Since most of us will eventually be relegated to the ranks of the poor or ‘working poor’, I thought it fitting to feature an expert on poverty, Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed. She is now heading the Economic Hardship Reporting Project whose goal is to “force this country’s crisis of poverty and economic insecurity to the center of the national conversation.” I have added their blog to my list of RSS feeds. For anyone who thinks that Mrs. Ehrenreich is unaware of the larger apocalyptic picture unfolding in the world, please listen to what she says about the demise of industrial civilization. And since our last post by Darbikrash centered around the rent-seeking financialization of the economy, in particular its effects on small businesses and individual liberties, it behooves us to look at how corporations and government entities prey on the poor and use them as a vast resource pool from which to extract dollars.
In what ways do the poor get used as a source for rent-seeking financialization? Here are a few:
…as Business Week helpfully pointed out in 2007, the poor in aggregate provide a juicy target for anyone depraved enough to make a business of stealing from them.
The trick is to rob them in ways that are systematic, impersonal, and almost impossible to trace to individual perpetrators. Employers, for example, can simply program their computers to shave a few dollars off each paycheck, or they can require workers to show up 30 minutes or more before the time clock starts ticking.
Lenders, including major credit companies as well as payday lenders, have taken over the traditional role of the street-corner loan shark, charging the poor insanely high rates of interest. When supplemented with late fees (themselves subject to interest), the resulting effective interest rate can be as high as 600% a year, which is perfectly legal in many states.
It’s not just the private sector that’s preying on the poor. Local governments are discovering that they can partially make up for declining tax revenues through fines, fees, and other costs imposed on indigent defendants, often for crimes no more dastardly than driving with a suspended license. And if that seems like an inefficient way to make money, given the high cost of locking people up, a growing number of jurisdictions have taken to charging defendants for their court costs and even the price of occupying a jail cell….
You might think that policymakers would take a keen interest in the amounts that are stolen, coerced, or extorted from the poor, but there are no official efforts to track such figures. Instead, we have to turn to independent investigators, like Kim Bobo, author of Wage Theft in America, who estimates that wage theft nets employers at least $100 billion a year and possibly twice that. As for the profits extracted by the lending industry, Gary Rivlin, who wrote Broke USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. — How the Working Poor Became Big Business, says the poor pay an effective surcharge of about $30 billion a year for the financial products they consume and more than twice that if you include subprime credit cards, subprime auto loans, and subprime mortgages.
These are not, of course, trivial amounts. They are on the same order of magnitude as major public programs for the poor….
From for-profit prisons subsidized by taxes to government-mandated premiums for the private health insurance industry, I bet if the amount of rent-seeking as a proportion of the GDP in America was able to be quantified, we’d find that this country and its captive denizens are treated as just one big plantation from which to harvest greenbacks. According to economist Joseph E. Stiglitz, an inordinate proportion of those at the top of the free market heap have made rent-seeking the primary method by which they have accumulated their riches:
…The magnitude of “rent seeking” in our economy, while hard to quantify, is clearly enormous. Individuals and corporations that excel at rent seeking are handsomely rewarded. The financial industry, which now largely functions as a market in speculation rather than a tool for promoting true economic productivity, is the rent-seeking sector par excellence. Rent seeking goes beyond speculation. The financial sector also gets rents out of its domination of the means of payment—the exorbitant credit- and debit-card fees and also the less well-known fees charged to merchants and passed on, eventually, to consumers. The money it siphons from poor and middle-class Americans through predatory lending practices can be thought of as rents. In recent years, the financial sector has accounted for some 40 percent of all corporate profits. This does not mean that its social contribution sneaks into the plus column, or comes even close. The crisis showed how it could wreak havoc on the economy. In a rent-seeking economy such as ours has become, private returns and social returns are badly out of whack.
In their simplest form, rents are nothing more than re-distributions from one part of society to the rent seekers. Much of the inequality in our economy has been the result of rent seeking, because, to a significant degree, rent seeking re-distributes money from those at the bottom to those at the top.
But there is a broader economic consequence: the fight to acquire rents is at best a zero-sum activity. Rent seeking makes nothing grow. Efforts are directed toward getting a larger share of the pie rather than increasing the size of the pie. But it’s worse than that: rent seeking distorts resource allocations and makes the economy weaker. It is a centripetal force: the rewards of rent seeking become so outsize that more and more energy is directed toward it, at the expense of everything else. Countries rich in natural resources are infamous for rent-seeking activities. It’s far easier to get rich in these places by getting access to resources at favorable terms than by producing goods or services that benefit people and increase productivity. That’s why these economies have done so badly, in spite of their seeming wealth. It’s easy to scoff and say: We’re not Nigeria, we’re not Congo. But the rent-seeking dynamic is the same….
Below is a good discussion from a couple days ago of the expanding poverty problem in America featuring Barbara Ehrenreich. Don’t mind the free market lackey from the ultra-conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute. He thinks that the access to information the internet created has made people less poverty-stricken than in the past. For those who can afford a computer and internet subscription, the information age has only made them more aware of how fucked they are in a world of depleting resources run by a ruthless transnational oligarchic elite.
What we have in America is a twisted form of socialism for the elite wherein the few are supported by the collective wealth extraction from the many, as precisely described by Dennis Kucinich:
The rancorous debate over the debt belies a fundamental truth of our economy — that it is run for the few at the expense of the many, that our entire government has been turned into a machine which takes the wealth of a mass of Americans and accelerates it into the hands of the few. Let me give you some examples…
It would be a mistake to view today’s finance capitalism as the “final stage” of industrial capitalism. The name of the new game is neofeudalism and austerity, and its preferred mode of exploitation is debt peonage. Like creditors in ancient Rome, today’s financial power is seeking to replace democracy with a financial oligarchy. The result is a resurgence of pre-capitalist “primitive accumulation,” by debt creation and foreclosure rather than the military conquests of past epochs.
Much of the dismantling of the social fabric that describes the general malaise of our times is not visible to the consumer or generic citizen. However, to peer down the darkened hallways in the backstage of American business is to glimpse the machinations of a frightening leviathan that subsumes social power in a manner that cannot be conceptualized in the traditional left vs. right paradigm.
The issue at hand is privatization, the stalwart conviction that free markets are the only means of adjudication for the natural tension between self seeking utility maximization of the individual, and the needs and rights of society as a independent entity. The perpetrators have constructed an arena of false contest, populated with sacrificial ideological tropes in pursuit of their real agenda.
It is the purpose of this article to examine some of the hidden means by which privatization- as practiced by the bourgeoisie- is being used to subsume the sovereignty of both individuals and small businesses.
A critical component to understanding privatization is to understand the need for obfuscation, e.g. to become invisible. Barring this, the next best defense against revolution and dissent is to deny that any disagreement exists, or if it does, then to valorize it and present it as irrefutable status quo, thus enjoining the conservatives who are loathe to change anything deemed as established, and can be counted on to circle the wagons in the so called “pursuit of liberty”.
Staunchly in the category of invisibility is the entire concept of rent-seeking, which is to say, the premise of unearned labor, or in plain English, getting something for nothing. Much of the financial economy of today is nearly totally dedicated to rent-seeking activities, so called financial engineering that attempts, through various debt mechanisms, to extract value from either land or industrial production without adding any value whatsoever. (For a particularly good and thorough discussion of rent seeking see this article)
If you are getting something for nothing, the last thing you want is for anyone else to know of this; so much of the current media discussion is either valorizing the financial class, or by working to maintain the invisibility of the rent-seeking genre. An understanding of this rent-seeking activity, and it’s relationship to so-called “free market” dynamics is critical to debunking the more mainstream conservative and Libertarian theories of economics, which crumble rather quickly within this framework.
Another frame of reference which adds to this discussion is a remedial listing of the three circuits of Capitalism, a.) Industrial capitalism, b.) Mercantilist Capitalism, and c.) Finance (Money lending) Capitalism. All three strains utilize exploitation to achieve access to surplus value, and all three seek to exchange supra-profits for social power. To illustrate, we can look at the Forbes list of the top 10 wealthiest Americans, and we can see that these three strains are all represented:
1. Bill Gates Microsoft (Industrial Capitalist)
2. Warren Buffett Berkshire Hathaway (Finance Capitalist)
3. Larry Ellison Oracle (Industrial Capitalist).
4. Christy Walton Walmart (Mercantile Capitalist)
5. Charles Koch manufacturing, energy (Industrial Capitalist)
6. David Koch manufacturing, energy (Industrial Capitalist)
7. Jim Walton Walmart (Mercantile Capitalist)
8. Alice Walton Walmart (Mercantile Capitalist)
9. S. Robson Walton Walmart (Mercantile Capitalist)
10. Michael Bloomberg (Finance Capitalist)
What is interesting about the relationship of these three strains is the internal competition for surplus value which is quite remarkable and very vigorous. Most of the publicized argument for regulatory constraints against the Finance Capitalist for example, is not from consumers or citizens, but stems from Industrial Capitalists who are loathe to give up surplus value to rent-seekers, preferring instead to capture this surplus for their own uses.
To further set the stage for our discussion, we can examine briefly the extents of control on modern media and the political economy by these three strains. The Financial Capitalists dominate the levers of power through direct capture of government figures, usually by interchanging and exchanging employees back and forth through key positions, as well their highly documented financial contributions. The Mercantilists however, are dominant in the advertising media, preferring instead to take their case directly to the consumer, shaping and stimulating demand by convincing consumers to purchase products and services that they did not know they needed. The long standing and principal Industrial Capitalists of course use both media and government to advance their objectives, but they add another dimension to their ideological control by purchasing controlling stakes in free market think tanks, such as the Libertarian Cato Institute (Koch brothers), the Heritage Foundation, and many others. Most of the so called “free market” think tanks that are influential on public policy can be traced to a controlling interest from Industrial Capital.
So we can see that the three strains of capital have hegemony in their own unique portals, influencing public policy with free domain to the exchange of their out-sized surplus values into social power.
The end game of all this is for the furtherance of rent-seeking activities. This is done in many different ways, but the subject of this article is a focus on privatization, and specifically the behind-the-scenes activities that are imposed on small businesses as well as employees.
The top level observation regarding the push to privatization is that it simply allows capitalist enterprise, large and small, to subvert constitutional protections by engaging private citizens in superficially mutual contracts. Modern political philosophy has been co-opted to allow wide ranging civil rights abuses under the cover of “mutual consent” in the context of a contract between private parties.
Examples would be private party contracts between employees (employment agreements) and between large and small businesses (supply agreements) .
Once private citizens enter into so called mutual contracts, the court system provides wide latitude for enforcement of virtually any draconian measure, as long as two private parties ostensibly agree. In many cases, basic constitutional protections are circumvented, and the entire principle of political economy is upended in the favor of the author of the contract. In theory, the employee or small business has the “right” to not sign any agreement which runs roughshod over his best interests, but in practice, such options are not readily available, particularly for employment agreements, when a prospective employee may be in desperate need of a job, as he or she is forced to sell his labor power for sustenance wages. If there are insufficient offerings of competing private employment contracts (as is often the case) the prospective employee must take what he can get- however onerous and biased the contractual terms are.
This is of course the objective of the Capitalist economy, to 1.) insure a standing army of unemployed workers, at the ready, to fill on demand openings in the Capitalist mode of production, incurring no costs to the Capitalist until such time as this labor power is needed, and then when needed to hire only using draconian and highly biased employment agreements that transfer State-like control to a Capitalist entity that is much better positioned to provide enforcement. 2.) To externalize costs to the greatest degree possible, such as societal infrastructure costs, by creating a privatized, Capitalist entity to take over former State controlled functions and to apply the aforementioned labor principles to realize this new profit center, that can cater such services only to these that can afford them, while exploiting those that provide labor power to these privatized entities.
Once these externalized functions are brought under the umbrella of the Capitalist mode of production, the issue of mutually agreeable contract law can be brought to bear to strip these workers of their Constitutional rights, and further weaken any efforts to consolidate and resist.
The folks over at Crooked Timber have provided some particularly good examples and arguments around this notion of using contract law to subvert even basic liberties:
Life at Work
To understand the limitations of these …….. we have to understand how little freedom workers enjoy at work. Unfreedom in the workplace can be broken down into three categories.
1. Abridgments of freedom inside the workplace
On pain of being fired, workers in most parts of the United States can be commanded to pee or forbidden to pee. They can be watched on camera by their boss while they pee. They can be forbidden to wear what they want, say what they want (and at what decibel), and associate with whom they want. They can be punished for doing or not doing any of these things—punished legally or illegally (as many as 1 in 17 workers who try to join a union is illegally fired or suspended). But what’s remarkable is just how many of these punishments are legal, and even when they’re illegal, how toothless the law can be. Outside the usual protections (against race and gender discrimination, for example), employees can be fired for good reasons, bad reasons, or no reason at all. They can be fired for donating a kidney to their boss (fired by the same boss, that is), refusing to have their person and effects searched, calling the boss a “cheapskate” in a personal letter, and more. They have few rights on the job—certainly none of the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Amendment liberties that constitute the bare minimum of a free society; thus, no free speech or assembly, no due process, no right to a fair hearing before a panel of their peers—and what rights they do have employers will fight tooth and nail to make sure aren’t made known to them or will simply require them to waive as a condition of employment. Outside the prison or the military—which actually provide, at least on paper, some guarantee of due process—it’s difficult to conceive of a less free institution for adults than the average workplace.
2. 2. Abridgements of freedom outside the workplace
In addition to abridging freedoms on the job, employers abridge their employees’ freedoms off the job. Employers invade employees’ privacy, demanding that they hand over passwords to their Facebook accounts, and fire them for resisting such invasions. Employers secretly film their employees at home. Workers are fired for supporting the wrong political candidates (“work for John Kerry or work for me”), failing to donate to employer-approved candidates, challenging government officials, writing critiques of religion on their personal blogs (IBM instructs employees to “show proper consideration…for topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory—such as politics and religion”), carrying on extramarital affairs, participating in group sex at home, cross-dressing, and more. Workers are punished for smoking or drinking in the privacy of their own homes. (How many nanny states have tried that?) They can be fired for merely thinking about having an abortion, for reporting information that might have averted the Challenger disaster, for being raped by an estranged husband. Again, this is all legal in many states, and in the states where it is illegal, the laws are often weak.
3. 3. Use of sanctions inside the workplace as a supplement to—or substitute for—political repression by the state
While employers often abridge workers’ liberty off the job, at certain moments, those abridgments assume a larger function for the state. Particularly in a liberal state constrained by constitutional protections such as the First Amendment, the instruments of coercion can be outsourced to—or shared with—the private sector. During the McCarthy period, for example, fewer than 200 men and women went to jail for their political beliefs, but as many as 40% of American workers—in both the public and private sectors—were investigated (and a smaller percentage punished) for their beliefs.
And, perhaps most succinctly:
What makes the private sector, especially the workplace, such an attractive instrument of repression is precisely that it can administer punishments without being subject to the constraints of the Bill of Rights. It is an archipelago of private governments, in which employers are free to do precisely what the state is forbidden to do: punish without process. Far from providing a check against the state, the private sector can easily become an adjutant of the state. Not through some process of liberal corporatism but simply because employers often share the goals of state officials and are better positioned to act upon them.
So this is the end state that the “free market” evangelists push for, this is the holy grail of privatization, externalized costs to a system that can act outside of the constraints of the Bill of Rights.
We can extend this discussion to the even further reaches of transparency, that of the nature of contracts between large and small businesses. In addition to the above noted employer/employee social relations enforced under a Capitalist entity governed by private contract, the same private contract modality has some startling repercussions for business:
1.) Mercantilists demand slotting fees to product producers for prominent product (shelf) placement at retail locations. They routinely create profit centers with draconian shipping requirements, for example, if a shipping label is off center from a specific location on a carton by even an inch, the producer is fined for each instance of this deviation. Missing or incorrectly filled out paperwork, spelling errors, any excuse for a “deviation” results in a back charge (fine) to the producers. It is not unusual to see small manufacturers shipping product to “big box” retailers, and to have so many back charges that their entire profit margin is consumed before the first unit is even sold. Which of course, is the goal.
2.) Small manufacturers are expected to honor dubious return policies, many large retailers force contract language on suppliers that require them to accept returns months, sometime years after shipment, often when the product was clearly misused. Replacement costs are often entirely pushed onto the supplier, yielding a system that is nearly impossible to accurately track inventory, when such products are never really sold, if they can be returned for full credit months later.
3.) Contract language for even small, non-mercantilist orders has escalated dramatically over the last few years. Consider:
a. Supply agreements can dictate and restrict any outspoken political dissent or endorsement.
b. You can be forced to decline sales within certain industries, to certain customers deemed competitive to the purchaser, or constrained to within certain geographic radii.
c. You can be prohibited from selling a certain product or service to anyone but the original purchaser.
d. You can be forced to accept liability for failures that have nothing to do with your product or service.
e. You can be forced to submit to a dress code for certain customer facing events, and translate this code internally to your own organization.
f. You are often forced to agree to all types of intrusive audits, in some cases unannounced, and can be forced to absorb any lost production costs or accounting support costs in support of these audits- regardless of their outcome.
4.) But perhaps most egregiously, it is now increasingly common to submit to mandatory electronic form of payment, wherein you provide your confidential banking account information, and payment is only made, and cannot be made any other way, by means of a wire transfer directly into your private business account. Reading of the small print in the contract yields an almost universal caveat, the payer can reverse any payment immediately and electronically, directly from your account, without notice and without permission; further, if there is any payment dispute, fines or penalties, or the occurrence of any perceived damages and liability that can result in charge backs to you, the supplier, these can be extracted without notice and without permission.
If you read the fine print on any recent home mortgage documentation you will see similar examples of this from our friends the Finance Capitalists, and if you are foolish enough to consider borrowing money for a business venture from a Finance Capitalist, you will get a first class education in exploitation via contract documents.
The sum total of all this, under the mantle of privatization, is the absolute and unchallenged control by the large scale Capitalist of both consumer and small business based endeavor, seeking to capitalize any surplus value that is achieved though small business or consumer debt onset, and to reduce this to rent-seeking in a fashion that would put Mussolini to shame.
Turns out the devil you don’t know is far worse than the devil you do know.
I took a look into Direct Democracy for Switzerland at Wikipedia [link], where I found : –
In Switzerland, single majorities are sufficient at the town, city, and canton level, but at the national level, double majorities are required on constitutional matters. The intent of the double majorities is simply to ensure any citizen-made law’s legitimacy (Kobach, 1993).
Double majorities are, first, the approval by a majority of those voting, and, second, a majority of cantons in which a majority of those voting approve the ballot measure. A citizen-proposed law (i.e. initiative) cannot be passed in Switzerland at the national level if a majority of the people approve but a majority of the cantons disapprove (Kobach, 1993). For referendums or propositions in general terms (like the principle of a general revision of the Constitution), the majority of those voting is enough (Swiss constitution, 2005).
In 1890, when the provisions for Swiss national citizen lawmaking were being debated by civil society and government, the Swiss adopted the idea of double majorities from the United States Congess, in which House votes were to represent the people and Senate votes were to represent the states (Kobach, 1993). According to its supporters, this “legitimacy-rich” approach to national citizen lawmaking has been very successful. Kobach claims that Switzerland has had tandem successes both socially and economically which are matched by only a few other nations, and that the United States is not one of them. Kobach states at the end of his book, “Too often, observers deem Switzerland an oddity among political systems. It is more appropriate to regard it as a pioneer.”
Unfortunately, I found the political spin in the states worth giving emphasis from the same wikipedia link above : –
Direct democracy was very much opposed by the framers of the United States Constitution and some signers of the Declaration of Independence. They saw a danger in majorities forcing their will on minorities. As a result, they advocated a representative democracy in the form of a constitutional republic over a direct democracy. For example, James Madison, in Federalist No.10 advocates a constitutional republic over direct democracy precisely to protect the individual from the will of the majority. He says,
“A pure democracy can admit no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will be felt by a majority, and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party. Hence it is, that democracies have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have, in general, been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”
John Witherspoon, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence said,
“Pure democracy cannot subsist long nor be carried far into the departments of state — it is very subject to caprice and the madness of popular rage.”
Alexander Hamilton said,
“That a pure democracy if it were practicable would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved that no position is more false than this. The ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated never possessed one good feature of government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity…”
Interestingly, Edward Bernays, that wonderful spinmeister of double speak – worthy of debate, due to the outcome of much of his folly in the present world – had this to say at the opening of his (1928) book Propaganda [PDF] : –
The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.
Our invisible governors are, in many cases, unaware of the identity of their fellow members in the inner cabinet.
They govern us by their qualities of natural leadership, their ability to supply needed ideas and by their key position in the social structure. Whatever attitude one chooses toward this condition, it remains a fact that in almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons-a trifling fraction of our hundred and twenty million-who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind, who harness old social forces and contrive new ways to bind and guide the world.
It is not usually realized how necessary these invisible governors are to the orderly functioning of our group life. In theory, every citizen may vote for whom he pleases. Our Constitution does not envisage political parties as part of the mechanism of government, and its framers seem not to have pictured to themselves the existence in our national politics of anything like the modern political machine. But the American voters soon found that without organization and direction their individual votes, cast, perhaps, for dozens of hundreds of candidates, would produce nothing but confusion. Invisible government, in the shape of rudimentary political parties, arose almost overnight. Ever since then we have agreed, for the sake of simplicity and practicality, that party machines should narrow down the field of choice to two candidates, or at most three or four.
In theory, every citizen makes up his mind on public questions and matters of private conduct. In practice, if all men had to study for themselves the abstruse economic, political, and ethical data involved in every question, they would find it impossible to come to a conclusion without anything. We have voluntarily agreed to let an invisible government sift the data and high-spot the outstanding issue so that our field of choice shall be narrowed to practical proportions. From our leaders and the media they use to reach the public, we accept the evidence and the demarcation of issues bearing upon public question; from some ethical teacher, be it a minister, a favorite essayist, or merely prevailing opinion, we accept a standardized code of social conduct to which we conform most of the time.
We are governed, our minds molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society.
I therefore believe that the kind of oppression that threatens democratic peoples is unlike any the world has seen before. Our contemporaries will find no image of it in their memories. I search in vain for an expression that exactly reproduces my idea of it and captures it fully. The old words “despotism” and “tyranny” will not do. The thing is new, hence I must try to define it, since I cannot give it a name.
I am trying to imagine what new features despotism might have in today’s world: I see an innumerable host of men, all alike and equal, endlessly hastening after petty and vulgar pleasures with which they fill their souls. Each of them, withdrawn into himself, is virtually a stranger to the fate of all the others. For him, his children and personal friends comprise the entire human race. As for the remainder of his fellow citizens, he lives alongside them but does not see them. He touches them but does not feel them. He exists only in himself and for himself, and if he still has a family, he no longer has a country.
Over these men stands an immense tutelary power, which assumes sole responsibility for securing their pleasure and watching over their fate. It is absolute, meticulous, regular, provident, and mild. It would resemble paternal authority if only its purpose were the same, namely, to prepare men for manhood. But on the contrary, it seeks only to keep them in childhood irrevocably. It likes citizens to rejoice, provided they think only of rejoicing. It works willingly for their happiness. It provides for their security, foresees and takes care of their needs, facilitates their pleasures, manages their most important affairs, directs their industry, regulates their successions, and divides their inheritances. Why not relieve them entirely of the trouble of thinking and the difficulty of living?
Every day it thus makes man’s use of his free will rarer and more futile. It circumscribes the action of the will more narrowly, and little by little robs each citizen of the use of his own faculties. ~ Alexis de Tocqueville ~ 1835
I sense that the work is almost complete, since the exportation of most every wealth – with its replacement of exhorbitant debt – complete a nation without appeal to their constitutional rights – has squandered; for want of a stance in sensibility, even what abilities are left remaining to resolve it …
Dear potential contributors (DK, Tom Tom, Kramerfaust, Sunson),
I am going to send you an invitation tonight so that you can contribute. You’ll have to sign up with wordpress in order to submit your work to me. It looks like Kramerfaust already has a wordpress account set up. Per the WordPress staff:
Your new user will now be able to access your blog by visiting the My Blogs section of their dashboard when they log in to WordPress.com.
You won’t have to blog at the site you initially create; it’s just a required formality. Or you can simply email me at Collapsitarians@gmail.com. I’m looking forward to reading your posts. More voices means more worldly knowledge to glean from and different perspectives to appreciate.
Since I started this site, the stats tell me that the top four google searches which have brought people here are the following:
1.) collapse of industrial civilization
2.) the price of offshore revisited
3.) james holmes sociopath
4.) collapse peak oil
The first one is an obvious outcome. I was surprised this domain had not been previously claimed since it seems to be such a hackneyed phrase. As Greer has noted, in the twilight of past civilizations, the elite are increasingly seen as corrupt and stories of societal collapse become popular in the mainstream culture. The second one relates to my post about the trillions being hoarded in offshore tax havens by the 0.001%. Backed by the power of the State, the global elite live in a cocoon of cossetted comfort, indifferent to the hand-to-mouth existence of the majority. They’ve got the iron fist of the Military Industrial Complex and Police State to protect their wealth from the rest of humanity who will be falling off the net energy cliff into poverty and desperation.
The third google search phrase is apparent to all unless you have been living under a rock since July 20th. We have these mass shootings periodically here in the Land of the Second Amendment just as a reminder that guns don’t kill people. Guns are completely innocent in these mass bloodlettings and should not be denied their freedom of getting into the hands of every man, woman, and child in the country. The response by the public is simply to buy even more guns. Why refute such logic in a world that thinks more debt is the answer. More debt, more growth, more firepower, more people, more wars, more cars, more profit, more, more, and more…..
Connecting the ‘War on Terror’ with the control of resources abroad and the crushing of dissent both here and overseas:
In order to overtake and dominate, sometimes you have to draw your opponent in close to you. Knowing that the oil and gas reserves of the Middle East make it an area of vital geopolitical and national security importance, an empire would use all available opportunities to insert itself there, even if it meant invasion under some false pretense. With the trumped-up claims of terrorist ties to Iraq and WMD, 9-11 gave the empire the pretense to invade. Today we can see the results here and here and here.
“Moreover, as America becomes an increasingly multi-cultural society, it may find it more difficult to fashion a consensus on foreign policy issues, except in the circumstance of a truly massive and widely perceived direct external threat.” (p. 211)
“Never before has a populist democracy attained international supremacy. But the pursuit of power is not a goal that commands popular passion, except in conditions of a sudden threat or challenge to the public’s sense of domestic well-being. The economic self-denial (that is, defense spending) and the human sacrifice (casualties, even among professional soldiers) required in the effort are uncongenial to democratic instincts. Democracy is inimical to imperial mobilization.” (p.35)
“To put it in a terminology that harkens back to the more brutal age of ancient empires, the three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy are to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected(!), and to keep the barbarians from coming together.” (p.40)
Now we get to today’s video from Journeyman pictures which gives further evidence from a whistleblower that all the stops were pulled in order to make this ‘War on Terror’ fly. No more Geneva Convention, no more questioning of the efficacy or, for that matter, morality of the brutal torture done by countries we once condemned as barbaric:
The War on Terror was the perfect existential threat needed to prop up neoliberal capitalism and its resultant world of an opulently rich class ruling over the teeming masses of serfs. In a civilization dominated globally by such an economic system which is designed to funnel the shrinking wealth (i.e. energy) of society into the hands of a tiny elite, there can be no other future to look forward to for those at the bottom but despair and poverty:
When I started this site a few months ago, my intent was to blog for my own self-awareness on the state of the globalized industrial world. Since this is such a heavy subject, it has become apparent to me that breaks from the computer and this sedentary lifestyle are necessary if I am to continue this work. My feelings were confirmed after I read this article. So in light of that realization, I am putting a request out to the blogosphere for a fellow writer who would like to team up with me on this project. With two people, it would be much easier and there would be an opportunity for exchange of ideas.
My general research regime is to scour the headlines on the RSS links you see to the left as well as some research on google and youtube in search of a salient news article or essay to talk about. The subjects I focus on are the following, many of which overlap:
Military Industrial Complex
Wall Street Fraud
With the end of growth and our current economic system becoming increasingly dysfunctional, the creation of a more just and socially benevolent system would be a welcome development if we are to avoid widespread suffering from the widening wealth gap and future wars over dwindling resources. One of my goals is to show how the current scheme is not working and is in fact a brutish, Darwinian model that needs to be scrapped if the continued existence of humanity is to be achieved in any civilized form. Human nature may never allow such a thing; however, we really have no choice but to try.
So if you are interested in teaming up, drop me a line in the comment section.
Now the following story should lay to rest the question of who is really waging this class war and laying waste to the rest of humanity. While the Über Rich hide their wealth in tax havens to the tune of at least $21 trillion, the Working Class lose their jobs due to the criminal acts of white-collar crooks, sacrifice their children in foreign wars, cope with cutbacks on social services and shoulder the burden of increased taxes to pay for the roads, bridges, and infrastructure required for society to function, resort to food stamps in an attempt to feed their families, and in some cases commit suicide to escape the hell they have been thrown into by the protected thieving class of the upper 1%.
And a recent example that shows the aloof, above-the-law mentality of these elitist pricks is illustrated in the following video:
This is reality: The elite feel they are above paying the taxes needed to run a functioning society while the rest of humanity is expected and forced to pay those government taxes as well as corporate bailouts. It’s called accumulation by dispossession.
Wealthy tax evaders, aided by private banks have exploited loopholes in tax legislation and stashed over $21 tn in offshore funds, says a report. The capital drained from some developing countries since 1970 would be enough to pay off national debts.
The findings show the gap between the haves and the have-nots is much larger than previously thought.
The document, entitled The Price of Offshore Revisited, was commissioned by The Tax Justice Network campaign group and leaked to the Guardian. The report provides the most detailed valuation of the offshore economy to date.
“The problem here is that the assets of these countries are held by a small number of wealthy individuals while the debts are shouldered by the ordinary people of these countries through their governments,” wrote James Henry, expert on tax havens and former chief economist at consultancy McKinsey in his report.
The document cites the world’s leading private banks as cherry-picking from the ranks of the uber-rich and siphoning their fortunes into tax-free havens such as Switzerland and the Cayman Islands.
The wealth of the super-rich is “protected by a highly paid, industrious bevy of professional enablers in the private banking, legal, accounting and investment industries taking advantage of the increasingly borderless, frictionless global economy.”
Henry writes that a large part of the trillion dollar hoard belongs to around 92,000 individuals, an elite class of super-rich who make up 0.001 percent of the global population.
“These estimates reveal a staggering failure: inequality is much, much worse than official statistics show, but politicians are still relying on trickle-down to transfer wealth to poorer people,” said John Christensen of the Tax Justice Network.
The report records the flow of capital from countries into offshores over the past few decades. Saudi Arabia saw almost $300 billion drained from their economy since the 1970s, while Russia saw almost $800 billion leave its economy in hidden assets since the fall of the Soviet Union. Nigeria issued a loss of $300 billion since the mid-1970s.
Henry points the finger at the world’s top ten private banks, among them UBS and Credit Suisse, for aiding wealthy clients to dodge taxes.
According to Henry’s figures, the top financial leaders processed more than $6 trillion in funds in 2010, more than double the previous year.
Banking system – rotten to the core
Last week the US Senate released a report damning the actions of the UK bank HSBC. The report highlighted evidence of the bank’s law security policies leading to money laundering cases.
It referenced $7 billion in cash that had crossed the Mexican border into the US and been deposited in HSBC from 2007 to 2008. The report suggests that the billions of dollars could have come from drug sales in Mexico.
The probe also shed light on a number of other instances when the bank bypassed US safeguards, potentially bankrolling terrorists and drug lords in the process.
The bank had previously had to pay out $1bn to US authorities for money laundering offenses committed between 2004 and 2010.
The G20 has repeatedly made calls to end tax-free havens since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008, but these plans have not yet come to fruition.
He looked like an assassin ready to go to war,” said Jordan Crofter, a moviegoer who was unhurt in the attack early Friday, about a half-hour after the special midnight opening of “The Dark Knight Rises.
Just a half hour drive from Columbine is the city of Aurora Colorado in which the latest ritual blood bath has been carried out in a hail of bullets. 71 hit and 12 dead.
Clad in a gas mask, ballistic helmet, and body armor from the neck down to the legs, the gunman burst into a theater after tossing in a couple of gas canisters. Was this a terrorist act from some fundamentalist Middle East group? No, it came from 24-year-old American James Holmes, described as “shy”, “high-achieving” and from a “good family.” He was in fact a college graduate with a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience. Tom Mai, a retired electrical engineer, said “the mother told him Holmes couldn’t find a job after earning a master’s degree and returned to school.” Holmes even left his apartment booby-trapped, a sort of double tap assault for those hunting him.
What can be said of this most recent disturbed outcry from modern civilization’s youth? I see it as a reflection of the perverse and twisted culture which this young person was faced with, an atomized society which commodifies everything in its site and turns all it can into a financial transaction of some sort. What is worth preserving of a society which destroys the future of its offspring with mountains of social debt in the form of exorbitant college loans, a degraded and polluted environment, no option for meaningful work, a two-tier class system of haves and have-nots, a rising Security and Surveillance State, and a world at war for the last of the earth’s resources? Of course this is all normal for a country that glorifies sociopathic behavior:
…Sociopathic behavior becomes normalized and even glorified in business culture, and the businessmen who are less sociopathic get eaten alive by the more sociopathic ones.
The entirety of business sociopathy is glorified by the nation’s culture, in art, media, etc. as tens of millions of Americans long to be the next Bill Gates, who is nothing more than a White Crips/Bloods gang member with glasses and a high IQ.
Less sociopathic businessmen who try to act decent are destroyed and then, for their decency, are attacked in common culture as losers, failures and even scum. Women avoid them and their families look at the ground when someone brings up their name. At the individual level, people who try to play fair and be nice are told that they are displaying loser attitudes and ordered to harden up and act more sociopathic.
Capitalism is really the normalization, rationalization, glorification and even deification of sociopathy across society.
My only surprise is that we don’t see more of these meltdowns taking place in this bankrupt and systemically corrupt system of ours. If you read medical journalist Robert Whitaker, America’s rise in mental illness has gone up in lockstep with “our society’s increased use of psychiatric medications.”
Surely the lack of effective gun laws that would prevent such massacres also is worth mentioning, thanks to the legendary lobbying power of the NRA whose motto was best exemplified by their now deceased spokesman Charlton Heston who said you can pry the gun “from my cold, dead hands.” America just loves its guns:
If there was a fast and sudden collapse of the economy and industrial civilization, America might be one of the last places you’d want to find yourself due to the above reasons I have described.
I’m politically agnostic so I don’t really pay too much attention to the machinations of our faux democracy, best described as a “kabuki theater of empty formalisms that disguise the offstage conspiracies of corporate/state elites.” Politics has become like the fake professional wrestling of the WWF: a rigged and meaningless spectacle for the apathetic masses.
The latest titillating maneuver comes from the DNC in the form of a video illustrating King Romney waffling over if/when he’ll disclose his income tax returns. It features Romney’s Olympic-qualified dressage horse named Rafalca and was to be Volume 1 of a series of videos:
But apparently the video cut too close to the bone for the Romney Royalty, and since late Wednesday the DNC has decided to pull the plug on the series:
…At the time, the DNC was billing the video as “the first in a series of digital products highlighting Rafalca.”
But by late Wednesday, the DNC had done a complete 180 and decided it “will longer use the Romney’s Olympic-bound dressage horse to portray Mitt Romney as ‘dancing around the issues’ because it could be seen as offensive to the (Mitt Romney’s) wife Ann,” CNN’s Political Ticker blog reported….
…The catalyst for the DNC’s about-face on the wisdom of “highlighting Rafalca” was an interview, scheduled to air Thursday, in which Ann Romney told Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts, “It makes me laugh. It’s like ‘Really?’ You know, there’s so many people out of work right now, and there’s this guy right here that has the answers for fixing the economy, and all these attacks are going to be — they’re going to try everything. They’re going to throw spaghetti at the wall.”
What’s even more offensive and alarming is that the masses can’t readily see that, for all practical purposes, there is no difference between the two candidates we are being offered when it comes to reality-based issues such as the collapsing middles class, institutionalized criminal behavior on Wall Street, enthrallment to the banks and military industrial complex, and myopic vision on dire environmental issues like climate change which threatens to take us all down, rendering every other issue moot. But let’s humor the idea that humanity will still be here in any sizable numbers by mid-century and take a look at the financial viability of the 99%:
So we have the poverty-stricken plebs choosing between a wealthy elite and an exorbitantly wealthy elite. And many still think that’s a choice they need to make. To what end I don’t know. As some like to say, “Jesus wept!”
Paul Craig Roberts has written a very insightful piece entitled War On All Fronts. He describes an Empire which is pushing on all fronts, despite a collapsing economy and declining living standards for its own citizens here at home. Yes, the cost of American Empire has outstripped the benefits it once offered to its common citizen.
The world is catching on to the American corporatocracy’s covert use of what are called NGOs [non-governmental agencies] in spreading dissent within other countries and over throwing foreign governments. The latest case is Russia which is now passing a law similar to what the U.S. uses whereby members of NGOs, who are funded by foreign governments, must register with the U.S. Justice Department as ‘foreign agents’ under America’s ‘Foreign Agents Registration Act’(FARA):
…The Washington-funded Russian political opposition masquerades behind “human rights” and says it works to “open Russia.” What the disloyal and treasonous Washington-funded Russian “political opposition” means by “open Russia” is to open Russia for brainwashing by Western propaganda, to open Russia to economic plunder by the West, and to open Russia to having its domestic and foreign policies determined by Washington.
“Non-governmental organizations” are very governmental. They have played pivotal roles in both financing and running the various “color revolutions” that have established American puppet states in former constituent parts of the Soviet Empire. NGOs have been called “coup d’etat machines,” and they have served Washington well in this role. They are currently working in Venezuela against Chavez.
Of course, Washington is infuriated that its plans for achieving hegemony over a country too dangerous to attack militarily have been derailed by Russia’s awakening, after two decades, to the threat of being politically subverted by Washington-financed NGOs. Washington requires foreign-funded organizations to register as foreign agents (unless they are Israeli funded). However, this fact doesn’t stop Washington from denouncing the new Russian law as “anti-democratic,” “police state,” blah-blah. Caught with its hand in subversion, Washington calls Putin names. The pity is that most of the brainwashed West will fall for Washington’s lies, and we will hear more about “gangster state Russia.”…
Considering the revelation earlier this year that corporations were paying “strategic intelligence” firm Stratfor to spy on activists, it would come as no surprise that many NGOs here in the US are also used by multinational corporations to push their corporate agendas. As one commenter notes, the use of domestic NGOs in America by corporations is likely commonplace and key in controlling political dissent and keeping the ideology of neoliberal capitalism dominant over American society:
…How many of our “Tax-Exempt Foundations” and even religious organizations are in fact fronts for Global Corporations? Each state of the union could, if it had citizens with spines, force local do-good groups to register just like the outside agitators they really are. Politics in America would change overnight.
The Russians have been screwed by US “advice” since the Harvard Boys played Joseph to Russia’s Pharaoh after 1989 and destroyed their economy. Everyone should read the old Nation article even if only the cached version…
And on the Asian front we have China which is seen as another threat to be contained:
…President Obama today was asked about the strategy of containing China by establishing stronger economic and diplomatic ties with countries in the region – such as with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, which excludes China — as well as with today’s military announcement. What does the US fear from China? he was asked.
“The notion that we fear China is mistaken,” he said. “The notion that we are looking to exclude China is mistaken.”
The president insisted that “we haven’t excluded China from the TPP. What we have said is the future of this region depends on robust trade and commerce and the only way we’re going to grow that trade is if we have a high-standards trade agreement where everybody is playing by the same rules. …
Having drained the U.S. economy by offshoring to China in order to take advantage of their cheap labor pool and nonexistent environmental regulation over the last several decades, the American corporatocracy now looks to curtail a creature of its own making. Roberts notes the following:
…China has been cooperative with Washington, because the offshoring of the US economy to China was an important component in China’s unprecedented high rate of economic development. American capitalists got their short-run profits, and China got the capital and technology to build an economy that in another 2 or 3 years will have surpassed the sinking US economy. Jobs offshoring, mistaken for free trade by free market economists, has built China and destroyed America…
…It looks as if an over-confident US government is determined to have a three-front war: Syria, Lebanon, and Iran in the Middle East, China in the Far East, and Russia in Europe. This would appear to be an ambitious agenda for a government whose military was unable to occupy Iraq after nine years or to defeat the lightly-armed Taliban after eleven years, and whose economy and those of its NATO puppets are in trouble and decline with corresponding rising internal unrest and loss of confidence in political leadership:
There is a lot to think about in this latest article by Roberts and it says everything about the chaotic and expansionary nature of capitalism, much more than that of empire. Whether you are pro or anti-capitalist, the facts laid before our eyes do not lie. I found the following comment to Robert’s article a perfect mirror of my own thoughts:
Finally, revelations that Unregulated Capitalism and Democracy can only co-exist for so long. Those who have ignored this fact are now suffering from the ultimate results of this reality. Those who have always known this and are not surprised are likely doing quite well and could care less. Socialism, the Kryptonite to unregulated Capitalism, has reportedly gained increasing favor of late with younger people who can find no benefit associated with an economic philosophy that exists to serve a minority class consisting of the very wealthy as it strives to insure it’s dominance by perpetuating a Plutocracy masquerading as a functioning Democracy. Throughout history, Democracies have existed without a Capitalist economic system but the reverse is rare to find as Capitalism eventually requires total compliance by government to save it from it’s own excesses. Considering the fact that our economy has once again hit the fan, 11 recessions and two depressions in the last eighty years, when are we going to stop buying into the brainwashing and stop our blind acceptance of an unregulated economic system that is perpetually unstable and now requires a constant state of war and suffering by a majority of the planet’s inhabitance to insure a utopia for a wealthy minority at the very top?