Monday, September 21, 2015

Why The One-Percenters Keep Winning

By Stephen P. Pizzo,

Those of us who have been life-long liberal/progressives have long complained about the influence of money and vested interests in politics. It’s our meme, what the dogmas of “trickle-down economics” and tax cuts are to the conservative camp. (Never mind that decades of data show's neither actually works...)

But conservatives have something that does work, and its worked for centuries. It's what makes the Koch brothers and their ilk such successful bulwarks against much needed change. This tool, or weapon, if you will, is well described by Francis Fukuyama in his book, The Origins of Political Order.

“Any institution or system of institutions benefits certain groups in a society, often at the expense of others, even if on the whole the political system provides public goods like domestic peace and property rights. Those groups favoted by the state may feel more secure in their person and property, them may collect rents as result of their favored access to power, or them may receive recognition and social status. Those elite groups have a stake in existing institutional arrangements and will defend the status quo as long as they remain cohesive. Even when society as a whole would benefit from institutional change, such as raising taxes in order to pay for defense against an external threat, well-organized groups will be able to veto change because for them the net gain is negative.”

It is probably a good time now to point out that Fukuyama wrote these lines in the chapter of his book entitled “Political Decay.” He calls this stage of a political evolution, “stable dysfunctional equilibrium, since none of the players will individually gain from changing the underlying” status quo they have no intention of allowing change to happen, no matter how dysfunctional that renders governance:

“...the fact that societies are so enormously conservative with regard to (preserving existing) institutions means that when the original conditions leading to the creation or adoption of an institution change, the institution fails to adjust quickly to meet the new circumstances. The disjunction in rates of change between institution and the external environment then accounts for political decay...”

This, he writes, is a naturally occurring accretion of power into the hands of fewer and fewer within a state. And the more powerful the few become, the easier it is for them to defeat demands for change from the many below them:

“This kind of collective “action-failure" is well understood by economists....entrenched interest groups tend to accumulate in any society over time, which aggregate into rent-seeking coalitions in order to defend their narrow privileges. They are much better organized than the broad masses, whose interests often fail to be represented in the political system.”

The results of this disproportionate sway over the political apparatus can be seen today in the dysfunction in Washington. Though “dysfunction” is actually a misnomer. It would be better called “mandated dysfunction.” What we are seeing is not a failure to act, but a mandate not to act. That mandate being enforced by the handful at the very top of the domestic fiscal mountain. They have no need for change, since everything is working just fine for them. In fact, the only thing that threatens “their thing,” as the Mafia called their rackets, is change. Change is enemy. So it is to be stopped dead in its tracks wherever it tries to emerge.

Besides the obvious and growing disparity in distribution of wealth, this condition risks more than human suffering. With climate change beginning to wreak havoc around the globe, the elite see any shift to alternative solutions as direct threats to their long-established and still profitable enterprises. So the very existence of our species may depend on figuring out ways to unsaddle these overlords of the status quo:

“The ability of societies to innovate institutionally thus depends on whether they can neutralized existing political stakeholders holding vetos over reform.

Opportunity does eventually emerge to do just that when this process of power-accretion moves from the “dysfunctional equilibrium,” to unstable dysfunctional equilibrium. But then the choices get a bit unsettling for most progressives.

“The stability of dysfunctional equilibria suggest why violence has played such an important role in institutional innovation and reform. Violence is classically seen as the problem that politics seeks to solve, but sometimes violence is the only way to displace entrenched stakeholders who are blocking change. The fear of violent death is a stronger emotion than the desire for material gain and is capable of motivating more far-reaching changes in behavior.”

And therein lays the rub. Liberals and Progressives tend to eschew violence as way to solve social problems. And we are proud of that, and rightfully so. Violence is one of those “shove all the chips on the table” moves. One can never be certain it will turn out to their advantage. It may go the other way, making the oligarchs even more powerful, more oppressive. So instead, we try reason. 

Which leaves us with a dilemma:

“It is not clear that democratic societies can always solve this type of problem peacefully...This means that the burden of institutional innovation and reform will fall on other, nonviolent mechanisms... or that those societies will continue to experience political decay.”

And that, my friends, is why the One-percent continue to win;-when push comes to shove, we don't shove back hard enough.