I have often disagreed with Michael Lind because he has beaten around the bush in regard to How We Got Here.
But a recent article of his asks ‘Are the American People Obsolete?’ and that’s so excellently-put a question that it has to be acknowledged.
The social contract between the Few (rich) and the Many (not-so) “has been broken”.
This is not the ideal social contract of Locke. It is the practical social contract evolved in the early 20th century – certainly with the coming of the New Deal – whereby “in return for receiving most of the gains” the rich agreed to pay “a disproportionate percentage of the taxes needed for public goods”.
I would add that Henry Ford realized that his own workers would be his best and most reliable customers: if he paid them well enough, they would buy many of the cars that the Ford factories turned out. This insight became the basis for the ‘Detroit Consensus’: American workers would be paid well in salary and benefits, and they would be reliably employed and then they and their families would reliably consume. The bosses would get rich, the workers would be ensured of a livelihood with which to raise their families, and the Great American Thing would roll on and on.
Of course, by the mid-1960s the early (and radical) feminists were saying that those Families were nothing more than Nazi camps for women and children, and that those workers were ‘mehnnnn’ and therefore Nazis (sexually, if not also politically) and that the whole White, Male, Industrial Culture had to go … like, yesterday.
Meanwhile, a second element of that contract was also broken: the many would also submit to mass conscription whereby they – with the leavening of the children of the rich to some extent – would constitute the mass of a military that could prevent the rise of any world order “hostile to a market economy”.
Thus the Many would provide the Workers and the mass consumption on the one hand, and the Soldiers for mass conscription on the other hand.
The Few – dependent on the American consumer and soldier and having to live in the same country as the Many – would thus be tamed in a way that Wealth had not often been tamed in any world civilization.
Not a bad plan – the Few actually working in concert (if not in close contact) with the Many, and the common weal and the common economy benefitting from the bargain.
It’s all gone, baby, gone.
The American-as-consumer is tapped out and can no longer keep up that end of the bargain.
Of course the reason for being tapped-out is partly the Few’s fault: as capital became easier to transfer (by wire rather than clunky gold shipment) and as other parts of the world began to present themselves as venues for cheaper labor costs, the Few and the corporations that they either ran or invested in paid the elected pols handsomely through PACs for the treacherous privilege of outsourcing jobs and manufacturing to other countries, depriving American workers of the reliable and well-paid jobs that were the bedrock of the postwar American achievement as a polity.
Congress could have stopped them by insisting that if they were garnering the privileges of U.S. corporate charters then they would have to keep production jobs in the U.S., but Congress had gotten hooked on the strategy of pandering, which paid many of them handsomely while in office and often even afterwards.
And the military has taken to hiring mercenaries, contract-workers, and foreign-born troops. There are many reasons for it: mercenary fighters aren’t perhaps as closely bound to Constitutional and military rules of conduct; mercenary fighters are cheaper hires since they don’t get vets’ benefits; mercenary fighters can augment a field force that’s too small to achieve the envisioned ‘victory’; mercenary fighters are willing and able to deploy the self-discipline and enthusiasm for conducting field operations whereas pampered, entitled, and victim-sensitive American youth aren’t; contractor-workers can do the dirty work that far too many American youth see as beneath them or aren’t sufficiently disciplined to perform; and – one of my consistent suspicions – mercenaries and contractors can compensate for the wholesale introduction of females into the military that was imposed as national policy in order to pander to the radical-feminist Identity Advocacy … since like so many other elements of that radical-feminist agenda it hasn’t performed as envisioned, and instead has very predictably and significantly weakened the military’s combat efficiency even though neither Congress nor the military bosses dare to admit at this point how wrong the whole thing has been.
The foreign-born play their role, as pawns, in both areas of concern: in the military they are theoretically motivated to achieve the benny of citizenship or naturalization by performing military service; in the economy, they are willing to be deferential and not-so-highly-paid domestics, enabling wealthy husbands to employ cheap labor when they need it, and enabling wealthy wives to live the Masterpiece Theater dampdream – dahhhhhlings! – with a far more respectful and deferential servant-corps than any ‘entitled’ Americans, no matter how much they need the job, could ever provide.
So you can see why the Wealthy of both ostensibly Republican-conservative and Democratic-liberal credentials like ‘immigration’ as a core value: no other way to live the Masterpiece Theater damp-dream and break the (white, male) unions at the same time. Something for everyone!
So at this point, the money of the Wealthy Few is abandoning the American Many and heading for the cheaper labor markets and richer consumer markets of China, India, and elsewhere.
Leaving, as Lind notes, the Average American as “obsolete”, unable to ‘buy’ and unable to ‘fight’, and the youth thereof as well as the aging Boomer grandparents and the Me-Generation and X-generation ‘parents’.
I have to ask: is it conceivable that when it went along with the idea to pander to Big Identity and its Pain and Demands in order to get votes, and to pander to Big Money and its corporate dreams of breaking the Detroit Consensus by outsourcing production and jobs … is it conceivable that Congress did NOT know what was going to inevitably happen? As it now inevitably has?
I think Congress knew and didn’t care. Like the nomenklatura of the USSR by the mid-1970s, Congress knew there was no way to hold it all together and make good on all the Great Promises, and instead figured to make each Member a nice bundle until s/he could get out of town, meanwhile promising everything the Left’s Identities demanded while accepting money through PACs from the Right’s corporations.
So, for example, on one hand Congress garnered kudos for imposing all sorts of ‘equality’ requirements onto the American workplace, while simultaneously accepting swag from the corporations to let them put their workplaces overseas.
So, for example, on the one hand Congress imposed all sorts of ‘equality’ requirements onto the military, while simultaneously accepting swag from the defense-industry to provide actually competent fighters and workers to enable the military to still work at least modestly well.
Neat. The type of ‘tactical’ shrewdness that can get a gold-star for ‘technical brilliance’ even while justifying a formal indictment for genuine Constitutional treachery.
And all of it abetted by a sensation-and-profits happy mainstream media that was into bigtime two-faced pandering of its own: spinning all the Left’s agenda as ‘progress’ and ‘reform’ and ‘liberation’, and all the Rights’ patriotic jingoism and financial sleight-of-hand as ‘noble’ and as ‘wizardry’ … all the while pulling all of its investigative punches except when permitted a quick race around the dog-run, as if it were still master of its own destiny.
The Wealthy-Few have no more use for the Un-wealthy Many. The fractious frakkulence of Identity Politics – shattering the sense of a common American identity among the fractal-dizziness of race, gender, victim-status and a dozen other such ‘primary identities’ – has merely served, like some witless ‘nonjudgmental’ homeowner, to invite the ancient Vampires of Wealth and Class into the national hearth.
With predictable results. As any kid who ever watched a vampire movie could have told Us.
Lind goes a little overboard, I’d say, suggesting that one option left to now-obsolescent Americans (and not simply ‘men’ or ‘whites’) is to emigrate to countries where the job opportunities are better.
Frankly, I think that most Americans now – alas, vae et eheu – are about as able to adapt to such strenuous solutions as the bulk of the Russian aristocracy after Lenin’s October Revolution overthrew both the Tsar’s government and the Workers’ government and installed the Soviet regime. If some Americans could snigger at the hapless shenanigans of - say – the Russian countess in Ernst Lubitsch’s Ninotchka, trying to get her jewels back so she could continue to live in 1930s Paris as she had always been accustomed to live – it now has to be said that most Americans are equally unprepared to undertake a major fall in social station.
And yet the primacy of the American Many is now no longer guaranteed, indispensable, or – the genuine danger – supportable.
For decades now Americans have been bathed in the muzzy haze of fake ‘wealth’. Though the country went off the gold standard in 1971 and stopped pumping most of its own oil in 1972, though prices began to rise dizzily in the early 1970s and have never come down, yet Reagan borrowed and unleashed the policies that led to the mid-1980s Savings and Loan collapse; and Clinton coasted on dot-com wizardry that had a shelf-life far short of eternity and passed the legislation that repealed the Great Depression era safety mechanisms at the heart of the economic structure; and the Bushling Bubbled everything pushed his way and fulfilled the awful threat latent in Clinton’s repeals.
But to listen to the media, the Left was ‘liberating’ everyone from the Nazi-like ‘oppression’ of White, Male, Industrial culture and the Right was demonstrating financial wizardry while also flexing the proverbial American muscle as the Indispensable and Indisputable World Hegemon (thus simultaneously pandering to the ever-shadowy Staunch Ally Sans Treaty in the bargain) … and yet The People were distracted by ‘wealth’, gobbling up ‘credit’ so fast that they didn’t have to notice how much more work they had to do – if they could get it – to keep their grasp on ‘the American Dream’.
Lind proposes a vision of America as one giant Aspen, with the pampered and contented Wealthy Few waited upon by a mostly-imported corps of deferential foreign servants, pursuing their amusements.
This aristocracy – comprised of the Wealthy Few and the assorted few benefactees of the Knowledge Economy – would have no requirements for a Great Unwashed, the formerly credit-rich Many. The minivan, the fully-loaded Mercury or Acura, the luxury SUV or muscle-engined, extended-cab pickup, leased or bought on credit … will not badge one as ‘belonging’.
Most of Us will not ‘belong’ to this Aspen-America. Didn’t We get that long ago? No, there are lot of things We just didn’t get.
But We’re going to get it soon.
Imagine that the Captain of the Titanic, fearing to be handled rather roughly if the passengers realized what he had done, ordered cheap hard liquor to be dispensed liberally (especially to 2nd and 3rd class; 1st would get champagne and the lifeboats).
So that as things got worse, the passengers largely got drunker, thus further incapacitating them to handle the crisis that was flooding in under them by the minute.
And that’s about where We are at this point.
Even if folks could stop ‘drinking’ right this minute, it would take quite a while to sober up enough to see how life and limb could be saved.
And the Captain and 1st class really don’t need that: a whole bunch of half-sober and really mad and really scared folks flooding up to the boat deck.
We are Nearer to God than We dare think. And nobody’s ready for THAT.