CAMPAIGN 08: The predator state

Obama needs a better reading list

For Mr. Zakaria, the truly enlightened Americans, the ones who understand the coming order, are apparently Goldman Sachs, McKinsey & Company and assorted business chieftains. When Mr. Zakaria writes that Third World leaders “have heard Western CEOs explain where the future lies,” he means it not as a sarcastic slap at those CEOs but as homage to their wisdom.

Average Americans, meanwhile, give Mr. Zakaria fits, what with their stubborn ignorance of foreign ways and their doubts about free trade. This attitude, in turn, has opened up “a growing gap between America’s worldly business elite and cosmopolitan class, on the one hand, and the majority of the American people, on the other.”

A warning here, senator. This is not an idea that will endear you to the people of Montana, or Ohio, or Pennsylvania. Were you to integrate it into your stump speech, you might even deliver the South Side of Chicago over to John McCain.

One more reason to be leery of all this market idolatry: It’s wrong. Take the aspect of the “new era” that Mr. Zakaria most admires – “the free movement of capital,” the international loans and investments he worships as “globalization’s celestial mechanism for discipline.” In point of fact, the rise of China and India – Mr. Zakaria’s own paradigm cases – was possible only because those countries shunned global commercial credit markets in the 1970s, allowing them to avoid the interest-rate shock of the early ’80s.

How do I know this? It’s all explained in a far more worthwhile new book, “The Predator State,” by James K. Galbraith. At your next photo-op, Mr. Obama, I hope to see you half way through it. [complete article]

The predator state

Today, the signature of modern American capitalism is neither benign competition, nor class struggle, nor an inclusive middle-class utopia. Instead, predation has become the dominant feature—a system wherein the rich have come to feast on decaying systems built for the middle class. The predatory class is not the whole of the wealthy; it may be opposed by many others of similar wealth. But it is the defining feature, the leading force. And its agents are in full control of the government under which we live.

Our rulers deliver favors to their clients. These range from Native American casino operators, to Appalachian coal companies, to Saipan sweatshop operators, to the would-be oil field operators of Iraq. They include the misanthropes who led the campaign to abolish the estate tax; Charles Schwab, who suggested the dividend tax cut of 2003; the “Benedict Arnold” companies who move their taxable income offshore; and the financial institutions behind last year’s bankruptcy bill. Everywhere you look, public decisions yield gains to specific private entities.

For in a predatory regime, nothing is done for public reasons. Indeed, the men in charge do not recognize that “public purposes” exist. They have friends, and enemies, and as for the rest—we’re the prey. Hurricane Katrina illustrated this perfectly, as Halliburton scooped up contracts and Bush hamstrung Kathleen Blanco, the Democratic governor of Louisiana. The population of New Orleans was, at best, an afterthought; once dispersed, it was quickly forgotten. [complete article]

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