Danger Ahead: The Oligarchs Don't Understand That Economic Collapse Happens When They Get All the Money
Let’s face it, if your opponent in Monopoly scoops up Boardwalk, Park Place, North Carolina Avenue, Pacific Avenue, both utilities, and the four railroads – that’s game over.
The other players, all of whom have been relegated to mere consumers instead of property owners, will slowly go bankrupt having to pay higher and higher costs for rent and services, utilities, and transportation. Eventually, one player has all the money and the losers have to clean up the board game and put it away.
But let’s assume the Monopoly game doesn’t end there. Let’s assume the broke players keep rolling the dice and keep going around the board. They essentially keep living their lives desperate and broke, using their credit cards and home lines of credit to stay in the game. Maybe they end up in jail. If they’re lucky, they land on Baltic Avenue and can afford to stay a night in the slums.
Meanwhile, the oligarch who owns everything can no longer collect any income. The other players can’t afford to pay rent, they can’t pay utilities, and they can’t ride on the railroads. Eventually, without consumers spending money, the Monopoly oligarch goes broke, too. His properties and businesses disappear and suddenly everyone is broke!
That’s what Monopoly’s version of economic collapse looks like. And it’s very similar to what global economic collapse in the real world looks like, too.
Now put the Monopoly game board away and consider this: Researchers in Zurich, Switzerland have found that there are roughly 43,000 transnational corporations that dominate the global economy. Of those, there are about 1,300 companies that control 80% of all the global revenues for all the transnational corporations on the planet. Now let’s take it a step further. Of those 1,300 core companies, only 147 companies, which all happen to own each other in some way, control 40% - or nearly half – of all the wealth in the entire transnational corporate network. That means 1% of transnationals own 40% of all the world’s business wealth.
In other words, the global 1% has its own 1%.
This is similar to a Monopoly situation in which just one player owns 40% of the board. And just like it’s game over for Monopoly, it’s game over for the global economy, too.
Right now, you can count the number of banks that own half of all the wealth in the U.S. economy on just one hand. There are just five of them and they are the usual suspects: Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Citigroup. Their total assets equal 8.5 trillion, which is 56% of our entire economy.
In 2007 we all learned the consequences of disproportionate wealth and power concentrated in the hands of just a few companies. When one company begins to fail, they all begin to fail. And when they all fail, well, that’s what collapse looks like.
That why policymakers labeled the banks “Too Big to Fail” and bailed them out to prevent total collapse. Today, these banks are even bigger. And thanks to globalization, their tentacles are wrapped around the entire world’s economy. It won’t just be the United States imploding the next time these giants fall: it will be much of planet Earth itself.
This is the danger of raw, unfettered capitalism. This is where the demands of higher and higher quarterly profits take down the economy. Companies begin devouring each other, sucking whatever wealth they can from each other. This was made easier by deregulation policies in the 1980’s and 1990’s that trigged a mergers and acquisitions mania under Reagan, and free trade policies under Clinton that opened up the game board for these transnational corporation to feast on even more industries abroad.
Out of this, the few strong survive and have enormous power to fix prices for consumers. The inventors of Monopoly were right about what happens when one person owns all the railroads or all the utilities or all the apartment buildings: prices go up.
And to secure even more profits, these companies begin extracting wealth from their own workers, cutting their salaries and benefits. And like broke Monopoly players, real world consumers can’t afford to pay their mortgages, put gas in their car, or buy groceries. In the game-world, the corporate masters win. But in the real world, they eventually lose like the rest of us.
The corporate masters seem to have forgotten they depend on working people for their own survival. And today things have gotten really bad.
This corporatocracy made up of just over 100 transnational corporations are desperately trying to garner more wealth by toppling governments in Europe and demanding wealth-extracting austerity (or what has been referred to in the United States since the 1980’s as “Starve the Beast”).
This was predicted by Bill Clinton’s former Deputy Secretary of Treasury, Roger Altman, back in 2011. He explained that these corporate forces, “oust entrenched regimes where normal political processes could not do so. They force austerity, banking bail-out and other major policy changes. Their influence dwarfs multilateral institutions such as the International Monetary Fund. Indeed, leaving aside unusable nuclear weapons, they have become the most powerful force on Earth.”
The violence on display in Greece is a consequence of the Monopoly endgame the world economy is in. No matter how much austerity that nations like Greece, Spain, and Europe endure, these corporate masters will be unsatisfied and they’ll demand even more. They’ll take their harvesting machines to Germany, the U.K., and eventually the United States. In fact, they’ve already begun. Until eventually they’ve destroyed the one thing that keeps their own hearts beating: working people.
That’s when collapse happens.
As the researchers in Zurich have discovered with actual data, we’re all living in a functional oligarchy today with just a handful of corporations – all of which are wealthier and more powerful than most sovereign governments – sucking whatever remaining wealth they can from the rest of us.
And just like how the oil industry is willing to suck the last trillion dollars of oil out of the ground with no plans about what to do when it’s all gone, these corporate masters are willing to suck the last wealth out of the middle class without any plans of what to do when their consumers disappear.
Everyone needs to wake up to this economic reality before we’re all dragged toward collapse. If not, the mess will be a lot bigger to clean up than just a few scattered dice, thimbles, and a chance card.