The Milgram Economy
In the early 1960s, an infamous series of psychological experiments was conducted at Yale. The tests are now known as the "Milgram Experiments." The tests were an attempt to determine if person X, who is in a position with power over and control of person Y, can be persuaded by a third-person "expert" Z to harm person Y. The Milgram Experiments also provide an insight into why our economy is being voluntarily destroyed by our elected representatives. Our current fiscal insanity can be described as a "Milgram Economy."
The parallels between a Milgram experiment and a Milgram economy are not exact. However, the differences between the two concepts are also enlightening. We start with the procedures and results of the initial experiment. The following chart portrays the basic setup of a Milgram experiment.
The ostensible purpose of the experiment was to determine whether or not a student (Y) would learn more quickly when the student was punished with an electrical shock (red arrow) after he gave a wrong answer. The voltage was increased by the instructor (X) as the experiment continued. The shock administered for an incorrect answer started at 15 volts and climbed to 450 volts -- a level that could have been lethal to the student.
Unknown to the instructor (X), the student (Y) was not the real subject of the experiment -- the instructor (X) was. No electrical shock was administered to the student. The expert (Z) conducting the experiment was in collusion with the student (Y). Pre-recorded sounds (blue arrows) of the student crying out were timed with the flip of the switches that, supposedly, delivered the shocks. (See the red arrow and red box with white switches.)
The real purpose of the experiment was to determine how susceptible the instructors (X) were to the verbal persuasion of the experts (Z). The expert urged the instructor to "correct" the student by administering electrical shocks that increased in voltage with each wrong answer. No coercion was involved in the test.
The results of the test were stunning. Approximately 60% of the participant instructors were convinced by the expert to take an action that, if real, would have seriously injured or even killed the "student."
The ramification of the Milgram Experiment is: in an ethically dubious situation, a majority of human beings will trust the word of an expert -- rather than follow his or her common sense or moral compass -- if, and this is a crucial "if," the resulting harm falls on some other human being.
We turn now to the current economic crisis. It has been projected that for the years 2009 through 2012, the federal government will spend five trillion dollars more than it takes in. This massive squandering cannot be blamed solely on President Obama and the Democrats. The GOP has controlled the House -- and thus the federal budget -- for almost one year. It takes 60 votes (out of 100) for the Senate to approve a motion for cloture and, thus, pass a bill. Those 60 votes equal 60% of the senators. This is about the same percentage achieved in the Milgram experiments -- where approximately 60% of the people tested were convinced by "experts" that harming another human being was actually helpful.
Narrowing the subject to the present, the 2011 federal deficit is over 1.3 trillion dollars. That amount represents 8.6% of our GDP. This year, our Congress has overspent an amount equal to one in every twelve dollars created in America. But deficit dollars do not exist for the congress to spend. Deficit funny money must either be borrowed or printed. We are approaching the four-year mark of at least a trillion-dollar deficit each year. One would think that politicians might have figured out that such extravagance is not good for the economy.
All the while, the story sold to the masses by the mainstream media is that the economy will be saved if just one more deficit "jolt" is administered (like Obama's $447-billion "jobs" bill). This oft-repeated narrative is always based upon a consensus from "experts"; the media's rosy representation of the current economic crises is another part of the ongoing fiscal scam.
A "Milgram Economy" resembles a Milgram experiment gone mad, an economy that is devoid of common sense and moral purpose. The argument (blue arrows) for "helping" the economy is framed by experts (Z) and filtered by the media (blue circles). The message is recycled with each new piece of legislation: government spending will save the economy. CBS News reported the following from President Obama's first press conference:
"It is absolutely true that we cannot depend on government alone to create jobs or economic growth," [Obama] said. "That is and must be the role of the private sector. But at this particular moment, with the private sector so weakened by this recession, the federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back to life." [Emphasis added.]
Notice that, similar to a Milgram experiment, the self-proclaimed expert Barack Obama described government spending as a "jolt" or an electrical shock.
Each repetition of the argument uses the same logic coupled with a different set of factors: new legislation, new spending, and more debt. (See that red arrows leading to red concentric circles = expanding deficit.) All participants (X, Y, and Z) in the economy either are trapped in an informational feedback loop or are intentionally keeping the public trapped in the reiteration of that informational loop. In a Milgram economy, real and cumulative harm is inflicted on the citizens with each new spending spree in the form of creeping inflation, recession leading to depression, or stagflation.
This cycle is perpetuated for one major reason: many of the individuals involved in all three aspects (X, Y, and Z) of a Milgram economy have been convinced that the harm caused by deficit spending will fall on someone else.
Democrat politicians are much smarter about selling and keeping the reiterated message alive than are politicians in the GOP. Most new legislation proposed by the Democrats is supposedly paid for by a tax on the rich. A significant percentage of the population still believes the Democrat mantra that taxing the rich will end deficit spending -- this despite the fact that all the income and all the property of every millionaire and billionaire in America is insufficient to cover an ever-expanding national debt.
The citizens of the United States (Y) occupy the isolation booth -- like the "student" in the experiment. The isolation booth is a vital element of the Milgram economy. Unlike the students in the experiment, the citizens are not disconnected from the pain inflicted in a Milgram economy. The booth holds over 300 million people, each person with different economic interests. These people are led to believe that government spending might hurt some other person in the booth -- but it will not harm them. The hard truth is that a majority of Americans have been co-conspirators to their own economic demise. They have elected and reelected the politicians who continue to pass legislation based on the logic that the economy can be saved only by the federal government spending ever-increasing amounts of money.
Like the instructor in the experiment, the members of the Senate and House (X) are in charge of "jolting" the citizens. They are responsible for the amount of voltage in each shock that is administered by the legislation they pass. Unlike the instructor in the experiment, the members of Congress have real power. If our representatives are dupes in a Milgram economy, they are willing dupes. (Recall the number of times that Speaker of the House Boehner has scrambled to make excuses for the GOP's need to compromise. This year's $1.3-trillion deficit was not forced on America without the consent of the GOP leadership in the House and votes from GOP members of the House and Senate.)
The place occupied by the "expert" (Z) in a Milgram economy is composed of the current administration, lobbyists, and economists -- as long as the economist agrees that more federal spending will save the economy. These are the people who decide which citizens (Y) will take the voltage from each new legislative shock administered by the Congress (X). While big banks, auto companies, and huge corporations (like GE) are among the members (Y) in the isolation booth, these special interests are insulated from the deficit jolts by their lobbyists and "experts" in Z.
There are two other points of distinction between a Milgram experiment and a Milgram economy. First, in the experiment, turning on and off a series of isolated switches created the impression of an "electrical shock." The economic jolt in a Milgram economy is both real and cumulative. The process of creating a deficit is not controlled by a switch. The method of deficit-creation is like raising a thermostat. Every new layer of deficit spending turns up the heat on the economy.
Second, about 40% of the instructors in a Milgram experiment refused, at different times during the test, to continue to follow the admonitions of the expert. At some point, after hearing the student cry out in pain, the instructor's humanity kicked in. The instructor realized that, regardless of the advice of any expert, he had a moral obligation not to inflict harm on another human being. For a minority of the instructors, the outcome of the experiment was an eventual awakening to the fact that harming another person is not equivalent to helping that person.
For very different reasons, but from the same sense of humanity, both the right and the far left are waking up to the reality of the corruption of our current political system. Members of the Tea Party and a few of the spokespeople for OWS have this in common: they are beginning to understand that we live in a Milgram economy -- and that this is not a good thing.
Larrey Anderson is a writer, a philosopher, and the senior editor for American Thinker. He is the author of the award-winning novel The Order of the Beloved and the memoir Underground. He is working on a new book, The Death of Culture.