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Fascism in America: Learn from the 1930s Experience in the Nordic Countries

Updated: Jan 23

Fascist styled framing --- lies, distortion, conspiracy, propaganda, in this case false claims about a stolen election --- stirs an attack on the Legislative Branch of Government assembled in the US Capitol Credit... Will Oliver/EPA, via Shutterstock


… reminder of what happened in Norway in the 1930s, and what to do about it: Rebalance I&We as Metaeconomics makes clear


Before we start: Colleagues and friends have suggested the Metaeconomics Blogs are too complex, too detailed, too oriented to an economics-only group of readers. So, working to fix it: From now on, in subsequent Blogs, I will start posting a brief, hopefully to the point "The Essence of the Story" section before going into the deeper content, called "The Rest of the Story." So, here goes (and I will work to go back and do the same thing for earlier Blog posts). What think?



The Essence of the Story: Authoritarianism with a Fascist Twist is not a new story. In this Blog Post, I go back and compare recent events relating to the Storming of the US Capitol to the move in Norway (with similar moves in other Nordic Countries at that time) toward an Authoritarian Fascism in the early-1930s, and how it failed.


How did it fail? Bottomline: While the Norwegian Strongman by the name of Quisling stirred the Extreme Right to egg-on and bring the Extreme Left (Antifa, the US Extreme Right calls said people here and now, even though there is no organized Antifa in the US --- so just conspiracy, lies, and misinformation spread on social media and even on supposed "news" channels) into the streets.


Why? Well then the Strongman Quisling could bring in the military, squash violence (which he stirred in the first place), becoming the "law-and-order" leader, making everyone in the middle-class calm down, be happy. It was just a ploy to take-over the Norwegian Government and the Economy. And, it did not work, because the Left (and the Middle, and, eventually a lot of people on the Moderate Right) did not take the bait. The recent stirring to bring the storming of the US Capitol is largely an effort to do the same thing, with the intent of taking over, creating an Autocracy.


Why are we even having to address such things? Well, it is mainly because of the failed Economic Narrative formed back in the 1970s and 1980s with the Friedman Doctrine and Reagan Revolution. Fix that Narrative, and we stop the storming.


So, read-on, but only if you really want to get to the position, like Paul Harvey used to say it, "Now-you-know-the-rest-of-the-story."


The Rest of the Story: As made clear in Lynne (2020), and in several other Blog entries on this site, the current political economic chaos in the US is the direct result of the Economic Narrative started back in the 1970s by Libertarian Economists like Milton Friedman. The Friedman Doctrine shifted corporate management to focusing almost exclusively on minimizing costs at all costs. Minimizing costs meant minimizing the power of labor unions, reducing the influence of cooperatives, and, shipping factories overseas (or simply stopping buying from US manufacturing firms, so they went out of business). Minimizing costs resulted in a huge number of American workers losing their middle-class lifestyle --- cutting labor costs is the easiest way to reduce costs, including shifting production to low wage countries --- with little hope to ever return to it (as made clear in Bromley, 2019, see p. 49, and several other locations).


The single-minded goal to reduce costs came about because the Friedman Doctrine pointed to focusing on increasing share prices: CEOs had only responsibility, to stir the stock market. Cutting costs, especially labor costs, ensured the bottom line looked better. The stock market was the total focus, even paying CEOs in stock options, exacerbating the problem even further.


The tone was picked-up and reinforced by the Reagan Revolution and enablers in the early-1980s, with the mythical story that anyone could make it in America with hard work and determination. Not. The Reagan Revolution actually worked to destroy the American Dream. It had been the joint role of market&government that created the possibility for the American Dream, starting especially in the 1930s, and it was possible by the mid-1950s, at least for white males. President Reagan worked with wealthy, influential business people to eliminate labor unions, which up until the mid-1950s had been an essential offset to power, better ensuring Contributive Justice (after Sandel, 2020) for everyone that worked. We now have huge Contributive Injustice, and a substantive amount of Distributive Injustice, as well. Injustice cannot sustain a Capitalism&Democracy, which is overall, deeper reason as to why we have the chaos displayed in storming the US Capital. The Economic Narrative created during the Reagan Revolution claimed that Government could only do bad (see Shiller, 2019, esp. 51). The only exception according to the tenets of the Revolution was military defense, with expenditures hugely bloated during that time.


Overall, together, the Friedman Doctrine and Reagan Revolution took that opportunity away for most people, not only the white males, but for everyone else, unless one happened to be in the Meritocracy. The result was a destruction of the American Dream, as documented in many places, but see especially Putnam and Garrett (2020). Just like the political and economic elite were doing in Norway prior to the near move to fascism in the 1930s, by the early-2010s there was little hope among the working class in the US. Result: Vote for a strongman that promised to fix it all. It happened in 2016, and, fortunately, enough people came to their senses to stop it in 2020.


So, what happened next was completely predictable here in 2020-2021. People frustrated with being left behind by the political and economic elite, as represented in extreme inequality in income and wealth, and the political power it can buy, leads to Fascism on the Extreme Right (as well as potentially leading to communism on the Extreme Left, but we are so far to the Right in the US that the Extreme Left is a non-issue). People filled with resentment are also prone to conspiracy theories, which offer reasons, someone to blame, and unhinged ways to fix the problems. The storming of the US Capitol --- fueled by conspiracy theories about a stolen election, among other Fantasyland claims --- reflects mainly a resentment for the elite politicians, as well as the elite with more education and wealth, with supporters feeling, rightfully they have been left behind. The elite snub, and otherwise lookdown on same, as in the Tyranny of Merit (Sandel, 2020) and of Shaming (Wise, 2015). As an aside, and ironically: Some seeing themselves putdown by the elite often support the really wealthy who they believe "did-it" on their own; unfortunately, few can do so, and noone does it completely on their own, especially not anymore. The American Dream is really more like an American Nightmare. And, the Nightmare becomes very real when it also stirs the Authoritarians (especially by those absolutely intolerant of racial differences).


Generally, looking back in history, elitism --- the arrogance of wealth, the arrogance of the more highly educated (education is bad if applied with arrogance rather than applied to help real people solve real problems), the arrogance of power --- is the target, by both the Extreme Left and the Extreme Right. Elitism is not something reasonable people can go along with. The elitism represented in the arrogance of self-love, the arrogance of self-interest, needs to be tempered (Lynne, 2020). And, on the Extreme Right, Fascism targeted against elitism is especially revealed in generally young, generally white men (too much testosterone, perhaps) fully open to and capable of violence (and, fed by Authoritarian racism, which makes it even more perverse). Strongman and Strongwoman (and, ironically, neither are Strong, but actually are the Weakest) politicians become symbols, in cult-like devotion by said groups, and by others who enable and cheer them on.


And, the result was demonstrated on January 6, 2021, with people on the Extreme Right, acting out like Fascists, encouraged by Strongman and Strongwoman politicians, storming the Capital during the reading of the Electoral College results from a legitimate election. Fortunately, people on the Left and the Moderates stayed home: Let the Fascist Right rant and rave, which is the best way to deal with it, like the Norwegians figured out in the 1930s. Calmly protest; vote, like put offsets to Extreme Right Political framing into power, quietly (it appears the US Senate has been nudged to the Left, without violence: Balance please).


Why am I going through all this? Well, history is repeating itself, at least in the overall frame, and, intriguingly, in Norway, the story below, the people found their way out of it. And, as Metaeconomics makes clear, it is about an economic problem, a political economic problem: The problem is dis-investing, dis-mantling Government in favor of the myth that the Market can do it all, by itself. Balance, please.


So, what actually transpired in Norway in the 1930s (and several other Nordic countries have similar stories)? Sorry to be a bit repetitive, here, but sometimes it a helps: A politician by the name of Quisling had become the head of a Norwegian Fascist Party in 1933, not unlike the Trumpism (on the Nationalist end of the Cosmopolitan --- Nationalist political spectrum) with a Fascist Twist that had emerged by 2020. Some lessons from what happened in Norway, and how they got through it, need to be paid attention to here in the US right now.


The story from Lakey (2017) starts with the fact that the Norwegian Left restrained their reaction (the restraint did not arise in Germany, with the Left reacting to the Right in violence) to the Right who were trying too stir the Left into the streets. The goal was to stir the violence, such that Strongman Quisling and fellow Fascists could “restore law and order (sound familiar)?” The Lakey (2017, loc 3310-3318) story goes like this, pointing to how the Strongman did not succeed because few on the Left took the baiting from the Right, including the arena of struggle (mainly with violence on the streets, and on January 6, in the US Capitol):


In other words, most Norwegians did not allow Quisling to choose the arena of struggle, nor to define the rules. Americans did the same when the civil rights movement did not allow the Ku Klux Klan to choose the arena of struggle (armed confrontation) or the rules (such as anonymity through masked garb, or incendiary signals like burning down buildings regarded by the other side as sanctuaries). Further, the Norwegian Left understood that Quisling was a symptom, not the cause of the mess Norway was in, just as Donald Trump is a symptom, not the cause of the mess the United States is in. Rather than obsess about the symptom, progressive Norwegians focused on the cause, which was primarily the dominance of the economic elite. Norwegians challenged that dominance by targeting the elite in nonviolent campaigns for specific, widely shared demands. The campaigns multiplied and the movement gained strength behind a broadly united vision. So many people joined the growing nonviolent direct-action campaigns that Norway became ungovernable by the economic elite. Quisling reportedly held discussions with military officers about measures to crush the campaigns. The stage was set for a fascist “solution.” Instead, Norway broke through to a social democracy, thanks to movement infrastructure including co-ops, inclusiveness, and nonviolent strategy. Even military officers loyal to Quisling could see that his plan would not succeed against so popular a movement.


Strongman and Strongwoman --- with a Fascist twist in both US Politics and US Religion --- needs to be rebuffed, and new paths defined. Progressive Americans --- and hopefully Progressive Americans from both Right and Left --- need to do something similar to what worked in the Nordic Countries, the Viking Economies.


On changing the Economic Narrative, see the Blog herein. Perhaps the most important aspect is for the elite to temper the tendency to excess (the point of Lynne, 2020). Labor unions need to be brought back. Labor needs to be at the table with Capital (CEOs and Management, Owners), as in having representatives on Boards of Directors. Cooperatives need to be encouraged --- especially the worker cooperatives (and, no, this is not socialism, it is just good capitalism, humane capitalism), in that workers can have some capital as well as their own labor, in order to earn adequate income and accumulate wealth. CEOs need to stop being concerned only with minimizing labor costs to raise stock prices while broadening the scope to ensuring decent pay, a decent life for labor; caring for the economic viability of suppliers; making better products and service for consumers; and, yes, stop the destruction of the Spaceship natural system.


And, easiest one of all: Raise the minimum wage, pay for it by cutting compensation packages and taking less out of the companies at the top, while also increasing all wages down the line --- would be an easy and obvious place to start. See the $70000 Minimum Wage Blog herein for an example of how this has already been done in one company. Metaeconomics points to the essential need to find an optimal inequality, staying away from extreme equality and extreme inequality in income and wealth.


As Metaeconomics framing and dual interest theory makes clear, it is all about balance as depicted on the economic justice scale in Image #1. It is essential to economic efficiency, peace (no storming of the US Capitol, please), and happiness. Going too far to the Extreme Left or Extreme Right will crash both the Market&Government, Business&Democracy, as depicted by the recent Extreme Tipping to the Right in Image #2 (Extreme Tipping to the Left is just as destructive: Balance, please).




Image 1. Balance in I&We, Self&Other-Interest, Market&Government --- perhaps with slightly more weight given to the I, the Self-interest, the Market, but not so much as to cause the crash.


Image 2. The crash of too much "I" and not enough "We" --- too much Market and not enough Government. Too Much Greed, Not Tempered. US Capitol Stormed, anyone?


Like Putnam and Garrett (2020) make clear, we need to rebalance the Market&Government system, moving away from the I-We-I crash by the 2010s to the “I” only framing, with the need to bring back the “We.” As Metaeconomics makes clear, it is all about balance in a joint I&We, Market&Government, with the Viking Economies, the Nordic Countries (and, as noted, look at mid-1950s America) as a good place to look for what might work as starters (see Viking Economics Blog).


And, it is not easy to find the best balance, it is an ongoing process, but it has to be done. Extreme Right Wing Fascists being stirred by Strongman Trump and Enablers (including several Strongwoman participants) into storming the US Capital is not going to work, just like Strongman Quisling stirring Right Wing Fascists in Norway did not work. A better path is possible using Metaeconomic framing and dual interest theory as the guide.


Overall, both the Friedman Doctrine and the Reagan Revolution need to be abandoned, and the Tyranny of Merit (Sandel, 2020) tempered. On that kind of Tyranny, enough with the Culture of Cruelty, including as Wise (2015) refers to it, the Shaming (e.g. accusing people tracing ancestry back to the American slaves, American indigenous people, and neighbors south of the US border --- as well as recent immigrants --- of being vile, corrupt, fraudulent, and actually working to steal the election). The Economic Narrative holding the Doctrine&Revolution&Tyranny --- the "&" meaning feeding on and supporting each other in vile ways --- needs to be changed back to that which works (go look at the mid-1950s, look to what is working in the Nordic Countries, as a good starting point): Enough with the dis-investment and dis-mantling of Government, seeing it instead as a viable part of a substantive, balanced, and joint Market&Government.


Each is essential to the other, like in Farmers&LandGrantUniversities, SpaceX&NASA, Moderna&NIH --- Private&Public-Property, Private&Public-Goods --- all in good balance. And, to my economics readers: Sorry, Chicago School of Economics, those still practicing Microeconomics with opposition to ethical reflection: It is time to reflect. It is time to bring empathy based ethical reflection, the key feature of Metaeconomics, into the analytical system necessary to building the new Economic Narrative (and, see Lynne, 2020, as well as other parts of this Metaeconomics website, and, if you like to Tweet, well go to #metaeconomics @metaeconomics , and join the conversation, on how to do so).



References

Bromley, D. W. Possessive Individualism: A Crisis of Capitalism. New York: Oxford University Press, Kindle ed., 2019.

Lakey, George. Viking Economics: How the Scandinavians Got It Right - and How We Can, Too. Kindle ed. Brooklyn, New York: Melville House Publishing, 2017, 2016.

Lynne, G.D. Metaeconomics: Tempering Excessive Greed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020.

Putnam, R. D. and Garrett, S. R. The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again. New York: Simon and Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2020.

Sandel, M. J. The Tyranny of Merit: What's Become of the Common Good? Kindle ed. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2020.

Shiller, Robert J. Narrative Economics: How Stories Go Viral and Drive Major Economic Events. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2019.

Wise, T. Under the Affluence: Shaming the Poor, Praising the Rich, and Sacrificing the Future of America. Kindle ed. San Francisco, CA: City Lights Publishers, 2015.

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