Charles Hugh Smith, whom we’ve met in these pages many times before, offers a very interesting – and troubling – article about how prevalent corruption has become in America.
Simply put, corruption is cost-free in America because most of it is legal. And whatever is still illegal is never applied to the elites and insiders, except (as per Communist regime corruption) for a rare show trial where an example is made of an egregious fall-guy (think Bernie Madoff: whistleblowers’ repeated attempts to expose the fraud to regulators were blown off for years. It was only when Madoff ripped off wealthy and powerful insiders did he go down.)
There are three primary sources for the complete systemic corruption of America. One is the transition from civic responsibility for the social contract and the national interest to winner-take-most legalized looting.
This transition is visible in the history of empires in the final stage of collapse. The assumption underlying the social order slides from a shared duty to the nation and fellow citizens to an obsession with evading civic duties: military service, taxes, and following the rules are all avoided by insiders and elites, and this moral/social rot then corrupts the entire social order as elites and insiders lean ever more heavily on the remaining productive class to pay the taxes and provide the military muscle to defend their wealth.
That corruption is now everywhere in America is obvious to all but those adamantly blinded by denial. The JP Morgans pay fines as a cost of doing corrupt business, while “public servants” game the system to maximize their pensions with a variety of tricks: colluding to boost the overtime of the retiring insider; finding a quack physican to sign off on a fake “heart murmur” so the insider pays no taxes on their “disability” check, and so on in an endless parade of lies, scams, skims and insider tricks.
The excuse is always the same: everybody does it. This is of course the collapse not just of the social contract but of morality in general: anything goes and winners take most. Insiders look the other way lest their own skims and scams be contested, and elites and insiders view those who aren’t skimming and scamming as chumps to be pitied.
The second dynamic is that financialization has completely corrupted the American economy, and that corruption has now spread to the political and social orders. Once the financial sector conquered the real economy, it began siphoning 95% of the economy’s wealth to the top .01% and their toadies, lackeys, apologists, enforcers and technocrats.
As they hollowed out the real economy, distorted incentives and made moral hazard the guiding principle of the American way of life, the recipients of financialization’s domination gained the wealth to buy political power from the pathetically corruptible political class.
The corruption that we call financialization corrupted democracy and undermined the social contract by eviscerating the value of labor and creating a pay-to-play political order that’s a mockery of democracy.
The third factor is the decay of America’s institutions into fronts for personal gain. While Higher Education insiders are masters of self-serving PR, the truth is they’re not concerned about their debt-serf “customers” (students) learning the essential skills needed in the tumultuous decades ahead–they’re worried that the revenues needed to pay their enormous salaries and benefits might dry up.
“Education” is nothing but a front for the corruption of self-enrichment by the elites and insiders at the top.
The same is true of “healthcare.” The concern of insiders isn’t the declining health of America’s populace, it’s the decline in revenues as fewer “customers” come in for the financial scalping of emergency care.
. . .
American Exceptionalism has been turned on its head: America is now as perniciously corrupt as any developing-world nation we smugly felt so superior to, and with extremes of wealth and income inequality that surpass even the most rapacious kleptocracies. This destabilizing “exceptionalism” is now the defining characteristic of the American economy, society and political order.
Systemic corruption and the implosion of the social contract have consequences: It’s called collapse, baby, and the rot is now too deep to reverse.
There’s more at the link. Highly recommended reading (as are all his articles).
Mr. Smith cites a review of a new book, “On Corruption in America: And What Is At Stake“.
I don’t agree with the author’s politics in many respects, but she makes this point in the interview/review that I think is very telling.
“Myth,” these days, is a word of contempt — meaning something patently untrue. But real myths are profoundly true. They are how our species has been examining itself and its way in the world for tens of thousands of years. When I witnessed the doings of our outsize public figures — caricatures, really — I found myself thinking: ‘We have turned our back on our cultural wisdom, and so we are condemned to live our myths.”
There’s a lot of wisdom in mythology. A grateful god offered Midas a single gift. “Gold!” he cried. It took about seven seconds till the king’s delight transformed to despair. He reaches for an apple to crunch on; it’s gold. He pours out some wine and can’t drink it. Hawthorn wrote a version of the tale, giving Midas a daughter, the light of his eyes, who at his kiss is transfigured into a statue. This is a story about the “Midas disease” — the compulsion to reduce irreplaceable values down to lifeless metal. Or, these days, to zeroes: in bank accounts. Today, the Midas disease is pandemic.
While researching the origins of this myth, I was dumbfounded to discover that Midas was real and ruled in Phrygia — approximately where and when money originated. The Midas myth is about money. This innovation was an entirely new way of storing value, which may have plenty of upsides, but when societies turn it into a yardstick for measuring social worth, there’s no getting enough. So, everything of value is game for being reduced into zeroes. If you put people sick with the Midas disease in charge of your society, devastation will ensue.
Jesus spills money all over the temple floor, throws the furniture around, a whip in his hand. Quite a dramatic action for the Prince of Peace! Did you know the temple of Jerusalem in his day was the most magnificent building complex east of Rome? I didn’t … The high court sat there, the main bank and money exchange. You could say Jesus took on a combination of Washington DC, Wall St., the Vatican, and the military base in Qatar.
At the top of this edifice was a tight-knit coalition of the wealthy and powerful — in today’s parlance, the billionaires. And it was at that moment, according to all four gospels, that this cabal “started looking for a way to kill him.” That is, the billionaires murdered Jesus. Not the “Jews” — who were, in fact, his own community. Interestingly, it couldn’t be done just then, because he was surrounded by a cross-cutting coalition of that community. You might call it the broad-based egalitarian coalition.
There is a lot to learn here: Billionaires in charge of a community’s most sacred values, and the public trust, will ruin their society. The only chance of curbing them is to join together in a broad-based coalition, crisscrossing all identity divides – what Jesus was getting at with “love thy neighbor” — and to relentlessly keep the focus trained on the corruption of that ruling clique. We can’t get distracted by manipulative efforts to divide us.
Again, more at the link.
Speaking as a pastor and chaplain, I find it hard to disagree with Ms. Chayes on this point. To support her interpretation of the Cleansing of the Temple, Wikipedia notes – and on the basis of my own studies, I agree – that it was far more than just a symbolic cleansing. “A common interpretation is that Jesus was reacting to the practice of money changers routinely cheating the people, but Marvin L. Krier Mich observes that a good deal of money was stored at the temple, where it could be loaned by the wealthy to the poor who were in danger of losing their land to debt. The Temple establishment therefore co-operated with the aristocracy in the exploitation of the poor. One of the first acts of the First Jewish-Roman War was the burning of the debt records in the archives.”
(Institutional corruption in the religious establishment? Say it ain’t so! Where else have we seen this in more recent years? It’s not just about money . . . )
The danger, of course, is that in tackling corruption, we get sidetracked into opposing all personal ambition and desire for a better life. That’s a motivator for all of us – or should be – and that drive is what lifts all of society along with those who are lifting themselves. That’s not a bad thing at all. Socialism’s great flaw is that it seeks to distribute outcomes equally, rather than allow those who work harder and smarter to earn – and keep – more of the fruits of their labors. We dare not allow our focus on corruption to snuff out entrepreneurship and hard work at the same time.
Nevertheless, I agree with Mr. Smith; corruption has become endemic in our business, political and economic spheres. Consider the prescient warnings of past leaders:
- President Eisenhower: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
- President Ford: “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.”
- UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher: “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.”
All true, and all harbingers of the corruption we see today embedded throughout our society. The question is, what can we do about it? I suggest the “Tea Party” movement, the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, and the outcome of the presidential election of 2016, are all signs of growing unrest and rejection by the electorate of the corrupt and unequal status quo. I think we should encourage more of the same, on both sides of the political aisle. Get rid of corrupt office-holders; elect fresh, non-corrupted representatives; and limit how long they can stay in office, so there’s less time for them to become corrupted in their turn.