J.D. Moyer

beat maker, sci-fi writer, self-experimenter

How To Avoid Fascism and Restore Growth in the United States

" Democracy is beautiful in theory; in practice it is a fallacy." -- Benito Mussolini

Historically, prolonged extreme concentrations of wealth and outrageous income inequality tend to play out in two ways:

1) Violent Leftist/popular revolutions, such as the French Revolution, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and the Russian Revolution.

2) The rise of a Fascist state, as the elites use “fear of the other” to gain support for policies that suppress freedom and democracy, and increase coercive control of the impoverished masses.  Fascism never rises without support of the elites.

In the United States, with its strong pro-capitalist institutions and values, we’re more at risk for fascism than we are for violent Leftist revolution.  There are strong currents of popular fascism in the racist, xenophobic blatherings of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.  More and more our lawmakers are controlled by corporate interests.  Disturbing incidents where police and military are used against U.S. citizens are on the rise.

Occupy Wall Street is the nearest thing to a popular “Leftist” movement we’ve seen in long time, but it’s really more of a centrist movement.  While there are elements of OWS that are calling for an end to capitalism, private property, and money-lending, a more common demand is for reasonable financial reform and regulation, such as reinstituting the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 (which separated commercial banking from investment banking).

The alternative to either of these grim scenarios (historically, the Leftist extreme has led to guillotines and gulags, the extreme Right to gas-chambers and world war) is a re-balancing of wealth via reform and strengthening the civic state.


OWS Is An Opportunity To Avoid Extremism

The global Occupy Wall Street movement is an opportunity for the 1% to keep most of their wealth and promote social stability, but only if they seize this moment as an opportunity to push through significant reforms that strengthen the civic state.

Warren Buffet gets it.  Read his plan to reform Congress.  It’s entertaining, perfectly reasonable, and would probably work.  Ben and Jerry get it too.

Unfortunately, most of the 1% is preoccupied with either defending their own work ethic (which isn’t the point) or making fun of the “hippie” protestors, or just waiting for the whole thing to blow over.

If OWS does blow over without any significant reforms being enacted, then the 1% might find themselves in big trouble down the road.  They might have to deal with a real Leftist movement (one that wants to abolish the corporate entity altogether, instead of just mildly reforming it).

A more likely scenario is that the elites will find themselves in bed with fascist elements in order to protect their wealth and control the citizenry.  What would U.S. fascism look like?  I think “Stage 1” would include:

  • isolated incidences of election rigging
  • vast expansion of the intelligence community
  • secret surveillance of U.S. citizens
  • erosion of laws that protect the poor and the weak
  • continued concentration of wealth (rich get richer, poor get poorer)
  • war profiteering (private contractors getting rich from tax-payer funded wars)
  • scapegoating of the poor and powerless (blaming economic malaise on migrant workers and single mothers)
  • use of torture and prison camps by the state (Guantanamo)
  • corporate collusion in all of the above

Arguably, we’re already experiencing most symptoms of “Stage 1” fascism.  What would “Stage 2” look like?

  • rampant election rigging
  • total corporate control of the media
  • erosion of free speech and freedom of assembly
  • expansion of the definition of “treason”
  • “disappearances” of prominent activists

I don’t think we’re at Stage 2 yet, and hopefully we won’t ever get there.  Unfortunately I can’t rule it out.  Operation Condor (linked to at least 60,000 political assassinations in South and Central America) received support from the United States; Secretary of State Kissinger was at the very least fully aware of Condor and still faces questioning/extradition requests from France, Chile, Spain, Argentina, and Uruguay for his role in the disappearance, detention, torture, and wrongful death of citizens in relation to Operation Condor.

Laurence Britt’s article “Fascism Anyone?” (originally published in Free Inquiry magazine) looks at the 14 common characteristics of fascist governments.  The same page includes an excerpt from Milton Meyer’s “They Thought They Were Free” which discusses how “decent men” became Nazis, basically through inertia and accepting gradual steps towards fascism.  These men kept thinking their country would “come to its senses,” but it never did.

I describe Stage 1 and Stage 2 of a fascist state, but in fact there is no clear division.  It’s simply a line I have drawn for my own comfort.  It is my hopeful defense against my own gradual acceptance of fascistic national policies.  When do I speak up? (now).  When do I get out? (Hopefully never — I’m a patriot and I love my home — but if political activists in the United States start “disappearing” then I will seriously consider living somewhere else in the world.)

I hope that I am overreacting to signs of fascism in the U.S. — if someone would like to explain to me how I’ve misread the signs above I would be happy to listen.

It's the inequality, stupid (from Mother Jones).

How Do We Restore Growth?

We restore growth by creating real wealth.  Real wealth raises quality of life for everyone.

We should abolish taxes for the poor, lower taxes for the middle class, and raise taxes for the extremely rich (call it the 0-9-90 plan — take that Herman Cain).  This sounds extreme, but even if you taxed the bribing, scheming Koch brothers 90% of their annual income, they would still be vastly richer than the rest of us.  According to Forbes, Charles Koch has a personal net worth of $25 billion.  If his income tax rate were 90%, he’d still be worth $25B.  He’d just get richer a lot more slowly.

Does a 90% maximum income tax rate sound high to you?  Does it sound socialist?  Would you be surprised to learn that the maximum U.S. income tax rate hovered between 79% and 91% from 1936 to 1963, and was above 70% right up until 1981? There’s a strong precedent for high tax rates for the rich in the United States.

Cutting middle-class taxes to 9% would free up tons of expendable income, most of which would be plowed right back into the economy, thus creating a job boom.

We should redirect government spending away from the Pentagon, private security contractors, and the expansion of the intelligence state.

We should redirect government spending towards public schools, financial aid (grants and scholarships) for university and early-childhood education, scientific R&D, and upgrading our infrastructure (water, communications, transportation, and energy).  When there aren’t enough jobs, tax-payer money should be used to create jobs, and to better prepare citizens for the skilled jobs that do exist.

We should re-institute Glass-Steagall, at least the parts that separate the commercial and investment banking sectors.  We should reform the U.S. corporate charter to make it legal for corporations to consider factors like the environment, worker safety, and community health on the same level as shareholder profits (right now corporations can be sued by shareholders if they put any consideration ahead of maximizing corporate profits).

None of the these measures can happen without campaign finance reform and/or congressional reform (such as Warren Buffet’s plan), so those should be priority measures.

Don’t Wait For Your Country to Come To Its Senses — Make It Happen

I considered not writing about OWS because I wasn’t sure if it fit into the mission of this blog.  But “systems for living well” must include collective systems, not just personal systems.  I’ve noticed many self-help and self-improvement bloggers avoid political topics altogether.  I suppose they don’t want to alienate potential readers.  IMO, that’s a bullshit cop-out.  You can’t separate the personal from the collective — it’s all connected.

It doesn’t matter how skilled, clever, efficient, well-trained, well-educated, healthy, hard-working, motivated, or innovative you are if your state falls victim to an extremist regime.  The state can take your wealth, your freedom, and your life in the blink of an eye.  There is no protection or insulation from a corrupt, broken state.

If the United States was in any danger of veering too far to the Left, I would be railing against that.  I co-own a couple of businesses, and I’m a big fan of personal property and the existence of a private sector.

But the fact is, even the election of centrists like Clinton and Obama hasn’t stopped a steady rightward tilt of this country for the past 30+ years.  The military-intelligence complex continues to grow, restrictions on corporations continually weaken, and resources for the poor and underprivileged continue to shrink.  Control of banking and media is dangerously concentrated.  The rich are too damn rich.

Let’s use OWS as an opportunity to reform some things that are broken.  I’ve shared my ideas regarding where we should start.  What do you think?  Republicans and Libertarians welcome — I won’t censor or delete any comments as long as they are civil.

Previous

Protect Your External Brain

Next

Cultural Clawbacks — How We Regain Quality of Life After Technological "Improvements"

16 Comments

  1. Seems to me that, while it’s apparent what a number of pieces in play have in mind, it isn’t clear at all what, precisely is going on all over the map in the shadowy doorways and alleys. Trying to understand a direction of movement, forces at work behind the scenes, where the center-points of power will jel will be a while yet in coming, if they emerge at all, thinks I.

  2. Thanks for your comment Jules. I found “The Big Short” by Michael Lewis to be particularly illuminating re: what the hell just happened.

  3. Josh Nelson

    Excellent historical analysis my most learned friend!

  4. Josh Nelson

    @ Old Jules – Very valid points. The co-option is coming, that is for sure if history serves…

    The question is how will the Occupiers respond/mitigate same.

    Already, there are headlines on Drudge about a rape and an Occupier exposing themselves. I haven’t check the facts, but my bias suggests the shit is already starting…

  5. Nathan Koch

    While certainly, some of the things in what you refer to as Warren Buffett’s plan are good ideas, it is neither his plan nor factually accurate. Here’s the page on snopes.com: http://www.snopes.com/politics/medical/28thamendment.asp It is his quote at the start of it.
    That being said, I do see the need to avoid fascism and our county’s steps toward it.

    • Thanks for the correction Nathan. I still like the 7 point reform plan proposed in the blog post I linked to, even if most of the ideas are incorrectly attributed to Buffett.

  6. great article… JD Moyer for president!

  7. A concise argument for why we need to re-institute Glass-Steagall:
    http://youtu.be/N_XtXhiekQk

  8. It’s the inequality … relative, not absolute income affects quality of life (Richard Wilkinson TED talk)

    http://www.ted.com/talks/richard_wilkinson.html

  9. Chris Carlen

    A lot of this I agree with, but there are some issues where I think you’ve confused symptoms with causes. For instance, the costs of college education have been inflated for the same reason as the housing bubble–the government incentivised / subsidized financing. Rather, we should *eliminate* all public financing of private education, precipitating a price collapse in the education bubble and corresponding increase of affordability. Likewise, we should strengthen the government run university systems (while vastly streamlining their administrative apparatus). Ie, send higher education funding into government run schools, which by subsidizing tuition only (no more government student loan subsidies/guarantees–AND allow student loan debt to be discharged in bankruptcy) should make college much more affordable to the masses who are qualified. Finally, create a system of *trade schools*. The fact is, not everyone should have nor has a right to a college education. Some folks are better suited to be plumbers (who make ridiculous amounts of money) electricians, etc. We shouldn’t be encouraging these folks to take on debt to get liberal arts degrees that aren’t worth anything in the marketplace.
    Next, as for primary education, you need to get educated about the data. The fact is, higher funding does not correlate with better performance of public schools. The need for ever more funding is a liberal mantra promulgated by the teacher unions, and it is false. Read “Class Warfare” by Steven Brill. We don’t need to increase funding. We need to increase accountability and expectations for teachers, students, and parents alike. We need a cultural and political change, not more funding. It is remarkably cheap to educate children. I should know, as my family spends just a few $100s per year to home-school our child, who is two grades ahead of schedule without even pushing.
    Finally, again I don’t agree with the premise that wealth inequality is the problem. Rather, it’s a symptom of the problem. Everyone wants to tax the rich. Ok, but what about differentiating between those who got their wealth via hard work vs. criminal fraud and bailouts after committing fraud? Taxes in this situation really hurt the legitimately earned wealth, but if you take half of someones ill-gotten money, are you really creating the right incentive structure?
    Glass Steagall definitely should be reinstated as is, not some fraud of a 2000 page reform bill full of loopholes. But that is still not the main problem. The main problem is that criminal fraud has been perpetrated and the law is not being enforced. We don’t need to tax the rich so much as we need to prosecute the minority of fraudsters among the rich, mostly concentrated in the financial sector. It is destructive to demonize the rich as a whole. Again, get educated, and follow the work of William Black.
    If we don’t punish the financial criminals, then we are left with a two-class society where one is above the law. And what about the legislators being allowed to insider trade? Seriously, we have rampant corruption. All of this accelerates the real risk of descent into hard fascism or a leftist revolution. Either path must be avoided and I commend you for being reasonable about this.
    There are deeper issues of the relationship of energy to economic growth, and the credit catalyzed exponential economic growth paradigm in general, but we’ll have to deal with that some other time.
    Keep up the good work. Good luck!

    • Thanks for your comment Chris. I agree with your points re: cracking down on financial fraud, and that we should get rid of insider trading among our legislators — absolutely.

      Re: public education — I respect your choice to home-school, but if you saw some of the conditions in some public schools around the country for yourself you might change your mind. In many cases school infrastructure (buildings) are crumbling, and programs like art and music are eliminated entirely. If you don’t think primary school art and music education are important then we’ll just have to agree to disagree. In California this is a huge problem because education budgets were gutted by Prop 13, which reduced revenue from property taxes significantly.

      Re: more trade schools, why not? But *all* high paid jobs these days are highly technical and require years of training, including high-end plumbing jobs.

      Re: taxing the rich, I think there is probably some middle-ground between the record-low tax rates we have now, and the highest tax rates between 1936 and 1963. But I do believe inequality is important. If you have a few minutes, watch this talk from Richard Wilkinson — I’d be curious to get your reaction.

      http://www.ted.com/talks/richard_wilkinson.html

  10. Chris Carlen

    I looked at the Richard Wilkinson video. This is very interesting information. I will have to keep this in mind as I think about these things in the future.
    However, I remain convinced that the *cause* of social ills is not income inequality. Remember, correlation != causation. I think that if we look into the mechanisms by which the US has such high income inequality, we will find socially corrosive processes. It just so happens that these processes (because they are inherently corrupt) lead to excessive income inequality. How to explain this? Hmm…
    I don’t have time to compose a Ph.D. thesis, but this for instance:
    http://www2.ed.gov/about/overview/fed/10facts/edlite-chart.html
    shows that while education spending has increased dramatically, particularly for the “disadvantaged,” the return on investment has been abysmal:
    http://www.pisa.oecd.org (sorry, monumental data volume, not flattering for US). A digestible example, though dated is here:
    http://4brevard.com/choice/international-test-scores.htm
    Why is this? Well it’s complex. But one major problem is the teachers unions. Did you read “Class Warfare” yet? It’s from a heavily *liberal* perspective, and it totally shatters dogmas about education. And it makes clear that the unions are the primary obstacle to reforming our schools. Now just to be clear, I am not saying that the unions are *the* only problem. They are a major part of the problem. Reducing their significance though, is a necessary but not sufficient condition for improvement in our education system. But the unions in this context serve as an excellent example of a corrosive process. One which may have begun with motives that anyone might sympathize with, but which has evolved due to the corrupting influence of the confluence of selfishness with power, to a leech-like entity that is willing to sacrifice the well-being of *children* for it’s own enrichment, all the while diabolically claiming to be serving the interests of the children.
    In general, public employee unions in particular, serve to maximize the cost paid for public service, while minimizing the work performed. This is not some anti-union diatribe. Seriously, read the book. It’s just one example. Do you know what prevailing wage laws are? Another example. Public projects are ridiculously more expensive than private. I can’t elaborate all this. The built one of the highest bridges in France for $0.5B in 6 months. They’ve been building the new SF Bay Bridge for over 12 years. WTF? The point is, that the government sector is horribly inefficient, and appears to become increasingly so the more funding and power it gets. That is the crux of the problem with taxing the rich.
    If we simply take a large proportion of the money from the rich, where will it go? We like to believe that IF there were wise government policies, then this money will produce less income disparity, and increase economic opportunities for the poor. But that is a big IF. What if the opposite actually results? That the government policies are actually the most cynical possible? What is the probability of that happening? Well, the events since the tech. stock crash in 2000 should be instructive.
    You may be sensing that I have a big problem with the liberal thesis that government can be an agent of social good. That is a fine ideal. But the empirical reality at present is that government, the US one at least, is a catastrophically destructive agent.
    So IF we tax the rich, but income disparity isn’t the cause but rather a symptom of corrosive corruption and destructiveness inherent in our monopoly social institutions, then what will be the result? I will argue simply that things will get much much worse. And capital will be dissipated that cannot be replaced. (Capital is closely related to a low entropy state in physics; it’s very easy to irreversibly destroy the wealth of the whole society by “taxing the rich”). I personally believe we are on the precipice of a death spiral in this country. Where every effort to manage the economy and social ills through misguided statist ideals (R or D type, take your pick) results in further damage. While the true causes continue to fester (ie., rampant high-criminality, corporatism, cronyism, etc.). But the worse things get, the more intense the cries for more government fixes. Until we arrive at the endpoint that we both dread.
    Government is very dangerous. Only one who can truly say that he/she understands every cause and effect within every social, cultural, market, etc. dynamic can confidently predict the outcome of the use of force, coercion, the gun–which is what government fundamentally is–to solve societal ills. Are you that smart? I’m not. That is why I fundamentally don’t trust power. Ask yourself, would you take a loaded gun in your hand and personally disappropriate a rich person of 50-90% of their assets, assuming you had only the noblest of intentions regarding the proceeds? How is supporting the government to do the same any different (it might be even worse!).You said you welcomed libertarians. Well, I hesitate to identify with any ideology for various reasons. But this is certainly a libertarian influenced perspective. I hope it gives you food for thought. Thank you for the civil discourse. BTW I came to your site for health related investigations. Thank you for the blogging you do on this topic. Best regards…

    • Chris,
      I don’t have strong opinions about teacher unions at the moment — I’ll check out Class Warfare before I respond.

      I’m sympathetic to many libertarian ideals, and I’m also wary of any use of coercive power (as I discuss here http://jdmoyer.com/2011/01/21/the-four-types-of-power/).

      But is there any society, historically, that has successfully implemented a libertarian government? I could see how it could work for a small group, but for a city? Large cities provide huge efficiencies — they increase real wealth for humans enormously (shared infrastructure, high rates of innovation, etc.), but the trade-off is you need bureaucracy and government to run a city.

      On a national level, our Congress is “bought” — totally corrupt. But we’ve had a bought Congress before, and we’ve turned it around. The three branch system is resilient in the long-term.

      So until I see concrete examples of alternatives that work well, I’m with Churchill (“… democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”).

      I’m fascinated by some libertarian experiments and imagined experiments, like sea-steading. My first novel (unpublished, and probably unpublishable) was the story of a sea-steading experiment gone terribly wrong.

      Would libertarianism be an ideal form of government if the entire population was self-sufficient, intelligent, and peaceful? I’m all for maximum freedom, but I’m suspicious of minimum government. I think real wealth is created by public services (education, healthcare, fire-fighting, infrastructure maintenance) and that huge amounts of wealth and possible innovation would be squandered if we all had to fend for ourselves in those areas, or rely on small group projects.

      Maybe I’m misunderstanding some key aspect of libertarian philosophy. Feel free to enlighten me.

  11. FBachofner

    Great post, J.D.

    Please consider publishing the YEAR of your posts (and that of the comments). From the URL this looks to have been written in 2011 (but not many readers will know to look there) and turns out to have been incredibly prescient.

    For example, basically two years before Snowden’s allegations , you predicted: “vast expansion of the intelligence community; secret surveillance of U.S. citizens”

    The (obviously disclosed) year is required to establish a complete context for your readers.

    Thanks for your efforts.

Join the discussion! Please be excellent to each other. Sometimes comments are moderated.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén