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"Crony capitalism"

It's not personal — only business


Amid their critiques of Little Bush's War and indictments of the Bushies' monster deficits, you may expect over the next ten months to hear the Democrats bleat some denunciations of something they call "crony capitalism." They'd have us believe, of course, that it's a form of corruption practiced only by Republicans in power and most characteristically by Republicans at war. And the introit warbled by the Demo choir will, of course, consist of "Halliburton, Halliburton, Halliburton."

Lovers of liberty, justice, and peace celebrate whenever a powerful established pol of either ruling party is credibly smeared as personally corrupt. And when a cabal of pols in power are smeared as war profiteers, fans of civilization may even be heard cackling a little. God knows we derive little enough satisfaction otherwise from surveying the public scene. Naturally we welcome anything that brings down, or at least hobbles, one or two of the human wolves who presume to rule us.

Those of us with a little historical awareness will recognize that Democrats, too, wade hip deep into individual "crony capitalism" and war profiteering whenever they're given half a chance. A nice reminder of that emerged recently in news coverage of the "reconstruction" of Iraq, which revealed that the fascist entity Kellogg, Brown & Root is a major subcontractor of the fascist entity Halliburton. As I've noted before, the first outfit, under its old name of Brown & Root, made its bones in alliance with its close crony, the Democrat poli-criminal Lyndon Johnson. Brown & Root's support enabled Johnson to make quite a few bones of his own.

Zounds! Democrats, too, can be personally corrupt? League of Women Voters types and other schooling-victims blinkered by "How a Bill Becomes Law" civics lessons from eighth grade always respond to such startling revelations with (try to stay awake, now) a Nonpartisan Call to Reform, the milk-and-water approach that I'll sum up in the slogan, "We just need to start electing good people!" In pursuit of that ever-receding goal, sincere Goody-Goodies tinker obsessively with the election machinery, campaign financing, and a variety of disclosure and conflict-of-interest regulations. As mainstream reformers sniff out little imperfections in the laws — the political equivalent of cars carelessly left unlocked that "help good boys go bad" — mainstream commentators spend much of their time wandering down little pathways of individual biography, decrying this or that pol's personal lapse into corruption.

But the worst crimes aren't personal; they're only business. In fact they're a big business, and it's a business in which both ruling parties are sometimes active competitors but more usually active partners. Illegal or quasi-legal corruption on the part of wayward individual pols is as nothing compared to the legalized corruption that defines the entire system.

That system, to give it a name, is state capitalism. Individual, opportunistic bribery and sweetheart deals with specific companies arise naturally from the system, to be sure, but only as a miasma arises naturally from a dung heap. Under American state capitalism, the ruling class, standing outside the official regime, purchases or at least rents the entire state apparatus. The Dark Suits, as I call them, create and sustain the political class that populates the two official ruling parties, by (among other things)

• orchestrating campaign funding;
• manipulating coverage and commentary by the established media the Suits own;
• furnishing mentally challenged officeholders with triple-digit-IQ advisors;
• naming certain rising young pols to prestigious positions in exclusive organizations under Suit control; and
• arranging personal fortunes and sinecures (on corporate boards, foundations, and "NGOs") for used-up pols who have proved their reliability.

Illegal bribery, when it occurs, actually signals a minor blip in the system: no special bribes are necessary to get your hired hand to do his job.

As for individual sweetheart deals, the far-reaching strategy of the ruling class reduces them to peripheral frippery. Having secured control over the political class, the Dark Suits create and sustain a political-economic climate under which the policies the Suits favor, and only those policies, are considered in the arena of official politics. Those policies are designed, overall, to protect and fortify the Suits' wealth and influence. Rifts over policy may indeed occur among the Suits; one such rift is now occurring over the invasion, conquest, and occupation of Iraq. But note that the spectrum of war policies available for consideration by the political class is absurdly narrow: the pols may choose the new radical, unilateral imperialism; or the old moderate, multilateral imperialism; or something in between. As for renunciation of empire — well, there's no rift over that question. The ruling class united long ago to take it off the table (and bury it in the basement).

They did so because imperialism — successful imperialism, mind you — benefits the Dark Suits in a multitude of ways, including:

• ensuring the Suits' access to foreign markets through U.S. intimidation or conquest;
• crushing or intimidating potential competitors that are not allies or tributaries of the Suits;
• extracting monopoly concessions from supine or fearful foreign regimes; and
• making various kinds of foreign aid, including military aid, contingent on purchases from corporations and banks controlled by the Suits.

I intend that last category to subsume the massive foreign loans that Washington guarantees against default by the kleptocratic regimes that receive them; those guarantees actually amount to a guarantee of massive profits and minimal risk for Wall Street banks that are "too big to fail," or at least too well-connected politically to fail. Imperialism also tends to cartelize the economy at home — and you win no cigar for figuring out who ends up controlling the cartels.

Individual Dark Suits certainly cut specific deals with pols and with each other; but the ruling class, as a class, focuses on retaining its unchallenged control over the system as a whole, and on benefiting, as a class, from that control.

Government is a form of organized crime that has succeeded in legalizing itself. State capitalism is an entire system of official corruption that masquerades itself as business as usual. But perhaps it is better for investigators to avert their eyes from those big ugly facts and restrict themselves to chasing the occasional illegal bribe-taker or illegal deal-cutter. After all, that's how a fellow wins the Pulitzer, gets the keys to the city, and bags the award from the Bar Association, all the while disturbing nothing that the grown-ups don't want disturbed.

January 6, 2004

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