Re: American Character - Ch. 1: Maintaining Freedom
I think I agree with Robert that the oligarchy of the business world is not automatically corrupt or corrupting. I am generally resigned to a sort of oligarchy structure, in which a small portion of the population runs things the way it thinks makes sense. In modern society we (fortunately or unfortunately) have strong tension between different oligarchies: commercial, political, academic and cultural. These are always going to be working for their own good, however that is conceptualized, but it has different degrees of identification with a vision of the public good. For all the nasty comments about meritocracy from the communitarian wing, it has mainly given us a system in which naked power did not determine success or failure for any of these. In fact, the conspicuous absence of "military" from the categories of oligarchy is one of the true blessings of the modern world
So what are the oligarchs doing? By and large, promoting their vision and their own personal ability to pursue that vision. The really influential minds in the military world these days are those who have been good at grasping the mind of the enemy in asymmetric warfare. Imagine a world in which empathy is a cardinal military virtue, and you understand why Trump's foolish bravado is so de-linked from anything resembling actual success. Plays well to a certain peanut gallery, but nobody who understands things takes the actual ideas of our Dear Leader with any seriousness.
I see a growing threat, however, from the willingness of commercial oligarchs to band together as a self-conscious force in politics. Since they are people who are good at commercial success (which sometimes, as with Jeff Bezos, corresponds to contributing value to the economy, and other times, as with Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts, corresponds to exploiting opportunities to squeeze the juice out of some institution which does not fit the economic forces of the time), they imagine that whatever they see and think must be an accurate picture of reality (some scientists have the same attitude). And crucially, the advent of economic theory as the creed of professionalism in government has lent an unwarranted dignity to that conclusion.
Since the income distribution (and the wealth distribution even more) has reached an unprecedented imbalance in American society, this overweening group of myopic "visionaries" feels they must try to convince the public to do what is good for the public, which of course happens to correspond to maximum liberty and power for the oligarchs. If, along the way, they stumble seriously on medical care, opioids, fossil fuels and nominating populists, well, that just shows what a tough job they have, guiding society to enlightenment and prosperity.
Highly developed regulation is the defining mode of government in our time. That is inevitable in an economy in which value is created by complex mechanisms and legal abstractions, just as women's emancipation is inevitable in an economy in which education matters more than hierarchy. If we weren't convinced by the crash of Lehman brothers, then surely the Boeing Max 737 was a clincher. We need some improvements in our regulatory regime though, both for accommodating variation at the level of small business and for aligning the interests of corporations and consumers without expensive lawsuits as the definitive mechanism. It's really rather dismal what a bad job the oligarchs have done of sorting out this conundrum, choosing to treat it as a battleground for symbolisms rather than a technical matter ripe for someone to pioneer in. Maybe Liz Warren is the answer - she at least gets the problem.