Blog Archives

Why Fragmentation Is the Solution, Not the Problem

The fragmentation of political consensus (i.e. the consent of the citizenry) is presented by the Powers That Be and their media servants as being a disaster.The implicit fear is real enough: how can we rule the entire nation-empire if it fragments?

As I noted the other day, fragmentation terrifies the Establishment of racketeers and insiders, for when the centrally-enforced rentier skims and scams collapse, those who own and control the rentier skims, scams and rackets will lose the source of their wealth and power.

To understand why fragmentation is the solution rather than the problem, we have to look at how power is leveraged in centralized government. Let’s take the recent increase in a common pinworm treatment from $3 to $600: Pinworm prescription jumps from $3 to up to $600 a pill (via J.F.).

In a top-down, centralized hierarchy of political power (i.e. the central state), the pharmaceutical company only needs to lobby a few authorities in the central state to impose its rentier skim/scam on the entire nation.

Lobbying/bribing a relative handful of federal officials and elected representatives is remarkably inexpensive: a financier or corporation only needs to focus on these few key players, and smoothing the PR pathway via a highly concentrated corporate media.

A mere $5 million spent in the right places guarantees $100 million in future profits– profits earned not from open competition in a transparent market, but profits plundered as rentier skims: the product didn’t get any better or effective when the price leaped from $3 to $600, and competition was squelched by regulatory capture and high barriers to entry.

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Solutions Abound–on the Local Level

Those looking for centralized solutions to healthcare, jobs and other “macro-problems” will suffer inevitable disappointment. The era in which further centralization provided the “solution” has passed: additional centralization (Medicare for All, No Child Left Behind, federal job training, Universal Basic Income, central banking “free money for financiers”, etc.) have all entered Diminishing Returns.

The systemic costs of centralization–corruption, cronyism, soaring prices, declining quality, over-reach, insider rackets, regulatory capture by corporations and oligarchs– are soaring as the benefits of centralization plummet.

ObamaCare was the penultimate flowering of centralization: every self-serving healthcare cartel and racket had a say in the centralized sausage-making, and the results were entirely predictable: highly profitable to the healthcare cartels and rackets, and soaring costs that rendered the program unaffordable.

ObamaCare institutionalized staggering distortions, profiteering and injustices, as those who didn’t qualify for a subsidy were ripped off to pay for all the skims and scams: meds that went from $3 to $600 overnight, etc.

All the sound and fury around a centralized one-size-fits-all “solution” signifies nothing–the solution is decentralized and local, not federal.

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This Is How the Status Quo Unravels

The politics of the past 70 years was all about horsetrading who got what share of the growing pie: the “pie” being cheap energy, government revenues and consumption, sales and profits.

Horsetrading over a growing pie is basically fun. There’s always a little increase left for the losers, so there is a reason for everyone to cooperate in a broad political consensus.

Horsetrading over a shrinking pie is not fun. Everybody is shrilly demanding their piece of the pie should either grow or be left untouched; any cuts must come out of someone else’s slice.

Everyone turns on their most compelling emotion-based defense: “we wuz promised” is a reliable standard, as is “we need more money to defend the nation from the rising threat of XYZ.” “Help those in need” plays the heartstrings effectively–as long as the “help” comes out of somebody else’s pocket.

Everyone sharpens their knives, the better to carve a slice off somebody else’s slice of the pie. A passive-aggressive free-for-all ensues as everyone reacts with aggrieved defensiveness to any attempt to diminish their slice, even as they launch shrill attacks on everyone else’s defense.

As the pie shrinks, the motivation to join a broad consensus vanishes like mist in Death Valley.

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Fragmentation and the De-Optimization of Centralization

Many observers decry the loss of national coherence and purpose, and the increasing fragmentation of the populace into “tribes” with their own loyalties, value systems and priorities.

These observers look back on the national unity of World War II as the ideal social standard: everyone pitching in, with shared purpose and sacrifice. (Never mind the war killed tens of millions of people, including over 400,000 Americans.)

But few (if any) of these nostalgic observers note that history has no rewind button or reverse gear. It is impossible to recreate the national unity of World War II, as modern war is either specialized or nuclear. Neither enable mass mobilization.

Few observers note that World War II set the template for the next 60 years: the solution is always to further centralize power, control and money to serve the goals set by centralized authority.

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Social Fragmentation Suits the Powers That Be

Ours is an Age of Fracture (the 2011 book by Daniel Rodgers) in which “earlier notions of history and society that stressed solidity, collective institutions, and social circumstances gave way to a more individualized human nature that emphasized choice, agency, performance, and desire.”

A society that is fragmenting into cultural groups that are themselves fracturing into smaller units of temporary and highly contingent solidarity is ideal for Elites bent on maintaining political and financial control.

A society that has fragmented into a media-fed cultural war of hot-button identity-gender-religious politics is a society that is incapable of resisting concentrations of power and wealth in the hands of the few at the expense of the many.

If we set aside the authentic desire of individuals for equal rights and cultural liberation and examine the political and financial ramifications of social fragmentation, we come face to face with Christopher Lasch’s insightful analysis on The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy (1996 book).

“The new elites, the professional classes in particular, regard the masses with mingled scorn and apprehension…. Middle Americans, as they appear to the makers of educated opinion, are hopelessly shabby, unfashionable, and provincial, ill informed about changes in taste or intellectual trends, addicted to trashy novels of romance and adventure, and stupefied by prolonged exposure to television. They are at once absurd and vaguely menacing.”

Though better known for his book on the disastrous consequences of consumerism in an era of economic stagnation, The Culture of Narcissism:American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations, Lasch’s The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy is the more politically profound analysis, as it links Elite dominance of the media, higher education and cultural narratives to the erosion of democracy as a functioning institution.

Extreme concentrations of wealth and power are incompatible with democracy, as Elites buy political influence and promote cultural narratives that distract the citizenry with emotionally charged issues. A focus on individual liberation from all constraints precludes an awareness of common economic-political interests beyond the narrow boundaries of fragmenting culturally defined identities.

In a society stripped of broad-based social contracts and narratives that focus on the structural forces dismantling democracy and social mobility, the Elites have a free hand to consolidate their own personal wealth and power and use those tools to further fragment any potential political resistance to their dominance.

The Elites have successfully revolted against the political and economic constraints on their wealth and power, and now the unprivileged, unprotected non-Elites are rebelling in the only way left open to them: voting for anyone who claims to be outside the privileged Elites that dominate our society and economy.

As long as the American public chooses to focus on individual liberation and consumerist expressions of “freedom,” the Elites will have a free hand politically and financially.

The Powers That Be excel at claiming they are busy reforming a broken system,even as they co-opt, water down or outlaw any real reform that threatens their concentrations of wealth and power: Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform.

Precisely what does individual “liberation” mean in a neofeudal society of indebted financial serfs?

My new book is #4 on Kindle short reads -> politics and social science: Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform ($3.95 Kindle ebook, $8.95 print edition)For more, please visit the book’s website.

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