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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.

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