The Logical Extreme of the ‘American System’
The toxic mix of unbridled individual liberty and unfettered capitalism.
November 27, 2011 - 12:03 am
You can’t remove the “problem” from a convoluted, intertwined construction such as that because it’s behaving precisely the way one would expect it to while operating under the rules which we ourselves established.
I know precisely what this sort of hang-dog, defeatist attitude and general condemnation of the American way sounds like. It’s a revival — or perhaps an evolution — of the nihilist movement of the 19th century. I may not be the father of American neonihilism, but I may still add to the eventual manifesto of this version without falling into some deep pit of Nietzsche worship.
We’re engaged in a tug of war. On one side are those who would let the free market capitalist system run wild, trusting in “the invisible hand” to keep everything on an even keel. On the other, we find the forces that would see government shackle that system’s actions and redistribute the wealth of the winners among the populace. But unlike a normal game of this sort where the opposing teams seek to pull the enemy into the central ditch, this game places a bottomless pit behind each group and nobody can let go of the rope. No matter who wins, they fall into the abyss and pull the opponents down with them.
A person much smarter than I once defined all of humanity as being divided into alpha and beta types. He posited that if you enacted one fell swoop to seize and redistribute all of the wealth in the nation equally among everyone, the same set of Alpha types (with a few variances for those who smartened up) would quickly rise back to the top. The system is not dissimilar to a casino in Vegas. It’s all winners and losers, but the Alpha types will be the ones who are smart enough to run the casinos and the Beta types will be the suckers who travel to bet in them. The house always wins, eventually grinding all the wealth from the pawns until there’s nothing left to bleed out.
But how do we go about fixing this? The short answer, I’m sorry to say, is that you can’t. Letting the free market system run wild eventually runs you out of suckers, to continue the previous analogy. You see a greater and greater gap between the wealthy elite and the masses until they begin to take to the streets. (For the record, I am not implying that this is happening now or that the current “occupy” movement participants are the vanguard of an imminent, violent renaissance. Only that we’re observing a long-term trend in one direction for the flow of wealth.)
But moving in the other direction — shifting ever increasing regulatory power to the central government (should the suckers ever find a way to elect representatives who would “fight the power”) — will eventually result in such a disincentive to succeed that nobody would even bother trying. Each pull on the rope shoves you further towards one of the two chasms.
I would love to propose some bold, political solution which produces a salable course of action, but both of these general approaches are essentially impossible to begin with. To manage that level of control over the interaction between the conjoined twins would effectively amount to dismantling the entire constitution and setting up some hybrid of communism and socialism. At that point, the shining light on the hill is effectively extinguished and the game ends.
Jon Corzine — and if the charges bear fruit, Nancy Pelosi — at the end of all things, are neither heroes nor villains. They are not the disease you seek to cure, but rather the symptoms of a disease. And the cure is as far beyond the political-medical technology of our society as space travel would be to Neanderthals. They are an end product. They represent what finally drips out of the fetid, cracked glassware of the apparatus long after the scientist has left the experiment to run on its own for too long.