Wednesday, June 16, 2004

From Minerva to Mars

Conservatives traditionally claimed they just were defending themselves against the advance of various terrible radicals but above all against anybody who proposed to redistribute wealth. That stance required them to represent property rights as sacred and natural, a dubious proposition from either a philosophical or a historical point of view, but one that at least didn’t justify the acquisition of additional wealth by force and fraud in the present day. Modern conservatives are more ambitious. They are as eager to redistribute wealth as any socialist regime. In the Code Napoleon, the first heading under the rubric of Ways to Acquire Wealth was marriage. In the current code of American politics, it’s buying influence. The Republican Party, far better at this sort of thing than the Democrats, has become a powerful engine of wealth creation, but only for its supporters. A new and vigorous round of primitive accumulation is underway here and around the world.

Previously, people used to assume that corruption is only a major problem in the Third World countries or southern states in which a significant proportion of pubic wealth is siphoned into private pockets. Corruption in most of the United States, despite some impressive specific cases, seemed at most to have a moral significance, that is, it was deplorable but also not very important from a macroeconomic perspective. Small time opportunists, like camp followers, might latch onto a successful politician to make their thousands or millions; but the net effect of all the chiseling was negligible, a kind of friction. In the last 30 years, this assumption has been proven wrong. The active and partisan intervention of government has made it possible for the already wealthy to increase their share of wealth at the cost of the overall prosperity and health of the population. And the rich have grown accustomed to this fast-food feast. Which is also why so much money continues to pour into Bush’s coffers even though it is as apparent to Big Money as to everybody else that the President is utterly incompetent and exceedingly dangerous. He’s still the best profit play around; and if things go to Hell in the U.S., they can always move. They already have an office in Bermuda.

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