Power Politics vs. American Prosperity

Published on RWER Blog, by Ian Fletcher, August 23, 2012.

… I believe our ruling elite isn’t merely greedy for money. I believe they’re also greedy for something far worse. I believe they’re also greedy for world power beyond any extent to which this either serves American national security—or, for that matter, makes them richer. 

I believe they privately view this country as their horse, upon which they ride in a global jousting tournament with rival elites. And they only really care about America, and the strength of its economy, insofar as it gives them a better horse to ride on.

The rest of the time, they’re mainly thinking about how to keep the horse obedient, hard at work, cheaply fed, and docile. That’s their goal as they pull the strings of both parties.

Why? Because power itself is a direct emotional stimulant, a tonic for the ego. So our foreign relations, including our trade relations, don’t need to have any direct connection to economics.

Our economic policy isn’t about economics.

Everyone has an ego, and the pleasures of the ego are just as real as the pleasures of driving a nice car, eating well, or living in an expensive house. So, once you’ve got plenty of money, why would money be more important than power?

It wouldn’t.

Poor naïve old Karl Marx had no idea. He thought everything elites do is about money, albeit often money dressed up as something else. “Men’s material life determines their consciousness,” he used to say.

Wrong. People’s emotions determine their consciousness, and they only care about money because of the emotional satisfactions it accords. So power politics can easily wind up in the driver’s seat of economic policy.

All obvious enough, once baldly stated. But this isn’t the standard assumption of our political discourse. The standard assumption is that economic policy, including trade policy, is about economics.

Nobody openly says, “We need economic policy X because it will enable us to throw our weight around, regardless of the economic consequences.” But that’s how our policymakers often think.

This disconnect explains why so much of our economic policy makes no sense. It’s not even trying to make sense as economic policy … //

Instead, our rulers have been running this country’s trade relations with the rest of the world with the sophistication of a high-school clique in a lunchroom contest with rival cliques.

The new Trans-Pacific partnership, for example? This has less economic logic to it than the euro. It’s all about showing China that we have more friends in that part of the world than they do.

The whole thing was actually dreamed up by the government of Singapore, which is culturally mostly Chinese but still feels the need to remind Beijing it’s not their lapdog.

Think serious governments with trillions in GDP and nuclear weapons don’t engage in childish contests over prestige and ego? Think again.

Of course, all the cool kids in the lunchroom have a shared identity as cool kids, and these rival cliques can get together in a flash when something unites them against the uncool. That’s why they throw a party for themselves at Davos every year.

The uncool? That’s you and me, friend: the populists, the mass citizenry, ordinary folk and the politicians—they still exist, here and there—who serve our interests.

We the Peasants.

We, in the elite’s eyes, are the boring nobodies, the unsophisticated rubes watching television and eating corn dogs in places like Indiana where no member of the elite would dream of living.

They’d never admit it, but they positively enjoy our inferiority. They enjoy the sense of their own superiority that our own pathetic unhipness gives them … //

… (full text).

Links:

World map comparing income inequality in the USA to other countries, on RWER Blog, August 21, 20121;

Global map of income inequality,on RWER Blog, August 20, 2012;

Percentage distribution of U.S. aggregate household income, by income tier, 1970-2010 (Graph), on RWER Blog, by David Ruccio, August 24, 2012.

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