Home > Political Economy > “Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”

“Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”

from David Ruccio

Many people know, and regularly invoke, Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1961 speech in which he warns of the “unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

We might also remember the Republican president’s understanding of the responsibilities of the federal government (expressed in a 1954 letter to his brother):

But to attain any success it is quite clear that the Federal government cannot avoid or escape responsibilities which the mass of the people firmly believe should be undertaken by it. The political processes of our country are such that if a rule of reason is not applied in this effort, we will lose everything—even to a possible and drastic change in the Constitution. This is what I mean by my constant insistence upon “moderation” in government. Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.

Unfortunately, right now, it is not a tiny splinter group nor is their number negligible. We can only hope that we will not hear of that party again in our political history.

  1. Mike Meeropol
    March 1, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    One of the most fascinating stories of wholesale manipulation has been the ability of that “negligible and stupid” group of people to gain political power so that between 1954 when Eisenhower wrote that letter, through 1980 when Reagan was elected on a campaign to “rein in” the federal government, to 1996 when Bill Clinton “surrendered” to the Republican majority by signing “Welfare Reform” and adopting the mantra of “budget balance” they came to control the “national conversation” about the appropriate role for government in the US economy.

    In part, we have the economics profession to blame, which is why I actually am drawn to Dean Baker’s proposal to zero out all NSF and other government funding for graduate education in Economics in the US. It appears by almost all evidence that such “education” does more harm than good to the body politic of modern society.

    (Maybe it’s different in other parts of the world?)

    In this context, I’d like to give a “commercial” for a newly published book by John McDermott. It is entitled RESTORING DEMOCRACY TO AMERICA and its theme is that between 1870 and 1970 (the focus is on the US) corporation capitalism unleashed such an increase in worker productivity that significant advances occurred in the standards of the living of the vast majority of people in the advanced capitalist countries. He calls this period the period of the advance of “THE DEMOCRACY.” But, alas, powerful corporations got tired of “sharing the[ir] wealth” and so they began to grab more and more power (and wealth) for themselves and we have seen a dismantling of much of the good things accomplished by THE DEMOCRACY since 1970.

    It’s a fascinating, erudite, detailed analysis of what was successful for the majority of the people in the 1870-1970 period and what has happened since.

    I recommend it highly.

    • March 1, 2011 at 5:39 pm

      John Kenneth Galbraith has written extensively on this subject as well.
      I think we all know what is wrong with the system. When can the conversation shift towards what needs to be done about it: I.e. De-programming the stupified public mind?

      • Alice
        March 2, 2011 at 10:17 am

        before we can begin de-programming the stupefied public mind we need to de-programme and disempower the self interested medi machine that has stupified the public mind.
        The stupified public mind is being fed a daily dose of media soma and they vote accordingly.

  2. Geoff Davies
    March 1, 2011 at 11:25 pm

    The pity is that supposedly progressive politicians refuse to call these people what they are.

    In the USA and here (Australia) they engage in radical social engineering, trample on or undermine democratic processes, bend, ignore or change laws that are inconvenient, spread disinformation, promote ignorance and fear, and so on.

    This means they are extremist anti-democratic subversives. The handful of leftie revolutionaries of the sixties were puny by comparison, but the response to them was hysteria. When equally radical right-wingers get into our legislatures and even gain control of government, there’s nary a peep of complaint.

  3. Peter Radford
    March 2, 2011 at 8:49 pm

    Their number is no longer negligible. They remain stupid.

    Somewhere around 1980 America left its recent past in order to recapture a romanticized version of its deeper past. To do so it had to reverse course and attack the very ideas and programs upon which it was then constructed. It had to erode the foundation upon which the middle class was based. It did this because it was convinced by people like Reagan that it need not confront its problems and that it only had to release the energy and vitality of markets in order to return to high growth and wealth accumulation. The orthodox economics profession stands guilty as charged in abetting this delusion.

    That the middle class could be convinced to destroy itself so that others could flourish is both a mystery and a tragedy.

    So I change my mind.

    They are not stupid. They are ingenious. They are clever. They are determined. They are winning.

    Eisenhower was complacent. We can no longer be.

    • Alice
      March 2, 2011 at 10:23 pm

      Peter – you say “They are not stupid. They are ingenious. They are clever. They are determined. They are winning.”

      I agree with all but your last sentence – for in “winning” on dangerous policy directions, they are creating their own destruction. Some part of me thinks we should go with the ideas of the radically conservative (a misnomer these days) as far as possible and as quickly as possible – so that when they are left with the end game of these policies ie gross inequality, massive social problems and a middle class and economy destroyed – the “ingenious” may find they dont actually like living there.

    • Stephan
      March 3, 2011 at 2:18 pm

      “They are not stupid. They are ingenious. They are clever. They are determined. They are winning.”

      Yes and No. They are only winning in the short run. No way you can impoverish large parts of the population on the long run who have guns and semi-automatic weapons in their closet.

  4. Peter Radford
    March 3, 2011 at 8:49 pm

    @ Alice & Stephan: I agree about the longer term. they are sowing the seeds of their own destruction. My concern is the short term cost they are imposing on us all and especially those who are least able to defend themselves.

  5. Geoff Davies
    March 3, 2011 at 10:45 pm

    Alice & Stephan – I would go further than Peter’s concern. Any state that descends into disorder is liable to be taken over by bullies, who always have simplistic solutions, and a fear campaign to promote them. The risk is of a descent into tyranny, from which it is very difficult to escape – witness the Middle East at the moment.

    I think the so-called neo-conservatives are well along this path, which is why they should be named for what they are – radical subversives.

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