Saturday, April 25, 2009

Class Dismissed

It's amazing how the terms of reference change on a daily basis during these times. Of course, the battlefield is already littered with the bloated, decaying corpses of all of Obama's promises – his “hope” and “change” -- but none of this is the least bit surprising to the realists among us. Anyone who really and truly expected him to disentangle us from Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, was smoking much stronger stuff than anything I've ever been able to find, that's for sure. And as to the economy – well, Obama did have the advantage of taking the baton from the Republicans and thus enjoying a honeymoon of blamelessness. And that blamelessness is still more or less in effect, except that it's starting to wear thin with all the false starts, dithering, about-faces, exposures of cronyism, manifest cluelessness, etc., as well as the government's absolute impotence in the face of the cleverness and greed of those in the business world, as exemplified by the daily bonus scandals. As far as the middle class is concerned, well... they entrusted some of their money to the business community, and it's gone up in smoke. And the rest was confiscated by the government, and it has also gone up in smoke. And as for the illusion that our currency has any intrinsic value – it doesn't! It can be inflated, deflated, and manipulated at the whim of the Federal Reserve, the Treasury Department, the bankers, international currency speculators... just about anyone, in fact. Looking at the situation from the “ten-mile-up perspective”, it would seem that what we call “money” is, ultimately, a con. It's a way of “compensating” people for working many more hours a week than they would have to if they were only concerned with survival and a decent living for themselves and their dependents. What is (or was) called “savings” and “investment” was basically a massive wealth-transfer operation in disguise. But now the disguise has been removed, with a flourish, and – shazam! -- it turns out that all those people you entrusted your “savings” and “investments” to traded your money for goods and services for themselves (or for hard currency, i.e. some other country's) and left you with a bunch of worthless paper. Before, you saw it; now, you don't. But what did you really “see”? An illusion, basically. All of that “gain” on your investments never really existed – it was just ink on paper. “Gain” -- “appreciation” -- “return” -- these were all illusions. The real money was being made by the people running the system, not by the slobs who were conned into putting their own money into it. Oh sure, a few regular people had to make out in order to draw others into the game – this is what pyramid schemes are all about. Every investor had to know someone with a place in Palm Beach and a yacht, who retired at age 35, because they invested with Bernie Madoff, or some other sharp dealer.

But really, what were the alternatives? One alternative would have been to keep one's money in nothing but tangible, at least semi-liquid, goods -- but that's difficult, time-consuming, and requires quite a bit of dodging, because it's the very thing the government, i.e. the Regime, fears the most -- that people will turn up their nose at all that paper and save wealth in more traditional ways. Another alternative -- call it the “Atlas Shrugged” alternative – would have been to starve the government (and its cronies in the business world) by staying poor, i.e. by making no more than what would cover the basic necessities. This is the way the vast bulk of humanity has lived anyway, since the beginning of historical time. The few who didn't live that way put their money into things that were real – things like precious metals, gems, art, houses, livestock, arable land, racehorses, etc. Call it primitive, old-fashioned, Medieval, whatever – it worked. But then, along with democracy, came the middle class, and along with them came trade, commerce, currency, banks... and the Protestant ethic, which says that one should “save for a rainy day”, and also that it's considered tacky and in bad taste to spend all of your excess on “stuff” (but try telling that to some of the McMansion owners in Great Falls, Virginia). So they looked around frantically for “places to put their money” in order to make it “work”, i.e. earn interest, so that they would wind up even better off than they started. But all that middle-class, “kulak” wealth attracted the leering eye of the people who were running the system, and, being much more clever fellows than any mere bourgeois, they started to device schemes and scams by which the middle class could be, first, turned into an unwitting cash cow for the Regime, and, secondly, ultimately eliminated. And this process, mind you, has been going on for many decades. Some of the highlights (not necessarily in chronological order) include: the issuance of paper currency; the establishment of the Federal Reserve; the creation of publicly-held stocks; the creation of savings accounts; the demonetization of first gold, then silver; the establishment of the income tax (with the taxes on interest and capital gains being of particular note); planned inflation; "free trade"; foreign aid; and the establishment of perpetual war as the cornerstone of our foreign policy. And this was even before the government got into the mortgage, student loan, etc. business – and way before the current era of government backing up bad debts incurred by any and all banks, large businesses, mortgage companies, insurance companies, and so on. Concurrently with all the above, we had inflation of entitlements, beginning with Social Security. But, one might ask, aren't entitlements the way the government gives money back to the middle class (among others)? And the answer is, they collect much more than they give back, so it's more like a protection racket.

What makes the current phase of this process unique is that the Regime is, at long last, and for reasons of its own, killing the golden goose. It has bled the middle class white (no pun intended!) for many decades, with barely a peep of protest from the people who have been impacted the most. But the illusion of being, and remaining, middle class, has been fostered and encouraged -- it has become, like so much else in the declining days of a society, a fetish. Nowadays, all politicians can talk about is “protecting” the middle class, which is a sure sign that it's about to be exterminated. You can always tell, when a given group is singled out as needing special attention, that its days are numbered. Now, why they have chosen to do this now, and in this particular fashion, is something I really don't have the answer to. Surely, as a cash cow of many decades' standing, the middle class has been of value to the Regime... their willingness to be sheared on a regular basis is legendary... their eager cooperation in their own exploitation is likewise legendary... their “reliability” at the polls has served to prop up the "voting" fetish, and keep the Regime in total control, for many years... they have served as a kind of buffer between the rich and the poor, between the controllers and the underclass... a kind of social laughingstock/scapegoat... so why get rid of them? All I can think of is that the lust for power has gone totally ballistic, and that the middle class, while valuable, is seen as a kind of barrier (albeit passive in the extreme) to the ultimate consolidation of political, social, and economic power of the few over the many. It has certainly been seen this way -- and quite explicitly so -- by liberals and “progressives” for a good century now... and the Democratic Party has long since rid themselves of the dull, complacent middle class, preferring to become the party of the rich and the poor (and, thus, a kind of hologram of nearly any large city in the country).

Let's admit – it takes plenty of imagination and creativity to picture the United States without a middle class... and yet, this is the dream that the liberals, Democrats, and Obama's team in particular are pursuing with a kind of lustful delirium. Get rid of those stodgy, boring people and the world will be renewed in our image! A world of only controllers and helpless victims seems to appeal to their aesthetic sensibilities, for some reason. Well, fine – it's going to be interesting to see how it works out. But they may be in for a few surprises. Like so much else about America, for instance, the existence of a prominent middle class has always been seen, by its enemies, as merely coincidental... and, moreover, as a kind of unfortunate accident that we would have gotten along much better without. They say this about religion as well, and about qualities like thrift, sobriety, morals, intact families, tradition, ethnic consciousness... ever personal hygiene. These are all hopelessly old-fashioned, fuddy-duddy habits that the Utopian society of tomorrow will not need, want, cultivate, or (they hope) permit. But do they really know what a world without any of these things looks like? Have they checked out sub-Saharan Africa lately, for example? Or certain lost corners of Southwest and South Asia? Because it is not, by any means, impossible for us to morph, fairly readily, into that sort of squalor... heaven knows we have, at various times and in various places, for at least short periods of time – take post-Katrina New Orleans, for instance. The thin veneer of civilization is, after all, held together by the middle class, who very dutifully apply a new coat once in a while, and do all they can to defend it against predation by both the proles and the rich. Do the social-change experts think that middle class habits and attitudes -- especially the long-suffering, submissive, nose-to-the-grindstone-for-scant-reward life style -- will survive the impoverishment of its members? If so, they need to study what happens to people who grow up middle class then become poor – and especially to their offspring. It's as if that middle class thing never happened --- as if it was only a dream. Truly, the baseline, or default setting, of humanity does seem to be, by and large, a life that is “nasty, brutal, and short” like the lives of most sub-Saharan Africans of today. What sort of person would sentence the largest single portion of the American populace to this fate? Clearly, someone who would rather be an Idi Amin than one of many leaders of a free people.

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