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krispos42 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jun-05-11 10:52 PM
Original message
"...they can vote themselves largess from the public treasury..."
Jerry Pournelle wrote in the preface for the short-story collection "Republic and Empire" (1987) the following excerpt:

Democracies endure until the citizens care more for what the state can give them than for its ability to defend rich and poor alike; until they care more for their privileges than their responsibilities; until they learn they can vote themselves largess from the public treasury and use the state as an instrument for plundering, first, those that have wealth, then those that create it."



As an aside, I'll note that he states that the wealthy do not create wealth.


However, the crux of this argument is that he is exactly right, but not in the way he intended.


The corporate citizens of America, also known as ExxonMobile and Sunoco, Northrop Grumman and United Technologies, Wells Fargo and Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, United Health Care and Humana, are some of the excellent examples of this. I'm sure that many DUers could add a hundred names to this list without exerting themselves in the slightest. Pharmaceutical and agricultural megabusinesses come to mind.


Of course, there is a human citizens component as well. There are individual human beings, able-bodied people in the prime of life, who also care only for what free wealth the Government gives them every month. Probably everybody knows somebody who never works above the table and subsides on various federal, state, municipal, and private social programs.

But the magnitude of the tiny segment of the population that is callous enough to determinedly NOT make anything of themselves over their entire lives is vastly smaller than the tiny segment of the population that is callous enough to make themselves wealthy and powerful beyond comprehension.


Absent an immediate foreign threat, mandatory conscription, or an active militia requirement, it is true that real citizens of America don't spend that much time worrying about the ability of the Federal government's ability to defend rich and poor alike. We also know we spend a huge amount of money on a huge military, so hey, we've got that covered. So they are rightly concerned, with the common defense provided for, with what the Government can do for them.

However, it is also true that the corporate citizens of America spend even less time worrying about it. They have the ability to move from country to country; they have the ability to exist in several dozen countries simultaneously; the have the ability to be purchased by and to merge with other corporations; and the have the ability to dissolve themselves and reform at any time in the future. So except for the companies that are directly involved in profiting from warfare, the corporate citizens of America aren't too worried about the common defense either.


The last line of the quote above is what really has simmered in me since I read it, especially in context of next paragraph in the monograph:

The American people seem to be learning that fatal lesson. The last forty years have seen the United States reject the temptations of empire but nearly succumb to the seductions of democracy. We have reached the abyss, but not yet taken the last step over it. The survival of freedom is at stake, and that future is by no means certain.


Assuming that was true in 1987, it ain't true now! Reaganomics turned us smartly away from the real people voting largess from the public treasury to themselves and back towards empire, thank you very much. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, anybody? Iraq and Afghanistan? 780 military bases worldwide? And HOW enormous is the Pentagon budget again?




The real fact is that the wealthy people in America do what Pournelle worried about the masses doing... they voted themselves largess from the public treasury and use the state as an instrument of plunder.

One thing that we must realize is that the wealthy can and do influence the political landscape twice: once on their own wealth and influence, and again as the executives who control the political and economic activities of the vast accumulations of wealth called "corporations". And they do what they want to do: what is to their advantage.

  1. They destroy the free market in favor of monopolies and plutocracies.

  2. This is pretty basic... if there is no competition, there's no reason for prices to go down. Or to innovate. Or to be responsive to customer wants and needs. So they merge, and merge, and merge! Sometimes it's different makers of a product being bought out and merged into a few companies, sometimes it's a bunch of unrelated stuff under one corporate umbrella.

  3. They break labor unions

  4. Again, pretty basic. Organized capital doesn't want to compete with organized labor; it cuts into corporate profits. Besides, the gall of those under-educated proles thinking they are the equals of the Ivy League-educated business elites!!! So destroy organized labor and reap the profits. Make every individual laborer complete with every other laborer at the same time reduce the number of potential employers (and thus competition to hire) drops (see point #1).

  5. They give themselves tax cuts, tax advantages, grants, and subsidies

  6. The most basic of all. While in theory the masses can vote themselves massive amounts of funding at the expense of the rich, the fact remains that the opposite is what is happening. The wealthy are very organized and do not as a group let themselves distracted by non-economic issues, while simultaniously distracting the masses with wedge issues and the infrastructure to make them a Big Fucking Deal.


Remember, the wealthy are active in this every day of the election cycle, while the masses tend to only pay attention a couple of months. And finally, the vast concentrations of wealthy of the individual and the corporation allow intimate access to the legislators and their staffs. All of which gives them political influence far out of proportion to their numbers.

Right now, the political influence of the wealthy is the single largest threat to the long-term survival of our democracy and perhaps even our country. Until and unless the power and influence of the wealthy is counter-balanced by a large and politically active middle-class, the above trends will continue until something collapses.

Okay, rant over. :-)
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Angry Dragon Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jun-05-11 11:20 PM
Response to Original message
1. Good rant
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krispos42 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jun-06-11 12:27 PM
Response to Reply #1
5. Fundamental problem that the right will not publically admit is a problem...
...money is power, money is free speech, and what the masses can do in a democracy with votes the rich can do with money: arrange advantages for themselves at the taxpayer's expense.

The difference being that shifting more of the GDP to the bottom 95% does far more good than shifting it to the top 5%.
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TacticalPeek Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jun-05-11 11:56 PM
Response to Original message
2. Exactly.

Sadly I see nothing preventing collapse.

It really irks me to not leave my children an improved country, as my parents left me, and theirs them.

You cannot trust the rich with money.

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PDJane Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jun-06-11 12:12 AM
Response to Original message
3. Excellent rant........
But it wasn't true, and hasn't been since before the Second World War. That's why Smedley Butler is important.

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TacticalPeek Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jun-06-11 11:02 AM
Response to Original message
4. Morning kick.

With cause.

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ItNerd4life Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jun-06-11 12:56 PM
Response to Original message
6. Excellent rant. There is a way to fix this, but even people on DU
seem to be against it. If you want low & middle income wages to rise, you must link them to executive wages. This way, the executives can't get wage increase without increasing
the wages of others. This must be tied to keeping American jobs, not laying people off, etc.
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Odin2005 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jun-06-11 01:07 PM
Response to Original message
7. great post! I keep telling people it's like the end of the Roman Republic/
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krispos42 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jun-06-11 01:23 PM
Response to Original message
8. Just had a thought... not only do they vote themselves largess from the public treasury...
...they also vote to keep their money from being put in the public treasury in the first place.

:hi:
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hfojvt Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jun-06-11 03:12 PM
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9. wealth creation is a funny thing - who does it is the question
Edited on Mon Jun-06-11 03:20 PM by hfojvt
Pournelle seems to think that most of the wealth creation is done by "Atlas" type people. Giants who carry the world on their shoulders. It certainly is true that some people get gigantic rewards, and they like to believe, and for others to believe, that they earn those huge rewards. I generally don't believe it, but there does seem to be a case for talent.

One place you can see it is in football. A star quarterback seems to have a tremendous impact. Even the best quarterback needs a decent offensive line, good receivers and decent running backs to be successful, but seemingly one person is often key. Look at the Denver Broncos with John Elway and without John Elway.

1996 - 13 - 3
1997 - 12 - 4
1998 - 14 - 2
after Elway
1999 - 6 - 10
2000 - 11 - 5
2001 - 8 - 8

Granted, I don't know very many details about the Broncos, not being a fan, especially not when Elway was there, but it would seem the only major change to the team between 1998 and 1999 was Elway, and without Elway they went from 14-2 to 6-10.

However, I remember reading another story. Joe Namath is famous for his guarantee and superbowl victory, but I remember reading about the kickoff returner on that team. His name escapes even me, but he was a walk-on. Just went into training camp and made the team. He was the top kickoff returner in the NFL the year the Jets won that Superbowl. As such his contributions were probably also important to the team. However, unlike Namath who became moderately rich and famous, this guy made only $11,000 for that year, which was not a lot of money even in the 1970s (although in 1974 a full time job at minimum wage would only pay $4,000 a year (the equivalent of $8.98 an hour in today's money).

I think of another example, in Pournelle's line - the Harry Potter books. In one sense, they were created entirely by J.K. Rowling, with perhaps some contributions from editors and proof readers. They have made tremendous amounts of money for her and for Emma Watson and the other actors, for the publisher, for the film studio, and for bookstores and others. And besides the money, presumably hours of entertainment for readers and movie goers.

But there are many other people involved in the production and distribution of those books and movies (and doubtless other merchandise from t-shirts, costumes, dolls, coffee mugs, pencils, lunchboxes, notebooks, posters, etc.) There are people working in paper factories, in printing shops, in warehouses, in bookstores, and so on, who are helping to create and distribute the products. To some degree, they all get a cut of the total pie, their slice depending on where they are in the food chain.

I also wonder about the wealth "creation" aspect of it. If, say, 100 million people (in the US) spend $8 each to get the first Harry Potter book, we might say that "produces" $800 million in revenue. But in one sense it has not "produced" anything. Each $8 is just a transfer of money from the buyer to the seller. The buyer gets an item which was produced for sale, but its function is only entertainment purposes. If the book had never been written, the buyers would have found something else to occupy their time, whether another book, perhaps "Footfall" by Pournelle or "Stride toward Freedom" by MLK or by reading a really long rambling post on a discussion board or with some other activity, like cutting the grass, planting a garden, watching the fireflies, playing golf, etc. Their $8 would go somewhere else and still be $800 million in income wherever it went.

In many ways our economy is silly. For one thing, it relies upon jobs, and the last thing I want myself, is a frigging job. When I sit down and think of the things I want to do, walking to a dirty, noisy, hot satellite dish factory and running a drill press for 7.5 hours is not anywhere near the top of the list. Nor is going to a factory which makes pudding in 3 ounce plastic cups and runs on 12 hour shifts. Nor is my current job. I don't want those jobs. I just want and need the income that they bring in.

Our modern technology has the capacity to supply our needs with much less labor. Because of the design of our economic system, this becomes a problem. We start with, say, requiring 2 million hours of labor to supply the needs of 500 families. That's just enough labor to provide full time jobs for all the adults (in an ideal world where everybody gets married and stays that way). But then technology improves and we can do it with 1 million hours. Suddenly we don't have jobs for half of the adults. Now they have to create something, like Harry Potter mugs, and work at factories making them and hoping people will buy them so they can stay employed and buy the food, clothing, shelter that they need and maybe a DVD of "V for Vendetta", among other things, that they want as well.

Suddenly, though, we collectively all have to do a lot more work just to survive, and like Vonnegut wrote in "Player Piano" the machines are making many people obsolete. It used to be that the masters of industry needed the people. Needed them, first, to work in their plants and second, needed them to buy their products. But that is becoming less true. Because, like the Jello factory where I worked, big machines can crank out lots of product with much less labor. Then, as more and more of the pie goes to many fewer people, you don't really need lots of customers. You don't need to sell Ann Coulter books to the masses, because major players like David Koch can buy truckloads of them and then give them away.

I still think the creators of wealth though, are mostly at the bottom. That, like Stewart said in "It's a Wonderful life" - "they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community". The people who end up at the top of the pyramid get to siphon wealth from all the people below them, but generally they are not that essential to the production. And the idea that a Rowling will quit writing, or quit publishing if she is hit with another 20% in taxes seems ridiculous to me. Back in 1977 we had much higher tax rates than when Pournelle wrote in 1987 and we were doing just fine.
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krispos42 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jun-07-11 09:50 PM
Response to Reply #9
10. The masses produce, but they need organization and purpose.
Which is where the dreamers and planners and innovators come in. I don't think it's unfair that they make more for doing this, I just think it's unfair and dangerous for more than a tiny handful to make what some of them make.


However, people also like to be gainfully employed. Republicans seem to think that people enjoy lounging around the house and will do it as long as they can get away with. However, it's not true at all. People do what they need to do, and given choice, will do what they love to do. It's only jobs that they don't like that seem like "work", and that crush the soul. Working the grill or register at McDonald's isn't a soul-crushing job... if it's part-time, or just for a couple of years. But when you're doing it full time for an indeterminable number of years, that's when the job really starts to drag and people start slacking off badly.



I think if we were truly "pro-family" we'd work towards setting up a single-income middle-class society: one parent home to run the household, one parent working a normal work week to pay the bills, allow the purchase of a modest house or apartment, take 4 weeks of vacation per year, and keep a car in good repair. And if we have to do it by taxing the hell out of everybody making more than $400,000 a year or whatever, then so be it.
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