The Mastermind Behind the Rising American Dystopia
Normal Americans who watch the news and read the paper could easily get the impression that today’s radical political and economic changes in their country are determined by arbitrary–almost random–ideas and events promoted in large part by crazies of different stripes: American Nazis, white supremacists and other assorted hate groups on one hand, and anarchists, socialists and radical feminists on the other. It looks to Mr. and Mrs. America like a lunatic fringe that amuses itself on weekends carrying banners and bashing heads. When all is said and done it’s nothing that can’t be handled by well-trained riot police and a few justices of the peace.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. What Mr. and Mrs. America are unwittingly looking at is, in reality, a sinister, well-organized-and-financed extreme-right-wing campaign to undermine plural American democracy as we have always conceived it. You remember, separation of powers, free and fair elections, majority rule, respect for minorities, the rule of law, due process…
Ironically, none of this ultra-conservative campaign to undermine American democracy is illegal or even secret. Information on its inception, gestation, birth and growth is freely available from public sources. It just takes a few evenings to google it out of Internet. It turns out that what American democracy is up against is a group of reactionary billionaires systematically using their money to finance the creation and operation of think tanks, educational institutions, foundations, public relations firms and big-data concerns that all work together to promote their business-friendly, people-deadly model for American society and institutions. They’re actually quite successful at it, both at home and abroad.
Until recently it wasn’t easy to put together the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle to the point where normal people could understand exactly what the billionaires and their teams were up to and how they were going about it. Then Nancy MacLean, a historian from Duke University, wrote a book called Democracy in Chains, The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America; a finalist for the National Book Award in nonfiction in 2017. MacLean’s book illuminates the movement from its theoretical foundations own to its meticulously-executed strategies. Amazon.com calls it, “An explosive exposé of the right’s relentless campaign to eliminate unions, suppress voting, privatize public education, stop action on climate change, and alter the Constitution.”
According to MacLean it all began with an unlikely political economist from Tennessee. Yes, Tennesse. His name was James Buchanan, a graduate of Middle Tennessee State University who later took a graduate degree at the University of Chicago. He went on to form a school of reactionary economists eventually was awarded a Nobel Prize in economics. Though we usually associate Nobel Prizes with projects that benefit the people of the world, Buchanan’s award was for the exact opposite: elaborating a theory to potentiate the fortunes of a privileged minority and impoverish the rest of the population of the United States–and ultimately the world. Buchanan bases his radical laissez-faire economic system on the premise that human society is motivated uniquely by self-interest. And he takes this notion to its logical extreme. The resulting crushing impoverishment of the rest of the population is absolutely irrelevant.
Buchanan was increasingly concerned about anything that smacked of socialism, or any other form of government that directed resources to the public welfare. He saw no reason that the wealthy should have to pay for programs for ordinary citizens and the poor. Buchanan had written in The Limits of Liberty, a book published in 1975, “Each person seeks mastery over a world of slaves.”
MacLean quotes him as saying in his 2005 book, Why I, Too, Am Not a Conservative, that people who failed to foresee and save money for their future needs are to be treated “as subordinate members of the species, akin to…animals who are dependent.” This sounds like a lunatic baying at the moon, fit only to be dismissed out of hand. But there was another factor that was to catalyze a chain reaction. MacLean suspected that Buchanan’s theories were being implemented by obscure forces in the here and now, but she had no way of confirming her suspicions until the economist died in 2013 and she gained access to his archives at George Mason University in Virginia. Perhaps “archives” is not the apt word, as she found his papers strewn willy-nilly through several offices in the wake of a move to a new building at the University of Virginia.
Midst the boxes and drawers of unsorted papers MacLean discovered correspondence between Buchanan and the multi-billionaire industrialist and speculator, Charles Koch. It immediately occurred to MacLean: this could have been the catalyst for the stealthy right-wing revolution then–and now–in progress. Retrograde, anti-social political ideas are just ideas until they are fueled by money and Koch had plenty of that. He also had a penchant for tampering with politics. When he discovered Buchanan and grasped his message, he bought into the Tennessee economist’s demented economic and social theories. This “buying in” went to finance voter suppression, the changing of legislative processes so that a normal majority would no longer prevail, fomenting public distrust of government institutions… Their ultimate goal was to modify the Constitution, to alter it in ways that no democratic politicians could ever challenge.
Lynn Parramore, from the Institute for Free Economic Thinking, wrote in May, 2018:
Research like MacLean’s provides hope that toxic ideas like Buchanan’s may finally begin to face public scrutiny. Yet at this very moment, the Kochs’ State Policy Network and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group that connects corporate agents to conservative lawmakers to produce legislation, are involved in projects that the Trump-obsessed media hardly notices, like pumping money into state judicial races. Their aim is to stack the legal deck against Americans in ways that MacLean argues may have even bigger effects than Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court ruling which unleashed unlimited corporate spending on American politics.
MacLean’s book explains how Koch’s money permitted Buchanan to establish a base at George Mason University and partner with reactionary economists, right-wing politicians and lobbyists for companies like Shell Oil, Exxon, Ford, IBM, Chase Manhattan Bank and General Motors. Altogether they formed a cabal capable of promoting their exclusively property-friendly policies via control of the media, through new retrograde curricula for economics education and cultivating politicians. One of their favorite ploys was a program to create legal programs for law professors and federal judges. They calculated that, by 1990, 40% of federal judges had been subjected to a Koch-backed course of study. There were other sinister campaigns designed to combat such affronts to capitalists as environmentalism and public health and welfare, efforts to dismantle Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare as well as to kill public education because it tended to foster community values. Feminism had to go, too: the scholars considered it a socialist project. Their ultimate objective was to “tear down” the notion that elected officials wanted to act in the public interest. The “public” was irrelevant.
Buchanan and his troupe have spread their influence abroad since the early days of their association. They were contracted by the Pinochet government, after the coup d’etat in Chile in 1973, to re-draft the Chilean constitution in order to empower capitalism absolutely, including, of course, foreign investment. Britain is also a longtime benefactor of Buchanan’s twisted thinking. Many of Margaret Thatcher’s public-sector reforms were inspired by the American economist and his followers.
MacLean asserts that Buchanan’s revolution wasn’t just “a new, particularly vicious wave of partisan politics.” It was something “far more disturbing.” She sustains that the United States is “experiencing a hostile takeover that is well on its way to radically, and perhaps permanently, altering the society.” She adds that “shrinking big government is not really the point. The oligarchs require a government with tremendous new powers so they can bypass the will of the people. This requires “greatly expanding police powers to control the resultant popular anger.” One can’t help but think of the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001.
Perhaps the most terrifying aspect of the machinations of this economist from hell is the fact that Buchanan and his acolytes have been burrowing through the roots of American democracy for almost half a century and, until Nancy MacLean published her book, no one of note seems to have noticed, let alone dealt with the phenomenon.
Andrew Marvell, the 16th-century English poet wrote in To His Coy Mistress:
Had we but world enough and time,This coyness, lady, were no crime.We would sit down, and think which wayTo walk, and pass our long love’s day.Thou by the Indian Ganges’ sideShouldst rubies find; I by the tideOf Humber would complain. I wouldLove you ten years before the flood,And you should, if you please, refuseTill the conversion of the Jews.My vegetable love should growVaster than empires and more slow…
It’s not only love that grows vegetatively and slow. Evil does, too.
Read more rantings in my ebook, The Turncoat Chronicles.
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2 thoughts on “The Economist from Hell”
Spot on. MacLean’s Democracy in Chains should be required reading for all Americans.
Thanks for your comment, Karen.