The Plan to Eliminate Democracy from the United States
By Peter Montague
The riotous assault on the U.S. Capitol Building Jan. 6, 2021 came from the bottom of society (though generously supported from the top). Insurrection from the bottom will not succeed. However, an even more serious threat to democracy is unfolding at the top. Its success hangs in the balance.
In the U.S., an emerging “grandiose system, of social, economic, and political management” has the power, and the intention, to eliminate majority rule, to end democracy.
In this review and summary of DasGupta’s essay, I’ve added links and a few verified facts that did not appear in the original.
In the U.S. and elsewhere, mass political participation and “majority rule” may be near their end, but there is still time to reverse the trend. In other words, oligarchy (rule by the wealthy few) is rising, but we still have time to stop it.
We find ourselves in the midst of a “political unwinding” — the repeal of democracy as it has evolved in the West since about 1780 when “all men are created equal” began to take hold. The masses of ordinary people are now being excluded once again from the center of world affairs, a position they have held for only about 200 years.
Control of society by universal voting is a recent development in human history. Voting by all white male landowners was first established in the U.S in 1788 and in England in 1832; U.S. women got the vote in 1920 and British women in 1928. As of 1965, Blacks in the U.S. could no longer be legally denied the vote, but nine years later the Supreme Court ruled that felons could be disenfranchised and on that basis six million mostly non-whites were denied the vote in 2016 (thanks to our national policy of mass incarceration). The heyday of U.S. democracy was recent and short-lived.
The British invented the founding principle of the modern world in the 17th century — “the world principle of property.” In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Brits had two economies — the plodding agricultural economy for most people and the soaring economy of overseas conquest, trade, and empire, which benefitted a tiny elite. As the Brits conquered much of the world, they defined it (and its people) as “property” to be bought, sold, and worked to enrich the elite.
Under the principle of property, the purpose of government is to protect property, not people. In Britain, offenses against property by the poor were severely punished — hanging as punishment for stealing a pewter spoon, for example. Social control was maintained by brutal discipline.
During the period when the principle of property held unrivaled dominance (the seventeenth to the late-eighteenth century), “the people” led lives that were nasty, brutish and short. “The people” had no power because they were dispersed, victimized, and politically disorganized.
However, as urban industrialization developed during the nineteenth century (and “the people” no longer had small plots of land to feed them during hard times), the proletariat emerged, meaning people who had nothing to sell but their labor. Proletarians rely entirely on wages for sustenance, so destitute workers had to demand the right to bargain collectively and to vote on issues of broad material interest. These efforts were viciously opposed by the elite oligarchs.
Much of the British empire consisted of people of color (e.g., India, Africa). As a means of social control, instead of political power, white workers were offered “intangible consolations” in the form of racial privileges. “In a racially organized world, white supremacy could compensate for class subordination” — intangible consolations “on which the western psyche still depends,” Dasgupta writes. Many workers in Britain and the U.S. “derived new dignity” from the race theories of their overlords.
Eventually, intangible consolations could not quell labor’s demand for material advancement, and “the principle of labor” emerged as a counter to “the principle of property.” Slowly, control of society by “the people” emerged. Industrial workers kept the system running, which gave them a base of real power. In the U.S., the period from 1890 to 1940 witnessed tremendous labor strife (open warfare in some cases). In the early 20th century, many workers believed that their only salvation lay in revolution, to overthrow the political power of the oligarchy. However, Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal gave workers the legal right to organize, bargain collectively, and even strike. By 1950, with Walter Reuther’s “Treaty of Detroit” between General Motors and the United Auto Workers, an accommodation was reached. The formula for high growth and low class-friction included…
** A policy of full employment (and a low rate of inflation);
** Wages and salaries that advanced in lock step with worker productivity (as more goods were produced per hour of work);
** High taxes to reduce inequality and to fund government now committed (at least partly) to the wellbeing of “the people;”
** Endless consumption;
** Generous public subsidies (the “welfare state” created during the New Deal).
During and after the New Deal, the U.S. government helped millions of white people become home-owners, thus moderating opposition to the principle of property. Many well-paid, home-owning workers eventually accepted that neither political party was going to overturn the principle of property.
Democracy, at least by and for white people, became an essential management apparatus. Representatives of business and labor worked together to keep the system producing growth for all.
To maintain the cross-class accord of the national economy, any residual working-class ill will was tempered by government-enforced race privilege. Once again, white advantage could partially compensate for class subordination. Dasgupta writes, “It was crucial for administrators that white working-class activists, who had brought business to its knees in the 1930s, should not join forces with their black counterparts.” Black disadvantage remained stark. Slavery (1619–1865), then Jim Crow (1877–1965), then mass incarceration (1971-today) — were official racist policies, enforced by state violence, that demarked the subordinate status of Blacks. Furthermore, many Blacks were long denied participation in the government programs that created white wealth and, with it, the middle class.
The brief period of cross-class accord, managed capitalism, and steady growth (1945–1980), for all its failures and inequities, is often considered to be the authentic manifestation of American civilization. However, not everyone agrees.
A small group of neoliberal true believers — led by Friedrich von Hayek and his Chicago-school economist colleagues — dreamed of liberating property (capital) from national governments and their electorates by restoring 19th-century free-for-all international trade (which had made the British elite so fabulously wealthy) and reversing the labor-friendly policies created by the New Deal.
For these neoliberals, America’s golden age was a dark age, so they “drew up plans for revolution,” Dasgupta writes. (Their plans to eliminate majority rule from the American political system have been amply documented in Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains and in Heather Cox Richardson’s How the South Won the Civil War.)
The “great inflation” of the 1970s undermined confidence in the post-New Deal order, giving neoliberals an opening. Dasgupta does not define neoliberalism, but economist Robert Kuttner has summarized it best as “Markets work; governments don’t.”
The first step to disempower government was to globalize trade, which had been the key to stupendous wealth for the British elite in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. After 1980, through a combination of arcane international trade rules, a maze of shell corporations created in “tax havens” (e.g., the Cayman Islands) to evade tax liability, plus selective use of covert military operations to put or keep “friendly” governments in power, neoliberals restored the supremacy of the principle of property, sending the principle of labor into retreat. “The neoliberal revolution aimed to restore the supremacy of capital after its twentieth-century subjugation by nation-states, and it has succeeded to an astonishing degree,” Dasgupta writes.
The “shareholder revolution,” which was announced by neoliberal guru Milton Friedman in 1970, changed the way profits were distributed within business enterprises. During the “golden age” of managed capitalism (1945–1980), when government set many of the rules for business, the “labor share” of profits was about two-thirds. Since 2000, the labor share has dropped to about 57% and it continues to decline. Workers were given less, managers and stockholders took more.
The most visible result of the neoliberal revolution is financial inequality. Today, about 84% of all corporate stock is owned by 10% of the population. The bottom 50% of U.S. workers now earn less than they did in 1980. They cannot demand fair wages because they are dispersed and politically and spiritually weak, Dasgupta writes. “Seventy thousand die every year from drug overdoses, most of them in states where endless propaganda advises them to solve their problems with guns and credit cards.”
During the same post-1980 period, the income of the wealthiest 10% has risen 40% (and even more among white people). Meanwhile, the pay of corporate chief executives has grown 25% per year for the past 40 years.
In the U.S. today, some 40 million people live in poverty and 5.3 million live in Third-World conditions of abject poverty, Dasgupta writes. Meanwhile the richest 15 individuals in the U.S. own combined wealth exceeding $1 trillion, averaging about $67 billion each.
The U.S. economy has now split into two, just as in eighteenth-century Britain. The basic economy, which feeds and clothes most of us, grows between one and two percent each year. On the other hand, Wall Street private-equity firms grow about 25 percent per year and produce stupendous wealth for a tiny insider elite. All this inequality has been made possible by the decline of the political power of the bottom 90 percent of society, who no longer have any real say over the distribution of resources. The rich rule and they have rigged the game for their own benefit. As economist Joseph Stiglitz points out, “Inequality is a choice.”
As time goes on, Dasgupta believes, commercial ventures of the rich people’s economy will “subsume the political system” entirely. In other words, if we don’t take action to reverse current trends, we can kiss goodbye to the remnants of U.S. democracy. The future of political, cultural and social control is unfolding now in Silicon Valley.
Neoliberals have eliminated anti-trust prosecutions. The wealth of Silicon Valley monopolies (Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Paypal) allows them to maintain their market dominance by borrowing unlimited capital to acquire any start-up competitors. Notably, their growth hardly benefits the population at large (an “impregnable oligarchy” receives most of the wealth). Dasgupta points to Facebook, “an entity comparable in scale to a nation-state” that “serves some of the same functions” and is controlled by about 25 individuals and institutional investors. “Like its Silicon Valley peers, Facebook disguises profit and moves it offshore so that its wealth does not seep into society through taxes. The company has paid an average of 10.2 percent in taxes over the past decade.”
Ironically, it is the masses of ordinary people who fuel the growth of the Silicon Valley behemoths by handing over their valuable personal information without any compensation. Free labor for monopolists.
Meanwhile, people like Peter Thiel — creator of PayPal, early investor in Facebook, and co-founder of the surveillance company Palantir Technologies — possess political power greater than most heads of state, Dasgupta reminds us.
Silicon Valley firms are already replacing many functions of nation-states — mapping, law enforcement, immigration control, warfare. Dasgupta writes, “In the present moment… cryptocurrency evangelists are urging investors to flee national currencies for the security of what they propagandistically call ‘decentralized finance’ (the aggressive tenor of the abbreviation — ‘DeFi’ — is not accidental). Apple and Google already offer banking services, while Facebook’s embryonic currency, the libra, could provide a means of exchange for two billion Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp users.”
The western world’s battalions of industrial workers have been defeated by the principle of property, and “Triumphant robotic capitalism employs new technologies to automate and commodify work so that the political defeat of the bottom 50 percent can be extended to the bottom 90 percent,” Dasgupta writes.
Many mid-level jobs have already been automated or sent overseas — in architecture, law, accountancy, teaching and medicine, among others. This is a stunning about-face for the middle class, “who are still inclined to believe that the system exists to serve them,” Dasgupta writes. “We will soon find ourselves consenting to an algorithmic government and legal system.”
These trends will not be reversed easily. Dasgupta: “The prospect of large corporations run by owner-strategists without human management is not far off and, as state subsidies are simultaneously withdrawn, the middle classes will be unable to pass their savings, property, and status on to their children. Their erstwhile social and political standing will follow that of the West’s steelworkers, shipbuilders, and coal miners. The coming evacuation may cause American capitalism to collapse.”
Dasgupta: “Eighteenth-century Britain could not afford democracy. Today, as the economy reverts to a similar structure, America is encountering the same problem. It is difficult to carry out a mass economic expulsion, after all, while everyone has a vote. And it will not be possible indefinitely to suppress those left-wing voices demanding that the state abandon its raison d’être and serve, not property and empire, but American citizens themselves. The stakes, in other words, could not be higher: if the present order is to continue, an almighty war must take place in U.S. politics,” Dasgupta writes.
Donald Trump’s role in all this (the same as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s) was to roll back the democracy advancements of the 20th century and restore the elite freedoms of the eighteenth. Peter Thiel, Trump’s principal advocate in Silicon Valley, once wrote, “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.” That about says it.
Trump “took every opportunity to weaken America’s attachment to the electoral system that had brought him to power. Like many demagogues, he encouraged his supporters to prize the removal of other peoples’ rights above the preservation of their own.” Trump’s supporters “colluded in their own disenfranchisement” as they cheered his various anti-constitutional positions — threatening to imprison political opponents, demanding that state officials falsify elections results, asking the Supreme Court to annul 20 million legitimate ballots, and most recently invading the Capitol Building, intending to take hostages.
The assault on American democracy will continue after Trump, Dasgupta writes, “and it will be engineered — even if unintentionally — by the oligarchs of Silicon Valley… Having quickly driven out other forms of social participation, Silicon Valley offers new political and economic arrangements that are irreconcilable with the old. Antitrust measures by the U.S. government against them are, in this sense, epochal: they represent not just regulation as usual but a battle between competing forms of life,” Dasgupta writes.
In short, if one-person-one-vote democracy is going to survive and expand in the U.S., an almighty war must unfold in U.S. politics. Dasgupta stops there, not offering a detailed prescription.
To me, the almighty war demands an overarching goal: to restore confidence, trust and capacity in government because only government can…
** relentlessly campaign to eliminate racism in all its manifestations
** break up monopolies
** tax the wealthy to modernize the nation’s infrastructure — invest in roads, high-speed rail, and high-speed internet everywhere nationwide
** fix bridges, tunnels, housing, schools, colleges, hospitals, elder-care and pre-K institutions, and more
** make every building energy-efficient (replace every use of lights, heat and motors with readily-available efficient updates)
** replace the fossilized energy system with solar, wind and storage within 15 years and build out a national smart-grid consisting of interconnected local micro-grids — electrify America!
** repair the broken farm economy,
** end wage stagnation, give the United States a pay raise
** do whatever it takes to protect and restore the natural world
** and take advantage of all this activity and commitment to revive, encourage and enable the countervailing power of organized labor, to help keep property (capital) in its proper place — subordinate to the wellbeing and needs of all the people.
It’s certainly doable. If progressives got together and agreed on a simple common agenda to rebuild confidence and capacity in government; together we could do it.
Watch Our First Democracy Summit and Get Inspired about How We Can Build Change, with Rashad RobinsonPlease watch and share BOLD ReThink's first Democracy Summit. You'll hear about the efforts of Color Of Change to challenge Democracy + Good Government
Evidence to Help Debunk False Voter Fraud Claims and Expose the Special Interests Pushing ThemThe BOLD ReThink created a video to help debunk false voter fraud claims before the November election. It also helps expose how Democracy + Good Government
New Timeline Describes the Racist and Anti-Government Roots of Attacks on American Democracy(To view a responsive version of this timeline, with clickable footnotes, click here .) Economy + Jobs
BOLD ReThink Recognizes Two "Artists for Democracy" -- Crys Matthews and Heather MaeEach month, BOLD ReThink's action team will highlight musicians and other artists standing up for our democracy, because art can Equal Justice + Courts
Introducing the BOLD ReThink: Because Our Democracy Needs a System UpgradeIt is time for a bold rethink… The murder of George Floyd and the demand of millions to redress structural racism have changed Economy + Jobs