Never mind popular consent, nor even the propaganda seeking legitimacy: Rulers now rely on coercion

One might think, in the wake of revelations of flaws in the intellectual underpinnings for austerity—flaws that include what appear to be cherry-picked data—and indeed the apparent failure of austerity policies in actual experience,[1] that the elite, concerned as ever for the economic health of our society, and about putting people back to work, might be interested in what economists have to say now. What should we do now, they might ask. Or perhaps, they could score points on C-SPAN denouncing economists for failing to predict the financial crisis in the first place,[2] and now for the most listened-to part of their profession being wrong about austerity. Why, the point-scorers might ask, should we listen to economists now, especially when they apparently still don’t know what to do?[3]

Indeed there was a hearing before the Joint Economic Committee of Congress. The press release names only one congressperson’s name: “U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Vice Chair of the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee (JEC), today held a hearing focusing on bipartisan solutions for reducing long-term unemployment.”[4] Reports on Twitter and on Facebook—which I have not been able to corroborate—emphasize that this was the only member of congress from either house in attendance, although, possibly shamed by “tweets,” I understand that three more Democrats showed up late.

Congress, it seems, is much more concerned about easing the effects of austerity on the Federal Aviation Administration. It seems that the “sequester” has adversely affected its operations, leading to flight delays. Which might mean our esteemed congresspeople might be delayed on their flights home as Congress goes into recess. Despite failing to agree on ground rules for reconciling House and Senate budget bills, the Senate passed legislation to remedy this “emergency” licketysplit, with the House expected to follow suit today.[5] (UPDATE, 19:01: The House did indeed pass the legislation, “[w]ith remarkable speed,” and President Obama is expected to sign it.[6]) This, it would seem, is much more important than listening to economists declare that “long-term joblessness is [a] national emergency.”[7]

On the way to rationalizing the status quo in a classic work on social inequality, Gerhard Lenski acknowledged that the elite act primarily in their own interest.[8] He was able to rationalize the status quo because, at the time he wrote, there was, at least for white males, far less inequality than there is now and the system, for many people, worked better.[9] When we see spectacles such as the ongoing TransPacific Partnership negotiation, dubbed “NAFTA on steroids,” that would compromise labor protections, environmental protections, human rights and national sovereignty in favor of corporate profits,[10] and that almost entirely absent Joint Economic Committee, however, we must call into question the premise that the elite govern for the benefit of the majority in order to assure social stability, thus protecting their own position.

Rather, the elite give the impression that, as we saw with the Occupy movement, they rely entirely on brute force to preserve their position. The propaganda that Lenski saw as an attempt to legitimize rule by coercion[11] seems to have now degenerated to a facade, a fig leaf appearing more as going through the motions of assuming legitimacy than as actually seeking to sustain or achieve it.

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