GOP Uses Dr. Seuss To Distract From Their Embrace of Gangster Capitalism

Thom plus logo Cranking up the culture wars won't stop the destruction of our democracy…but it might win elections

So, while the Senate was debating Joe Manchin's proposal to cut back unemployment benefits to Americans whacked by the coronavirus, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was reading Dr. Seuss out loud.

And he chose to read "Green Eggs and Ham," an uncontroversial Seuss classic, instead of the six Seuss books that the family's foundation pulled from circulation because they portray Black and Chinese people in racist ways.

Why would McCarthy do this? It turns out that Republicans and rightwing media are frantically engaging in culture wars with Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head to distract us from their embrace of anti-democratic Gangster Capitalism.

There are two main alternatives to American democracy and Regulated Capitalism being offered on the world's stage right now, and the GOP has made their choice.

The first possible choice is Communist Capitalism, practiced by China and Vietnam. This system leads to rapid economic growth, raises the middle class, but crushes democracy, free speech and dissent.

The second is Gangster Capitalism, practiced by Hungary, Russia and Turkey (among others, particularly in the Third World), which leads to an explosion of wealth among the nation's gangster oligarchs, strips wealth from the middle class, and also crushes democracy, free speech and dissent.

While most in the Democratic Party still hold to the classic American ideals of Regulated Capitalism, democracy, free speech and robust dissent and debate, the GOP has clearly decided that Gangster Capitalism and ending democracy are the path they're going to follow.

Which makes perfect sense when you consider that their leader, Donald Trump, is a classic Gangster Capitalist.

The transition of America from Regulated Capitalism to Gangster Capitalism began in the 1980s with the Reagan administration, using the rubric of "deregulation."

For capitalism to work in a way that doesn't produce oligarchs and gangsters, it must be regulated. Capitalism, after all, is just a game that people play using money and mutually agreed-upon rules.

A good analogy is football. The NFL heavily regulates football in the United States, at least the football played by its teams. Those regulations include how many players are on the field at any time, exactly what constitutes a down or a touchdown, and rules about how players may physically contact each other, and under what circumstances.

The NFL's regulations also decide which team gets first pick of new players: they decided that the worst-performing teams should have first choice of newly available players, giving every team an opportunity to rise up through the ranks in the following season. It's sort of like progressive taxation, giving the little guy a chance while slightly restraining those already at the top.

These regulations guarantee the safety and stability of the game itself, and also guarantee that fans of football have a consistent experience, because everybody understands and follows the rules.

But imagine if Milton Friedman and the other idiots like him who advised the Reagan administration were to have taken over the NFL.

The teams with the wealthiest owners would always get the best players, and thus would win every game. They might even decide that the team that gave the NFL the most money could have an extra player or two on the field at various times.

They would assure us that the teams that didn't perform as well just have to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps." Perhaps their problem is just that their players are "lazy," these people would tell us, and the solution is to cut their salaries and reduce the amount of protective equipment they can wear so that they will have a "incentive" to play harder and increase their performance.

Then the richest teams would begin buying the poorer teams, until all the teams are owned by three or four billionaires. Sounds like a football paradise, right?

Before the Reagan Revolution, America had an agreement that the power of organized money in the form of a corporation should be balanced by the power of organized workers with unions.

As FDR famously said, "Government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob."

Nonetheless, Reagan and rightwing media begin promoting the meme of "union thugs" and "corrupt union bosses" (there were a few rare examples, as in any field) while celebrating the corporate form as some sort of aesthetic ideal. He installed an anti-union man at the head of the National Labor Relations Board and another as the Secretary of Labor.

In a little over a decade, America went from about a third of its workers being represented by a union to around 10%. As a result, wages collapsed and the middle class began to slide into debt. Unions today only represent 6% of private-sector workers.

As union membership declines, income inequality increases Just like the NFL prevents players from being injured during the game with rules like banning grabbing by the face-mask or punching, before Reagan Regulated Capitalism had rules to protect people like you and me from corporations that wanted to increase their profits by poisoning our air, food and water.

Reagan began the radical process of deregulating these industries and gutting the power of regulatory agencies. The result over the past 40 years has been, among other things, a collapse in insects and other species at the bottom of the food chain, an explosion of chemicals in our bloodstreams and brain-damaging heavy metals in baby foods, and a roughly 50% reduction in American male sperm content and motility that has created a crisis of infertility and birth defects.

Reagan's Republican deregulation of American industry over the past 40 years focused heavily on blocking regulations that prevented monopolies, the capitalist equivalent of three billionaires ending up with all the NFL teams. In 1983, he stopped enforcing anti-trust and antimonopoly laws that have been on the books since the late 1800s, and no American president since has restored their power.

As a result, as I document in my book The Hidden History of Monopolies, the average American family today spends about $5000 a year more on products from cell service to the Internet to healthcare and travel then do citizens of countries that still regulate monopolies, like most of Europe.

It's now impossible to identify any major sector within American capitalism that isn't more than 70% dominated by fewer than five companies. Contrast that with a US Supreme Court case in 1959 that denied two shoe companies the ability to merge because the resulting combined company would control around 9% of the American shoe market.

The question that now faces America is whether our slide toward Gangster Capitalism that Reagan began has gathered so much momentum that it can't be stopped.

If that's the case, and I propose we are very close to that in my newest book The Hidden History Of American Oligarchy, then both American democracy and the American middle class are doomed. Four more years of Donald Trump would have guaranteed the completion of that transformation.

But, instead, in 2020 we elected Democrats to run Congress and the White House, so now America is facing a choice.

Do we want to re-embrace Regulated Capitalism and rebuild democracy, along with the American middle-class, in a fair and functional fashion?

Or shall we continue down the Reagan/Bush/Trump GOP path of deregulation to a Gangster Capitalism oligarchic dystopia of increasing poverty, crime and physical and social sickness?

If we choose to engage vigorously in the political process, the choice is in our hands.


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