Empire of Boondoggles

In American Theocracy, Kevin Phillips reviewed the fact that all decrepit empires become increasingly sclerotic and psychotic  in the last days of their hegemony.

Conservative true believers will scoff: the United States is sue generis, they say, a unique and chosen nation.  What did or did not happen to Rome, imperial Spain, the Dutch Republic, and Britain is irrelevant.  The catch here, alas, is that these nations also thought they were unique and that God was on their side.  The revelation that He was apparently not added a further debilitating note to the later stages of each national decline.

Dmitry Orlov adds to Phillips’ observations by pointing out that, in their senescence, failing empires, being ruled by narrow, long-pampered overclasses that have lost the interest and capacity for self-criticism and institutional innovation, always try to solve their problems by redoubling, rather than altering, established practices.  High on their own fumes, late-imperial bigwigs try harder and harder to get different results from the same old practices.  Nothing else is permitted serious consideration:

Economic collapse has a way of turning economic negatives into positives. It is not necessary for the United States to embrace the tenets of command economy and central planning to match the Soviet lackluster performance in this area. We have our own methods that are working almost as well. I call them “boondoggles.” They are solutions to problems that result in more severe problems than those they attempt to solve.

Just look around and you will see boondoggles sprouting up everywhere, in every field of endeavor: we have military boondoggles like Iraq, financial boondoggles like the doomed retirement system, medical boondoggles like private health insurance and legal boondoggles like the intellectual property system. At some point, creating another boondoggle becomes the preferred course of action: since the outcome can be predicted with complete accuracy, there is little risk.

So why not, as a matter of policy, only propose solutions that are guaranteed to simply create more problems, for which further solutions can then be proposed?

I would suggest that this is precisely the proper context in which to view yesterday’s multiply amazing Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Orwellianly-named front-group plaintiff in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

In the short run, the further heightening of the power of money in elections will probably matter very, very little.  It’s not like there has been anybody other than money-grubbing corporate stooge-whores within a country mile of power in this society since the FDR epoch, if then.

But, in the long run, you have to wonder about the fate of a society facing so many immense negative consequences of market totalitarianism, which permits its ruling class to keep granting itself more and more privileges.  As another blogger writes:

maybe i’m just in a leftist mood or something. but if money is speech according to the conservative court, then constitutional rights vary directly with income. now they do anyway, always one sort of argument for programs to redistribute wealth etc. but what i’m saying is that conservatives need to think about where explicitly endorsing this idea will take them. and then let’s add the premise that corporations are persons – a kind of legal commonplace, but fearsomely radical if the idea is that corporations possess inherent rights in the declaration-of-independence sense, and hence if the first amendment and others apply to them.

alright start off with the idea that i and goldman sachs both have free speech. now throw in the premise that this right varies with, ranges over, or actually is money. then my right is shockingly negligible and circumscribed. we might say that goldman sachs has ten million times as much right to free speech as i have, approximately. in part, i admit, this is simply a statement of antecedent fact rather than some sort of normative program. but these things cannot all be true at once: a corporation is a man. all men are created equal, that is, they have certain inalienable rights. money is speech.

i would like to do an excursus, for one thing on individualism and the relation of corporatism to communism, but instead i will say: the decision makes the most basic ideas on which the american republic is founded entirely incoherent. it makes the basic american political vision inyourface absurd. that, one would think, should have given the court some pause.