What kind of nation boasts a record-high stock market and an unraveling social order? Answer: a failed nation, a nation that has substituted artifice for realism for far too long, a nation that now depends on illusory phantoms of capital, prosperity and democracy to prop up a crumbling facade of "wealth" that the populace now understands is largely in the hands of a few families and corporations, most of which pay little to support the citizenry they dominate politically and financially.
The social order sounds abstract, but it is all too real. The social order has two primary components: social cohesion, the glue of common purpose and shared sacrifice binding the social order, and the social contract, the implicit contract between the ruling elite, the state (government) and commoners (the middle class, the working poor and state dependents) that their labor, taxes and sacrifices will nourish a society with a level playing field, broad-based opportunity and security.
America's social cohesion has been lost, ground under the heel of soaring inequality, a two-tiered economic/political order, systemic unfairness and the elite's divide-and-conquer manipulation of the political and cultural orders.
Historian Peter Turchin characterized this social unraveling as disintegrative: people no longer find reasons to cooperate and share sacrifices to work towards a common national purpose. Rather, they find a multitude of reasons to offload sacrifices onto others, hoard their own wealth and seek to expand their power by accelerating the disintegrative forces.
There is no debate about the collapse of America's social contract, there are only varying levels of self-serving denial. Commoners have awakened to the emptiness of the conventional promise to get a college degree, work hard and you'll be rewarded with security and prosperity. Huge swaths of America are a ransacked, decaying shell of a society reminiscent of developing nations suffering under the jackboot of kleptocrats.
America's fast-expanding class of billionaires are doing their best to mimic the clueless French nobility just before France's convulsive revolution in 1789: America's billionaires bleat that they should pay more taxes while their lobbying bulldozes gigantic loopholes in the tax code, enabling Apple and other global giants to escape U.S. taxes.
America's billionaires are busy building $500 million private yachts and private spaceships while proclaiming their globally distributed sweatshops are raising all boats in a tide of money conjured out of thin air by the billionaires' central bankers.
America's ruling elite has rewritten the social contract to benefit itself at the expense of the bottom 99.9%. Studies have confirmed that the bottom 99.9% hold virtually no political power, and the bottom 90% collect a pitiful 3% of all income generated by capital and hold an inconsequentially thin slice of the nation's wealth.
Trends in Income From 1975 to 2018
$50 trillion in earnings has been transferred to the Financial Aristocracy from the bottom 90% of American households over the past 45 years.
Monopoly Versus Democracy: How to End a Gilded Age
Ten percent of Americans now control 97 percent of all capital income in the country. Nearly half of the new income generated since the global financial crisis of 2008 has gone to the wealthiest one percent of U.S. citizens. The richest three Americans collectively have more wealth than the poorest 160 million Americans.
As I pointed out in Is a Cultural Revolution Brewing in America? (4/9/21), actions have consequences and cultural revolutions result from the suppression of legitimate political expression and the failure of the regime to meet its lofty idealistic goals.
When there is no relief valve in a collapsing social order, the explosive pressure is eventually released in a Cultural Revolution that unleashes all the bottled-up frustrations on elites. These frustrations have no outlet politically because they're threatening to the status quo and therefore suppressed at every turn.
Put another way, if the pendulum is pushed to an extreme of exploitation, suppression and inequality, when it's released, it will reach an equivalent extreme (minus a bit of friction) at the opposite end. That could be an unexpected but entirely foreseeable Cultural Revolution.
Those who claim that can't happen in America are safely outside the pressure cooker, protected by a delusional confidence that since I'm doing great, everyone is doing great. Since real political agency is no longer allowed, the pressure will find release outside the political system. The lobbyists will still be haunting the hallways of governance, but no one will care, for The falcon will no longer hear the falconer.
The unraveling of America's social order is accelerating, and denial will not save us from the consequences of the plundering of the social contract.
Charles Hugh Smith is a contributing editor to PeakProsperity.com and the proprietor of the popular blog OfTwoMinds.com. He is the author of numerous books, including Why Everything Is Falling Apart: An Unconventional Guide To Investing In Troubled Times.
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