Here is a strange article in the Telegraph that touches on a popular theme of mine. That is, there are never any consequences to failure these days. In fact, failure has become a weird status symbol in the ruling classes. The bigger the screw up, the more likely it will redound to your favor in the future. It’s as if we have fallen into an alternative universe where all of the normal human structures are upside down and backward.
The most obvious example is in finance. In the 80’s, the S&L Crisis resulted in a lot of people going to prison for fraud, theft and violations of various banking rules. I knew a guy who spent a few years in the can after running a New Hampshire S&L into the ground. A lot of people went to prison, including rich people. Further, a lot of rich people were wiped out, losing their money or having it confiscated as punishment.
Fast forward to the accounting scandals of the late 90’s and count up the number of people who went to prison. That number is one. One guy went to the can after Arthur Anderson collapsed. The number of people who faced criminal prosecution after the dot-com bubble burst was tiny and limited to the low-lifes running boiler room operations for organized crime.
The pumpers in $5000 suits on CNBC faced no punishment. They did not lose their jobs as TV fluffers. Most went on to hype mortgage stocks in the following decade. Jim Cramer remains on TV despite recommending Wachovia stock the night before the bank failed. This is the same guy who defended Bear Sterns a week before it collapsed. He also has a long list of scandals involving his days as a trader. Yet, there he is on TV.
There are, of course, plenty of excuses for why we no longer see anyone of importance face consequences. In the case of the bankers and their fraudulent mortgage practices, the excuse was that the law compelled them to do it. That and forces no one truly understood, like magic or evil spirits. The consequences of lending money to people with no ability to pay was repackaged as a “black swan event.”
The Iraq Invasion mentioned in the article is another one of those magical events that no one could have foreseen. After all, everyone knew Saddam had secret super weapons and was about to use them on the West. No one, of course, knew that Iraq would fall into tribal and sectarian chaos once the strong man was toppled. It was all just an inevitable chain of events no one could stop or predict.
Probably the best example of this consequence free world of the ruling elite is what we have seen with Obama. I’m old enough to remember when Nixon was run out of town for asking about whether the IRS could be used against his enemies. Team Obama co-opted the agency as a part of its election campaign and harassed hundreds of citizens. The agency then repeatedly lied to Congress about it and still refuses to turn over their records.
That’s a great example to use to show the break down of lawful order in the ruling class. Forty years ago the people in charge vigorously enforced their own rules on their own coevals. Today it is anything goes. No one follows the rules, no one enforces the rules and no one is the least bit troubled by any of it. The same people who cut their teeth howling in protest over Nixon now defend Obama to the death. They don’t do so on principle. They do so because they can.
If you want to dismiss this on partisan grounds, you can as that requires no evidence, just wishful thinking. You cannot dismiss what’s going on with Team Clinton on partisan grounds. Even her own people are pointing out that they are running a blatant money laundering operation. Their foundation is a way to process tens of millions in shake downs and bribes. This is something on which the partisans agree.
Yet, no one dares do anything about it or even make much of a fuss about it. The NYTimes and Washington Post report these stories and the people in power shrug. There’s even a sense that many are privately laughing at the audacity of the Clintons. Just when it seemed like they had plumbed the very bottom of public ethics, they find some new lower level of corruption.
This sort of lawlessness at the top is not without precedent. The third century saw the Roman elite at war with itself. A general would be raised up as emperor, only to be killed a month later by the same men in favor of some new general. From AD 235–284 the Empire was convulsed by economic and political crisis primarily due to a near total lack of order amongst the ruling elites. It was finally ended by Diocletian.
Sticking with Rome, the years preceding Julius Caesar saw a breakdown of the old order and the old customs. Rules regulating advancement through the ranks were increasingly ignored. War and crisis were used as excuses to ignore prohibitions on holding positions beyond one term. Eventually, Caesar rode into Rome and imposed a new order on the city and the Empire.
It’s tempting to think we are seeing something similar in our current age. Maybe it is, but it could also explain why national and global elites are so hot for extra-national organizations like the EU, WTO and IMF. Instead of inviting a strong man into impose order, they invite in bureaucrats from an international organization to impose order on their behalf. The Greek government tried exactly that with the austerity program.
That may sound farfetched, but look at the effort being put into this Obama trade deal by the Republicans. A year ago they were promising to string Obama up by his junk and now they are murdering their own to pass this deal for him. Packed in the deal are things that will allow some international panel of bureaucrats to force things like amnesty, gun control and increases in immigration on America, that could never pass the legislature.
The future will not be authoritarian in the Orwellian sense. It will be passive-authoritarian, where the elected officials stand around helpless as their designates in the TPP or IMF force rules on the people against their will. The inevitable abuses and corruption will result in everyone standing around, carrying on like it is an act of God. Maybe there will be some finger pointing at the alphabet soup organization, but no one will ever be held to account.