What Made America Special

“As one digs deeper into the national character of the Americans, one sees that they have sought the value of everything in this world only in the answer to this single question: how much money will it bring in?”
Alexis de Tocqueville
letter to Ernest de Chabrol. June 9, 1831

(Thanks to John Rogers for attracting my attention repeatedly to that quote!)

Tocqueville saw slavery. Tocqueville saw the deportation of the Cherokees. Literally, in front of his eyes, they passed, thousands of them, pushed by the US Army. He did not comment about this ethnocide in his book, but we know he saw it. No doubt it marked his mind. The fundamental reason for forcing the Cherokees, who were able farmers, more than a thousand miles out of their land, was greed.


White Slaves, Black Free Man, Were Long A Common Sight In North America

White Slaves, Black Free Man, Were Long A Common Sight In North America

‘How much money will it bring in?’ worked, because the biggest question, the military question, defense, was solved by the US Cavalry. It was an ugly thing, mostly, and best, sights unseen. Now honorable, “liberal” east coast cities’ governments paid for Indian scalps. “Signature Strikes” is nothing new, as a concept, to promote the American Way of Life (and Death).

In Europe, defense (or attack) was always primary, because of the high density of population. That also brought other problems which civilization had to address, such as ecological problems: thus European cities were denser, to save arable land. War is also tiring, let alone dangerous. Thus governments and polities learned to be more polite and accommodative.

Basically, the US was less civilized, from the simple mechanical reason that the reason for civilization is the polis, civitas In modern word derived from this notion: the city. One needs cities to be civilized. As the US spilled through the wastes of Americas, settlers settled in giant spaces, free of most constraints of civilization, except for a vague remembrance of the civilization they came from.

Remember, two centuries ago, and for another two centuries before that, in white North America of the English persuasion, it was possible to buy people. So money went a very long way. As it still does, today.

Patrice Aymé

P/S: Dominique Deux called, in a comment, for a more discerning approach. But broad strokes, the first order approach, can be useful. Especially as we witness recent US presidential, senatorial, and congressional elections thoroughly pervaded, and perverted by money to the point it has made plutocracy so blatant it’s hidden in plain sight.


25 Responses to “What Made America Special”

  1. brodix Says:


    What is the nature of money? According to economists, it is both medium of exchange and store of value(also measure of value).

    Now in our body the medium of exchange is blood, which is dynamic, while the store of excess energy/value, is fat, which is static.

    It functions as a contract, in that as a notional asset, it is backed by an obligation, i.e.. debt. Even a gold or other commodity based currency is a notional obligation, in that you are owed a certain quantity of that commodity.

    Yet we personally experience it as quantified hope. It is a promise from the rest of the community to a certain amount of produce from that community. Like a quantum wave, virtually anything worth that amount of value can be purchased, but once something is bought, it collapses to that specific purchase and is no longer a promise of many things, but one actual, usually depreciating, acquisition.

    The two tools of social control are hope and fear. Masses of people can be led with hope, or herded with fear.

    As blood within the economic body, it enables and encourages enormous amounts of cooperative behavior, as everyone is being led with the promise of acquiring tangible hope for all the creations of that economy.

    The amount of blood within a body has to be carefully regulated. While fat cells are tough, durable and greedy, blood cells and vessels are thin and slightly porous, in order for the blood to do its work. So the body can hold a fair amount of fat, before it becomes immediately dangerous, but excess blood is much more quickly fatal.

    Yet as notational hope, it is a manna for politicians to feed their people, otherwise they would have to resort to significant amounts of fear to control them as effectively. So there is a strong urge to create as much money as possible.

    Which means creating equal amounts of debt.

    It is said that Volcker cured inflation by raising interest rates, but higher rates also slowed economic growth, which reduced the need for extra money. It wasn’t until 82 that inflation really started to come under control, by which time the deficit had reached 200 billion and that was sort of real money in those days.

    So what is the difference between the Fed selling debt it bought to create money and retiring what it collected, to reduce the money supply and the Treasury issuing fresh debt? The Treasury can take that money and buy things and pay for things that the private economy never would, because they don’t provide a return, from welfare, to warfare. This spending keeps people happy, busy and secure. It also allows the government to store vast amounts of notational value that would otherwise drown effective private sector investing and saving.

    Eventually though serious problems arise. For one thing it corrupts an already questionable financial system that having gained control over the political system, can escape regulation and that fat of excess wealth builds up in the circulation mechanism. Leading to clogged arteries, poor circulation and high blood pressure. In other words, a bloated financial sector, poor circulation of wealth back out through the rest of the economy, reducing the ability to consume the products the economy produces and quantitive easing to compensate. Which only leads to more excess wealth and basically turning the economy into a large casino, to circulate the perceived value around as leverage and gambling, with little regard for anything else, except as value to be leveraged and mortgaged.

    Now if the government was to threaten to tax excess money out of the system, rather than borrow it, people would have to find other ways to store value. Most people save for obvious reasons, from kids to retirement. Now what the financial system promises is that we can save individually, but the organic method of saving is communally, as in primitive societies, there is no mechanism to hoard excess without creating hostility. So in modern terms, it would be stronger communities and healthier environments as stores of value, not just resources to be plundered, i.e. the commons. So rather than saving value as fat, we would save it as the muscle and bone of stronger, healthier communities.

    There was time government was private and it was called monarchy. Since the alternative, “mob rule” was synonymous with anarchy, it was assumed the community had to tolerate these governmental monopolies, but eventually they grew so incapable that government became a public trust. A new form of commons. The banking system is reaching that point.

    • De Brunet d'Ambiallet Says:

      There is a store of value in brains too, not just fat!

      • brodix Says:

        And in bones and muscle as well, but is excess abstract wealth analogous to brains or fat?

        I would think the analogy for brains would be value stored in the academy and the function of the central nervous system would be analogous to government.

        Which is not to knock fat. It is essential to the functioning of the body and necessary in feast/famine conditions, but it should be kept in moderation when possible.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      My point is that the government gave money to those who created the 2008 crisis, banks and shadow banks. It did not give money to We The People directly. Instead it augmented the fundamental cause of the crisis, inequality. This can be traced to “Trickle down”, Reaganism, something Obama admires, and thus lowered the tax rates of the hyper rich by 20%, to correct the errors of Bush, who had been too tough on plutocrats, and not as blatantly elected by them.

    • pshakkottai Says:

      USA creates money and has zero debt. What you call debt is for double entry book keeping. The economy gets created money and the govt gets a “debt” which is valued at zero. The govt debt is a big fat ZERO, the cost of creating all deficits at zero cost. The govt debt has entered the economy as a FISCAL DEFICIT (for the govt) and produced wealth of the people.

      There is no national debt. Only national wealth. The money balance is

      Red created money balances blue net private savings and green imports.

      The red area = blue area +green net imports . This is the only example of one sided money which has value for the economy but none to the creator of that money. The govt can create any amount of it at will till labor is fully employed. More after that will inflate money.

      FISCAL DEFICIT created at zero cost is called Vertical money because it pours into the economic pot. Bank created money ,under fractional reserve, is 10 times bigger but does not play any role in the money balance. It is called Horizontal money. It just speeds up transactions. At any given time it cancels out because loans and deposits occur together. The interest, however, is Vertical money and comes from the govt.

      Fiat money has strange properties. China understands fiat money and uses 30% of its GDP for FISCAL DEFICITs and has grown tremendously fast for 30 years.

      EU has not understood the power of fiat money which you can’t have without one unified govt. You can’t have a common currency without political union. It is impossible to have internal trade balance exactly. An example is Germany sucking all euros out of Greece and resulting austerity.


      • Patrice Ayme Says:

        Indeed. The EU has understood nothing, and the UK and US have perfectly understood what Partha talks about.

      • brodix Says:


        “Red created money balances blue net private savings”

        Exactly. Our savings is the governments debt.

        Zero Hedge today;

        “In 1977, the total indebtedness of U.S. government, corporate and household borrowers was $323 billion. By 1985, that figure had grown to $7 trillion.”

        “By year’s end 2015, U.S. indebtedness had swelled to $45.2 trillion. Tack on financials, which few do, and it’s $64.5 trillion and unabashedly growing. We are a nation transformed.”

        “Uncle Sam now owes a cool trillion more than the nation produces.”

        And when we need those savings for our retirement, it will be the future citizens of this country, the ones already owing large college loans and can’t afford houses, who will be paying the taxes to give us those savings when we need them.

        • Patrice Ayme Says:

          Whatever. Tomorrow’s debt is far away, and the crazed out Kim of North Korea, close at hand. War extinguishes debt, especially nuclear war.
          The USA did not pay a cent of its immense debt to France, contracted during the War of Independence. With interest and penalties, there is no doubt France owns the USA.

  2. De Brunet d'Ambiallet Says:

    America is humanity’s common denominator. I think it’s Patrice who said this, in jest (?), long ago.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Indeed. Hence it’s strength.

      • Kevin Berger Says:

        TBH, the best way I have found to bear that “common denominator”, as experienced online, is to blow some steam through (the US-based, amusingly enough) https://www.reddit.com/r/ShitAmericansSay/ .
        Otherwise, it soon builds up and becomes an irritant to my soul; too much “common denominator”.

      • Kevin Berger Says:

        Plus sérieusement, la seule vraie question concernant leur influence est : guérit-on du cancer? Et, si oui, dans quel état?

        Vos exemples historiques favoris d’apogées plutocratiques font appel à une correction venue de l’extérieur, après emballement puis épuisement du système.
        Là, il n’y a rien “en dehors”, le processus d’exploitation qui anime (est?) les USA, cf. vôtre “tweet” sur la cupidité et non l’esclavage comme leur pêché originel, est non seulement tout-puissant, mais global et englobant, ses ennemis supposés (Russie, Chine) étant davantage des concurrents jouant des pieds pour une meilleure position.
        Il “est” la modernité, et il est plus facile d’imaginer des apocalypses lui succédant, qu’une alternative. Sans un “choc” extérieur, papy Sanders réformant le monstre est une idée aussi ridicule qu’une Europe, EU ou non, s’émancipant d’elle-même, et que dire des populations, de leur cultures, de leurs esprits…? Malheureusement, le seul choc extérieur en vue est pour l’heure le mur climatique…
        Peut-être les Anglos, après avoir tant réussi avec leur nouvelle Atlantide d’Amérique du nord, pourront-il refaire de même avec un archipel du pôle sud sorti des glaces? Pour une thalassocratie, plus de mer ne peut pas être une mauvaise nouvelle, au fond, contrôle des espaces fluide et tout ça…

        • Patrice Ayme Says:

          “Papy Sanders” would change everything. The monster would become civilized. But don’t worry: New Yorkers know who feeds them!
          Essay on this tomorrow, probably…

  3. Paul Handover Says:

    The history of buying people is hardly exclusive to previous American times!

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Paul: I slightly boosted the essay and responded to Dominique’s call for discernment. You may want to look at these modifications.
      The reintroduction of slavery to America, nearly a thousand years after it was made unlawful by the government of queen Bathilda in the Imperium Francorum, Francia, stays a monument to greed. And a warning that progress, in America, has not gone just one way.
      Surely one cannot be taxed of anti-Americanism, for pointing out that this regression, due to unbounded greed, was horrendous, and both a fruit, and an addictive influence on the national character?

  4. dominique deux Says:

    Back when the US was planning to implement AMGOT in France, a booklet was prepared to introduce AMGOT operatives to the bizarre ways of the French.

    It was a compendium of the usual Middle America prejudices, broadly painting the French as alcoholic hedonists with very little regard for moneymaking (albeit a deep fear of poverty).

    I feel Tocqueville, in this and other observations, largely gave vent to his own prejudices, his hallowed status as the second discoverer of America notwithstanding.

    Both sets of prejudices do have a factual basis, but using them as broad generalizations was and is misleading. They are however useful to identify the (equally parochial) mindsets which produced them – and to strive for a more discerning approach.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Tocqueville saw slavery. Tocqueville saw the deportation of the Cherokees. Literally, in front of his eyes, they passed, thousands of them, pushed by the US Army. He did not comment, but we know he saw it. No doubt it marked his mind.

      I rushed the essay in literally 14 minutes. So I was far from my usual covering-lots-of-angles approach. I thought but had no time to add the obvious: as Americans live increasingly in big cities, they should become more civis oriented, more civilized. And this is what is observed, it seems to me. Where cities dominate, so does the civic spirit. New York conurbation is supposed to be 22 millions, LA, 17 millions, the greater Bay Area, 8 millions. All these places vote left, although they are pervaded by the mightiest plutocrats and their thick propaganda.

      OK, I am going to inject these points in the essay (I intended to, initially, but had no time).

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      And I added to the essay:
      P/S: Dominique Deux called, in a comment, for a more discerning approach. But broad strokes, the first order approach, can be useful. Especially as we witness recent US presidential, senatorial, and congressional elections thoroughly pervaded, and perverted by money to the point it has made plutocracy so blatant it’s hidden in plain sight.

    • Kevin Berger Says:

      “and to strive for a more discerning approach.”

      13 years and counting of organized or everyday, casually ingrained “French-bashing” (a fancy way of writing “plain old racism”, really, as in the old “speak White!” directed to French-speakers in Canada) have pretty much squandered any good will I had, in regard to a “more discerning approach”.

  5. aaron Says:

    Our honored “founding fathers” did craft a constitution to act as chains to bind. But these chains bound slavery to liberty, enforced servitude to free labor and agricultural production to plantation elites. Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe were all enslavers, made wealthy and comfortable through the forced labor of people they owned. Slavery was not incidental to our nation’s development, it was at the core of the founders reality and their vision for america.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Yes. And it worked. They were rather small fry (relative to Roman Senators, or famous creeps such as Seneca, who were immensely rich billionaires in constant sesterces). Washington had only 200 slaves, or so. Whom he did not free, contrarily to what he had promised to la Fayette. Yet, they planted a germ. The germ grew. The first American billionaire was Carnegie, a century later.

      Carnegie was way left of Obama, of course. The US was fortunate that way (then).

      Now we have a more civilized America, as more live Americans live in cities (that was the main idea of the essay). Time to vote for Sanders!

  6. Patrice Ayme Says:

    [Sent to Roger Cohen, who worries on April 14, 2016, about populism rising, and anti-liberalism…]

    Liberal democracy was neither liberal nor democratic. It was manipulated to serve only a few, hidden below lofty discourses. The result was global plutocracy while the wealthiest people in the world were invited to violate local laws. After slow, debasing torture, We The People are finally revolting. Yet, not enough!

    Real democracy is direct democracy, as the Athenians had it, and the Swiss have it, ever more. In real democracy, We The People decide the laws which will rule us.

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