Thursday, April 7, 2011

Greed Never Sleeps

By Lloyd Agte
The title, which I hope Neil Young will forgive me for partially ripping off, suggests one of the major curses of modern democracy, particularly as it is nested in modern Capitalism.  For it seems that greed breeds greed and thereby justifies its own rapaciousness.  Crises arise, wars happen, terrorists strike, a country is overthrown, a hurricane happens, a dictator is overthrown, a dictator gains power.   It's breaking news one day, a follow-up the next day, and ho hum, back to a fascination with Lindsay Lohan's addictions the next day.  But throughout all our distractions, the greed goes on.  How can we keep track of it all while keeping track of our money, our families, our energies and the promises that America made to us?  How do we keep from being fleeced by this corporate/political/economic Greed Machine?  How can we stop the top 20% of U.S. citizens, who now own 83% of the wealth, from owning 95% of the wealth in the next two decades. Or stop the top 1%, whose share of income has risen 125% in the last 30 years from doing the same in the next thirty?  Meanwhile, in the same past thirty years the bottom 10 percent's share of U.S. wealth has fallen by 30%   ( 
Unfortunately, it is impossible to keep track of everything happening in the world that the U.S. has its finger in, and the U.S. Oligarchy, the Ruling Elite, counts on that.  Events are born and die, as do people, but corporations live forever, thanks to the Supreme Court rulings in the 1930s. And now that corporations have the political free speech rights of the individual (thanks again the Supreme Court) they can pour into political races (and already have poured into the 2010 elections), millions of dollars.  And the unmitigated greed of the walking-dead corporations, vampires in an age of weak Garlic, can outlast and outmaneuver the most vigilant of civilian watchdogs.  Melville's famous novel set in the whaling industry in the last half of the Nineteenth Century, "Moby Dick," gives a glimpse of Capitalism's unleashing of greed that a few decades later nearly made extinct the Sperm Whale.  Shares of a whaling ships were sold to speculators, forcing ever more efficient and lethal and indiscriminate harvest until the Sperm Whales were an endangered species, which they still remain.  While we might hope that "the invisible hand of the market" tempered the preying on Whales, Capitalism can not take the credit.  What saved the Whale was petroleum, which made obsolete the use of Whale oil in oil lamps.  But what goes around comes around, and so now petroleum (or the lack thereof on these shores), seems to be making Americans an endangered species.

It would appear the only chance that the U.S. taxpayer has is hiring a governmental watchdog committee to ride herd on the greed.  Gone are the days of the minister railing from the pulpit of the Seven Deadly Sins, which put Greed in the number two sin slot, just behind Anger (hear that Tea Partier ragers?), and just ahead of Sloth (hear that welfare cheaters?). Greed, also known as Avarice or Covetousness, has been seen by the church over the past two thousand years as a sin of excess. Related terms, as seen through the eyes of the church over the millennia, are "bribery, "treason," "scavenging," "hoarding," "theft," "robbery," "violence," trickery," and "manipulation of authority."  Looking over the 2008 economic meltdown, it is all too easy to apply all of the alternate terms multiple times to multiple people, to multiple banks, and to multiple businesses, corporations, and financial institutions.

So it is not as though we were not aware of the historical admonitions against such behavior as was demonstrated by the financial institutions that created our last World economic stumble.  The Bush II Administration called off all the financial watchdogs, or defanged them, and the Democrats stood idly by and said "Good Dog."  The mantra by the mid-2000s was not Greed is a Sin but rather Greed is Good.  And now the "invisible hand" of Capitalism that Adam Smith saw as overseeing the automatic and benevolent adjustment of the market is not-so-invisibly raiding the middle and lower classes of what little financial security they have--trying to abolish collective bargaining, slashing education funding, laying off government workers, raiding Social Security and Medicare.  Clearly, trying to balance the budget on "discretionary spending," a mere 12 percent slice of the Budget Pie, is not only ludicrous but obviously not an accident.  It is a deliberate, mean-spirited attempt to create a serf class of workers who, when the Chinese workers get themselves elevated up to a comfortable living wage, can once more take over those work stations in the United States when labor is cheaper in the U.S. than in China and the corporations have moved production back to these shores. Steve Breyman, assistant professor at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute reports that "Each and every citizen in the United States – man, woman and child – pays some $5,000 or so per year for U.S. defense spending much of which is associated now with the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."  He goes on to say, “You can have healthy public finances or you can have war but you can’t have both." Yet military spending is "off the table" for the budget vampires trying to suck the last bit of blood from the veins of the middle class, the workers, the teachers, the students, the old and the infirm.
If the government does not control the greed, who will?  Obviously, the economy is not self-regulating, as the 2008 meltdown proved.  It's time Obama filed the teeth on his financial watchdogs and took them off the lease.  And if the Wisconsin and Ohio union-busting schemes are tolerated, expect the U.S. Presidency to be passed around to corporate heads or their shills for the rest of this century.  Will the super-rich then have their greed satiated?  Of course not.  As the ancient church leaders recognized, greed is a pathology that must be controlled, and since the church can no longer do it, the government must.

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