Predatory Overlords, From Octopus to Vampire Squid

Not much to add, but I think this deserves wider distribution. Alexander Keyssar, in the Washington Post, reminds us of what our political ancestors achieved through hard work and sacrifice a century ago, in “The real grand bargain, coming undone“:

Despite all the recent talk of “grand bargains,” little attention has been paid to the unraveling of a truly grand bargain that has been at the center of public policy in the United States for more than a century.
That bargain — which emerged in stages between the 1890s and 1930s — established an institutional framework to balance the needs of the American people with the vast inequalities of wealth and power wrought by the triumph of industrial capitalism. It originated in the widespread apprehension that the rapidly growing power of robber barons, national corporations and banks (like J.P. Morgan’s) was undermining fundamental American values and threatening democracy.
Such apprehensions were famously expressed in novelist Frank Norris’s characterization of the nation’s largest corporations — the railroads — as an “octopus” strangling farmers and small businesses. With a Christian rhetorical flourish, William Jennings Bryan denounced bankers’ insistence on a deflationary gold standard as an attempt to “crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.” A more programmatic, and radical, stance was taken by American Federation of Labor convention delegates who in 1894 advocated nationalizing all major industries and financial corporations. Hundreds of socialists were elected to office between 1880 and 1920.
Indeed, a century ago many, if not most, Americans were convinced that capitalism had to be replaced with some form of “cooperative commonwealth” — or that large corporate enterprises should be broken up or strictly regulated to ensure competition, limit the concentration of power and prevent private interests from overwhelming the public good. In the presidential election of 1912, 75 percent of the vote went to candidates who called themselves “progressive” or “socialist.”…

39 replies
  1. 1
    Sam Houston says:

    We’ve been crucified on a subprime cross? Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat! At least we had a gold one in the old days!

  2. 2
    Batocchio says:

    Thank you, Anne Laurie. (Great post fodder!) Right-wingers just do not believe in the social contract, only a form of neo-feudalism with themselves on top.

  3. 3
  4. 4
    MattR says:

    Speaking of predatory overlords, this isn’t Tunch but methinks it could be.

  5. 5
    Spaghetti Lee says:

    We ought to stop defaming all these poor mollusks. They never meant us any harm.

  6. 6
    Yutsano says:

    @Spaghetti Lee:

    We ought to stop defaming all these poor mollusks cephalopods

    FTFY. And you just broke CaseyL’s heart.

  7. 7
    MikeJake says:

    It’s another reminder that America doesn’t really mean much of anything anymore. There’s no grand idea backing it, no higher purpose, no nationalism. It’s basically every man for himself, and it’s the wealthiest men who are most able to succeed in this environment. None of our leaders believe that ensuring the prosperity and happiness of the American people as a group is a worthwhile goal in and of itself, because our leaders don’t look at American citizens and see a group whose interests are worthy of being promoted over the interests of Chinese people or Indian people or Mexican people or whomever. “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country?” Not in today’s America.

    We need to understand that capitalism can be both highly efficient and completely unfair. Right now we’re fetishizing efficiency and conflating success with virtue.

  8. 8
    a.j. says:

    Mike – fucking great closing sentence.

  9. 9
    joeyess says:

    Well, that was then. Now we’re subjected to generations of jagoffs that believe a fantastical work of fiction is written into the Unites States constitution. The next time I hear some prick on teevee talking about “producers and parasites”, “makers and takers” (yes, they’re openly quoting that fucking nonsense) I’m going to put a chair thru my tv screen. Hey, I’ve heard that since all the poor folk have a flat screen, they must be really affordable or welfare recipients got a raise. I’m gonna assume the former.

  10. 10
    Chris says:


    And yet, we’re letting it all happen. It’s not just our leaders doing this to us, it’s a huge part of the electorate voting for them in the full knowledge that their policies are based on screwing people, because hey, that way they’ll screw some of those Others who aren’t part of the in-club.

    It’s depressing as hell, but what I keep taking away from this is that a country with this little social solidarity has no long-term viability.

  11. 11
    joeshabadoo says:

    It has nothing to do with fetishizing efficiency. While it can be a very efficient system at times it is rarely what people use to promote capitalism because everyone knows that insurance companies and banks don’t do things efficiently from personal experience (unless it is efficiently screw them over).

    Capitalism is now being constantly equated with freedom. Everything else is the government controlling you. Hence the constant refrain of the “free” market. That is why programs and people are literally being called communist now. The point isn’t to say that they want redistribution but equate them to people like Stalin.

    And it is freedom, for the rich. The more money and more power they have the more free they are to do whatever they want, including limit the freedom of those with less power and money.

  12. 12
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    Oh, to have a time when 75% of the people would vote for someone called progressive/socialist. Though it probably wouldn’t matter anyway, because of things like the redistricting in Georgia: Four string Democratic districts, and 10 barely Republican ones to dilute the voting. The only shocker would be to get Democrats to start showing up in force.

  13. 13
    cleek says:

    if it’s all the same to you, please count me out of the glorious soshulist revolution.

  14. 14
    Jack Bauer says:

    if it’s all the same to you, please count me out of the glorious soshulist revolution.

    Is that how you view the New Deal?

  15. 15
  16. 16
    rdldot says:

    I just finished reading ‘Death at the Haymarket’ and would recommend it to anyone interested in that time period. I call that period the ‘dead zone’ in American history since there isn’t much taught in school about the time between the Civil War and the First World War, but I am finding it fascinating to explore. If anyone else has other books to read I would appreciate knowing about them.

  17. 17
    Jack Bauer says:



    So what…

    glorious soshulist revolution.

    are you talking about?

  18. 18
    bill says:

    “75 percent of the vote went to candidates who called themselves ‘progressive’ or ‘socialist.’… ”

    That those two terms are now considered blood libel in political circles is a victory for propaganda if nothing else.

  19. 19
    Keithley says:

    This country was founded on the principle of s0c1al1sm for the wealthy and free enterprise for the poor.

  20. 20
    ericblair says:

    @Jack Bauer:

    are you talking about?

    “Soshulism” is anything that I think takes my tax money and gives it to Those People. “Freedom” is anything I think saves me paying taxes and/or beats on Those People.

    It’s amazing that people prefer paying money to banks and insurance companies instead of taxes. Taxes I get some shit back; paying some Fortune 500 company means I might see a couple of nickels in earnings in my 401k after all my betters have taken their cuts.

  21. 21
  22. 22
    Jinxtigr says:

    Count me in, dude.

    At least it’s an ethos XD

  23. 23
    cleek says:

    @Jack Bauer:
    this one:

    Hundreds of sochalists were elected to office between 1880 and 1920.

    In the presidential election of 1912, 75 percent of the vote went to candidates who called themselves “progressive” or “sochalist.”

    i’m not interested in being governed by socialists. mm k?

  24. 24
    cleek says:

    for fuck’s sake, would someone here please go to the WordPress Admin section, then Settings / Discussion, find the “Comment Blacklist” edit box and take ‘c i a l i s’ out of that list! it’s fucking crazy to have a political blog while forbidding commenters from using a word that is so relevant to today’s political discussion. just fucking crazy.

    it’s a five second fix.


  25. 25
    someguy says:

    A “progressive” by 1912 standards is practically a nazi by today’s standards. Let’s look at Woodrow Wilson. He was an incorrigible racist, he threw communists and anti-war protestors and pornographers (and anybody else whose speech he disagreed with) in jail, and although he favored an income tax that was somewhat progressive he only wanted it on a short term basis to pay for an impending war. I guess that last point is not exactly Rudolph Hess shit and I’ll fall back on the point of his pathological racism and ethnocentrism, and his gleeful use of the Department of Justice to jail those who didn’t agree with his plans.

  26. 26
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:


    Wilson is a strange yardstick to use in measuring the progressive movement of his era. In 1912 the progressive movement was actually stronger in the GOP than the Democratic Party, and Wilson got into office because the GOP split right down the middle between its conservative and progressive wings and as a result effectively nominated two candidates to run against the Dem in the 1912 election. With benefit of hindsight we know that this was the start of a mass migration of progressives from one party to the other, a migration which spanned the next 70 years and wasn’t really completed until the 1990s.

    What I’d like to know, and would cherish book reading suggestions from others here, is how exactly did it come about that the Republican party of Lincoln turned its back on the progressive movement? I know the gross outline, but more details would be nice. What were the key turning points, the players involved, etc.?

  27. 27
    cleek says:

    i don’t know all the details either. but i’d put money on the turning point being the Roosevelt era. he was president for so long, and was such a strong proponent of strong liberalism that to oppose Roosevelt and the Democratic party was to oppose liberalism. that meant the GOP was, by default, the conservative party.

    Wiki’s pages on Roosevelt and “conservatism in the US” back this up more or less.

  28. 28
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:


    Agreed on FDR’s long tenure being the tipping point in the 20th Cen, beyond which the two parties became increasingly more ideologically polarized over time as progressives continued to shift from the GOP to the Dems, but it seems to me there was also a change in the 1870s and 1880s when the GOP mutated from what it was in Lincoln’s day into a deeply entrenched power structure which was ideologically captured by finance capitalism, i.e. the GOP of Nelson Aldrich, John C Spooner, et al., and that this 19th Cen change was the necessary precursor to the movement of disenchanted progressives from the GOP over to Wilson and FDR’s Democratic party.

  29. 29
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:


    And the reason I bring this up is that it seems to me that there are some strong resemblences between the pressures and influences which the players in today’s FIRE sector are exerting on both political parties in our era and the process whereby the GOP was captured by finance capitalist interests in the late 19th, and I’ve been wondering whether the Democratic party of the 1990s and early 21st Cen is slowly being captured in a similar fashion to the late 19th Cen GOP.

  30. 30
    Herbal Infusion Bagger says:

    The difference between then and now is that there were a limited number of countries that capital could move freely to and from and there were nationally defined trading blocs.

    Ford had an interest in the U.S. worker being able to afford the cars he made.

    The investment by California in its universities and the R&D dollars DARPA dumped into the national labs, Stanford, and SRI created ideas and talent that created Silicon Valley.

    Now, our Galtian overlords don’t care if U.S. education goes down the crapper, because they can just hire IIT grads to do the work. As long the Galtians can buy their kids into the Ivies by donations so Rupert junior and Meredith build up their social network, they don’t give a crap what happens to the bottom 90%. They care a wee bit about the 90-99% percentile, because they’ve got enough money to be a decent customer base. But in the end, anyone not in the Top 1% who relies on public goods and can’t buy themselves into better education or safety or security is a loser.

  31. 31
    Ian says:

    Cause Bernie Sanders is the worst senator we’ve ever had. Totally. Lets not try to get 100 people like him in office.

  32. 32
    cleek says:

    Bernie Sanders is a JKLDHFLJKH therefore all JKLDHFLJKH are Bernie Sanders.

    is that how it works ?

  33. 33
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:


    or you could call him a SINO, which is a lot easier to type.

  34. 34
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    @Herbal Infusion Bagger:

    The difference between then and now is that there were a limited number of countries that capital could move freely to and from and there were nationally defined trading blocs.

    The late Victorian/Edwardian era regime of globalization was already on the ash-heap of history (courtesy of all that unpleasantness in August 1914) when FDR’s New Deal was constructed. So it looks like the sequence goes

    globalization > crisis > autarky > economic nationalism > populist reforms

    Today we’re still waiting for the crisis to peak.

  35. 35
    Chris says:

    How did Lincoln’s party turn its back on progressivism?

    I think at least part of it is that back in the nineteenth century, capitalism was still a progressive thing – as opposed to the feudal and mercantile systems favored by more conservative elites. Part of the reason for that was that “free labor” was expected to be much fairer and more apt to bring prosperity to the masses than the old ways.

    With the Civil War, the old Southern elites got cleaned out and the younger, Yankee merchant elites took over the country; you had industrialization, the golden age of capitalism, etc. A new system created new problems and reformers had to think of new ideas to address them. But the elites who had it best under capitalism liked things fine the way they were. Those guys ultimately managed to hold onto the GOP, while the progressives started migrating.

  36. 36
    b-psycho says:

    @cleek: Yeah. Or at least find a spam filter that doesn’t read words inside other words. If someone wants to promote the boner stuff here, they’re just going the use the word (which trips any filter) or misspell it (which wouldn’t even trip the overly sensitive current one).

    We should be able to talk about soshulism here without fear of ceealice. It only makes sense.

  37. 37
    Ian says:


    You are right, not all socialists are Bernie Sanders. Some have more extreme views of economics, and some have committed mass murder in the name of their views.
    I was trying to use him as an example of one that I admire. I personally would rather be governed by a political party that shared his ideology.
    If you do not, that’s fine with me. I just think it is a little silly to say that you rule out socialists entirely. Like every other political grouping their views should be examined and judged on merit, not just the name.
    And I completely agree that cialis should be taken off the filter.

  38. 38
    Marginalized for stating documented facts says:


    Capitalism is now being constantly equated with freedom.

    Exactamundo. You have hit the nail on the head. The scariest refrain of the early 2000s is the constant drumbeat of praise for the weird new policy known as “market democracy.”

    In this bizarre mutation of cannibalistic robber barony, the diktat of the markets gets equated with democracy. After all, the markets have voted! So it’s a true democracy!



    In a true democracy, you don’t have to pay money to vote. And in a true democracy, the guy with 10 billion bucks doesn’t get 10 billion votes.

  39. 39
    Marginalized for stating documented facts says:


    How did Lincoln’s party turn its back on progressivism?

    The New Deal broke the back of the conservative movement in America. The only way conservatives could find to get back into power after the New Deal was the demagoguery pioneered by Senator Joe McCarthy.

    Nixon, of course, was McCarthy’s right-hand man and a key instigator of the witch hunts (which people tend to forget). Nixon’s predatory politics of scapegoating and trashing the rule of law led to Reagan’s pathological politics of scapegoating and trashing the rule of law and denying reality which led to Dubya’s sociopathic politics of blackshirt-style mussolinismo and endless unwinnable wars (on drugs, on Iraq, whatever) as an electoral tool.

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