Our shared heritage with Nazi Germany

Summary: American discussions tend to end in references to Hitler or NAZIs. That’s usually described as an oddity, when in fact it results from deep structural factors in American society that have roots in 1930s Germany — and that still shape our future. That should be obvious, yet is too disturbing for us to see. Perhaps events in the next four years will remind us of this heritage, and its dangers. (A version of this was posted in 2013.)

“As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 100%.
Godwin’s Law, formulated by Mike Godwin in 1990.

1936 German poster
1936 German poster.

Godwin formulated his Law as a description of an oddity of internet discussions. Since then it’s become normative — a behavior to be condemned or mocked. In fact it is a reflection of so many aspects of modern American society with roots in 1930s Germany. That should not surprise us. Germany played a central role in western religion, philosophy, and science. Which adds another disturbing note — its people so quickly fell into evil. If it happened to them, might it happen to us as well?

These matters are too disturbing to contemplate, so we suppress them. But we can do so only imperfectly, so these insights surface anyway. Hence Godwin’s Law.

What are the roots of Nazi Germany in our America? Nazi Germany was the first nation to break through from traditional modes of western society into modernity. During and after WW2 the West followed Germany into a world with a new morality, plus new physical and political technologies. The list of NAZI breakthroughs we have copied is long; here is a sample.

  • Eisenhower built our autobahn (interstate highways), for the same reasons the Third Reich did. We drive compact cars derived from Volkswagens, the people’s car ordered by Hitler in 1934.
  • Our military uses technology developed by the NAZIs. Some examples are wire-guided missiles (one of which hit the battleship  HMS Warspite in 1943), infra-red night vision systems, ballistic and cruise missiles, jets, and rocket-propelled aircraft.
  • We use military tactics pioneered by the NAZIs, such as our maneuver war methods (descended from their WWI stormtroopers and WWII blitzkrieg) and strategic bombing of civilians.
  • The NAZIs normalized both pre-marital sex (a benefit of Hitler Youth membership) and out-of-wedlock childbirth.
  • The NAZI’s ran the first anti-smoking campaign (30 years before the US did), funded research about the effects of smoking, and in 1941 banned smoking in public places.
  • Nazi Germany was the first nation to aggressively implement feminism. By 1939 a larger fraction of German’s women worked for pay than in any European nation except France. The Nazi trade union, the Arbeitsfront, was proud of raising women’s wages to those of men in many industries. “Five years of Nazi rule in some ways did more for professional women than a decade of feminist pressure in the Weimar Republic” (from Feminist Movement in Germany).
  • Perhaps their greatest long-term influence: the NAZI party introduced modern propaganda techniques, which became the basis for political tools used in WWII, the Cold War — and today.
  • We wear Hugo Boss suits, for the same reason as the SS did (the NAZI’s contribution to fashion might be one of their long-term contributions to the world). We wear Adidas footwear, as did the Wehrmacht.

In so many things Hitler was not wrong, just early. Some of these innovations we applaud; some we prefer not to see. Some we see in our future.

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The headlines show America being dismantled. It’s time to act, not just watch.

Summary:  We can see our future in today’s news headlines. Unless we become more active, our complacency today will create future astonishment — as we pretend surprise when the inevitable arrives. Here are ugly examples from our increasingly dark news. I recommend anger as a good first step.

Seeing the future
Ron Chapple/Getty Images.

I love the New York Times, so often reporting the news but burying the lede. Today’s fun headline is “BlackRock Reaches a Deal for a Move to Hudson Yards“. The real story tells how New York State gave $25 million in tax credits to the giant financial firm Blackrock. In exchange for Blackrock moves into nicer quarters and keeps 2,672 jobs in Manhattan. Terrorism works! Blackrock also promises to create 700 jobs (but there are no penalties for non-compliance).

Yesterday the NYT told us that “On Campus, Trump Fans Say They Need ‘Safe Spaces’“, which reports about two trends on college campuses. Conservatives say that “their views are not respected.” And threats of terrorism. As the President of the U of MI said, with insane even-handedness:

“…a student walking near campus was threatened with being lighted on fire because she wore a hijab… Some students have also been shouted at and accused of being racist because of their political views.”

We passively read news headlines showing the US political system breaking down, its norms no longer respected by its leaders. Such as “Donald Trump will remain Executive Producer on ‘Celebrity Apprentice’“. How long until President Trump nominates a horse as cabinet secretary?

We doze while the well-coiffed reporters on the TV announce that America is being dismantled and rebuilt as a plutocracy. Oklahoma’s governor sells off its parks (let the peons relax at country clubs!), and pretends not to notice that unregulated fracking is causing increasingly severe earthquakes. In a truly a truly Orwellian touch, Trump appoints a modern version of Mr. Potter (from It’s A Wonderful Life) as his Secretary of Labor: advocates letting inflation erode away the minimum wage and gutting the social safety net, and opposes effective regulation of overtime laws (see the ugly details here).

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America isn’t falling like the Roman Empire. It’s falling like Rome’s Republic.

Summary:  Sunday’s post asked if America is like the late Roman Empire. The good news is that it’s not. The bad news is that in an important sense we’re like the last generations of the Roman Republic. Rome’s people grew weary of carrying the burden of self-government, just as we have. But we can change.

Emperor Octavian.
Emperor Octavian.

 

The original Star Trek taught us that humanity was not meant for slavery; we always rise up and fight for freedom.  Unfortunately, history shows that rebellions against internal elites are rare. Successful revolutions are still more so (even partial successes, such as France in 1789, are rare). In fact subjects in well-managed societies (e.g., tyrannies, oligarchies) wear the yoke comfortably.

Although democracies (i.e., self-government) are rare, sadly common is evolution in the other direction, the bitter one from citizen to subject. The most famous example is the fall of the Roman Republic, a history familiar to our Founders — who built America on lessons learned from it.

If lose sight of that history America might suffer the same fate. The Roman people grew weary of self-government, of carrying its burden of responsibility and self-discipline. Civil wars determined who would place the bridle on Rome’s people and rule. Christian Meier’s Caesar: A Biography vividly tells the story of the Republic’s last days (I strongly recommend it).

We are following that path.

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Follow the trail from a growing plutocracy to decaying families

Summary:  The social and economic evolution of America will shape 21st century America. This post ties together our rising inequality, falling social mobility, crashing system of higher education, dropping labor force participation, and falling rate of family formation. Another generation of these trends and we’ll have a New America. Time is not our friend.

"I am John Galt" t-shirt
Available at Amazon.

 

Contents

  1. Looking backwards.
    …..Looking forward.
  2. Inequality: the political revolution.
  3. Social mobility: education failure.
  4. The next gen of America:
    …..indentured servitude.
  5. Men are “Going Galt.”
  6. For More Information.

 

(1) Looking backwards. Looking forward.

In times of rapid change we rely on economists to explain what has happened. However they are usually poor at seeing changes happening now (often they deny their existence, believing that what has been in the past must be so in the future). The massive changes in the social structure of America illustrate how we need their analysis, but have to look beyond it. Let’s trace the logic from our past to our future.

"Saving Capitalism" by Robert Reich
Available at Amazon (2015).

(2)  Inequality: the political revolution

Robert Reich has published another book providing an essential analysis of our time: Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few. How did we get into this mess?

{It’s} a myth-shattering breakdown of how the economic system that helped make America so strong is now failing us, and what it will take to fix it. … he reveals how power and influence have created a new American oligarchy, a shrinking middle class, and the greatest income inequality and wealth disparity in 80 years. He makes clear how centrally problematic our veneration of the “free market” is, and how it has masked the power of moneyed interests to tilt the market to their benefit.

Reich exposes the falsehoods that have been bolstered by the corruption of our democracy by huge corporations and the revolving door between Washington and Wall Street … He shows that the critical choices ahead are not about the size of government but about who government is for: that we must choose not between a free market and “big” government but between a market organized for broadly based prosperity and one designed to deliver the most gains to the top. …

Paul Krugman’s typically brilliant review in the New York Review of Books expands on Reich’s analysis, putting it in a broader context of history and the evolution of economists’ explanations for trends since the 1970s. The bottom line…

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A New America arises, perhaps with Trump as its first leader

Summary: Updates on two predictions I’ve made, each a window into the New America now arising on the ruins of the old. What horrific attacks has China made on America with the information hacked from the government’s files? When will the Donald flame out, leaving the Presidential campaign safely in the hands of stuffed shirts — loyal servants of the 1%?  {1st of 2 posts today.}

Project New America

A strength of the FM website is its predictions. Sometimes wrong (see the smackdowns page), our overall record is very good (see these hits). Tracking forecasts is important, as we’re locked into news cycles run by amnesic journalists who report with little recollection of the past. Gurus with records of almost always wrong reappear with new predictions and no mention of their frequent failures. Past events reported as certain apocalypses are forgotten.

Remembering has become a radicalizing action.  Here are two blasts from the past worth revisiting.

(1)  The hack into Federal employee records by “China”

“I believe this infobomb has done catastrophic damage to US security.  How?  Big data + bots (made smarter via AI) will be able to turn this data into a decisive instrument of warfare.”
John Robb at Global Guerrillas, 24 June 2015. Broadcast to the Left via Naked Capitalism.

One of great bursts of American pants wetting, between We’ll ALL Die from Ebola and Protect Me from the ISIS Terrorist Under My Bed., as the hack of the Federal employee records — allegedly by China (“we don’t know” are words that burn the tongues of officials). In August I said “My guess is that on this day next year (8-5-2016) we’ll add the OPM hack to the list of hysteria outbreaks in America which had little or no serious results.”

Status so far after 89 weeks (1 year, 8 months) from the first hack in March 2014: no reports of significant results. Even more significant, after months of investigations the US government has provided no reliable data showing that China was responsible for the hacks. For more about this now forgotten but once “game-changing big story”…

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Corporate profits are the market’s foundation, shaping a new America

Summary: Corporate profits have rising to an amazingly large share of our national income, powering the stock market while GDP and household income lag far behind. This has played a large role in shaping the New America of the 21st C. What caused this rise? What might reverse it? See my column at Wolf Street for answers.

Corporate Profits Are the Stock Market’s Foundation.
What Will Break Them?
The hidden Key to Regime Change in the Stock Market.

The daily flow of economic statistics misleads even sophisticated analysts into watching the short-term trends while forgetting the long-term basics that often determine events – as we see today, with analysts chattering about beats of quarterly earnings and expectations for Friday’s employment report.

The first plays a pointless manipulated game. The second concerns an impossible-to-accurately-predict, heavily revised, slow-changing metric (non-farm payroll growth has been 1.7% – 2.2% year-over-year for the past 15 months).

Larger factors drive the stock market, creating the macroeconomic foundation for bull and bear markets. One of the most dramatic trends of the past generation has been the rise in corporate profits. It has helped reshape America, powering a three decade long bull market. What created it? What will end it?

Read the rest at Wolf Street!

The TPP shows the workings of our New America, if we care enough to look

Summary:  In this post an insider tells us the sad details about the Trans Pacific Partnership that provide insights into the workings of the New America being raised on the ruins of the Republic-that-once-was. Not just the treaty but the process that creates it. In this afternoon’s post, part 2, Alexis de Tocquiville helps us more clearly see what’s happening to America, with the perspective provided by experience and distance in time.  {Part 1 of 2 today.}

Bush & Obama: First Buddies:

Bush & Obama: First Buddies

 

Contents

  1. Partners at the creation
  2. The Trans-Pacific Partnership
  3. For More Information
  4. The fall of the old regime
  5. Conclusions
  6. For More Information

 

(1)  Partners at the creation of New America

“The problem is choice.”
— Neo in The Matrix Reloaded (2003).

One of the great themes of these posts has been the historic transformations of America under Bush Jr. and Obama. They brilliantly used both the groundwork laid during the previous generation and the unique opportunities created by 9/11 and the 2008 crash to alter the direction of our national evolution in ways profound although not yet clear. Their four terms, so consistent in most aspects of domestic and foreign policy (excluding social policies of little interest to our rulers) have raised the skeleton of a New America on the ruins of the old.

Revolutions and reformations done with popular support occur in the daylight. Those done without it occur in the shadows, cloaked in euphemisms amidst assurances that nothing important has changed. One way to show the real nature of these events is contrasting today’s news with a yardstick from the past. This post does so by looking at Obama’s work to gain approval for the Trans-pacific Partnership (TPP) with passages from the greatest work by Alexis de Tocqueville: The Ancien Regime and the French Revolution. He gives us a mirror in which we can more clearly see ourselves.

Stop the TPP fast track

(2)  The Trans-Pacific Partnership

Slowly news leaks out about the Orwellian-named Trans-pacific Partnership, othorganized by the Bush Administration and negotiated by Team Obama. The American people are not partners in this deal. It’s kept unusually secret to prevent opposition from mobilizing before the final rush after the deal is finalized — and the beneficiaries have greased the way for approval. Here we see, again, Obama’s contempt for Congress and the American people.

The latest evidence comes from Michael Wessel, a cleared liaison to two statutory advisory committees for the TPP. He was a commissioner on the U.S. Trade Deficit Review Commission. He published “I’ve Read Obama’s Secret Trade Deal. Elizabeth Warren Is Right to Be Concerned” at Politico.

The public criticisms of the TPP have been vague. That’s by design — anyone who has read the text of the agreement could be jailed for disclosing its contents. I’ve actually read the TPP text provided to the government’s own advisors, and I’ve given the president an earful about how this trade deal will damage this nation. But I can’t share my criticisms with you.

I can tell you that Elizabeth Warren is right about her criticism of the trade deal. We should be very concerned about what’s hidden in this trade deal — and particularly how the Obama administration is keeping information secret even from those of us who are supposed to provide advice.

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