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(A Postscript to Four Cardinal Errors)

Steven Yates



Introduction:  Why Technofeudalism? (Technofeudalism is the best term for a kind of political economy that has been coming together very gradually for much of the past century, but accelerating in recent decades: it is technologically advanced but populations are controlled by various means and, in effect, made into serfs who are tied to whatever work they can find and to government programs. Technofeudalism is driven by those I call the superelite—a group of globalist-minded extended families whose primary motivation is wealth and power. It illustrates the primary problem of practical political philosophy and strategy: how to contain that minority in our midst that is drawn to power.) 

1.    The End of History?  (The collapse of the Soviet Union seemed to leave the world at a major turning point; Communism was dead, the combination of market capitalism and liberal democracy seemed to be catching on everywhere, and the U.S. was the sole superpower. It seemed conceivable that it really was, as Francis Fukuyama described, the end of history.)

2.    The Neoliberal Illusion.  (Things began to unravel almost at once, as trade deals such as NAFTA began to put an end to the largest financially independent middle class in history. Neoliberal ideology proved to have a dark side, as millions ended up out of work or working for less, wealth was redistributed upward, class divisions reappeared, and social mobility became more difficult.)

3.    Precariatization and the Destruction of the American Mind.  (Higher education faced multiple crises: rising radical left “scholarship” in the humanities, speech codes, and a rising corporate or business mindset in bloating administrations. The collapse of the academic job market had created conditions where control was possible, and the impoverishing of faculty via adjunctification became one species of the creation of a precariat — workers in an environment of part-time, temporary, and short-term work: a low-wage economy. Liberal arts learning was under assault, as the thinking skills it provides threaten the elitist political economy of power, domination, precarity, and corruption. 

4.    The Empire of Corruption.  (The past two decades have seen rising corruption and financial manipulation, centered in the banking system, eventually causing the 2008 meltdown, and bringing about rising general indebtedness and a lower standard of living. Since 9/11 we have seen both the rise of the most dangerous war machine on the planet as well as domestic police state conditions. The U.S. Supreme Court, with decisions such as Citizens United, has ensured a bought-and-paid-for political class. Articles now appear in refereed journals indicating that the U.S. is now a plutocratic oligarchy.)  

5.    The Global Corporatist Leviathan.  (If the present political system is plutocratic oligarchy, the correct term for the present economy is corporatism, with technofeudalism its broader political-economic-technocratic instrument. Poor education ensures a systematic confusion between capitalism and corporatism. Under corporatism, corporations are in the driver’s seat behind governments, as we can see from their latest effort to dominate a section of the world’s economy: the Trans-Pacific Partnership.)  

6.    The New Serfdom.  (You are living in a feudal system when there is one set of rules for those with power and another set of rules for those without power, with only token representation. Technofeudalism emerges in that its subjects are technologically advanced serfs — surrounded by technology but tied to low-wage work or to a government-based support system, with no realistic hope of immediate escape.)  

7.    “What Can We Do?”  (You can educate yourself on issues ranging from the possibilities of expatriation to that of peoples separating politically from empires, which may become possible as a very severe economic downturn, worse than the Great Recession — a Greater Depression — is almost certainly inevitable.)

8.    Preparing for the Greater Depression.  (The world is on the verge of having to face the realities of financialization that will bring on the Greater Depression. You can prepare by building proper skills now. It is conceivable that the global superelite is planning on a Greater Depression. They cannot control the most basic principle of economics, that real wealth must be produced and not conjured out of thin air. Thus you should prepare anyway.)

9.    Grounds for Hope: Real Sustainability and the Cycles of History.  (Technofeudalism will prove unsustainable. It may be put in place, but its structure and the mindset that gave rise to it will cause it to decay and eventually disintegrate. We have come this way before, as empires have risen and fallen before. This provides hope, in that with the collapse of the technofeudalist empire, separation and the building of a world of small states will become possible — again if we begin to prepare now.) 

Introduction:  Why Technofeudalism?

My book Four Cardinal Errors (2011) introduced the idea of technofeudalism. Although a bit of a mouthful, this is the best term for the political economy towards which an intergenerational superelite has been directing as much of the world as possible for much of the past century. Who are the superelite? This existence of this group, I argue, is the foremost political-economic reality of our times. It consists of a loose number of extremely wealthy and influential extended families (perhaps 300 or so) who operate primarily behind the scenes, typically through central banks, e.g., the Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, and Deutsch Bank; Wall Street financial leviathans, e.g., Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan; other global giants such as Monsanto and Halliburton; foundations such as Ford, Rockefeller, and now Gates, all of whom have very deep pockets; quasi-secret organizations such as the Trilateral Commission; or through supranational entities created by global trade deals, e.g., the World Trade Organization. I use the term superelite to distinguish its members from visible national elites such as U.S. presidents, members of Congress, British prime ministers, or other national leaders; those seeking public office; or appointees such as Supreme Court Justices.

Their goal, I argued in Four Cardinal Errors, is to institute corporate controlled global governance: de facto world government, managed for private profit and for control over national governments and populations. Technofeudalism would be the resulting political economy. While preserving some of the vocabulary and outward features of market capitalism, technofeudalism has almost nothing to do with free markets, or free enterprise, as generally understood. It is about instituting whatever policies, instigating whatever wars, bringing about whatever revolutions, and causing whatever levels of social misery are deemed necessary for mass compliance. Its tools include both neoliberal and neoconservative ideology, artificial scarcity, education reduced to job skills training, and fear induction through constant pontificating about “terrorism” amidst random and often-depraved acts of violence, reducing as many as possible to a status of permanently cash-strapped, mentally paralyzed subjects — living amidst the most advanced technology in human history, but equivalent to serfs (tied de facto to property by “their” employers, governments, etc., as were medieval feudal serfs). Hence the term technofeudalism.

Technofeudalism is not all-or-nothing. Like a cancer, it is progressive. Large parts of it are already in place. There are reasons for believing it will not succeed in the long run at building a stable “new world order” (for some, the preferred term for a completed world government). We’ll see why below. It has already done tremendous damage, however, and will do more as it destabilizes. What the specifics of its destabilizing will look like, we can only hazard educated guesses. Never before has an empire as large and advanced as the United States of America been in this predicament, a predicament shared by the European Union and being modeled elsewhere (e.g., in parts of Latin America). So it is something we can only prepare for as best we can, by minimizing contact with organizations the superelite controls, developing strategies of mental, psychological, and spiritual as well as economic independence, quietly building preparedness skills to meet our needs and those of our fellows, and above all, initiating a global conversation about what kind of world we really want.  

Some believe global instability is part of the superelite plan. This would explain seemingly irrational fiscal policies leaving nations swimming in oceans of red ink, as well as wars that leave national economies in ruins and force mass migrations away from war zones (e.g., in present-day Europe). This is conceivable. They may see the coming unraveling as Endgame — the ultimate opportunity to seize global power by promising to restore order in exchange for mass subservience. It would at best be temporary. What the superelite cannot do is change the laws of nature, including those of economics and systems. Real wealth must be produced. It cannot be conjured out of thin air by central banks and governments. A people builds genuine prosperity by producing more than they consume. Building financial houses of cards on credit expansion cannot continue indefinitely. This leads to what Austrian school economists call malinvestments, which take the form of asset bubbles, e.g., overvalued stocks. Ultimately, bubbles burst. The result of a general financial collapse within Western civilization, were it to take place as the real endgame, would be utter devastation as trillions of fiat dollars simply evaporated back into nothingness.

What will the superelite then rule over, assuming they can maintain control? Wastelands filled with starving people, if none have prepared. Some authors see the superelite as sufficiently sociopathic that they will have programs for exterminating the masses in large numbers, whether through starvation or sterilization so that entire cultures simply die out in a generation or so if not sooner, leaving a more manageable global population. In the final section I will introduce some hopeful reasons for thinking their programs won’t get this far. There are no guarantees, however. Some believe the superelite have made themselves effectively untouchable, and will stand above the chaos like Nietzschean Übermenschen. This would be to deem them superhuman. They are not superhuman. They are not above those factors that make us human: finite perceptions, biases towards their own, error-proneness despite a belief in their own superiority and invulnerability, and finally what Christians call sinfulness. We shouldn’t put them on pedestals. What we should be doing is thinking about strategies, both personal and community-based, for freeing ourselves of their influence, so that when the mathematically inevitable decline of financialized-to-the-teeth societies occurs, we can take advantage of whatever diminishing of superelite power occurs.

Technofeudalism’s ascendance has a long history. The superelite did not spring out of nowhere just a few decades ago. Their parents and grandparents (sometimes ideologically, sometimes literally) created the Federal Reserve System in 1913. It is worth repeating that the Federal Reserve System is not a branch of the federal government but “independent within the government” according to its own literature; its banks are private entities in private hands, but with a privileged relationship to the federal government. Its creation began the long process of centralizing the U.S. economy while debasing the currency. Central banks elsewhere achieved the same results, the entire edifice coming under control of the Bank for International Settlements in the 1930s. Control of economies by central bankers and those around them has only grown. The effects of their currency debasement has been to rob our money of its purchasing power and peoples of their long-term savings.

But neither did matters begin with the Federal Reserve System. Thomas Jefferson warned against creating a central bank and was not listened to, as before the ink on the U.S. Constitution was dry, President George Washington had allowed Alexander Hamilton to create the first Bank of the United States. This plus the Jay Treaty — the very first bilateral international agreement — opened the door back up to British influence. The first of my “cardinal errors” in Four Cardinal Errors was the new American nation’s failure to maintain freedom and independence from meddlesome foreign bankers. Jefferson expended great effort for the rest of his life warning about their deleterious influence. The most powerful European banking extended family of the time was named Rothschild. Everyone reading this has surely heard that name. The most famous saying attributed to Mayer Amschel Rothschild, founder of the dynasty, was: “Give me control of a nation’s currency and I care not who makes the laws.” Whether he actually uttered these exact words is immaterial. He and his sons, especially Nathan Mayer Rothschild who inherited control over the family fortune, pursued this philosophy, the seedling of technofeudalism. The Rothschilds did not invent the techniques they used. These ranged from fractional lending (money created out of nothing, lent to governments, on which unrepayable interest is charged since the interest was not created) to fomenting wars by covertly lending to both sides. The lust for power by a sociopathic minority is probably as old as the human race itself, which makes the need to identify loci of power and place checks on it the most important problem in the political philosophy and practical strategy of any community hoping to create and sustain freedom for its people.  

My hope is that the relevance of this discussion to prospects for independence movements everywhere will be clear, along with prospects for working towards a world of small states answering to their peoples instead of empires answering to elites. This essay tries to take a look at what is happening now in light of the past few decades, suggest some plausible scenarios for the near future, and draw some conclusions about what peoples need to do to position themselves for independence when the time is right.

1.    The End of History?

The post-World War II mixed economy had its critics, but by the late 1950s had given us the largest and longest expansion ever seen. American capitalism had incorporated elements of “socialism” via devices ranging from safety nets such as social security and Medicare to a range of regulatory agencies that matured gradually following the war years. Reasonable people seemed able to live with these compromises, especially as they stood to benefit in the long run. For a time, that is, the system preserved the energy and productivity of markets, but circumscribed them with a legal apparatus to promote public health and workplace safety, and ensure that as progressively better medicine and medical technology lengthened the human life span, elderly people who happened not to have large families wouldn’t end up in poverty. Whatever one says about these government interventions in the economy, by the 1960s never before had so many people enjoyed so many fruits of an advancing civilization! There were, of course, issues ranging from the ongoing cold war to the growing battles over civil rights and the environment. But one fact stood out as undeniable: during that period we saw the rise of what was to become the largest, most prosperous, and most financially independent middle class in history!

In the 1970s, we seemed to lose our footing somewhat. The campus disruptions of the previous decade were fresh in everyone’s minds, amidst an increasingly unpopular war (Southeast Asia) and the Watergate scandal which forced a president to resign for the first time ever. As that decade continued we saw a long and stubborn recession at home and anti-American unrest overseas, e.g., the revolt against the Shah’s U.S.-backed regime in Iran. Together these ruined the Carter presidency. We recovered, psychologically anyway, during the Reagan years. It was “morning in America” — or so the Reaganites told us at the time. Although recession still dogged the early Reagan years, at last the economy began to expand nicely once again, and later in what became a transitional decade for the world, it was Soviet Communism that would stumble and then crumble. All of a sudden, we found ourselves in a unipolar world, with the U.S. the sole superpower!

Early in the 1990s, following the Soviet Union’s collapse, we heard about the End of History. Political historian Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man (1992) became one of the most widely discussed books of its time. Attentive readers learned something of the major philosophers whose ideas have wielded influence in recent years, from Kant and Hegel through Nietzsche down to Leo Strauss and Alexandre Kojève, whose thinking on the “bourgeoisification” of the West permeates The End of History and grounds what fears Fukuyama had for the future (the meaning of the Nietzschean phrase “the last man”). So much for the naïve idea that philosophy is irrelevant to modern civilization.

Fukuyama’s major theme: the ideological clash that had dominated the thoughts and lives of the previous generation was over! Market capitalism had won, almost by default! Other dictatorships, moreover, had ended — in many cases, peacefully (e.g., in Chile, following 17 years of military rule under Augustus Pinochet). Democratic institutions and a neoliberal order were taking hold everywhere. Neoliberalism makes the assumption that 1970s-era “stagflation” had rendered Keynesian spending, and government central planning generally, obsolete. Neoliberals’ top gun economists were Friedrich A. Hayek and Milton Friedman, both operating out of the University of Chicago. Hayek’s criticisms of state-run planning (e.g., in his slim 1944 treatise The Road to Serfdom) were by then well known, and the failure of the Soviet system seemed to confirm them. Friedman, too, in his Capitalism and Freedom (1962), had thrown cold water on the idea that anything more than minimal government involvement in the economy could cause anything but harm.

Hayek’s and Friedman’s positions boiled down to the claim that markets should operate freely within the bounds of law — the primary purposes of which were the protection of property, a promotion of innovation, and support for free trade — and that governmental regulatory entities (agencies, politicians, bureaucrats) loused up everything they touched. Allow corporations maximum freedom, and global prosperity would rise as never before! Privatize public services wherever possible; deregulate economic activity; remove impediments to global trade. Even China was industrializing and embracing global markets despite the hold its Communist Party retained over Chinese corporate life — something which, it was hoped, wouldn’t last. In 1992, viewed from the “commanding heights,” prospects for the worldwide embrace of a civilization based on science, technology, market capitalism, and liberal democracy had never seemed better! Although there might be a few holdouts based on religious orthodoxy among peoples who had turned their backs on modernity (e.g., in the Muslim world), there would be no more ideological battles on the scale that characterized the cold war era. Marxism was dead! And hence, in a broad, metaphorical sense, it looked as though this was indeed the end of history.

One by one, things began to go wrong with this image of a rising neoliberal quasi-utopia.

2.    The Neoliberal Illusion.

I am aware, first of all, of commentators and authors (Fareed Zakaria, Matt Ridley and Steven Pinker all come to mind) who see the years which ensued as even better than what had come before, in the sense that as technology changed and globalization grew more dominant, the benefits seemed to outweigh the problems. It is true that with the rise of the Internet, the World Wide Web, and social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.), the world is more connected than ever before. Locating information, preparing presentations, keeping a personal portfolio, etc., has never been easier. Moreover, one can sit in one’s office in, say, Greenville, South Carolina, and send an email or larger document to someone in an office in Singapore, and get a response in a matter of minutes. Or one can have money wired from an account in the U.S. to an account in Chile — or talk face-to-face with someone thousands of miles away via Skype. Such feats of technology would have been incomprehensible to our great grandparents who wrote letters by hand and waited days or weeks for a response.

However, it is also true that despite these advances in telecommunications and in technology generally we also now stand at a point well down the road during a long term period of stagnant average real, inflation-adjusted wages that have not kept up with the rising cost of living, including health care and insurance costs, and that at the same time the costs of obtaining an education at a good university, deemed necessary for the opportunities of the future, have skyrocketed uncontrollably. And speaking of these opportunities of the future, are they as good as they are made out to be? Even though violent criminal activity has diminished over time, dishonesty in high places seems to have grown, even if the same advances in technology have made it more visible. Trust in leadership has diminished. We have also seen, courtesy of the capacity the Web and social media have to provide platforms for a free dissemination of information, rising consciousness of the role elites of various sorts play in shaping the world. Some have learned to question whether many of the policies shaping our world — such as globalization — truly benefit ordinary people and how many are designed to empower and further enrich the elites.  

This last is clearly a bone of contention for those who dismiss power elite (or superelite) analysis as conspiracy theory. The view taken here is that the older ideological clash has indeed been replaced by a deeper one: between elites and non-elites (including those often labeled populists). This deeper clash is hard for many to see, just because despite the free flow of information on the Web and social media, the elites’ superior resources enables them to control not just the bulk of the national conversation but the very language used to discuss crucial issues including branding unwanted contributions with the conspiracy label (as if people able and willing to do so never conspired!). This is hardly new; we saw it in the early 1990s when elite-sponsored trade deals were labeled free trade, enabling their backers to invoke names like Frederic Bastiat and David Ricardo. We continue to see it as issues are shaped in terms of left versus right, or liberal versus conservative. George Orwell warned us decades ago of how important it is to pay attention to language. Those who control definitions can seize the moral high ground and control the conversation. In Orwell’s spirit, we need to take special note of how specific words and phrases are defined (and indeed, if they are defined or simply used propagandistically), who is using them, and what they are being used to do. The use of words to mislead, to praise, or to demonize, is as prevalent as it ever was, if not more so.

Returning, then, to the early 1990s: such deals as the North American Free Trade [sic.] Agreement (NAFTA) were supported by the elites of both major parties, praised by most economists and defended by mainstream commentators. NAFTA, having been developed as the culmination of earlier agreements put in place during the Reagan years, went into effect on Jan. 1, 1994. The “giant sucking sound” predicted by populist “third party” presidential candidate H. Ross Perot began. Plants closed, releasing workers who had earned $15 - $20 an hour. Operations went to Mexico for labor that cost the owners perhaps $1 - $2 an hour (these figures aren’t exact, but you get the idea). Eventually, millions of middle class manufacturing jobs vanished. When plants closed, local businesses that depended on workers having money to spend in those businesses also closed. It is true that Walmart eventually came in, with jobs paying considerably less than those that had been lost. In Walmart corporate headquarters hundreds of miles away, a community where people’s lives were invested was a pinpoint on a map. If the store at that pinpoint did not generate sufficient profits, it closed. The older businesses did not come back. Young people left familiar surroundings for the anonymity of life in big cities where hopefully they could find work. Once thriving areas turned into ghost towns.

NAFTA wasn’t the first such deal, of course. The original General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) dates from the 1940s, during the wave of fascination with global governance which had given us the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the Bretton Woods agreement which made the dollar the world’s reserve currency. With GATT II put in place the year after NAFTA and the newly created World Trade Organization overseeing things, manufacturing now went to a rapidly industrializing China for still cheaper labor. Technical call-center jobs (e.g.) began to go to India. In general, jobs that could be done from anywhere, that did not require hands-on procedures, disappeared from the U.S. We began to hear how services-related occupations were replacing manufacturing, even though the former paid much less than the latter and frequently involved poorer working conditions. But companies that resisted the tidal wave of labor arbitrage couldn’t compete. The idea that they chose to outsource jobs voluntarily suggests the weakness of defining volition versus coercion in absolute terms.

Economists, sold on neoliberalism and globalization, continued to defend these systemic trends with borderline-religious fervor. We would all be better off in the long run, it was argued, even though we had long before reached the point where both parents had to work to make ends meet. A few were observing the growing carnage and hesitating. Paul Craig Roberts and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) penned their infamous “Second Thoughts on Free Trade” and were savaged by free market absolutists. Roberts was essentially blackballed and never appeared in a mainstream publication again despite having once co-edited one (the Wall Street Journal). Today, no serious person believes these deals were about free trade in the sense of Bastiat and Ricardo. They were complex arrangements negotiated and managed by trade technocrats for global corporations, to increase profits by ensuring them lax regulatory environments and cheap labor. This was a prime example of the entire community of mainstream economists being hypnotized by a term. How we could have free trade with a country still tightly controlled by its Communist Party was one of those elephant-in-the-front-room questions we weren’t supposed to ask!

Thus did the seeds of technofeudalism begin to grow in soil made fertile by the lush waters of neoliberal ideology, protected by a closed circle of phrases with favorable connotations.

Arguably, NAFTA also destroyed Mexico’s agricultural base. Mexican family farms could not compete with U.S. agri-biz. They went under, just like those mom-and-pop stores whose often somewhat pricey quality goods couldn’t compete with Walmart’s cheap Chinese imports. Mexico’s standard of living dropped. Newly impoverished cities and towns became vulnerable to the drug cartels. Mexicans crossed the open U.S. border in numbers that would steadily increase, precipitating the illegal immigration crisis of the past two decades. It is very important to note: illegal immigrants were/are not the enemy. Most were and are not violent criminals, even if Donald Trump says so. They were searching for work, and found it in agriculture and construction. The U.S. now had its own cheap labor force. This also pleased corporations. Population increases drive down wages. Supply and demand applies to workers, after all.

Thus despite the soaring stock market and booming-economy happy talk of the late 1990s, it was the beginning of the end for a financially independent middle class. Also, during this period, the combination of the Republican Congress led by globalist Newt Gingrich and White House with globalist Democrat Bill Clinton respectively passed and signed legislation beginning the dismantling of the social safety nets that had been in place for roughly 60 years. This went under the rubric of welfare reform. There were, after all, plenty of high-tech jobs, or so we were told. People could just “reinvent themselves.” Technology was changing rapidly, however. It was compelling continuous across-the-board change in what employers wanted. Given this, people could “reinvent themselves” again and again! Expect to change careers at least five times during your lifetime, young people were told. (Again: were they being given a bona fide choice to make voluntarily, or a Pickwickian one the alternative to which was a descent into poverty?)

The late 1990s boom proved unsustainable. It was, in fact, a credit-fueled bubble. In 2000, the wheels came off and dot-coms failed by the thousands. The Federal Reserve refused to allow the economy to liquidate the malivestments. Alan Greenspan was the maestro, after all; the central bank was addicted to micromanaging the economy with artificially low interest rates. So the bubble remained. By the middle of the ‘00s, it had moved into housing (where a lot of illegal immigrants had found work), and we recall where that led! It would take another ten years, but the U.S. standard of living is now visibly dropping due to a combination of factors: whatever the gains on Wall Street, Main Street is stuck in neutral despite years of Quantitative Easing. QE is Federal Reserve monetary expansion in overdrive, amidst interest rates now held at zero. The newly created fiat dollars went to Wall Street banks and into stocks, not to the common, workaday businesses struggling to survive on Main Street.

Also diminishing the standard of living and quality of life for average Americans: lower wages; higher health care costs and insurance costs not mitigated by the Unaffordable Care Act; higher food and housing (rent) costs (the first not factored into “core inflation” which purposefully excludes food and fuel costs); moves toward part-time labor we will consider below; and student loan debt, a by-product of college tuition levels already mentioned that have soared to absurd proportions. The Great Recession ended in mid-2009 according to mainstream economists, but in reality has proven to be an ongoing emergency that has harmed an entire generation. Ask the millennials. You can find many of them in their late 20s but still living with their parents, struggling to find employment that will enable them to pay off five and sometimes six figures of student loan debt. Overall outstanding student loan debt now stands at between $1.2 and $1.3 trillion! Some of it will not be paid, for the same reason you cannot get water from granite! The incomes necessary to repay these loans simply will not exist on any large scale in an economy based primarily on services. Jobs designing downloadable apps (e.g.), moreover, are not for everyone and lucrative only for a few. For all these reasons, we now see the lowest labor participation rate of all time in an advanced civilization: at 62.4%, some 94.6 million Americans are “not in the labor force.” Not factored into the “official,” U-3 unemployment rate are the millions of people who have stopped seeking employment during this era. Contrary to one myth, many are not students and are not simply retired baby boomers who left the labor force by choice. They have college educations in many cases, and have left the labor force because they do not believe there are any jobs in their fields to be found.

Unemployment, chronic underemployment, and widening wage gaps have become the most debated topics of the era of untrammeled neoliberalism — not to mention corruption ranging from the Enron debacle to the “Wolf of Wall Street.” During the period actually going back to the 1970s, numerous specific policies led to the wealth being redistributed upward. The repeal of Glass-Steagall in 1999 accelerated the process in the banking sector by ending the separation between commercial and investment banking that had been put in place after the Crash of ’29. This allowed the introduction of mortgage-backed securities, credit default swaps, and other complex and arguably dangerous financial instruments. The financial marketplace, as is often said, took on characteristics of a gambling casino — where people’s livelihoods were gambled with! With the subprime lending fiasco of 2007 and the 2008 meltdown itself, many of these people were simply wiped out financially.

Sadly, the leviathan banks were bailed out following the threat of total financial collapse, depression, and possible martial law which some traced to then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson (who had come into the Bush II administration from Goldman Sachs). The phrase too big to fail entered the lexicon. The process of wealth redistribution upwards would accelerate even more after the meltdown and bailouts. Wall Street reaped windfalls; Main Street continued to struggle. All this was the result of an economy based on financialization and services instead of production. For all the talk of one-percenters, the real wealth was concentrating in the hands not of the one-percent but in those of a point-one-percent (01%): mostly members of the superelite I discussed at the outset, which included CEOs of Wall Street banks such as Goldman Sachs as well as those of other corporations; it included “trade representatives” as they were called; it included many of those “advising” visible political elites such as Bush II and Obama.

One could reasonably ask, was the above-mentioned changing technology making a lot of jobs obsolete? Again, mainstream economists have a ready-made answer, and at first glance, it is a sensible one. Creative destruction has happened before and will happen again. According to Joseph P. Schumpeter, author of the classic Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1947), creative destruction is central to the capitalist engine which cannot function in any other way. Capitalism cannot stand still. Constant change and turmoil are its essence. It mercilessly wipes out the old and makes room for the new. In doing so, it creates new opportunities for the entrepreneurially minded. Today’s economists contend this still applies: new technology creates more jobs than it destroys. Except that this time it isn’t happening, or at least not fast enough. For one thing, change has never been this rapid. For another, the machines are getting “smarter,” making humans redundant. Corporations can be more efficient and profitable using automation and robots instead of human workers. This wasn’t part of the creative destruction equation in the past. Robots and automated systems don’t get sick and ask for time off or paid leave; they don’t demand livable wages, or benefits. These trends are continuing, e.g., with the prospects of driverless vehicles which, if they come to fruition, will throw another large demographic out of work.

All this comes in addition to an existing and worsening mismatch between what employers want and the skills job applicants have to offer. No one in the workplace wants to train new employees. The corporate world sees this as higher education’s job.  

3.    Precariatization and the Destruction of the American Mind.

Higher education has been consumed by problems of its own. While the tech world was booming, the "culture wars" were turning major campuses into ideological battlefields over race / ethnicity, militant feminism, and rising sexual minorities. Humanities and social sciences (except for economics) were being partly hijacked by these new obsessions, which were able to piggyback, as it were, on far more sophisticated postmodernist movements imported from France that sought to throw doubt on traditional intellectual standards of truth, rationality, and claims to objectivity, portraying them as disguised power relations (French social philosopher Michel Foucault had coined the phrase knowledge/power) established by straight white European males. Thus does a value such as objectivity come to embody racist, sexist, homophobic biases, etc., needing to be countered. Much has been written about political correctness (PC). This phrase was originally used against Leninists who followed the party line too closely; it reappeared in the title of a 1991 article in New York magazine, “Are You Politically Correct?” which cited examples of growing intimidation on campuses by both left wing faculty members and black students. The term stuck, for better or worse, referring both to specific efforts at censorship and thought control on campuses, e.g., speech codes, to broader ones merging the new preoccupation with race or ethnicity, gender, and sexual preference into scholarship itself. These had come to dominate many areas of the humanities and social sciences, and law schools, by the late-1990s. Few cared to risk challenging them. Those who did, sometimes paid a steep price as they became targets of bullying until (for faculty) they either resigned and found new jobs, or (for students) they transferred to another school.

At one time, the U.S. was rightly acknowledged as having the best higher educational institutions in the world. American colleges and universities traditionally blended three different objectives: (1) liberal arts learning, originally aimed at the children of political elites but enabling anyone to become a good citizen by understanding and applying ideas of universal value and validity, some going back to the ancient Greeks, writing clearly, educating others; (2) the research university, the idea for which can be traced to Francis Bacon’s The New Atlantis and later to large European universities, in which faculty received rewards and professional advancement for contributing peer-reviewed research to their disciplines, be it in the sciences or the humanities; and (3) workforce training, we will call it, introduced following the Morrill Act of 1863 which created the land grant system, to supply workers with specialized skills to agriculture and business.

For decades these three approaches existed side by side in relative peace, and by the 1950s American higher education appeared to be on the verge of a genuine golden age. Both the liberal arts and the sciences flourished side by side, even if they seemed to inhabit different cognitive universes (think of C.P. Snow’s celebrated essay “The Two Cultures”). Workforce training received a boost that decade as universities admitted thousands of students on the GI Bill who would never have gone to college otherwise; many were the first in their families to obtain a university degree. Having fought in World War II, they were no-nonsense practical types seeking training for business or one of the professions. As long as higher education was well supported, and could admit students prepared to do college-level work, other aims of higher education did not suffer because of this, and the system continued to prosper despite the influx of students with quite different goals. However, in the late 1960s the mood on campuses changed from one of diligent conformity to one of rebellion, and the rebellion was widely perceived not just as antiwar or pro civil rights, but antibusiness and anticapitalist as well. Support for colleges and universities on their own terms began to waver. The Powell Memorandum (or Memo), authored by Louis Powell, a well-networked corporate attorney who would become a Supreme Court  Justice, and distributed through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, encouraged a top-echelon, behind-the-scenes strategy of opposition to the leftist influence of figures such as Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse, one of the heroes of the student rebellion. The incipient neoliberal university came to be. State support for higher education, influenced by big business, began to slip. Business started to pick up the slack. Little by little, universities came to be run under a business model.  

Simultaneously, students’ preparedness levels began to drop. First, many people who became students under the GI Bill would have been better off doing something else, but employers as well as society generally had bought into the falsehood that Everyone Ought To Go To College. Retention was hoped for, so colleges and universities had to lower their admissions standards. But this doesn’t explain the growing unpreparedness they faced. Public secondary schools were failing to educate, and one “reform” after another would bite the dust. Their names are legion: Mastery Learning, Outcome-Based Education, Performance-Based Education, School-to-Work, No Child Left Behind; now it’s Common Core. By the 1980s, an ever-increasing number of students was entering college unprepared for college-level work. We can debate the causes. A new method of teaching reading introduced decades earlier, sometimes called the “look say” method, rejected arguably far more effective methods based on phonics and treated English words like pictures. Since English words are not pictures, this damaged students’ ability to read effectively unless they learned at home. By the 1990s American students had also fallen behind their peers overseas in subjects like mathematics. Many couldn’t do simple arithmetic without calculators. The “new math,” also introduced decades earlier, had also proven disastrous. It, too, emphasized pictures, and hence the particularity of math problems. Mathematics is based on reasoning, however, not particular experiences. Bewildered students, taught using such inadequate methods, concluded they weren’t “good at math.” We need more engineers and other technologists if we are to compete, pundits said. Engineering and technology require math. Lots of math. Calculators will only do so much. Plug in the right formulas and push the right buttons, and they will spit out the right answers. They won’t tell you which formulas you need, or which buttons to push. The M in STEM stands for mathematics. However much STEM education was pushed by workforce training promoters, no one could force American students to learn to do math, and the U.S. eventually fell out of the top ten nations in its capacity to produce scientists and engineers.

In such ways, American higher education began to lose its identity and squander its intellectual capital. Money became an instrument of control. Donors, including Chamber of Commerce types following the Powell Memo’s dictates, began to influence institutions’ priorities, especially where cutting costs was concerned. What was profitable, of course, was grown, and the era became a golden age for “revenue producing” athletics (i.e., football, basketball). Liberal arts learning, with its lack of immediate material profitability, entered a kind of twilight zone, especially as the job market for its Ph.D.s had collapsed in the 1970s. As the older generation aged and began to retire, the humanities slowly came under the control of former 1960s radicals who had remained on campus, obtained tenure, and quietly began reshaping their disciplines along “Marcusan” lines. Thus were the doors opened to the militant feminists and sexual minorities who pursued “scholarship” within the lenses of identity politics. They began to attract students who were titillated by novelty, and supporters of the latest fashions tended to be hired as new faculty. In an important sense, the humanities ceased to produce scholars and instead produced “superstars” able to combine these fashions with postmodernism in novel ways (oftentimes the more “transgressive,” i.e., shocking, the better). One of the paradoxes of higher education of the 1980s and 1990s is that while university administrations clearly shifted “rightward” via neoliberal ideology and become more corporate, many key disciplines, including those with immediate contact with students and with the hiring process, tilted sharply “leftward.”    

Campus diversity got a boost of an unintended sort, for as American students’ abilities continued to decline, university mathematics, physics and engineering classrooms filled up with students from Taiwan, South Korea, India, among other such places. In their cultures, education is taken seriously. Their schools aren’t de facto laboratories for the latest fashions and social experiments; nor are they football factories. So why do they come to the States? Reputation, again. The U.S. higher education system still had a reputation as the best, even if this reputation was living on borrowed time. Large institutions still had high quality research libraries and well-funded laboratories. It was still possible for a diligent student to learn at a top-quality research university, not to mention an Ivy League one. But this meant setting aside the burgeoning entertainment culture on campuses. Foreign students usually did this, and faced resentment from their American counterparts when they excelled and then took jobs Americans thought they were entitled to. It wasn’t foreign students’ fault they studied while their American counterparts went to football games and watched “reality TV.”

Now add to all this the impoverishment of faculty, what may be called the adjunctification of academia that began very slowly, but would accelerate following those pivotal years in the early 1990s. Originally, adjunct faculty were few in number and consisted of professionals, sometimes retired, who taught a class at the local research university to share real world expertise with students. They were usually paid a small honorarium, which was more a courtesy than a necessity as they had adequate income outside the university system. Very few of today’s adjunct faculty fall into this category. What we have seen since the job market collapse, a gradual diminishing of state support for higher education, and rising administrative bloat, is the gradual replacement of tenured career faculty with contingent instructors and part-timers working for very low wages, usually on semester-by-semester contracts, absent benefits and job security. Thus if you are a university undergraduate taking introductory level classes, there is a good chance some of your professors are paid less per month than the girl behind the counter at the McDonalds across the street. One of the nastiest secrets of contemporary academia is its enormous wage gap. While university presidents are paid six and sometimes seven figures, the percentage of adjunct and contingent (full-time but off the tenure line) faculty on college and university campuses has risen to around 70%. The latter may be paid as little as $2,500 per course, requiring them to have more than one teaching job and commute between two or more campuses. They may be at a particular location one day a week. They usually do not have private office space to assist students; yet they may be one bad student evaluation away from not having a contract the following year. Their lives, it goes without saying, are generally very stressful unless they have nonacademic sources of income. Many are one health emergency away from living in their cars, or worse. Some have died from possibly treatable conditions because at the end of their careers they were flat broke, to the point of not being able to heat their homes during winter months! A few have left academia in disgust, sometimes leaving behind memoirs detailing abuses they could no longer tolerate. Evidence exists of a growing uprising of disgruntled adjunct faculty who are organizing, creating their own unions, and starting the difficult job of bargaining for better wages and working conditions, in the tradition of labor uprisings over a century ago.

One of their bargaining chips, if they are able to use it, is the administrative bloat that casts doubt on whether educating students is a priority at these institutions. They can point out that top administrators in large universities are usually paid six figures, or that a newly-hired university president often has his own university-owned home as a perk, a mansion worth tens of millions, refurbished at university expense. The highest paid person at a large state institution is usually the head football coach. He is typically a millionaire. When the athletic department or the business school want a plush new facility, all of a sudden there is plenty of money — sometimes not mere millions but hundreds of millions! The point is, institutions have the money to hire faculty full time and pay livable wages. The problem is not real scarcity but allocation. The adjunct situation exemplifies corruption in higher education during the neoliberal era. Indeed, universities now have their own cheap labor forces while those at the helm enrich themselves at the expense of faculty and students, and there are some institutions where reliance on adjunct faculty barely scratches the surface of their corruption.

Economists, if any have read this far, will have been thinking: the well-known surplus of Ph.D.s is primarily responsible for the adjunctification situation. Supply and demand again. They will also contend that aspiring university professors of recent decades are smart enough to have known what they were getting into, when they chose to pursue academic careers. And if you don’t like the labor situation in academia, some will add with a flourish of what can only be described as borderline sadism, you can always go work for Geico! (A libertarian philosophy professor, Jason Brennan, actually says this — what a wonderful marketing tool for libertarianism!)

These sterile economic arguments ignore the damage the present situation is doing to higher education. Student access to adjunct faculty is spotty at best. Their professor is probably on the way to his next job at another campus or even in a neighboring city. Lack of access to the instructor harms student learning when students can’t get what they need from the textbook. Remember again: the average university student is now going massively into debt to afford higher education! Some of the absurdly high tuition we have mentioned goes to pay for the administrative bloat now infesting every institution of any size. What students experience as their debt mounts is a not-so-subtle, psychological push away from liberal arts learning and into workforce training. To pay back their debt, the average student now thinks, When I graduate from this place, I have to get a good job!

In many if not in most respects, American higher education has gone from what might have been its golden age into an era of a purposeful destruction of the American mind!

Even the chances of newly minted graduates finding good paying jobs are steadily diminishing. Adjunctification in academia is just one instance of the precariatization of the workforce generally: the emergence of an army of “temp workers,” “permatemps,” “independent contractors,” “dependent contractors,” and so on: what British labor economist Guy Standing calls “the precariat: a dangerous new class.” Many in this class are well educated, with college degrees they can’t use. Standing argues that globalization, as it has evolved, has generated this new class, the precariat, which organizations can use and abuse as they see fit, since it is unorganized overall, with no power base of its own. Precariatization of the workforce on a global scale is a large part of the path to technofeudalism. As is the destruction of higher education through the combination of impoverishing faculty, growing corporatized administrations, and saddling students with potentially crippling debt. All of these are instruments of economic coercion and social control.

Universities are now entirely different from when I was an undergraduate in the 1970s. They look increasingly like corporate facilities. Huge amounts of money are poured into new buildings for administration, high tech facilities in student dormitories, health clubs, etc. Some argue that every major institution has to do this or lose to its competitors, suggesting that the problem is systemic. Classroom and research environments are also altogether different. The collapse of support for traditional scholarship in the 1970s and 1980s left the door wide open to the PC incursions of the 1990s which have come to dominate education at all levels, including secondary schools where students “learn” of their “right” to an offense-free environment. As a result, PC is worsening, reflected in the hypersensitivity of students who cite microaggressions, call for trigger warnings, and demand safe space (safe from mean old white guys, that is). Moreover, when words like racist can be used so broadly as to encompass almost any form of disagreement with a “person of color,” when the white faculty member who just uttered a “microaggressive” trigger word is forced to try to prove a negative (“I am not a racist”), and when dissent or unproven allegations (e.g., of rape on campus) derail people’s lives, relations between races and ethnic groups — and between the sexes — will continue to deteriorate. Likewise, someone should note the propagandistic element in the common word homophobia. A phobia, in psychology, is a mentally-paralyzing, irrational fear. If someone can be labeled a homophobe because they are, e.g., critical of the equation of gay marriage and traditional marriage, whatever arguments they have can be discounted; there is no reason to argue with someone with an irrational fear of homosexuality!

Subjects like philosophy, history, and literature are not teachable in the present environment. Philosophy, when done right, is based on arguments and their evaluation, not feelings and imputed hidden motives. This and other such subjects were never intended to never offend. The most salient point for our theme in this essay: they are discredited, in the eyes of those already inclined to dismiss them as not contributing to the economy and therefore wasting precious resources. Notions such as science being sexist because most of its practitioners are men invite ridicule: will feminist airplanes stay aloft for feminist engineers? wondered philosopher Margarita Levin back in the 1990s. And one must recall the infamous Sokal hoax of the mid-1990s, in which physicist Alan Sokal was able to pen a very detailed “article” drawing left-leaning / postmodernist implications from contemporary theoretical physics, get it published in the leading refereed journal in the U.S. pushing postmodernism (Social Text), and then expose his own piece as carefully constructed word salad, designed to flatter the ideological prejudices of the journal’s editors. This, if nothing else, is indicative of how the humanities have gone downhill during the PC era! How can those in them possibly be trusted to educate students in critical thinking or other important intellectual skills?! 

The campus “diversity” and PC movements have been a 25-year disaster of epic proportions. They are symptoms of American higher education in decline: the destruction of the American mind. They have divided instead of united, during an era when different groups should be building bridges instead of walls, communicating instead of isolating themselves on plantations of anti-white / anti-male paranoia, and paying attention to what is happening in the real centers of power. The superelite, after all, couldn’t care less about black lives mattering, or rape on campus, or whether gays can legally marry.

The “solution” some in the political class are suggesting to the PC movement and the jobs crisis for liberal arts graduates, instead of supporting those with traditional views of liberal arts learning as necessary for critical thinking and good citizenship, is to drop liberal arts altogether! Today, while we are distracted via such acts as the forced removal of the Confederate flag from the State House Grounds in South Carolina and the growing attacks on other Confederate symbols and monuments, actions which will not help a single black person get an education, the technofeudalist mindset is quietly growing. The enemies are the superelite, the corporatization of higher education, and neoliberal ideology — not “white privilege” and a government that hasn’t existed for 150 years!

It is useful to remember what those with real power want: “education” designed to produce human worker bees, assembly-line like, with a mindset of subservience: to an employer, to the state in all its guises, and to the mass consumption culture — within a mass media universe filled with the distractions of the week, delivered via television, mobile devices, the Internet, etc., at a breakneck pace catering to and further encouraging short attention spans. The superelite desire: that very few people will look past the endless distractions or put them in perspective, or focus on what is being done to Western civilization as a whole. A genuine education, with training in philosophy for critical thinking and analytic skills, in literature for myriad examples, and in history for context, is a threat to that.

4.    The Empire of Corruption.

Since 2000, we’ve continued to see technological advances previously undreamt of, but politically and economically, things have gone to pieces. The 9/11 attacks happened, and however one sees them (inside job in some sense of that phrase, or not), they changed the country from the inside out. The neoconservative war machine, having waited in the wings since the Reagan years, finally flexed its muscles as George W. Bush plunged the country into its ill-advised war of choice in an Iraq it proceeded to destroy at taxpayer expense, while a mega-corporation, Halliburton, reaped windfall profits from the rebuilding — in accordance with what author Naomi Klein calls “disaster capitalism” (see her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine: the Rise of Disaster Capitalism). Who were the neoconservatives — or neocons? Many were former Trotskyites who rejected Marxism but not authoritarianism or militarism. One center of such activity was New York University, where neocon godfather Irving Kristol was headquartered. A few had studied under Leo Strauss, or taken his courses, at the University of Chicago. Some neocons rebelled against campus PC as hopelessly naïve, but again not against its authoritarianism and militancy. Arguably they hijacked the anti-PC movement and, perhaps unintentionally, had neutralized it by the mid-1990s, in the form of groups such as the National Association of Scholars who published a quarterly journal and held annual conferences but otherwise did nothing. While neoliberals increasingly controlled corporate-backed civil government and universities, neocons increasingly controlled foreign policy, which fixated on such ideas as American Exceptionalism in a unipolar world. They sought to “democratize” the world by remaking it in America’s image — at gunpoint, if necessary. Originally, Francis Fukuyama had been sympathetic to this spirit, but he wisely backed away.

Near the end of the 1990s, the neocons founded the Project for the New American Century, and in 2000 published their magnum opus Rebuilding America’s Defenses. This document argued openly for the waging of “small scale theater wars” to advance American interests around the world and spoke of how a “new Pearl Harbor” would galvanize support for such actions. Almost exactly one year after Rebuilding America’s Defenses appeared on the New American Century website, the 9/11 attacks occurred. And yes, there are holes in the official 9/11 narrative large enough to, well, fly a 747 through, as well as evidence that the 9/11 Commission was hamstrung, prevented from conducting a serious investigation into what really happened that day (they never mentioned the collapse of WTC7, for example). This problem goes beyond the scope of the present essay, although all we need do is ask who benefitted the most from those attacks? Not Muslims. Answer: the U.S. federal government, which almost immediately began to consolidate domestic quasi-military power under the Department of Homeland Security and, a few weeks later, under the USA Patriot Act (which we are supposed to believe was written in just those six weeks?). Almost immediately, President Bush used the dramatic phrase axis of evil to describe Iraq, Iran, and North Korea (none of which had any connection to the attacks). America’s masses, meanwhile, were hammered day after day, via television, with images of the smoking Twin Towers, and warned incessantly of the dangers of terrorism: the use of fear to create subservience. The Patriot Act, the first of many such acts to come in ensuing years, vastly expanded the U.S. surveillance state and police powers generally by invoking the concept of the war on terror as an all-purpose justification for increasingly aggressive state actions both domestically and abroad. It was merely the first of many such Acts which consolidated power in the “deep state,” Peter Dale Scott would call it (see his 2014 book The American Deep State). 

Barack Obama, the supposed purveyor of hope and change, awarded (for no reason whatsoever) a Nobel Peace Prize, continued and even worsened the wars of choice. Syria and Libya have both been destroyed, and ISIS born, under his and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s watch. The latter gave us the Benghazi debacle during which two assaults by Islamic militants resulted in the deaths of four U.S. officials including our Ambassador (probably tortured to death). We’ve seen videos of ISIS beheading Christians and burning people alive, among other acts of sadistic cruelty. Entire regions in the Middle East have been rendered almost uninhabitable by constant war, precipitating the refugee crisis in southern Europe which is making headlines even as I write this. Also, as I finish this, Vladimir Putin’s Russia is stepping up, doing whatever is possible at this point to clean up the mess the “indispensable nation” has made of the region.

On the domestic front, we have seen the rise of the surveillance police state. Abundant evidence surfaced of levels of NSA spying on civilians that would have been dismissed as “conspiracy” paranoia ten years earlier. Police were militarized by Homeland Security as if on a battlefield. Indeed, the “war on terror” has turned the “homeland” into a battlefield, since “terrorists” can be anywhere — especially in a country whose corporate and civic “leaders” continue to promote an economic ethos of open borders! Some police now act like members of an occupying army, and U.S. citizens a conquered enemy. They have become increasingly violent (see below). More Americans have now been killed by police in the U.S. since 9/11 than U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq.

It is common knowledge, moreover, that the U.S. now has a larger percentage of its population incarcerated than any other advanced nation in the world: between 2 and 3 million people (up from a few hundred thousand in the 1980s), in what is becoming known as a prison-industrial complex that uses prisoners for what amounts to slave labor. Many if not most are in for “victimless crimes.” Not all are related to the disastrous “war on drugs.” Lose your job in the Meltdown of 2008, be divorced by a spouse who turned out to be a sociopath, and fall behind on your child support? To jail with you! Many family court judges are probably also sociopathic. They throw struggling people in jail for as long as six months. While in jail they fall further behind, as jail time tends to hinder your earning power! I have personally witnessed people chewed up and spit out by the once well-intentioned but now sadistic and irrational family court system! Some have fled their jurisdictions and gone underground; one person I know fled overseas.

Corruption is now everywhere in the Land of the Free! Consider elections. Since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which writers across the political spectrum ought to denounce as one of the two worst Supreme Court decisions of the past 100 years (the other being Roe v. Wade), the corruption of the election process by money has become so obvious no one even denies it anymore. A 2014 study in a refereed academic journal concludes that the U.S. has all the features of an oligarchy (read the original here). Plutocracy is the technically correct term: governance by the extremely rich, who operate through financial leviathans such as Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and so on. This is our superelite; so much for the silly idea that what we are offering can be dismissed as a “conspiracy theory”! One shouldn’t need a university degree to realize this. One of the reasons thousands of people are flocking to Donald Trump’s rallies and have positioned him to challenge the GOP Establishment, also at least as of this writing, is that Trump’s billions free him from the need to pander to Wall Street or other corporate donors, to globalists generally, or to the PC mindset. He can criticize open borders and otherwise say openly what many are thinking but dare not say. His closest GOP rival, Ben Carson, is also an outsider. Another outsider, Bernie Sanders, is challenging Hillary Clinton on the other side of the aisle, as it is clear: progressives do not especially trust her, seeing her as too close to Wall Street and the deep state war machine. Being outside party Establishments has suddenly become a selling point in America!

5.    The Global Corporatist Leviathan.

The long and short of it: the liberal democracy lauded as triumphant following the collapse of the Soviet Union is what is dead. And what we labeled market capitalism is really a circumscribing corporatism. We are not at any “end of history.” Corporatism here means: those in the upper echelons of global corporations work alongside their equivalents in government to design and enforce policy, hijacking markets where necessary, and furthering a centralized, top-down economy. Moreover: ignorance about what capitalism is and what it requires has fostered massive confusion between it and corporatism, so that we are seeing serious revivals of Marxian-derived thought, in the form of major works like Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century (2014), as widely discussed today as Fukuyama’s book was in the early 1990s.

How does corporatism differ from fascism? Unlike fascism, corporatism is not overtly totalitarian. It adopts what political philosopher Sheldon S. Wolin calls inverted totalitarianism (see his Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Spector of Inverted Totalitarianism, 1988). Absent a king or führer, it relies on Huxleyan inducements to introduce subtle behavioral controls. Some will go unnoticed if you don’t know what to look for, e.g., flavor enhancers and mildly addictive ingredients in processed foods, reinforcing consumption of those products. There is also constant advertising, often aimed at children and adolescents, to encourage spending. Finally, there is relentless media propaganda, often written into television scripts and commercials, to promote agendas while demonizing what those in power wish to discourage. Thus, since 2000 and even before, every situation comedy and many other television shows and Hollywood productions have presented gay and lesbian characters sympathetically, while Constitutional Patriots and Christian characters are portrayed as angry, deranged nutjobs. These were clearly the devices used to shift public opinion on homosexuality away from revulsion and toward acceptance and even fascination. What results are beliefs and mass behaviors wanted by those in power without overt totalitarian controls. Another difference from fascism is that corporatism is not nationalistic. It abhors nationalism and nativism in all forms. It is globalist, aiming to expand its reach, whether for extractable resources, pliable markets, cheap labor, or all three in combination. It ignores as long as possible the explosive tensions created when its mindset of One World Under Markets, instituted via war and terror where necessary, creates massive dislocations and mass migrations, forcing members of incommensurably different cultures together involuntarily into crowded spaces competing for a dwindling number of jobs and other resources.

Neoliberalism and neoconservatism are both frauds. Not unlike Marxian Communism, both are about power: in the case of the former, the power of the purse (corporate dollars), making use of the latter’s power of the sword (that of the state) instead of the reverse. Neoliberalism does not really repudiate central planning, its appeals to Hayek and Friedman notwithstanding. It repudiates government-directed central planning. Its brand of privatization shifts the locus of control from government entities to global corporations with overlapping directorates. Neoliberalism is thus the unofficial ideology of corporatism, and the neoconservative war machine part of its enforcement power. Both, taken together, constitute a license for a global corporatocracy to do as it pleases, the rest of the world forced to suck it up, and rationalized with: “this is free market capitalism at work.”

Is there any wonder that, absent real education about capitalism, many well-intentioned people (many quite young) are turning away from it and toward socialism?

In the environment sometimes labeled crony capitalism the point-one-percent do in fact get richer, the middle class starts to pinwheel over a cliff, and the wealth gap widens to a point in which it threatens to destabilize entire regions. Even the superelite Davos crowd worries about this. At the 2015 World Economic Forum summit, the wealth gap was a main topic of discussion. The superelite is more than aware that struggling masses, conscious of their situations and no longer buying, e.g., Margaret Thatcher’s TINA (there is no alternative), are drawn to populism. Elite response to populist movements varies from case to case. Sometimes they punish affected nations with “regime change,” i.e., they bankroll an armed revolution. On other occasions, they withdraw investments. The economy tanks; jobs vanish. Shortages begin; inflation soars; basic services are cut as the government goes broke, causing more unrest. Monied interests again support regime change to get rid of the populists and return the oligarchs to power. Or they make loans in accordance with the fractional lending system to the now-suffering nations. There are conditions on these loans, e.g., “austerity.” The common people again sink into poverty. The loans and interest are unrepayable, opening the door to further plunder as, e.g., historic sites and monuments, along with other bits and pieces of a struggling nation’s heritage are privatized, sold to pay off debt, and disappear.

There are plenty of examples of variations on these themes: Iran in the 1950s (regime change, the first instance in which the CIA illegally brought down a democratically elected government and instilled a brutal dictatorship); Guatemala also in the 1950s (regime change again, which gave us the phrase banana republic); Southeast Asia in the 1960s and early 1970s (war); Chile in 1973 (regime change, again instituting a dictatorship); Ecuador and Panama in the early 1980s (regime change); Venezuela in the 2000s and more recently (efforts to dislodge populism there have failed despite leaving the country’s economy in a shambles). Or consider Greece since 2010, where the drama is still being played out. Greece is an exemplar of how European Union corporatists can strongarm a reluctant nation economically and drive it into the ground: elites loan money with interest; they attach “austerity” conditions to force the country to make repayment its highest priority; “austerity” causes unemployment, impoverishment, and unrest; angry common people elect a populist government; creditors enact further punishments, forcing the populists to back down. Populism, it should be clear from history, tends to shorten a politician’s life span. I presume Alexis Tsipras knows this.

Populism is a natural response to outside interference by those who wish to maintain control over their livelihoods, lives, and the integrity of their own cultures. Western mainstream media (controlled by six corporate leviathans) have fostered confusion between indigenous populism and actual Marxism-Leninism, something again easy to do once genuine education is destroyed, and made worse by the fact that Communists clearly did exploit colonial and corporate abuses in Central and South America. Admittedly populism is often motivated by anger: witness the rise of Donald Trump again. But what does one expect? What speaks volumes about the majority of economists including free marketers is how they blame populism for retaliatory decisions made by power elites in response to democratic challenges to their power. It is Noam Chomsky’s view that mass media serve the interests of those in power. We can expand on this. It should be clear: nearly all so-called economic science is a pseudoscience serving the interests of those in power.

The bottom line: the telos of neoliberal corporatism is technofeudalism. We are not looking at a mere conspiracy as such but also at a process, one which has been going on for a very long time. Its instruments include central banking, “free trade” deals, the destruction of the American mind, relentless media propaganda for “causes” and to create a constant stream of distractions (think of the flap over “gay marriage” and the clerk in Kentucky who refused to sign marriage licenses for gay couples), and the creation of widespread workforce precarity. Sadly, this includes countries such as Chile, corporatized during the Pinochet dictatorship (1973 – 1990) by the “Chicago Boys” (Friedman disciples), and where, despite “democratization” in the 1990s and continued economic development since, a severe wage gap has persisted while a handful of extended families have grown extremely rich — the kinds of factors that prompted the populist rebellion that elected the leftist Salvador Allende government in 1970. While Chile has the most developed economy in Latin America, there remains unrest over the wage gap and the expense of obtaining an education; much higher education in Chile, meanwhile, is built on the workforce training model, with subjects like critical thinking barely noticed. Will history repeat itself in Chile? This remains to be seen!

Chile is a partner to the abominable Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the latest advance over NAFTA, championed vigorously by President Obama as well as by the GOP and corporate establishments. The TPP, at the moment the apex of neoliberalism, may be the one thing the Republican and Democratic Party Establishments agree on. Those who would dismiss this as “conspiracy theory” need to study the history of this agreement. The decision was made, long ago, not to reveal its contents to the public in any of the countries signing off on it. Unlike its predecessors it was not made available online. Thus again as of this writing almost no one knows for sure what is in it outside its corporate-sponsored authors, trade representatives, and a few in Congress who have been allowed to enter a secure room in the Capitol basement to read it without being allowed to copy or even take notes on it. The latter have been threatened with criminal prosecution if they revealed its contents to the public (although one person, Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) did so despite the threat and reported the danger to U.S. sovereignty the TPP represents). These are members of the political class we are talking about, not journalists, and most do not feel free to report on the TPP, an agreement that could affect the futures of millions of people, including their constituents!

If nothing else, this should speak volumes about where the locus of power really is in the world of the 21st century!

What we know, based on leaks, is that the TPP contains something like 29 chapters only five of which are about trade. Others grant favors to corporations, especially if they outsource jobs for still cheaper labor (possibly in Vietnam, also a TPP partner). The TPP contains provisions on intellectual property. There is reason, admittedly circumstantial (how could it be otherwise?), to think these will be used to restrict free speech on the Internet, jeopardizing sites like this one and outsider-writers such as myself.

In other words, the TPP makes NAFTA look like an email chain-letter scam by comparison! If it is signed into law, we can be sure that still more jobs will leave the U.S. Corporations, moreover, will have legal latitude to sue national governments over anything they see as interfering with their profits. This has the potential to gut national labor laws, destroy environmental protections in developing nations, and undermine efforts to ensure transparency on food. Do you want food labeling that tells you if you are putting GMOs in your body? Tough. Monsanto doesn’t. Incidentally, small businesses without transnational reach will have no standing to sue under TPP provisions.

Fortunately, some TPP signees have been dragging their feet and stalling the negotiations. The secrecy rightly bothers a lot of informed citizens, moreover, who have made a public issue of it. The agreement has already been used in an attempt to defeat labels on GMO foods in Peru (desired by Peruvian citizens). Other nations such as Australia are dragging their feet. The fundamental hypocrisy of the TPP-promoting mindset is shown by the case of Malaysia, a TPP signee despite its status as a “Tier 3” human trafficking nation. The rules for “fast-tracking” the TPP required the exclusion of “Tier 3” nations. Malaysia, of course, has resources corporations want, as well as cheap labor. Thus Malaysia was “reclassified” as “Tier 2” despite the discovery of 139 mass graves of migrant workers along the border who had been trafficked or held for ransom. These are just a few instances of how corrupt trade deals favor corporations while bringing neglect or actual harm to common people.  

The TPP applies to Pacific Rim nations. An Atlantic equivalent, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is being developed in its wake. This deal would merge and further corporatize the economies of the U.S. and the EU. Other “free trade” deals are coming down the pike: the Trade-in-Services Agreement (TISA) also applying to the U.S., the EU, and several other nations negotiating in secret, and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) applying to the EU and Canada. These are designed so that new member nations can be added regardless of the will of their peoples; e.g., China is not presently a TPP partner but could become one in the future. Those sorts of decisions will be made by the globalist Trans-Pacific Partnership Commission the agreement creates, not by transparent, democratic vote. These deals and the negotiating boards behind them, creating still more transnational commissions of corporate and legal technocrats, are quietly building the global architecture and infrastructure of technofeudalism.

6.    The New Serfdom.

One of the signs you are living under a feudal system, techno- or otherwise, is that there is one set of rules for those in power or with state-sponsored authority, or at the helm of corporations, and another set of rules for plebes like you and me, with little actual legal recourse or due process, and no meaningful representation in the political system. Too-big-to-fail banks, for example, could engage in criminally reckless behavior as they did during the ‘00s and cause financial havoc. Not a single banker in the U.S. was investigated following the 2008 meltdown. Instead, as we saw, the federal government bailed out the too-big-to-fail banks at taxpayer expense. Their top “performers” were receiving huge bonuses within three years! Today, while Main Street continues to struggle with unemployment, underemployment, and falling real wages, the Wall Street leviathans are larger and wealthier than ever!  

At a street level, robbery at gunpoint is of course criminal, but police can steal your money and belongings — even your vehicle! — and deem it civil asset forfeiture. Millions of dollars in cash have been stolen from ordinary people on the basis of the mere possibility that the cash resulted from drug deals. Attempts to recover your money can cost as much in legal fees than what was stolen, making the effort of dubious value! Efforts to fight civil asset forfeiture at the state level are being stymied. Behind civil asset forfeiture is a cold war on cash transactions, as they cannot be monitored. Hotel chains will no longer accept cash payments, and efforts to purchase electronics with cash can earn the purchaser a visit from police or even a SWAT team. The latter often forcibly enter private residences at night without identifying themselves, much less knocking!

As I mentioned briefly above, since 9/11 police have killed thousands of presumed-innocent people, with the numbers rising every year. Readers may recall the brutal police beating of a mentally ill homeless man, Kelly Thomas of Fullerton, Calif., who died begging for his life. The prime suspect in leading the assault, police officer Jay Cicinelli, was acquitted. Today, Cicinelli receives a $40,000/year pension at taxpayer expense. This is more than the majority of employed taxpayers earn per year. Another retired tax feeder, John Van Trump, was convicted of sexually assaulting a 6-year-old girl. Instead of the minimum 25-year sentence he would have faced had he been an ordinary plebe, Van Trump was given ten years deferred adjudication and will not spend a day in prison. On June 28 of this year, a cop in Tampa, Fla. responding to a call struck and decapitated a man with his vehicle, sped away, and later made the claim, absurd on its face, that he hadn’t realized he hit anything. The man he killed weighed over 200 pounds. We do hear of “federal probes” into cases like this. One waits to see how the powers that be in Florida will handle a case that would clearly be open-and-shut vehicular homicide if one of us plebes did it.

Over eight hundred people have now been killed by police in 2015 alone! Thousands of online videos show cops brutalizing people, some handcuffed and obviously not a threat, some elderly and helpless, some of them children and adolescents who are traumatized by the experience. Thousands of lawsuits have been filed against police departments and city governments following excessive levels of force sometimes including cold blooded murder. Some of these cases involve SWAT teams having entered a wrong house in the middle of the night based on unreliable information; this typically does not stop them from tearing private belongs apart and brutalizing the terrified occupants, especially if one of them fought back thinking his home was being invaded by violent criminals. One investigation, however, found that just 54 officers had been prosecuted for murder over the past decade. The same investigation noted the uphill battle facing any diligent prosecutor trying a cop for murder. Moreover: cross the police by, e.g., filming them killing someone? They can make your life a living hell. Ask Ramsey Orta, who filmed the killing of Eric Garner in New York City. Or ask Kevin Moore, who filmed the Freddie Gray arrest in Baltimore and has worked with activists there and elsewhere on filming the police. These are just a few cases illustrating the double standards between police and plebes, many quite recent, all of them part of the evidence of technofeudalism’s ascent.

Another sign you are living in a feudal system: economists' platitudes notwithstanding, you cannot simply "quit your job if you don't like it." Whatever else these platitudes say (“no one is forcing you to work here”), in a low-wage economy where debt is high and jobs with wages sufficient to pay it off are scarce, leaving a job is unrealistic unless you are debt free, have another source of income lined up, a longstanding savings plan (difficult in this environment), support from family members (e.g., parents with savings), or an inheritance. Otherwise you are cash-strapped and time-strapped. If you have five figures of federal student loans to pay off, you are for all practical purposes owned by the federal government, which can intercept your tax refunds and even garnish your wages. Working people with bills to pay are similarly owned by the employment system which takes their time and gives them money in return — as little as possible if potential employees are a dime a dozen. This, of course, applies to those who have regular work. Stable, full-time jobs, as we’ve noted, started to disappear from the economy two decades ago, and the trend has continued. Unemployment, underemployment, and contingent employment have proven devastating. A recent study shows that over a third of all U.S. workers have no retirement savings and less than a thousand dollars tucked away whether for retirement or emergencies. Under the feudalism of the pre-industrial era, serfs were literally tied to their land. De facto serfdom is characteristic of a low-wage economy. Another irony is that history’s feudal serfs knew how to grow crops. They were more independent than today’s technofeudal serfs, who know only grocery stores. Unless you can grow food or trade for it, you are dependent on a paycheck.

The bad news: none of this will be fixed by "electing the right people." I know folks who bleat, “If we just get more Republicans in office….” We’ve tried that, have we not? There is a saying: if voting changed anything it would be outlawed. Voting presumes that democracy really exists. What the political class and its superelite handlers can assume is that most voters will stay plugged into the Real Matrix and continue being led by their noses, believing they are being presented with genuine choices between candidates with different ideas about government. Someone who unplugs and sees the Desert of the Real eventually figures out, there are no such differences, and there is no fix for that within the system’s rules which are designed to get Establishment candidates nominated, Republican or Democrat. Hence the view of many who have unplugged: Trump and Bernie Sanders notwithstanding, other things being equal, the “choice” in November 2016 will be between two Establishment candidates, if not Jeb Bush then someone equally pliable, and if not Hillary Rodham Clinton, then someone similar to her.

One critical reason there will be no political fix is that one cannot name the real issues facing the country today. These have to do with plutocratic oligarchy, globalist trade deals, the role of the Federal Reserve System and of fractional reserve banking, the devaluing of the currency, the financialization of the economic system generally, the real unemployment rate (much higher than the Bureau of Labor Statistics U-3 figure), the mindless belligerence of present U.S. foreign policy, the assault on real education, and others besides. Not even Trump has named more than a handful of these (he’s attacked the Establishment’s open-borders philosophy via illegal immigration). As I’ve noted there are many pundits who dismiss every bit of this sort thing as conspiracy theory (there’s that glittering phrase again). Besides, many voters continue to think Republicans can save the country. They support the foreign wars, and even endorse the police violence (“they shouldn’t have resisted” or “they had it coming!”), or they think the Fed has done a great job micromanaging the “economic recovery” with Quantitative Easing and zero interest rates! They believe all this because the nice looking men and women on TV say so. Or they are convinced liberal arts education is a waste of time because it involves “book learning” that doesn’t lead to an immediate material profit.

In other words, the average voter today is unable to follow a serious, in-depth discussion of these issues. Understanding how, for hundreds of years now, fractional lending has served to enrich a few bankers outside the productive economy while ensnaring the many in debt takes mental effort! A candidate who pursued such issues anyway, which invariably lead straight to the fact of transnational superelite domination, would be sabotaged by any number of available means, including public conspiracy nut branding. The combination of technology and ruined education has created a population of the self-absorbed, glued to gadgets and social media, mostly unable to do productive work, blissfully plugged in and unaware of the fundamental realities of our time. Donald Trump is not addressing these issues. Attacking Mexico and Mexicans in the U.S. illegally as if they were the enemy is easier for the low-information voter to understand; and insulting Megyn Kelly, the Fox News commentator, makes better theater! Ignored, including by Tea Party people who ought to know better, is that fact that Trump’s “Make America Great Again” has no more cognitive content than did Obama’s “Change You Can Believe In.”

7.    “What Can We Do?”

So what is one to do? I am often asked this in good faith. Vote with your feet and expatriate? More and more people flee the U.S. Empire and renounce their citizenship every year, sometimes to escape the burden of double-taxation, as the U.S. is one of the few nations to tax its citizens living and working overseas, but some view the situation at home as past the point of no return and see themselves as escaping a sinking ship. For others, for reasons ranging from family commitments to lack of personal resources, moving to Chile, Panama, or elsewhere, just isn’t a live option. The hurdles are apt to be enormous for those who can do it. These might include having to learn a new language as well as adapt to a different culture. Some who make the move either find themselves overwhelmed, or decide they do not like aspects of the different culture, or see themselves at risk of exhausting their resources, and return home. It is given that expatriating hardly solves the problems. It may be postponing the inevitable. For example, in addition to the issues already mentioned, Chile has small but growing pro-abortion and gay/lesbian rights movements. I have lived here long enough to realize that the prevailing Latin Catholic ethos does not have the strength of principle sufficient to resist such incursions long term. It is allied in large measure with an economic left that has a long history here and is presently the only visible alternative to the neoliberal “corporatism-lite” inherited from the “Chicago Boys.”

In that case, what? Organized resistance? That, in my humble opinion, would be a very bad idea! The retaliation would be deadly! Good people would get killed, and others imprisoned, possibly for a very long time as “enemy combatants,” without charges, access to a lawyer, or other recourse, and it would all be legal (the National Defense Authorization Acts of 2012 and 2014 authorize this)! At present no one has the firepower that would be necessary to hold up under a sustained assault by the U.S federal government! Supposing this false just for the sake of discussion, armed revolution is still not necessarily a solution. History clearly shows that revolutions usually replace one group of tyrants with another such group, with people ending up no better off than before. The U.S. War for Independence from Great Britain was a rare exception, and as I argue in Four Cardinal Errors, even it was sabotaged in the long run.

Secession is an idea sometimes floated. This idea falls short of armed insurrection but is dismissed as ludicrous by the mainstream. Didn’t the South try this once before, long ago, paying a very steep price? There are groups discussing the idea in many parts of the U.S., of course, even if they are dismissed as fringe. I suspect they are allowed to exist and hold meetings because elites do not consider them a threat. It has proven sufficient for the ever-watchful, hard-left Southern Poverty Law Center to label them “hate groups,” which neuters them among the mainstream which repeats SPLC dogma without question and portrays would-be secessionists as angry, aging eccentrics motivated by fear as much as hate because “WASP-male dominance” is slowly disappearing from America. Note the focus on motivations instead of arguments yet again.

For the idea is there, and may be the most promising of the lot. Its day has not yet come, not in our hemisphere anyway, but in the future, it might — for those able to weather the coming political-economic storm we have alluded to and shall discuss presently. It should be unsurprising that there is interest in separation from Washington’s empire. Independence movements of various stripes exist waiting in the wings in states from South Carolina to Texas and Vermont, in Alaska and Hawaii, in the Pacific Northwest (including Canada), and doubtless elsewhere. The idea is not unique to the Deep South.

Separation can be peaceful. After the Soviet Union fell, Czechoslovakia divided peacefully into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Slovenia separated peacefully from what had been Yugoslavia, and although resurgent ethnic conflicts precipitated war elsewhere in that region, this was the exception rather than the norm as the Soviet empire crumbled. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia all achieved sovereignty without war, as did other now-independent nations in that part of the world. So it is possible. Other movements exist that have not yet met with success. Scotland voted down an effort to leave Great Britain earlier this year. The region of Spain known as Catalonia is voting on independence. Chechnya has long wanted to leave Russia. Tibetans want freedom from Communist China. The Kurds want their own independent Kurdistan, presently a part of devastated Iraq. None of this should be surprising. Peoples naturally wish to be ruled by their own, not from distant capitols.

Back in our hemisphere, Quebec attempted to leave Canada in the 1990s and did not succeed. While numerous states signed secession measures following Obama’s reelection, none have been acted on in any way. So far, in our hemisphere, secession is still well outside the box. First, it is too easily associated with the Confederacy and from there with slavery, etc. (as if our reemerged feudal system had not reinvented what amounts to slavery in, e.g., the prison-industrial complex). But second, too many British, U.S., and Canadian citizens still identify with, and trust, their political-economic systems. What could change this remains to be seen. It is clear that it would have to be something massively disruptive — something that would interfere with the steady stream of sports events, celebrity entertainment, video games, apps, etc., that remain the primary ways corporations keep the masses tranquilized and pacified.

8.    Preparing for the Greater Depression.

What is one to do? My most thoughtful answer to this, therefore, is one that requires self-discipline and patience, in addition to education. The first thing is to gain perspective. Technofeudalism may be consolidating in the West, with all kinds of new technological gadgetry soon to be at its disposal (Smart Grid, Internet-of-Things, etc.), but it also shows signs of decay if one knows where to look. It may be close to the limits of bigness and complexity it is able to handle. Let us consider the financial side of things.

Basing an economic system almost entirely on financialization and debt will exact consequences. Credit-fueled bubbles eventually pop as we should have learned from the 1990s and 2000s, but obviously have not, as we currently see the biggest stock bubble on Wall Street in history, as well as the still-larger and more dangerous derivatives bubble (measured as over 1 quadrillion dollars, a number exceeding the actual wealth of the entire world!). A bubble is a structurally overvalued asset. It needs to be emphasized: one cannot create wealth or real value by entering data into a computer! To print money, therefore, robs it of its real value. Since the Federal Reserve was created, the dollar has lost over 97% of its purchasing power. Since Nixon “closed the gold window” in 1971 and began the financialization era, this process has accelerated, and took another quantum leap in its acceleration when the Quantitative Easing era began. There is good reason, therefore, for believing the dollar is doomed in the long run, however strong it may seem against other fiat currencies at the moment. Among the things helping the dollar is the uncertainty the situation in Greece has caused the euro, and worsening recession in China. These won’t last, and it is possible that the former offers us a kind of movie trailer of what is to come as economies supported by bad loans go bust, bankers impose “austerity,” rebellion gives rise to populism, and bankers punish. The Greek drama has some important lessons for us, which is a good thing because it may well be played out on a much larger world stage soon!  

We do not have a timetable, although plenty of signs exist of an impending downturn that will be global in scale and make the 2008 meltdown look tame by comparison — a Greater Depression, one might call it. When this Greater Depression will begin (this year? next year? the following year? the early 2020s?) and what will catalyze it are impossible to say. There are too many variables. What we can say is that since the beginning of the financialization era relatively sudden downturns have been occurring cyclically every seven to ten years, each one worse than its predecessor, with each recovery more anemic. The present “recovery” has been limited to Wall Street and Silicon Valley. What we be sure of: the next great downturn will happen, and will be more destructive than its predecessor. Mathematics does not lie. The too-big-to-fail banks are bigger; the bubbles, including derivatives, are large and growing; overall debt is higher, both the official national debt and off-the-books federal debts are higher; the financial system is more highly leveraged; precarity is greater; the resources available to stave off the effects of another meltdown are less than they were in 2008. So we say again, it will happen and it will be worse; moreover, the longer the wait, the worse the impending downturn will be!   

What will we see in a Greater Depression? The following is a worse-case scenario. You can hope for the best, but should plan for the worst: job losses on a scale unprecedented as credit systems lock up, ordinary economic activity is disrupted, and businesses of all sizes fail including smaller, regional banks. The FDIC will not have the resources to cover all the losses. Millions will end up homeless, many of them former middle class. The “tent cities” that have already sprung up here and there are just a preview of what could happen. If recent history is any guide, the Federal Reserve will respond with still more money creation. Only this time, it will not work but will instead lead to hyperinflation as it did in Zimbabwe — especially if as seems an eventuality, other nations move away from the dollar as their reserve currency. A currency collapse will ensue. As fuel costs skyrocket overnight, deliveries to grocery stores will cease, presaging food shortages in every urban and suburban area. As stores empty — possibly in just a few hours — people will panic, resulting in food riots. Contrary to what many will expect, police may be ordered to stand down (as they were in both Ferguson and Baltimore during the race riots in those places). This may mean entire neighborhoods destroyed. Martial law is a common prediction, but this, too, is anyone’s guess, since it will have to be enforced on the ground by troops who will find themselves outnumbered. Elites may well seize the opportunity at the brand of population reduction possibly citywide urban riots will cause, as blacks in particular kill each other fighting over food along with any whites and other ethnicities who did not have the foresight to pack up and get out days before. If power facilities and lines are damaged the electricity will go out and not come back on, as companies will refuse to send their repair people into what will have become war zones. The government will have to declare a national emergency, of course, regardless of what they call it. 

The wise thing to do at present is get out of large cities, and get your assets out of U.S. banks. Then wait, be patient, diversify (e.g., into precious metals), keep your head down, and quietly build solid personal skills whatever they may be: learning to grow food, cooking it, storing essentials (e.g., toiletries), making things (e.g., soap, shampoo; or clothing), learning gun safety, etc. You must become a prepper, in other words, despite the way preppers are caricatured in corporate media. I would add: gain critical language skills! I don’t mean learning a foreign language, although that wouldn’t hurt anyone! Near the outset I noted Orwell’s understanding that those who control definitions control the national conversation and the direction of the culture. This essay has provided plenty of examples of how discussion stoppers and glittering phrases (conspiracy theory, change you can believe in, make America great again!) are used to stop rational discussion, or draw out emotion, absent cognitive content. Prepping is short for preparation, obviously. It is sensible, focused preparation for post-meltdown personal, familial, and community survival.

One of the best guides to prepping I have perused recently is Tess Pennington’s massive The Prepper’s Blueprint: A Step-By-Step Guide to Help You Prepare for Any Disaster (2014). This is not a game; it is not to be taken lightly or pursued haphazardly, or like a mere hobby. What you are preparing to do is survive, should the world around you disintegrate. Then, soon, you will want to rebuild, and begin delivering real value in a new community of survivors, one community of hopefully many. The wise can discern that regardless of what happens, you and your neighbors will need to eat; you and they will need clean water; you and they will need living spaces protected and maintained; you and they will want to keep clean; you and they will need clothing, especially clothing designed to protect from bitterly cold winters. All of you will need people who can do workaday repairs and keep the generators running. Above all, you will need to be able to protect yourselves, including from sometimes desperate groups of marauders who didn’t have the foresight to prepare for disaster and are now willing to use deadly force to take from those who did. For this reason, present attempts to disarm the public in response to the latest mass shooting are among the most dangerous movements political elites such as Obama are serving up. Tess Pennington describes in great detail what this requires in terms of food storage, clean water, home and community defense, etc.

For millions of ordinary people who trusted the system (and televised news) will be completely blindsided. They will wish they had listened to those they dismissed as conspiracy nuts and doomsayers. Given your limited resources, there will be little you can say to them except, you were warned! In the event of an economic unraveling severe enough to cause extended brownouts and delivery stoppages, people with the right skills or badly needed goods to trade will have obvious advantages over those who wasted their time watching football or the Kardashians or obsessing over “selfies” or following the Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner foolishness. Get rid of your television! Homeschool your children, and teach them how to work with their hands as well as financial and other sorts of literacy! Such skills will serve them well, even under a barter system.

There is one possibility the above scenario leaves aside. That is the possibility we alluded to at an earlier point, that the collapse was orchestrated by the superelite themselves, perhaps in response to a rising spirit of independence and defiance. While Donald Trump himself may well fade, “Trumpism” may give rise to a movement with staying power, able to rally around issues Trump hasn’t touched such as the need to shut down the Federal Reserve. The superelite would not want such a movement to gain traction, and could precipitate an economic calamity to panic the masses with a few phone calls. The artificial creation of a panic, that of 1907, was the main event leading to the creation of the Federal Reserve in the first place. To prevent things from going as badly to pieces as we describe above, they would send in their ground troops to restore order long before things got that far.

It would not be the order of the recent past, however, but that of overt totalitarianism. As a condition of receiving assistance, citizens would be ordered to give up their firearms (for example). Immediate obedience, akin to that demanded by militarized police now, would be the order of the day. Then, of course, the power would come back on and life in front of television could resume: as full-fledged technofeudalism.

I hope it is clear that these are scenarios, not predictions. At first glance, the future looks bleak, in any event. But there is — dare I say it? — hope. Part of that hope is that economic calamity and the deterioration of empires, as products of the long term effects of bad decisions, are not necessarily containable. They are part of cycles, through which all relatively advanced civilizations have gone. This could mean the end of the superelite reign of coercion, war, propaganda, manipulation — and the new serfdom.

9.    Grounds for Hope: Real Sustainability and the Cycles of History.

For the good news is that technofeudalism is not sustainable (a word I use with a certain ironic relish, given the prevalent obsession with “sustainable development”). At the outset, I stated my belief that it could not succeed.

Why not?

An initial reason is that empires have life cycles, just as individuals do. This phenomenon has been widely studied since Edward Gibbon wrote his classic, multivolume account of the fall of Rome. Numerous scholars in a variety of disciplines have charted how empires may begin as republics (as did Rome) or as relatively small states, rise energetically, expand territorially and militarily, and may seem on the verge of a golden age. But then they lose their sense of direction. They grow increasingly complacent, corrupt, and wasteful. Interestingly, border controls fail and their cities fill with growing populations of unassimilable immigrants. This is happening in Europe even as I write. Gradually, as elites struggle to correct mounting internal issues, they lose their sense of direction. They develop complex, unwieldy bureaucracies, and tax systems to fund them. As empires (“complex societies”) they lose the loyalty of their masses who either turn inward and begin “tending their own gardens” or begin to emigrate elsewhere. People will produce and hoard for themselves — sometimes outside what the law “permits” — instead of identifying with the supposed national good. Prepping is an instance of this, of course; the need to prep is evidence that one is living amidst decline. Empires are vulnerable to being invaded from outside (Rome was “sacked”), but more often disintegrate from within as their governmental systems are overwhelmed, and people’s efforts to solve problems working within these system meet with increased costs and diminishing or even negative returns (cf. Joseph Tainter, The Collapse of Complex Societies, 1988).

There is no denying that the U.S. is an empire whose dominance is economic and militaristic rather than territorial per se. The prophesy here — it is that — is that superelite dominance, which relies on the continuing strength of the U.S. economy and its military machine, will find itself doomed. Were a full technofeudalism to be put in place, it would last at most two generations, because it would be unable to sustain the means of its continuance at any level, be it the production and distribution of material goods or just the minimum cooperation and coordination it would need at various levels to function.

Technofeudalism is based on, and reinforces, a mindset of cynicism, opportunism, and predation from top to bottom. This leaves it vulnerable to the same corruption that will have enabled its rise to power. Its architects may finish putting together “free trade” deals, building their global architecture, exploiting the lack of real education, using the many media distractions, and presuming any remaining opposition’s lack of resources and effective organization will continue. However they bring it about, the superelite may actually come to rule a de facto world order for a while. We can surmise what their regime will look like. At the top will be the superelite themselves: oligarchs standing in the shadows behind their bought-and-paid-for political mouthpieces who won’t look or sound significantly different from what we presently have. Assuming total economic calamity can be staved off for a while, beneath the oligarchs and the visible political elites will be a somewhat larger “middle class” of well-paid functionaries (bureaucrats, judges, police chiefs, assorted technocrats) to administer and enforce, through police power if necessary, the policies the oligarchs want.

There will also be a class of specialists and entrepreneurial types, many privately trained or self-taught: creative and highly mobile freelancers with technical skills sufficient to ensure that they always have work: overseeing, expanding, and probably still improving the technology the system will continue to need. This will be the only class, we should observe, that will be generating any real wealth, as opposed to moving existing wealth around (mostly upward). Some of these people will be economically reasonably well off, and will be allowed to flourish so long as their inspirational blog posts indicate no interest in politics and they do not pursue technologies that threaten corporations (e.g., what Nikola Tesla was probably working on). Doing so, they will have learned, can be hazardous to one’s health and safety. If technofeudalism becomes the world order, there will be very few safe havens. One can predict the rise of gated communities protected by armed security as housing for cooperative members of these upper castes. Security itself may become an attractive and potentially lucrative (for its owners) occupation.

Then there are the plebes: the bulk of the population. There may be a few remnants of that once-independent middle class, aging and dying off (or being medicated to death in nursing homes). Others will simply be the cash-strapped precariat: the “new faculty majority” teaching in remaining universities and colleges (many will have closed), the army of fast-food workers, Walmart employees, Uber drivers, home health aides, among others in the low-paid services sector. Finally, at the bottom, will be those deemed permanently unemployable and possibly expendable. Most of those in these bottom-tier classes will live in squalid conditions in run-down apartment buildings or public housing units in unsafe neighborhoods. The mix of ethnicities presently being orchestrated through coerced mass migration all over the West will breed distrust and conflict, and prevent effective organization. From these lower classes (and their children) will come the cannon fodder to fight any further wars of choice deemed necessary against recalcitrant regions, nations, or peoples.

This system, again assuming it gets this far, will then start to unravel, for reasons we have already seen. As I argue elsewhere, following Austrian-born political philosopher and economist Leopold Kohr (author of The Breakdown of Nations, 1957), excessively large political-economic systems tend to do that. The problems are less matters of ideology than scale. Tendencies towards war and aggression, argues Kohr, whether foreign or domestic, are less matters of principle and more matters of opportunity — its victims are too poorly organized and resourced to defend themselves or retaliate. But cohesive systems of political economy, like living organisms, have an optimal size, and when they exceed that size they begin to lose their functionality. This is a more basic reason that all empires eventually fail.

The oligarchs themselves are sociopaths who form allegiances of convenience, not true friendships based on loyalty or comradery. The superelite consists of extended families who will work together but simultaneously maneuver for subtle advantages among their own, making the reasonable assumption that others are doing the same. They may not have identical priorities.

Different challenges will arise spontaneously at different levels in the technofeudalist hierarchy. Some might involve the system’s capacity to respond effectively to natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes, and while these might test their abilities, the truly dangerous situations would result from the ultimately uncontrollable human element. Part of Kohr’s theme is that people will do what they believe they can get away with. The impersonal and cumbersome nature of huge bureaucracy makes it possible for people to get away with more, especially when unanticipated problems strike and systems are unprepared to handle them. How would functionaries of the elite pacify angry mobs demanding their money in the wake of a massive financial meltdown which forces banks to close? Would they simply order troops on the ground to open fire if they did not disperse when ordered to do so? It might dawn on some of those troops, who signed up not out of love for “the system” but because they saw job openings, that some of the people they will be shooting are their own neighbors. Will they go along, sensing the penalties for not doing so? Maybe, but maybe not. They may have suffered losses in the meltdown as well, including automatic trust in authority, a loss of which will put them on the same side as those they’ve just been ordered to shoot. Or they may sense that shooting people will have adverse consequences in social media saturated society (which I don’t expect to go away even if it is censored somewhat). One of the things we may have learned from the standoff at the Cliven Bundy Ranch in Nevada in 2014 is that the Feds may have superior firepower but will back down if it clear that Patriot groups everywhere are watching like hawks, and that a repeat of the 1993 massacre of the Branch Davidians near Waco, Texas would leave them with something well beyond a public relations nightmare. This is also a reason not to write off law enforcement altogether. They unquestionably have good men and women in their ranks, not just violent sociopaths.

What would the oligarchs or their functionaries do against a larger and more organized precariat that refuses to accept its lot in life, perhaps having rallied around a new charismatic leader, a poor man’s Donald Trump who teaches independence instead of just focusing anger? Do those in power deal with such a person visibly to make an example, or furtively, perhaps arranging an “accident” or even an assassination? As we just observed, the former might not be a live option. The latter would still carry risks. “Accidents” lead to suspicions. As for assassination: almost no intelligent person believes the “lone nut” theory of political assassinations anymore.

Such events, and disagreements over how to handle them, could cause fractures in the superelite, even if the next major meltdown is something they are counting on. Its present senior ringleaders, moreover (David Rockefeller Sr., Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski), are aging. Brzezinski is 87; Kissinger is 92, and Rockefeller has reached 100! They may have a source of longevity not available to us plebes. This doesn’t matter. They will meet their Maker soon! Will those following in their footsteps, their offspring or protégés, presumably groomed for oligarchic rule, be able to carry their elders’ torches when the time comes? Or will they prove less intelligent, less able, more complacent, more prone to potentially fatal errors in judgment?

The oligarchs, even in power, cannot be everywhere, nor can their functionaries nor the many garden-variety technocrats and bureaucrats at “street level.” Surveillance technology may become omnipresent, possibly even in homes, but can be circumvented by those with the know-how. Much will depend on what that mobile, tech savvy class does. Young in most cases but instinctively freedom oriented — privately, at least — they may prove clever enough to stay ahead of the technocrats. Eventually a critical few will find themselves at odds with their overseers. Their technical know-how will be superior. They will find ways around structural dominance. Sabotage of various sorts will then pose a danger to total surveillance. I can envision “hackers” within this group, along the lines of Anonymous, monkeywrenching the immense data collection, storage, and retrieval systems a functional technofeudalism will need, or furtively turning off crucial systems long enough to allow an opposition to form.  

Finally, should one or more of the more charismatic political mouthpieces for the oligarchy in some region decide he or she has better ideas for doing things than his superiors, and should he or she be able furtively to gain the support of (or pay off) a few sheriffs or other regional military leaders, whichever oligarch had primary jurisdiction in that region will have a problem on his hands, especially if other mouthpieces and functionaries get wind of what is going on — or if a few of the above technical whiz kids come on board. The oligarchs will have tried to choose underlings they could control, possibly through blackmail. But if they lose control over those actually wielding the guns, or over those keeping other crucial systems up and running, their days will be numbered. They may find themselves trapped in their gated communities. They will doubtless have tried to disarm the lower classes. Such efforts will have failed, for the same reason the so-called war on drugs failed.

In other words, many things can and will go wrong with a technofeudalist regime prior to full development, just as with the envisioned neoliberal Utopia.

But simply saying things can and will go wrong will not suffice. Technofeudalism’s rise has been furtive and steady, but its fall at any point along the way could be ugly and chaotic — worse than was the collapse of the Soviet economy for the Russian people. The inefficiencies of Communism had made the latter far hardier, resilient, and self-reliant than the average American Idol watcher, as Dmitry Orlov has shown in great detail. Their families had stuck together far better than ours. Their communities were more unified and able to pull together when the Soviet economy collapsed. They had a rough ride, but they survived. The road to a post-collapse America will be much harder, because so many Americans have grown so soft. Some are reading books like Tess Pennington’s, but many are not.   

The light at the end of the tunnel is there nevertheless. As technofeudalism falls, freedom will be possible — again, for those who have prepped for it, and been patient. In the present, a serious effort to oust federal authorities and establish, e.g., a Southern Republic seated in, say, South Carolina, would be stopped with lethal force. But should the larger centralized system begin to unravel in the face of multiple simultaneous crises, what people do far from the centers of power will cease to be a priority. Conceivably not just one but several regions would be able to move toward self-governance. As we said at the start of this section, history teaches that we have been here before. Previous empires include those of Rome, Spain, the Ottomans, the British Empire, and many others. There is no reason to believe the fate of the U.S. Empire, or of the technofeudalism currently rising within the Anglo-European Establishment, will be any different. There are, on the other hand, plenty of reasons for having a conversation about what kind of world we wish to build — what role money and material goods will play in that world, how prosperity is created and sustained, and the role to be reserved for spiritual values which cannot be bought and sold. What, moreover, will we have learned from the present cycle of civilization’s mistakes? Some might actually learn the value of working toward a world of small states, relations between them networked but nonintrusive, aware of different political philosophies but accepting the principle that one should never impose one’s own philosophy on others by force as the best hope of containing the obsession with power. 

Santiago, Chile

June – October, 2015

 Visit the Steven Yates web site, Lost Generation Philosopher  

Steven Yates lives in Santiago, Chile. He has a doctorate in philosophy and has taught the subject at a number of U.S. and two Chilean universities. The author of Civil Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action (1994) and Four Cardinal Errors: Reasons for the Decline of the American Republic (2011), as well as numerous articles and reviews both online and in journals, he is at work on another book and also putting together a series of online education offerings under the general name New Lyceum Academy of Philosophical Studies. He is married to a Chilean woman and is learning Spanish. They have no children, just two spoiled cats. 

Email:  FreeYourMindinSC@yahoo.com


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