American Theocracy, The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century

American Theocracy The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century.

By Kevin Phillips

Published by The Penguin Group 2006

 

This is a good look at the limb we are out on and sawing away on it between us and the tree. I am a Christian but I feel the church has been manipulated. It has been manipulated by politicians and the petroleum industry and business in general epitomized by Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs and his take that corporations were “doing God’s work” (his words). How this came to be so ingrained was during the Cold War between the Soviet Union and The United States the conservative element, often being church going, was bombarded by the mantra Communists (Russia) were atheists and we (USA) were God fearing. Anything the Communists represented was a threat to business so businesses were the good guys. They hammered it in so often that they ended up with their candidates winning and running the show by backing and contributing to politicians that also repeated it loud and often. What was good for business was good for America. We let them do what they wanted because they were on our side but like all businessmen/women they were on their own side.

 

This book delves into how religion being manipulated has placed us in our present precarious position. The author explains all three of the subjects in the subtitle and connects the dots between them. Our global standing has diminished and we are in debt and the so called “good guys” have taken their businesses and relocated to other nations, often the ones that are still Communist. It shows how business has taken both America and religion for a ride…..off a cliff. It is divided into three parts: Part I; Oil and American Supremacy, Part II; Too Many Preachers and Part III; Borrowed Prosperity. It is an easy but aggravating read. Many accuse the “baby boomers” of being responsible for many of the problems of today but in reality if we are guilty of anything it is being too trusting. We knew there were dishonest politicians but we did not, could not; believe they would lie to us as blatantly as they did. If anything we are guilty of naivety, the same thing that both sides of the spectrum are guilty of today.

 

I have taken a few paragraphs from the three sections to give a general feeling for the content. To understand the section on religion (part II) and the intricate ins and outs of how American government and religion has become so fused it is necessary to read the entire section which also means reading the book. He lays out a very good argument for caution in too much mixing of politics and religion. He uses four prior global economic empires: Ancient Rome, Hapsburg Spain, the Dutch, and Great Briton and the role religion, in these cases Christianity, played in their decline. (Rome was not global in the sense we view global but it did encompass the known world at that time.) He also shows how we are following the same path. Religion is like most things a two edge sword. Used properly religion has been a major factor in all empires and civilizations rise and abused it often contributed to it their downfalls.

 

The book is well documented with some chapters having over one hundred references of sources.

 

PREFACE

 

The American people are not fools, that is why pollsters, inquiring during the last 40 years whether the United States was on the right track or the wrong one, and so often gotten second answer: wrong track.” Page vii

 

“The financialization of the United States economy or the last three decades – in the 1900s the finance, real estate, and insurance sector overtook and then strongly passed manufacturing as a share of the U.S. gross domestic product – is an ill omen in its own right. However, its rise has been closely tied to record levels of debt and to the powerful emergence of a debt-and-credit industrial complex. Excessive debt in the twenty-first-century United States is on its way to becoming the global Fifth Horseman, writing close behind war, pestilence, famine, and fire.” Page vii

 

“The three threats emphasized in these pages could stand on their own as menaces to the Republic. History, however, provides a further level of confirmation. Natural resources, religious access, wars, and burgeoning debt levels have been prominent causes of the downfall of the previous leading world economic powers. The United States is hardly the first, and we can profit from the examples of what went wrong before.” Page ix

 

Oil, as everyone knows, became the all-important fuel of American global ascendancy in the twentieth century. But before that, nineteenth-century Britain was the coal hegemon and seventeenth-century Dutch fortune harnessed the winds and the waters. Neither nation could maintain its global economic leadership when the world moved toward a new energy regime. Today’s United States, despite denials, has obviously organized much of its overseas military posture around petroleum, protecting oilfields, pipelines, and sea lanes.” Page ix

 

“In any event, the rapid ballooning of government, corporate, financial, and personal debt over the last four decades goes a long way to explain why the finance sector, debt’s toll collector, has swollen to outweigh the manufacture of real goods. We are in the midst of one of America’s most perverse transformations.” Page ix

 

“Because the United States is beginning to run out of its own oil sources, a military solution to an energy crisis is hardly lunacy. Neither Caesar nor Napoleon would have flinched, and the temptation, at least, is understandable. When Caesar and Napoleon did not face, but less able American presidents do, is that bungled overseas military embroilment, unfortunate in its own right, could also boomerang economically.” Page xiv

 

PART 1: OIL AND AMERICAN SUPREMACY

 

Chapter 1: Fuel and National Power

 

“Thus, the inevitable twenty-first-century global transition from oil to a post-oil regime – be it natural gas, hydrogen, more nuclear reliance, renewable energies, or various hybrids of cleanup fossil fuels – could see the United States displaced by a new leading economic power, probably an Asian one. China’s early history of innovations in hydraulics, natural-gas use, and the drilling may be relevant.” Page 4

 

“With U.S. oil production slumping inexorably from its 1970 peak and replacement options unclear, Americans have already embraced one historically familiar recourse: military seizure of portions of the Middle East, expected by 2022 have two thirds of the world’s remaining oil resources”. Page 5

 

“History repeats only in outline, so the United States must find its own pathway. The general parallel is the basis for worry.” Page 17

 

“Like the British of 1900, the Americans a century later were slow to grasp the possibility that a steep price might have to be paid for the graying temples of what had once been a pioneering fuel culture and infrastructure.” Page 17

“Twenty-first-century oil rests on more than corporations, plants, and pipelines. Any realistic catalog must also include government subsidies and preferences, entrenched bureaucracies and interest groups, foreign relationships, political party coalitions, and recurring Middle East war patterns”. Page 17

 

“Back in 1956, Marion King Hubbert, and American geologists working for Shell, had brought out a set of calculations interrelating the dates of the major U.S. oil-field discoveries, their rates of production, and the peaks that he saw inevitably following. Fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas, and coal, squeezed into being by millions of years of massive pressure on concentrations of animal and plant matter, are not renewable. Using geological computations, under predicted that extraction of oil in the lower forty eight states – Alaska had not yet been tapped – would maximize between 1965 and 1970. To the surprise of layman, the peak did come in 1970,…….” Page 21

 

PART II: TOO MANY PREACHERS

 

Chapter 4: Radicalized Religion

 

“Few questions will be more important to the twenty-first-century United States then whether renascent religion and its accompanying political hubris will be carried on the nation’s books as an asset or as a liability. While sermons and rhetoric propounding America’s exceptionalism proclaim religiosity an asset, a somber array of historical precedents – the pitfalls of Imperial Christian overreach from Rome to Britain – tip the scales towards liability.” Page 99

 

“In its recent practice, the radical side of U.S. religion has embraced cultural anti-modernism, war hawkishness, Armageddon prophecy, and in the case of conservative fundamentalists, a demand for governments by literal biblical interpretation.” Page 100

 

Chapter 7: Church, State, and National Decline

 

“The historical dilemma is that while religion is generally served humankind well, certainly in framing successful societies around the world, there had been conspicuous exceptions – bloody religious wars, malevolent crusades, and false prophecies. Indeed, the precedents of past leading world economic powers show that blind faith and religious excesses – the rapture seems to be both – have often contributed to national decline, sometimes even being in his forefront.” Page 219

 

“Historians of great-power decline do not emphasize religion, save with respect to Rome, but it has also played important roles elsewhere. These pages put religion first less because of preeminent causation – economics and warfare have played equal or greater roles – then because of this book’s larger focus on the reemergence of faith-driven politics.” Page 221

 

“Edward Gibbon, and in 1776 masterwork The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, pointed to an overconfident and intolerant Christianity as the cause of imperial decline. The English historian’s basic thesis was that after the late-fourth-century Roman Empire made a state religion of Christianity, which until then had been just a minor sect, that combination of church and state became crippling and divisive, so that religious access helped to bring down an already weakening empire. …………….. Christian Rome, however, withdrew tolerance and pressured its regions and peoples on behalf of of the one true religion.” Page 221

 

As for Spain, it’s late-fifteenth-and sixteenth ascent had been closely tied to the Catholic faith and expansionism: ………………………. Religious excess and the Crown’s preoccupation with advancing Catholicism globally are widely agreed upon as contributing factors.” Page 222

 

Faith also took an economic toll”. Page 223

 

“The Dutch nation, in addition to the resources of wind and water, also drew on the power of fierce religion: the Calvinist fervor of the Dutch Reformed Church, so prominent in the long war to break free of Spain.” Page 223

 

“During the second half of the century, as the Dutch people watched their cities, industries, and maritime capacity continued to decline, religious divisions fed two separate movements, each urging a brand of political and moral renewal”. Page 224

 

“The contributions of British religious enthusiasm to the country’s years of decline in the early twentieth century are more straightforward.” Page 224 (And he goes on to explain it.)

 

“To summarize: religion, while not routinely cited as a significant factor in Dutch and British decline, did play a considerable part and also played a central role in the downfalls of Roman Spain. Fervent religion feeding into national hubris late in an imperial trajectory is a particularly worrisome historical sign that should summon caution for the present day United States.” Page 226

 

“Symptom number two, related to the first, involves the interplay of faith and science. What might be called the Roman  disenlightenment has been well dissected in Charles Freeman’s the closing of the Western mind (2002). He dwells on how Rome’s fourth and fifth century Christian regimes, closed famous libraries like the one in Alexandria, limited the availability of books, discarded the works of Aristotle and Ptolemy, and embraced the dismissal of Greek logicians set forth in the gospel of Paul.” Page 226

 

Habsburg Spain, a second Empire immersed in Catholic theology, was equally hostile to scientific inquiry. The eminent British historian of Spain, J. H. Elliot, recounted the seventeenth century episode when the Spanish government, deliberating over a vital canal project, assembled a junta of theologians who advised that if God had intended the rivers Tagus and Manzanares to be navigable, he would have made them so.” Page 226

 

Part III: Borrowed Prosperity

 

Chapter 8, Soaring Debt, Uncertain Politics, in the Financialization of the United States

 

“It’s finally happened: moving money around as surpassed making things as a share of the U.S. gross domestic product. But while the explosion of debt and credit is well acknowledged – in this context the New York Times in 2005 employed the term “borrower-industrial-complex” – the benign phrase “financial services” still dominates the discussion. Even so, the armchair detective can easily figure out that we are approaching a national transformation in economic vitality that past world powers allowed to their peril.” Page 265

 

“In official statistics, the finance, insurance, and real estate (FIRE) sector of the U.S. economy swelled to 20 percent, and jumping ahead of manufacturing, which slipped to 14.5 percent.” Page 256

 

“However unhealthy the financial-services relation with debt, the explanations are straightforward. American financial-services firms conduct much of their business in managing, packaging, or trading debt and credit instruments, as well as handling debt-related corporate restructurings. Lucrative returns a float from government and corporate bonds and, asset-backed securities, credit cards, mortgages, and home loans, as well as financial and credit derivatives. (like credit-default swaps), leveraged buyouts, and a plethora of other gambits and gambles.” Page 268

 

“The debt mentality and problem did not just spring to life during the Reagan presidency. It gathered slowly, back in the 1960s and early 1970s, when debt creep was not yet seen as threatening.” Page 273

 

“If history teaches us anything, it’s that this so-called adding-edge finance is an accident waiting to happen, despite claims by the so-called new-macro economists that derivatives are tame and benign and that national debt and and deficits are manageable within a new global savings pool in which national boundaries no longer mattered so much.” Page 285

 

“Three U.S. banks became super banks: Citigroup, the world’s biggest; and the Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase and, read further down. ……. In late 1990 Citigroup was close to insolvency because of that real-estate in foreign loans. However, Citigroup’s size made it essential to any global strategy for U.S. banking, and Federal Reserve officials help to arrange a cash infusion and rescue by Saudi Prince Awaleed bin Talal.” Page 292

 

“Should a fall in real estate prices in the 2000s bring tumbling economic dominoes avoided earlier, the Federal Reserve Board’s decisions might be re-examined under a cruel lens: can bubble popping the left to the whim of a central bank blinded by fealty to finance? An unsafe credit practices be allowed when unsafe industrial practices have been regulated or prohibited?” Page 295

 

Chapter 9, Debt, History’s Unlearned Lesson

 

“Because the past repeats only in general resemblance, there is always something different, something new. The truth, together with the usual effects of the passage of time, makes it easier for later generations to dismiss any upward precedents – and so it has been with the demobilization of manufacturing an embrace of debt in the contemporary United States.” Page 298

 

“Like other leading world economic powers, we tell ourselves we are special,  sui generis, unique, and God’s chosen nation, the new people of the covenant. Economics as well as political and religious smugness threads through each historical sequence.” Page 298

“William Wolman, chief economist for  Business Week, noted the reiteration of this familiar menace: ‘the best historians . . . have noticed that in each major phase of the development of capitalism, leading country of the capitalist world goes through a period of financilization, wherein the most important economic dynamic is the creation and trading of abstract financial instruments rather than the production of genuine goods and services.’ “ Page 302

 

“This, indeed, it is the dispute. Part is theoretical: the so-called postindustrial scenario versus the argument that “hard industries” still remain imperative. But another significant element, to which we now turn, is the influence that can entrench around in large rentier class or, as in America now, around a “debt and creditor” complex.” Page 306

 

The Precariousness of Rentier Cultures

 

“The word “rentier” – meaning a person living off unearned income – comes from the French, as do so many other words connected with money and plunder: financier, profiteer, buccaneer. Over the last four centuries, however, it was first Spain, then Holland, in Great Britain, and now the United States that created the most notable rentier cultures. Each ultimately became vulnerable as a result.”  Page 307

 

“Understandable as this talking this might be, history teaches a crucial distinction: nations could marshal the necessary debt-defying high-wire walks and comebacks during their youth and early middle age, when their industries, exports, capitalizations, and animal spirits were vital and expensive, but they became less resilient in later years. During these periods, as their societies polarized in their arteries clogged with rentier and debt buildups, wars and financial crises stopped being manageable.” Page 311

 

“Clyde Prestowitz, the longtime president of Washington-based Economic Strategy Institute, all but tolled the bell for U.S. manufacturing only a few years into the new century . ……. In Three Billion New Capitalists: The Great Shift of Wealth and Power to the East, Prestowitz profiled a trio of critical weaknesses in America’s “dying tech ecosystem”: (1) research and development; (2) present and future workforce education, and (3) the particular peril posed to high technology leadership by the nation’s increasing inability to implement, test, or support the expertise in an actual manufacturing milieu. Page 314/315

 

Even the military side of the economy gives rise to what humorists like to call déjà vu all over again. Those familiar with British historian Corelli Barnett’s searing indictment of British unpreparedness for World War I – his catalog of lackadaisical approaches and naivete in everything from chemicals, coal tars, and munitions to ball bearings, and of Whitehall’s lack of attention to how many essential processes, metals and machine tools were in German or other foreign lands – must cringe at the latter-day U.S. parallels. Page 315