It's no wonder that Fox's newest conserva-star addition to its Angry White Men lineup, Glenn Beck, has such an emotional affinity for Sarah Palin. Because like Palin, Beck is not just a conservative; he's actually a good old-fashioned right-wing populist.
For those who follow such phenomena, Beck made it explicit Thursday on his Fox News show when he launched into a segment seemingly devoted to the thesis that the whole problem with the economy lies not with capitalism, but boils down to the fact that we rely on a central banking system:
Beck: I don't believe we're the infection here. Look around the world. I got together with the Heritage Foundation and looked at all of the -- where is this crisis hitting? It's hitting capitalist, socialist, communist, totalitarian governments, all of them, and everything in between.
At some point -- if you're the doctor again in the emergency room -- and you really want to get all these people healthy, you gotta rule out -- OK, well, it's not capitalism. OK, what is it? You need to stop to ask the question that a doctor would ask in that situation: 'OK, everybody, where did you eat? What have you had to eat?' All of these countries all have that in common. They've all eaten at the same restaurant -- the restaurant of Central Banking.
It is a system that no one is accountable to. No one. The brilliant geniuses that are supposed to be protecting us -- that's why central banks are around -- 'We'll stop it, we'll make sure there's no recession, there's no depression, we'll just keep these bubbles from happening.' They never at one point -- if we were Patient Zero -- at one point in no country did they say -- 'Hey, what -- what -- don't follow the United States. Don't do that.' Never? They've had their hands in all of the food and that's what's making us sick. Will anyone look at the Central Banking system?
Hmmm. It's kind of hard to decipher Beck's inchoate jumble, but we'll try. He seems to think people are blaming capitalism itself -- but what I think has taken far more of the blame has been laissez-faire capitalism, especially as practiced by movement conservatives, who never saw a deregulation scheme they didn't love. Rather than cope with the mountain of evidence supporting this reality, right-wingers like Beck flee to the comfort of reliable old conspiracist anomie.
For some reason, the fact that the global expansion of capitalism (not to mention the rise of the mass consumer class) was in fact enabled by the Central Banking system -- particularly its ability to create massive consumer credit and to regulate monetary supply -- seems not to have crossed Beck's radar. Yes, there are serious problems with the system, especially when it's being operated by Ayn Randian ideologues.
But Beck is like the conservatives who want to blame bad government on government itself -- and so their style of governance becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of catastrophically bad government. And all along, anyone with simple common sense can see that the problem isn't government but a lack of good government. Likewise with the economy: the problem isn't with centralized banking itself, but with the central-bank system's failure to function well -- namely, by providing proper oversight and sufficient checks and balances. The reason it failed to do so was not the system itself, but the failure of the system to be operated properly by conservatives who insisted that the more laissez-faire the better.
We have a pretty good idea where Beck is getting this: Rep. Ron Paul, who was on Beck's show just a few days before spouting his right-wing monetary theories which are largely predicated on well-worn right-wing populist tropes.
Beck only dips his toe in these waters here, but it should be understood that theories blaming the Federal Reserve system for all of mankind's ills have a long, hoary history on the American far right, most of them conspiratorial in nature and often deeply anti-Semitic.
Edward Flaherty put together a thorough exploration of some of the myths around the Federal Reserve system, including a discussion of some of Becks apparent misconceptions about its role in creating economic policy and how it came to be.
Most of all, the view of the mere existence Central Bank as the root of all economic evil has a long history of conspiracist support, even in the face of the cold economic reality that the existence of elites does not mean a conspiracy is afoot:
No single power bloc, company, family, or individual in a complex modern society wields absolute control, even though there are always systems of control. Wall Street stock brokers are not outsiders deforming an otherwise happy system. As Holly Sklar argues, "the government is manipulated by various elites, often behind the scenes, but these elites are not a tiny secret cabal with omniscience and omnipotence." There is no secret team...the elites that exist are anything but secret. The government and the economy are not alien forces superimposed over an otherwise equitable and freedom loving society.
As Matthew N. Lyons points out, "Scapegoating is not only about who is targeted, but also about who is not targeted, and what systems and structures are not being challenged by focusing on the scapegoat." For example, the Federal Reserve is a powerful institution that has made many decisions that primarily benefit the wealthy and corporate interests. William Greider's book Secrets of the Temple describes the Federal Reserve as a significant institution of modern corporate capitalism with bipartisan support. He shows how the legislation traces back to demands by populists to smooth out boom and bust cycles and rapidly fluctuating credit rates that especially victimized farmers. Grieder also discusses the long history of the debate over the wisdom of a central banking system, and how the legislation creating the Federal Reserve was passed in 1913 after a lengthy public debate. There is no antisemitism or conspiracist scapegoating in the text of the Greider book.
Compare this sober analysis to the works of G. Edward Griffin, Martin Larson, Antony C. Sutton, or Eustace Mullins. They portray the Federal Reserve as the mechanism by which a tiny evil elite covertly manipulate the economy. They trace its creation to a cabal who met secretly on Georgia's Jekyll Island and then somehow snuck the legislation through Congress overnight. Anyone with a library card can disprove this malarkey simply by reading microfilmed newspaper accounts of the contentious public debate over the legislation.
Sutton and Larson overemphasize the role of bankers who are Jewish, revealing mild antisemitic stereotyping. Mullins is a strident bigot who actually has two bodies of work. In one set of texts Mullins avoids overt antisemitic language while discussing his conspiracist theory of the Federal Reserve and the alleged role of forces tied to the Rothschild banking family. These texts involve implicit antisemitic stereotyping that is easily missed (sadly) by an average reader unaware of the history of conspiracist antisemitism and its use of coded language and references. In another set of texts Mullins displays grotesque antisemitism. Mullins uses his critique of the Federal Reserve to lure people toward his other works where his economic analysis is revealed to be based on naked hatred of Jews.
All the authors in this conspiracist genre suggest alien forces use the Federal Reserve to impose their secret agenda on an unwitting population, an analysis that ignores systemic and institutional factors and personalizes the issue in the classic conspiracist paradigm.
Glenn Beck wants everyone to think he's just an independent thinker -- that's his schtick, after all -- but, like Sarah Palin, he's tra-la-la-ing down the yellow brick populist road that has been traveled so many times by so many others on the right in the past. And it always leads not to an Emerald City but the witch's fortress, where flying monkeys await.