Your Lying Eyes

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15 October 2008

The Social Contract

Since circa 1789 C.E., it is well know that legions of dumb folk (or the 'unempowered' or 'disenfranchised' or whatever your favorite euphemism might be) are capable of storming the gates of power and cutting people's heads off, should they get sufficiently pissed-off. And so the smart (and sometimes not-so-smart, but typically smart) rich folk have developed various strategies to avoid this fate. The most pervasive strategy in the Western world is called "democracy" whereby the dumb masses are led to believe that they are in charge. This has some limited effectiveness, but since this gives the masses theoretical control over the powers of the state, heads could still roll.

Fortunately for all concerned, since about the same time the West has also enjoyed a phenomenon called the "Industrial Revolution" which not only provided really good jobs to all but the absolute dumbest among the masses, it also distributed to them wondrous life-improving machines and luxurious goods. But even the dumb masses understand that automobiles don't arrive in the driveway nor steaks appear on the plate on their own and that full-time jobs don't sprout from acorns - there's a lot of smart people making that happen. It's the understanding that a whole bunch of rich people are smart people who can get things done that keeps the torches off the street.

Lately, while the more dramatic progess has seemed to have slowed somewhat - those flying cars and robotic servants we were promised never seem to have gotten of the drawing board (if they even made it onto the drawing board) - there's still been some really cool stuff coming our way like flat-screen tv's and iPods and infinite credit lines, all courtesy of really smart people, who make tons of money. But the funny part is that no one ever seems to know any of these people anymore. Back in the day you would here about somebody (or at least somebody who knew somebody) who was an engineer at GM or worked at McDonnel Douglas.

But who makes LCD tv's or iPods? We don't know them because everyone who assembles them lives in China and anyone who designs them lives in some gated community in some strange valley in California. The smart people are kind of slacking off a bit here - yeah, they're still playing Santa with the toys, but they kind of forgot about creating jobs. Any new jobs - when there were new jobs - were working for restaurants or contruction outfits and while some of these people are rich they sure as hell don't seem too smart - they're more like hustlers keeping one step ahead of the repo man. Except for finance - there were lots of new jobs in the financial industry, and one thing you can sure say about the people running the financial industry is they're smart -- DOH!

Middle class Americans don't really march thru the streets carrying torches - or even placards - too often these days. But they still do every now and then engage in the rather quaint practice called "voting for Democrats*" - remember that 'democracy' bit? - which, when done with enough force, will result in rich people losing the most precious thing next to their heads - their money. Taxes on the wealthy will go up. That's what's happening now - Obama is basically wrapping tar-drenched rags around sticks and handing them out en masse to every pissed-off American when he proposes raising taxes on everyone earning $250k up and lowering them for everyone else. McCain meanwhile is the old guy standing in front of the mansion at the end of the street waving his arms frantically at the approaching mob, about to be stomped to death under their unyielding strides. It's over Johnny.

The rich people's official spokesmen - they're known as Republicans - have been promising us that if we raised their taxes, all the good jobs would dry up and there'd be no more cool toys. Well of course the good jobs went poof along with the money for the cool toys anyway. They didn't keep up their end of the bargain - in fact they fucked up royally - they didn't invest money in the future, they played with money and invested it in grotesque homes and lavish parties. They need to get taxed. I believe we should tax them even more aggressively than Obama has proposed. I propose an additional 1 per cent on each 100k over 200k up to 10%. Payback is a bitch.

Then there's the rest of the bargain - the free-trade bargain. That one went like this - we build as many factories as we can overseas and cut costs, then you all get to reap the bounty with us! What did we get? Impending bankruptcy. And worst of all - the nation-of-immigrants fraud. They'd get cheap labor to work their sweatshops and groom their country clubs and buy their papier mache houses with no money down at inflated prices, while the rest of us see neighborhoods decay, high-school dropouts proliferate and bilingualism overwhelm our culture. And on these items, the Democrats are in cahoots even more than the Repbulicans. Where's my torch!

*The Democratic party is, at its core, a loose coalition of urban protection rackets, designed to offer businesses and the wealthy 'protection' against angry mobs in exchange for patronage (in coin for the party leaders and in civil service and union jobs for the rank-and-file). Similarly, on a national level, people turn to Democrats when they get real pissed off at rich people generally, as during the mid-70's economic doldrums, the early 90's slowdown, and the financial meltdown of today.


Blogger Black Sea said...

There's always something to be said for stepping back out of the forest in order to see it. I think that's what you've done here.

I take it as axiomatic that we live in an oligarchy. I don't particularly object, since I'd probably like living in a genuine democracy even less, and I more or less agree with Leo Strauss that all democracies are oligarchies anyway, unless they're well on their way to anarchy.

So I accept living in an oligarchy, but I do object to the pretense that our oligarchs are just "ordinary folks" like us. If they're just ordinary folks, then they have no business wielding the power they currently wield.

In addition to exercising disproportionate influence over the direction of our society, in both the public and private spheres, they do have disporportionate responsibility to do so with forethought to something other than maximizing the value of their portfolios. Noblesse oblige, and all that . . . One can make fun of it, but actually, it may be a necessary social construct in the long run.

It's an interesting question as to whether democracy, or whatever we want to call our system of government, can survive absent the promise of economic growth. I reckon we'll have a better idea in about thirty years time.

October 16, 2008 1:16 AM  
Blogger Black Sea said...

If I could just qualify a bit, I object to the pretense that our oligarchs are just like us in terms of their wealth and influence. All too often, they are much like the rest of us in most other respects, or make a sincere effort to appear so.

There is a nice line in Walker Percy's novel, The Moviegoer. The protgonist is speaking to his grandmother, who says something along the lines of, " . . . and when I speak of the 'common man,' I mean common as hell."

October 16, 2008 2:23 AM  
Anonymous jimbo said...

Ziel, have you been spending the last 12 days since your last post coming up with this "I give up" social studies lesson? I´d like to put it a little more succinctly from my POV of course. Americans still have the same old small choice of only 2 real political parties. The Democrats left things in pretty good shape 8 years ago, certainly compared to now... In fact the history of how the Republicans have left the house doesn´t look so good at least since Eisenhower, and before him it was Hoover. Say what you will with your (very good, I must say) French Revolution imagery, but the American people aren´t left with much of a choice in this election.

BTW, with the Republicans becoming the opposition party, will you be a little more energized and post more often?

October 16, 2008 6:15 AM  
Blogger ziel said...

Black Sea - that's a great line - 'common as hell'.

Noblesse oblige, and all that . . . One can make fun of it, but actually, it may be a necessary social construct in the long run.

I believe it is. The Old Money folks were always good at never appearing to spend any of their money - at least not in ways that would be visible to us. That was at least a nod to this idea.

As far as oligarchy and democracy, I can't imagine how democracy will get us out of this mess. I find myself dreaming things like "Where have you gone, General Pinochet"

October 16, 2008 8:44 AM  
Blogger ziel said...

Jimbo - actually I thought this up on the drive home last night. I've been truly uninspired the last two weeks. I could have written any number of posts on how unfair the press is and how the financial crisis isn't really all the Republicans fault and blah blah blah but there's enough blah blah blah out there already.

I'm sure you know that the boom was already crashing by the time Bush took office, and that while Bush I was losing to Clinton the economy was already revved up and growing briskly. But such silly partisan bitch fights are really what's gotten us here. No one wants to look at the underlying trends in society to really get what's going on. That's what I try to do - but you can play the Democrats are the good guys and Republicans are all evil game if you'd like, of course - I'll pass.

October 16, 2008 8:52 AM  
Anonymous jimbo said...

No worry Ziel, I´m sure I´ll have enough to bitch and moan about a year or two from now just as I did during the Clinton regime...

October 16, 2008 12:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'd like to add something tangentially related to your post.

My point is "thee, but not for me" of the people at the levers of the Republican-party fundraising and propaganda apparatus.

Republicans get a lot of moolah from Wall Street. Do you see them lobbying for importing Pakistani, Indian, Indonesian, Chinese financial analysts and brokers who would be just as methematically adept in the pits and boiler rooms, but for less than half the price? Nope, you don't. But you sure as hell see them cheering on companies like Tyson foods to replace 11 dollar-an-hour white and black employees with $7.50-an-hour-Guatemalans.

Do you see our president and congress push for our citizens to use FOREIGN brokerages to handle their IRA's and 401K's instead of Wall Street? Hell no!!! They would have a fit, is that even legal???
These same people praise Wal-Mart and the Chinese manufactured goods therein*.

Would you see Hollywood praise subtitled or dubbed Bollywood action movies if our kids latched onto them (like the small subculture of kids who are into Japanese anime')? That would be treated as a cultural crisis that endangered our common heritage and historical creativity if it became a real phenomenon by Hollywood and their media allies I would bet.

Its like liberals who live in high-rise enclaves with doormen and private security, or better yet the gated-community-corporate royalists who gripe about John Doe being ticked about he is surrounded by Spanish speaking midgets and sees MS-13 tag-signs all over his formerly nice neighborhood (when I say formerly, sometimes I mean as recently as 1996 or so), while they live in planned subdivisions that literally have private police forces that you cannot even drive your car through without a card to get in the gate (lots of these where I live now).

The Republicans in the drivers seat of the GOP have become massive hypocrites, far far far FAR removed from the churchgoers who do electric work, welding, mechancis, computer repair, plumbing, et cetera, that actually vote for them. The party of Wall Street and the tiny replicate Marthas Vineyard's in every major city in America is run by people who call their voters "proles" in private, and worry about the racism of the working "proles" while shielding themselves heroically (I mean heroically in the vein of Achillies and Jason) from the new humans they import for indentured servitude**.

Our wealthy want to "make money off their money" now, but dont really create much new wealth at all anymore. They simply want to lend at a good interest rate that beats inflation and talk about what "entreprenuers" that they are. These folks dont know a small business man with a storefront in a strip mall, or what he has to deal with, how he is told who to hire, the taxes he has to pay, the rigamorole he is confronted with. Nor do they care.

* What the hell will some of our corporations do if the Chinese ever get around to nationalizing some of the factories they have put there? Think about it, they have put their most valuable assets in China (factories). I suppose they are counting on the US Navy to keep raw materials out of China if the Chinese did something like this in the future. If a Barack Obama-like leftist was our president, would HE be willing to fight a war with them to keep these factories for our gated-community elite's shareprices? Possession is 9/10ths of the law. Twenty five years from now, we could be in for some big suprises. A property deed in another nation does not mean all that much to the populace there.

**When you consider how expensive it is to own a house now, paying adults working in sweatshops who make 7-9 dollars an hour represents indentured servitdude to those who rent or sell them shelter in the form of lending them mortgage money on those paper mache houses. Making that little ensures these people will be in debt all their lives, buying the one thing our wealthy aren't too lazy to sell: money.
Thats whats so great about selling never have to improve your product. If you can concoct an economy where nobody has enough money to buy anything they need when they need it (cars, shelter, even appliances) they have to borrow today and pay over their lifetimes as a matter of culture. People like me who have paid off cars (and houses if I wanted to--but I'd be broke), and have paid off appliances, TV's, etc, are an anathema to our elite. I dont owe them any money, and therefore other than my 401K, which I have lost quite a bit of money in in the past two years, they recieve no coin from me personally at all.

If you sell money, and thats all you are willing to sell, you'd hanker for an economy where the serfs made enough to keep them working 50 hours a week, but would always be paying a house note, car note, credit card balances (on multiple cards) for clothes, appliances, new TV's, even movies and dinners for the majority of their lives even up to the day they retire (and beyond that%%%%%). Thats what they've got.

You'd be astounded at how many mortgages my pal has to write up for retirees living on their pensions, social security, and IRA's. It BLOWS M's mind that 66 year olds get 300K loans to live in hosues they cannot afford, but plan to get 30 and 40!!!!! year notes on them to live above their means until they are committed to nursing homes. We do this more and more. Its hysterical.


October 17, 2008 11:20 AM  
Blogger Steve Sailer said...

Yes, the Secret Strategy was for the top 1% would wind up with all financial assets (e.g., pieces of paper with IOUs written on them) while the other 99% would be kept from rioting by being able to buy huge televisions and houses, which they couldn't possibly earn enough money to pay for because they would borrow the money by giving IOUs to the top 1%.

A foolproof plan for all concerned!

October 20, 2008 4:05 AM  
Anonymous Joseph said...

Entertaining read -- and unfortunately insightful. Is it too much to ask the raging peasants, though, to consider justice and prudence? Sure, the landed gentry of walled communities may have ignored the harmful effects of their actions upon the unwashed in our exciting new global age, but should we rob all of the folks in fine linen for the sins of a portion? Storming the manor won't do much to help the peasants' fortunes -- it only offers up a fleeting taste of sweet revenge. I know, peasants are peasants, and if they were capable of such judgments, they would not be peasants. Yet, I want to believe in American exceptionalism -- aren't we different . . . aren't we better?

November 12, 2008 12:32 AM  
Blogger ziel said...

Aren't we different...better?

Well, we're broke, primarily. And you can't get blood from a stone, so if we're going to pay our debt the folks with the money are going to have to kick in something extra. And since they had such a big hand in mismanaging or financial system, then I don't feel the slightest bit guilty about raising their taxes.

November 12, 2008 7:38 AM  

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