a minor role. Exception: the eternal ruling party of Bavaria (CSU) traditionally uses a strong populist flavor on its home turf, less so on the federal level. But that's a Bavarian thing that any party campaigning there has to adopt and has little connection to actual political content.

The brand name "Aeroflot" just entered eyeball space, as Snowden is off to Moscow, then to Cuba, and probably Quito, Ecuador under the Wikileaks travel agency's new multi-destination cruise and vacation package deal.

It was very shrewd of him to divulge U.S. listening in China during Hong Kong's deliberations regarding his extradition status, well, in the short run, the long run now beginning to take the shape of a Kurtzian exile in the heart of darkness upriver in the Andes, with the ultimate denouement of a firing squad for treason back home.

I'm right with the public service Snowden has provided but he needs to fire Steven Seagal's public relations firm as revealing U.S. hacking of China's hacking syndicate and sharing a laptop with Vlad Putin has the chattering classes in the U.S. dislocating their pelvises as they execute successive pirouettes between for and against.

Red State doesn't know whether to kiss Snowden on the lips for moving the impeachment of Barack Obama along or send Moe Lane to Quito with an ice pic to do a Joe Pesci on Edward Trotsky.

Most mysterious of all is the fact that Snowden's online history over a number of years, had it been perused by the perusers in chief at NSA during the interview process, might have raised some red flags regarding his support of the mission:

http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2013/06/apparently-edward-snowden-was-never-big-fan-nsa

That's a little like applying for a job at McDonald's and later going to the applicant's Facebook page and seeing his homemade video entitled "McNuggets Kill Both Chickens and Humans."

Now, before the usual suspects chime in that this just goes to show that the U.S. Government can't do anything right, and leaving aside the fact the same usual suspects live in mortal fear that the U.S. Government might actually do something right, like checking into applications for tax-exempt status (in other words, giving permission to snoop) consider that maybe, just maybe ... a very tiny maybe ... sapient has it more or less right that the U.S. Government isn't really interested in flagging criticism of its practices but instead is too busy looking for those precious few who would prefer to kill some of us.

Unlike much of corporate America which hopes to use every online misstep against a guy who just wants a job.

I don't know.

But I'm open to all interpretations.

I love a potboiler.

Especially one that ends with Dick Cheney being arrested.

I would add that in the unlikely prospect that Snowden should play his superhero cards right, he could cause the upending of the entire worldwide surveillance regime (a loose federation of government, corporate, and criminal snoopsters), but at the same time he might make common enemies of all and have hit men sent by the CIA, Soviet counter-intelligence, the Chinese government, Google, the joint Democratic/Republican Committee On This Guy's Going To F*ck All Of Us, Amazon.com, and Elizabeth Cheney converging on him.

It's be like "Murder On The Orient Express" with Helen Mirren playing Elizabeth Cheney, a knife between her teeth and an AR-15 slipped into the top of her pantyhose.

Back to the post at hand, this:

" (For that matter, it was also rare, Back in the Day, for athletes to Thank God ostentatiously in their moment of victory.)"

For my own part as a baseball fan, I would like to thank God for taking time out from ignoring all human misery, malevolence, and malignity in favor of arranging the walk-off grand slam, not to mention the walk off walk.

How Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Bill Mazeroski, and Al Weis managed without the divine intervention is an eternal mystery, like existence itself, although I have a suspicion Al Weis may have been praying while rounding third for only the 7th home run of his career, during the World Series no less.

These are the fine specimens of subhuman, vermin public servants who the NSA, the FBI, and the IRS should turn their formidable sights on.

These are the problem enemies of the Republic for which the Second Amendment is a solution.

http://www.balloon-juice.com/2013/06/23/palling-around-with-organizers/

It seems to me that all people want to keep what they have. The wealthy have more and thus are better at keeping the keep. Plus, compound interest.

We could try to implement policies that attempt to keep this dynamic from getting out of hand. I have some suggestion but I've been paid to keep from suggesting them.

I don't think it is a matter of trying to keep what they have. Too much rightwing policy consists of transfers of wealth from those who hav eles to those who have more for that to be the case. Or transfers of repsonisblity such as shifting the tax responsiblibility off those who hav emore and onto those who have less.

Pathological greed.

The happiness of donkey cavities is proportional to the height they are above both their rivals and those that have to deal with their digestive final products.

"just maybe ... a very tiny maybe ... sapient has it more or less right that the U.S. Government isn't really interested in flagging criticism of its practices but instead is too busy looking for those precious few who would prefer to kill some of us."

They really don't like whistleblowers. They hate whistleblowers a lot more than they hate American war criminals. I don't think the government cares at all about someone like me denouncing them, because I don't do anything beyond write letters to editors and angry blog comments, and can't hurt them. I represent the vast majority of American couch or computer potatoes who have nothing to fear, because the government has nothing to fear from hot air from the likes of us, but it would be surprising if the CIA hired someone with my opinions to participate in their drone assassination program.

Maybe in the case of Snowden they didn't know his opinions, which is that incompetence thing, or else they thought he was unlikely to act on them and destroy his own life. Maybe there are a lot of office drones working for the government who don't necessarily approve of what it does, but aren't prepared to live in Venezuela or Ecuador.

"whistleblowers" defined: people who are entrusted with information, classified in order to protect the national security apparatus, and instead of keeping that trust, blab it to the world.

"American war criminals" defined: people who are elected, then re-elected by the American people, who have conducted policies that assuage the hysteria of the American people when the national security apparatus fails.

I could play the definition game too, sapient, but it looks like an exceptionally boring form of sarcasm, so I'll decline.

Besides, even you agree that the BUSH administration committed war crimes, but Obama chose not to investigate them, but he has chosen to go after whistleblowers, who obviously pose a far greater threat to the US government than torturers and people who lie us into unjustified wars. And no, that wasn't sarcasm.

Donald, I'll take a page from russell's book (minus the accusations of rudeness): please don't express my point of view for me.

I voted for Gore. I voted for Kerry. I disapproved of Bush for a number of reasons, even before September 11 (including the fact that his first "election" seems awfully like a coup). I thought that the Bush/Cheney government was morally abhorrent, that its lawyers were unethical in creating bad faith arguments that its actions were legal. I think the Iraq war was a horrible policy (to the point of "crime," using that term in the vernacular, at least). I marched in Washington against the Iraq war.

However, Bush was reelected. Whether and under what circumstances elected government officials should be prosecuted for policy by the next administration, especially when it has become reasonably clear to the electorate what they've been up to, and when they are not even impeached but reelected, is a serious question. Obviously, this is a discussion we could have all year long, and I decline to have it now.

I don't happen to accept that Snowden is a "whistleblower".

Donald, your definition of "whistleblower" needs to be expanded. There are a lot of cases where the information was labeled (or merely kept) secret for reasons totally unrelated to national security. Job security of those who had taken some actions, perhaps, but not national security.

There seem to be a lot of unanswered questions as to how the law deals with electronic data in criminal discovery, even without the NSA revelation complications. See this, for example.

"Please don't express my point of view for me."
You'd have to point out where I expressed your point of view, other than assuming you'd think torture was a war crime.

So you do think that torture was a war crime, right? And normally something like that should be investigated? And also, wouldn't it be normal, in a sane society that is, for people to investigate the detailed circumstances under which the American people were told Iraq represented such a huge threat we had to start a catastrophic war?

"Obviously, this is a discussion we could have all year long, and I decline to have it now."

That's fine. I always feel free to quit any blog discussion if I don't want to participate. But leaving you aside, I find it revealing and depressing and disgraceful that our society just brushes aside the torture scandal, accepts Obama's fatuous declaration that we need to look forward, not back, and then reacts like a bunch of old hens when various people give away government secrets. I don't care whether one wants to call them whistleblowers or not. Even if I thought that people like Manning and Snowden deserved to go to jail, I would have enough sense of moral proportion to be appalled by this idiotic political culture that we live in. And that applies to both parties, for the most part. So, no, I'm not going to cheer for this hypocritical prosecution of non-whistleblower Snowden when plenty of people leak to make Presidents look good and when much worse things go uninvestigated. It's all beneath contempt.

"Donald, your definition of "whistleblower" needs to be expanded. There are a lot of cases where the information was labeled (or merely kept) secret for reasons totally unrelated to national security."

I don't disagree.

I'm wondering if "bunch of old hens" is sexist. I was thinking literally of chickens, but after I hit post had second thoughts. Anyway, retract that metaphor and insert "panicky hypocrites" in its place.

It's all beneath contempt.

You're good at contempt, that's for sure.

I want to again remind all of you that random comments are being flagged as spam. For example, Sapient's 1:29 was. As Donald has just expressed his frustration at the system, I assume that being frustrated when you write something that doesn't appear is something you may both share so you both might want to revel in this point.

"I find it revealing and depressing and disgraceful that our society just brushes aside the torture scandal, accepts Obama's fatuous declaration that we need to look forward, not back, and then reacts like a bunch of old hens when various people give away government secrets."

I agree. Not about old hens ( I have a friend who has a flock of retired chickens). About the lack of moral judegment.

It's amazing to me how many people Americans can kill on the flimsiest of pretexts without even a backward glance. Not a twinge of conscience.

Is there something seriously wrong with us, or are all nations like that--willing to forgive themselves of grievous sins? Heck most Americans don't seem to acknowledge that there was a sin.

I'm reading a series of murder mysteries set in Thailand, light reading, but interesting because Thailand itself is one of the major characters and I know very little about it.

Of interest to me ,aslo, is the the casual assumption made by the characters in the book, and the author evidently, that most Americans are hollow people, lacking in any values beyond self-aggrandizement, immature and dangerous.

I saw a bumper sticker today: "support out troops who fought for our freedom." I thought about the reaction I might get if I had a sticker that read,"Support the people who refuse to be troops because they don't want kill foregners for nothing."

We're the greatest country on earth! We don't have to live up to a standard, or even kow wha tthe standard is. We are just the greatest and that's all there is to it.

It's amazing to me how many people Americans can kill on the flimsiest of pretexts without even a backward glance. Not a twinge of conscience.

Laura, really? What are you talking about here? Who are you referring to as "Americans"? Are you including yourself and your failure to glance backwardly? Would you mind editing your work a bit, or thinking a bit more carefully about what you're saying?

If you're talking about Bush policies, that's something to bring up. Who voted for him? Who supported him? Who supported his policies? What should we do about it in retrospect? Who should take that on? If the country as a whole doesn't support that, and only a small percentage do, what sacrifices should we make in order for that twenty percent (or so) to get vengeance?

Because, in fact, isn't that what it is? Vengeance?

Not that I don't support vengeance. I'm hoping that a lot of people rot in Hell (excluding me, of course). But Donald Johnson, who is (if I'm not mistaken) a religious man, should know that God will see to justice in the end, and our justice will always be only "the best that we can do".

What do you suggest, Laura, and who do you nominate for the Hellfire?

Which all reminds me to ask you, Donald, from a former believer to a current one: Why do you think that we, as a society, are equipped to engage in the project of exacting justice on war criminals, as opposed to a more pacifist and "forward looking" project of turning the other cheek, trying to find the soul in our opponents and marching forward?

For you, it's all about corralling the sinful. For Obama, it's about changing hearts.

Hey, Sapient, calm down. There's no reason to get defensive. Americans did kill a lot of people and did fail to show concern about it. I didn't say ALL Americans and I didn't say you.

And I didn't say a word about vengence, either, or Hellfire or punishmentt of any kind. That's all your contribution.

I just think it is amazing that such a large scale wrong as Donald mentioned could be done and then just sort of...treated like "Oh well."

Laura, what happened as a result of the Bush/Cheney years is an unspeakable horror that can't be summarized on a blog post. On the other hand, it also can't be undone. The best way to deal with it is to elect good people. So that's what we did. Unfortunately, too many people pretend that there's no difference between the good and the bad. Since they have such a hard time distinguishing, the jerks will be back in office again shortly.

That's what troubles me. Donald's frequent focus on the fact that the good leaders aren't running around punishing the bad ones isn't helping anyone. We have enough trouble just getting health care implemented.

Maybe better people would get elected (or those elected would act in a better way), if there was a real risk for those who commit serious crimes in office to be held accountable for it. All precedents seem to say that one get away with literal murder, if one gets high enough. And even when for once the law tries to assert itself, there is the pardon power. The executive branch might be more inclined to behave properly with some of their own (or predecessors) would actually rot in jail (or be put 6 feet under by execution*).
As I have stated before, presidential power to commute sentences or pardon people should be curtailed by excluding any crime committed by or in favor of members of the executive branch. I also think every administration should be put on trial automatically after its term ends. No looking forward before a serious look backwards!!!

*not to be construed as support for capital punishment

I don't know, I doubt Richard III would have been dissuaded from his murder and rapine if his horse had been made unavailable to him at the beginning of the play, rather than at the end.

Maybe we'll have a test case in Berlusconi, but then again maybe he'll be back later for another run under the rule of "we admires us a scoundrel for his chutzpah", or the Italian equivalent.

I doubt Mussolini thought to himself as he was gibbeted upside down that "so it's come to this, who knew?" I think he thought: "What took you so long? I wouldn't change a thing, so have at it."

If we were to institute a policy of killing (sacrificing) our leaders immediately after they leave office (perhaps a grace period to write their memoirs) in a bid to fertilize the soil of leadership and appease the Gods going forward (like the old planting cultures Joseph Campbell talked about, though it seems to me surrogates were always tapped for duty at the last minute -- virgins, goats, lambs, the lowly coconut), I'd expect Dick Cheney would shrug his shoulders and explain to us how, if that's the way you want it, well then I'll just turn the disincentive around and stick with Halliburton where the remuneration for being a ruthless motherf*cker is better, the retirement longer, and the horses always watered and ready.

"You're good at contempt, that's for sure."

Oh, I don't want to take too much credit. Anyone with a functioning moral sense should feel contempt for our wonderful D.C. political culture. I sometimes think you feel a certain degree of contempt for half of it--the Republican half--but I certainly don't want to assume anything there.

" I assume that being frustrated when you write something that doesn't appear is something you may both share so you both might want to revel in this point."

I'll take a moment to revel. Felt good.

"Why do you think that we, as a society, are equipped to engage in the project of exacting justice on war criminals, as opposed to a more pacifist and "forward looking" project of turning the other cheek, trying to find the soul in our opponents and marching forward?

For you, it's all about corralling the sinful. For Obama, it's about changing hearts."

Lots of unintended humor there. Explaining it will spoil the joke. Oh well--

First, I never thought the Biblical message was that we should comfort the powerful and afflict the powerless. Live and learn.

And where is that pacifist heart-changing attitude when it comes to people who release classified information, eh? Funny how that works. It's almost as though Obama feels the need to demonstrate an almost Gandhian pacifist approach precisely when it suits his own interests. Or for that matter, what about changing the hearts of all those Middle Easterners, rather than imposing harsh sanctions on civilians or blowing up poorly identified targets and bystanders with drones? Or showing some genuine desire to act as an honest broker in the I/P conflict, rather than as Israel's lawyer?

No American President wants Western government officials held accountable for war crimes. It's a Pandora's box none of them want opened for obvious reasons, self-interest not least. To attribute this to pacifist motives is silly.

And as Hartmut points out, the obvious reason for wanting to see an investigation and possible prosecution if warranted of war crimes is that this is how one deters future crimes. And even if that isn't politically possible, that's all the more reason to point out the hypocrisy on a regular basis. I'd be happy if the mindset changed, so that high-ranking American torturers and war criminals were treated with almost as much disdain as "narcissists" like Snowden.

Sapient, isn't it possible that the inability to distinguish between good and bad exists because of the lack of consequences?

I see this country as being in a state of rot, on a serious decline. I see this decline across the board: a sort of moral blindness or obtuseness that mainfest itself in a host of venues.

Business models based on screwing the last buck out of employees: Walmart.

Pundits who don't have any actual expertise, are consistantly wrong, and keep their jobs: just read any major paper or watch a TV "news" show

A political party that has the goal of ending representative democracy, or at least ending the representation of the wants and needs of the ordianry person

The failure to act on global warming while lots of shitheads get elected by claiming to be "pro-life" by which they really just mean they are anti-abortion

The fact that shitheads like that can get elected:the Republicans in the House are the best example I can think of to represent the decline of this nation into moral and itellectual degeneracy

What was my point?

Oh, the inability to distinguish between good and bad. I don't have a lot of patience with the people who claiim that there's no difference between Bush and Obama. That way of thinking is to me a cop out, a way of saying, "Oh it's all too much, I can't be bothered to make distinctions. I'll just delcare myself to be too superior to participate."

It's just another failure to make distinctions, a variation on the failure of pundits to face up thier failures ot make distinctions and the voters to face up to theirs and so on.

So I think it would have been a good thing if there had been investigations and trials of Bush administration officials. And convictions where there was sufficient evidence.

How can distinctions be made if no standard is upheld by consequences?

"unhelpful" is a funny word. It could be either detrimental or advantageous, depending on which side of the issue you happen to be.

I would guess that Donald is not dismayed at your assessment, because there are things that he would not want to be helping our government do.

The best way to deal with it is to elect good people

Good is as good does.

Brett: "Seriously? The "populists" are actually engaged in the pursuit of power for themselves, to which end they encourage the 'ordinary people' to think that, if the populists are given power, they will use it on behalf of the ordinary people, against the wealthy. "

I hadn't even seen the name underneath the comment at this point, but 'Brett' popped into my mind.


"But, once they've got they power, they use it for themselves, and to purpetuate the circumstances of the ordinary people. Without the mob, after all, who would they have to keep them in power?

Populists, far more than the 'plutocrats', require that there be a lot of poor people around."

And it ends even worse than it started.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | June 21, 2013 at 03:57 PM

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