There’s been loads of debate on what’s happening in America. Anywhere you can find expositions on capitalism and the end of capitalism or the death of capitalism or the reform of capitalism or how to save capitalism or the triumph of capitalism (this last one usually phrased in a different way). Also whether the putative reform of capitalism is actually socialism, and whether Americans are willing to entertain the term “socialism”, and from there of course to what terms like capitalism and socialism even mean anymore.
As to what terms we should use, it’s obvious that America has long been basically a corporatist system, meaning that here neither capitalism nor socialism are ideals, but are just tactics which are applied wherever appropriate to maximize the power and wealth of the nexus of big corporations and big government.
(The dream government for business would be something like the Franco regime. It was corporatist, economically “fascist”, with a state-supported religion (opium for the masses). But unlike Hitler or Mussolini Franco had a rational rather than a deranged foreign policy. (That’s why he resisted Hitler’s inducements to enter the war – Franco figured Hitler was cruising for a fall and would drag down everyone with him.)
So why has American business supported Bush-style hallucinatory imperialism and K-street thuggery? This shows the fundamental disconnect of all American life from reason and reality. In the twilight of cheap oil and exponential debt we have a void and a shoddy facade where an economy and a safety net should be, so that textbook “business” can no longer function, but only an ever more volatile disaster capitalism.)
Capitalism, democracy, civics, citizenship, rule of law - all these mean nothing. They are nonexistent outside of propaganda pens (“schools”).
[I'd like to add here that if we want these things back, we can restore them, but not within the framework of big government, big corporations, the present system which is so terminally rotted, "bigness" itself, and not within the framework of the doomed fossil fuel civilization. We can only build new communities from the ground up. There can be a diversity of these, anything from smallholder capitalism to kibbutz communism, with the uniting principle being human community, as long as the other uniting principle is self-reliance and sustainability. If even the small relocalized communities get back into large-scale trade, specialization, "comparative advantage", and the inevitable expansion and conflict which must follow from these, then the whole nightmare begins again, only at a smaller level.]
Rather, the terms that capture reality are feudalism, corporatism, plutocracy, kleptocracy, lemon socialism, welfare fascism. What these capture is the utter irresponsibility, the sociopathy of American economic life.
No one is any longer trying to create, to invent, improve, add value, to make better their own or anybody else’s lives, to shine light on truth. Innovation and talent – using these in their English rather than their nowadays more common Orwellian sense - mean nothing.
Rather, everyone at every economic level is trying to get over, to run a scam, to ”get rich” (how tawdry and meanly nihilistic the “American dream” is at its core), to pose and not be, to say and not do. If they have the power they steal, spin, obscure, lobby, capture, bribe, obstruct, extort, and sue, to plunder, entrench, monopolize, rig the playing field in their favor, pull up the ladder behind them.
If they don’t have the power, they dream of these things.
How the banks and the FIRE sector have come to completely dominate the American system is a well-told story by now. I think anyone who is capable of understanding it must understand it by now. And now as Too Big To Fail zombies the big banks have only tightened their stranglehold over the economy and government, and over all measures of what constitutes economic good, bad, recovery, recession.
The other pivot of American life, economic, political, and psychological, is the “Global War on Terror”, which is the term encompassing the intensified imperial aggression America requires to secure the resources to prop up its fuel infrastructure, the corporatism which is directly enabled through the expanding military-industrial complex and is also the overarching system being propped up by this empire, and the increasingly constrictive “homeland” police state to repress the dissent all this must provoke.
My personal term for the GWOT and the neocon ideology it springs from is resource fascism. It centers on oil, but will soon center on “alternatives”: unconventional oil and agrofuels (we already have the ethanol pseudo-industry as a pure textbook example of a parasite). Here big corporations and mainstream environmentalists, conservatives and liberals, can join hands in trying to prop up cars and sprawl (the core material form of American life).
The unreality and the con extend everywhere. If the point of saving GM was to preserve good American jobs (or even just to maintain American military vehicle production, as some have argued), how is this served by letting them completely offshore to China? It’s not. Rather, “saving GM” is a particularly sloppy con job.
[I try not to bother tallying examples among small entities and non-rich, non-powerful individuals, since although there's plenty of corruption there as well, keeping our eyes on the prize means maintaining focus on the crimes of the powerful. It's these which construct and define the system. (The attempt among republicans to deflect this responsibility by blaming the small fry, so that the mortgage bubble and collapse were the fault of reckless borrowers exploiting the poor good-natured banks, and torture was the work of "bad apples", is an absurd fraud.) So if we wish to be educated and aware, defend ourselves and fight back, the first rule is to counter-attack something big and bloated.]
I wish I had a more rigorously optimistic way to wrap this up this morning. I wrote the first part of it, then did some work in the garden, and now I come back and think about how beautiful out it is. I believe the earth will still be able to heal once the oil wave recedes. As horrible as man’s vandalism has been, it’s still a surface wound.
What’s more questionable is whether the human soul can heal. When we look at the systematic ravages in ideology and religion, the perversion of education and despoliation of culture, the psychopathy of science and the apparently universal hatred for the mind, and when we ponder what horrors are likely to convulse the dying decades of the oil age, as the mad genius of oil tries to leave behind it an absolute scorched earth of the spirit once and for all, we must wonder what part of what’s human can be carried through the flames.
I don’t know yet what can be done and how to do it, but that’s what I see more and more people trying to figure out. At least this is the most promising sign.