Today’s super-rich are the most privileged and powerful group of people in history. If you’re a billionaire, you can usually decide an election by funneling a little bit of your money into the race. You can sway public opinion by buying up media outlets, and by using think tanks to influence schools and news sources. You can mobilize America’s law enforcement agencies towards targeting your enemies, like when the big banks coordinated with the FBI to crack down against Occupy Wall Street protesters. You can decide legislation through the politicians you’ve donated to, loot the treasury, and get the government to carry out wars and coup operations when these things benefit your business interests. The police, the court system, and the structure of capitalism are all oriented towards enforcing your influence.
You can have multiple mansions, drive expensive cars or ride in chauffeured limousines, and travel in private jets. You can dine in five-star restaurants, mingle with political and Hollywood elites, and enjoy all the other luxuries of those at the top of society. Even though the perpetual struggles and discomforts of poverty ensure that you don’t work anywhere near as hard as the poor do, you can claim that you’ve “earned” all of your wealth. And you can get a sycophantic army of pundits to come to your defense, affirming your beliefs that the rich work harder than everyone else, that the poor have chosen their fates, and that corporate capitalism is the correct system.
The super-rich lifestyle is the ultimate environment of positive reinforcement for narcissists and sociopaths. It’s behind the pathology of Donald Trump, as well as that of Howard Schultz-the Starbucks billionaire who plans to run for president as a “centrist independent” because he thinks that Democrats have moved too far to the left. Men like these represent the hubristic mentality that Chris Hedges describes in his assessment of how the ruling elites view the world:
“The uber-rich cannot see the world from anyone’s perspective but their own. People around them, including the women whom entitled men prey upon, are objects designed to gratify momentary lusts or be manipulated. The uber-rich are almost always amoral. Right. Wrong. Truth. Lies. Justice. Injustice. These concepts are beyond them. Whatever benefits or pleases them is good. What does not must be destroyed.”
It’s this rejection of reality among the super-rich that will ensure their downfall, which will either come in the form of a revolution against them or a collapse of the system they depend on.
Capitalism is now in a crisis that dwarfs all the past destabilizing events that have threatened to end it, including the Great Depression. One sign of this crisis is the fact that capitalism has become more destructive to the livelihoods of most people than it’s been in decades, and has in the process become very unstable. In America alone, half the people are either in or near poverty, 80% of workers live paycheck to paycheck, and 80% overall are in debt.
Extreme inequality and declining living standards have happened everywhere else that neoliberalism has been imposed, including in the Scandinavian countries that have tried to “reform” capitalism. While the world’s eight richest men now have the same amount of wealth as the bottom half of humanity, the world’s poorest 3.6 billion people are currently getting poorer.
The contraction of global commerce and productivity that this expansion of poverty has produced, coupled with the consequences of our extremely concentrated and unstable banking system, have created the factors for a new economic downturn that will likely be worse than the one from 2008. The massive market downturns that happened at the end of 2018 were a tiny version of what’s coming soon. Amid a new stock bubble that’s bigger than the one before the 1929 crash, the Fed is now the only thing propping up the market. When this financial setup unravels-an event which we’re already overdue for-it will create what could be the worst crash of our lifetimes.
This crash will shatter the last potential for maintaining the illusion that America is prospering under free market capitalism. As a population that hasn’t recovered from the last economic crisis is hit by another one, the recycled Reaganomics arguments that Trump’s neoliberal policies rely on will be discredited beyond repair. At that point, Trump will lose much of his remaining support and mass protests will break out, making Trump and the other corporate fascists react with brutal repression.
Mirroring how Macron has directed massive police violence against the Yellow Vest protesters, the American oligarchs will try to use attacks from militarized police to put down demonstrations. But no amount of mass arrests, police beatings, or attempts to malign the protesters will be able to stop the coming period of social unrest.
As this struggle between the government and the people goes on, the other crises of capitalism will also become impossible to ignore. The consequences of America’s belligerence abroad will keep getting worse and potentially culminate in a third world war, which will either involve Russia, China, or both. The decline of America’s global influence will continue, with the consequential collapse of the U.S. dollar creating a prolonged depression. Climate change will destroy increasing amounts of infrastructure, create worsening droughts, and force coastal communities to either build sea walls or migrate.
The ruling class will also respond to these disruptions by trying to use police violence and jingoistic propaganda campaigns to stabilize their shaky empire. But these attempts to restore the 20th-century paradigm of stable and oligarch-dominated globalized capitalism will be futile. The coming decades will be defined by drastic reshaping of global power, economic and ecological collapses, and uprisings against the global aristocracy.
In anticipation of this, many billionaires have been creating luxury doomsday shelters, with Silicon Valley tycoons especially purchasing survival bunkers and reserving land in America’s heartland for the creation of isolated compounds. But as Chris Hedges predicts in his essay The Feuding Kleptocrats, these refuges for the super-rich won’t last forever:
“They don’t want anything to impede the pillage, even when climate change forces people to confront the reality that they and their children may soon become extinct. They will steal despite the fact that the ecosystem is collapsing, heat waves and droughts are destroying crop yields, the air and water are becoming toxic and the oceans are being transformed into dead zones. There will be hundreds of millions of desperate climate refugees. Civil society will break down. They won’t stop until their own generators have run out of fuel in their gated compounds and their private security forces have deserted them. When the end comes they will greet it with their characteristic blank expression of idiocy and greed. But most of us won’t be around to see their epiphany.”
This is where the super rich’s intoxication with power and luxury will lead them. The current system is getting close to imploding, and those at the top of the system will also fall. Our job is to organize towards defeating corporate power and to build sustainable new systems in place of the ruins of capitalism. We need to break free from the grip of the elites before they take us all down with them. Click To Tweet