Rambling About the Passive-Authoritarian State

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.

7 thoughts on “Rambling About the Passive-Authoritarian State

  1. Failure has become to be seen as a form of success because we have mastered (well, the people at the top have) the art of re-interpretation, sift and spin. There are so many reams of data available on any cock up that the cleverer ones will work through it and find a few nuggets of success among the otherwise ruinous dirt.

    It’s like this: True, climate change isn’t happening in the way we predicted, but that’s only because we have found ways to work with it to lessen the impact. See, all those ugly wind-farms? Just think how bad warming would be if we hadn’t built those with your money! Not sure? Well look at all our predictions of what would have happened if we hadn’t built so many and once you have read the highlighted bits we think you’ll agree it has all been a resounding success. Of course, not a total success because hey, weather is weird and climate is unpredictable, so can we have a lot more money so we can be even more successful?

  2. You’ve also explained how the Supreme Court scam works. The Supreme Court only has the influence it does because it makes the decisions on controversial issues that all of the political class support while allowing them to indulge in failure theater for their supporters.

    The GOP establishment in particular loves Supreme Court activism. Instead of having to waste time giving lip service to the concerns of social conservatives, they just go along with Supreme Court penumbras finding constitutional rights to abortion and same-sex marriage. Then when they fly out and deign to pander for the votes of us knuckle-dragging snake-handlers in the heartland they can say, “I’m opposed to abortion but the Supreme Court has spoken. What can I do?”. Then it’s back to D.C. to pass the latest handout for their corporate cronies. The Dems do something similar with campaign finance reform. Cankles will take the millions and millions that Wall Street bundles up for her PACs while complaining about money in politics. But what can she do about it after all when the Supremes have spoken?

  3. I think it started in the 80’s. The Reagan administration was pushing accountability in education. The bureaucrats quickly figured out that if they claimed to be failing, they would get more money, money being the Fed’s chief weapon given that education is not enumerated in the Constitution and the Feds could not bring about any meaningful change except by the giving the states money with lots of mandates attached (another toxic feature of American politics that has corrupted our nation). It was kind of fun to read the op ed pages in that era, because there was this appalling race to the bottom, with bureaucrats or their mouthpieces cherry picking statistics to “prove” that the United States was the worst in the developed world in something.

    Failure has become how you succeed in the bureaucracy. Screw up and the politicians will fund you beyond your wildest dreams. Your department is led by an incompetent? Firing him would be killing the goose that lays golden eggs!

  4. No one in the CIA or FBI was punished for 9/11 failures, the CIA woman that didn’t passed information to the FBI about the terrorists before 9/11 and advocated torture to get false confessions is now a ‘General’ in the CIA, her name is Alfred Frances Bikowsky.

  5. I call this the accountability gap. If an engineer builds a bridge and it fails, he is ruined. If a “Scientist” makes inaccurate predictions that result in legislation and has negative impact on the citizenry, the only consequence is more grant money

    • It really is an incredible thing to behold. The women in charge of the Office of Personnel Management refused to implement basic security procedures and that resulted in a massive data breech. She was asked if she would resign and she laughed it off as if it was a joke. You get fired in the private sector if you leave the office door unlocked.

      • Now now….this is a “wise Latina” we are talking about—–

        “Obama said her appointment (May ’13) helps “create more effective policymaking and better decision-making [for me], because it brings different perspectives to the table.”

        Gosh……if it weren’t for that whole irritating and bothersome competency thingy…….

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