Never taking democracy for granted!

Cold-water shower time again!

All you good people who stick with this blog know that the majority of the posts are to do with dogs or cats in one form or another.

Yet, I am cognizant of the fact that no one can completely hide, metaphorically speaking, in the warm fur of our favourite dog or cat and let the rest of the world go tits up. From time to time I read an article or an essay that touches on something fundamentally important to a civil society and am compelled to share same with you.

That was the case on July 5th when I published a post called The Implications of Inequality.

OK – moving on!

Regulars know that I am a great admirer of the writings of essayist George Monbiot. He is a very regular contributor to The Guardian newspaper. Just a few days ago, Mr. Monbiot published an essay that really does need to be read as widely as possible. It is called Missing Link and is republished here with George Monbiot’s very kind permission.

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Missing Link

21st July 2017
How a secretive network built around a Nobel prizewinner set out to curtail our freedoms

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 19th July 2017

It’s the missing chapter: a key to understanding the politics of the past half century. To read Nancy MacLean’s new book Democracy in Chains: the deep history of the radical right’s stealth plan for America is to see what was previously invisible.

The history professor’s work on the subject began by accident. In 2013 she stumbled across a deserted clapboard house on the campus of George Mason University in Virginia. It was stuffed with the unsorted archives of a man who had died that year, whose name is probably unfamiliar to you: James McGill Buchanan. She writes that the first thing she picked up was a stack of confidential letters concerning millions of dollars transferred to the university by the billionaire Charles Koch.

Her discoveries in that house of horrors reveal how Buchanan, in collaboration with business tycoons and the institutes they founded, developed a hidden programme for suppressing democracy on behalf of the very rich. The programme is now reshaping politics, and not just in the US.

Buchanan was strongly influenced by both the neoliberalism of Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises and the property supremacism of John C Calhoun, who argued, in the first half of the 19th century, that freedom consists of the absolute right to use your property – including your slaves – however you may wish. Any institution that impinges on this right is an agent of oppression, exploiting men of property on behalf of the undeserving masses.

James Buchanan brought these influences together to create what he called “public choice theory”. He argued that a society could not be considered free unless every citizen has the right to veto its decisions. What he meant by this was that no one should be taxed against their will. But the rich were being exploited by people who use their votes to demand money that others have earned, through involuntary taxes to support public spending and welfare. Allowing workers to form trade unions and imposing graduated income taxes are forms of “differential or discriminatory legislation” against the owners of capital.

Any clash between what he called “freedom” (allowing the rich to do as they wished) and democracy should be resolved in favour of freedom. In his book The Limits of Liberty, he noted that “despotism may be the only organisational alternative to the political structure that we observe.” Despotism in defence of freedom.

His prescription was what he called a “constitutional revolution”: creating irrevocable restraints to limit democratic choice. Sponsored throughout his working life by wealthy foundations, billionaires and corporations, he develop both a theoretical account of what this constitutional revolution would look like and a strategy for implementing it.

He explained how attempts to desegregate schooling in the American South could be frustrated by setting up a network of state-sponsored private schools. It was he who first proposed the privatisation of universities and the imposition of full tuition fees on students: his original purpose was to crush student activism. He urged the privatisation of Social Security and of many other functions of the state. He sought to break the links between people and government and demolish trust in public institutions. He aimed, in short, to save capitalism from democracy.

In 1980, he was able to put the programme into action. He was invited to Chile, where he helped the Pinochet dictatorship to write a new constitution, which, partly through the clever devices Buchanan proposed, has proved impossible to reverse in its entirety. Amid the torture and killings, he advised the government to extend its programmes of privatisation, austerity, monetary restraint, deregulation and the destruction of trade unions: a package that helped trigger economic collapse in 1982.

None of this troubled the Swedish Academy, that, through his devotee at Stockholm University, Assar Lindbeck, in 1986 awarded James Buchanan the Nobel Memorial Prize for economics. It is one of several decisions that have turned this prize toxic.

But his power really began to be felt when Charles Koch, currently the seventh richest man in the US, decided that Buchanan held the key to the transformation he sought. Koch saw even such ideologues as Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan as “sellouts”, as they sought to improve the efficiency of government rather than destroying it altogether. But Buchanan took it all the way.

MacLean says that Charles Koch poured millions into Buchanan’s work at George Mason University, whose law and economics departments look as much like corporate-funded thinktanks as they do academic faculties. He employed the economist to select the revolutionary “cadre” that would implement his programme (Murray Rothbard, at the Cato Institute that Koch founded, had urged the billionaire to study Lenin’s techniques and apply them to the libertarian cause). Between them, they began to develop a programme for changing the rules.

The papers Nancy Maclean discovered show that Buchanan saw stealth as crucial. He told his collaborators that “conspiratorial secrecy is at all times essential.” Instead of revealing their ultimate destination, they would proceed by incremental steps. For example, in seeking to destroy the Social Security system, they would claim to be saving it, arguing that it would fail without a series of radical “reforms”. (The same argument is used by those attacking the NHS over here). Gradually they would build a “counter-intelligentsia”, allied to a “vast network of political power” that would eventually become the new establishment.

Through the network of thinktanks that Koch and other billionaires have sponsored, through their transformation of the Republican Party, and the hundreds of millions they have poured into state congressional and judicial races, through the mass colonisation of Trump’s administration by members of this network and lethally effective campaigns against everything from public health to action on climate change, it would be fair to say that Buchanan’s vision is maturing in the USA.

But not just there. Reading this book felt like a demisting of the window through which I see British politics. The bonfire of regulations highlighted by the Grenfell Tower disaster, the destruction of state architecture through austerity, the budgeting rules, the dismantling of public services, tuition fees and the control of schools: all these measures follow Buchanan’s programme to the letter. I wonder how many people are aware that David Cameron’s free schools project originated with an attempt to hamper racial desegregation in the American South.

In one respect, Buchanan was right: there is an inherent conflict between what he called “economic freedom” and political liberty. Complete freedom for billionaires means poverty, insecurity, pollution and collapsing public services for everyone else. Because we will not vote for this, it can be delivered only through deception and authoritarian control. The choice we face is between unfettered capitalism and democracy. You cannot have both.

Buchanan’s programme amounts to a prescription for totalitarian capitalism. And his disciples have only begun to implement it. But at least, thanks to Maclean’s discoveries, we can now apprehend the agenda. One of the first rules of politics is know your enemy. We’re getting there.

http://www.monbiot.com

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I found it very difficult to write these closing thoughts; as is obvious as you read this sentence!

Looking up quotations online under the headings of fairness or equality brought up many that could have worked here. Yet they seemed too trite, too obvious, too remote from the reality of what Mr. Monbiot describes here today.

So let me leave you with this: US income inequality is the highest it’s been since 1928. (Source: Pew Research.) But worse than that, US wealth inequality is even greater than income inequality. (Source: Pew Research.) (I’m certain that this is not exclusive to the USA.)

That is wrong! Plain and Simple!

27 thoughts on “Never taking democracy for granted!

  1. George Monbiot is a writer and spokesperson of great merit in exposing hidden truths for the average person.

    I believe too, that society is not free. We are blithely controlled by an elite few (corporate and political). They are the billionaires of society and they and their sycophantic generals in positions of power keep the rest of us in debt and servitude.

    While that sounds a bit like ‘sour grapes’ from someone who doesn’t like their lot in life, I can assure you that I have (for the moment) largely escaped from the rat race.

    What I do see, over the millennia, is that we have never tried to pull society into equality. In all the 60 years of my life, I have not seen the billions of charitable donations change the lives of those in third world situations, nor have I seen any improvement in how we generally treat the animal kingdom or look after the environment. There is an intentional block against these things and it comes from the top. There are machinations in this world that adhere to the same principles of slavery that they have always done. Most of us are not aware of our lack of freedom, but how many of us can just walk out into the world and take what we need from nature’s free bounty? No one actually owns the earth, but elitists have taken all rights to it anyway, and metre out just enough to the rest of us to keep us working in the slaving system.

    It is interesting that you make this post, as I am working on a similar theme for ‘Human Future,’ on my ‘Stargazing Futures’ blog. It is the last of 12 pieces that I wanted to write about our impact on the earth and our reason to be here. This is also the most difficult to write as source material is so scant for my ideas. Will we continue to live under a ‘slave’ economically motivated system? Will we move to an austere Communistic system which ultimately results in the same thing? Or will Homo Sapiens evolve into a different kind of species with a more cooperative and kindly outlook on social interaction?

  2. Paul, Another great article from Monbiot. Ditto the Pew research article you linked to.
    I have read from various sources that the wealthiest 1% of people in the US possess 40% of the nation’s wealth.
    According to a US Congressional Budget Office report of August last year, “the top 10% of families in the US hold 76% of the nation’s wealth. Everyone else in the top 50% accounts for 23% of total wealth – leaving just 1% of the total pie for the entire bottom half of the population.”
    Of the OECD (ie the ‘developed’) countries, wealth inequality in the US is the greatest – well, maybe after Chile, which joined in 2010. (On a world, non-OECD scale, the greatest inequality of wealth occurs in South Africa and some other African countries, in Brazil and some other South American countries and in India and even Haiti.)
    Apart from the USA, the statistics for the other OECD countries, on average, are that the top 10% own half the wealth. ( For my country, Australia, it is 45%)
    According to the last OECD Report on Inequality :-
    “Income inequality in [the] OECD countries is at its highest level for the past half century…..The average income of the richest 10% of the population is about nine times that of the poorest 10% across the OECD”. As a result – “uncertainty and fears of social decline and exclusion have reached the middle classes in many societies.”

    Yes, it is all very worrying Paul. In particular it is infuriating to see conservative Governments in the US, the U.K. and Australia continue to give tax breaks to the rich and award politicians salary increases above the CPI. The failure of these Governments, to address the offshoring of monies into overseas tax havens is another huge bug bear for me. (Our mega multi millionaire Australian PM has large amounts of money in the Cayman Islands).
    I am also very concerned about young people and especially their ability to afford a home of their own. This is very much the case in the major cities of Australia at the moment. In the US, you may be interested to know that there has apparently been a
    35% decline in young American homeownership from 2007 to 2015! Apart from underemployment, the casualisation of work and stagnating wage growth, the author of the following article in The Automatic Earth, cites higher student debt loads. For other reasons too, this article, makes very interesting reading. “We’re witnessing the downfall of the entire western system”.
    https://www.theautomaticearth.com/2017/07/i-read-the-news-today-oh-boy/

  3. It’s hard to even grasp that that article dscribed actual events, events still unfolding. It reads like a film plot. Public spending produces social stability and infrastructure. How on earth could one work against that?

  4. 09:30 I have just returned from a 15-minute drive to the local Post Office to collect a parcel that was too big for our mail box. As happens when one is driving along familiar roads, my mind turned to the replies from Colette and Margaret that I had read earlier when first awake. I didn’t know how to reply; not a common problem for me!!

    Now I have read John’s response and he articulates exactly the feelings I was having coming along Hugo Road; the road that we live on.

    But there’s more surfacing in my mind to share with you.

    1. Further reflections:

      Literally, 50 yards before I turned into our driveway walking along the opposite shoulder of Hugo Road was a man, possibly in his thirties, in decrepit condition. Just slouching along, neither carrying any bag nor any sign of belongings, from who knows where, going who knows where to.

      As I drove up our driveway and pulled into the garage, surrounded by all my material possessions that one keeps in a garage, I was struck by the contrast between that unknown ‘tramp’ and my comfortable middle-class life. It didn’t make sense but it did seem to underline the theme of Monbiot’s essay and the responses from all of you.

      Then a few minutes later I read John Zande’s words about public spending and his observation: “How on earth could one work against that?”

      Exactly!

      1. I just wrote a very long comment. I apologize for it being rambling and maybe off the rails. I understood the article very well. It is the gist of what he wrote and it is quite evident- no need to read it word for word.

  5. The Monbiot article was hard to comprehend. Not the actual facts, but the impact of them. These kinds of people make me ashamed, especially as they hide behind a religion while taking food from the mouths of babes. Thanks for the share. Looks like we all have some serious work to do.

  6. Sorry that just flew away and did not let me proceed. Getting back to my comment. I noted as I scrolled down to make my comment, that your usual folks that comment did not. It causes me to wonder why. Perhaps I am paranoid.

    But getting to the gist of this post- as I read it all became very obvious to what I have been seeing and noticing: is that we, and I’ll call ourselves the underlings here, are being increasingly suppressed by the current administration. One was the appointment of the De Vos person to head education. She is in favor of charter and/or private schools. My small town of 120,000 has several and more are arising all the time. Next the current governing body of the US is destroying everything good that the Democrats managed to put forth for our citizens -mocking health care and saying that is bad for the people with nothing good for replacement. The leader of our country badgering Congress and the Senate to pass the bill or else. Our leader attempting to suppress the media and constantly calling it fake news. Colluding with a country not our ally and all that were/are involved managing to lie and lie. These are just a few things that I’m aware of. It seems that the masses continue to identify with party loyalty and do not recognize what eventually will happen to them because they can’t understand what is harmful. They don’t read and are not educated about what is happening.

    The list is long and I don’t know how to be concise. There is much more that is happening. The small people will be paying for what they voted for and many folks just did not vote. They assumed everything was just fine. Mercy it is a mess.

    I have done my own personal random survey of asking folks if they follow the news. Most do not. They watch TV but not the news. They don’t read newspapers and the list goes on. Frankly I am very troubled about the current government and anyone with a wit of sense can see the government is racist and bigoted and based on greed. All the cabinet appointees are super wealthy. They donated huge amounts of money and thus were rewarded.

    Sorry but this is long and rambling and you have my permission to edit or delete parts or all of what I have written.

    1. All that matters to me is that you, and others, see this as a place where you can open up. Whatever the topic!! Because the fundamental thing we, as in you and me and the millions of others, need to learn from our fabulous dogs is to be persons of integrity.

      1. Well, I don’t think that complaining about the present situation in US government has anything to do with integrity. My comment was merely my take on the article and how it compares to the way society is bending to the rich who control the government. I don’t think this involves my integrity but it does involve the integrity of the politicians that were elected to protect democracy and we are currently under assault from government and it is chipping away at the sick, poor, needy, underpaid, disabled, women’s rights and, the elderly. I just can’t seem to stop my rant. Should have skipped commenting.

        One last thing. This is the only administration that I can think of that does not have a pet. Every president has had a dog or cat or both. Even Nixon had Checkers. I think that it was Truman but, I’m probably wrong, said, “if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.

  7. Interesting subject and one that seems to bring out a latent frustration with social justice as it stands. Yes Paul, we certainly could learn a lot from dog culture.

    I am worried for the future but it won’t be mine as I am too old.

    I don’t think the injustices can be solved with a political leaning, and quite frankly I think political parties, be they left, right, or centre orientated, are subject to the same controls by that top level of elites. Political parties are tolerated by them as a distraction for the common person to think he has control over events and freedoms…and indeed many of us have spent what little free time we have, involving ourselves and voting for the party that we think (often erroneously) will be fair to everyone. No matter who is voted in, the bill for everything is always handed to that bottom percentage (thank you for those figures MargfromTassie).
    I suppose I am increasingly starting to approach politics like I approach religion. I feel both do nothing to serve humanity. Both are decisive, both create war, both create massive inequality and terrible injustices. Both political systems and religions are controlling powers. There is nothing natural about either (man-made institutions), there is nothing God like or loving about either. So right now, I am an Agnostic (I do believe there is something loving in our connected being). And, I am fast becoming Anarchistic. This is not the anarchy that one imagines from a violent ‘hoodie’ smashing windows in violent protest…That is a misnomer (and also a distraction by the elites to confuse people), for criminal hoodlums. Anarchy is really about people who refuse to be manipulated by the rules imposed on them unfairly. I would like to think that Anarchists are peaceful people doing their own thing, but they very often engage in protest, something that I do not believe is helpful particularly.
    If I could fix things right now, I would make local communities self governing…using circular economics suitable for their society. I would remove all top level government and instead have cooperative bodies within each community (the pack leader in dog society) to form alliances with other communities for trade and travel and consultation for anyone wishing to live in a different community). I think the closeness of small community is more loving and giving.

    I actually think nature will do this for us, if we don’t do it for ourselves…the fall of civilisation has happened before and will happen again. Until we learn to live as nature intended, history will repeat itself.

    1. Colette, I have just read your response above. The passion of your feelings is glorious! I really hope that this inspires many others who read what you wrote to speak openly and honestly about their own beliefs.

      As for myself, I agree with you almost completely.

      Thank you!

      1. Which part didn’t you agree with? 😹😹😹

        I am pretty outspoken (must be my age). I used to be something of a ‘shrinking violet,’ and that did not serve me very well when it came to fairness in in a manipulative society.
        But nowadays, I have the freedom from work or societal pressures, and that tends to make me a bit more vocal about all things that I see as inherently bad in our society.

        There is lots of good too and I am the first to cheer an amazing feat of engineering or a new concept in self discovery of our energetic being. And philanthropy is still alive and well in many places, so it would do well to keep everything in perspective and be positive as possible in what is ultimately a very subjective view of the world. After all, that is exactly what our doggy pals do! 😄❤

      2. There is nothing that you say that I think is wrong; far from it! But I just don’t know whether removing the top levels of Government would work in practice. I like the idea of self-governing local communities but think the reality of such a social structure would be very complex.

        Is that clearer for you?

      3. Ah, yes! Agreed, it would be a big transition…and I can see the limitations imposes by removing an overseeing ‘boss.’
        But society works better in smaller interactive groups than in a large dictatorship. For that is ultimately where top down government heads no matter the politics. Rules for all does not work very well to encourage creative spontaneity or critical thinking to flourish. We do need to think outside of the ‘box’ on how we want society to survive and advance, because we have not found any method yet that works for everyone.

      4. And to return to your theme, Yes, integrity, caring, love and kindness are the only qualities that will create a better society. Education of our youth is of utmost importance.
        Witnessing a world leader address the Boy Scouts offer America with a message to ‘do what you like, make lots of money, live a debauched life, and then watch it all disappear in the twighlight of your life,’ is about as far away from an ideal society that we can get!

      5. No question in my mind that we, as in society, requires a complete rethink and that will include re-engineering most if not all of our present systems. Could that be done incrementally or peacefully? I very much doubt that.

        Indeed some might argue that a cataclysmic upheaval is the only way that a new start could take place.

        Whatever the future holds for us growing numbers of people believe the present situation is unsustainable.

  8. Excellent share Paul, and while not up to press within the USA political circles.. Found his reasoning sound
    ” Complete freedom for billionaires means poverty, insecurity, pollution and collapsing public services for everyone else. ” So true.. Makes you laugh if it were not so serious.. As you can see it in all political circles..

    They may well start out with good intentions to serve the people, then as time goes on they only serve their pockets..
    Sending you and Jean all my best Paul
    Sue xx

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