In the Land of Self-Interested Pygmies, No One Advocates for the Nation (July 27, 2011)
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Does slavishly pursuing narrow self-interest benefit the nation? Clearly, the answer is no; a nation of self-interested pygmies leaves no one to advocate for the national interest.
The great cold lie at the heart of present-day America is that the nation will magically benefit if we each single-mindedly pursue our self-interest to the exclusion of all else. The idea has a sleek quasi-free-market sheen, as it borrows the market's "invisible hand" and applies it to social, fiscal and environmental policies.
That is a magical-thinking fantasy. If I pursued only my own self-interest, I would dump the toxic effluent from my factory right into the river ( a la China's very laissez faire economy) while I lived far away in an exclusive community far from the stench and poisons. Why pay for costly remediation when the "free" river beckons? After all, it all works out wonderfully if we each pursue our own self-interest with methodical, nay maniacal, single-mindedness. (Recall that rivers in America caught fire in the 1960s, before environmental regulations limited corporate self-interest.)
"The good of the nation" is now a code-phrase for "good for me, and to heck with the country at large." Every self-serving fiefdom, every self-serving cartel and every self-serving constituency (a.k.a. special interest) claims that its pathetically obvious self-serving lobbying "serves the national interest." It's all lies, blatant emotional manipulation of the vilest, crassest sort. Yet we as a nation have sunk so low that the entire notion of a national interest which doesn't benefit a powerful lobby or constituency has been lost.
We are now a nation of self-interested pygmies, blind to any national interest that isn't devoted to enriching us personally. If we ask cui bono-- to whose benefit? (the first question in the Survival+ critique), then the answer is always self-evident: some lobby, cartel, corporation, special interest or class of citizens who hope to stripmine the assets of the less-protected citizenry to line their own pockets with swag.
We are a nation slavishly devoted to feeding our herd of fattened sacred cows by any means necessary. The National Security State, a profit machine of Federal contractors stretching all the way back to LBJ contributors Brown & Root, who built bases in Vietnam for hefty profits? Untouchable: "we're fighting the global war on Terror." I guess that's why it's always an average citizen onboard who actually stops the bad guy.
The military industrial complex, which takes ten years to start building anything, by which time it's so costly we can't afford it? Untouchable: "we're keeping our military strong." More like weakening it to the breaking point by stripmining all the resources in bloated weapons programs.
Social Security, a.k.a. generational wealth transfer? Untouchable: "I paid in, there's this lockbox with my money in it...." It was always "pay as you go," not a "lockbox." Demographically, it's broken. It worked when there were 10 workers for every retiree, and even with 5 workers for every retiree; now with millions drawing disability benefits from the SSA (and hiring specialists to help them qualify for it--good ole self-interest at its best) and only 2.5 workers for every retiree--soon to be 2-to-1--the system is unsustainable.
Medicare, the Savior State arm of the sickcare cartel complex? Untouchable: "we have the best healthcare in the world." Yeah, if you're one of the select few who have gold-plated coverage. How is it in the national interest that we devote 17% of our vast GDP to sickcare and yet 40 million people aren't even covered, millions more have simulacra coverage (nothing is covered except 80% of catastrophic care, and the remaining 20% will bankrupt all but the wealthy), and other developed nations provide better care for all their citizens for half the cost per capita?
And of course there's the "too big to fail" banks and Wall Street: Untouchable: "if you mess with us we'll bring the country to its knees!" What a nice bunch of pygmies. They have nothing but self-interest, so they must be serving the national interest.
The core problem with President Obama and the political class in Washington is that they think governance boils down to placating the most powerful self-interested pygmies. To the Demopublicans, politics is not about the national interest-- whatever that is, since the concept has lost all meaning--it's about carving up the swag so all the powerful self-interests don't upset the Status Quo apple cart.
This explains Obama's blindness to the opportunity to break the grip of the "too big to fail" banks and Wall Street, and the current inability to actually cut any sacred-cow budgets. There literally is no national interest left in the land of self-interested pygmies; all those think tanks are just dumping out agitprop to serve one bloated, entrenched self-serving fiefdom or another behind a facile claim of "national interest." Oh, really? Cui Bono?
When politics has been debased to the point that it is all about placating self-serving monopolies and "interest groups," then there is no mind or heart left in the nation; it is a money-burning robot, blindly borrowing however much cash is needed to placate the piranhas and parasites.
I think the most apt metaphor for present-day America is the leaky lifeboat. All the single-mindedly self-interested pygmies are swimming over to the one lifeboat, pursuing their wondrously golden self-interest as the highest good. They all try to save themselves--it's only self-interest, and that will magically serve us all--and as a result of their frantic thrashing to preserve themselves, the lifeboat sinks and they all drown.
A nation of self-interested pygmies leaves no one to advocate for the national interest. The lifeboat is already taking on water, but everyone climbing on board is loudly announcing that they're "serving the national interest." The irony is rather rich: by sinking the entire Status Quo, then they truly will be serving the nation.
There is another shore nearby; it's called self-reliance and a personally disinterested national interest.
Here's a photo of the concrete slab I helped a buddy pour and finish earlier this month. He was kind enough to honor me with my name imprinted for all time in the slab--right about where the trash cans will be stored. What is the significance of this photo?
Just this: I am a practical guy. I have little use for ideologies, wishful thinking, false reassurances, empty promises, media double-speak, official obfuscation, simulacra reforms, soaring rhetoric, bogus statistics, shadow Elites, or blatant self-interest masquerading as policy. That practicality is the heart of this book.
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