Of all my articles to date, the one that drew the most attention made the simple claim that in the political and economic histories of nations, “phase changes” happen, and that one might be about to happen here in the USA. A phase change, which may happen once every few generations, causes a country to move down a dramatically different path that had been predicted by no one.
We cannot see past a phase change. I don’t know if the U.S.A. will have undergone one at the time of the 2012 election, but the necessary conditions for one are all in place, as far as I can tell.
One has to reach back a good way in American history for a time of such rapidly rising sentiment that not only are our leaders unable even to think of real solutions to the problems of greatest concern (rather than just making expedient changes at the margin), but also that the prevailing political and economic system is structurally incapable of delivering any long-term solutions in its current form.
The rise of America’s broadly non-partisan political movements increasingly supports the hypothesis.
Solving a problem requires three things — first, recognizing there is a problem; second, determining what the problem is, and third, working out an effective solution.
America’s three most significant rising political groups outside the party system — the Tea Party, the occupation of Wall Street, and Blue Republicans, are agreed that the prevailing economic and political paradigm is somehow responsible for a deep crisis and has to go. But what is really interesting — and provides some insight into where we the USA may be heading — is the area of so-far unacknowledged agreement among these groups regarding the nature of the problem, and its huge implications for American politics.
Despite its now having been infiltrated by largely neo-conservative elements, the Tea Party in its original conception (largely inspired by Ron Paul’s run for President in 2008) was mostly concerned with the negative effects on the average American’s liberty and wealth of the concentration of political power in the hands of a few. The Occupy Wall Street movement is largely concerned with the negative effects on the average American’s liberty and wealth of the concentration of economic resources in the hands of few. The Blue Republicans see that the two are profoundly connected.
Except for a few at the extremes, no one is saying that the State or corporations are always and inherently evil. The problem, rather, is with what they have been allowed to become.
Regarding the agreement between America’s spontaneously emergent activist groups that many in the media would prefer simply to label as “left-wing” or “right-wing,” I can think of numerous statements about which most original members of the Tea Party could agree with most of the OWSers — even if they don’t yet realize it.
I list them here, and have chosen them for two very important reasons. First, they are statements that both conservatives and liberals could claim as their own. Second, they reflect many of the very basic moral instincts that unite most people in our culture — even those who might claim superficially to have very different political leanings.
a) A system in which members of the boards of large banks have positions in the country’s central bank should be eliminated. (The Federal Reserve system)
b) Government officials should not be allowed to provide support for companies with which they are (or recently have been) associated. (TARP, Goldman Sachs, the bailouts etc.)
c) Wealth should be a function of hard work, risk-taking and even a bit of good luck. It should not be the result of a systematic transfer of wealth to a financial class with a special license by government to create money as debt and profit from fees and interest on that created money. (Fractional reserve banking)
d) A system that allows profits to be private while socializing losses should be eliminated. (The entire American monetary system, including all of the above)
e) Wars that kill people that kill innocent people are bad if they are not in self-defense. (Iraq war)
f) A minimum condition for military activity is that it must make us safer. (The link between suicide terrorism and foreign occupation)
g) The Bill of Rights should be followed. (Oh, how long do you have?)
h) Telling the truth should never be a crime. (Patriot Act)
i) Where government spending does not produce its intended benefits, it should stop (even if we disagree on whether it should be redirected or not spent at all). (Stated purpose of, say, the creation of the Department of Energy).
Everything on this list could be said as passionately by a liberal as by a conservative, even if one or the other might be more fervent or sweeping in some of the statements. They could not be said by a Marxist, Neo-con or a mainstream Congressman.
This list is a great deal to agree about, and these items are perhaps the most important and urgent issues in American politics today. Yet, the mainstream Democrats and mainstream Republicans agree with each other on wanting to do nothing significant about any of them: indeed, they have consistently voted for every aspect of the very system at which the above list takes aim.
America’s phase change is inevitable if/when activists of different stripes recognize that their true opponents are not activists who choose another label or carry a different sign — but the very system that is decidedly neither capitalistic nor liberal and the current duopolistic (Republicrat) political settlement that maintains it.
Indeed, the true opponent of the Tea Party and the OWS movement is surely state-sponsored corporatism (to which, incidentally, Mussolini gave another name), in which certain economic interests can concentrate wealth because the government gives them special license to do so — and in which political interests and individual politicians can only concentrate power because they pay off voters with programs that invariably fail to live up to their promises, using money created by the same system, and pay off the aforementioned economic interests, with legislation that favors them.
The general point is that what the occupiers of Wall Street are complaining about depends on what the Tea Partiers have been complaining about — and vice versa.
All the while this system exists, taxing the rich more or increasing regulations (for example), will be like taking indigestion pills while still eating too much bad food — treating the symptoms while simply making the cause worse. We can argue about which pills we should be taking … but let’s at least all agree that we should stop eating the bad food.
If the various activists on America’s streets continue to regard themselves as politically opposed, the “phase change” may not happen. But when they realize that what has been done in the name of conservatism and liberalism, Republican and Democrat, over recent years has been neither conservative or liberal, but a systematic disenfranchisement and impoverishment of the well-intentioned on both the left and the right, America will have its phase change.
These various new political waves that are rolling down American streets could of course break in any direction. As I mentioned, we cannot see past a phase change, but my greatest hope would be that the waves will break in a direction that will make us all wonder why we ever put up with our current corrupt political duopoly for so long.
At the very least, let’s make Wright Patman (a Democratic Congressman from 1928 to 1976, and Chairman of the Committee of Banking and Currency from 1963 to 1975) correct, when he said:
I believe the time will come in this country when they will actually blame you and me and everyone else connected with the Congress for sitting idly by and permitting such an idiotic system to continue.
That’s the very least the Tea Partiers and the occupiers must do and, by the way, the Blue Republicans have an idea about how to do it.