Olduvaiblog: Musings on the coming collapse

Home » Posts tagged 'Elite'

Tag Archives: Elite

charles hugh smith-Why the Periphery Is Crumbling: The Spoils System Is Cracking

charles hugh smith-Why the Periphery Is Crumbling: The Spoils System Is Cracking.

(February 28, 2014)

Instability starts on the periphery and moves into the core.

While it is clear that the instability in periphery nations is arising from dynamics unique to each nation, there is one unifying causal factor: the spoils system in each nation is breaking down.

Every nation-state, from brutal dictatorships to nominal democracies, ultimately depends on a spoils system that provides the various factions, classes, etc., with sufficient material and status benefits to accept the Status Quo arrangement.

The more a regime relies on oppression for its legitimacy (for example, North Korea or Saddam’s Iraq), the greater its vulnerability to erosion in the spoils system, which naturally favor the military and the regime’s Elites.

In broad brush, the spoils available for distribution are the surplus generated by the national economy. In the case of North Korea, this surplus stems from extortion (of donations from other nations), satrapy (free oil from China) and illicit activities (arms sales and counterfeiting). A common source of surplus is oil (Venezuela, Iraq, Iran) or some other desirable commodity.

The vast majority of surpluses outside oil exporting nations have been generated by three factors: cheap energy, rising productivity and the expansion of credit. If we examine periods of rapid expansion and generalized prosperity, we find these three factors were active: cheap energy, rising productivity and ample credit.

Just look at Europe and the U.S. in the 1950s and 60s, Japan in the 1960s and 70s, and China in the 1980s and 90s for examples.

Any reversal in these factors reduces surplus and the spoils being distributed.Sharply higher energy costs crimp profits and cause recessions, stagnating productivity leads to near-zero growth and institutional/state sclerosis and credit contraction leads to recession and the destruction of malinvestments.

Since ruling Elites are by definition constantly picking winners and losers, any Status Quo operated by Elites is systematically malinvesting on a gargantuan scale. This is the ontological imperative of any Elite: skim as much of the national surplus as possible and funnel it to cronies and loyal toadies. The prudent Elites (and imprudent Elites don’t last long–the spoils system is quite Darwinian) set aside enough surplus to distribute as spoils, effectively buying the complicity of key sectors, classes, factions, etc.

Thus the default policy of any ruling Elite is bread and circuses: supply the potentially disruptive masses with food and entertainment, and they’ll continue their grudging support of whatever arrangement is supplying the bread and circuses.

Any mob that appears threatening can be dissipated with a “whiff of grapeshot.”

In the U.S., the spoils system is almost unlimited: corporate welfare for capital, food stamps and SSI disability for the lumpenproletariat, big-bucks jobs as water-carriers for the Elites for technocrats in the State, finance, think tanks, elite universities and Corporate America sectors, a variety of quasi-secure lower-level positions as enforcers, lackeys, apparatchiks and factotums and a smattering of tax subsidies (mortgage interest deduction, etc.) to placate what’s left of the non-state-dependent middle class.

The spoils system is not only the foundation of every Elites’ political legitimacy, it is the thin layer of plaster that covers all the longstanding ethnic, regional, linguistic, religious and political fault lines that run beneath current nation-state arrangements.

As noted in yesterday’s entry Ukraine: A Deep State Analysis, numerous national borders were drawn after World War II (1945) with little regard for historical divisions between various groups or preceding borders.

Entire nations were penciled into existence by Imperial diktat in complete disregard for existing historical groups–Iraq and Syria being just two examples of many.

As long as the stick of repression and the carrot of the spoils system were sufficiently persuasive, the tectonic plates beneath the regime were masked. But once the spoils system and the machinery of suppression crack, the old rivalries arise anew.

The spoils system can crack for two reasons: either the national surplus declines so there simply isn’t enough spoils left to keep everyone placated, or the spoils diversion to the Elites and their cronies exceeds the tipping point of legitimacy.

Greece and Venezuela are examples of the first dynamic, and Ukraine is an example of the second dynamic. Greece essentially funded its vast spoils distribution system with borrowed money. When the regime’s free-money machine finally broke, the spoils system crashed along with the legitimacy of the Status Quo.

Venezuela is suffering a similar crash, based not on a withdrawal of credit but on the current Elites’ destruction of the nation’s oil industry and what was left of its productive private economy.

In Ukraine, the plundering of the national surplus by oligarchic Elites finally exceeded the populace’s threshold of legitimacy, and once the armed forces and police refused to murder their cousins, brothers, nieces and nephews in the streets, the Status Quo arrangement collapsed.

Now that the spoils system has crumbled, all the historical tectonics and fault lines are emerging in full force. the same can be said of Iraq and many other inherently unstable nation-states/regimes.

Why is the periphery crumbling? It’s simple: the conditions that enabled rising national surpluses and the distribution of spoils is breaking down for three reasons:

1. Energy is no longer cheap (compared to past prices)

2. The low-hanging fruit of higher productivity has all been plucked

3. The free-money flood of cheap, limitless credit is drying up

As regimes find surplus and credit are both contracting, their ability to placate every key group with spoils is also declining, and the conflicts between them can no longer be patched over with bribery or brutality.

Instability starts on the periphery and moves into the core. I have covered this in depth a number of times:

Instability Start on the Margins (October 31, 2013)

The Core-Periphery Model (June 11, 2013)

EU Leaders Throw Europe a Plutonium Life Preserver (October 27, 2011)

Everywhere, the instability from a failing spoils system is seeping from the periphery into the core: the E.U., the U.S., China and India. Two Powder Kegs Ready to Blow: China & India (January 23, 2014)

This erosion of the spoils system has a peculiar characteristic: once the old spoils system cracks and collapses, it cannot be put back together. A new arrangement arises, despite the best self-serving efforts of the current Elites.

oftwominds-Charles Hugh Smith: The Dollar and the Deep State

oftwominds-Charles Hugh Smith: The Dollar and the Deep State.

If we consider the Fed’s policies (tapering, etc.) solely within the narrow confines of the corporatocracy or a strictly financial context, we are in effect touching the foot of the elephant and declaring the creature to be short and roundish.

I have been studying the Deep State for 40 years, before it had gained the nifty name “deep state.” What others describe as the Deep State I term the National Security State which enables the American Empire, a vast structure that incorporates hard and soft power–military, diplomatic, intelligence, finance, commercial, energy, media, higher education–in a system of global domination and influence.

Back in 2007 I drew a simplified chart of the Imperial structure, what I called the Elite Maintaining and Extending Global Dominance (EMEGD):

At a very superficial level, some pundits have sought a Master Control in the Trilateral Commission or similar elite gatherings. Such groups are certainly one cell within the Empire, but each is no more important than other parts, just as killer T-cells are just one of dozens of cell types in the immune system.

One key feature of the Deep State is that it makes decisions behind closed doors and the surface government simply ratifies or approves the decisions. A second key feature is that the Deep State decision-makers have access to an entire world of secret intelligence.

Here is an example from the late 1960s, when the mere existence of the National Security Agency (NSA) was a state secret. Though the Soviet Union made every effort to hide its failures in space, it was an ill-kept secret that a number of their manned flights failed in space and the astronauts died.

The NSA had tapped the main undersea cables, and may have already had other collection capabilities in place, for the U.S. intercepted a tearful phone call from Soviet Leader Brezhnev to the doomed astronauts, a call made once it had become clear there was no hope of their capsule returning to Earth.

Former congressional staff member Mike Lofgren described the Deep State in his recent essay Anatomy of the Deep State:

There is another, more shadowy, more indefinable government that is not explained in Civics 101 or observable to tourists at the White House or the Capitol. The subsurface part of the iceberg I shall call the Deep State, which operates according to its own compass heading regardless of who is formally in power.

The term “Deep State” was coined in Turkey and is said to be a system composed of high-level elements within the intelligence services, military, security, judiciary and organized crime.

I use the term to mean a hybrid association of elements of government and parts of top-level finance and industry that is effectively able to govern the United States without reference to the consent of the governed as expressed through the formal political process.

I would say that only senior military or intelligence officers have any realistic grasp of the true scope, power and complexity of the Deep State and its Empire.Those with no grasp of military matters cannot possibly understand the Deep State. If you don’t have any real sense of the scope of the National Security State, you are in effect touching the foot of the elephant and declaring the creature is perhaps two feet tall.

The Deep State arose in World War II, as the mechanisms of electoral governance had failed to prepare the nation for global war. The goal of winning the war relegated the conventional electoral government to rubber-stamping Deep State decisions and policies.

After the war, the need to stabilize (if not “win”) the Cold War actually extended the Deep State. Now, the global war on terror (GWOT) is the justification.

One way to understand the Deep State is to trace the vectors of dependency. The Deep State needs the nation to survive, but the nation does not need the Deep State to survive (despite the groupthink within the Deep State that “we are the only thing keeping this thing together.”)

The nation would survive without the Federal Reserve, but the Federal Reserve would not survive without the Deep State. The Fed is not the Deep State; it is merely a tool of the Deep State.

This brings us to the U.S. dollar and the Deep State. The Deep State doesn’t really care about the signal noise of the economy–mortgage rates, minimum wages, unemployment, etc., any more that it cares about the political circus (“step right up to the Clinton sideshow, folks”) or the bickering over regulations by various camps.

What the Deep State cares about are the U.S. dollar, water, energy, minerals and access to those commodities (alliances, sea lanes, etc.). As I have mentioned before, consider the trade enabled by the reserve currency (the dollar): we print/create money out of thin air and exchange this for oil, commodities, electronics, etc.

If this isn’t the greatest trade on Earth–exchanging paper for real stuff– what is?While I am sympathetic to the strictly financial arguments that predict hyper-inflation and the destruction of the U.S. dollar, they are in effect touching the toe of the elephant.

The financial argument is this: we can print money but we can’t print more oil, coal, ground water, etc., and so eventually the claims on real wealth (i.e. dollars) will so far exceed the real wealth that the claims on wealth will collapse.

So far as this goes, it makes perfect sense. But let’s approach this from the geopolitical-strategic perspective of the Deep State: why would the Deep State allow policies that would bring about the destruction of its key global asset, the U.S. dollar?

There is simply no way the Deep State is going to support policies that would fatally weaken the dollar, or passively watch a subsidiary of the Deep State (the Fed) damage the Deep State itself.

The strictly financial arguments for hyper-inflation and the destruction of the U.S. dollar implicitly assume a system that operates like a line of dominoes: if the Fed prints money, that will inevitably start the dominoes falling, with the final domino being the reserve currency.

Setting aside the complexity of Triffin’s Paradox and other key dynamics within the reserve currency, we can safely predict that the Deep State will do whatever is necessary to maintain the dollar’s reserve status and purchasing power.

Understanding the “Exorbitant Privilege” of the U.S. Dollar (November 19, 2012)

What Will Benefit from Global Recession? The U.S. Dollar (October 9, 2012)

Recall Triffin’s primary point: countries like China that run trade surpluses cannot host reserve currencies, as that requires running large structural trade deficits.

In my view, the euro currency is a regional experiment in the “bancor” model,where a supra-national currency supposedly eliminates Triffin’s Paradox. It has failed, partly because supra-national currencies don’t resolve Triffin’s dilemma, they simply obfuscate it with sovereign credit imbalances that eventually moot the currency’s ability to function as intended.

Many people assume the corporatocracy rules the nation, but the corporatocracy is simply another tool of the Deep State. Many pundits declare that the Powers That Be want a weaker dollar to boost exports, but this sort of strictly financial concern is only of passing interest to the Deep State.
The corporatocracy (banking/financialization, etc.) has captured the machinery of regulation and governance, but these are surface effects of the electoral government that rubber-stamps policies set by the Deep State.

The corporatocracy is a useful global tool of the Deep State, but its lobbying of the visible government is mostly signal noise to the Deep State. The only sectors that matter are the defense, energy, agriculture and international financial sectors that supply the Imperial Project and project power.

What would best serve the Deep State is a dollar that increases in purchasing power and extends the Deep State’s power. It is widely assumed that the Fed creating a few trillion dollars has created a massive surplus of dollars that will guarantee a slide in the dollar’s purchasing power and its demise as the reserve currency.

Those who believe the Fed’s expansion of its balance sheet will weaken the dollar are forgetting that from the point of view of the outside world, the Fed’s actions are not so much expanding the supply of dollars as offsetting the contraction caused by deleveraging.

I would argue that the dollar will soon be scarce, and the simple but profound laws of supply and demand will push the dollar’s value not just higher but much higher. The problem going forward for exporting nations will be the scarcity of dollars.

If we consider the Fed’s policies (tapering, etc.) solely within the narrow confines of the corporatocracy or a strictly financial context, we are in effect touching the foot of the elephant and declaring the creature to be short and roundish. The elephant is the Deep State and its Imperial Project.

Gold, The Fed’s “Stockholm Syndrome”, & Keeping An Open Mind | Zero Hedge

Gold, The Fed’s “Stockholm Syndrome”, & Keeping An Open Mind | Zero Hedge.

Once the family/gang has carved out their turf, they then turn to controlling and exploiting the resoruces (either natural or human) inside of it. How different is today’s President-Congress-Governor-Mayor-Worker relationship to the mafia’s boss-soldiers-associates model?

 

Is it simply ironic that the term “bankster” has become so ingrained? As Santiago Capital’s Brent Johnson explains in this brief presentation… if you can keep your mind open, today’s business leaders and politicians are no different as they run protection, extortion, control the flow of ‘drugs’, and manage ‘crime’.

 

 

Is it possible, he asks, that we are all collectivley empathizing and sympathizing (and in many cases defending) the very system and the very people that are holding us captive?

 

“No, sire, it is a revolution…”

“No, sire, it is a revolution…”.

It’s pretty ironic that I have two visitors right now in my home– one from Ukraine and the other from Thailand.

Both of their countries are in the midst of chaotic turmoil right now, characterized by riots and violent clashes between protestors and police.

It reminds me of the old quote from Louis XVI upon being informed in 1789 that the French people had stormed the Bastille. The King asked, “Is it a revolt?”

“No, sire,” the duke replied, “It is a revolution.”

People in both of these countries have reached their breaking points. In Ukraine especially, economic conditions have deteriorated in almost spectacular form.

History is packed with examples of how people rise up in the streets whenever economic conditions deteriorate.

The French Revolution in 1789 is one famous example; the French people finally reached their breaking points after nearly starving to death.

The 2011 Egyptian Revolution and entire Arab Spring movement is a similar example.

In fact, a 2011 study from the New England Complex Systems Institute showed a clear statistical correlation between social unrest and (specifically) food prices. The higher food prices get, the greater the chances of riots and revolution.

This is not a condition exclusive to the developing world; it is a fundamental human trait to provide for one’s family.

And while human beings will take a lot of crap from their governments– stupid regulations, higher taxes, erosion of freedom, and even inflation– the moment that a man is no longer able to put food on the table for his family, revolution foments.

Europe and the US are not immune to this. And with deteriorating wealth gaps, 50%+ youth unemployment, unchecked government power, and a system that disproportionately favors the elite, the conditions are ripe.

The main difference is that Westerners have been brainwashed into believing that the civilized people voice their grievances in a voting booth rather than doing battle in the streets.

It’s a false premise. Unfortunately, so is violent revolution.

As my dictionary so perfectly defines, “revolution” has two meanings.

First, it can denote an overthrow of a sitting government, whether violent or ‘bloodless’.

But in celestial terms, ‘revolution’ denotes a complete orbit around a fixed axis. In other words, after one revolution, you end up right back where you started.

So whether violent or non-violent, or whether in a voting booth or on the streets, revolutions put a country right back where it started.

In the French revolution, people traded an absolute monarch in Louis the XVI for a genocidal dictator in Robespierre for a military dictator in Napoleon.

In 1917, the Russians traded Tsarist autocracy for Communist autocracy.

In 2011, Egyptians traded Hosni Mubarak for Mohamad Hussein Tantawi (who subsequently suspended the Constitution), for Mohamed Morsi (who as President awarded himself unlimited powers), for yet another coup d’etat.

All of this is because of a knee-jerk reaction– ‘if our country is having major problems, we should throw the bums out and let the man on the white horse take over.’

This creates a never-ending cycle in which the fundamental problems perpetuate.

It’s not about any single person or group of people. It is the system itself that needs changing.

In our system we award a tiny elite with the power to kill, steal, wage war, educate our children, and conjure unlimited quantities of paper money out of thin air.

This is just plain silly. And antiquated. We’re not living in the Middle Ages anymore where we need kings to tell us what to do, knights to keep the peace, and serfs to do all the work (and enrich the nobles).

Yet this is not too far from the system we have today.

The real answer is within ourselves. As Ron Paul told our audience in Santiago last year, become less dependent on the government and more self-reliant:

This idea is beginning to resonate with more and more people who are increasingly disgusted with the system… and all parties.

With our modern technology, transportation, and access to information, we have all the tools available to do this.

oftwominds-Charles Hugh Smith: How to Make a Million: Extortion Creates its own Antidote

oftwominds-Charles Hugh Smith: How to Make a Million: Extortion Creates its own Antidote.

The problem is its own solution. Whether we try to stop the Status Quo, or let it stop, it WILL stop.

Longtime correspondent Eric A. has a new essay describing a key dynamic of the years ahead: Extortion and skimming create their own antidotes. As the costs of skimming, extortion and corruption reach new heights, the savings to be gained by bypassing the Status Quo systems also increase.

Here are a few of Eric’s previous essays:

A Brief History of Cycles and Time, Part 1 (May 13, 2013)

A Brief History of Cycles and Time, Part 2 (May 14, 2013)

Generation X: An Inconvenient Era (May 23, 2013)

The essence of my key analytic concepts, neofeudalism and neocolonialism, is that debt and other state-cartel schemes enclose and imprison the bottom 90% while leaving the illusions of liberty, democracy and “prosperity” intact so the debt-serf inhabitants of the home-country neocolonial plantations love their servitude.

Eric’s point is that the incentives to escape the home-country plantation are rising in parallel with the skimming of the state-cartel Elites.

Here’s is Eric’s provocatively insightful essay:


Concerning the Middleman-Skimming Economy, I’m here to tell you, it’s not all bad! The oppressive system you describe of graft, fraud, theft, and extortion creates its own antidote.
Banking, for instance. Problem: they have created an enormous skimming operation, and one that puts users at personal and financial risk, as well as annoying the heck out of customers for no reason. But that means the problem, stated simply is, “they make too much money.”

But that means that ANY ONE who goes around them in ANY WAY, has enormous payoff. Also creating a solution, like micro-loans, digital clearing, etc, has enormous incentive.

Simply put, so long as the out-sized pay exists, the out-sized incentive to avoid them, ignore them, go around them, re-think them, will always exist. Every minute, to every participant. So they’re really creating the solution as fast as they can.

Same with these other issues. Health Care? The kickoff of ACA (Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. ObamaCare) was the starting gun for cash-only medical care which until now only lived in the slimmest shadows. Since basically the co-pay alone is more than paying in cash–and the entire premium is 110% of direct welfare to the health lobby (a business model usually called “extortion”)– there’s no possible incentive not to ignore the system entirely and pay cash. The penalty would have to be 2x, 3x, 5x higher to come anywhere near tipping the balance. And thanks to a decade of previous screwing, the young people don’t actually HAVE the money, so even if the penalty were raised, it would have no practical effect.

Although college, with their 3x more admins, paid 2x more is a clear example, it’s the same with military, government, all these. All we have to do to save 50%, 90% or more is ignore them and let them collapse.

What do you think Detroit is doing for their present residents? As far as I can tell, basically nothing–and that’s true for cities nationwide. All we have to do is tell them to cease existing, go bankrupt, for-the-love-of-God stop helping, and we’ll all save 50% of our money and scarcely have a lower level of service. I mean, you can hardly exceed abominable.

The NYC school system is a great example: something like 66% of students drop out, while many of the remainder are uneducated and illiterate. What possible harm would it be to close the school system and stop paying for it altogether? With rates that bad, basically only the students who would study at home and pass anyway are passing now. Teachers, administration, programs, are therefore measurably providing ZERO benefit over the baseline. So it’s easy to see that we can’t possibly do worse, BUT WE CAN SAVE 100% OF OUR MONEY.

That’s incentive. Especially when most of us haven’t got a nickel to spare. By demanding ALL THE THINGS, they have only destroyed themselves.

Unfortunately, they’ve taken most of us with them.

Just for anecdote, a friend of mine works for a group home. They had a resident with a 105-degree fever who had been to the E.R., but had returned as his heart was racing–a thing easily noticed by pre-nurses and healthcare-oriented staff.

This patient had chest pains as well, and although hard to quantify it was worrisome stuff. So they took him back to the E.R. and waited 2 hours to be seen because there were… wait for it… two patients that evening.

The doctor prescribed Motrin. … I didn’t skip over a part there, the doctor heard the healthcare employee say the patient had chest pains with an irregular heartbeat, refused to hear it, refused to examine, said they’d seen the patient yesterday and they had a cold. Yes, they’d been in already. Because they didn’t diagnose it the first time. The hospital then forgot to fill the prescription Motrin and issued an empty envelope, releasing the patient on a Sunday, presumably to DIE OF HEART ARRHYTHMIA, and/or fever, and/or whatever it was they might have had, which they didn’t know, because they never looked.

If we were in a log cabin, in 1820 Kentucky, and I spent 2 hours walking my sick Pa down to the neighboring cabin and said, “Well Billy-Joe, Pa’s been sick and now his heart sounds funny,” what do you think you would do? You’d probably say, “let me listen and see if you’re right.” We’ve descended below the level of instinctual primate behavior here, and are into some sub-basement reserved for PhD’s.

Doctors and mis-prescriptions are now a leading cause of death–26x more deadly than firearms, 800,000 vs. 30,000/yr.

Death by Medicine (Estimated Annual Mortality and Economic Cost of Medical Intervention)

Gun violence in the United States

Granted that as people see doctors when already ill, the numbers are not neatly comparable. However, medicine is considered “safe” or “exemplary”, we are encouraged to use it, while guns are often considered the standard for “unsafe” and “dangerous.” While many would die without medicine, this suggests the baseline is that 800,000/year would be saved by banning medicine altogether. In short: We’re doing it wrong. Considering we pay twice (on a per person basis) what other developed nations pay for care, net-net could we really do much worse by having no doctors or medicine whatsoever?

Not really an unusual case either. They tried to kill someone a few weeks earlier and a different patient that weekend. They have tried to kill family members several times. I’m sure most readers have a similar scare stories. But death by neglect is still fatal, the fault of just not giving a damn.

Surely I exaggerate?

800,000 people were statistically killed via paid-for quack science that incorrectly (and illegally) promoted statins in Europe.

Medicine Or Mass Murder? Guideline Based on Discredited Research May Have Caused 800,000 Deaths In Europe Over The Last 5 Years (Forbes)
The earlier paper demonstrated the potentially large and lethal consequences of the current European Society of Cardiology guideline recommending the liberal use of beta-blockers to protect the heart during surgery for people undergoing non cardiac surgery. There is, it has now become clear, a general lack of concern and response to evidence of scientific fraud and misconduct.

This was quickly followed by a few thousand probable deaths of blood clots due to a newer configuration of the Pill.

Have 800 women been killed by the Pill? The alarming dangers of taking so-called third generation contraceptives (Daily Mail, U.K.)

(Note that 800 deaths are only the U.K.) –Just two random articles in the last few days, probably hundreds of others with millions of deaths if I looked. The over 60,000 deaths from provably corrupt research authorizing Vioxx comes to mind.

I somehow feel that if I killed 800,000 people through fraud, abuse, or neglect, that the police would be –I don’t know– MAD at me or something. Or killed even one group home patient by refusing to lift a finger. There were once quite a number of laws concerning it: neglect, reckless endangerment, manslaughter–murder even.

But that’s so 20th Century. Consequences, I mean. Laws and enforcing them. Like so many, we’re now considering flying out of the country for healthcare, but unlike so many we don’t have money for 5-star hospital spas in Goa or Singapore. So we were thinking maybe the Belgian Congo for better medical care than rural NY. I hear they may have stethoscopes there.

THAT’S what I mean when I say you could close the whole system and have it be a measurable benefit to mankind.

The problem is its own solution. Whether we try to stop, or let it stop, it WILL stop.Because anything that can’t go on, won’t. When you’re at 100% costs and 0% benefits, congratulations, you’ve reached the Singularity.


Thank you, Eric, for an insightful look at the benefits of bypassing or ignoring the Status Quo systems, and the benefits that will accrue from their inevitable collapse. The idea that the next arrangement will be better, cheaper, more equitable and sustainable is not yet dominant, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

Why America Needs War | Global Research

Why America Needs War | Global Research.

Global Research, February 08, 2014
Indy Media Belgium and Global Researcvh 30 April 2003
war

This incisive article was written on April 30, 2003, by historian and political scientist Jacques Pauwels. 

Wars are a terrible waste of lives and resources, and for that reason most people are in principle opposed to wars. The American President, on the other hand, seems to love war. Why? Many commentators have sought the answer in psychological factors. Some opined that George W. Bush considered it his duty to finish the job started, but for some obscure reason not completed, by his father at the time of the Gulf War; others believe that Bush Junior expected a short and triumphant war which would guarantee him a second term in the White House.

I believe that we must look elsewhere for an explanation for the attitude of the American President.

The fact that Bush is keen on war has little or nothing to do with his psyche, but a great deal with the American economic system. This system – America’s brand of capitalism – functions first and foremost to make extremely rich Americans like the Bush “money dynasty” even richer. Without warm or cold wars, however, this system can no longer produce the expected result in the form of the ever-higher profits the moneyed and powerful of America consider as their birthright.

The great strength of American capitalism is also its great weakness, namely, its extremely high productivity. In the historical development of the international economic system that we call capitalism, a number of factors have produced enormous increases in productivity, for example, the mechanization of the production process that got under way in England as early as the 18th century. In the early 20th century, then, American industrialists made a crucial contribution in the form of the automatization of work by means of new techniques such as the assembly line. The latter was an innovation introduced by Henry Ford, and those techniques have therefore become collectively known as “Fordism.” The productivity of the great American enterprises rose spectacularly.

For example, already in the 1920s, countless vehicles rolled off the assembly lines of the automobile factories of Michigan every single day. But who was supposed to buy all those cars? Most Americans at the time did not have sufficiently robust pocket books for such a purchase. Other industrial products similarly flooded the market, and the result was the emergence of a chronic disharmony between the ever-increasing economic supply and the lagging demand. Thus arose the economic crisis generally known as the Great Depression. It was essentially a crisis of overproduction. Warehouses were bursting with unsold commodities, factories laid off workers, unemployment exploded, and so the purchasing power of the American people shrunk even more, making the crisis even worse.

It cannot be denied that in America the Great Depression only ended during, and because of, the Second World War. (Even the greatest admirers of President Roosevelt admit that his much-publicized New Deal policies brought little or no relief.) Economic demand rose spectacularly when the war which had started in Europe, and in which the USA itself was not an active participant before 1942, allowed American industry to produce unlimited amounts of war equipment. Between 1940 and 1945, the American state would spend no less than 185 billion dollar on such equipment, and the military expenditures’ share of the GNP thus rose between 1939 and 1945 from an insignificant 1,5 per cent to approximately 40 per cent. In addition, American industry also supplied gargantuan amounts of equipment to the British and even the Soviets via Lend-Lease. (In Germany, meanwhile, the subsidiaries of American corporations such as Ford, GM, and ITT produced all sorts of planes and tanks and other martial toys for the Nazi’s, also after Pearl Harbor, but that is a different story.) The key problem of the Great Depression – the disequilibrium between supply and demand – was thus resolved because the state “primed the pump” of economic demand by means of huge orders of a military nature.

As far as ordinary Americans were concerned, Washington’s military spending orgy brought not only virtually full employment but also much higher wages than ever before; it was during the Second World War that the widespread misery associated with the Great Depression came to an end and that a majority of the American people achieved an unprecedented degree of prosperity. However, the greatest beneficiaries by far of the wartime economic boom were the country’s businesspeople and corporations, who realized extraordinary profits. Between 1942 and 1945, writes the historian Stuart D. Brandes, the net profits of America’s 2,000 biggest firms were more than 40 per cent higher than during the period 1936-1939. Such a “profit boom” was possible, he explains, because the state ordered billions of dollars of military equipment, failed to institute price controls, and taxed profits little if at all. This largesse benefited the American business world in general, but in particular that relatively restricted elite of big corporations known as “big business” or “corporate America.” During the war, a total of less than 60 firms obtained 75 per cent of all lucrative military and other state orders. The big corporations – Ford, IBM, etc. – revealed themselves to be the “war hogs,” writes Brandes, that gormandized at the plentiful trough of the state’s military expenditures. IBM, for example, increased its annual sales between 1940 and 1945 from 46 to 140 million dollar thanks to war-related orders, and its profits skyrocketed accordingly.

America’s big corporations exploited their Fordist expertise to the fullest in order to boost production, but even that was not sufficient to meet the wartime needs of the American state. Much more equipment was needed, and in order to produce it, America needed new factories and even more efficient technology. These new assets were duly stamped out of the ground, and on account of this the total value of all productive facilities of the nation increased between 1939 and 1945 from 40 to 66 billion dollar. However, it was not the private sector that undertook all these new investments; on account of its disagreeable experiences with overproduction during the thirties, America’s businesspeople found this task too risky. So the state did the job by investing 17 billion dollar in more than 2,000 defense-related projects. In return for a nominal fee, privately owned corporations were permitted to rent these brand-new factories in order to produce…and to make money by selling the output back to the state. Moreover, when the war was over and Washington decided to divest itself of these investments, the nation’s big corporations purchased them for half, and in many cases only one third, of the real value.

How did America finance the war, how did Washington pay the lofty bills presented by GM, ITT, and the other corporate suppliers of war equipment? The answer is: partly by means of taxation – about 45 per cent -, but much more through loans – approximately 55 per cent. On account of this, the public debt increased dramatically, namely, from 3 billion dollar in 1939 to no less than 45 billion dollar in 1945. In theory, this debt should have been reduced, or wiped out altogether, by levying taxes on the huge profits pocketed during the war by America’s big corporations, but the reality was different. As already noted, the American state failed to meaningfully tax corporate America’s windfall profits, allowed the public debt to mushroom, and paid its bills, and the interest on its loans, with its general revenues, that is, by means of the income generated by direct and indirect taxes. Particularly on account of the regressive Revenue Act introduced in October 1942, these taxes were paid increasingly by workers and other low-income Americans, rather than by the super-rich and the corporations of which the latter were the owners, major shareholders, and/or top managers. “The burden of financing the war,” observes the American historian Sean Dennis Cashman, “[was] sloughed firmly upon the shoulders of the poorer members of society.”

However, the American public, preoccupied by the war and blinded by the bright sun of full employment and high wages, failed to notice this. Affluent Americans, on the other hand, were keenly aware of the wonderful way in which the war generated money for themselves and for their corporations. Incidentally, it was also from the rich businesspeople, bankers, insurers and other big investors that Washington borrowed the money needed to finance the war; corporate America thus also profited from the war by pocketing the lion’s share of the interests generated by the purchase of the famous war bonds. In theory, at least, the rich and powerful of America are the great champions of so-called free enterprise, and they oppose any form of state intervention in the economy. During the war, however, they never raised any objections to the way in which the American state managed and financed the economy, because without this large-scale dirigist violation of the rules of free enterprise, their collective wealth could never have proliferated as it did during those years.

During the Second World War, the wealthy owners and top managers of the big corporations learned a very important lesson: during a war there is money to be made, lots of money. In other words, the arduous task of maximizing profits – the key activity within the capitalist American economy – can be absolved much more efficiently through war than through peace; however, the benevolent cooperation of the state is required. Ever since the Second World War, the rich and powerful of America have remained keenly conscious of this. So is their man in the White House today [2003, i.e. George W. Bush], the scion of a “money dynasty” who was parachuted into the White House in order to promote the interests of his wealthy family members, friends, and associates in corporate America, the interests of money, privilege, and power.

In the spring of 1945 it was obvious that the war, fountainhead of fabulous profits, would soon be over. What would happen then? Among the economists, many Cassandras conjured up scenarios that loomed extremely unpleasant for America’s political and industrial leaders. During the war, Washington’s purchases of military equipment, and nothing else, had restored the economic demand and thus made possible not only full employment but also unprecedented profits. With the return of peace, the ghost of disharmony between supply and demand threatened to return to haunt America again, and the resulting crisis might well be even more acute than the Great Depression of the “dirty thirties,” because during the war years the productive capacity of the nation had increased considerably, as we have seen. Workers would have to be laid off precisely at the moment when millions of war veterans would come home looking for a civilian job, and the resulting unemployment and decline in purchasing power would aggravate the demand deficit. Seen from the perspective of America’s rich and powerful, the coming unemployment was not a problem; what did matter was that the golden age of gargantuan profits would come to an end. Such a catastrophe had to be prevented, but how?

Military state expenditures were the source of high profits. In order to keep the profits gushing forth generously, new enemies and new war threats were urgently needed now that Germany and Japan were defeated. How fortunate that the Soviet Union existed, a country which during the war had been a particularly useful partner who had pulled the chestnuts out of the fire for the Allies in Stalingrad and elsewhere, but also a partner whose communist ideas and practices allowed it to be easily transformed into the new bogeyman of the United States. Most American historians now admit that in 1945 the Soviet Union, a country that had suffered enormously during the war, did not constitute a threat at all to the economically and militarily far superior USA, and that Washington itself did not perceive the Soviets as a threat. These historians also acknowledge that Moscow was very keen to work closely together with Washington in the postwar era.

Indeed, Moscow had nothing to gain, and everything to lose, from a conflict with superpower America, which was brimming with confidence thanks to its monopoly of the atom bomb. However, America – corporate America, the America of the super-rich – urgently needed a new enemy in order to justify the titanic expenditures for “defense” which were needed to keep the wheels of the nation’s economy spinning at full speed also after the end of the war, thus keeping profit margins at the required – or rather, desired – high levels, or even to increase them. It is for this reason that the Cold War was unleashed in 1945, not by the Soviets but by the American “military-industrial” complex, as President Eisenhower would call that elite of wealthy individuals and corporations that knew how to profit from the “warfare economy.”

In this respect, the Cold War exceeded their fondest expectations. More and more martial equipment had to be cranked out, because the allies within the so-called “free world”, which actually included plenty of nasty dictatorships, had to be armed to the teeth with US equipment. In addition, America’s own armed forces never ceased demanding bigger, better, and more sophisticated tanks, planes, rockets, and, yes, chemical and bacteriological weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. For these goods, the Pentagon was always ready to pay huge sums without asking difficult questions. As had been the case during the Second World War, it was again primarily the large corporations who were allowed to fill the orders. The Cold War generated unprecedented profits, and they flowed into the coffers of those extremely wealthy individuals who happened to be the owners, top managers, and/or major shareholders of these corporations. (Does it come as a surprise that in the United States newly retired Pentagon generals are routinely offered jobs as consultants by large corporations involved in military production, and that businessmen linked with those corporations are regularly appointed as high-ranking officials of the Department of Defense, as advisors of the President, etc.?)

During the Cold War too, the American state financed its skyrocketing military expenditures by means of loans, and this caused the public debt to rise to dizzying heights. In 1945 the public debt stood at “only” 258 billion dollar, but in 1990 – when the Cold War ground to an end – it amounted to no less than 3.2 trillion dollar! This was a stupendous increase, also when one takes the inflation rate into account, and it caused the American state to become the world’s greatest debtor. (Incidentally, in July 2002 the American public debt had reached 6.1 trillion dollar.) Washington could and should have covered the cost of the Cold War by taxing the huge profits achieved by the corporations involved in the armament orgy, but there was never any question of such a thing. In 1945, when the Second World War come to an end and the Cold War picked up the slack, corporations still paid 50 per cent of all taxes, but during the course of the Cold War this share shrunk consistently, and today it only amounts to approximately 1 per cent.

This was possible because the nation’s big corporations largely determine what the government in Washington may or may not do, also in the field of fiscal policy. In addition, lowering the tax burden of corporations was made easier because after the Second World War these corporations transformed themselves into multinationals, “at home everywhere and nowhere,” as an American author has written in connection with ITT, and therefore find it easy to avoid paying meaningful taxes anywhere. Stateside, where they pocket the biggest profits, 37 per cent of all American multinationals – and more than 70 per cent of all foreign multinationals – paid not a single dollar of taxes in 1991, while the remaining multinationals remitted less than 1 per cent of their profits in taxes.

The sky-high costs of the Cold War were thus not borne by those who profited from it and who, incidentally, also continued to pocket the lion’s share of the dividends paid on government bonds, but by the American workers and the American middle class. These low- and middle-income Americans did not receive a penny from the profits yielded so profusely by the Cold War, but they did receive their share of the enormous public debt for which that conflict was largely responsible. It is they, therefore, who were really saddled with the costs of the Cold War, and it is they who continue to pay with their taxes for a disproportionate share of the burden of the public debt.

In other words, while the profits generated by the Cold War were privatized to the advantage of an extremely wealthy elite, its costs were ruthlessly socialized to the great detriment of all other Americans. During the Cold War, the American economy degenerated into a gigantic swindle, into a perverse redistribution of the nation’s wealth to the advantage of the rich and to the disadvantage not only of the poor and of the working class but also of the middle class, whose members tend to subscribe to the myth that the American capitalist system serves their interests. Indeed, while the wealthy and powerful of America accumulated ever-greater riches, the prosperity achieved by many other Americans during the Second World War was gradually eroded, and the general standard of living declined slowly but steadily.

During the Second World War America had witnessed a modest redistribution of the collective wealth of the nation to the advantage of the less privileged members of society. During the Cold War, however, the rich Americans became richer while the non-wealthy – and certainly not only the poor – became poorer. In 1989, the year the Cold War petered out, more than 13 per cent of all Americans – approximately 31 million individuals – were poor according to the official criteria of poverty, which definitely understate the problem. Conversely, today 1 per cent of all Americans own no less than 34 per cent of the nation’s aggregate wealth. In no major “Western” country is the wealth distributed more unevenly.

The minuscule percentage of super-rich Americans found this development extremely satisfactory. They loved the idea of accumulating more and more wealth, of aggrandizing their already huge assets, at the expense of the less privileged. They wanted to keep things that way or, if at all possible, make this sublime scheme even more efficient. However, all good things must come to an end, and in 1989/90 the bountiful Cold War elapsed. That presented a serious problem. Ordinary Americans, who knew that they had borne the costs of this war, expected a “peace dividend.”

They thought that the money the state had spent on military expenditures might now be used to produce benefits for themselves, for example in the form of a national health insurance and other social benefits which Americans in contrast to most Europeans have never enjoyed. In 1992, Bill Clinton would actually win the presidential election by dangling out the prospect of a national health plan, which of course never materialized. A “peace dividend” was of no interest whatsoever to the nation’s wealthy elite, because the provision of social services by the state does not yield profits for entrepreneurs and corporations, and certainly not the lofty kind of profits generated by military state expenditures. Something had to be done, and had to be done fast, to prevent the threatening implosion of the state’s military spending.

America, or rather, corporate America, was orphaned of its useful Soviet enemy, and urgently needed to conjure up new enemies and new threats in order to justify a high level of military spending. It is in this context that in 1990 Saddam Hussein appeared on the scene like a kind ofdeus ex machina. This tin-pot dictator had previously been perceived and treated by the Americans as a good friend, and he had been armed to the teeth so that he could wage a nasty war against Iran; it was the USA – and allies such as Germany – who originally supplied him with all sorts of weapons. However, Washington was desperately in need of a new enemy, and suddenly fingered him as a terribly dangerous “new Hitler,” against whom war needed to be waged urgently, even though it was clear that a negotiated settlement of the issue of Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait was not out of the question.

George Bush Senior was the casting agent who discovered this useful new nemesis of America, and who unleashed the Gulf War, during which Baghdad was showered with bombs and Saddam’s hapless recruits were slaughtered in the desert. The road to the Iraqi capital lay wide-open, but the Marines’ triumphant entry into Baghdad was suddenly scrapped. Saddam Hussein was left in power so that the threat he was supposed to form might be invoked again in order to justify keeping America in arms. After all, the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union had shown how inconvenient it can be when one loses a useful foe.

And so Mars could remain the patron saint of the American economy or, more accurately, the godfather of the corporate Mafia that manipulates this war-driven economy and reaps its huge profits without bearing its costs. The despised project of a peace dividend could be unceremoniously buried, and military expenditures could remain the dynamo of the economy and the wellspring of sufficiently high profits. Those expenditures increased relentlessly during the 1990s. In 1996, for example, they amounted to no less than 265 billion dollars, but when one adds the unofficial and/or indirect military expenditures, such as the interests paid on loans used to finance past wars, the 1996 total came to approximately 494 billion dollar, amounting to an outlay of 1.3 billion dollar per day! However, with only a considerably chastened Saddam as bogeyman, Washington found it expedient also to look elsewhere for new enemies and threats. Somalia temporarily looked promising, but in due course another “new Hitler” was identified in the Balkan Peninsula in the person of the Serbian leader, Milosevic. During much of the nineties, then, conflicts in the former Yugoslavia provided the required pretexts for military interventions, large-scale bombing operations, and the purchase of more and newer weapons.

The “warfare economy” could thus continue to run on all cylinders also after the Gulf War. However, in view of occasional public pressure such as the demand for a peace dividend, it is not easy to keep this system going. (The media present no problem, as newspapers, magazines, TV stations, etc. are either owned by big corporations or rely on them for advertising revenue.) As mentioned earlier, the state has to cooperate, so in Washington one needs men and women one can count upon, preferably individuals from the very own corporate ranks, individuals totally committed to use the instrument of military expenditures in order to provide the high profits that are needed to make the very rich of America even richer. In this respect, Bill Clinton had fallen short of expectations, and corporate America could never forgive his original sin, namely, that he had managed to have himself elected by promising the American people a “peace dividend” in the form of a system of health insurance.

On account of this, in 2000 it was arranged that not the Clinton-clone Al Gore moved into the White House but a team of militarist hardliners, virtually without exception representatives of wealthy, corporate America, such as Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice, and of course George W. Bush himself, son of the man who had shown with his Gulf War how it could be done; the Pentagon, too, was directly represented in the Bush Cabinet in the person of the allegedly peace-loving Powell, in reality yet another angel of death. Rambo moved into the White House, and it did not take long for the results to show.

After Bush Junior had been catapulted into the presidency, it looked for some time as if he was going to proclaim China as the new nemesis of America. However, a conflict with that giant loomed somewhat risky; furthermore, all too many big corporations make good money by trading with the People’s Republic. Another threat, preferably less dangerous and more credible, was required to keep the military expenditures at a sufficiently high level. For this purpose, Bush and Rumsfeld and company could have wished for nothing more convenient than the events of September 11, 2001; it is extremely likely that they were aware of the preparations for these monstrous attacks, but that they did nothing to prevent them because they knew that they would be able to benefit from them. In any event, they did take full advantage of this opportunity in order to militarize America more than ever before, to shower bombs on people who had nothing to do with 9/11, to wage war to their hearts’ content, and thus for corporations that do business with the Pentagon to ring up unprecedented sales. Bush declared war not on a country but on terrorism, an abstract concept against which one cannot really wage war and against which a definitive victory can never be achieved. However, in practice the slogan “war against terrorism” meant that Washington now reserves the right to wage war worldwide and permanently against whomever the White House defines as a terrorist.

And so the problem of the end of the Cold War was definitively resolved, as there was henceforth a justification for ever-increasing military expenditures. The statistics speak for themselves. The 1996 total of 265 billion dollar in military expenditures had already been astronomical, but thanks to Bush Junior the Pentagon was allowed to spend 350 billion in 2002, and for 2003 the President has promised approximately 390 billion; however, it is now virtually certain that the cape of 400 billion dollar will be rounded this year. (In order to finance this military spending orgy, money has to be saved elsewhere, for example by cancelling free lunches for poor children; every little bit helps.) No wonder that George W. struts around beaming with happiness and pride, for he – essentially a spoiled rich kid of very limited talent and intellect – has surpassed the boldest expectations not only of his wealthy family and friends but of corporate America as a whole, to which he owes his job.

9/11 provided Bush with carte blanche to wage war wherever and against whomever he chose, and as this essay has purported to make clear, it does not matter all that much who happens to be fingered as enemy du jour. Last year, Bush showered bombs on Afghanistan, presumably because the leaders of that country sheltered Bin Laden, but recently the latter went out of fashion and it was once again Saddam Hussein who allegedly threatened America. We cannot deal here in detail with the specific reasons why Bush’s America absolutely wanted war with the Iraq of Saddam Hussein and not with, say, North Korea. A major reason for fighting this particular war was that Iraq’s large reserves of oil are lusted after by the US oil trusts with whom the Bushes themselves – and Bushites such as Cheney and Rice, after whom an oil tanker happens to be named – are so intimately linked. The war in Iraq is also useful as a lesson to other Third World countries who fail to dance to Washington’s tune, and as an instrument for emasculating domestic opposition and ramming the extreme right-wing program of an unelected president down the throats of Americans themselves.

The America of wealth and privilege is hooked on war, without regular and ever-stronger doses of war it can no longer function properly, that is, yield the desired profits. Right now, this addiction, this craving is being satisfied by means of a conflict against Iraq, which also happens to be dear to the hearts of the oil barons. However, does anybody believe that the warmongering will stop once Saddam’ scalp will join the Taliban turbans in the trophy display case of George W. Bush? The President has already pointed his finger at those whose turn will soon come, namely, the “axis of evil” countries: Iran, Syria, Lybia, Somalia, North Korea, and of course that old thorn in the side of America, Cuba. Welcome to the 21st century, welcome to George W. Bush’s brave new era of permanent war!

Jacques R. Pauwels is historian and political scientist, author of ‘The Myth of the Good War: America in the Second World War’ (James Lorimer, Toronto, 2002). His book is published in different languages: in English, Dutch, German, Spanish, Italian and French. Together with personalities like Ramsey Clark, Michael Parenti, William Blum, Robert Weil, Michel Collon, Peter Franssen and many others… he signed “The International Appeal against US-War”.


From the International Press on Saturday, March 22, 2003:

The cost to the United States of the war in Iraq and its aftermath could easily exceed $100 billion…Peace-keeping in Iraq and rebuilding the country’s infrastructure could add much more…The Bush administration has stayed tightlipped about the cost of the war and reconstruction…Both the White House and the Pentagon refused to offer any definite figures.
(The International Herald Tribune, 22/03/03)

It is estimated that the war against Iraq will cost approximately 100 billion dollar. In contrast to the Gulf War of 1991, whose cost of 80 million was shared by the Allies, the United States is expected to pay the entire cost of the present war…For the American private sector, i.e. the big corporations, the coming reconstruction of Iraq’s infrastructure will represent a business of 900 million dollar; the first contracts were awarded yesterday (March 21) by the American government to two corporations. (Guido Leboni, “Un coste de 100.000 millones de dolares,” El Mundo, Madrid, 22/03/03)

Guest Post: Running Away From Reality | Zero Hedge

Guest Post: Running Away From Reality | Zero Hedge.

From Fernando del Pino Calvo-Sotelo, published originally in Expansion

View from Spain: Running away from reality (pdf)

In a society that’s incessantly pulling all sorts of rights out of its hat, the right to not suffer is the father of them all. We feel entitled to keep our jobs, our health, our home and our leisure, demanding in fact to be carefree. We don’t want our lifestyle to depend on how hard we work or how much we save, and neither do we want our wrong decisions to have any consequences. In our delirium, we feel we have the right to know the future or even to decide when life should start (that of others, of course) and also when death should come (usually that of others as well). In brief, we want the security that we will be able to avoid pain. The problem is that, in life, pain is as undesirable as it is inevitable, and security, in the words of Helen Keller, is “a superstition that does not exist in nature”. However, man persists in his chimerical search for the security that will keep him free from suffering. Citizens demand that from their ruling classes, who promise ever more extravagant rights and certainties, constantly fleeing reality and truth. And in this hysterical, unbridled race to reach an evanescent security, liberty is thrown into the dust like a bothersome burden.

The free man must be responsible for his behavior without being able to blame anyone else when things go wrong. He must live in discomfort and uncertainty and accept the authorship of all his decisions. This is hard. That’s why as soon as the sweet illusion of freedom gives way for the bitter taste of responsibility and effort which that very freedom bears with it, man revolts against the latter. Some 3500 years ago, the Jewish people, having been oppressed for generations by slavery, was freed by Moses, who took them out of Egypt in order to lead them to the Promised Land. But just a few short days after their last minute’s escape from Pharaoh’s claws in the Red Sea, as the harshness of the desert started to put a dent in their spirit, the Jews forgot the humiliations, whippings, hardships and indignity of their slavery, cursed their freedom and blamed their liberator for freeing them, to the extent that Moses was nearly stoned: “Why did we not die at Yahweh’s hand in Egypt, where we used to sit round the flesh pots and could eat to our heart’s content!”. The security of a hot meal and a loaf of bread seemed worth more than the recently recovered freedom.

It goes without saying that throughout History all power seekers and power holders have taken good note of this story. They have come to realize that all they need to have the people surrender their liberty is to promise them security: a certainty – liberty – in exchange for a promise – security; an extremely valuable good in exchange for a chimera. And over and over again, the people have fallen into the same trap.

Today, under the disguise of a promise of physical security, governments treat each of us as if we were suspected criminals and not free citizens with rights: they record our conversations, intercept our mails, take our fingerprints and as many pictures as they deem necessary, do body searches and leave us half naked when we travel as if it were business as usual, and ruthlessly hunt down as traitors those who uncover these practices.

As far as economic security is concerned, totalitarian communism was an extreme of this barter: the people lost their liberty and never found any security, except for the certainty of being poor under a merciless tyranny. The fraudulent Welfare State proposed something similar (do you believe that the wording of Social “Security” is casual?): it promised a paradise of “free” pensions, healthcare and education in exchange for giving up our freedom to save (thus relieving us off the uncomfortable responsibility of doing so). We surrendered our savings to the politicians, those incurable squanderers, well known for anything but respecting either their word or other people’s money! And now that, even after burying us under a mountain of taxes and perpetual debts, public money is scarce and nearing extinction, where is the promised security to be found? We must understand once and forever more that security is not only liberty’s enemy, but an impediment to prosperity. In fact, security and prosperity are antonyms.

The 2008 financial crisis was mostly caused by politicians and central bankers wanting to avoid the suffering caused by economic cycles. Due to the irritating fact that pained voters tend not to reelect incumbent governments, what better promise could they make than that of trying to end recessions and live in a plateau of permanent prosperity? We still believe the charlatans who, in politics or in central banking, assure us that they can get rid of the uncertainty that terrifies us so much. We long for a control that simply does not exist, and these are the consequences: perversely, the chimeric search for security brings much more suffering than what it pretended to avoid in the first place.

In 1891, Pope Leo XIII prophetically forewarned us in his wise Encyclical Rerum Novarum about the evils that are now upon us: “To suffer and to endure, therefore, is the lot of humanity; let them strive as they may, no strength and no artifice will ever succeed in banishing from human life the ills and troubles which beset it. If any there are who pretend differently – who hold out to a hard-pressed people the boon of freedom from pain and trouble, an undisturbed repose, and constant enjoyment – they delude the people and impose upon them, and their lying promises will only one day bring forth evils worse than the present”.

We have to accept insecurity and pain as something inherent to human nature and promptly mistrust anyone promising the opposite, in the conviction that that promise only seeks to fool the unsuspecting. An economic and political system focused on avoiding the inevitable, promising an inexistent security, is due to fail and headed for poverty. That’s why we should make peace with the reality of uncertainty and suffering and not try to escape from both. Only from the deep acceptance of these realities, will the trembling, fragile ember of hope that has always raised the human being up from his falls catch fire again. The history of man is the successful story of a flexible adaptation to an ever changing, ever insecure environment. As a country, we should look suffering in the eye, without fear, and dedicate all our energies to adapting to the new reality instead of continuously running away from it.

How Central Banks Cause Income Inequality – Frank Hollenbeck – Mises Daily

How Central Banks Cause Income Inequality – Frank Hollenbeck – Mises Daily.

The gap between the rich and poor continues to grow. The wealthiest 1 percent held 8 percent of the economic pie in 1975 but now hold over 20 percent. This is a striking change from the 1950s and 1960s when their share of all incomes was slightly over 10 percent. A study by Emmanuel Saez found that between 2009 and 2012 the real incomes of the top 1 percent jumped 31.4 percent. The richest 10 percent now receive 50.5 percent of all incomes, the largest share since data was first recorded in 1917. The wealthiest are becoming disproportionally wealthier at an ever increasing rate.

Most of the literature on income inequalities is written by professors from the sociology departments of universities. They have identified factors such as technology, the reduced role of labor unions, the decline in the real value of the minimum wage, and, everyone’s favorite scapegoat, the growing importance of China.

Those factors may have played a role, but there are really two overriding factors that are the real cause of income differentials. One is desirable and justified while the other is the exact opposite.

In a capitalist economy, prices and profit play a critical role in ensuring resources are allocated where they are most needed and used to produce goods and services that best meets society’s needs. When Apple took the risk of producing the iPad, many commentators expected it to flop. Its success brought profits while at the same time sent a signal to all other producers that society wanted more of this product. The profits were a reward for the risks taken. It is the profit motive that has given us a multitude of new products and an ever-increasing standard of living. Yet, profits and income inequalities go hand in hand. We cannot have one without the other, and if we try to eliminate one, we will eliminate, or significantly reduce, the other. Income inequalities are an integral outcome of the profit-and-loss characteristic of capitalism; they cannot be divorced.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher understood this inseparability well. She once said it is better to have large income inequalities and have everyone near the top of the ladder, than have little income differences and have everyone closer to the bottom of the ladder.

Yet, the middle class has been sinking toward poverty: that is not climbing the ladder. Over the period between 1979 and 2007, incomes for the middle 60 percent increased less than 40 percent while inflation was 186 percent. According to the Saez study, the remaining 99 percent saw their real incomes increase a mere .4 percent between 2009 and 2012. However, this does not come close to recovering the loss of 11.6 percent suffered between 2007 and 2009, the largest two-year decline since the Great Depression. When adjusted for inflation, low-wage workers are actually making less now than they did 50 years ago.

This brings us to the second undesirable and unjustified source of income inequalities, i.e., the creation of money out of thin air, or legal counterfeiting, by central banks. It should be no surprise the growing gap in income inequalities has coincided with the adoption of fiat currencies worldwide. Every dollar the central bank creates benefits the early recipients of the money—the government and the banking sector — at the expense of the late recipients of the money, the wage earners, and the poor. Since the creation of a fiat currency system in 1971, the dollar has lost 82 percent of its value while the banking sector has gone from 4 percent of GDP to well over 10 percent today.

The central bank does not create anything real; neither resources nor goods and services. When it creates money it causes the price of transactions to increase. The original quantity theory of money clearly related money to the price of anything money can buy, including assets. When the central bank creates money, traders, hedge funds and banks — being first in line — benefit from the increased variability and upward trend in asset prices. Also, future contracts and other derivative products on exchange rates or interest rates were unnecessary prior to 1971, since hedging activity was mostly unnecessary. The central bank is responsible for this added risk, variability, and surge in asset prices unjustified by fundamentals.

The banking sector has been able to significantly increase its profits or claims on goods and services. However, more claims held by one sector, which essentially does not create anything of real value, means less claims on real goods and services for everyone else. This is why counterfeiting is illegal. Hence, the central bank has been playing a central role as a “reverse Robin Hood” by increasing the economic pie going to the rich and by slowly sinking the middle class toward poverty.

Janet Yellen recently said “I am hopeful that … inflation will move back toward our longer-run goal of 2 percent,” demonstrating her commitment to an institutionalized policy of theft and wealth redistribution. The European central bank is no better. Its LTRO strategy was to give longer term loans to banks on dodgy collateral to buy government bonds which they promptly turned around and deposited with the central bank for more cheap loans for more government bonds. This has nothing to do with liquidity and everything to do with boosting bank profits. Yet, every euro the central bank creates is a tax on everyone that uses the euro. It is a tax on cash balances. It is taking from the working man to give to the rich European bankers. This is clearly a back door monetization of the debt with the banking sector acting as a middle man and taking a nice juicy cut. The same logic applies to the redistribution created by paying interest on reserves to U.S. banks.

Concerned with income inequalities, President Obama and democrats have suggested even higher taxes on the rich and boosting the minimum wage. They are wrongly focusing on the results instead of the causes of income inequalities. If they succeed, they will be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. If they are serious about reducing income inequalities, they should focus on its main cause, the central bank.

In 1923, Germany returned to its pre-war currency and the gold standard with essentially no gold. It did it by pledging never to print again. We should do the same.

Note: The views expressed in Daily Articles on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.

Comment on this article. When commenting, please post a concise, civil, and informative comment.
Frank Hollenbeck teaches finance and economics at the International University of Geneva. He has previously held positions as a Senior Economist at the State Department, Chief Economist at Caterpillar Overseas, and as an Associate Director of a Swiss private bank. See Frank Hollenbeck’s article archives.

You can subscribe to future articles by Frank Hollenbeck via this RSS feed.

Davos: peeling back the veneer

Davos: peeling back the veneer.

(c) World Economic ForumScrolling through the website of the World Economic Forum – convening this week in Davos, Switzerland – one might confuse the premier platform for global capital with a savvy and hip think tank, or perhaps a philanthropic aid and development charity. The content is carefully curated to sedate and comfort. The right buzzwords are there: “impact investing”, “embracing democracy”, “our oceans”, and “sustainability.” In the Issues section, one finds Environmental Sustainability, Health for All, and Social Development. An article by Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz (a critic of globalization) is featured front and center, as if to proclaim, ‘challenging the stodgy status quo through edgy, unorthodox economic thinking – that’s what we do here.’

There’s nothing to indicate that this is, in fact, a platform for multinational corporations, among them human rights abusers, political racketeers, property thieves and international environmental criminals. But then, that wouldn’t exactly make for a very inviting homepage.

Here, for example, is the WEF mission statement:

The World Economic Forum encourages businesses, governments and civil society to commit together to improving the state of the world. Our Strategic and Industry Partners are instrumental in helping stakeholders meet key challenges such as building sustained economic growth, mitigating global risks, promoting health for all, improving social welfare and fostering environmental sustainability.

Rather than getting bogged down in a detailed evaluation of WEF’s high-minded claims and eco-populist rhetoric, it may be more efficient to consider the behavior of those corporations and banks that comprise the Forum’s list of Industry Partners – described as “select Member companies of the World Economic Forum that are actively involved in the Forum’s mission.”

Among them are Shell, Nike, Syngenta, Nestlé, and SNC Lavalin – companies you’ll also find on Global Exchange’s list of the Top 10 Corporate Criminals of 2013, based on offenses like unlivable working conditions, corporate seizures of indigenous lands, contaminating the environment, and similar transgressions. At least seven other companies “actively involved in the Forum’s mission” are recentalumni of the Corporate Criminal list.

Or consider Corporate Accountability International’s Corporate Hall of Shame, comprised of “corporations that corrupt the political process and abuse human rights, the environment and our public health.” Seven of the ten ­– Walmart, ExxonMobil, Bank of America, Coca-Cola, DuPont, Monsanto, and Nestlé (which has the dubious distinction of making both lists) are WEF Industry Partners.

How about climate change? This is now an issue that regularly features ominously in the WEF’s “Global Risks” annual report. Curious, then, that in addition to Shell and ExxonMobil, the Forum’s Industry Partners include most of the largest oil and gas companies in the world, from BP and Chevron to Gazprom and Saudi Aramco.“Carbon Majors” a peer-reviewed study in the scientific journal Climatic Change, lists the 90 entities most responsible for extracting the fossil fuels burned over the past 150 years. The top six are WEF Industry Partners.

Despite the carefully crafted words of concern for the poor and hungry, the WEF’s many food corporations – from Unilever and Pepsico to Cargill and General Mills – have actually parleyed the misery of the food crisis into further control over the food system, as well as spectacular profits. During the 2008 food crisis, the organization GRAIN released a report revealing that “nearly every corporate player in the global food chain is making a killing from the food crisis …. Such record profits … are a reflection of the extreme power that these middlemen have accrued through the globalisation of the food system. Intimately involved with the shaping of the trade rules that govern today’s food system and tightly in control of markets and the ever more complex financial systems through which global trade operates, these companies are in perfect position to turn food scarcity into immense profits.” (1)

Global banks also played a pivotal role in precipitating – and making a killing off – this food crisis. According to an investigative report by Frederick Kaufman, Goldman Sachs instigated a “global speculative frenzy” on food which “sparked riots in more than thirty countries and drove the number of the world’s “food insecure” to more than a billion …. The ranks of the hungry had increased by 250 million in a single year, the most abysmal increase in all of human history.” (2) Needless to say, scroll down to “G” in the Industry Partners list, and Goldman Sachs is there.

The fact is, digging into any of the crises we face will reveal the complicity of the very corporations that the World Economic Forum represents. A study conducted for the UN, for example, estimated the combined environmental externalities of the world’s 3,000 biggest companies to be $2.2 trillion in 2008, “a figure bigger than the national economies of all but seven countries in the world that year.” (3)

Impression of the World Economic ForumThese are just a few of innumerable possible examples. The corporations represented by the World Economic Forum are the agents principally responsible for destroying the planet, ravaging livelihoods, and literally starving people, all while aggrandizing unprecedented profits into the hands of an ever-tinier super elite. Seen in this light, all the burnished social and environmental concern-speak of the WEF is so much vacuous corporate swagger, the crudest sort of greenwash. Even though these companies actually spend huge amounts of capital and energy fighting environmental regulation and the citizen’s groups who are suffering their abuses, they simultaneously pursue a strategic embrace of environmental discourse and narratives; they accept the existence of the problems while promoting privatized, technocratic strategies for addressing them. These strategies pivot between those that assign responsibility for causing and fixing the problems to individual consumers, and those that position the corporations themselves as crucial players in the common cause of “improving”/”cleaning” the environment – the same one, incidentally, that they destroyed.

The absurdity of this schizophrenia reaches extreme limits: the WEF is solemnly concerned about global warming because – get ready for it – it represents one of the biggest threats ever to global trade and corporate capitalism! The primary perpetrator of global warming is now portraying itself as a victim. In WEF-land, global warming is like a mysterious, autonomous, alien force invading from afar, without cause or explanation. It “affects us all”, so we must all roll up our sleeves and unite – fossil fuel corporations included – in the battle against a common external foe.

There is, however, one part of the WEF’s mission that is being genuinely fulfilled: “building sustained economic growth”, code for increasing the power and wealth of its corporate partners. That this is the first of the “challenges” described in the WEF mission statement is no accident. Economic growth might seem an odd mismatch to the other issues, like social welfare and environmental sustainability, but the WEF has clearly embraced the notion that endless growth is not only compatible with environmental sustainability, it is actually necessary for it. That this myth has been thoroughly debunked seems to have conveniently escaped the WEF’s notice. (4)

This farce would be laughable but for the immense power and enormous control commanded by the corporations and banks the World Economic Forum represents. When the WEF promises to address agriculture, food security, environmental sustainability, and the like, we should be very worried for exactly those things. Peel away the eco-charity veneer and the WEF’s actual mission stands naked: advance the power, growth, and wealth of the corporate rulers of the world.

In no way should The World Economic Forum be allowed to insert itself as a legitimate voice on the resolution of the very issues that its agenda – the perpetual growth of its partners – precipitates. On the contrary, it should be fiercely resisted – precisely what the alternative World Social Forum, Occupy WEF, and other anti-globalization groups were created to do. (5)

___________________________________________________________________________

Alex Jensen is Project Coordinator at the International Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC). Alex has worked in the US and India, where he coordinated ISEC’s Ladakh Project from 2004 to 2009. He has collaborated on the content of ISEC’s Roots of Change curriculum and the Economics of Happiness discussion guide. He holds an MA in Globalization and International Development from University of East Anglia. He has worked with cultural affirmation and agro-biodiversity projects in campesino communities in a number of countries and is active in environmental health/anti-toxics work.

___________________________________________________________________________

(1) GRAIN (2008) ‘Making a Killing from Hunger’, 28 April,http://www.grain.org/article/entries/178-making-a-killing-from-hunger, and

http://www.grain.org/article/entries/716-corporations-are-still-making-a-killing-from-hunger

(2) Kaufman, F. (2010) ‘The Food Bubble: How Wall Street Starved Millions and Got Away With It’, Harper’s Magazine, July,http://frederickkaufman.typepad.com/files/the-food-bubble-pdf.pdf

(3) Jowit, J. (2010) “World”s top firms cause $2.2tn of environmental damage, report estimates”, The Guardian, 18 February, 2010.

(4) see, e.g.: Jorgenson, A. and Clark, B. (2012) ‘Are the Economy and the Environment Decoupling?: A Comparative International Study, 1960–2005,’ American Journal of Sociology 118(1),1–44; Jorgenson, A. and Clark, B. (2011) ‘Societies Consuming Nature: A Panel Study of the Ecological Footprints of Nations, 1960-2003’, Social Science Research 40:226-244; Stern, D. (2004) ‘The Rise and Fall of the Environmental Kuznets Curve’, World Development, 32(8):1419–1439; Hornborg, A. (2003) ‘Cornucopia or Zero-Sum Game? The Epistemology of Sustainability’, Journal of World-Systems Research IX(2): 205-216.

(5) see http://www.fsm2013.org/en andhttp://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/23/us-davos-idUSTRE80M13X20120123

Oxfam: 85 richest people as wealthy as poorest half of the world | Business | theguardian.com

Oxfam: 85 richest people as wealthy as poorest half of the world | Business | theguardian.com.

The InterContinental Davos luxury hotel in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos

The InterContinental Davos luxury hotel in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos. Oxfam report found people in countries around the world believe that the rich have too much influence over the direction their country is heading. Photograph: Arnd Wiegmann/REUTERS

The world’s wealthiest people aren’t known for travelling by bus, but if they fancied a change of scene then the richest 85 people on the globe – who between them control as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population put together – could squeeze onto a single double-decker.

The extent to which so much global wealth has become corralled by a virtual handful of the so-called ‘global elite’ is exposed in a new report from Oxfam on Monday. It warned that those richest 85 people across the globe share a combined wealth of £1tn, as much as the poorest 3.5 billion of the world’s population.

Working for the Few - Oxfam reportSource: F. Alvaredo, A. B. Atkinson, T. Piketty and E. Saez, (2013) ‘The World Top Incomes Database’, http://topincomes.g-mond.parisschoolofeconomics.eu/ Only includes countries with data in 1980 and later than 2008. Photograph: OxfamThe wealth of the 1% richest people in the world amounts to $110tn (£60.88tn), or 65 times as much as the poorest half of the world, added the development charity, which fears this concentration of economic resources is threatening political stability and driving up social tensions.

It’s a chilling reminder of the depths of wealth inequality as political leaders and top business people head to the snowy peaks of Davos for this week’s World Economic Forum. Few, if any, will be arriving on anything as common as a bus, with private jets and helicoptors pressed into service as many of the world’s most powerful people convene to discuss the state of the global economy over four hectic days of meetings, seminars and parties in the exclusive ski resort.

Winnie Byanyima, the Oxfam executive director who will attend the Davos meetings, said: “It is staggering that in the 21st Century, half of the world’s population – that’s three and a half billion people – own no more than a tiny elite whose numbers could all fit comfortably on a double-decker bus.”

Oxfam also argues that this is no accident either, saying growing inequality has been driven by a “power grab” by wealthy elites, who have co-opted the political process to rig the rules of the economic system in their favour.

In the report, entitled Working For The Few (summary here), Oxfam warned that the fight against poverty cannot be won until wealth inequality has been tackled.

“Widening inequality is creating a vicious circle where wealth and power are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, leaving the rest of us to fight over crumbs from the top table,” Byanyima said.

Oxfam called on attendees at this week’s World Economic Forum to take a personal pledge to tackle the problem by refraining from dodging taxes or using their wealth to seek political favours.

As well as being morally dubious, economic inequality can also exacerbate other social problems such as gender inequality, Oxfam warned. Davos itself is also struggling in this area, with the number of female delegates actually dropping from 17% in 2013 to 15% this year.

How richest use their wealth to capture opportunites

Polling for Oxfam’s report found people in countries around the world – including two-thirds of those questioned in Britain – believe that the rich have too much influence over the direction their country is heading.

Byanyima explained:

“In developed and developing countries alike we are increasingly living in a world where the lowest tax rates, the best health and education and the opportunity to influence are being given not just to the rich but also to their children.

“Without a concerted effort to tackle inequality, the cascade of privilege and of disadvantage will continue down the generations. We will soon live in a world where equality of opportunity is just a dream. In too many countries economic growth already amounts to little more than a ‘winner takes all’ windfall for the richest.”

Working for the Few - Oxfam reportSource: F. Alvaredo, A. B. Atkinson, T. Piketty and E. Saez, (2013) ‘The World Top Incomes Database’, http://topincomes.g-mond.parisschoolofeconomics.eu/ Only includes countries with data in 1980 and later than 2008. Photograph: OxfamThe Oxfam report found that over the past few decades, the rich have successfully wielded political influence to skew policies in their favour on issues ranging from financial deregulation, tax havens, anti-competitive business practices to lower tax rates on high incomes and cuts in public services for the majority. Since the late 1970s, tax rates for the richest have fallen in 29 out of 30 countries for which data are available, said the report.

This “capture of opportunities” by the rich at the expense of the poor and middle classes has led to a situation where 70% of the world’s population live in countries where inequality has increased since the 1980s and 1% of families own 46% of global wealth – almost £70tn.

Opinion polls in Spain, Brazil, India, South Africa, the US, UK and Netherlands found that a majority in each country believe that wealthy people exert too much influence. Concern was strongest in Spain, followed by Brazil and India and least marked in the Netherlands.

In the UK, some 67% agreed that “the rich have too much influence over where this country is headed” – 37% saying that they agreed “strongly” with the statement – against just 10% who disagreed, 2% of them strongly.

The WEF’s own Global Risks report recently identified widening income disparities as one of the biggest threats to the world community.

Oxfam is calling on those gathered at WEF to pledge: to support progressive taxation and not dodge their own taxes; refrain from using their wealth to seek political favours that undermine the democratic will of their fellow citizens; make public all investments in companies and trusts for which they are the ultimate beneficial owners; challenge governments to use tax revenue to provide universal healthcare, education and social protection; demand a living wage in all companies they own or control; and challenge other members of the economic elite to join them in these pledges.

• Research Now questioned 1,166 adults in the UK for Oxfam between October 1 and 14 2013.

%d bloggers like this: