Oligarchs Are Putting You in Leg Irons

Les AuCoin By Les AuCoin, 5th Jul 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/2_8wq3b4/
Posted in Wikinut>News>Politics

What do Ayn Rand, the Roberts Supreme Court, wealth disparity, and neoconservative "voting reform" have in common? The creation of an oligarchy.

Definitions & Connections

de·moc·ra·cy noun \di-ˈmä-krə-sē\
1. A government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation involving periodically held free elections.
2. The common people especially when constituting the source of political authority.
3. The absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges.

cap·i·tal·ism noun \ˈka-pə-tə-ˌliz-əm
1. An economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.

ol·i·gar·chy noun \ˈä-lə-ˌgär-kē, ˈō-\
1. Rule by the few, often seen as having self-serving ends.
2. Classic oligarchies have resulted when governing elites were recruited exclusively from a ruling class, which tends to exercise power in its own interest.

~Merriam Webster Dictionary

The collegian in the first row exploded when the subject turned to campaign spending limits. It was 1998, 12 years before the U.S. Supreme Court freed the super-rich to dump limitless wealth on the campaigns of their chosen political windsocks.

“I’m totally opposed to limits,” the student bellowed. “America is a capitalist country! If you limit campaign spending you sabotage capitalism.”

The bell rang and my students scattered.

Shocked by the display of civic ignorance, I made a note to talk to my student. Here was a political science major and Dean’s List regular who did not understand that capitalism isn’t democracy. Nor did he seem to care that without political power distributed fairly across society, capitalism easily shape shifts into oligarchy.

Capitalism cannot be a legitimate governing system because it is singularly dedicated to amassing wealth as an end in itself. It unsentimentally trusts in nothing that it cannot weigh and measure. Not, in the spirit of Bobby Kennedy, the joy of our children’s play, or our art, or the strength of our health, or our opportunity to redress our grievances—in short, none of the other dimensions of life that democracy was invented to serve.

Fast forward to 2010. Neoreactionary Republicans seize complete control of both the GOP and the U.S. House on the strength of gerrymandering, libertarian extremism, and Tea Party rage. Just like that, my student’s mental hiccup becomes the platform of a major American political party and the polemics of Grade B philosopher Ayn Rand, its Holy Grail.

Rand, neoreactionaries, and the right wing’s revanchist financiers worship the pursuit of self-interest as Man’s highest calling. Dividing society into two types of people, “producers” and “parasites,” they condemn government (e.g., “collectivism”) as a violation of natural law. To increase the minimum wage or extend unemployment insurance would throw a bone to curs and leeches. (Note how these individuals selectively omit the historic success of Land Grant colleges like Oregon State University and Montana State University, the GI Bill, or the Interstate Highway System—some of many “collectivist” endeavors that helped build the world’s most industrious workforce and most powerful national economy.

With the Supreme Court also in the hands of neocons, America is caught in the leg irons of a nascent oligarchy. Political money is “free speech,” according to the court, effectively giving more of it to the rich than to you and me. Wealth is also so stratified that Thomas Picketty, the much-heralded French economist, believes its inequality is a direct threat to democracy. The top one percent of our population possesses 40 percent of the nation’s wealth. The gulf between the richest 10 percent and middle income America is over 1,000 percent. According to economist and former labor secretary Robert Reich, the average American employee today must work more than a month to earn what the CEO earns in one hour.

Worse, the chasm will only widen over time. Picketty points out that income accruing to vast individual stores of capital always outpaces income from 9 to 5 workers who have nothing to sell but their labor.

Where, you might ask, is the threat to democracy? Covering more than 200 years of human experience, Picketty’s research traces how holders of enormous wealth have ultimately gained dominant political power and wielded it to protect their growing riches from the larger population. For the super-rich, then, democracy becomes not a virtue, but a threat. Along with Ayn Rand’s hedonism, this explains a lot.

It explains the real reason neoreactionaries will never raise taxes on the one percent or even on the top 10 percent (“producer” demigods, all). And why campaign spending limits had to be destroyed, benefiting as they did the commoner over the capitalist. It explains why the extreme right wants our forests and rangeland and schools in private hands, so private elites, not you and me, decide how they’re managed. And why at this very moment the Koch Brothers and their acolytes are bankrolling efforts in every state to make voting difficult in every conceivable way for the 99 percent. Because truly, for folks who worship self-interest above all else, less democracy is a lot better than more.

I am not a Casandra or a Chicken Little. But I have been in public life for more than 45 years, and I never dreamed I’d see what’s become of U.S. politics. Nor have I ever been more concerned about the fate of the country I’ve served.

I don’t have a formula to triumph over the oligarchs, neoreactionaries, and anti-democrats.

But I do know where to start. I know that Wall Street Democrats in the White House and Congress must be reeducated or replaced. Liberals—I don’t run from that term—need to build a movement around leaders like Senators Elizabeth Warren, Jeff Merkley, and others of the kind. They need to promote trickle-up economic populism for 9 to 5 workers of every color, sex, and religion; green energy to save the planet; a foreign policy that engages strictly in wars of necessity, not of choice; a national security apparatus that respects its citizens’ privacy; and a veterans program that serves our returning warriors in lieu of a defense budget that services the makers of exotic weapons of no practical value.

What’s more, we need a president who sees the truth about the dangerous state of our national politics and tells it to the American public. Namely, that it isn’t just about congressional Republicans being “obstructionists,” for god’s sake. Their intransigence is only one front in hydra-headed, full-scale, ideological civil war. If oligarchy wins, democracy dies.

Which will it be? Our egalitarian republic has endured for 225 years through wars, economic catastrophe, and domestic upheaval. Young men and women in uniform have sacrificed themselves for the notion that, here, it is the people who are supreme, not an economic elite dressed up as our “job saving” saviors.

It’s your move now. Before you make it, remember that Benito Mussolini got at least one thing right when he said, “Fascism is just another word for corporatism.”


Ayn Rand, Economic Issues, Economy, Koch, Oligarchy, Policy, Political System, Politics, Right Wing, Tea Party Beliefs, Tea Party Conservatives, Tea Party Republicans, Thomas Pickett, Wealth

Meet the author

author avatar Les AuCoin
A retired US congressman & 45-year award-winning journalist, my work has run in the Washington Post, the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Oregonian, Stars & Stripes and other major publications.

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author avatar Steve Kinsman
5th Jul 2014 (#)

Excellent article, Les, that hits the nail squarely on the head. As a true liberal and bona-fide progressive I see little hope in Hillary, who is a true corporatist. God help us.

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author avatar darkeraven
5th Jul 2014 (#)

Well since I can't escape it...

Coming up on That Comic Book Addict... Ugh... Evil Twin' Action Philosophers - Ayn Rand... Ugh.

Great article btw, keep up the good work.

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
6th Jul 2014 (#)

Powerful and telling message that 99% are taken for a ride. I have been highlighting the same sad state of fairs everywhere when greed blinds society - everything is justified in the name of capitalism and freedom. I read an article by Nobel Laureate, Joseph Stiglitz, titled - Inequality is not inevitable, where he highlights - it is not capitalism but politics and policies that drive inequality. Finally, it boils down to a cruel fact - whatever the system only few derive benefit and others get short-changed! siva

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