Notebook # 149
'American System' -Why You Need to Know About It
WEALTH, POWER AND THE CRISIS OF THE LAISSEZ FAIRE CAPITALISM
"Why Wealth Wants It Dead"...Wealth,
Power and the Crisis of Laissez Faire Capitalism
Gibson: 'a snowshoefilms review'
new book needs a punchier title. I told him so in 2009. I looked forward to reading it, but only got to it recently.[i]
I’d call the book, “The
American System: Why Wealth Wants It Dead” or something like that.
After all, the protagonist standing up to wealth, power and laissez
faire capitalism is “the American System,” and those who
understand and fight for it.[ii]
University of Pittsburgh
sociologist Gibson is the author of four other books, including
Battling Wall Street: The Kennedy Presidency; and Environmentalism:
Ideology and Power. The author’s close look at the forces that
paid off in this fleshing out the American System.
The ‘American System’ was born
in reaction to the ‘British System’, an ideology crafted over the
1700s by, among others, the utilitarians,[iv]
John Locke, Thomas Malthus, Charles Darwin (social Darwinism: survival
of the fittest) and Adam Smith. Of
Smith, whose Wealth of Nations was published in 1776, Gibson writes:
“Smith argued for reliance on the individual seeking private
gain in a market system as little influenced by government as
possible. The self-seeking individual ends up serving the greater
Government’s role, from this
perspective, is to keep those in power in power. The British colonial
system could hardly allow any other fledgling centers of power
(independent manufacturing, protective tariffs, regulation in the
public interest, etc.) to exist. Up against this British System were
the Americans; the lead author of the new system, Gibson argues, was
Alexander Hamilton. The
ideas were essentially developed during and shortly after the
“The debate revolved around several basic issues: the role of
government in society and economy, the desirability of giving
direction to economic affairs, and the wisdom of promoting domestic
The idea of government for the
‘general welfare’ was set in motion by Hamilton through the
Federalist Papers, his Report on Manufactures, and his role as George
Washington’s Treasury Secretary.
The term ‘American System’ was introduced in 1824 by
Kentucky Senator Henry Clay to In 1824 to describe his
three-part program of protective tariffs, internal improvements and a
national bank.” This
system of government predominated, Gibson writes, until it broke down
during the laissez faire free-for-all of the Civil War. National
recovery only came when the American System was revived under FDR and
the New Deal. After a period of retrenchment (Truman, Eisenhower[v]),
it was revived again during the three short years of the Kennedy
presidency. LBJ and Nixon
both had a sense of the American System with regard to domestic policy
but conceded foreign policy control to the oligarchs.
The worst thing Nixon did, Gibson jokes, was to select Ford as
his vice president, leaving the White House to the passive Ford (and
Nelson Rockefeller). Capitulation continued under Carter (abandon the
New Deal), was rampant under Reagan (mergers and acquisitions)[vi]…
on through Bush (continued privatization and union busting), Clinton
(‘Roosevelt in reverse’) and G.W. Bush…. Gibson’s re-introduction of the idea of the American
System better enables one to evaluate historical periods, and
It would be especially useful for Tea Party ‘populists’ to
To the wealthy whose hegemony they
challenged, FDR and JFK were class traitors, not just pedigree but the
notion that private interests should be paramount over public
imposed limits on their self-seeking and enabled a national government
to shape its own economic future. To the wealthy, the ‘absentee
owners’ as sociologist Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929) labeled them,
virtually everything those two presidents did was perceived as threats
to their continued hegemony.
The intellectual champions of the
American System, including Friedrich List, Mathew and Henry Carey
“have now been airbrushed out of the history of economic thought,”
This brings up some questions: why
is an understanding of the American System not part of our awareness
of our own short history? It could be that lacking it we fail to
appreciate departures from the public interest; in a sense we would be
grounded in our own best history.
In learning the story, we would better appreciate the fragility
of the ‘American System’ -- which is always being undermined by
Wealth and its minions, while most of us are asleep.[ix]
Recognition of the American System would unnecessarily induce a
critique of the laissez faire system and those who profit from it.
Cognizance of the ‘American System’ would dispel some of the
obfuscations of the left-right metaphor.
Synonymous with the American System is the notion of the public
it, the public is too easily convinced – historically by agencies
such as the Chamber of Commerce – to sell off its public assets: a
kind of IMF conditionalities self-imposed through the guiding hand of
paid propagandists such as the Chamber and its allies.[x]
Gibson quotes Veblen, 1919:
“…the business interests of these absentee owners no longer
coincide in any possible degree with the material interests of the
Gibson documents the co-mingling of the British Round Table/Cecil
Rhodes group and the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), founded 1921,
congealing the new oligarchy with its closely related groups, the
Trilaterals and the Bilderbergs etc.
“The American System, and similar approaches in other
nations, provide an alternative to the two major ideological doctrines
of the twentieth century, Soviet-influenced Marxism and British school
laissez faire,” Gibson says. “One gave something like direct and
total power over economic processes to a centralized state apparatus.
The other stipulated that economic processes are best left to private
interests seeking to maximize their own self-interests.”
What is the “crisis” of
laissez faire capitalism? Essentially
that the acquisitionalist capitalist system won’t change, can’t
change. Gibson says the
upper class “is unlikely to provide any impetus for change,” they
probably own much more of the wealth now than they did 35 years
ago…are thoroughly insulated from criticism…[and] appear to be
incapable of making even minor changes that might be in their long
term interests…” (p. 244). “That means,” Gibson says, “that all hopes for useful
change are primarily with the general citizenry and our elected chief
So, what about the current chief
executive? How does Barak
Obama stack up using the New Deal as a standard or base line?
Basically, Gibson resorts to psychological analysis: “It appears
that Obama’s personal life has involved the continuous need to
adapt, conform, conciliate, and blend in” and thus he will cave on
the crucial questions. Gibson makes a good case, but resorts to this method because
the Obama phenomenon is a mystery unless one delves into the
continuity of criminality initiated by the neocons under George W.
In 2009, we asked Gibson about the
official 9/11 story. He
said he tended to accept it (19 Arab hijackers), but that some of his
students had tried to get him to look at their conspiracy stuff.
Too bad Gibson didn’t do it.
For a proper appreciation of the oligarchs, it would seem
crucial to understand the “inside job” nature of 9/11; but Gibson
lets the neocons off easily, dismissing them as “essentially just an
extension of the Establishment’s long-standing ideas about property,
markets, and government and are derived from the views set forth
centuries ago by Locke and Smith.”
Gibson faults Canadian Professor
Shadia Drury’s work on University of Chicago Leo Strauss (neocon
intellectual father and guru) for her failure to understand the
significance of the New Deal that Leo (Noble Lie) Strauss (and
students) was purportedly reacting to.
In so easily dismissing the
neocons as more of the same, Gibson ignores the primary integument
that holds the neocons together, loyalty to Israel and/or Zionism. Stephen
J. Sniegoski, in his book,
The Transparent Cabal: The Neoconservative Agenda, War in the Middle
East, and the National Interest of Israel, 2008, made this clear. To
make sense of the war on Iraq, Gibson suggests several reasons for the
war: get rid of a troublesome regime; prevent regional rivals making
deals with Iraq, takeover of Iraq’s oil, but foremost: the invasion
of Iraq was a bold action in furtherance of ‘free trade’
imperialism.” (p. 186) None of the reasons Gibson advances references Israel’s long
term plans which are outlined in the 1980s World Zionist Federation
paper, A Strategy for Israel in the ‘80s.
The neocons in the U.S.produced a parallel strategy for the US
called “Clean Break” (Feith, Perle et alia) that called for the
destruction of the same seven countries near Israel.
Gibson, cognizant that the CFR has
long been a power center opposed to the American System, should be
aware of the role of neocon Philip Zelikow as author of the 1998 CFR
article (Foreign Affairs): “Catastrophic
Terrorism: Imagining the Transformative Event.” And less than two
years later, the neocon Project for a New American Century picked up
on the CFR-Zelikow language, saying that the desired transformation
“is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing
event – like a new Pearl Harbor…”[xii]
Zelikow’s subsequent infamous role was to head the 9/11 commission
to cover up the crimes that the neocons themselves were especially
Thanks to Gibson, we can recall
Veblen’s words: “…the interests of these absentee owners no
longer coincide in any possible degree with the material interests of
the underlying population.”
I said above, “the Obama
phenomenon is a mystery unless one delves into the criminality
initiated by the neocons under George W. Bush.” The criminality was
egregious, including the false-flag 9/11 operation used to kick off
war on the Islamic/Persian world and all the subsequent police state
rationale for fighting the ersatz ‘war on terror.[xiii]
Obama must go along with the official story; he can’t escape
it; he does what he’s told; who exactly tells him, that’s the
On economic matters, Gibson says
Obama “…takes his basic perspective…from Robert Rubin, and
Rubin’s view is that globalization is inevitable and no tariff or
other form of trade regulation is desirable or even possible…That
Obama would accept Rubin’s views as authoritative is disturbing.
Laissez faire means that if the so-called markets dictate that the
United States be reduced to rubble, so be it.”
The long and the short of it is,
Gibson’s book does a great service in helping revive the American
Yoryevrah, Dec. 2013
In 2009 (Karen and I) were at Gibson’s Greensboro campus,
filming an interview with him; we’d earlier read his Battling
Wall Street, the best book we’ve encountered (with one
caveat) on why President Kennedy was killed.
It’s not that I’m against long titles. For example, Julian
Jaynes’ book The Origin of Consciousness and the Breakdown
of the Bicameral Mind is long, but it gives an overview of
the book. Gibson’s book is really about the great American
experiment, the ‘American System’ that opposed to the British
System (as articulated by John Locke, Adam Smith, and much later,
Friedman et al.), laissez faire capitalism; Gibson’s title
doesn’t hint at the protagonist that stands up to laissez faire
capitalism (or acquisitionalism).
Fletcher Prouty was a Gibson-mentor on the latter’s book. USAF
Col. Fletcher Prouty is the author of JFK: The
CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy,
The utilitarian notion that “unrestrained human conduct will
result in the greatest human happiness” looks especially
grotesque today, the scribbling of a psychopath.
In evaluating Truman and Eisenhower (et al.) it is important to
keep in mind the tremendous assault on the New Deal (and labor)
launched by the ‘business community’ via such institutions as
the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), the Chamber of
Commerce and the other propaganda machines initiated in the 30s on
behalf of the ‘absentee landlords.’
For example, President Truman subsequently described
events: “Right after the end of the war, big business in this
country set out to destroy the laws that were protecting the
consumer against exploitation. This drive was spear-headed by the
National Association of Manufacturers,
the most powerful organization of big business in the country.”
This story is documented in Alex Carey’s book, Taking
The Risk Out Of Democracy: Corporate Propaganda versus Freedom
and Liberty, 1995.
Important to note the effort and money Capital has used to
propagandize the working public. Carey observes: “…industrial
psychologists have developed theories and skills designed to hold
the hearts and minds of workers and the general public in favour
of the free enterprise businessman and in opposition to government
regulations and unionism.” 158, Carey.
For a thorough look at laissez fair capitalism’s sustained
assault on the New Deal, se Elizabeth A. Fones-Wolf’s book, Selling
Free Enterprise: The Business Assault on Labor and Liberalism,
1945-60, U. of Illinois Press, 1994.
JFK’s father, Joe Kennedy, was head of FDR’s Security and
Exchange Commission; an additional significance of this fact is
the visceral link JFK had with the notion of the American System
as represented by the New Deal.
“While most of us are asleep” or in a hypnotic state. In a
1947 article entitled “The Engineering of Consent,” Edward
Bernays “deceitfully says ‘the engineering of consent is the
very essence of the democratic process, the freedom to persuade
and suggest.” Alex Carey, Taking the Risk Out Of Democracy.
In effect Bernays is saying the freedom to hypnotize and be
hypnotized is the essence of the democratic process.
Gibson notes the plethora of CFR-related think tanks such as the
American Enterprise Institute
that supply the propaganda and personnel for most
administrations since Wilson, at least.
In effect, Veblen observed the beginnings of the post-WWI
breakaway civilization that was boosted into orbit during and
shortly after WWII.
We spent several years documenting (video interviews etc) the
alternative 9/11 story, so we offer the substance of our video to
respond to Gibson’s acceptance of the official story; for
starts, the professor might read The New Pearl Harbor by
David Ray Griffin.
Today, e.g., there is only one constituency demanding more
sanctions and military strikes on Iran, the Jewish Lobby, as noted
in the book by that title by Meirsheimer and Walt, among