Sunday, February 05, 2012

Cheering For Our Own Demise


I was in high school when Barbara Tuchman's epic history of the first month of the First World War, The Guns of August, was published. I don't remember which of my teachers suggested I read it but I do remember what an immense and long-lasting impact it had on me. The thing I recall most vividly is the crowds of cheering people all across Europe celebrating he onset of a war that was basically between combinations of royal families and big business interests. It was a war that killed and maimed millions of them. But they didn't know that when they were marching off to glory.

Far more recently I've been re-reading David Korten's brilliant book, Agenda For A New Economy and there was something in it that reminded me of my Tuchman recollections. It was the way regular, ordinary people identify with their teams, not just sports teams, but "national" brands, as though that even existed any longer in this multinational world. We're rooting and cheering for American corporations and the "free" trade agreements they use to pillage and plunder even as what they do, impoverishes us and destroys our children's futures. Sounds grim, I know, but let me share a page from Korten with you:
In recent years, capitalism has acted through it's Wall Street institutional missionaries to make its campaign of moral perversion global. For example, in the international forums in which trade agreements are negotiated, its representatives have succeeded in winning provisions that say in effect if a country introduces regulations to prevent a foreign corporation from harming or killing people with its toxic products or discharges, the country's government must compensate the corporation for the profits it estimates it will lose.

The following are other examples of Wall Street's global campaign of mortal perversion.

* It uses its control of media outlets, advertising, and politicians to shape and spread a global culture of greed, materialism, ruthless competition, individualism, and moral irresponsibility.

* Through the pursuit and celebration of financial gain at any cost, it provides role models for immoral behavior.

* It undermines democracy and the legitimacy of government by buying politicians to do its bidding.

* It uses student loan programs to get the best and brightest youth mired in debt that can be repaid only by selling themselves to jobs that serve Wall Street interests.

* It buys up and monopolizes control of the world's land and water resources in anticipation of extracting profits by charging what the market will bear as scarcity increases.

* It uses its financial power and creative accounting skills to manipulate markets and obscure market signals, as when helping the Greek government hide its debt or helping corporate CEOs hide their insider bets against the future of their own companies.

* It buys the deeply discounted debt obligations of hapless underwater homeowners and countries on the open market and then demands full-value payment from governments or philanthropists who step in to lend a helping hand to the afflicted.

When governments seek real solutions to high-priority problems, Wall Street uses its lobbying power to block action on all solutions except those that contribute to its own bottom line. We see that in the United States in President Obama's initiatives on:

* Health insurance reform, where Wall Street forced off the table the public nonprofit single-payer health insurance option that is the only way to truly assure everyone access to adequate health care at a bearable cost. It allowed consideration only of a limited, expensive, government-subsidized private insurance program.

* Climate change, where Wall Street forced off the table the option of taxing carbon energy at the source and distributing the proceeds equally on a per person basis, which would have been simple, effective, and equitable. It allowed consideration only of an ineffective cap-and-trade system that offers countless opportunities for profitable fraud and speculation.

* The financial crisis, where Wall Street demanded and received expensive public bailouts for failed banks but recoiled in horror at "socialist" plots to regulate Wall Street or spend public money on direct economic stimulus programs that fund real-wealth local economies to create jobs and rebuild the nation's physical, social and natural capital.

These and other capitalist attacks on human interests and the natural world are playing out around the world. We look to government to defend the public interest, but we allow government to be taken over by institutions of greed for whom the only interest worthy of government action is their own private financial interest.

[sound of cheers from the peanut galleries]



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