Paul Craig Roberts, Contributor
My experience with the American left and right leads to the conclusion that the left sees private power as the source of oppression and government as the countervailing and rectifying power, while the right sees government as the source of oppression and a free and unregulated private sector as the countervailing and rectifying power. Both are concerned with restraining the power to oppress, but they take opposite positions on the source of the oppressive power and remedy.
The right is correct that government power is the problem, and the left is correct that private power is the problem. Therefore, whether power is located within the government or private sectors cannot reduce, constrain, or minimize power.
How does the progressive Obama Regime differ from the tax-cut, deregulation Bush/Cheney Regime? Both are complicit in the maximization of executive branch power and in the minimization of citizens’ civil liberties and, thus, of the people’s power. Did the progressive Obama reverse the right-wing Bush’s destruction of habeas corpus and due process? No. Obama further minimized the people’s power. Bush could throw us in prison for life without proof of cause. Obama can execute us without proof of cause. They do this in the name of protecting us from terrorism, but not from their terrorism.
Americans who have no experience with, or knowledge of, tyranny believe that only terrorists will experience the unchecked power of the state. They will believe this until it happens to them, or their children, or their friends.
The view of human nature held by the right and the left depends on whether the human nature is located in the private sector or the government sector (“public sector”). For the right (and for libertarians) human nature in the private sector is good and serves the public; in the government sector human nature is evil and oppressive. For the left, it is the opposite. As the same people go back and forth from one sector to the other, one marvels at the transformations of their character and morality. A good man becomes evil, and an evil man becomes good, depending on the location of his activities.
One of my professors, James M. Buchanan who won a Nobel Prize, pointed out that people are just as self-serving whether they are in the private sector or in government. The problem is how to constrain government and private power to the best extent possible.
Our Founding Fathers’ solution was to minimize the power of government and to rely on contending factions among private interests to prevent the rise of an oligarchy. In the event that contending private interests failed, the oligarchy that seized the government would not have much public power to exercise.
The Founding Fathers’ design more or less worked except for interludes of civil war and economic crisis until the cold war built up the power of government and the deregulation of the Clinton and Bush presidencies built up the power of private interests. It all came together with the accumulation of new, dictatorial powers in the executive branch in the name of protecting us from terrorists and with deregulation’s creation of powerful corporations “too big to fail.”
Now we have a government, whose elected members are beholden to a private oligarchy, consisting of the military/security complex, Wall Street and the financial sector, the Israel Lobby, agribusiness, pharmaceuticals, and the energy, mining, and timber businesses, with the power to shut down people’s protests at their exploitation by robber barons and government alike.
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Vast amounts of government debt have been added to taxpayers’ burdens in order to fight wars that only benefit the military/security complex and the Israel Lobby. More vast amounts have been added in order to force taxpayers to cover the reckless gambling bets of the financial sector. Taxpayers are denied interest on their savings in order to protect the balance sheets of a corrupt financial sector. Legitimate protestors are brutalized by police and equated by Homeland Security with “domestic extremists,” defined by Homeland Security as a close relation to terrorists.
Today Americans are not safe from government or private power and suffer at the hands of both.
What can be done? From within probably very little. The right blames the left, and the left blames the right. The two sides are locked in ideological combat while power grows in the private and public sectors, but not the benevolent power that the two ideologies suppose. Instead, a two-headed power monster has risen.
If the power that has been established over the American people is to be shattered, it will come from outside. The Federal Reserve’s continuing monetization of the enormous debt that Washington is generating can destroy the dollar’s exchange value, sending up interest rates, collapsing the bond, stock, and real estate markets, and sinking the economy into deep depression at a time in history when Americans have exhausted their savings and are deeply in debt with high levels of joblessness and homelessness. The rise in import prices from a drop in the dollar’s exchange value would make survival an issue for a large percentage of the population.
Overnight the US could transition from superpower to third world penitent begging for a rescue program.
Who would grant it? The Russians encircled by US military bases and whose internal serenity is disrupted by inflows of American money to dissident groups in an effort to destabilize the Russian State? The Chinese, the government of which is routinely denounced by a hypocritical Washington for human rights abuses while Washington surrounds China with newly constructed military bases and new deployments of troops and naval vessels? South America, a long-suffering victim of Washington’s oppression? Europe, exhausted by conflicts and by Washington’s organization of them as puppet states and use of them as mercenaries in Washington’s wars for hegemony?
No country, except perhaps the bought-and-paid-for puppets of Britain, Canada, Australia, and Japan, would come to Washington’s aid.
In the ensuing collapse, the power of Washington and the power of the private robber barons would evaporate. Americans would suffer, but they would be rid of the power that has been established over them and that has changed them from a free people to exploited serfs.
This is, perhaps, an optimistic conclusion, but those relatively few Americans who are aware need some hope. This is the best that I can do. The majority of Americans remain trapped in their unawareness, which implies a bleak future. The insouciance of the American population is its downfall.
Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy and associate editor of the Wall Street Journal. He is the author of several books including How the Economy Was Lost: The War of the Worlds