JR'S Free Thought Pages
The Corporate Take-Over of the Planet
by JR, October, 2016
With deregulation, lack of oversight, privatizations, mergers, takeovers and acquisitions, corporations have become so powerful and wealthy that they now occupy well over half of the top 100 wealthiest economies of the world. This list includes sovereign countries. The disturbing trend is continuing unabated, having accelerated in the past three or four decades of neo-conservative and neo-liberal economic dogma that resembles a corporatist theocracy. The top ten corporations now have more wealth than the bottom 180 countries of the world and our pathetic mass media of deceit, misinformation, propaganda and acts of omission is controlled by six huge multinationals.
Our global dystopian nightmare did not happen by accident or some mysterious evolutionary process. It has been underwritten by the ivory tower neo-conservative disciples of the Reagan/Thatcher reactionary revolution, who have proclaimed that we have now reached the "end of history" and "the end of ideology". The neo-liberalism of globalized corporate capitalism has arrived and we're told that "there is no alternative" - the infamous TINA principle of Margaret Thatcher. This arcane doctrine of alienated humans as homo economicus in which there is no society, no solidarity and no community, but rather merely self-interested amoral automatons, is now espoused with an air of exquisitely quaint certitude, as though by some incontestable law of physics or god-ordained calcified medieval theology. A consequence of economic man’s alienation from "the world" is that the fundamental constituents of capitalist political economy are espoused as existing outside of, and incidental to, its core activities -wars of imperialism for economic resources, radical social alienation and atomization, climate change, environmental catastrophe and ultimately, the political and social incapacity for reconciliation for any of these factors. The 21st century hegemonic tyranny of the market differs only in form from previous eras of top-down dogmatic monarchical and theocratic entitlements and elitisms, justified by metaphysical obscurantism or procrustean bed of dictatorial ideologies. Those who either cannot accept this dogma, such as indigenous peoples throughout the world, or those who refuse to participate in the hyper-competitive wage slave market, are deemed, like species loss, pollution and decimation of the natural environment, "externalities", unintended collateral damage, not unlike the social defectives who are thrown off the capitalist bus. We increasingly see these desperate people every day, living on the streets like wild dogs, scrounging for food and shelter. In any civil society with a milligram of decency, it would be unacceptable. The "market" has now replaced "god's will" as a manner of explaining away such morally repulsive facts.
Indoctrination of the masses into the doctrines and world views of power elites by whatever means, whether theological, secular or economic is nothing new. Today, this process of inculcation and justification of the current nefarious totalizing doctrines of the neo-liberal New World Order is effectively carried out by the churches, schools, political gangsters of the state capitalist system and our corporate dominated mass media.
Consequently, we have been transformed into a society of compliant unthinking sheep and lemmings, rendered incapable of imagining a better world.
Neo-Liberal corporate capitalism is simply another authoritarian ideology masquerading as democracy and freedom. The neo-con pundits and high priests of neo-colonialist global capitalism assume that their own assertions and rhetorical justifications are not ideology or dogma, but something else, perhaps the natural virtues of the family, god-given manifestation of the free market heaven on earth or an evolutionary upshot of our intransigent human nature and genetic make-up. Rather than ideology having been swallowed by eclecticism, relativism, identity politics and postmodernism, we are actually mired in it; that epistemic and moral relativism, eclecticism, populism, the end of ideology and general political oblivion, are integral manifestations and mechanisms of the new authoritarian formulations of capitalist ideology. If, as the postmodernists and disciples of faith based world views claim, reason, logic, scientific inquiry and rules of evidence are no longer the bases for distinguishing between true and false belief, then it seems that power (might is right) alone will determine the outcome of competing truth claims and world views. This is a frightening prospect for those who lack, or are oppressed by, the power of others. Indeed, in a world of epistemological relativism, there can be no recognizable subjects to emancipate, or even investigate.
In pre-scientific and pre- enlightenment societies this was generally the case. Unless we can verify meaning and certain degrees of validity in scientific and historical research , then both political struggle for justice and intellectual deliberations become irrelevant with the horrifying result that religious persecution, fascism and the Nazi death camps become nothing but a mere factual residue of history, devoid of interpretation. To restrain injustice, we must insist on a measure of shared meaning, definition and the power of reasoned argument. Reason, which one must admit can itself be both liberating and oppressive and that judgement can be both fought for and negotiated, does it imply that objectivity and truth claims are thereby delusionary? But politics today, as exhibited by the farcical nature of the 2016 US elections, is distinctly postmodern, lacking in authenticity, decorum, substance, reality and truth, reflecting only image, spectacle, simulacrum, deceit, bedtime fairy tales, vacuous rhetoric and name calling.
But this current incarnation of ideological hegemony and rigidity with its attendant irrationalism and xenophobic idiocy will pass, even if only by way of total decimation and annihilation of the world's ecosystems. If we have any probability of survival as a species, the world needs to wake up and re-connect with the Gaia theory of scientist James Lovelock, who is now 97. Listen to this Guardian podcast.
The neo-con bonehead and bitch
The compromised and substandard democracy we once had, if not a corpse, is surely rapidly rotting away. "Compromised" and "substandard" are adjectives I've employed rather than my preference for "fraudulent" because I'm invoking my own personal conception of what I believe democracy ought to be, a topic for another essay. One of the most important political philosophers in the United States is the late Sheldon Wolin who referred to our current sham democracy as a form of totalitarianism, formulating the apt expression "Democracy Incorporated". I personally believe that throughout human history, save for a few fleeting historical breakout moments, there has never been an instance of genuine democracy whereby the golden rule, egalitarianism and bottom-up justice for all prevailed. Rather, we've endured monarchy, theocracy, oligarchy, plutocracy and other variants of hierarchy and tyranny, which is our current socio-political condition today. The hustlers and pandering pimps we call senators, congressmen and parliamentarians now serve the top one-tenth of one percent. Like the 21st century serfs we have become, capitalist "democracy" is just another commodity for sale in the casino crap shoot we disingenuously call the "free market".
Despite the claims of neo-liberal ideologues that Karl Marx in no longer relevant, the noticeable revelation one gets from re-reading Marx's 30 to 40 page Communist Manifesto is how it continues to be hauntingly relevant to the globalised, war-torn, crisis-ridden unjust world of the 21st century.
Written at a time of economic crisis, the 1840s was a decade in which the industrialization of the major cities of Western and Central Europe were impoverishing and creating misery for millions, there was clearly a real fear of revolution. Inside the ruling classes and the absolutist monarchies that by and large held sway, there was a recognition that the masses would not put up with their lot for much longer. There was a real fear, "a spectre haunting Europe", as the opening line of the Manifesto famously puts it, that the ruling class could continue in the same way as before and that the masses would not tolerate the old order much longer. The fear of those in charge was justified, as it ought to be today.
Alexis De Tocqueville, a French deputy at the time, warned that, "the wind of revolution blows; the storm is on the horizon". He was right. In the few weeks after the Manifesto was published in February 1848, uprisings and rebellions had flared up from France to south-west Germany and to Hungary; by March they had spread to Northern Italy. In the Manifesto, Marx and his good friend and co-writer Friedrich Engels, wax lyrical about the productive power and expansion of capitalism and how a hegemonic world market is being instituted. This new international division of labour was facilitated by the great technological innovations of the railway and the electric telegraph and the constant "revolutionising of the instruments of production" leading to changes in the relations of production and destabilising everything in its wake. Relations of production, institutions, even ideas that had appeared to be immutable are shown to be open to change. As Marx and Engels poetically put it, “All that is solid melts into air”. However, what really was happening is the substitution of one form of tyranny with another.
One effect of all this is the great gains in communication systems that make the world feel smaller, and places in it closer: what one Marxist has called the experience of time-space compression. A further effect of the process that Marx describes is the ever-increasing centralisation of property and political control. Disparate states, as in Germany and later Italy, for instance, are united. Laws and tariffs are harmonised but the productive forces that are being unleashed eventually clash with the existing world order. Crises of over-production, whereby markets are unable to absorb commodities, exist not because they are not needed, but because no one has enough money for them or want them. Lack of planning to meet real needs, monopolization and concentrations of wealth in the hand of a tiny elite will lead to just another form of oligarchy. And this, Marx argues, is when society can "burst asunder". The ground for social revolution is actually prepared by capitalism itself.
Of course, the ruling class was and continues to be not always aware of these developments. It is crucial, Marx argues, that like previous ruling classes, it hides its own transitory nature. Just as slave owners and feudal landlords thought their way of doing things would always prevail, the current ruling classes’ way of appropriating the surplus of production, the basis on which class society arises, is historical in character.
Another dynamic in this growth of wealth, power and influence within a tiny elite forecast by Marx, is the proliferation of lobbyists (bribery by another name) and lack of anti-trust laws, that were once in place to encourage competition and discourage excessive size, consolidation and corporatized monopolization. A recently published very plausible dystopian novel has been released called The Water Thief, describing a scenario in which governments have become redundant and corporations control every aspect of our lives: the legal system, schools, military, police and prisons, clean water supplies and even the air we breathe. The notion of a citizen, a public sphere and any notion of communal interest and the common good has disappeared down a corporatist black hole. We are precipitously close to that state of affairs today.
The phony "free trade" agreements have facilitated and exacerbated this hegemony, having essentially granted blank cheques to corporations to enable multinational corporations to exploit resources, surplus cheap labour and lax taxation and environmental restrictions with impunity. In the United States, with the Citizens United supreme court decision, corporations now are declared "persons", but having far more rights than the flesh and blood versions.
ExxonMobil, Unilever, Black Rock, HSBC, DHL, Nike, Apple, Microsoft, Visa—these companies all choose locations for personnel, factories, executive suites, or bank accounts based on wherever regulations are "friendly" (that is, lax), resources abundant, and connectivity seamless. Clever mega-businesses transnational corporations that operate throughout the world often have legal domicile in one country, corporate management in another, financial assets in a third, and administrative staff spread over several more. Some of the largest American -born firms — GE, IBM, Apple, Microsoft, to name a few — collectively are holding trillions of dollars tax-free offshore by having revenues from overseas markets paid to holding companies incorporated in the tax free havens of the City of London, Switzerland, Luxembourg, the Cayman Islands, Singapore and elsewhere.
Already, the primarily tax free cash that Apple has on hand exceeds the GDPs of two-thirds of the world’s countries. It has accomplished this by holding countries hostage (such as Ireland) bribing their governments to make huge tax concessions for primarily minimum wage jobs. They manufacture their over-priced technological self-lobotomizing toys such as the i-phone and i-pad in SE Asian sweat shops, paying a little as 25 cents per hour.
Today, the 10 biggest banks in the world, all of which were involved in criminality of epic proportions that precipitated the 2008 global financial crash, still control almost 50 percent of assets under management worldwide. The latest of ongoing scams and larcenous scandals involve Wells Fargo and Deutsche Bank. No one has been prosecuted for the larcenous global crimes and these financial parasites that are back in business as usual following their bailouts and get out of jail free cards and their stack of chips replenished by the hapless taxpayers. Their roulette wheel shenanigans and global financial swindles that include nefarious manipulations, bribes to politicians and money laundering continue unhindered. In the name of private profit at any cost, the World Bank, the IMF and state banks worldwide such as the Federal Reserve, European Central Bank and Bank of Canada have become mere instruments of exploitive private capital, imperialism and war.
How did we fall into this oligarchic moral abyss?
Consider the history of the United States, the most influential and powerful capitalist/imperialist state in the world.
The primary authors of the US Constitution were wealthy landowners and slaveholders. The capitalist game dominated by wealthy elites was a huge con game from the very start. James Madison, for example, proclaimed that the principle function of government is to "protect the minority of the opulent from the majority". John Jay, one of Madison's colleagues was born into a wealthy family of merchants and government officials in New York City and eventually became a chief justice. Jay, concurring with Madison and other founding fathers, stated that "the people who own the country [such as himself, George Washington, Jefferson and Madison] ought to govern it." It's no surprise that the USA became a deceitful huckster society of robber barons. It always has been, and continues to be, one of the most economically unequal countries in the so-called "democratic" West.
The reality represented by the revered US Constitution and annual July 4th celebratory orgies is this: protecting slavery, land speculation and outright theft and murderous practises against Native Americans was inseparable from the lofty ideals promulgated by the founding fathers. The one-tenth of one percent of slave owning plutocrats of 1776 such as Washington, Jefferson and Madison did seek freedom from a British colonial master. But accurately understanding US history makes it clear that the primarily bourgeois Revolution was not just against colonialism, but rather a particular version of it. It aimed to substitute the masters at the top of the colonial hierarchy (Adam Smith's "Masters of Mankind") from those who lived in Britain to those who lived in Virginia, Maryland, New York, South Carolina, Georgia and the rest of the 13 colonies. Indigenous people, black slaves, women and those who did not own land had no vote and no power, other than in numbers.
With the possible exception of some interventions driven by geo-political considerations, the United States has never supported any anti-colonial struggle except its own. To be sure, along with solidifying the first apartheid state, the revolution also set the stage for the capitalist state protecting some core ideals such as trial-by-jury and freedom of movement, press and speech.
However, it does not change the fact that the fight for independence from England decidedly did not draw a principled line against colonialism. Rather, it was a fight for control of the settler colonialism that came to define the history of brutal westward expansion to California, Hawaii, the Philippines, China and beyond. And by the middle of the 19th century the United States had invaded Mexico and stolen the top half of their land base that included California, Texas and what is now New Mexico and Arizona.
As Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of another ground breaking book called An Indigenous People's History of the United States, points out in a recent article:
US policies and actions related to Indigenous peoples, though often termed “racist” or “discriminatory,” are rarely depicted as what they are: classic cases of imperialism and a particular form of colonialism—settler colonialism.
After Columbus had surveyed the Caribbean region, he returned to Spain to prepare his invasion and pillage of the Americas. From accounts of his second voyage, we can begin to understand what the New World represented to Columbus and his men — it offered them life without limits, unbridled freedom.
Columbus took the title “Admiral of the Ocean Sea” and proceeded to unleash a reign of terror unlike anything seen before or since. When he was finished, eight million Arawaks — virtually the entire native population of Hispaniola — had been exterminated by torture, murder, forced labour, starvation, disease and despair. [3, pg.x]
A Spanish missionary, Bartolome de las Casas, described first-hand how the Spaniards terrorized the natives. Las Casas gives numerous eye-witness accounts of repeated mass murder and routine sadistic torture.
As Barry Lopez has accurately summarized it,
“One day, in front of Las Casas, the Spanish dismembered, beheaded, or raped 3000 people.
‘Such inhumanities and barbarisms were committed in my sight,’ he says, ‘as no age can parallel….’
“The Spanish cut off the legs of children who ran from them. They poured people full of boiling soap. They made bets as to who, with one sweep of his sword, could cut a person in half. They loosed dogs that ‘devoured an Indian like a hog, at first sight, in less than a moment.’ They used nursing infants for dog food.” [2, pg.4]
This was not occasional violence - it was a systematic, prolonged campaign of brutality and sadism, a policy of torture, mass murder, slavery and forced labour that continued for centuries.
“The destruction of the Indians of the Americas was, far and away, the most massive act of genocide in the history of the world,” writes historian David E. Stannard, American Holocaust, pg. x]
Eventually more than 100 million natives fell under European rule as their enslavement and extermination became state sanctioned policy. As the natives died out, they were replaced by slaves brought from Africa.
To make a long story short, Columbus established a pattern that held for five centuries - a “ruthless, angry search for wealth,” as Barry Lopez describes it.
“It set a tone in the Americas. The quest for personal possessions was to be, from the outset, a series of raids, irresponsible and criminal, a spree, in which an end to it - the slaves, the timber, the pearls, the fur, the precious ores, and, later, arable land, coal, oil, and iron ore - was never visible, in which an end to it had no meaning.”
Indeed, there was no end to it, no limit.
Over all this plunder waves the US flag, the National Anthem's blatant glorification of war, manifest destiny and imperialism. Nothing gets more attention on July 4th than the singing of "God Bless America", mindless military drills and the sanctimonious waving of the flag. One cannot even watch a professional sporting without this mind-destroying patriotic and militaristic drivel.
As a relevant footnote, the National Anthem has its own dirty little secret. Composed during the clash with the British known as The War of 1812, its third stanza is expediently removed from today's renditions. As Ned and Constance Sublette explain in The American Slave Coast—A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry there is a reason for that. The last part of that stanza is:
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
Frances Scott Key, author of the Star Spangled Banner lyrics, was himself a slave owner and hard core white supremacist. The reference to the hireling and the slave is to those, including former slaves, who were fighting on the side of the British. The Sublette's point out further, “New England did not want the war of 1812, the Southerners did. They got what they wanted: under cover of war with Britain a substantial chunk of the Deep South was made safe for plantation slavery when Andrew Jackson vanquished the Creek Nation and took its land.”
Millions of Native Indians were enslaved and slaughtered because they resided on land that the Christian white man coveted. Moreover, the Native Americans who had resided on this land for at least three thousand years, deemed private ownership of land sacrilege and anathema to their spiritual beliefs and would not convert to Christianity. They were not considered savages because they behaved like savages; they were savages because they were not Christian and roamed the woods free and generally with tolerance. The European and American white man assumed if they weren't Christian and did not believe in the unquestioned authority of the Christian celestial dictator, they could not be moral - a fallacious doctrine many still hold today. Indians were captured, enslaved, locked up in stockades and slaughtered, often for a government bounty for their scalps (contrary to the Hollywood fairy tales, a practise of Christian Europeans, not Native Americans). In short, they were non-Christian heathen who were in the way of rapacious land speculators such as Andrew Jackson, George Washington and others who wanted their land for agriculture, gold and other riches of the land. Others were forced to walk across the country to reservations on to lands deemed useless to Christian whites. That was until later when they discovered gold, oil and other minerals on that barren land. And so it goes.
Native Indian boarding school - sexual abuse, cruelty and cultural genocide
In the residential schools many eye witnesses have recently come forward to describe the atrocities. They called these places “death camps” where, according to government records, nearly half of all these innocent Indigenous children died or disappeared as if they never existed.
The term “Final Solution” was not coined by the Nazis who learned from the North American Christian programs of the indigenous concentration camps of the "reserve system". It was Indian Affairs Superintendent, Duncan Campbell Scott, Canada’s Adolph Eichmann, who in April 1910 plotted and carried out the planned incarceration, isolation and mass murder to take care of the “Indian problem”.
It's a horror story that would require several volumes to recount as indigenous peoples and other oppressed classes throughout the world are still being exploited, robbed and murdered, while those native people that have survived the Christian white man's onslaught are left desperately trying to restore their decimated cultural and spiritual heritage while continuing to fight for some semblance of global justice. Anyone desiring a perspective on history other than that of the 1% conservative elite (such as the selective sanitized rubbish we were spoon fed in our high school history courses), I suggest the reader start with these excellent books: (1) A People's History of the World From the Stone Age to the New Millennium by Chris Harman, (2) A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn, (3) A Peoples History of American Empire by Howard Zinn, Mike Konopacki and Paul Buhle, (4) An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, (5) Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W Loewen and (6) The Untold History of the United States by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick.
The Current Economic Theology
For much of the last century the illusion of social progress sold through the reformism of the FDR New Deal, LBJ Great Society, the efforts of social democratic parties in Canada and Europe, and more recently through a global capitalist neo-liberal enterprise (i.e.- a colossal con game and corporate heist) liberated from the fetters of social and environmental accountability. The New Deal, Great Society and other hard fought for reforms by social democratic parties outside the USA have become victims of the reactionary proto-fascist policies of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, the Bushes, Clintons, Stephen Harper and their corporatist disciples who have all but abandoned notions of public service and the common good, having been replaced by the gods of careerism, greed and self-interest. Their legacy to the American people, its citizens, workers is the human condition as conceived through a filter of mass marketing, endless militarism, mind numbing propaganda and patriotic drivel, rampant consumerism, amusements, techno-distractions and manufactured consent to serve the interests of an intellectually, morally and spiritually bankrupt financial plutocracy. Wake up sheeple - while there's still a planet worth saving.
Being three or more decades in the making (at least from the mid 1970s), the current political era was never about the candidates except insofar as they embody the grotesquely disfigured and depraved condition of the body politic. The consumer choice marketed politics of Democrat versus Republican, Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump, poses the greater/lesser evil of a sclerotic political corporatist class against the facts of its own creation now in dire need of resolution - wars to end wars, environmental crisis to end environmental crises, economic predation to end economic predation and manufactured social misery to end social misery. Hillary Clinton’s rogues gallery of corporate donors is a neoliberal innovation on Richard Nixon’s enemies list: government as a shakedown racket where friend or foe and policies promoted or buried, are determined by donation ranking rather than personal enmity.
That McCarthy era red baiter, rat-fink and conservative Republican Richard Nixon’s actual policies were ironically quite clearly politically to the left of those of contemporary Democrats, including Hilary Clinton, is testament to the ideological malleability of political pragmatism freed from ethical constraints.
As historical analog, the West has seen recurrent episodes of economic colonialism and imperialism backed by state power over the last several centuries. The result, in addition to making connected insiders and courtesans obscenely rich as they wield power over less existentially alienated peoples, has been the not-so-great wars, devastations, impositions and crimes-against-humanity that were the regular occurrences of the twentieth century. The "innovation" of corporatized militarization to this proud tradition is as old as Western imperialism in its conception and as new as nuclear and robotic weapons, mass surveillance and apparently unstoppable environmental devastation in its facts.
Left unstated in the competitive lesser-evilism of party politics is the incapacity for political resolution in any relevant dimension. Donald Trump is dangerous only by overlooking how dangerous the American political leadership has been for the last one and one-half centuries. So the question becomes: dangerous to whom? Without the most murderous terrorist military in the world, private institutions like the IMF and World Bank that are dedicated to economic subjugation and predatory corporations that wield the "free-choices" of mandated consumption, how dangerous would any politicians really be? And with them, how not-dangerous have liberal Democrats actually been? Candidates for political office are but manifestations of class interests put forward as systemic intent.
Neo-liberalism is a school of economic thought which advocates for, among other things, government deregulation - the removal of most, if not all, regulations and oversight imposed on corporations (neo-liberalism, by the way, has nothing to do with the term “liberal” in the historical or classical sense we commonly understand it). In order for neoliberal economies (like the ones described in one of Ayn Rand’s books with the oxymoronic title, The Virtue of Selfishness and her socio-economic philosophy of Objectivism, The Chicago School and Libertarian capitalism) to work, they require two closely related and generally principles. The first is that people must be genuinely morally responsible for their actions, subject to the dire consequences of their selfish behaviour. The second is that transactions whether commercial or otherwise must be in good faith, the product of a mutual and informed agreement in which those making the agreement do not lie, cheat, steal, or deliberately dupe others.
Upon reading her novels and philosophical works, it would seem that Ayn Rand, despite her embrace of "ethical egoism", rejection of any form of egalitarianism, state taxation for social services or even the possibility of altruism, very likely believed in both those principles unreservedly, though she came to the second one by a somewhat arcane and circuitous route. Unlike her metaphysics, epistemology and anti-religious stances, I did not consider her ethical arguments at all compelling. But read her works and decide for yourself. You might want to read an excellent piece on Rand by Michael Shermer, founder of Skeptic Magazine, called Ayn Rand: The Unlikeliest Cult in History.
She believed that, in life, you are obligated only to yourself but she also contended that taking advantage of other people was an abdication of your own sense of ethical reality and authenticity, thereby compelling you to behave in a manner that was not justifiable, an abdication which inevitably leads to a deficit on the basis of cost-benefit analysis. But for Rand, this meant that taking advantage of other people was one of the few things she found morally unacceptable, not for the victim’s sake, but because of the harm this did to one self-esteem and self-respect.
Indeed, if money and power can buy anything, it’s the ability to avoid the consequences of your actions, and to unfairly leverage that power into more power and potential wealth. Today we call it crony capitalism. There’s never been a shortage of people lining up to do just that, and the more power one has, the more one seems to believe one is justified and even entitled in the execution of that power, exempt from both ethical norms such as the golden rule and the rule of law by which others must follow - or be prosecuted and punished. But remember that the world entitlement has traditionally meant those postulated privileges of "title", based on wealth, birth and class. The street person has the same entitlements and the "freedom" to drive a Lamborghini and live in a $50 million mansion like Bill Gates and own an island like Larry Ellison.
Big Tobacco fully studied the addictive and hazardous nature of cigarettes long before the public was even remotely aware of it, even adding toxins to boost the addictive properties of products they advertised as healthy. But their business connections, deep pockets, and legions of lawyers insulated them against the suffering and dire consequences of their actions . Although they eventually paid class action settlements of more than $256 billion, that’s a drop in the bucket of the annual profits of the major tobacco companies
But the tobacco industry example is just one minor instance of corporate deceit, propaganda and predation.
In 2008 the entire global economy nearly collapsed when a number of very powerful banks, brokerage and insurance companies primarily in the US, Britain and Europe began gambling with other people’s money. They created toxic waste financial products they knew would crash and burn, paying off ratings agencies to certify those products, insuring them against losses they knew would be incurred and then just to squeeze even more blood-letting profit out of the scam, shorting their own financial trash sub-prime mortgages, and using derivatives and other financial desiderata and garbage pumped out by their mafia banks and brokerage houses.
Despite the fact innumerable laws had been broken, banks weren’t allowed to fail according to the capitalist credo, nor were they broken up nor their CEO’s prosecuted, fined or sent to jail. Since then nothing has been fixed and the hucksterism and con games continue relentlessly. With "too big to fail" the financial oligarchs and their puppets in government have invented another ruse called "too big to jail". But conservative elites and the financial oligarchy under capitalism have always lived by their own rules. The rule of law underwritten by the rich, the very rich and the obscenely rich are reserved for the rest of us and they have created legions of working class police forces, military, mercenaries, propagandists and surveillance thugs to protect their historical entitlements and fight in their wars of plunder and profit. This state of affairs has not changed since Herodotus wrote his Histories 2500 years ago. In a recent article by Henry Giroux titled Thinking Dangerously in the Age of Normalized Ignorance, he summarized our culture of greed, police violence, militarism, corporate proto-fascism, narcissism, compliance, complacency, historical and social amnesia and miasma of uncritical willed ignorance in which "the spheres of morality and spirituality give way to the naked instrumentalism of a savage market rationality":
The forces normalizing and contributing to such violence are too expansive to cite, but surely they would include: the absurdity of celebrity culture; the blight of rampant consumerism; state-legitimated pedagogies of repression that kill the imagination of students; a culture of immediacy in which accelerated time leaves no room for reflection; the reduction of education to training; the transformation of mainstream media into a mix of advertisements, propaganda, and entertainment; the emergence of an economic system which argues that only the market can provide remedies for the endless problems it produces, extending from massive poverty and unemployment to decaying schools and a war on poor minority youth; the expanding use of state secrecy and the fear-producing surveillance state; and a Hollywood fluff machine that rarely relies on anything but an endless spectacle of mind-numbing patriotism and gratuitous violence. Historical memory has been reduced to the likes of a Disney theme park and a culture of instant gratification has a lock on producing new levels of social amnesia.
This is not theoretical, but rather how the system of indoctrination, deceit, corruption and bribery works in practice every day. Like a mob, diffusion of guilt allows corporations collectively to commit atrocities which are deemed unthinkable by most ordinary citizens and probably most of the individual employees of the offending company.
We have auto companies like General Motors and Volkswagen who cheat and lie about mechanical failures and emissions, refusing to do recalls because the cost of litigation is less than the cost of repairs; companies putting lead and cadmium in children’s toys; banks involved in money laundering and violating international sanctions; oil companies like Chevron, Exxon, and Shell fund murderous military dictatorships in Central and South America, South East Asia and African countries such as Uganda, the Congo, Nigeria and Chad. Corporations like Apple, Google, Nike, Lucas Film, Dell, IBM, Microsoft, Comcast and a dozen more, operate sweat shops in South East Asia, and clandestinely collude to fix slave wages by pre-selecting and distributing employees instead of competing for them in the open market; but competition is primarily reserved for the labour market, not capitalists. Halliburton and Johnson & Johnson bribe Nigerian, Greek, and Polish officials, countless international banks bilk and scam their customers with endless fees and charges and conspire to manipulate interest rates such as the LIBOR.
That’s just the last few years since the great financial debacle of 2008. And while a few of these companies have suffered paltry tax deductible fines, in most cases no individual has been held accountable in any way. Nefarious ploys such as QE and manipulations of interest rates to negative yields by the Federal Reserve and European Central Bank have orchestrated the biggest swindle and heist of public assets in history, with stock markets having tripled. It's a house of cards that has been a disaster for the 99% and will eventually ignite another financial crash that will make the 2008 debacle look like a Buddhist prayer meeting in comparison. And who will get hurt? It will certainly not be the savage parasitical financial plutocrats of the kleptocracy who have created it. Goldman Sachs and their racketeering ilk have their golden parachutes prepared, even if it means the next time, rather than a government bailout, they'll opt for the "bail-in", namely stealing the assets of their credulous clients, a surreptitious practise they know all too well.
The solution, the know-no-limits neoliberal explains, is more deregulation and financial stimulus all flowing to Wall Street and the financial vultures such as Goldman Sachs and the larcenous big banks. Nothing that caused the meltdown of 2008 has been fixed. Except for a few heretical iconoclasts, not a single so-called financial expert in the corporate sector and financial priesthood predicted the 2008 financial meltdown. If capitalism proceeds according to its own internal logic, as it has for the past few centuries, we're heading for another massive financial collapse that no one will willingly predict because it will likely be some unexpected black swan event that will spark the contagion and stampede of investors fleeing the markets. This version of the inexorable capitalist implosion will make the collapses of 1929 and 2008 pale in comparison.
"Change we can believe in..."
During elections duplicitous politicians of the political right, both conservative and liberal, pontificate about democracy and "change", specifically, finally doing something for the vast majority rather than maintaining the entitlements of entrenched wealth and big business. Is real democracy possible? Do we have to live like ravenous swine, grovelling for "trickle down" slop from our big business masters? Are our intellects and imaginations that bankrupt that we continue to acquiesce to a theology of relentless pursuit of profit regardless of the consequences to people, other species and the natural environment? We are like medieval physicians or witch doctors prescribing poison to our seriously ill planet. And are we nothing but docile lemmings and slaves to authoritarian models of human interaction? Are we incapable of cooperation and mutual aid?
People seem reluctant to change, but change is an inevitable characteristic of the universe. In fact most seem to prefer the status quo of hierarchy, mass poverty and deeply debauched economic disparities than changing to a more just, fair, democratic and egalitarian society. One of the most fundamental philosophical dilemmas of any political order is who governs the governors? Power, after all, is corruptive.
A society that does not guarantee that all its members have food, shelter, and the opportunity, stimulus, encouragement and the wherewithal to flourish, is hardly a society at all. And a society that is selfishly blind to homeless people and the environmental consequences of its actions is not only immoral, but criminal. As we scramble and muddle through the Twenty-First Century obsessed by superfluous technology, toys and trinkets, playing virtual games, hoping against hope that a new antidote will cure our over-indulgence, prey to the frothy propaganda and marketing of television and other corporate controlled media, ignorant of the control of over-mighty multinationals and dismissive of democracy, we have turned our eyes from reality, and have either forgotten or have chosen to ignore the benefits that come from co-operative action, sharing of resources and mutual aid. If we are to create anything like a decent civil society and combat the rampant individualism and corrosive inequalities eviscerating both our current polity, sense of community and common decency, then we need to challenge the voracious power of global corporations, of compliant governments, and their allies in the media. With a self-perpetuating elite now consolidated, any campaign for change will be asymmetrical. We must build our revolutionary agendas from the bottom up by first rejecting the prevailing political parties that are mere dupes of the status quo of corporatist oligarchy.
Perhaps there's a utopian future in which we'll choose to be governed by super-intelligent and extraordinarily rational moral robots?