Crypto Crashes, Inflation, Gun-Toting White Nationalists… This is Steve Bannon’s Perfect Storm
Andrew Keen on the Fragile State of American Democracy
Yes, those are dark clouds swirling on the horizon. The news this week has been dominated by a perfect storm of imminent political violence, a severe inflationary crisis, a neverending war in Ukraine, the meltdown of the “innovative” economics of cryptocurrency, and the general bankruptcy of many of our most cherished institutions and ideas. These clouds are systemic. The bad news, I’m afraid, is mostly connected.
Take, for example, the connection between the collapse of crypto and runaway inflation. This week, Christopher Leonard, the author of the excellent The Lords of Easy Money, appeared once again on Keen On to make systematic sense of today’s inflationary crisis. As Leonard explained, the Fed’s policy of printing money since 2010 to bail out the rich and powerful has created an overstimulated economy with much too much cash chasing too little innovation.
Thus today’s inflation rate of 8.6 percent and gas prices nearing $7 a gallon in California. Thus the ponzi economics of multi-billion dollar crypto scams like Celsius and Terraform Labs. Thus an international financial system awash in stolen money that bankrolled the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The neoliberal system, Christopher Leonard explained, simply doesn’t work anymore. Citing the work of the Cambridge historian Gary Gerstle (who appeared on Keen On earlier this year), Leonard argues that we are at the end of the end of the neoliberal epoch. There’s no going back to the hyper-inflationary 1970s, Leonard explains, when the Thatcher-Reagan revolution began its half-century crusade against a regulatory state. Rather than the solution, neoliberalism is the cause of today’s crisis.
As I argued last week, history doesn’t repeat itself. It doesn’t even rhyme.
Christopher Leonard’s message was reiterated by another Keen On guest this week, Oliver Burrough, the author of the new Butler to the World and the classic Moneyland. Burrough’s critique of an unregulated kleptocratic system is shared by many other recent Keen On guests including Catherine Belton, Casey Michel, Frank Vogl and Tom Burgis. The world’s tycoons, tax dodgers, criminals and kleptocrats are the principal beneficiaries of neoliberalism. It’s their cash, their oil and gas, their parvenu appetites and pretensions which continues to fuel the whole rotten system.
Silicon Valley-style innovation certainly isn’t the answer. Watch, for example, my Keen On interview this week with the crypto enthusiast and author of Once a Bitcoin Miner, Ethan Lou. This crypto nonsense—with its comical “guarantees” of 25 percent interest on cryptocurrency—is a mix of childish wishful thinking, libertarian techno-hubris and outright fraud. It’s hard to take it seriously as anything but a speculative mania in which fast-talking Web3 “innovators” make a killing and leave the small investor to foot the bill.
Unfortunately, these slick crypto speculators are the least of our problems. Waiting brightly in the shadows, as this perfect storm engulfs us, are much more dangerous political speculators like Steve Bannon, who The Atlantic’s Jennifer Senior recently dubbed the “American Rasputin.”
The 2022 Pulitzer prize-winning Senior came on Keen On earlier this week to discuss Bannon, who we jokingly imagined as Sherlock Holmes’ villainous alter-ego Professor Moriarty, texting “did you miss me” to the rest of us. No, not funny. There’s nothing funny about Bannon. Nothing at all.
I wonder if Bannon is more Joaquin Phoenix’s transparently psychotic Joker than a trolling Moriaty. It’s Steve Bannon’s overt glee at the disintegration of American liberal democracy that is the least funny thing about this joker. As Senior suggests, Bannon knows exactly what he’s doing. America’s Rasputin can’t even be bothered to disguise his illiberal ambition to replace representative democracy with an unholy (although maybe not quite so unholy to him as to the rest of us) cocktail of plebiscitary mob rule and militarized authoritarian populism.
What Bannon is openly fomenting, particularly in his disturbingly popular podcast Bannon’s War Room, is American civil war. This is the civil war that Stephen Marche, author of The Next Civil War and a frequent Keen On guest, believes is already a low-level reality in small-town America. Maybe. But what can be said for sure is that just as the global economic system is awash in kleptocratic cash, so America is awash in guns.
The munitions for the civil war that Bannon is inciting, then, are already in place. And as the author of The NRA: An Unauthorized History, Frank Smyth predicted on Keen On this week, America will, between now and 2025, be subjected to its worst civil violence since Reconstruction. Smyth is certainly no fan of the NRA. But his dystopian vision of a post NRA America, filled with racist gun rights fanatics who will, no doubt, take their marching orders from Bannon’s War Room, is anything but fictional.
So those are just some of the dark clouds swirling on the American horizon. But what to do to confront what the Cambridge economist and frequent Keen On guest Helen Thompson describes as the “hard times” of an already inflationary and violently insurrectionary decade?
We could, of course, retreat to our comfortable ghettos of gender and racial politics and write Pulitzer prize-winning books about the sins of European settlement of North America. All chest thumpingly reassuring, especially in an America where progressives have always been greedy for virtue. Not entirely untrue either. But maybe not the smartest way to stand up to America’s Rasputin and his well-armed militias.
Another answer is to seek comfort in history and assume that all these dark clouds can be blown away by a retreat into the 20th-century certainties of the New Deal or the Great Society. But as Christopher Leonard reminds us, there is no going back. Not to the 1970s or the Great Society. Certainly not to the New Deal. The neoliberal last act of the 20th century is now over. It mostly failed and we are now living with its most destructive consequences. Steve Bannon has a vision of a post-neoliberal 21st century. Do we?