In recent days a desperate government in Cyprus has imposed a “wealth tax” on citizens and foreigners with deposits in Cypriot banks in response to pressure applied by Euro-Zone powers as a prerequisite to a much needed bail-out of the financially unstable nation. This action prompted the question, “Can this happen here?” throughout Europe and the US. The politicians have been rushing to the microphones to assure voters that “No, it could never happen here,” that bank deposits are completely safe, and that the governments of other western industrialized nations would never resort to such drastic measures. All of these assurances are, of course, lies. It has happened before and it could happen again. False assurances by politicians ignore the reality that nations spending beyond their means will face the necessity of drastic measures in order to survive and these measures could very well mean confiscating the retirement savings and wealth of the citizenry of Europe and the US…again.
In mid-1980’s Italy decided overnight to enact a deposit tax on all accounts of a little under 1% . In the 1930’s the government in various US states confiscated funds from failing banks during the Great Depression, and the owners of those deposits never received any of their money back.
FDR arbitrarily imposed a “bank holiday” nationally in 1933, blocking people from taking money out of their own deposit accounts for more than a week and forced owners of gold and silver to, under penalty of law, turn it all over to the federal government for compensation at a rate determined by the government. There have been many other examples of governments confiscating wealth by nationalizing or simply closing and emptying banks in turbulent times.
For politicians to blindly state, “It can never happen here,” in the face of governments confiscating wealth from its citizens many times throughout history, this is either a result of being massively uninformed or, more ominously, a desire by the political and banking class to collude to misinform the public about the very real possibility of “emergency” government measures. These measures could result in people not having access to their money for extended periods of time or of the government simply taking some of that money and calling it a wealth or deposit tax after the fact.
As a source of power, the political class has a significant flaw; there is a requirement for the populace to provide support through reelection. Some states have found ways around this as a practical matter. For example, as a reward for long-standing membership in the political class in Canada, when the populace can no longer be reliably counted on to reelect a member, arrangements are made for an appointment, for life, to the Canadian Senate. Many countries, while having moved away from the titles of king and emperor, conveniently have unlimited terms for their leaders where presidents and premiers have outright “for life” appointments or the same effective results through control of term limits and election regulation. However, even in essentially dictatorial states, the “will of the people” can only be abused so much before there is pushback in the form of political change or revolution. As a result, politicians of all types are forced to create narratives that appease the masses, keep them uninformed, or simply misguide them through obfuscation and omission. Denying the possibility of a recurrence of some catastrophic event in the past, even if all of the same conditions seem to exist today, is one staple of the modern political class.
In general there are three approaches that the political class uses to obscure reality from the populous in order to perpetuate fictions of stability and confidence in the systems of state and their leaders: misinformation, citizen conditioning, and opportunistic distraction. If the political class can influence, control, and utilize all of these channels effectively, they can maintain power through the forced ignorance and inattention of the electorate.
The first, misinformation, is most effective when the media is amenable, or even better, obedient to the state, neither providing opportunity for opposing voices nor questioning the statements of the political class. If the media can be manipulated or controlled into becoming another voice of the government, echoing and supporting all that is espoused by the politicians, the citizenry have almost no opportunity to find out what is really going on around them. All oppressive regimes throughout the world maintain rigid control of their media, and those that can’t do that manipulate the media using subtle techniques of control such as limiting access to members of the political class, rewarding media support and bias, for example with “exclusives,” and by restricting disclosure through the creeping expansion of law, regulation, and classifications such as “national security.”
The second widely adopted mechanism that the political class uses to perpetuate fictions in order to maintain power is through a systematic, institutionalized conditioning of the populous. People are creatures of habit and can be conditioned by repetitive behavior to do and accept many things. In some ways this is a good thing. We are designed to learn experientially and we improve our ability to perform through repetition and practice. However, this also leaves us vulnerable to manipulation. If we continually hear, through newspapers, radio, and television that everything is ok, that our leaders have our best interest at heart, and they are working effectively on our behalf, with no credible alternative voices, we, through conditioning, come to believe this is true. This lesson has been learned well by modern regimes and expanded well beyond using the media as the only conditioning apparatus. All industrialized, and most emerging, states have institutionalized the education of the citizenry and placed control of that institution under the direction of the political class. By law, every citizen must participate in the state run education system and become, through repetition and behavioral conditioning, indoctrinated in whatever curriculum the state mandates. What is taught as history is being manipulated to omit events, ideas, and lessons that contradict the positions of present day regimes and include those concepts that support the policies of the state. The populous is being conditioned to view the world from a specific perspective that is consistent with positions dictated by the state.
The final of the three mechanisms for keeping the truth from the people is taking advantage of every opportunity to distract from those issues that the political class does not want to engage the public on. Distraction can come as a tragedy or disaster that captures everyone’s attention, or it can be completely manufactured. Take for example the recent issue of gun control in the United States. After the tragedy at Sandy Hook, where an insane gunman killed 26 at an elementary school, the political class began a national campaign to reform the firearms laws in the US. What makes this interesting is the timing. Prior to the Sandy Hook incident, gun legislation reform was not in the top 20 issues on any national, state or local agenda. What was on everyone’s agenda was the growing discontent with the stagnant economy, the rising “unpatriotic” national debt, and stubbornly high unemployment numbers. The US President, coming off a reelection was watching his approval numbers drop in the polls and was, for the first time, beginning to feel pressure from some media sources to address the country’s financial issues. However, after Sandy Hook and the opportunity to bring gun control to the forefront, the President has focused almost all of his public statements and appearances on this subject, giving him, and his government, a huge distraction from the financial issues that were generating “negative optics” so they did not have to address those day after day. In even more extreme cases, some government and state entities use contrived external enemies to focus the population’s attention on some grave external threat that necessitates the recruitment of whole generations of young people to take up arms, strap explosives to themselves, and die in support of a leadership that does nothing to better the lives of its citizens through productive and humane programs designed to feed, clothe, provide medical care, and educate.
Some states have combined various mechanisms to amazing affect, essentially mollifying their populous to the massive corruption, systematic oppression, or dangerously ineffective governance. North Korea, for example, through a system of education, a state controlled media, and a manufactured “cold war” with the West has convinced its citizenry that the country’s universal (except for the political ruling class) poverty, human rights suppression, and isolation from the rest of the world is the result of an ongoing economic and political attack by South Korea, the UN, and the US. Crowds, numbering in the tens of thousands, rally in support of “Dear Leader” when he threatens to launch nuclear missile attacks on the enemies of the people. All the while, these same people live under an extremely restrictive dictatorship, in extreme poverty, with generations old technology and medical care, in complete ignorance of the fact that their own Dear Leader is the cause of their suffering. They are willing to take up arms and engage in a war that would see millions die on both sides. The alternative, if only they could see the world without it being filtered through the lens created by the ruling class in North Korea, is to remove a handful of power hungry politicians from power.
Power is intoxicating and like a drug, becomes addictive. Those who become comfortable in their power begin to feel entitled to it. With entitlement comes justification for any number of necessary actions designed to maintain that power. When dictators and professional politicians, those who spend their whole adult lives pursuing and maintaining power, are threatened, even with simply being removed from their positions, they become like cornered animals, willing to do anything to maintain their power. The evidence of this is clear in cases like Syria where Assad’s government is willing to shed the blood of tens of thousands of its citizens rather than enact reforms that would diminish the power of the ruling elite. However, it is also possible to see the same desire to maintain power amongst politicians of western nations, many of whom have dedicated their professional careers to the construction of systems of government that allow them to maintain power term after term, riding the waves of opportunistic distraction, while ignoring any fiduciary duty to serve the best interests of the people they were elected to represent.
In the end, states will reflect the will of the people. Unfortunately, a sophisticated political class has realized that the will of the people can be manipulated, directed, or distracted. The political class has often, in cooperation with (or control of) the media and the careful manipulation of the education system, created a docile herd that can be maintained with a little prodding or led to slaughter unknowingly. All to the benefit of those in power.
I shall close my mind to the consequence of past actions because the pain and suffering, the violence, and the inequity visited on those poor choices will make reelection impossible. I shall close my mind to the consequence of current action for I can surely spin, obfuscate, and apologize until reelection is secured. I shall close my mind to the consequence of future action for surely it is more important to continue to serve the people than to stand on principal, to protect the constitution, or to serve justice.
Only I can occupy this place in history for all others are lesser and inadequate. We few who have taken on the burden of shepherding the masses know what is right for we have closed our mind to any other possibility. Our charisma, our adoring supporters, and our sycophant advisers know we cannot be wrong for they will lie, cheat, steal, and kill to ensure our continued reign.
I shall close my mind to all but the next sound bite and the overnight polls, for the current news cycle is all that matters and I must have a clear mind so I can know what it is that they all want to hear.
- The Creed of the Modern Political Class