"fixes" to the stagnation of postwar Capitalism in the 1970s were
financialization, globalism, and the sustained expansion of debt--all
have run out of steam.
Many of us have written about cycles in the past decade: Kondratieff economic cycles, business/credit cycles, the Strauss–Howe generational theory (an existential national crisis arises every four generations, as described in their book The Fourth Turning), and long-wave cycles of growth and decline, as described in seminal books such as The Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History and War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires.
There is another Rhythm of American History that few recognize: the economic, social and political crises sparked by exploitive Elites. There are two dynamics that drive these crises:
1. The exploitation of commoners by financial/political Elites reaches
extremes that create systemic instability as commoners no longer have
the means to improve their conditions.
2. The economic mode of production that
generated Elite wealth no longer functions, but the Elites cling to the
failing system and enforce it with increasingly violent suppression of
Here are the previous Crises of Exploitive Elites:
1. Slavery, 1850 to 1865. Though
the toxins generated by slavery are still with us, the existential
political, social and economic crisis arose in the years between 1850
and the end of the Civil War in 1865.
In broad brush, the rise of the American West triggered a political
crisis in the U.S. as the southern states realized the non-slave West's
rising political power would doom the fragile balance between the
non-slave Northern industrial-economy states and the cotton/agricultural
It was a trend the South couldn't possibly win, but the South's
exploitive Elites refused to concede any of their power--and that
refusal to adapt tp changing conditions guaranteed the Civil War.
The first Industrial Revolution radically transformed the source of wealth creation. The
plantation agrarian mode of production of the South was eclipsed by the
vast wealth-generating might of the rapidly industrializing North.
The Southern political and economic Elites could not win economically or
politically, so they attempted a military solution--a war they might
have won had it not been for the Westerners Lincoln, Grant and Sherman.
(Lincoln was born and raised in the frontiers of Kentucky, Indiana and
Illinois; both Grant and Sherman were born in Ohio and served in Army
postings along the West Coast.)
The moral tide was rising against slavery. The
Christian world had long been divided on the issue of slavery, but the
tide turned against slavery in the early-to-mid-1800s, both in Great
Britain an the U.S. Moral turnings are powerful instigators of political
crises, and once again the Southern Elites attempted to stem this tide
with military force.
2. The Crisis of Gilded-Age Exploitation, 1892 to 1914. The
dates of this crisis are inexact and open to interpretation, but in
broad brush, the Second Industrial Revolution (mass production,
integrated industrial corporations, the rising dominance of Finance and
Industrial Capital, emergence of monopolies and cartels, etc.) forced
millions of commoners into the penury of wage-labor while concentrating
the gains of capital and speculation into the hands of the few.
Adjusted for inflation, the wealth of the financier-industrialists in
this era exceeds the wealth of today's billionaires, and is on par with
the extremes of wealth concentration that characterize the last stages
of the Roman Empire.
Commoners attempting to unionize were brutally suppressed by hired
private enforcers and the police/military forces of the American
government. Radical unions such as the I.W.W. (Industrial Workers of the
World, a.k.a. Wobblies) were destroyed by coordinated, concerted
government suppression, much of it by means that are visibly illegal by
The conflict between exploited industrial labor and politically dominant
Capital was eventually resolved by progressive anti-trust laws (aided
by President Theodore Roosevelt) and the beginnings of social rights and
welfare programs--universal education, limits on hours worked per week,
3. The Great Depression and the Failure of Debt-Based Capitalism, 1929 to 1941. Capital
was increasingly concentrated in the hands of the Elites in the Roaring
20s, but the commoners had new access to the financial magic of credit:
banks sprouted by the thousands, anxious to loan money to fund the
purchase of more farmland, new autos, and all the other output of a
But alas, credit is not collateral, nor is it wealth. When the debt bubble burst, so did the stock market, which was based on highly leveraged margin debt.
The Elite financiers resisted writing down the debt that had made them
so rich, and as a result the Depression dragged on, immiserating
millions who then turned to fascism or radical socialism as the
political fixes to the systemic exploitation and dominance of Elites.
4. Civil Rights and Global Empire, 1954 to 1973. The
legacy of slavery's oppression had lingered on for almost 100 years,
and the rising prosperity of the 1950s and 60s generated a social,
moral, political and economic movement to throw off the most oppressive
aspects of an exploitive social/political order.
At the same time, the costs of maintaining a Global Empire were raised
to a boiling point by the war in Vietnam, which destabilized the moral,
political, social and economic orders.
In response the Elites instigated waves of violent, suppressive state
tactics designed to disrupt and destroy the organized dissent of social
movements. These tactics included the FBI's COINTELPRO programs as well
as other blatantly illegal, heavy-handed government enforcement of the
dominance of exploitive Elites.
I've written extensively about state over-reach and illegal suppression of dissent: remember, the state exists to enforce the dominance of Elites: everything else is propaganda, misdirection and obfuscation.
Simply put: when lies no longer work, the government devotes its
resources not to eliminating wars of choice, cronyism and corruption but
to suppressing dissent and resistance to those extractive, exploitive
Which brings us to the present-day Crisis of Exploitive Elites. The "fixes" to the stagnation of postwar Elite/state-dominated Capitalism in the 1970s were financialization, globalism, and the sustained expansion of debt in all sectors--state, corporate and household.
Now all three engines of "growth" have run out of steam. All three greatly exacerbated wealth and income inequality, as these two charts reveal:
again, the political and economic Elites are resisting the tides that
are undermining their Empires of Debt and Exploitation. The
Elite-controlled Corporate Media has been ordered to War Status, an
DefCon-5 emergency requiring an endless spew of all-out propaganda
designed to distract, disrupt and destroy organized dissent and any
resistance to the dominance of Exploitive political and financial
The Exploitive Elites cannot turn back the clock, so they cling to their failed "fixes" and demand our compliance.
The Exploitive Elites cannot turn back the tides of history, but they can immiserate millions. That
seems to be "solution" enough for them, but you cannot destroy rising
moral revulsion to soaring inequality and the abject failure of
debt-based global capitalism with mere media propaganda.
Of related interest: