Freedom and democracy in America

By Dr. Paul Craig Roberts, Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury for Economic Policy in the Reagan administration.


"At Christmas time it has been my habit to write a column in remembrance of the many innocent people in prisons whose lives have been stolen by the U.S. criminal justice system that is as inhumane as it is indifferent to justice. Usually I retell the cases of William Strong and Christophe Gaynor, two men framed in the state of Virginia by prosecutors and judges as wicked and corrupt as any who served Hitler or Stalin.

This year is different. All Americans are now imprisoned in a world of lies and deception created by the Bush Regime and the two complicit parties of Congress, by federal judges too timid or ignorant to recognize a rogue regime running roughshod over the Constitution, by a bought and paid for media that serves as propagandists for a regime of war criminals, and by a public who have forsaken their Founding Fathers.

Americans are also imprisoned by fear, a false fear created by the hoax of “terrorism.” It has turned out that headline terrorist events since 9/11 have been orchestrated by the U.S. government. For example, the alleged terrorist plot to blow up Chicago’s Sears Tower was the brainchild of a FBI agent who searched out a few disaffected people to give lip service to the plot devised by the FBI agent. He arrested his victims, whose trial ended in acquittal and mistrial.

Many Europeans regard 9/11 itself as an orchestrated event. Former cabinet members of the British, Canadian and German governments and the Chief of Staff of the Russian Army have publicly expressed their doubts about the official 9/11 story. Recently, a former president of Italy, Francesco Cossiga, said in an interview with the newspaper, Corriere della Sera (November 30, 2007), that “democratic elements in America and Europe, with the Italian center-left in the forefront, now know that the 9/11 attack was planned and executed by the American CIA and Mossad in order to blame the Arab countries, and to persuade the Western powers to undertake military action both in Iraq and Afghanistan.”


Freedom and democracy in America have been reduced to no-fly lists, spying without warrants, arrests without warrants or evidence, permanent detention despite the constitutional protection of habeas corpus, torture despite the prohibition against self-incrimination--the list goes on and on.

In today’s fearful America, a U.S. Senator whose elder brother was a military hero killed in action can find himself on the no-fly list. Present and former high government officials, with top secret security clearances, cannot fly with a tube of toothpaste or a bottle of water despite the absence of any evidence that extreme measures imposed by “airport security” makes flying safer.

Elderly American citizens with walkers and young mothers with children are meticulously searched because U.S. Homeland Security cannot tell the difference between an American citizen and a terrorist.

All Americans should note the ominous implications of the inability of Homeland Security to distinguish an American citizen from a terrorist.

When Airport Security cannot differentiate a U.S. Marine General recipient of the Medal of Honor from a terrorist, Americans have all the information they need to know.

Any and every American can be arrested by unaccountable authority, held indefinitely without charges and tortured until he or she can no longer stand the abuse and confesses.

This predicament, which can now befall any American, is our reward for our stupidity, our indifference, our gullibility, and our lack of compassion for anyone but ourselves."

Dr. Paul Craig Roberts- CNP 1984, 1988, 1996; formerly with Cato Institute 28; member of Mont Pelerin Society 29 ; President and John M. Olin Fellow at the Institute for Political Economy in Washington, D.C., and on Board of Advisors and Research Fellow at The Independent Institute 30 in Oakland, California. He is co-author of the Independent Institute book, The Capitalist Revolution in Latin America (Oxford University Press); former editor and columnist at the Wall Street Journal; was assistant secretary of the Treasury for economic policy during 1981-82. He holds the William E. Simon (external - login to view) chair in political economy at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies,31 which has such as Henry Kissinger; senior research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University; columnist for Conservative Chronicle 32, others include, Tony Snow, Phyllis Schlafly (external - login to view), William F. Buckley.; Contributor to Town Hall.33
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Gee, hate to rain on your parade but, to some out there, this is from one of "your" guys. Read it and weep. Yeah, right, as if....
As in Italy and Germany in the '20s and '30s, business associations clamour for more deregulation and deeper tax cuts. The gradual erosion of antitrust legislation, especially in the United States, has encouraged consolidation in many sectors of the economy by way of mergers and acquisitions. The North American economy has become more monopolistic than at any time in the post-WWII period.

U.S. census data from 1997 shows that the largest four companies in the food, motor vehicle and aerospace industries control 53.4, 87.3 and 55.6 per cent of their respective markets. Over 20 per cent of commercial banking in the U.S. is controlled by the four largest financial institutions, with the largest 50 controlling over 60 per cent. Even these numbers underestimate the scope of concentration, since they do not account for the myriad interconnections between firms by means of debt instruments and multiple directorships, which further reduce the extent of competition.

Actual levels of U.S. commercial concentration have been difficult to measure since the 1970s, when strong corporate opposition put an end to the Federal Trade Commission's efforts to collect the necessary information.

Fewer, larger competitors dominate all economic activity, and their political will is expressed with the millions of dollars they spend lobbying politicians and funding policy formulation in the many right-wing institutes that now limit public discourse to the question of how best to serve the interests of business.

The consolidation of the economy and the resulting perversion of public policy are themselves fascistic. I am certain, however, that former president Bill Clinton was not worried about fascism when he repealed federal antitrust laws that had been enacted in the 1930s.

The Canadian Council of Chief Executives is similarly unworried about fascism as it lobbies the Canadian government to water down proposed amendments to our federal Competition Act. (The Competition Act, last amended in 1986, regulates monopolies, among other things, and itself represents a watering down of Canada's previous antitrust laws. It was essentially rewritten by industry and handed to the Mulroney government to be enacted.)

At present, monopolies are regulated on purely economic grounds to ensure the efficient allocation of goods.

If we are to protect ourselves from the growing political influence of big business, then our antitrust laws must be reconceived in a way that recognizes the political danger of monopolistic conditions.

Antitrust laws do not just protect the marketplace, they protect democracy.

It might be argued that North America's democratic political systems are so entrenched that we needn't fear fascism's return. The democracies of Italy and Germany in the 1920s were in many respects fledgling and weak. Our systems will surely react at the first whiff of dictatorship.

Or will they? This argument denies the reality that the fascist dictatorships were preceded by years of reactionary politics, the kind of politics that are playing out today. Further, it is based on the conceit that whatever our own governments do is democracy. Canada still clings to a quaint, 19th-century "first past the post" electoral system in which a minority of the popular vote can and has resulted in majority control of Parliament.

In the U.S., millions still question the legality of the sitting president's first election victory, and the power to declare war has effectively become his personal prerogative. Assuming that we have enough democracy to protect us is exactly the kind of complacency that allows our systems to be quietly and slowly perverted. On paper, Italy and Germany had constitutional, democratic systems. What they lacked was the eternal vigilance necessary to sustain them. That vigilance is also lacking today.

Our collective forgetfulness about the economic nature of fascism is also dangerous at a philosophical level. As contradictory as it may seem, fascist dictatorship was made possible because of the flawed notion of freedom that held sway during the era of laissez-faire capitalism in the early 20th century.

It was the liberals of that era who clamoured for unfettered personal and economic freedom, no matter what the cost to society. Such untrammelled freedom is not suitable to civilized humans. It is the freedom of the jungle. In other words, the strong have more of it than the weak. It is a notion of freedom that is inherently violent, because it is enjoyed at the expense of others. Such a notion of freedom legitimizes each and every increase in the wealth and power of those who are already powerful, regardless of the misery that will be suffered by others as a result. The use of the state to limit such "freedom" was denounced by the laissez-faire liberals of the early 20th century. The use of the state to protect such "freedom" was fascism. Just as monopoly is the ruin of the free market, fascism is the ultimate degradation of liberal capitalism.

In the post-war period, this flawed notion of freedom has been perpetuated by the neo-liberal school of thought. The neo-liberals denounce any regulation of the marketplace. In so doing, they mimic the posture of big business in the pre-fascist period. Under the sway of neo-liberalism, Thatcher, Reagan, Mulroney and George W. Bush have decimated labour and exalted capital. (At present, only 7.8 per cent of workers in the U.S. private sector are unionized — about the same percentage as in the early 1900s.)

Neo-liberals call relentlessly for tax cuts, which, in a previously progressive system, disproportionately favour the wealthy. Regarding the distribution of wealth, the neo-liberals have nothing to say.

In the end, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. As in Weimar Germany, the function of the state is being reduced to that of a steward for the interests of the moneyed elite. All that would be required now for a more rapid descent into fascism are a few reasons for the average person to forget he is being ripped off. Hatred of Arabs, fundamentalist Christianity or an illusory sense of perpetual war may well be taking the place of Hitler's hatred for communists and Jews.

Neo-liberal intellectuals often recognize the need for violence to protect what they regard as freedom. Thomas Friedman of The New York Times has written enthusiastically that "the hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist," and that "McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the U.S. Air Force F-15." As in pre-fascist Germany and Italy, the laissez-faire businessmen call for the state to do their bidding even as they insist that the state should stay out of the marketplace. Put plainly, neo-liberals advocate the use of the state's military force for the sake of private gain. Their view of the state's role in society is identical to that of the businessmen and intellectuals who supported Hitler and Mussolini. There is no fear of the big state here. There is only the desire to wield its power. Neo-liberalism is thus fertile soil for fascism to grow again into an outright threat to our democracy.

Having said that fascism is the result of a flawed notion of freedom, we need to re-examine what we mean when we throw around the word. We must conceive of freedom in a more enlightened way.

Indeed, it was the thinkers of the Enlightenment who imagined a balanced and civilized freedom that did not impinge upon the freedom of one's neighbour. Put in the simplest terms, my right to life means that you must give up your freedom to kill me. This may seem terribly obvious to decent people. Unfortunately, in our neo-liberal era, this civilized sense of freedom has, like the dangers of fascism, been all but forgotten.

Paul Bigioni

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