Anglo European white guy from a very long line of white guys, I want to
thank all the brown, black, yellow and red people for a marvelous
three-century joy ride. During the past 300 years of the industrial age,
as Europeans, and later as Americans, we have managed to consume
infinitely more than we ever produced, thanks to colonialism, crooked
deals with despotic potentates and good old gunboats and grapeshot. Yes,
we have lived, and still live, extravagant lifestyles far above the
rest of you. And so, my sincere thanks to all of you folks around the
world working in sweatshops, or living on two bucks a day, even though
you sit on vast oil deposits. And to those outside my window here in
Mexico this morning, the two guys pruning the retired gringo's hedges
with what look like pocket knives, I say, keep up the good work. It's
the world's cheap labor guys like you -- the black, brown and yellow
folks who take it up the shorts -- who make capitalism look like it
actually works. So keep on humping. Remember: We've got predator drones.
After twelve generations of lavish living at the expense of the
of the world, it is understandable that citizens of the so-called
developed countries have come to consider it quite normal. In fact,
Americans expect it to become plusher in the future, increasingly
chocked with techno gadgetry, whiz bang processed foodstuffs,
automobiles, entertainments, inordinately large living spaces --
We've had plenty of encouragement, especially in recent
times. Before our hyper monetized economy metastasized, things such as
housing values went through the sky, and the cost of basics, food etc.
went through the basement floor, compared to the rest of the world. The
game got so cheap and fast that relative fundamental value went right
out the window and hasn't been seen since. For example, it would be very
difficult to make Americans understand that a loaf of bread or a dozen
eggs have more inherent value than an iPhone. Yet, at ground zero of
human species economics, where the only currency is the calorie, that is
Such is the triumph of the money economy that nothing
can be valued by any other measure, despite that nobody knows what
money is worth at all these days. This is due in part to the
international finance jerk-off, in which the world's governments print
truckloads of worthless money, so they can loan it out. The idea here is
that incoming repayment in some other, more valuable, currency will
cover their own bad paper. In turn, the debtor nations print their own
bogus money to repay the loans. So you have institutions loaning money
they do not have to institutions unable to repay the loans. All this is
based on the bullshit theory that tangible wealth is being created by
the world's financial institutions, through interest on the debt. Money
As my friend, physicist and political activist
George Salzman writes,
"Everyone in these
'professional' institutions dealing in money lives a fundamentally
dishonest life. Never mind 'regulating' interest rates," he says. "We
must do away with interest, with the very idea of 'money making money'.
We must recognize that what is termed 'Western Civilization' is in fact
an anti-civilization, a global social structure of death and
destruction. However, the charade of ever-increasing debt can be kept up
only as long as the public remains ignorant. Once ecological limits
have been reached the capitalist political game is up."
can see why I love this guy.
Boomers and Doomers and XXL
Capitalism wouldn't be around today, at least
not in its current pathogenic form, if it had not caught a couple of
lucky breaks. The first of course, was the expansion of bloodsucking
colonialism to give it transfusions of unearned wealth, enabling
"investors" to profit by artificial means (death, oppression and
slavery). But the biggest break was being driven to stratospheric
heights by inordinate quantities of available hydrocarbon energy.
Inordinate, but never the less finite. Consequently, the 100-year-long
oil suckdown that put industrial countries in the tall cotton, now
threatens to take back from subsequent beneficiary generation everything
it gave. The Hummers, the golf courses, the big box stores, cruising at
35,000 feet over the Atlantic -- everything.
You'd never know
that, to look around at Americans or Canadians, who have not the
slightest qualms about living in that 3,500 square foot vinyl sided f*ck
box, if they can manage to make the mortgage nut, or unashamedly buying
a quadruple X large Raiders Jersey because, hey, a guy's gotta eat,
right? Why don't I deserve a nice ride, a swimming pool and a flat
screen? I worked for it (sure you did buddy, your $12,000
Visa/MasterCard tab is proof of that).
The doomers and the peak
oilers gag, and they call it American denial. Personally, I think it is
somewhat unfair to say that most Americans and Canadians are in denial.
They simply don't have a f*cking clue about what is really happening
them and their world. Everything they have been taught about working,
money and "quality of life" constitutes the planet's greatest problem --
overshoot. Understanding this trashes our most basic assumptions, and
requires a complete reversal in contemporary thought and practice about
how we live in the world. When was the last time you saw any individual,
much less an entire nation, do that?
Compounding our ignorance
and naivete are the officials and experts, politicians, media elites,
and especially economists, who interpret the world for us and govern the
course of things. The go-to guys. They don't know either. But they've
got the lingo down.
Somehow or other, it all has to do with the
economy, which none of us understands, despite round the clock media
jabbering on the subject. Somehow it has to do with this great big
spring on Wall Street called "the market" that's gotta be kept wound up,
and interest rates at something called The Fed, which have got to be
kept smunched down. The industry of crystal gazing and hairball rubbing
surrounding these entities is called economics.
there are no jobs
The following may be old news to some
who studied economics in college. However, I did not. And, for me at
least, this gets at the heart of our dilemma (if dilemma is the right
word for economic, environmental and species collapse). Here goes:
human economy is made up of three parts: nature, work and money. But
since nobody would pay people like Allen Greenspan or Milton Friedman
millions of dollars if they talked just like the rest of us, economists
and academics refer to these three parts as the primary, secondary and
Of these, nature -- the world's ecosystems and
natural capital -- is by far the most important. It comprises about
three quarters of the total value of economic activity (Richard Costanza
et al. 1997). To western world economists, nature -- when it is even
give nature a thought -- is considered to be limitless.
part, work, is the labor required to produce goods and services from
natural resources. Work creates real value through efficient use of both
human and natural resource energy. A potato is just a potato until
people sweating over belt lines and giant fryers turn it into Tater
The third economy, the tertiary economy, is the production
and exchange of money. This includes anything that can be exchanged for
money, whether it is gold, or mortgages bundled as securities, or
derivatives. In short, any paperwork device that can be rigged up in
such a fashion that money will stick to it. Feel free to take a
wild-assed guess which of the three economies causes the most grief in
To an economist, work -- the stuff that eats up at
least a third of our earthly lives, is merely a "factor" called labor.
Work is considered an unfortunate cost in creating added value. Added
value, along with nature's resources, is the basis for all real world
profits. Without labor, the money economy could not gin up on-paper
wealth in its virtual economy. Somewhere, somebody's gotta do some
real-world work, before bankers and investment brokers can go into their
offices and pretend to work at "creating and managing wealth."
the workers in society to produce real wealth costs money. Capitalists
hate any sort of cost. It represents money that has somehow escaped
their coffers. So when any behemoth corporation hands out thousands of
pink slips on a Friday, Wall Street cheers and "the market" goes up. No
ordinary mortal has ever seen "the market." But traders on the floor of
11 Wall Street, people who've deemed themselves more than mortal by
virtue of their $110 Vanitas silk undershorts, assure us the market does
exist. No tours of the New York Stock exchange are permitted, so we
have to take their word for it.
In any case, in the money economy,
eliminating costs, even if those costs happen to be feeding human
beings, citizens of the empire, is sublime. That is why economists in
the tertiary economy can declare a "jobless recovery" with a straight
face. By their lights, the perfect recovery would necessarily be 100%
jobless. Human costs of generating profit would be entirely eliminated.
what you will about the tertiary "money economy," but one thing is
certain. It's virulent. Right now finance makes up 42% of GDP, and is
rising. Traditionally that figure has been around 9%. Fifty eight
percent of the economy is "services." When it comes to the service
economy, most people think of fried chicken buckets and "customer
service," call centers harassing debtors or selling credit cards.
However, much of the so-called service economy consists of "services"
sub-corporations and entities owned and operated by monopolies in
communications, electronic access and energy. They are designed for the
sole purpose of robbing the people incrementally. Borrow a microscope
and read the back side your cable and electric bill. Billing you is a
"service" for which you pay. So is the guy who cuts off your lights if
And manufacturing? Ten percent. Mostly big ticket items
such as salad shooters, as near as I can tell.
Still though, the foundation of the world,
including our entire economic structure, is nature. This is clear to
anyone who has ever, planted a garden, hiked in the woods, gone fishing
or been gnawed on by chiggers. In vis est exordium quod terminus.
not one in a thousand economists takes nature into account. Nature has
no place in contemporary economics, or the economic policy of today's
industrial nations. Again, like the general American public, these
economists are not in denial. They simply don't know it's there.
Historically, nature has never been considered even momentarily because
economists, like the public, never figured they would run out of it.
With the Gulf oil "spill" at full throttle, the terrible destruction of
nature is becoming obvious. But no economist who values his or her
career wants to start figuring the cost of ecocide into pricing
analysis. For god sake man, it's a cost!"¨"¨
With industrial society
chewing the ass out of Mama Nature for three centuries, something had
to give, and it has. Capitalists, however, remain unimpressed by global
warming, or melting polar ice caps, or Southwestern desert armadillos
showing up in Canada, or hurricanes getting bigger and more numerous
every year. They are impressed by the potential dough in the so-called
green economy. In fact, last night I watched an economist on CNN say
that if the government had let the free market take care of the BP gulf
catastrophe, it would not be the clusterfuck it is now. Now THAT might
qualify as denial. In the mean time,
anthropogenic ecocide and resource
depletion, coupled with the pressures of six billion mouths and asses
across the globe, have started to produce -- surprise surprise, Sheriff
Taylor! -- very real effects on world economies. (How could they not?)
So far though, in the simplistic see-spot-run American mind, it's all
about dead pelicans and oiled up hotel beaches.
with the paper
When the U.S., and then the world's money
economy started to crumble, the first thing capitalist economists could
think of to do was to monkey with the paper. That's all they knew how to
do. It was unthinkable that the tertiary virtual economy, that great
backroom fraud of debt manipulation and fiat money, might have finally
reached the limits of the material earth to support. That the money
economy's gaming of workers and Mother Nature might itself might be the
problem never occurred to the world's economic movers and shakers. It
still hasn't. (Except for Chavez, Morales, Castro and Lula). Jobs
disappeared, homes went to foreclosure, and personal debt was at
staggering all time highs. America's working folks were taking it square
in the face. Not that economists or financial kingpins cared much one
way or the other. In the capitalist financial world, everything is an
opportunity. Cancer? Build cancer hospital chains. Pollution? Sell
pollution credits. The country gone bankrupt?
"Nothing to do,"
cried the mad hatters of finance, "but print more money, and give gobs
of cash to the banks! Yes, yes, yes! Borrow astronomical amounts of the
stuff and bribe every fat cat financial corporation up and down The
Street!" All of which came down to creating more debt for the common
people to work off. They seem willing enough to do it too -- if only
they had jobs.
Along with the EU, Japan and the rest of the
industrial world, the US continues to flood the market with cheap
credit. That would be hunky dory, if was actually wealth for anybody but
a banker. The real problems are debt and fraud, and tripling the debt
in order to cover up the fraud. And pretending there no natural costs of
our actions, that we do not have to rob the natural world to crank up
the money world through debt.
No matter what economists tell us
abut getting the credit industry moving again, papering over debt with
more debt will not pollinate our food crops when the last honeybee is
dead. I suggest that we put the economists out there in the fields,
hand-pollinating crops like they do in China. They seem to know all
about the subject, and have placed a monetary value of $12 billion on
the pollination accomplished by bees in the US. Can you imagine the
f*cking arrogance? All bees do is make our fruit and vegetable supply
possible. Anyway, if we cannot use the economists for pollinators (odds
are they are too damned whacked to do that job), we could also stuff
them down the blowhole of the Deepwater Horizon spill. For the first
time in history, economists would be visibly useful.
China: Since there is no way to pick up the turd of American capitalism
by the clean end, much less polish it, American economists have pointed
east, and set up a yow-yow about China as "the emerging giant." The
"next global industrial superpower." Many Chinese are willing to ride
their bicycles 10 miles to work through poisonous yellow-green air, and
others in the "emerging middle class" are willing to wade into debt up
to their nipples; this is offered as evidence of the viability of
industrial capitalism. All it proves is that governments and economists
never learn. In the quest of getting something for nothing, China
follows the previous fools right into the industrial smog and
off the cliff.
The main feature of capitalism is the
seductive assertion that you can get something for nothing in this
world. That you can manufacture wealth through money manipulation, and
that it is OK to steal and hold captive the people's medium of exchange,
then charge them out the ass for access. That you can do so with a
clear conscience. Which you can, if you are the kind of sleazy prick who
has inherited or stolen enough wealth to get into the game.
so, to keep a rigged game going, you must keep the suckers believing
they can, and eventually will, benefit from the game. Also, that it is
the only game in town. Legitimizing public theft means indoctrinating
the public with all sorts of market mystique and hocus-pocus. They must
be convinced there is is such a thing as an "investment" for the average
schmuck drawing a paycheck (and there is, sort of, between the crashes
and the bubbles). It requires a unified economic rationale for
government and industry policies, and it is the economist's job to pump
out this rationale. Historically, they have seldom hesitated to get down
on their knees and do so.
It ain't robbery, it's a
Capitalism is about one thing: aggregating
the surplus productive value of the public for private interests. As we
have said, it is about creating state sanctioned "investments" for the
workers who produce the real wealth. Things like home "ownership" and
mortgages, or stock investments and funds to absorb their retirement
savings. That crushing 30-year mortgage with two refis is an investment.
So is that 401K melting like a snow cone the beach.
people's wealth accumulates, it is steadily siphoned off by government
and elite private forces. From time to time, it is openly plundered for
their benefit by way of various bubbles, depressions or recessions and
other forms of theft passed off as unavoidable acts of nature/god. These
periodic raids and draw downs of the people's wealth are attributed to
"business cycles." Past periodic raids and thefts are heralded as being
proof of the rationale. "See folks, it comes and goes, so it's a cycle!"
Economic raids and busts become "market adjustments." Public blackmail
and plundering through bailouts become a "necessary rescue packages."
Giveaways to corporations under the guise of public works and creating
employment become "stimulus." The chief responsibility of economists is
to name things in accordance with government and corporate interests.
The function of the public is to acquire debt and maintain "consumer
confidence." When the public staggers to its feet again and manages to
carry more debt, buy more poker chips on credit to play again, it's
called a recovery. They are back in the game.
Dealer, hit me with
two more cards,. I feel lucky.
Does it hurt yet?
anyone who is paying attention, things look doomed. Fortunately for
American capitalism, nobody is paying attention. They never have. Even
given the unemployment numbers, foreclosures and bankruptcies, most
Americans are still not feeling enough pain yet to demand change. Not
that they will. Demand change, I mean. We haven't the slightest idea of
any other options, outside those provided by the corporate managed
state. So in a chorus well-schooled by the media the public demands
"reform," of the present system, the systemic pathogenic system based on
exploitation of the many by the few, the one presently eating our
society from the inside out. How do you reform that?
clueless, and the state sees to it that we stay that way. Take the price
of gas, about which Americans are obsessive. In one way or another,
petroleum is the subject of much news coverage, nearly as much as
pissing matches between egomaniacs in Hollywood or o Capitol Hill. So
one might think that by now Americans would have a realistic grasp of
the petroleum business and things like oil and gasoline prices.
think again! This is America, this is Strawberry Fields, where nothing
is real and the skies are not cloudy all day. We're stewed in a consumer
hallucination called the American Dream and riding a digital virtual
money economy nobody can even prove exists.
Is there an
economy out there or not?
If we decide to believe the money
economy still exists, and that debt is indeed wealth, then we damned
sure know where to go looking for the wealth. Globally, forty percent of
it is in the paws of the wealthiest one percent. Nearly all of that one
percent are connected to the largest and richest corporations. Just
before the economy blew out, these elites held slightly less than $80
trillion. After the blowout/bailout, their combined investment wealth
was estimated at a little over $83 trillion. To give some idea, this is
four years of the gross output of all the human beings on earth. It is
only logical that these elites say the only way to revive the economy,
which to them consists entirely of the money economy, out is to continue
to borrow money from them.
However, the unasked question still
hangs in the air: Does the money economy even exist anymore? Is it still
there? (was it ever?) Or are we all blindly going through the motions
A: we do not understand that, for all
practical historical purposes, it's over;
B: we do not know how to
do anything else so we keep dancing with the corpse of the
C: the right calamity has not come down
the pike to knock us loose from the spell of the dance,
we're so friggin brain dead, commodities engorged and internally
colonized by capitalist industrialism that nobody cares, and therefore
it no longer matters.
This is multiple choice, and it
counts ten points toward survival, come the collapse.
If there is
no economy left, what the hell are we all participating in? A mirage?
The zombie ball? The short answer is: Because the economy is a belief
system, you are participating in whatever you believe you are.
Personally, I believe we are participating in a modern extension of the
feudal system, with bankers as the new feudal barons and credit
demographics as their turf. But then, I drink and take drugs. Whatever
it is, the money economy is the only game in town until the collapse,
after which chickens and firewood may become the national currency. The
Masai use cattle don't they?
At the same time, even dumb people
are starting to feel an undefined fear in their bones. When I was back
in the States last month, an old high school chum, a sluggard who seldom
has forward thought beyond the next beer and Lotto scratch ticket,
confides in me:
"Joey, I can't shake the feeling that
something big and awful is going to happen. And by awful I mean awful."
"Money, work, our country. sh*t, I dunno."
all three," I opined. "Plus the environment."
"That's what they pay me for, Bubba."
in the herd are starting to feel a big chill in the air, the first
winds of the approaching storm. Yes, something is happening, and you
don't know what it is, dooooo yew, Mistah Jones?
However, the most
adept economists and other court sorcerers are going along as if
nothing too unusual is happening -- calling it a recession, or more
recently a double-dip recession (don't you love these turd-balls, making
it sound as harmless as an ice cream cone -- gimme a double dip
please!) or even a depression. But no matter what it is, they smugly
assure us, there is nothing happening that the world has never seen
before. Including the insider scams that ignited the catastrophe. It's
just a matter of size. Extent.
OK, it's a matter of scale. Like
the Gulf oil spill. We've seen spills before, just not this big. But
over the next couple of years as the poison crud circulates the world's
oceans, the Deep Horizon spill will prove to be a global game changer,
whether economists and court wizards acknowledge it or don't. Anything
of global scale, whether it is in finance, energy, foreign aid, world
health or war contracting, is accompanied by unimaginable complexity.
That makes it perfect cover for criminal activity. Particularly finance,
where you are always close to the money.
Jim Kunstler, never at a
loss to describe a ludicrous situation, sums up the paper economy's
engineering of our collapse nicely:
"Wall Street -- in
particular the biggest 'banks' -- packaged up and sold enough swindles
to unwind 2500 years of western civilization. You simply cannot imagine
the amount of bad financial paper out there right now in every vault and
portfolio on the planet " the people fabricating things like synthetic
collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) had no idea what the f*ck they
were doing -- besides deliberately creating documents that nobody would
ever understand, that would never be unraveled by teams of law clerks
... and were guaranteed to place in jeopardy every operation of the
world economy above the barter level."
for $5,000 and an all expense paid trip to Rio: What does a good
capitalist do after having stolen all there is to steal from the living,
then stolen the nation's future wealth from the unborn through debt
both public and private?
Tick tock, tick tock. The wheel spins.
"A good capitalist would "invest" his haul in
some other racket, some other scam in the money economy."
pie in the kisser for this guy, please."
The problem with the
answer is that economy is now toxed out. Radioactive. Crawling with
paper vermin and all manner of vermin, especially toxic derivatives --
about $1.4 quadrillion worth (even as we are still trying to get used to
hearing the term trillions), according to the Bank of National
Settlements. That is 1,000 trillion, or $190 for every human being on
the planet. There is not now, and never will be, enough wealth to cover
that puppy -- because there is not enough natural world under the puppy
to create it. Not the way capitalism creates wealth.
capitalism who say it can and must be saved must also admit that there
is not enough money left to work with, to invest. There is only debt.
Oh, yeah, we forgot; debt is wealth to a banker. Well then, all we gotta
do is collect $190 per head from people in Sudan and Haiti and the rest
of the planet.
Naw, that's too hard. Elite capital's best bet is
a good old fashioned money raid on the serfs; create another bubble
that will buy enough time before it pops to make the already rich a few
billion richer. To that end, the G-8 is blowing one last bounder out
there in the hyperspace where the economy s alleged to be surviving.
Naturally, they are doing it in order to "save the world economy." The
tough part is figuring out what to base the next bubble on.
suggest Soylent Green?
Under God, with fees and compound
interest for all
From the outset, capitalism was always
about the theft of the people's sustenance. It was bound to lead to the
ultimate theft -- the final looting of the source of their sustenance --
nature. Now that capitalism has eaten its own seed corn, the show is
just about over, with the nastiest scenes yet to play out around water,
carbon energy (or anything that expends energy), soil and oxygen. For
the near future however, it will continue to play out around money.
the economy slowly implodes, money will become more volatile stuff than
it already is. The value and availability of money is sure to fluctuate
wildly. Most people don't have the luxury of escaping the money
economy, so they will be held hostage and milked hard again by the same
people who just drained them in the bailouts. As usual, the government
will be right there to see that everybody plays by the rules. Those who
have always benefited by capitalism's rules will benefit more. That
cadre of "money professionals" which holds captive the nation's money
supply, and runs things according to the rules of money, can never lose
money. It writes the rules. And rewrites them when it suits the money
elite's interests. Capitalism, the Christian god, democracy, the
It's all one ball of wax, one set of rules in the
American national psyche. Thus, the money masters behind the curtain
will write The New Rules, the new tablets of supreme law, and call them
Reform. There will be rejoicing that "the will of the people" has once
again moved upon the land, and that the democracy's scripture has once
again been delivered by the unseen hand of God.
Joe Bageant is the author of a forthcoming book from Random House Crown about working class America, scheduled for Spring 2007 release. A complete archive of his online work, along with the thoughts of many working Americans on the subject of class (more...)