Small Wars Journal

Plutocratic Insurgency

Preface: I’ve been developing the concept of what would be termed a plutocratic insurgency since 2011. The concept ties into earlier work done by John Robb (Onward to a Hollow State, 2008),Nils Gilman (Deviant Globalization, 2010), and others. This new concept will be highly controversial— it involves global elites and lacks the traditional trappings of an insurgency (i.e. an armed struggle). It is a counterpart to the criminal insurgency concept initially developed by John Sullivan. However, instead of being based on illicit economies and bottom up in nature, it is derived from sovereign free economies and top down in nature. The following elegantly crafted blog entry is one of the first public discussions about plutocratic insurgency. You will be reading more about this concept in this venue and others in the future.

Plutocratic Insurgency


Nils Gilman

I recently engaged in a private exchange with leading 4GW thinker Robert Bunker on the question of how to periodize what he calls "plutocratic insurgency." Here are a few notes I took in the course of that exchange. The point of departure for this sort of an inquiry is to ask what the JohnGaltification of society would actually look like in practice—what would it seriously mean for the wealthy to opt out of participation in the collective institutions that make up society?


Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 03/03/2016 - 10:38am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

And that my friends, is the real reason I am obsessed with AfPak, Abbottabad and the rest of it. Not diaspora bigotry, just a fascination that the time to strike rhetorically in terms of purging apparatchiks was missed. Depressingly, because of ignorance on the part of largely white Progressives and democrats in the West and US. I don't know. I'm no better. Look what my ignorance got me into. Could it have happened? Could the institutional purge have happened? I think this is signaling to remain within the system. It's what they do.

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 03/03/2016 - 10:35am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

The Trump supporters are now just going to look up Edelman and Schmidt and AfPak now--and all the rest of it--among other things. Geez. How did this happen?

The non-interventionists and progressives blew it because of their soft lazy ideas on "South Asia". Abbottabad was the time to purge the neocons. I was still on the right then and saw how people talked about it, a one two punch of Iraq and lies on AfPak, that was what changed their orientation on the world, you know? Blew it, soft lazy progressive writing on parts of the world you let yourselves be bs'ed on.

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 03/03/2016 - 10:21am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)…

Remember when those people were terrible because of the Iraq War and now the Coindinistas are here to get it right in Afghanistan? And now it's a love fest. Principle is shifting sands, an maybe we should work with Al Qaeda against Assad says a former director of the CIA. Not weird at all.

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 03/03/2016 - 10:19am

What is the real purpose of this 'Open Letter to Donald Trump' at War on the Rocks, a letter by the architects and supporters of the Iraq War, AfPak, the Syrian proxy war with Saudi Arabia and the Gulfies as our partners, and a re-upping of the Cold War?

Can they possible be this dim? Or is this elite signaling to ensure the jobs and appointments to various think tanks and government bureaucracies continues?

How strange. The Tump phenomenon is complex but surely a part of it is a rejection of the pain and suffering caused by these very people? Whose children marched around trying to prove big COIN?

I remember when Daniel Drezner supported the Iraq War, got linked all the time by Instapundit*,, and then got denied tenure at U of C (big scandal on Instapundit's blog) while moving to, where is it now? Tufts?

How strange.

*(I was in the right camp then and attended the National Review gathering during the DNC convention in Boston in 2004. I really mean it when I say that I wanted to be inside the system. I'm a narcissist and liked imaging myself an egghead analyst to big and important people. Then life happened and I grew up, a little (not online, obviously). I saw what I had done by cheering on a war. Some people are exactly the same no matter what happens. How strange, indeed.

Why isn't it considered crazy to saber rattle with nuclear weapons and imagine a winnable nuclear war, which is what some of those people are into as "intellectuals". Why is that not crazy? Because it's crazy, as crazy as Trumps erratic behavior.

Mitt Romney is the guy that 'laid off the Trump supporters', you know? Has he lost his "off-shore accounts to get out of taxes" mind? This is the counterinsurgency to the Plutocratic Insurgency in all its messiness and this is what they come up with?

Eric Schmidt of Google is now at the DOD, in charge of some BS innovation? Wow. I wonder where "cyber" came from.

Elite signaling for jobs, or else they really are this stupid. Either is depressing to think about.

Desert Storm hasn't been forgotten. It's just that everything blurs together in the Forever Wars. Who are we fighting again? Where today? It's always someone and it's always somewhere.

Madhu (not verified)

Wed, 03/02/2016 - 10:36am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

I mean, to take an example from the articles linked by SWJ today, every comment coming out of General Breedloves mouth ("we need more resources") just feeds the dynamic of a Trump. Someday, someone even worse will come up in the system because of the sense of futility felt by ordinary Americans. I had hoped the "insurgency" would be a rededicating oneself to local civic organizations but I'm such a nerd. That's its own wishful thinking. Why doesn't someone tell Dr. Strangelove to stick a sock in it? Shilling for money while saber rattling? What's the difference between him and some of the militarist crazies in DC? (edit, I mean Russia, but haha, it stands either way).

As if a proxy war in Syria would bring democracy to Russia. Kasparov and the other western Russian dissidents wedded to NATO as an agent of change seems to have missed a few moves on the chessboard, how's that supposed to work? Brown people as pawns for European aspirations, once again.

Madhu (not verified)

Wed, 03/02/2016 - 10:30am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

"presidential campaign" not presidency in that comment above (with its other errors, as usual). Eek, I'm subconsciously thinking about it happening for real. Not good.

Madhu (not verified)

Wed, 03/02/2016 - 10:26am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Robert Jones insurgency model would actually work very well here, especially its "pre insurgency" stage which is scary. Really scary. Even if the economy improves, if there are not real gains to the losers of globalization, we are in even more trouble.

I don't think the DC consensus understands how frightened people really are of the future, for their pensions, for what will happen.

Madhu (not verified)

Wed, 03/02/2016 - 10:24am

I am such an ass. I actually wrote "catch more flies with honey that with vinegar" earlier on in the thread. What would I ever know about anything like that?

The Deep State and its subpart the military industrial complex is in complete denial about its relationship to Donald Trumps rise, even the cravenness of the media that wants access and attention and money most has promoted his presidency. It's Aldous Huxley dystopianism come to life.

All that precious tweeting about anyone else but Trump. If not Trump, someone worse next time if the same policies that got us here are pursued and if there is no change, no courage, from the coat holders and apparatchiks in Washington.

How strange to live in such a bubble but if you had a job at some company in DC that lives on contractor money, what could you do really? How could you find a job with those qualifications except to curry big data contracts?

Interesting times, indeed.

Move Forward

Thu, 09/06/2012 - 9:29pm

In reply to by Bill M.

<blockquote>This may be the defining issue of our time, and ultimately much more important than our war on Islamic Extremists. When profit is the only motive and ethics play no role in constraints on behavior it is likely we will continue to see the erosion of control of the state and in democracies people are at risk of losing control of the government whose politicians are bought and paid for by the plutocrats.</blockquote>

Wait...more important than our war on Islamic Extremists? The absence of that war led to 9/11 which created much of the latter portion of the $16 trillion deficit. The wealth of western nations and the perceived corruption of the wealthy and westernized citizenry in Islamic countries is part of what leads to Islamic extremism.

The resulting Jihadism and suicidal behavior is a contributing factor to fears of a nuclear Iran or others accessing nukes from places like Pakistan and North Korea. has a great article today about the dangers of nuclear war between Pakistan and India. Unlike other superpowers, possessing nuclear weapons has not deterred three past wars, nor halted continuing conflict in Kashmir and via LeT terrorist attacks.

That aside, forget not the arrogant manner that the liberal left and right coasts and unionized north-center skew our economy to lead to situations like outsourcing and overseas companies building plants in non-union states. Japanese and European manufacturers have few issues with labor in right to work states. The strange saga of threatening to close the South Carolina Boeing plant ranked right up there with the illogical rewriting of KC-X requirements. Overemphasizing lower cost at the expense of efficiency in refueling fighters over vast Pacific distances was illogical...and if serious about U.S. jobs, both could have been built in the U.S. with a dual buy as occurred with LCS.

It's interesting that one of the proponents of this concept is also an environmentalist. Hmmm, if we allowed drilling in Alaska, the Keystone pipeline from Canada, additional drilling on public lands, more refineries, and greater offshore activity, we would not be in a situation where the Straits of Hormuz are such a foreign policy and defense-cost driver. If liberal Californians weren't so concerned about tearing down long established dams and saving small fish, our central California farmers could overcome some of the drought hitting the central U.S. that drives up costs of both food and fuel.

Look at the most profitable corporations in the U.S. Note the recent job boom in North Dakota and imagine countless new middle class jobs we would create (that require no college degree) by allowing more drilling within the U.S. and offshore.

It was the coasts that insisted on housing speculation and excessively large houses which led to the housing bubble. It remains the coasts that have the highest property taxes due to unionized local and state employees with excessive pay and benefits such as retirement and health care. It is the educational elite, often gaining PhDs in subject areas that do nothing to enhance manufacturing, innovation, or other science-based jobs such as medicine, that lead to excessively high tuitions, student debt, and dead-end degrees from our colleges and universities.

On the other hand, I agree completely that taxes are far too low on our wealthiest. The cited 91% rate on upper incomes in the Eisenhower era is one example. As someone who ran a small business for over a decade, I can assure you that most small businesses would NOT be excessively penalized by higher tax rates on the wealthiest small business owners. We could increase the upper income amount that social security taxes are applied against. We could institute means testing for Medicare. Capital gains tax rates could be at one level for those up to a certain amount and a different rate could apply to higher amount for those like Gov Romney whose primary income source is equities.

Just as we eliminated the tax break on credit cards, reducing the amount you can deduct from housing interest would drive down the unhelpful trends in housing inflation that afflicted our coasts and led to much of the recession by leaving job-seekers unable to move. The America of the 1960s felt no need to live in a 3000 square foot house, partially subsidized by lower taxes. Neither should the middle class employee of today.

Republicans and Tea Party types must give up this insistence on adhering to Grover Norquist tax pledges. Democrats must forget the entitlement-buys-votes mentality that leads to unionized government employees extorting the rest of us through high property taxes. A pox on all their houses. Where is the party for independents!

This may be the defining issue of our time, and ultimately much more important than our war on Islamic Extremists. When profit is the only motive and ethics play no role in constraints on behavior it is likely we will continue to see the erosion of control of the state and in democracies people are at risk of losing control of the government whose politicians are bought and paid for by the plutocrats.

Initially I thought this article was left leaning and another attack on capitalism, but this quote seems to ring true to me.

"Ultimately, however, I don't think this is really a liberal or conservative matter. It's a question of national and social coherence as such: do people living together in a contiguous territory feel themselves somehow to be "in the same boat," willing to share responsibilities and risks collectively? Those engaged in the plutocratic insurgency answer that question with a defiant "No!" The plutocratic insurgency from above thus mirrors the deviant globalization insurgency from below, and taken together they embody the contemporary crisis of the nation-state."

The growing divide betweens the haves and have nots, and the emergent system which limits the ability of the have nots to get ahead is a the beginning of a real social crisis. This isn't just due to unethical plutocrats, but also due to ineffective government which was well illustrated in the documentary "Waiting for Superman." This is focused on our failing education system and does an excellent job of pointing out factually that teacher unions which in their own way buy politicians are more interested in protecting their jobs than educating our children. All serious attempts at fixing the public school system are undermined by the teachers themselves, so unfortunately many kids are doomed to failure. The unions have already waged a successful insurgency by establishing effective control over the local politicians, and corporate raiders have also established an unbelievable level of control over the economy, and this level of control was given/sold to them by politicans sitting on both sides of the aisle. In both cases it comes down to ethics. We as a people need to decide who we really are and what type of society we ultimately want. It isn't a matter of left and right views, because these issues transcend that noise. There should be and I believe there are more common interests between the left and right than opposing interests, and both should want the people the control the government, not the unions or big business.