For more than two hundred years, the American
republic has grown and flourished – politically free and
economically prosperous – as its component institutions and social
classes, investors, managers, workers and government, have worked
cooperatively to the advantage of all. True, there has been class
conflict and struggle along the way, but our laws and institutions
have resolved them peacefully. Now an emerging class of wealthy and
powerful elites, the “oligarchs,” are dismantling this splendid
The new oligarchs insist that
without investments issuing from their great wealth, the nation's
economy would collapse. This is, at best, a half truth. Granted,
investment, the workers would not have the tools (the “capital”)
with which to produce goods or provide services. However, and
conversely, without the anticipation of a return on investment – the
production of goods and services by the workers – there would be no
investments and hence no “tools” to produce the nation’s wealth. In
a flourishing private economy each class -- investor and worker --
is wholly dependent upon its partner-class. Each flourish
together, unless one class cripples the other, in which case they
This is an elementary fact, taught in any Econ. 101 class. Yet the
emergent class of American oligarchs that have taken control of our
government, our media, and quite possibly the means of counting
ballots as well, seem to believe that they can impoverish the
producers of wealth and the next generations, and not suffer for it
themselves. History has shown conclusively that they are wrong; but
unless they are thwarted in the coming election, history will repeat
itself to the profound sorrow of all of us.
In the last two decades, the dominating investors and managers of
our corporate economy have transformed themselves from economic
symbionts to economic parasites. The concepts are
adopted from biology.
Symbiosis is an association of two species (symbionts)
for mutual advantage. The honeybee and the blossom is one example.
Another is the association between sea otters and sea kelp. The
otters feed on the kelp predators such as sea urchins, and the kelp
provide the otters with protection from orcas, sharks and other
In contrast, a parasite is an organism that takes its
nourishment from another “host” organism, and by so doing weakens
the host, and in extreme cases, kills it. When it kills the host,
it kills itself as well, but only after it has scattered its eggs to
other unfortunate hosts. The canine heart worm is a case in point.
The blood fluke of “snail fever” (schistosomiasis) is another.
With the rise of so-called “conservatism” (in fact, a radicalism),
the investing class has transformed itself from an economic
symbiont – prospering conjointly with its
worker-producer-partner – into an economic parasite – impoverishing
its “host,” the workers, and thus, eventually, itself. Like the
heart-worm devouring the source and sustenance of its very life, the
oligarchs are squeezing the productivity and the disposable income
from the workers, which is to say, the well-springs of the
oligarch’s wealth. And when the economy collapses, as it must if
present trends continue (i.e., massive federal deficits,
outsourcing, unemployment, income loss, impoverishment of education
and research), the economic parasites will surely be crushed along
with the rest of us.
As our national wealth flows from the poor and middle classes to the
hyper-wealthy, we are moving toward a new feudalism; a very small
class of opulently wealthy families living off the labor of the
Why can’t a new feudalism, despite its manifest injustice, be
sustainable? After all, it succeeded for centuries in medieval
Europe, and into the nineteenth century in Russia.
It can not succeed for several reasons, including foremost the
reason that it failed in Romanov Russia. Feudalism is incompatible
with industrial society – especially with an “information economy.”
In a modern economy, wealth issues out of cash-flow. The
industrialist grows wealthy with both the production and the sale
of his product. And the product will only sell if there are
buyers. I repeat: a product will only sell if there are buyers.
(Are you taking notes, Republicans? There will be a quiz at the end
of this lecture). As the middle class and the poor lose their
disposable income, there are fewer sales. And then what? To find
out, read the history of the crash of 1929 and of the great
depression that followed.
Economic indicators reveal that the median annual family income in
the United States has dropped by $1,500 (in "constant dollars").
And that’s not all. Insurance and medical costs are rising, along
with gasoline prices, and the costs of higher education. The
interest rates and thus mortgage costs are bound to follow.
Aggregate national consumer debt will soon be “maxed out.” The
prospect of job loss looms. Throughout the realm, families are
deciding that the new car purchase will have to be put off another
year or two. The vacation will have to be cancelled. The auto,
travel and entertainment industries decline and lay-off workers.
Down, down, down, goes the spiral.
When Henry Ford raised the wages of his workers, his competitors
asked what on earth he was thinking. “If I don’t pay my workers
more,” he replied, “who will buy my cars?” Bushenomics amounts to
“reverse Henry-Fordism:” keep wages low, suppress unions and
collective bargaining, hire “temps” to avoid paying health and
retirement benefits, cut back on employment and send jobs overseas,
and watch the mean family income drop. Give the super-rich huge tax
cuts, and give the CEO a salary and perks such that he earns in four
hours what his median worker earns in a year.
Do all that, but then don’t be surprised that when the cash flow
from “below” dries up, there will be no more market for the
corporate products. Then the corporate “parasites” will discover
that when they starve the host, they starve themselves as well.
Another reason why parasitic neo-feudalism won’t work: modern
economies require an educated work force. As the libertarians
constantly remind us, the brain, not the muscle, drives modern
technology which, like the shark, must constantly move forward to
survive. Technology is science put to work (and we are well aware
of what the Busheviks think of science). However, that necessarily
educated public acquires an inclination to think independently and
critically, and thus to demand a voice in government and a fair
share of the national wealth that they are creating. Such a public
is unwilling to be the “host” that feeds the oligarchic parasites.
Is it any wonder, then, that the Bush regime has little regard for
education? Bush’s “Leave No Child Behind” program is unfunded, thus
leaving the children behind. Rising tuition costs (up 34% since
Bush took office) are closing the college doors to middle-class
children. No matter, says Karl Rove: "As people do better, they
start voting like Republicans... unless they have too much
education and vote Democratic, which proves there can be too much of
a good thing."
Count on it: a nation that believes that there is such a thing as
“too much education” is a nation in decline. Or as Alfred North
Whitehead put it: “In the conditions of modern life, the rule is
absolute: that nation that does not value trained intelligence is
When the classical education of the Romans was overtaken by the
dogma and superstition of the conquering barbarians, the western
world fell into several centuries of dark ages. Bush’s
“faith-based” denigration of science and trained intelligence will
not cast the world into a new dark age – just the United States.
Science and humanistic learning will flourish in Europe and the
Pacific Rim, enhanced, no doubt, by a diaspora of expatriate
American intelligencia. Then the United States will be “left
Finally, parasitic neo-feudalism won’t work, because a flourishing
modern economy presupposes civil order, and a “consent of the
governed” – a sense amongst the populace at large that the
government is “their government,” and that they are significant
participants in the economy, the product of which is fairly
distributed amongst the population.
The oligarchs who now control our government and our media have
succeeded in large part by convincing the general public that
“government is not the solution, government is the problem” (Ronald
Reagan), and that the key to prosperity is liberate “free
enterprise” from the “constraints” of government regulation. Too
few of us appreciate that laws and regulations were put in place to
protect the public from the abuses of concentrated corporate power
and wealth. Thus we have established, through “our government,” the
Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration,
the Securities and Exchange Commission – the latter designed to
prevent a repeat of the “crash of 1929.” (See
DeLay Goes to Washington”).
The oligarchs, through their wholly-owned subsidiary, the mainstream
media, have sold the American public on the idea that government and
regulation are “the problem.” As they now begin to have their
unregulated way, the rest of us are about to be reminded, through
brutal practical experience, that when at one time government was
truly of, by and for the people, it was a “solution,” as it served
to protect that people from the abuses of power, privilege and
If parasitic neo-feudalism continues and expands through the second
term of Bushista rule, it may devastate us, but it must eventually
fail. For unlike the pre-revolutionary Russian serfs, who never
knew a better life, the American people know what it is like to live
in a free and prosperous country. There is a limit to how much more
loss of freedom and declining standard of living they will
tolerate. The oligarchs are bound to exceed that tolerance, and
then they will be overthrown.
This is compellingly obvious: not only in theory, but also from the
historical record. So why can’t these oligarchs and their media
toadies see this?
I answer with a familiar parable: A spinster finds an injured
serpent, takes it home, and nurses it back to health, whereupon the
serpent strikes with a fatal bite. In her final moment of
consciousness, the woman asks: “how could you do this to me, after I
saved your life?”
The serpent replied: “I am a serpent – this is what I do.”
Surely a significant portion of the oligarchy and the media must be
aware that they are devouring the “host” that feeds and sustains
their wealth, and that they are leading our country, and surely
themselves with it, to devastation and ruin.
So why do they persist? Because their lust for power and their
greed is unconstrained – because, given the opportunity, “this is
what they do.”
The founders of our republic knew this full well, which is why they
set up a structure of checks and balances, and a rule of law, to
protect us from such abuses of wealth and power.
Heretofore, as our commonwealth moved dangerously from a regime of
mutual advantage (symbiosis) toward a parasitism of wealth and
privilege, these abuses were “pushed back” by the checks and
balances of our tri-partite government, by the law and the courts,
by a free and diverse press, and by the ballot box.
No more. The oligarchs now control it all.
And so they shall unless we the people take back our government and
Copyright 2004, by Ernest Partridge