The Changing of the Oligarchical Guard

photo by Joye

Jay P. Greene, as is his wont, writes something idiotic to favor his bias of market love.  Again, as preface to everything I write contra Greene I want to remind you that he occupies and endowed Chair (by Wal-Mart) at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in Education Reform.  Butter meets bread on one side only and always.

In other words, Jay P. Greene is never “only” Jay P. Greene writing–he is Wal-Mart and in the service of Wal-Mart and other massive corporations he preaches the gospel according to Milton Friedman.  So, all his writing  at its core has a simple and singular and discernible motivation.

I think it’s necessary to keep reminding ourselves of this.  In this way, he is actually quite easy to read.  Even if his presentation can offer something of interest to you, you still have to pursue the motivation–why did Greene write this, or better, how does this help Wal-Mart (or that worldview)?  Greene makes 150k per year at Wal-Mart University and more than likely pulls in nice amounts every time he jets off to speak at Reform conferences or ALEC conferences.  Jay is paid to play.

I asked once, does it matter that I spend words and time offering an “anti-Greene” perspective?  I think it does.  Greene’s voice is not a cry in the wilderness.  It is institutional.  It’s rather something of a waste of time for him to do so–many minions write the same things every day as the Friedman and the Bradley Foundation, the Gates and Walton Family Foundations, and many more, pay them to do so.  And even those who don’t get paid are writing with an eye to get picked up by at least a farm club (like the Indianapolis IPR group).

So, I offer these words as a stone for you to use against these monuments to institutional strength.  Use it as a projectile; use it as a foundation or a key to build a protective edifice around yourself, your family, and your extended human community; or, simply place it on your shelf and stare at it now and again.  Someday it may be of use.

Do not be confused by the “markets are freedom” mantra that seems to resonate with the American Libertarians: markets are manipulations.  Imagine the foundational miscalculation these institutions would be making if Jay P. Greene and his cohort really wanted or believed there was “freedom” in markets, or that there COULD be freedom in markets IF ONLY the government would stay out of the way.  The truth is readily apparent when you just think of the money being spent on this ideology.  This is oligarchical private power.  The markets serve the oligarchs.  Does the word “oligarchy” sound too foreign to our American mythology to seem real?  Let’s just review our “archies” briefly.  There are just three to concern us.*

Monarchy: supreme power or sovereignty held by a single person.
Oligarchy: a form of government in which all power is vested in a few persons or in a dominant class or clique; government by the few.
Anarchy: a state of society without government or law.

(I might add Malarky here, not really as joke, though it is.  The online dictionary shows no known etymology, but it is no leap of the imagination to think that its meaning might simply be “bad government”.   It is after all defined as “speech or writing designed to obscure, mislead or impress,” and “lies and exaggerations.”  I can’t think of a more apt description of our current governmental organization.  We are living under a kind of managed Marlarky.)

We aren’t anarchical here, though I would argue for its primacy as a goal of human organization.  Here’s a more detailed definition:  “a theory that regards the absence of all direct or coercive government as a political ideal and that proposes the cooperative and voluntary association of individuals and groups as the principal mode of organized society.”  Sounds good to me.  That’s allowing for real freedom, as much as we can have within a social organization, by voluntary association without coercion.

There are further organizational elements to each of the three “archies” but it’s not hard to see how these can simply be used to enable the governmental form.  Democracy for example is easily manipulated, as we have seen and lived, by oligarchical power–we call this “branches of government”–via things such as limiting political “party” options and the electoral college system which uses delegates and not popular vote to crown our king (limited monarchy).  So you can see right away that the US is at base oligarchical even before I go into the “change” in oligarchical power that has been instigated over the last several decades and that is now very nearly complete.  What I mean to say is that once an oligarchy is established it is almost unremarkable that another version of such might supersede it.  Most of the players will remain the same.  Management style, however, will be altered.

With that in mind I’d encourage you to keep anarchy in mind as a viable counter-response as we continue with Jay Greene’s apologies for the evolution of oligarchical power via the economic ideology of “free markets.”  Remember, Jay Greene is employed by Organized Institutional Power.  Also, he begins this post with the reminder that he has been “chatting with students.”

We’ll just start with today’s blog post, “Liberty for me but not for thee,” where Greene proposes to us that George Washington is the singular model for the spirit of liberty.  Further he proposes Napoleon as an antipodal representative of anti-liberty.  Or Power.  I’ll let Jay tell you.

It takes some sort of miracle for people to resist the corrupting temptation of power to protect their own autonomy while denying it to others. George Washington performed one of these miracles to establish the foundations of liberty.  Faced with the opportunity to become dictator for life, he voluntarily relinquished power….Napoleon couldn’t resist the temptations of absolute power.  He’s reported to have declared with disgust as he was being dragged away to Elba that they thought he would be another Washington.

That’s a lot of confused, misleading, reductive and intentionally (I would guess, giving Jay the benefit of the doubt about his own understanding of history) confusing history and psychology in a very short space.  (Remember, he’s been “chatting with students” in this manner.)

I don’t plan to offer a counter-response to Greene’s historical imagination as my hope is that you don’t believe anything is so simple as that (this is the reductionism of the propagandist at work)–we have to forget the actualities of the world as it was lived in order to “buy” what Greene sells.  In other words, we have to be ignorant.  I just wanted to put it on display as a kind of short-hand.

Washington, reduced: gave up absolute power as a miraculous act that was a “gift” to the burgeoning federation.  So Washington, a Founder, Greene is sure to note, “gave up” autonomy.  In this story, only a king can be autonomous.  (But history will show us that kings lose their heads also.)  Also, it’s supremely important that this is an American example in Greene’s formulation, because, you see, Napoleon, even as representative of the rest of the history of the world, is French!  It’s not hard to offer historical fact to alter Greene’s argument.  And it’s not hard to offer examples in US history that show just how little like Green’s Washington any other ruler has been.  That is, again, not his point; the purpose is to “set” the frame in your mind.

Next we get another “frame”–democracy can’t ensure “autonomy” or even its own continuation:

Remember that Hitler was democratically elected.  The Iranian revolution began democratically.  The Arab Spring is quickly turning into an Arab Winter, with parties opposed to liberty and tolerance winning elections.  It is quite common to see a country’s first, free democratic election turn into its last.

What are we to do when our perfect conception of government, democracy, is often simply a way for despotic power to gain traction?  Please note the use of an “enemies” list here: Hitler (worst non-George Washington ever!) aligned with Iran and Egypt (etc.).

(One of my sons is working with fractions and it just occurred to me that Jay P. Greene’s presentation of thinking is akin to the role of reducing fractions to their simplest equivalent.  Greene’s reductions are not equivalencies but rather equivocations.)

Greene says little else that can be understood as meaningful–the entirety of the piece really just says that power structures are changeable but usually via conquest and “economic distress” (I don’t think Greene is talking about the Shock Doctrine here–though as a Friedmanite he must have it his mind somewhere) leading to internal unrest that forces a respect for liberty.  Does that mean power loses the ability to keep the people in fetters so must resort to “liberty” in order to keep a new semblance of power?

He does offer more confusion by referring to Spain:

The only other major example of a leader voluntarily relinquishing power that I can think of is King Juan Carlos of Spain refusing to be Franco’s dictatorial successor and also putting down an attempted coup.

Spain, how do we untangle that in relation to Washington and power?  The Spanish Civil War   is worth studying indeed for examples of social organizations other than imposed government.  But we don’t have time for that.  And neither does Greene of course.  But it does seem an odd reference for him here.  Unless…

Anarchism and Libertarianism are very closely linked.  Libertarians hate government fetters on their actions.  Unfortunately, most of the freedom they want is the freedom to make money without concern for civil liberties.  Civil liberties are a constraint on business liberties and property.  At least this is the American brand of Libertarianism.  The primary prong for most of these folks is that the government should not regulate markets because that is an imposition on the freedom to choose to buy or sell whatever anyone wants.  Limits apply of course, but only if you’re caught.

And that brings us right back to the argument at the top.  Greene and his ilk cannot “free” the markets anymore than the federal government can.  The reason: they are already under the strict ownership of the Corporate Oligarchy represented by Foundations like the Bradley Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.  Greene’s only goal is to remove the government from the equation as it is the competing oligarchical power and the one that still occasionally protects citizens from the predator oligarchs.

It is the reason they call out for the erasure of our “watchdog” departments: USDA, FDA, EPA.  While these organizations have clear mandates to protect citizens from bad business practices that harm the populace and the shared environment, they are variously funded according to political party agenda and so frequently powerless to inhibit private corporate power.  Even so, they are an evil barrier to liberty according to Greene’s brand of thinking

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Our democratic institutions gave us these protections against overweening private power.  Corporate Oligarchs need them destroyed.

In any event, Greene’s piece, like all polemics for the unfreedom of the market oligarchs, use the ideas of freedom and liberty in order to convince you the enemy of this freedom is government.   And indeed it is.  But the reality of power and massive wealth in the hands of so few reveal the truth.  There is only another government in the wings (shadows?) and already running in parallel–it is just a more ruthless one with no interest in the commonweal.  Will we see the Koch’s added to Mount Rushmore?  Which national myth do you wish to preserve?

Greene works to confuse us with ideas rather than clarify, to, for example, praise the “entrepreneurial” spirit while being fully aware that any “successes” in business will benefit the oligarchs who can easily buy or steal innovations in the market.  It’s hard to keep track of the mendacity on display in his every utterance.

Step aside, George, your autonomy is in the way of my individualism.

*definitions from

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