The Left’s Most Important Job
The core thesis of my book, Capitalism as Oligarchy, is that the essence of our system is concentrated minority power—inequality (oligarchy)—and that to properly understand it, we need to focus on the straightforward motives and dynamics of power. I think this is a self-evident proposition and many on the left will no doubt agree at least in principle. The problem is that they will then almost universally proceed to define the system with the vacuous term “capitalism” (“money-ism” would be equivalent and just as empty of meaning) and devote their analytic energies on obtuse details like money, finance, modes of production, trade, and so on. We end up losing sight of the extraordinary simplicity of the basic pattern and the great majority is kept mired in hopeless confusion and even open to the vile arguments of the populist right.
We play directly into the ideology of the status-quo when we make what is simple complicated. There is but only one crucial fact and it towers above all else which by comparison is mere detail—it is that a small minority owns essentially everything. It has been this way for over 5,000 years and the driving motives today are exactly the same as they’ve been throughout all of recorded history—keeping a firm lock on power and living luxuriously. The system’s main operating dynamic becomes plain once we ask what the prime risk to such a structure may be. The answer is clear—it is us, the only systemic risk to the rule of a propertied minority is the propertyless majority. We, the “common” people, “the mob”—and make no mistake, that almost assuredly includes you—are the existential risk to minority power. Fear and hatred of the majority is the inescapable dynamic of inequality.
Formal democracy requires some circumspection about this fact today, but we can find anti-majoritarian hostility openly expressed throughout all of recorded history, from Plato to Cicero to the US Founding Fathers to Burke to Nietzsche to von Mises to Ayn Rand. The theme is unvarying but I’ll leave it here to Nietzsche to sum up the heart of inequality in all its skeletal beauty.
The essential characteristic of a good and healthy aristocracy, however, is that it experiences itself not as a function (whether of the monarchy or the commonwealth) but as their meaning and highest justification—that it therefore accepts with a good conscience the sacrifice of untold human beings who, for its sake, must be reduced and lowered to incomplete human beings, to slaves, to instruments. Their fundamental faith simply has to be that society must not exist for society’s sake but only as the foundation and scaffolding on which a choice type of being is able to raise itself to its higher task and to a higher state of being. (Beyond Good and Evil, Part 9, “What is Noble”)
Inequality requires (is) the suppression of the majority. Wealth (minority power) causes (is) poverty (majority living standards far below productive capacity).
This of course is denied by defenders of the status quo and one of their more successful arguments has been down the lines that even if all wealth were confiscated and “the pie” then sliced equally, the material wealth of the average person wouldn’t significantly increase. Wealth, they say, is therefore harmless. This seemingly valid argument, though, completely misses the essence of power. A pie is a false analogy for our modern system given its massive productive capacity. Far better to think in terms of a balloon with widespread prosperity corresponding to the degree it’s inflated. The goal of the minority (structural and not necessarily consciously thought) is to keep the balloon as underinflated as is politically possible since inequality isn’t sustainable alongside a prosperous and secure population.
Except for periods of speculative bubbles and war, underinflation has been the common condition since at least the beginnings of the twentieth century. It’s most certainly the case today. Google “oversupply” and follow it with any term you choose—food, commodities, manufactured goods, steel, cars, or whatever—and you’ll find that it’s all in “oversupply”. How strange this is when we consider that poverty and insecurity is the common state of humanity in both the ‘developing’ and ‘developed’ world. Just yesterday, in fact, a source as mainstream as CBS News published an article entitled “80 percent of U.S. adults face near poverty, unemployment, survey finds”. That such insecurity can exist in even one of the richest countries in the world alongside global “oversupply” testifies to the extraordinary success of suppression.
Our system is structured so that the prosperity of the majority is suppressed. The great oligarchic achievement has been to justify it through the arcane language of money, finance, and financial efficiency. The most important job of the left is to expose the simple hostility lurking behind this ideological façade.