Friday, September 1, 2006
The "Disaster Capitalist" Nomenklatura
Here's a good and sufficient illustration of the fact that the economic system of the United State (as the wise and provocative Nicholas Strakon calls our regime)is not free market capitalism.
According to recently published census data, Virginia's Loudon County is the wealthiest jurisdiction in the country, with a median household income of $98,000. Fairfax, Howard, and Montgomery County are close behind. Taken together, these suburbs of the Imperial Capital constitute the second wealthiest community in the nation, their affluence exceeded only by San Jose/Sunnyvale/Santa Clarita California, which attracts tourists and retirees in addition to healthy agricultural and industrial economies.
What do the residents of the Imperial Suburbs produce? For the most part, nothing. They are minions of the Empire, government employees and quasi-private “contractors” whose work is purely consumptive. They are not like people who grow food or make steel, who produce something and add to the aggregate wealth of our society. The residents of these four counties, notes the Washington Post, have profited handsomely from "the enormous flow of federal money into the region through contracts for defense and homeland security work in the five years since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.... The result is that the Washington area's households rank second in income only to those in San Jose, eclipsing such well-heeled places as San Francisco and the bedroom suburbs of New York."
Were we anything resembling a free market society, private producers would earn much more than government-sector consumers. But as documented by Chris Edwards, Director of Tax Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, the typical tax-fattened federal drone makes twice as much as his private sector counterpart:
“The Bureau of Economic Analysis released data this month [August] showing that the average compensation for the 1.8 million federal civilian workers in 2005 was $105,579 – exactly twice the average compensation paid in the US private sector, $53,289.”
Unlike productive Americans, for whom job security and retirement security are increasingly elusive (particularly in this era of “downward harmonization” of wage costs relative to China, India, and Latin America), federal parasites enjoy annual wage increases irrespective of the health of the economy. “Federal workers receive generous health benefits during work and retirement, a pension plan with inflation protection, a retirement savings plan with generous matching contributions, large disability benefits, and union protections,” notes Edwards. “They often have generous holiday and vacation schedules, flexible hours, training options, incentive awards, flexible spending accounts, and a more relaxed pace of work than private-sector workers.”
Once again, all of this is lavished on people who – in terms of adding to the tangible wealth of society – produce nothing. Their “work” consists of bleeding productive people through taxes and inflation, while slowly suffocating us through regulation.
The contrast described by Edwards summons memories of Raymond Stanz's despairing comment to Peter Venkman as they contemplated the impending end of their sinecure at Colombia University: “You don't know what it's like out there. I've worked in the private sector. They expect results.” Stanz and Venkman did all right for themselves in the private sector, after hanging out a shingle advertising their services as “Ghostbusters.” (That film, incidentally, is an under-appreciated anti-government gem: Name one other film in which the chief antagonist is an anal-retentive commissar working for the Environmental Protection Agency.)
But Stanz and Venkman were fictional characters, after all, and in reality as we're sentenced to experience it those who wind up on the FedGov's payroll have no reason to leave. As Edwards summarizes, “the federal civilian workforce has become an elite island of secure and highly paid workers, separated from the ocean of private-sector American workers who must compete in today's dynamic economy.”
That's a very carefully modulated way of describing the emergency of a feudal society in which the political elite – politicians, bureaucrats, and politically connected corporate leaders – constitute something bearing an unmistakable familial resemblance to the Soviet Nomenklatura. And it's not limited to those directly employed by the federal government; that oligarchy includes the growing number of nominally private corporate contractors whose snouts are firmly fastened to federal teats.
Like its Brezhnev-era Soviet counterpart, our Nomenklatura is actively involved in promoting “wars of national liberation” abroad. The most active element within it, however, is involved in the new field of “Disaster Capitalism,” a term coined by left-leaning investigative journalist Naomi Klein (who will soon publish a book of that title).
This expression refers to the huge and growing segment of the Leviathan devoted to Homeland Security, post-catastrophe relief, and post-war reconstruction abroad. It implicates as many federal agencies as possible, as well as the familiar assortment of corporate contractors (Halliburton, Blackwater USA, Bechtel, and that ilk). Disaster Capitalism is the official ideology of what Charles Featherstone calls “that nexus of government, planning, and contracting/consulting that is the hallmark of the way Western countries and the United Nations do business anymore, regardless of whether the are planning individual projects, aiding in disaster recovery, waging war, or attempting to promote `economic development.'”
Ventures in Disaster Capitalism depend on a steady stream of human misery, whether as a result of acts of God (hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes) or acts of State, such as wars – which tend to be much more destructive than natural catastrophes. While both kinds of tragedy can be profitable, wars are much easier to arrange than natural disasters.
Talk about moral hazard: The same people who provide the relief are the ones who can arrange the misery. This is a perfect illustration of the arrangement described by Isabel Patterson in her 1943 essay “The Humanitarian with the Guillotine”: Statist humanitarians need people to be needy, and will do what they can to ensure an abundance of need, which is why they will eventually set up the guillotine to deal with those who resist being helped. “The humanitarian in theory,” she warned, “is the terrorist in action.”
The first Bush administration, by staging a humanitarian war that killed 100,000 Iraqi conscripts on the battlefield and then killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children through an altruistic post-war embargo, cultivated the seeds that were harvested at the WTC five years ago. One shudders to think of the crop being sown by the incumbent Bush regime as it pursues humanitarian terrorism throughout the Middle East – but Disaster Capitalists are well-positioned to profit when that harvest comes in, as it will.
And those at the upper echelons of the Power Elite are always looking abroad for new fields to plow.
On August 5 of 2005, notes Naomi Klein, the Bush administration “created the office of the coordinator for reconstruction and stabilization, headed by Carlos Pascual, the former ambassador to Ukraine. Its mandate is to draw up elaborate `post-conflict' plans for up to 25 countries that are not, as yet, in conflict. According to Pascual, it will also be able to coordinate three full-scale reconstruction operations on different countries `at the same time,' each lasting `five to seven years.'”
“Fittingly,” continues Klein, “a government devoted to perpetual pre-emptive deconstruction now has a standing office of perpetual pre-emptive reconstruction. Gone are the days of waiting for wars to break out and drawing up plans to pick up the pieces” -- and then picking up those pieces in the slowest and most expensive way possible, the better to exploit the “cost-plus” billing arrangements most contractors enjoy.
In any corporatist system – call it “corporate socialism,” “corporate welfare,” or its correct name, fascism – those wired in to the State enjoy the best of all possible worlds. Their costs are subsidized, their losses are socialized, and their profits are privatized.
Disaster Capitalists have refined that formula in at least one important way. To the extent they're on board with the “global democratic revolution,” their business is getting into other people's business, and making other people angry enough to lash out at our country. So when we eventually catch the hell our oligarchs have been throwing at others, it will be the overworked, underpaid, tax-paying serfs who get the worst of it, just like on 9-11.
at 10:43 AM