Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Jack London accurately detailed utter failure of our financial elite

Just about a hundred years ago, Jack London wrote The Iron Heel about the oligarchy in America taking open control of the government to crush the rising political power of the working and middle class:

The Iron Heel

by Jack London

chapter 5 excerpt

He sketched the economic condition of the cave-man and of the savage peoples of to-day, pointing out that they possessed neither tools nor machines, and possessed only a natural efficiency of one in producing power. Then he traced the development of machinery and social organization so that to-day the producing power of civilized man was a thousand times greater than that of the savage.

`Five men,' he said, `can produce bread for a thousand. One man can produce cotton cloth for two hundred and fifty people, woollens for three hundred, and boots and shoes for a thousand. One would conclude from this that under a capable management of society modern civilized man would be a great deal better off than the cave-man. But is he? Let us see. In the United States to-day there are fifteen million8 people living in poverty; and by poverty is meant that condition in life in which, through lack of food and adequate shelter, the mere standard of working efficiency cannot be maintained...

`But to return to my indictment. If modern man's producing power is a thousand times greater than that of the cave-man, why then, in the United States to-day, are there fifteen million people who are not properly sheltered and properly fed? Why then, in the United States to-day, are there three million child laborers? It is a true indictment. The capitalist class has mismanaged. In face of the facts that modern man lives more wretchedly than the cave-man, and that his producing power is a thousand times greater than that of the cave-man, no other conclusion is possible than that the capitalist class has mismanaged, that you have mismanaged, my masters, that you have criminally and selfishly mismanaged....

`You have failed in your management. You have made a shambles of civilization. You have been blind and greedy. You have risen up (as you to-day rise up), shamelessly, in our legislative halls, and declared that profits were impossible without the toil of children and babes. Don't take my word for it. It is all in the records against you. You have lulled your conscience to sleep with prattle of sweet ideals and dear moralities. You are fat with power and possession, drunken with success; and you have no more hope against us than have the drones, clustered about the honey-vats, when the worker-bees spring upon them to end their rotund existence. You have failed in your management of society, and your management is to be taken away from you.


The words Jack London put in his characters mouth in The Iron Heel still ring true, though it needs some additions:

When you are no longer allowed in one country to work women and children around the clock for starvation wages, you simply move your factory to another country that will let you abuse your workers.

And you figured out the way to keep moving the factories forever: break the economies of the countries that are strong, so when you have finally worked your way down to the poorest of poor here, the formerly rich countries will be grateful for your starvation wages jobs. Isn't that what is happening to America today?

When one of your country club brethren charges you too much for health insurance for your employees, rather than drive a hard bargain with your fraternity brother, you simply stop giving health insurance to your employees and let them fend for themselves.

If anything in America tends to produce a more vigorous democracy like decent education in K-12 or college, you tell your bought off politicians in state capitals and Washington to starve it of funds or kill it outright.

You publicly claim to believe in competition, but use your pawns in Washington to tax your small competitors and subsidize you. And when someone comes along with a better product that would bury something like say, GASOLINE, you buy up the patents and if it isn't a patentable technology, you launch a massive PR campaign to crush it.

One person in America can do the work that a thousand did a hundred years ago, and yet they can only survive by incurring debt and more debt, and working two jobs and then three.

All so you can put more and more money in the bank than you can ever spend in your lifetime. Do you think your descendant four generations out will thank you for your hard work (if you did any) to accumulate your fortune, or will they be a moral and intellectual cripple like Paris Hilton and so many of the idle rich?

And those who inherited great wealth, don't you secretly know that you are incompetent and even helpless to defend yourselves without your army of middle and working class drones who manage your money, cut the crust off your toast and wipe your ass?

George Orwell said essentially the same thing as London in 1984:
From the moment when the machine first made its appearance it was clear to all thinking people that the need for human drudgery, and therefore to a great extent for human inequality, had disappeared. If the machine were used deliberately for that end, hunger, overwork, dirt, illiteracy, and disease could be eliminated within a few generations...

But it was also clear that an all-round increase in wealth threatened the destruction -- indeed, in some sense was the destruction -- of a hierarchical society. In a world in which everyone worked short hours, had enough to eat, lived in a house with a bathroom and a refrigerator, and possessed a motor-car or even an aeroplane, the most obvious and perhaps the most important form of inequality would already have disappeared...

For if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselves; and when once they had done this, they would sooner or later realize that the privileged minority had no function, and they would sweep it away.
I like capitalism, and I'd like to be rich, but no one person, small group of people, or business should be so powerful that they can buy our government and have the power of life and death over the rest of us.

And if you don't think they have the power of life and death, think about someone whose health insurance denied a life saving procedure to fatten their profit margin, or a Gold Star Mom, mourning her child killed in Iraq, the country with the world's third largest oil reserves, in a war that our politicians tell us over and over had nothing to do with fattening the profit margins of oil companies.

The question is not if but when their depraved, withered hands will be pried from the levers of power. What they probably fail to realize is that the more radical action Obama takes, the longer their reprieve from forced retirement as Masters of theUniverse.


what won't change even if Iran's government does

Americans and many others around the world are hoping for an outcome to Iranian election away from the religious hardliners like President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but even if Mir-Hossein Mousavi takes power, several things are unlikely to change, and most of them are the points of tension between the US and Iran.

For example, while a new government might be less likely to call for Israel to be "wiped off the map" (or "disappear" from the map as many translators said was more accurate), they will still probably be sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians, fellow Muslims who are undeniably being killed in far larger numbers than Israelis, and systematically forced off their land by Israeli settlers, a process we would call ethnic cleansing anywhere else.

Likewise, it's hard to see them forsaking Hezbollah in Lebanon, given the multiple invasions by Israel and the many Muslims (and Christians) killed there, first in "overkill" to drive the PLO out of the country, then in attempts to crush Hezbollah whose ranks were swelled with Lebanese angered by the first war that caused so much death and destruction beyond its supposed targets.

What is especially unlikely to change is a sense of national ownership of their oil reserves and the income derived from it. Iran has the second or third largest oil reserves in the world. One of our goals in the Iraq War was to force them to give up 88% of their oil income to oil companies as stated in a Bush sponsored Hydrocarbon Law. For comparison, the Saudis, only give up about half. Despite Bush and members of both parties in Washington strong-arming Iraqis to pass it, they could only get the Iraqi cabinet to pass it, never the whole parliament--even when the oil companies offered millions in bribes to each member. And in spite of a war and occupation that cost the lives of over a million Iraqis.

If Iraq won't surrender their oil after all that, the tools of the oil industry in Congress would be foolish to expect the Iranians to give up theirs after an election. The truth is, real democracy makes it harder for corporations to cheat countries out of their natural resources. The oil companies would have had an easier time simply trying to bribe the handful of mullahs who are the real power behind the throne in Iran, just as they did the Shah, the dictator we installed after we overthrew the last secular, democratically elected leader of Iran, Mohammed Mossadegh. His sin was trying to nationalize his country's oil, which would have cut the big oil companies out of most of the profits. In the 1979 revolution in Iran, students were carrying signs with his photo on it. They had not forgotten who fought for their oil, and they wouldn't forgive someone who gave it away now.

Neither will Iran's antagonism with some of her neighbors diminish.

The Saudi conflict with Iran is likely based oil and who gets to decide how much is pumped and therefore the price as much as the Sunni-Shia rivalry.

Israel doesn't want any strong Muslim country in the region who might check their expansion or even criticize it, so they are unlikely to change much, even if the new government makes peace proposals that offer recognition in exchange for reasonable conditions on how Israel treats Palestinians.

And on the broader global stage, how the US treats a more secular, democratic Iran will depend almost entirely on how compliant they are to oil interests. After all, we overthrew Iran's secular prime minister in 1953, and have embraced the Sunni religious extremist Saudis for decades, even though they are far from democratic and Saudi Arabia supported the 9/11 hijackers who killed 3,000 Americans. Blood is thicker than water, but in Washington, oil is thicker than both (or at least the bribes oil companies give are).