Guest Post: The Stealth Coup D'Etat: U.S.A. 2008-2010
Submitted by Charles Hugh Smith from Of Two Minds
The Stealth Coup D'Etat: U.S.A. 2008-2010
The Stealth Coup D'Etat in the U.S. (called "The Quiet Coup" by Simon Johnson) was begun long ago, but the takeover reached fruition in the 2008-2010 timeframe.
Please read these brief excerpts from the 1968 classic Coup d'État: A Practical Handbook (by Edward Luttwak) and see if they don't remind you of the United States, circa 2008-2010:
Insurrection, the classic vehicle of revolution, is obsolete. The security apparatus of the modern state, with its professional personnel, with its diversified means of transport and communications, and with its extensive sources of information, cannot be defeated by civilian agitation, however intense and prolonged.
(CHS note: Luttwak referred to the May 1968 general strike in France as an example; by coincidence, the failure of today's general strikes in France to change Central State policy offers a more current example from the same nation.
Any attempt on the part of civilians to to use direct violence with improvised means will always be neutralized by the efficiency of modern automatic weapons; a general strike, ont he other hand, will temporarily swamp the system, but cannot permanently damage it, since in the modern economic setting, the civilians will run out of food and fuel well before the military, the police and allied organizations.
(CHS note: Napoleon famously dissipated a civilian uprising with "a whiff of grapeshot" long before modern automatic weaponry. Organized violence always has an advantage over informally organized violence.)
If a coup does not make use of the masses, or of warfare, what instrument of power will enable it to seize control of the state? The short answer is that the power will come from the state itself.
A coup consists of the infiltration of a small but critical segment of the state apparatus, which is then used to displace the government from its control of the remainder.
Luttwak's first point about the futility of direct insurrection informed my own Survival+ critique, which concludes that the only effective means to weaken the Financial Power Elites who have partnered with State Elites is to opt out and assemble voluntary non-privileged parallel structures which are independent of the Central State and its Power Elites.
As I have sharpened the Survival+ critique (with an eye on a future revision), I have come to see that the term coup d'etat is not cheap theatrics or an analogy for the capture of the Central State by Financial Power Elites, but the accurate description of a long, stealthy infiltration and dominance of the key ministries of the United States government.
In the popular view, a coup d'etat is a sudden event, over in a few hours or at most days, a drama played out in impoverished Third World nations. The stealth coup which has occurred in the U.S. is an entirely different kind of coup--one that has operated in stealth mode for the most part, a process of gradual infiltration and opportunistic grasping of key levers of dependence and control.
Simon Johnson, co-author of the recent book 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown, also wrote the May 2009 article "The Quiet Coup". Here are a few key excerpts:
But these various policies--lightweight regulation, cheap money, the unwritten Chinese-American economic alliance, the promotion of homeownership--had something in common. Even though some are traditionally associated with Democrats and some with Republicans, they all benefited the financial sector. Policy changes that might have forestalled the crisis but would have limited the financial sector’s profits--such as Brooksley Born’s now-famous attempts to regulate credit-default swaps at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, in 1998--were ignored or swept aside.
The financial industry has not always enjoyed such favored treatment. But for the past 25 years or so, finance has boomed, becoming ever more powerful. The boom began with the Reagan years, and it only gained strength with the deregulatory policies of the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. Several other factors helped fuel the financial industry’s ascent. Paul Volcker’s monetary policy in the 1980s, and the increased volatility in interest rates that accompanied it, made bond trading much more lucrative.
The invention of securitization, interest-rate swaps, and credit-default swaps greatly increased the volume of transactions that bankers could make money on. And an aging and increasingly wealthy population invested more and more money in securities, helped by the invention of the IRA and the 401(k) plan. Together, these developments vastly increased the profit opportunities in financial services. Not surprisingly, Wall Street ran with these opportunities. From 1973 to 1985, the financial sector never earned more than 16 percent of domestic corporate profits. In 1986, that figure reached 19 percent. In the 1990s, it oscillated between 21 percent and 30 percent, higher than it had ever been in the postwar period. This decade, it reached 41 percent.
The great wealth that the financial sector created and concentrated gave bankers enormous political weight—a weight not seen in the U.S. since the era of J.P. Morgan (the man). In that period, the banking panic of 1907 could be stopped only by coordination among private-sector bankers: no government entity was able to offer an effective response. But that first age of banking oligarchs came to an end with the passage of significant banking regulation in response to the Great Depression; the reemergence of an American financial oligarchy is quite recent.
Looking just at the financial crisis (and leaving aside some problems of the larger economy), we face at least two major, interrelated problems. The first is a desperately ill banking sector that threatens to choke off any incipient recovery that the fiscal stimulus might generate. The second is a political balance of power that gives the financial sector a veto over public policy, even as that sector loses popular support.
Though incisive, Johnson's critique fails to grasp several critical features of the Stealth Coup D'Etat:
1. Once you have control of the financial powers of the U.S. via the tiny Elites of the Congress, the Executive Branch, the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury, then the rest of the government will follow.
To the degree that ownership of the Healthcare cartels is in the hands of the same Financial Power Elite, then the passage of the 2,300 page "Healthcare Reform Bill" in 2010 was simply another way for the Power Elite to expand its share of the national income.
The health of the citizenry or healthcare per se had essentially nothing to do with the passage of this monstrosity. The entire purpose was to increase the Elites' share of the national income by siphoning off an ever-greater share to the "healthcare" cartels.
2. This is how the Stealth Coup D'Etat works: the machinery of governance grinds through a simulacrum of democracy, but it's all for show; the theoretical structures are now completely different from the political realities. The citizens were against the bailout of Wall Street and the money-center banks 600-to-1; they were rightly ignored as inconsequential.
The citizenry replaced the political party leadership of Congress and the Presidency; absolutely nothing changed except the flavor of PR, spin and propaganda. The Power Elites and their Stealth Coup are apolitical. They don't care about the color of your uniform; whether you wear a blue shirt or a red shirt is inconsequential.
Some readers complain I over-use the descriptive word simulacrum, and I have tried to leaven this overuse with synonyms such as facsimile. But the key point to understand (and the goal here is always to reach an integrated understanding) is that there is a difference between formal structures such as democracy and free markets and their political and financial representations.
In other words, the "democracy" that was visible in passing healthcare reform (i.e. the diversion of more national income to a specific set of cartels) was a facsimile of democracy, a shadow of the real thing, a mere representation of true democracy.
This substitution of representation for reality is the key mechanism of the Stealth Coup D'Etat. In the financial fiasco now playing out, actual deeds to notes and property have been replaced with digital representations in a registry owned by the banks: MERS.
"Liberating" Iraq as a laudable goal of an enlightened State was merely a public relations facade for the occupation of a key geopolitical piece of a larger puzzle. The entire war has two components: the actual war on the ground, as revealed by 400,000 "liberated" documents, and the representation of the war in the Corporate Cartel Media and as presented by the Central State ministries.
3. The Stealth Coup can be traced by a simple dictum: follow the money. Once you control the money--the money supply, the manipulation of yields and bond sales, the budgeting and borrowing--then you control everything.
This is how a small Financial Power Elite dominates the vast, sprawling American Empire.
4. I use the term politics of experience in Survival+ (with a credit to its originator, R.D. Laing) to describe the manner in which the apparently depoliticized context of our daily media-saturated lives are shaped by political forces we rarely recognize.
In my critique, I invoke the term parallel shadow structures of privilege to describe the formalized but masked structures of power which operate behind the facades of democracy, free markets, and all the other PR bilge drummed into the minds of the the citizenry by a media cartel which itself has been financialized into a Corporatocracy.
Over time, Americans have come to believe that the current state of governance is "democracy" rather than a mere facsimile of democracy. They have come to believe (those still covered by insurance they don't directly pay for) that the U.S. "healthcare" system is "the finest in the world" when by some metrics it is the worst, most profligate, illness-inducing system imaginable. And so on.
Thus "homeownership" was elevated to quasi-religious status as a means of stripmining assets and income from a larger pool of debt-serfs. Earlier this year I asked a simple question: how much of your household's net income flows to cartels? That would include banking cartels (mortgages, second mortgages, credit cards, etc.), Central State-banking cartels (student loans), agribusiness cartels (fast foods, packaged foods, Monsanto, etc.), energy cartels, sickcare cartels (healthcare insurance, hospital chains, Big Pharma) and so on.
If we consider that much of rent payments flow to the same banking cartels (which is why the commercial real estate sector is imploding--too much debt, etc.), then most of us would find that the majority (or perhaps as much as 90%) of our money goes to a handful of cartels dominated by Financial Elites via the steady financialization of the U.S. economy.
How much of your taxes flow to the same cartels via their partnership/control of State fiefdoms?
If you think the term Stealth Coup D'Etat is overwrought, I invite you to ponder the headline quote from the Freedom Guerrilla weblog: None are so hopelessly enslaved as those who falsely believe they are free.
From the point of view of a deconstructed politics of experience, then the events of 2008-2010 are simply the culmination of a Stealth Coup D'Etat which began with the overt financialization of the U.S. economy and indeed of its entire culture.