There's a Violent World War Going On, with Millions of Casualties -- Oligarchs vs. Everyone Else
History is littered with the corpses of those who thought they could conquer the world, or at least the “known” or “important” world, through force of arms. Many come immediately to mind: Alexander the Great; Caesar; Hitler; the Celts, Ottomans, and Catholics; various European, Asian, and American empires from the 17th Century Dutch to the 18th Century French, to the 19th Century British and the 20th Century Soviets and Americans. Others, like the Aztecs, are less well known to westerners, Europeans, and Asians, but no less ambitious.
All used some variation on war, the force of military power, to accomplish their goal. All won, over the short-term, and then collapsed over the long term (making the relatively safe assumption that the American Empire is in the process of collapse right now).
So, who’s next?
While the rising economies of the world, like the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) nations, all have the potential, particularly the Chinese, all also are pretty focused on regionalism. But there is one group that has declared war on us - all of us, all over the world - and already won some significant victories. And that’s the creditor class, what economist Henry George called the “rentiers,” and we generally today refer to as “the billionaires.”
The top story on the Sunday, January 6 2013 online edition of the Financial Times, was headlined, “Banks win more flexible Basel rules” by Brooke Masters. The lead paragraph noted that “International banks received a new year fillip” or gift, when the new regulations out of the Basel bank regulators meeting “announced that the first ever global liquidity standards would be less onerous than expected and not be fully enforced until 2019, four years later than expected.” Perhaps the single most relevant sentence in the article started: “The results are largely good news for bank profits…”
We have become, in the United States, and increasingly all over the world, a society with only two classes: Those who own, and those who owe.
The owners (or “Takers”) own vast wealth, and loan it out at interest to everybody from students to governments. They’re continually receiving that interest back in ways that are either tax-free or taxed at very low levels. (Here in the US we call it “capital gains,” “Interest,” “dividends,” and “carried interest.” While a working person will pay as much as 39% in federal income taxes, the federal income tax to the Mitt Romneys, Paris Hiltons, and Lloyd Blankfeins of the world is now capped at 20%. As Leona Helmsley famously said, “Only little people pay taxes.”)
The owe-ers - the indebted - find themselves trapped on a lifelong treadmill paying interest and fees to the Takers. The owe-ers are also mostly the workers, the people who make things (from manufactured goods to hamburgers), and so are rightly called the “Makers.”
For a brief period of American history, the rapaciousness and greed of the Takers was kept in check by the Makers - mostly through the actions of their unions and elected officials like FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter. Glass-Steagal prevented banksters from gambling with your savings account or pension. The Sherman Anti-Trust Act and its heirs prevented the big fish from swallowing all the medium-sized and smaller fish, so cities and malls were filled with locally-owned businesses. Social and economic mobility were higher in the United States than in most other countries of the world.
But with the election of Ronald Reagan, the Takers - whose favorite way of taking is through putting the Makers into debt - won a huge victory. They killed or weakened democratic institutions, like unions and politicians not dependent on them. They moved the Middle Class from prosperity into, first, credit card debt, then into second-mortgage debt, and finally into student loan debt. And then, in the final Coup de grâce, they made the formerly democratic governments of Western Europe and the United States indebted to them.
They knew from the beginning it was war. But a softer and more silent form of war than the world was used to. Not since the ascendency of the British East India Company in the 1700s had the world seen an economic, rather than sovereign, force so dominate the world.
And now they’re in the final stages of their war. Having taken most all the resources of the West’s Middle Classes and thrown them and their children into debt bondage, they’ve moved onto taking over entire nations.
This is what Republicans mean when they talk about “making government smaller” here in the United States, or “the austerity agenda” in Europe, Canada, and Australia. It’s all the same thing - transfer even more wealth and political power from those in debt (be they individuals, cities, states, or nations) to those who made the loans. From the middle-class Makers to the billionaire Takers.
And God forbid a politician should stand up to the Takers. From Republicans refusing to raise taxes on billionaires, to international banking institutions leading the charge, via their captive governments, on “renegade” states like Bolivia.
Longer work weeks in France. Indexing the Inheritance Tax to inflation in the United States, but not the minimum wage. Cutting Greeks off their national health-care system after a year of unemployment. Slashing government support to schools, police, and health-care in Canada. Banks committing crimes and getting slap-on-the-wrist fines. Fossil Fuel corporations, the world’s most profitable, not only getting taxpayer subsidies but never, ever paying for the cancers, pollution, and global warming they cause. The list goes on and on.
It’s war. Rob, plunder, and pillage. Take what little is left from those with a little, and give it all to those who have a lot. Turn the Makers into slaves, while the Takers get an Inheritance Tax cut so their great-grandchildren can live the lives of the landed gentry.
When Ronald Reagan came into office, America was one of the most socially- and economically- mobile nations in the developed world. Today it is among the least.
Democracy is being replaced by plutocracy. Modern oligarchs are richer than the kings of old. And, still not content, they’re amping up the war with a coming July 4th attempt to amend the US Constitution so the wealthy need never again fear tax increases. It’s being led by the Goldwater Institute with its “Compact For America.”
Look out. We’re moving from trench warfare to aerial bombardment. And when they’re done, Western Democracies will look far more like Italy in the 1930s…