American kleptocracy — How fears of socialism and fascism hide naked theft

At TomDispatch, William Astore writes:

America is not now, nor has it often been, a hotbed of political radicalism. We have no substantial socialist or workers’ party. (Unless you’re deluded, please don’t count the corporate-friendly “Democrat” party here.) We have no substantial fascist party. (Unless you’re deluded, please don’t count the cartoonish “tea partiers” here; these predominantly white, graying, and fairly affluent Americans seem most worried that the jackbooted thugs will be coming for them.)

What drives America today is, in fact, business — just as was true in the days of Calvin Coolidge. But it’s not the fair-minded “free enterprise” system touted in those freshly revised Texas guidelines for American history textbooks; rather, it’s a rigged system of crony capitalism that increasingly ends in what, if we were looking at some other country, we would recognize as an unabashed kleptocracy.

Recall, if you care to, those pallets stacked with hundreds of millions of dollars that the Bush administration sent to Iraq and which, Houdini-like, simply disappeared. Think of the ever-rising cost of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, now in excess of a trillion dollars, and just whose pockets are full, thanks to them.

If you want to know the true state of our government and where it’s heading, follow the money (if you can) and remain vigilant: our kleptocratic Houdinis are hard at work, seeking to make yet more money vanish from your pockets — and reappear in theirs.

Never has the old adage my father used to repeat to me — “the rich get richer and the poor poorer” — seemed fresher or truer. If you want confirmation of just where we are today, for instance, consider this passage from a recent piece by Tony Judt:

In 2005, 21.2 percent of U.S. national income accrued to just 1 percent of earners. Contrast 1968, when the CEO of General Motors took home, in pay and benefits, about sixty-six times the amount paid to a typical GM worker. Today the CEO of Wal-Mart earns nine hundred times the wages of his average employee. Indeed, the wealth of the Wal-Mart founder’s family in 2005 was estimated at about the same ($90 billion) as that of the bottom 40 percent of the U.S. population: 120 million people

Wealth concentration is only one aspect of our increasingly kleptocratic system. War profiteering by corporations (however well disguised as heartfelt support for our heroic warfighters) is another. Meanwhile, retired senior military officers typically line up to cash in on the kleptocratic equivalent of welfare, peddling their “expertise” in return for impressive corporate and Pentagon payouts that supplement their six-figure pensions. Even that putative champion of the Carhartt-wearing common folk, Sarah Palin, pocketed a cool $12 million last year without putting the slightest dent in her populist bona fides.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

3 thoughts on “American kleptocracy — How fears of socialism and fascism hide naked theft

  1. christopher

    Sir, the old adage you refer to “the rich get richer and the poor gets poorer,” distorts reality in my opinion. Yes, the wealthy are making large amounts of cash, but what is wrong with that? Granted those CEO’s you describe are making ridiculous amounts of capital that they cannot spend in a lifetime, however that is there choice and they don’t owe none of us for there success. Could they pay there employees more, perhaps but again that is there choice, if the workers don’t like it, further your education or pick up a valuable skill and move on. I can care less how much money a person makes, what matters is how they make it. For, example was it legal, and did they follow established rules to get there. We need to stop demonizing the wealthy! Lastly, I recently went back to school to earn a higher degree to earn better money, in order to seek prosperity to better provide for my family. What is wrong with trying to accumulate and maintain wealth?

  2. Diana

    With unemployment at over 20% by some estimates working hard after getting an education is no guarantee that you will build or maintain what wealth you have built. I have been unemployed for nearly a year after working for 35 years. I have a BA in History, magna cum laude and was a manager making a decent living. I have no debt except my mortgage. My husband was planning to retire this year but due to the fact that if he does I will have no health care benefits he will postpone that. I feel bad because he is a cancer survivor, 10 years older than I am and he deserves some rest. I have applied to a local college to get a Masters in Social Work which will take 2 years. I decided this because there is a better than average employment outlook in my area due to aging baby boomers (of which I am one) and I’m hoping that my age (in 2 years I’ll be 57) will be an advantage rather than a liability. I believe that people prefer to speak to people their own age when they need help or counseling. The wealthy do not earn their wealth the way we do. Many of them do nothing but rake in the cash. As companies lay people off because American workers are productive and therefore less of us are needed, the burdens of unemployment, crime, illness, homelessness, fall on the tax payer. Social Services are overburdened due to the irresponsibility of the rich. Part of this economic crisis is cause by the fact that they have so much money that there’s no where to invest it to make more, but after accumulating billions by not paying workers their full share of their labor they do not take any responsibility. Walmart bullied their vendors so baldy for low prices that at least one of them had to move his factories to China just to be able to sell to Walmart at the prices they want- and they have the nerve to use red, white and blue as their colors. We don’t have pensions anymore. Instead our 401 K’s are tied to the stock market which goes up whenever there are more job cuts or if there’s a natural disaster that companies will profit from. This is not right. This system is destroying the planet and everything on it. The earth belongs to all of us and we are human beings, not human resources. We have value even if no one is exploiting it at the time.

  3. Ian Arbuckle

    Christopher, There is nothing wrong with trying to accumulate or maintain wealth, but unless you are already wealthy either is unlikely. I read your comment with amazement at its frank simplicity. You write “They don’t owe none (any) of us for there (their) success.” In fact they do, in many ways. The truck loads of money which were and still are being hauled off by contractors under the guise of the Iraq and Afghanistan aggression and occupation, (for lack of calling these events under their misnomer of “war”) were taxes or further debt against future taxes, approved by Congress despite many obvious reasons why the money should have stopped. Even the Comptroller General of the GAO every fiscal year since 1996, when consolidated financial statements began, has refused to endorse the accuracy of the consolidated figures for the federal budget, citing “(1) serious financial management problems at the Department of Defense, (2) the federal government’s inability to adequately account for and reconcile intragovernmental activity and balances between federal agencies, and (3) the federal government’s ineffective process for preparing the consolidated financial statements.”. Also money, profits and splendid remuneration to traders and executives of banks and insurance companies who designed the collapse and benefited from the financial collapse and the recovery packages in its wake has proved to be an extension of the rich stealing from the poor most grievously with the help of the government.

    You are absolutely right to ask, was it legal? Did they follow the established rules? The answer I’m afraid is, yes and no. They actually gamed the system, and got lobbyists to pay seated millionaires in government to rewrite the rules so that they could use them to steal from taxes or directly through what should be considered under normal conditions as fraud.

    I wish I could assure you that greater learning should equate directly to higher income. But there are a great many well educated hard working poor honest people who will testify that in fact few of the rich got to where they are by taking another degree. More usually their wealth was accrued not through what they knew or what they were qualified for but who they exploited or financially supported politically.

    As a generalization it is difficult not to demonize the wealthy when so few are in fact socially or morally responsible even in respect of those that work “for” them, let alone “with” them, such as contractors, suppliers, clients, customers, the wider community, or society at large. I’m afraid while I know many noble, well educated less than wealthy people, personally I know of not one “honourable” rich person and I have met many. It seems that the qualification most necessary to accrue and hold on to wealth these days is a licence to do everything as a gangster and swindler would, but to do it “legally” in collaboration with those in authority.

Comments are closed.