Three Wheels on His Wagon: Russ Sloan’s Free-Rider Problem

We’ve left Russ Sloan alone for quite some time. This has been partly because his columns –  boilerplate Republican Party broadcasts throughout the election season – simply didn’t warrant a particularized response. We also feel that everything that needed to be said about Russ Sloan was said in our response to one of his most outrageous columns, in which he described all recipients of government benefits as wild animals who should not be fed. Ironically, the editors of the Leesburg Daily Commercial happened to take up that very subject (but in the appropriate context of managing bear-human interactions in Fruitland Park) on the same Sunday that Russ Sloan disgusted us enough to force us to deal with his effluvia once again.

There are no prizes for guessing the subject of his latest column, but condolences are in order for those readers of the Daily Commercial who found it appropriate for a middle-class newspaper. In his patented, patronizing style, tailor-made for the village idiots the newspaper aims to marshal, Russ Sloan toned down his wild-animal rhetoric in favor of a new, but no-less offensive metaphor: the “dependence wagon.” Apparently, America’s problem is that there are too many pCovered Wagoneople riding inside “the large wagon called the United States of America” instead of pulling it. In this little fable, the people receiving “entitlements” – the free-riders – are growing in numbers, threatening to increase the payload of the wagon beyond the capabilities of those pulling it – the “rich.” To ensure that feeble minds go where they’re supposed to, Sloan translates this into political terms: The free-riders all voted for the feckless spendthrift Obama while only the wise House Republicans understand that taxing the rich feeds “class envy” and won’t cure the nation of its “spending addiction.” Yawn. If we’ve heard this claptrap (and decoded the race-baiting) once, we’ve heard it a thousand times.1 So why respond to Sloan today? Because this is his ignorance, being foisted upon our community by a newspaper that treats us with contempt.

Framing the Framers

Along with its pandering to plutocracy, fundamentalist misogyny, jingoistic militarism, and environmental ecocide, the most repulsive aspect of the contemporary right is its studied hijacking of the very meaning of America. As Connecticut parents mourn the loss of their children in yet another recrudescence of our national disease – psychopathic gun violence – the right’s twisted reading of the Second Amendment has once again come to the fore. But just as modern firearms were not anticipated by the framers, who lived in an era of single-shot muskets that took time to re-load, so modern socioeconomics presents conditions that their writings can not fairly be expected to address. Nor is it entirely clear why Americans of the 21st century should even want their lives to be governed by the limited mindsets of 18th-century slaveholders, not yet blessed by the wonders of assault rifles, Predator Drones, or corporations with revenue exceeding the GDP of small countries. But if we are going to insist on living our lives in accordance with the principles of the founding, let’s at least understand those principles correctly.

For Russ Sloan, the founding furnishes yet another dagger with which to eviscerate the envious, shiftless scum who would tax the noble rich too much:

I believe that if every Founding Father was alive today they would be stunned with the massive degree of dependency which now exists among our people…. Dependence is the greatest internal danger to any republic.

The greatest internal danger to the republic is senior citizens who have the audacity to expect Social Security benefits after having paid FICA taxes all their working lives? The greatest danger is the long-term unemployed not being able to feed their families without a dole check because the depravity of Wall Street blew up a bubble economy and threw us into a deep recession? The greatest danger is record-breaking levels of poverty requiring expenditures on food stamps while American corporations sit on trillions of dollars of pure (and largely tax-sheltered) profit? Really, Russ? Don’t you think the framers might have been even more horrified by the largest standing army in global history, which has turned the republic into a military empire; by the corrosive influence of corporate money in the federal city, effectively disenfranchising the citizenry from which power is supposed to flow; by the National Defense Authorization Act, which the third-party candidates we weren’t allowed to hear all decried as the very definition of tyranny; by the trampling of the writ of habeas corpus; by the encroachments of the surveillance state; by the mass imprisonment of Americans in a futile, profligate war on drugs; by the pollution of our air, water, and soil in the energy companies’ quest for short-term profits? Of course you don’t Russ, because all those threats to the republic put more money into the bank accounts of the plutocracy you want us all to serve as faithfully as you do.

And as for the framers’ reaction to our “dependence wagon,” Russ, they wouldn’t be surprised at all. At least, Jefferson and Madison wouldn’t be. In spearheading the opposition to Hamilton’s financial plan that gave rise to the first party system of the new republic, Jefferson and Madison deplored the danger of shifting from an egalitarian, agrarian economy, in which each citizen had a roughly equal stake in society, to an industrial and financial economy in which a working class would become subservient to highly concentrated power. For Jefferson and Madison, it was this concentration of wealth and power in the hands of an industrial and, particularly, financial elite that posed the greatest threat to republicanism. For one can no longer credibly claim that power is derived from the people when power is monopolized by a new aristocracy.2  A situation in which 400 super-rich Americans own as much property as 150 million regular Americans is about as far away from Jefferson’s vision for the republic as one could conceivably go. Clearly, if Russ Sloan had been alive in the 1790’s, he would not have been a Jeffersonian; indeed, with every plutocratic word he pens, he fights alongside the bastard from Nevis.

Hamilton’s Demented Children: The Wagon Comes Under Attack

If the United States is a wagon, the pulling is not done by “the rich”; it is done by consumers. Any freshman economics student would be able to tell Russ Sloan that roughly 70% of U.S. GDP is attributable to consumption. (Government spending is about 20%, with investment about 16% and net exports being negative.) And, sorry to say it, Russ, all those government checks you expect people to live without pay for quite a bit of that consumption, as every agribusiness lobbyist working for food stamp renewal understands. For those of us who live in the real world, as opposed to the tendentious fantasy land of Russ Sloan, the heart of the U.S. economic problem is clearly the enervated purchasing power of the average consumer. This has been diagnosed succinctly by Paul Craig Roberts, a former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury:

The US economy has two serious diseases, and neither one is too much welfare spending.

One disease is the offshoring of US middle class jobs, both manufacturing jobs and professional service jobs such as engineering, research, design, and information technology, jobs that formerly were filled by US university graduates, but which today are sent abroad or are filled by foreigners brought in on H-1B work visas at two-thirds of the salary.

The other disease is the deregulation, especially the financial deregulation, that caused the ongoing financial crisis and created banks too big to fail, which has prevented capitalism from working and closing down insolvent corporations.

The Federal Reserve’s policy is focused on saving the banks, not on saving the economy. The Federal Reserve is purchasing not only new Treasury bonds issued to finance the more than one trillion dollar annual federal deficit but also the banks’ underwater financial instruments, taking them off the banks’ books and putting them on the Federal Reserve’s books.

Normally, debt monetization of this amount results in rising inflation, but the money that the Federal Reserve is creating in its attempt to manage the public debt and the banks’ private debt is hung up in the banking system as excess reserves and is not finding its way into the economy. The banks are too busted to lend, and consumers are too indebted to borrow.

Now, that is what the Money section of the Leesburg Daily Commercial could look like if this miserable little rag was more interested in explaining the world than manipulating the minds of golf-cart driving Villagers. Instead of blaming the poor and downtrodden for problems they did not create, and making excuses for those who did create them, they could – if their piddling little brains were capable of it – ask us to think about the “entitlement” issue in an entirely different way.

The Free-Riders Travel First Class

The banks that our supposedly socialistic president allowed to become too big to fail have recently featured in yet another shocking showcase of depravity. British-based HSBC (formerly known in the U.K. as The Midland) was fined $1.9 billion – a new record – for massive money-laundering on behalf of Latin American drug cartels and Middle Eastern terrorists. That HSBC HQmight sound like a lot of money, but it is only a couple of months’ worth of profit for HSBC; in other words, it was a slap on the wrist. More importantly, the Department of Justice that is so desperate to get its hands on Julian Assange for telling the world too much about how America really works refused to bring criminal prosecutions against the bank executives responsible for this pattern of conduct. Bear in mind, as we read in today’s Leesburg Daily Commercial, a man can be sent to jail for ten years for hacking into celebrities’ computers and posting racy pictures online. No doubt harm was done to the victims, but let’s get real here. Even Forbes was left shaking its head, wondering just what a banker has to do to go to jail. As discussed here, the government’s posture makes a mockery of the rule of law – particularly in the drug arena – and encourages bank criminality by enabling executives to simply write off the penalties as an acceptable cost of doing business.

But it gets better. These criminals are the very same people who are currently being allowed to borrow from the Federal Reserve at effective interest rates of zero percent. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what a license to print money looks like. And, as we have already seen, the Fed is engaging in massive off-the-books activities to prop up the banks’ balance sheets, kindly relieving them of the toxic assets they so thoughtfully constructed for the betterment of all mankind.

So let’s sum up the route taken by America’s little wagon. The banks have their friends in government (many of whom used to work for them and would work for them again, after their periods of “public service”) rewrite longstanding statutes that had protected American consumers from inappropriate financial activity. They make truly spectacular profits for themselves but bring the world’s economy to the brink of collapse in the process. They are let off the hook by a president who took their campaign contributions and valued personal advancement over the good of the country. Firmly ensconced as above the law, they continue to engage in criminal behavior and have absolutely no reason to change. And Russ Sloan doesn’t recognize the extent to which the banks are enjoying a free ride at everyone else’s expense. He doesn’t perceive the sense of entitlement that these people have to their status as masters of the universe. On the contrary, he thinks they deserve it. He thinks we should admire them. He thinks they are pulling our wagon.

They’re pulling our wagon, alright. Straight into the Badlands.

*******

  1. And we mean that quite literally, since the Leesburg Daily Commercial, sniffing an opportunity to gut social programs like a shark smelling blood in the water, is currently engaging in a full-court press of plutocratic propaganda, beating us over the head every day with all the usual suspects.
  2. Of course, there was a certain element of hypocrisy to all of this, as these wealthy plantation owners enjoyed far more power than mere yeomen farmers, and nothing says subjugation quite like treating other people as 60% human. That said, Madison’s property holding at Montpelier was really quite minor, particularly when compared to the vast wealth of George Washington, whose years as a surveyor in the early West helped him amass huge land holdings. The Federalists as plutocrats? Who’d a thunk it?

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