Class Warfare Blog

July 9, 2018

The Truth About Tariffs

Filed under: Economics,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 1:27 pm
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I ran across a Wisconsin cheese maker (Jim Sartori, chief executive of Sartori Cheese) making this comment recently:
“I’m not an expert but I have never found an example where tariffs have been used as an effective trade policy.”

Yep, he is not an expert.

Now, please note at the start, I am not supporting President Trump’s trade tariffs, quite the contrary. Throwing tariffs around like a drunken sailor, imposing them on former enemies, long time allies, and random other countries makes no sense at all. There is no defense for his actions whatsoever. The supposed justification, that we are being played like chumps surrounding trade, is ludicrous on the surface and ludicrous all of the way down. If anything, we have been the trade bullies extraordinaire (in our historical time). Ask Hawaii about being a trade bully. The U.S. government got behind some rapacious pineapple farmers and staged a coup to make their business efforts more successful. Hawaii was a sovereign nation, and then we “annexed” it. (That is government speak for invaded and overthrew the rightful government.)

But “tariffs as an effective trade policy” Holy moly! Tariffs have been the primary positive factor in creating all of the major global economies existent. I can’t think of a country’s economy that got to any size without a strong program of tariffs.

Mainstream economists, you know the deluded kind, have pushed the “law of comparative advantage” for ages. According to this law, an undeveloped country is better off selling a developed country its raw materials and then buying back the goods manufactured by the more developed country, paid for from the receipts from the sale of their natural resources. Everyone sticks to what they are good at. Sounds sensible, doesn’t it? Of course, the economists don’t point out that using their own concepts, the “value added” to the raw materials makes the manufactured goods more expensive than the raw materials and the less developed country cannot afford much of the good stuff. It also means that the less developed countries will never have the capacity to make their own stuff as the other countries are always better at what they need done. This is exactly the way the developed economies want it; no more competition please. All of you undeveloped stay just the way you are, please.

Take, as an example, the Japanese car industry. Japan makes as many cars now as any other country does (save China I believe) and is notorious for their quality. But right after World War 2, they had hardly any industrial capacity at all, because most of what they had had been bombed into dust. If they had taken the economists advice, they never would have gotten their car companies going because other countries made them better and more efficiently than they could right after World War 2. But the Japanese were smart, they realized that all great economies developed from protected roots and they protected their nascent car companies until they could stand on their own feet. Now they are preeminent, all because of the protects of tariffs.

An Aside I have to mention that when the Japanese started making a dent in our car market, we imposed tariffs on them. When we put a tariff on the prices of the cars, they shipped a zillion inexpensive, yet good quality cars in and they sold like hot cakes. Then we imposed a limit on the number of cars they could import here, and they instead started selling luxury cars in large numbers and making huge profits. It is ad it the U.S. didn’t learn anything from the soviets regarding running a controlled economy. End of Aside

Sometimes the Japanese protected native industries like rice growing because they do not want to be dependent upon others for this important staple. Other times their tariffs were to protect growing industries, just like everyone else.

Pay attention, people, every country does this! It is only sensible. It should be standard economic theory, except that the economists and the economics curriculum has been bought and paid for by plutocrats.

Still, what Trump is doing is incoherent, a wailing against the wind, and will be shown to be very ineffective … and then Trump will blame Obama. If he had a better thought out plan, the Wisconsin cheese makers wouldn’t be quaking in their boots right now as the tariffs being imposed upon us are not in the same areas that Trump’s tariffs are: they are in areas very sensitive to Mr. Trump’s base, so mainstream America, brace for the impact of Mr. Trump’s tariffs; they won’t be felt by Mr. Trump but they will be felt by you.

 

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May 28, 2018

Socialism … Bad! Part 2

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 7:19 am
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I rest my case. (Note the license plate.)

 

May 2, 2018

Why Capitalism Creates Racism

This is a “must read” post on the Naked Capitalism site.

Why Capitalism Creates Racism

Here are some excerpts:

“In the current era, when NAFTA was passed, Mexico was flooded with American industrial corn. Its lower cost destroyed the peasant economy in Mexico by rendering locally grown corn ‘uncompetitive.’ This cut the peasants whose livelihoods depended on selling their corn out of the cash economy. Millions of suddenly ‘freed’ peasants went to work in maquiladoras or fled North in search of work as undocumented workers. Without racial or national animosity, NAFTA created a new sub-class of industrial labor.”

“In the context of labor coerced through manufactured circumstances (work for us or starve) and control of government by the industries doing the employing, the idea of market wages is nonsense. And therein lies the point. The ‘free-market’ way to entice labor is to pay the wage that people are willing to work for— without coercion. The ‘capital accumulation’ theory behind NAFTA— that sacrifice is required to accumulate the capital that makes capitalism function, (1) begs the question: function for whom and (2) was also used to justify slavery.”

“By the time NAFTA was fully implemented the powers-that-be behind its central policies busied themselves creating explanations of Mexican immigration to the U.S. In their telling, NAFTA had nothing to do with the millions of Mexicans leaving Mexico for the U.S. or for the rapidly declining fortunes of American workers who suddenly faced competition for their paychecks from people willing to work for whatever they could get. ‘Criminals’ and ‘freeloaders’ were coming for American jobs went the carefully-crafted storyline.”

“Of current relevance: (1) different classes of workers were created and placed in competition with one another to benefit a tiny ruling elite, (2) the interests of this elite were / are centered around pecuniary and political gain, (3) after implementation racialized explanations were put forward in lieu of the original economic explanations used to sell these programs and (4) these explanations followed the creation of the racialized ‘facts’ they were conceived to explain. The temporal sequence is important— mass immigration from Mexico and the destruction of the American working class were well-underway before racialized explanations were put forward to explain it.”

“The argument was made at the time, and is still made today, that ‘everyone’ benefits from massively disrupting the lives of millions of people with trade agreements. Theoretical proof is put forward in terms of dollars / pesos of GDP gained. Left out is that the Mexican peasant economy wasn’t monetized and therefore its loss wasn’t counted. Even on its own terms NAFTA was a loser. And imposing these outcomes from above makes them profoundly anti-democratic. In other words, even if the outcomes were as promised, the decisions were made by its largest beneficiaries, not those whose lives were disrupted.”

April 22, 2018

Capitalism: A Conservative Christian Religion

Filed under: Culture,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:14 am
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Since it is Sunday, I observe …

Evangelical Christians in the U.S. have decried “Godless Communism” and “Godless Socialism” for many, many decades. Some of the most prominent public evangelicals have been more than a little strident on this issue. (Think of Oral Roberts, Jerry Falwell, and especially Billy Graham, etc.)

And while these economic systems, actually political-economic systems, have been excoriated, capitalism has been mentioned only to praise it as something very close to God’s Will. This seems passing strange, no?

I start with definitions of capitalism and free markets.

Definition of Capitalism (Merriam Webster OnLine)
an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market

Definition of Free Market (Merriam Webster OnLine)
an economy operating by free competition

Any references to God or Jesus there? No? I do not see any.

Well, what does the Bible have to say about capitalism, which is basically a wealth distribution mechanism, providing a few with a way to get rich and many a way to get poor, a system reeking of winners and losers.

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. (Matthew 6:24)

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you. (James 5: 1-6)

Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. (Luke 12:33)

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:10)

Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven. (Proverbs 23:4-5)

Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him. (Proverbs 14:31)

I could go on … for page after page, mind you, but I think you get the point.

So, why would these devout evangelical Christians (and many others of similar ilk) stand so stalwartly behind a system, capitalism, that if not severely confined results in the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, the ultimate “redistribution” that conservatives rail against? (Actually, they are fine with redistribution in this direction, they just don’t like it when it goes the other way.) My argument is that for a religion to prosper it must serve the interests of the religious and secular elites. Almost by definition the secular elites are defined by their wealth, so unless a religion serves the wealthy, its status declines.

If you look at Evangelical history in the U.S., they have had very little impact (save the occasional savant) until they hitched their wagon to the Republican Party. It was Billy Graham who presidents consulted, not a panel of religious leaders or an interfaith council. Upon Graham’s death, photo after photo showing Graham posing with presidents were to be seen in the epitaphs.

So, Christianity in this country, Protestant Christianity mostly, has favored democracy and capitalism, not because these are favored in scripture (they clearly are not) but because these are favored in the halls of power.

What Would A Christian Economic System Really Look Like?
I wish I could really answer this question. I can but start on an answer. Our economic culture is currently “pay-as-you-go,” if you want something, you must pay for it. Our motto is TANSTAAFL, which if you are not read up on Robert Heinlein, means “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”

So, in our culture there is a line we could label “Ability to Pay” that goes from zero to as near to infinity as any of us can conceive of. At the “zero end” there are people who have no job, no housing, no money, no food and live via begging and theft. At the other end we have people who make more than a billion U.S. dollars a year, which as I have indicated before means that if they to work ordinary work hours and take ordinary holidays, they would be “making” $532,000 per hour … for the whole year. That would be to make “just” $1 billion; some make more. To put that in perspective, in my 40 years of work as a teacher, I made $2 million, which these people would make in one afternoon (knocking off early if they wished).

Capitalism does provide incentives for people to work, so there are some of its bones that could be incorporated into the new system, but an economic system that is in accordance with Christianity would have to have both ends of this line truncated.

At the bottom end, everyone would have shelter and food to eat and a reasonable amount of medical care (not to include casting out demons, that would only be included in the Platinum Plans). If people with shelter and enough to eat, couldn’t improve their lot in a fair system (not rigged as our current system is with Right to Work laws and tax breaks for wealthy people, etc.) then that would be their lot in life.

The top end would also need to be truncated, if only to protect rich people from an eternity in Hell (I’m kidding … I think). As incomes reach very high levels, tax brackets need to approach 100%. Now I know this sounds heretical, but I am talking about an economic system that is compatible with Christianity here. Anybody accumulating obscene amounts of money is either doing it legitimately or illegitimately. If they are doing it illegitimately, taxing their socks off is a way to get them to turn away from their illicit behaviors. If they are doing it legitimately, the accumulation of vast wealth is an indicator that they are not taking care of those around them. For example, Walmart could double to wages of its employees and the owners would still make billions in profits every year. Or they could donate those “extra” profits to charities, to avoid very high tax loads, etc.

The additional taxes collected would go to providing the “economic floor” so needed by the poorest among us.

Conservatives should like this system. It would be more “Christian” and with the poor guaranteed a roof over their heads and a full belly and a “fair shake” at improving their lot, if they do not do so, then conservatives would be free to refer to them as being shiftless and lazy.

The additional tax monies acquired through such a system would also allow us to take care of those unable to work: the severely physically handicapped, the mentally ill, wounded warriors, etc. And the rich would still be rich, if they wanted to test the proposition that “Hell is real.”

 

April 17, 2018

Taxing the Rich: A Good Idea or Not?

To those whom much is given, much is required.

The standard narratives regarding not taxing the rich are quite bankrupt but are still used, much like the tired old arguments of religious apologists (there is always a new audience to whom these arguments make sense). The usual thing touted is that the rich are the job creators and if you tax them (at all?) they won’t take risks and start new companies which hire workers and we all suffer thereby.

As a counter narrative consider the story of Toys R Us, a huge entrepreneurial success story, which ended in a financial meltdown. The company, however, made its owner rich when individual and corporate taxes were ever so much higher and met its demise in a time when those taxes became ever so much lower.

Read this fascinating story here.

The “standard narrative” of the rich about the rich is they made their money “themselves,” so they “deserve” the rewards. But in reality, does anyone make it themselves? Or is it like personal gifts one is born with and developed, in which we deserve some credit for the development but much of what happens to us and because of us depends upon things like genetics, luck, externalities (like available electricity and good roads provided to all), circumstances of birth (being born into a rich family is a strong marker for “becoming” rich)?

April 12, 2018

Evangelicals Denounce Godless Capitalism!

Filed under: Culture,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:20 pm
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In a stunning reversal, the Evangelical Council of American Churches has denounced capitalism as a godless pursuit of money and power. Their statement pointed out that politicians deference to religion in general is just posturing as few of them lead lives that have Christian foundations. Instead the politicians are paid handsomely to support capitalistic practices that advantage the rich and disadvantage the poor. “Jesus said that the poor will always be among us, but that doesn’t mean that they should be treated like dirt,” the announcement stated.

Capitalism was attacked as having no soul, being a giant edifice to greed. “Only a change of heart,” it was claimed, “could preserve the economic system, one which would imbue more Christian virtues into the system. There needs to be considerations given to the relief of human suffering and not just shareholder value,” the document went on.

* * *

Yeah, in your dreams.

I was wondering why these churches were against godless communism and yet were pro (pro-, pro-) capitalism which has no whiff of god about it. Then I realized … tax breaks!

 

 

 

November 28, 2017

Why Republicans are Republicans and Democrats are Democrats

When this country was created “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” it was created by a fairly elite group of men. They made sure that a stable society and government was provided for by making sure that Indians, slaves, and women did not get to vote, nor did poorish men. You needed land to qualify to vote, meaning you had to be an elite or near-elite member of society to cast a ballot.

The Founders felt that the very best people to run the government were people just like themselves: well-educated, wealthy men who had the leisure time to reflect on the issues of the day and didn’t have to devote every waking moment to find food and shelter.

They were worried about the affect of wealth on their new government, so this reinforced their suitability for leadership as they were already wealthy and would, therefore be hard to bribe. (Ha! Just raises the price in my estimation.) They were concerned that the “middling” sorts (merchants, tradesmen,, craftsmen, etc.) would get involved and that they could be bought. (They would be proud to know that Congress is literally stuffed with millionaires now!)

In other words they were elitists. They created a government “of the elites, by the elites, and for the elites,” no question.

Those of a conservative bent ended up forming political parties (the Whigs, the Republicans, etc.) that wanted to preserve society’s institutions and hence ensure a stable, secure society. They, like the Founders, thought that this would be achieved by the wealthy being wealthy and the poor being poor, and as long as everyone accepted his lot in life, all would be well. Since the poor were poor and had very few needs, they focused on serving the wealthy as their needs were so much greater. The wealthy needed a court of law and a set of laws to govern their business contracts. They needed trade laws and other laws of commerce. They needed government regulations of banks and markets. The poor made no such demands.

The Democrats had to necessarily differentiate themselves from these conservatives, so they had to adopt stances less favorable to the elites and more egalitarian, just to be different enough to attract votes.

Now I know that this is much more complicated, that there are and were cliques, and factors, and movements, oh my! But at the core, this is what the two major parties in this country stand for. (Or stood for, before the Democrats began selling out to wealthy interests.) If you look at any issue now, you can parse it for these stances. Take the current “Net Neutrality” issue. Current the Internet is quite egalitarian, on a first-come, first-serve basis. There is a movement afoot, to drop this policy so that certain streams of information can be favored while others disfavored. (Guess who gets to choose!). The people behind this are the wealthy leaders of the giant telecom industries. The people against are net rights activists, aka the Internet masses.

So, now that I have given you this information, which party is against net neutrality, in your opinion? If you guessed the GOP, you got it in one! Another way to look at this is, if the GOP is for it, it serves to maintain the elite in their current, or even elevated, status. The elites are the business owners, not its workers.

The founders believed in providence, that is if they were wealthy it was because they were superior to the others and the cause was divine providence. (God controls all things and wouldn’t make an asshole wealthy, now would he?) Today’s elites still have this belief: their wealth identifies them superior (even when they inherit it!) and if they are superior, who better to run things?

The secular and religious elites promote only programs/legislation that enhances their status and positions as elites. They are able to con ordinary folks into voting with them by advancing dishonest campaigns (They want to take away your guns! They are baby murderers! There is a war on Christmas!).

Consider the current administration’s “tax reform” plan. They started out saying they were going to simplify the tax structure and then offered a plan that made it more complex and, by all accounts, advantages the wealthy. (If the GOP is for it … duh.) Plus, they are willing to lie and cheat to get the bill passed, which the elites have always been willing to do, because, well, they know better what is needed.

So, pick any particular issue you want: if the GOP is in favor, then it favors the elites; if the Democrats are in favor, it disfavors the elites. It is that simple because the core motivations are that simple. This is changing as I write this as more and more Democrats are captured by the wealthy class to serve their interests. If the elites capture the Dems, then we might as well carve “of the elites, by the elites, and for the elites” in stone in the capital and have done with it.

 

November 21, 2017

We’re No. 1 … We’re No. 21! Wait … WTF?

The new 2017 Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report helpfully calculates median net worths of countries. Switzerland and Australia top the global list. (Reminder: a median is the value in the middle, not an arithmetic average.) The median Swiss adult has a net worth of $229,000. The typical Australian, $195,400. And the typical American? A mere $55,876. Twenty nations in all have higher median adult net worths than the United States. So, we are No. 21.

Wait, we’re the richest country in the world, how come we are 21st in median wealth?

The really rich, those with at least $50 million in net worth, have multiplied five-fold since the year 2000 globally. About half of these, 49 percent, reside today in the United States. Credit Suisse counts 72,000 of these ultra-rich Americans. In context: China, the host to the world’s second-highest collection of $50 million-and-up personal fortunes, has only 18,100. The United States hosts more ultra-rich individual fortunes than the nations with next nine highest ultra-rich totals combined.

So, here in the U.S. the rich are getting richer, but the rest of us are falling very far behind.

Let’s consider the Australians, as we have a bit in common.

Australians used to see their nation as a relatively equal society. They don’t anymore. Rising inequality has become a major Australian political issue. But Australia remains far more equal a society than the United States. The top 1 percent in Australia only holds an estimated 15 percent of the nation’s wealth. (In the US, it is 38.6%.) So we are the wealthiest country in the world but we don’t have the wealthiest citizens as most of the wealth has flown into the pockets of a very few people.

And this is not a matter of that they are wealthy, it is what they do with the wealth they have accumulated. Basically, they don’t spend it. Poor people spend all of their money. Middle class people spend almost all of their money. That money goes to buying things from companies who provide jobs for people. The rich don’t spend anywhere near as much of their income. If they buy anything, it is investments which increase their wealth even more. None of that activity positively affects the economy.

November 5, 2017

None So Blind As He Who Will Not See

Note This is a very long post, you may need to read it in stages. Sorry. Steve

At this point in my life, I am an old man. For over 60 years I have been studying history, mostly on my own. I remember reading H.G. Wells A Short History of the World when in high school, for fun. (I was what was then called “a reader” but an otherwise ordinary boy.) In college I read Will and Ariel Durant’s The Story of Civilization, for fun (and The Story of Philosophy and The Lessons of History). I read books about Egyptian History, the history of science, World War 2, the Russian Revolution, and on and on. I have been reading lately about the history of the Christian church (a real hair raiser if there was one).

And in all of those histories my eyes ran over the words but they didn’t quite come together. All of those Russian peasants, the serfs of Europe, the subjects of Egyptian and Persian god-kings, the Christian mobs running competitors out of town, all of those slaves and I never put together the fact that the vast majority of all human beings have been slaves since the advent of civilization.

I have written before about how I thought small groups of human beings ended up with shamans, shamans being members of the tribe who weren’t particularly skilled at hunting or any other valuable skill, yet who craved status and hence claimed to be able to negotiate with all of the gods that abounded in the minds of people. Since we knew no better, we assumed that everything had a voice in it like we had in our heads, so there was a god of the brook, of a tree, of a mountain, of the animals they hunted. All of our gods started with the animistic gods of primitive humans as precursors. This is where the idea of a god came from. But those gods were right there to observe in the form of the tree, or the spring, or the antelope. They weren’t far away gods and they certainly weren’t all-powerful.

When people started to gather in larger groups (larger than a small family), that is up to 100-125 in a troop (about the maximum size before splitting into smaller groups apparently), there was likely more than one shaman and they either had to compete or cooperate and since they were cunning they realized that they would be better off together than in competition. In order to cooperate, they had to get their stories together, so they were making the same claims and exhibiting the same “powers.” This is how a covey of shamans started religions. As the size of groups expanded, more cooperation between and among shamans was necessitated.

I have come to the conclusion that “organized” religion is simply a people control mechanism that was enabled by civilization. To live in cities, a great deal of labor needed to be coerced (because no one wanted to work that hard) and religion proved to be the tool to do just that. (“Kings” didn’t show up until about 1500 years after the first cities, which were always run by religious elites.) For the religious, the city was a gravy train. Other people toiled to provide them food and clothing and luxuries and all they had to do was perform some rituals from time to time and, of course, claim to have some power over those damned gods who would kick our asses at the drop of a hat. This was the creation of first wealth and the first full-time leisure.

I assume there were some true believers but they were always co-opted by the power mongers who took their imaginative creations and used them to make people obey.

The people closest to the class of elites wanted in on the scam (no different today) and didn’t want to be coerced into doing the work to support all of the freeloaders, so since the idea of capturing people from other tribes already existed, the idea of acquiring manpower from elsewhere came readily to mind. Men and women to work, women of child-bearing age to have more babies, even children were valuable. So, the elites, in essence, invented large scale slave raids, which were the nascent versions of what would end up as wars.

This is also why religions make no sense at all because we are looking at them in the wrong way. Religions are uneasy partners with political/military leaders to supply psychological and, if needed, physical force to keep people in line. In rare cases religion gets co-opted to support the general populace, but eventually they fall back in line as partners to maintain the status quo for the elites. The religions then, of course, use those instances as indicators of their true natures, like in the U.S. where religious leaders became anti-slavery, when there is no scripture whatsoever that supported their position.

Just like the shamans who saw they were better off as allies than competitors in the tribes, the religious elites saw the martial elites as natural allies. This took a little while to work out. The first “kings” were battle leaders under the control of the religious elites, but soon the warriors saw that they could whip the assess of those girly-men priests and didn’t think they should be taking orders from them anymore. You need to look no farther than The Epic of Gilgamesh for an example of such a conflict.

This alliance of elites has always had it ups and downs. The political elites eliminated the priest’s influence in the Russian Revolution, for example. (You will notice the priests are back, somewhat cowed, but religion is too good of a tool of oppression to waste. Ask Mr. Putin.) Henry the VIII of England created his own church when the one he had wouldn’t do his bidding. The Church of Rome threw much of the young male nobility of Europe into the meat grinder of the crusades to capture and control Jerusalem (a hardly useful task, but just making them do it reinforced their power over the nobles). There are many examples, but almost always the two religious and secular powers end up hand in hand.

Just ask yourself, which of the two American political parties is most covetous of political power? You will also notice that they are also the most overtly religious, even trying to change the law that prevents clergy from haranguing their congregations on politics. Which party are the religious supporting the most? (Surprise!) There are many more examples that can be made.

The bottom line is that religion was invented to control your behavior for the benefit of an elite few. Civilization was a tipping point in scale. And because of this there has been untold misery inflicted on other humans who were enslaved or coerced into work they didn’t want.

We know civilization was a tipping point because there was so much resistance to it. The first cities rose and died very quickly. There were structural problems, problems of getting resources delivered to the elites (water transport was good, land transport was awful), there were problems coercing “the flock.” The were problems in the high concentrations of food created and stored and shipped drew vermin like magnets, and as the populations increased, the numbers of people and animals were high enough to support disease epidemics.

All of the “civilizations” were initially surrounded by “barbarians.” These were actually the free people … well free, unless they were captured and enslaved by the “civilized” people. The barbarians were hunter-gatherers, or pastoralists, or semi-sedentary groups of people who lived the old way, the easy way, the healthy way.

Because the “barbarians” had very varied diets, they were quite disease resistant. The grew taller, stronger, and had less gum and other diseases. (We know this; this is not just a guess.) The “civilized” people were the exact opposite, but also got a narrow diet (consider the Chinese diet of rice for breakfast, rice for lunch, and rice for dinner … if they were lucky) and got to work longer hours at work not of their choosing. Yes, I know hunter-gatherers had to gather and hunt to eat, but they didn’t have someone telling them to do just one thing all of a day. They didn’t have anyone telling them what to do at all. They would go looking for things good to eat and what they did depended on what was available, and there was widespread availability of many different foodstuffs which was shared fairly egalitarianly … until the civilized people confiscated the land by force and used it for the elite’s purposes.

The barbarians opposed the civilized people because the civilized people opposed them. And sometimes the barbarians won. But in the end, the free people succumbed to the diseases and predation of the “civilized” people. (Consider the fate of the millions of people living in what was to become the United States, when the Europeans showed up with their “white, god-given privilege.)

But, you say, that was a long, long time ago and now the benefits of civilization are shared by one and all. (This claim is followed by a long list of the benefits of civilization, most of which are valid but many are quite dubious. Protection from communicable diseases with vaccines that people never got before being herded into large groups has to be considered a push. Being able to fly thousands of miles overnight is of debatable value. But that is not my main point. My point is “at what cost?” Civilization is still a pattern in which the elites coerce labor from the vast majority for their benefit alone. To make this obvious, here are a few things to consider:

  • Do you pay a tithe or give to a church? Do you know what your money goes for?
  • After the 2008 financial collapse that caused a worldwide economic recession, which people were made whole first?
  • Would you vote for an atheist were they better qualified in all other ways than their opponents in an election?

These are just a few questions to stimulate your thinking. Most people have no idea where the funds their churches collect go, for example. Even if their church publishes a financial statement, few read it. Most of the funds go to what is called “overhead” in business (salaries, utilities, maintenance of buildings, etc.) almost none goes to charity. This is basically a business which has overhead but no product other than what it’s customers imagine.

We all are aware that banks and stockholders got bailed out after the 2008 debacle, that none of the miscreants went to jail. That ordinary folks whose home mortgages were rigged so they appeared to be affordable, got very little, most nothing. The elites were taken care of first, as they always are.

And polls show that the vast majority of Americans wouldn’t vote for an avowed atheist under any circumstances. (Donald Trump lied about his religiosity, which should surprise no one.) Now that is control! If you want public office, believe what we tell you or at least pretend to.

While the mechanisms of coercion are now much more subtle (they are in essence, baked into the system—capitalism is one of them), ordinary people work very, very hard, and the surpluses they create go to the wealthy, powerful elite, and not themselves or their families. You have seen this graph before, no?

Many people have expressed surprise that evangelical Christians supported the candidacy of Donald Trump. If one takes a step back and looks at what is going on without the rose-colored glasses we are told we must wear (by the propaganda of the elites) the evangelicals voted for Mr. Trump in spite of his personal failings and attitudes and lack of belief but because of his willingness to pursue their political agenda. All of the dogma, scripture, etc. of the various churches is just window dressing, window dressing to be ignored when it gets in the way of the real agenda, which is maintaining and expanding the power of the religious and wealthy secular elites.

If you do not believe this, consider the following Christian scriptures:
Matthew 6:19-20 (“Do not store up treasures for yourself on the earth”)
Luke 6:24-25 (“But alas for you who are rich, for you have your comfort”)
James 5:1-6 (“Come now, you who are rich, weep, howling out at the miseries that are coming for you”).
As one writer put it “While there are always clergy members and theologians swift to assure us that the New Testament condemns not wealth but its abuse, not a single verse (unless subjected to absurdly forced readings) confirms the claim.”

So much for the prosperity gospel and the churches support for the wealthy. Never will scripture get in the way of their pact with the secular elites, who use money more than strong arms now to coerce the behavior they desire.

Just as there is no support for an anti-slavery position in the Christian churches, American religious elites point to the actions of churches to get slavery disallowed in this country. If one steps back and looks at that in an unfiltered way, it was just another coalition formed to create a political end and it had nothing to do with Christianity and everything to do with taking care of the elites. The elites expanded slavery to vast numbers to support civilization and is more than willing to abandon the practice, if it is to their benefit. (You will note that even though “freed” the situation of most Black Americans changed very little.

What has hit me and hit me hard is that civilization has been a source of coercion and misery quite likely for a majority of human beings since its inception. We even talk about how the workers who built the pyramids weren’t slaves, they were volunteers. Right, our god-king “asked” us to do this task, this dangerous, absurd task that creates no food, no wealth, and is back breaking labor and we volunteered enthusiastically. If someone walked up to you on the street and offered you this “job” for no pay (other than room and board), would you take it … or would you need to be forced to take it?

If you look at every “socialist” country in existence today (outside of the democratic socialist countries but possibly even including them), can you really say that the “means of production” are owned by “the people”? Do you think that the recent Chinese Communist Party meeting was comprised of representatives of “the people” or possibly even made up of ordinary Chinese citizens, aka “the people”? In every case I have looked at, the socialism is window dressing for rule by a powerful elite. The “rulers” are always wealthy, able to take care of their families with positions in the elite structure, and represent themselves rather than the needs of the people. The people are directed in such a way as to create wealth and power for the elites. Period.

The United States is supposed to be a grand experiment in “self-rule.” The founders were elitists and were dismayed when people of the “middling sort” (tradesmen and craftsmen, oh my) got involved in politics. They thought government would be in better hands if those hands had the leisure time to devote to contemplation. Right.

Is there any support for the idea that the U.S. is not being controlled by the wealthy (Wall Street, the Koch brothers, etc.) for the benefit of the elites at this point? What did it take? A couple of hundred years to find out that our version of civilization is just like everyone else’s?

And what has me hammered flat at this point in my life is the sheer amount of pain and misery that has been authorized under the guise of civilization. One of the best estimates I have seen of the number of humans (Homo sapiens) indicates that about 107 billion of us have been born. Of that number maybe 100 billion have been around at the same time as “civilization” (civilization allowing for a vast expansion of the population … of slaves). The estimate that in the year 1800, 75% of all people were in some form of slavery, indicates the vast amount of coercion and oppression that has been created and is still being created under the mantle of civilization, mostly for the benefit of wealthy elites.

It is staggeringly heartbreaking to consider the families broken by slavery, the backs broken by “voluntary slavery” moving rocks the size of Volkswagens to make a pretty pile, the whippings, the diseases, the starvation, the sexual and physical rape, the forced breeding of humans like cattle … it is a well of sadness we should be drowning in. But if we were to succumb to this feeling, the propaganda machine of the elites would kick in to perk us up, I am sure. Sad workers aren’t as productive as happy ones.

Have you seen the “tax reform” plan of the Trump administration? Do you still doubt my analysis?

August 9, 2017

A Modern Quandary

I have been reading “Sociology is a Martial Art: Political Writings by Pierre Bourdieu.” This is puzzling to me because I haven’t been having any trouble sleeping, so why would I want to read a sociology text? (Sorry, old joke.)

In a context different from the one I will address in this post ( his was the impact of television), Professor Bourdieu wrote “How can I reconcile the exigency of ‘purity’ inherent in scientific and intellectual work, which necessarily leads to esotericism, with the democratic interest in making these achievements available to the greatest number?” His concern was that the primary function of television seemingly was to dumb down even simple discussions. Here I want to address the topic of the anti-evolution crowd and the anti-climate change crowd.

Without specialized training, it is hard to follow the science in these fields. I have a graduate degree in chemistry and I am not versed in the nuances of either subject (although I guess I could create a small summary of each). So, without esoteric training, how are the citizens in a democracy supposed to assess the validity of such concepts.

We could start with having better basic education, explaining that a scientific theory is a mechanism that explains a great many facts as well as makes predictions available to expand out knowledge. Currently people use the word theory as a synonym for “wild ass guess.” “I have a theory about that …” they will say. No, they don’t. At best they have an hypothesis and more likely they have a guess that is poorly substantiated at best. To say one has a “theory” makes one sound better than to say “I have a guess as to….”

It also does not help that each topic has a cadre of sociopolitical opponents. If the Theory of Evolution is correct, all of fundamentalist Christianity and most of doctrinaire Christianity is off to a rubbish heap somewhere. Basically, if God didn’t created humanity magically, we couldn’t have “rebelled” against his authority, so there was no original sin, and hence nothing for the human sacrifice that was Jesus to absolve. (Bye, bye!)

Climate change has political opponents who have economic stakes at risk. The Koch brothers fund anti-climate change efforts to protect their oil refining, oil pipeline, and other industries, while David Koch supports NOVA science education programs on PBS, including programs on climate change (possibly as a suppressing maneuver?).

So, ordinary citizens are left to evaluate what appears to them to be a propaganda war. “Scientists” have lied to them before as have businessmen, so it is hard to decide which side of either of these debates is trustworthy.

I find the argument that climate change was invented for scientists to be able to secure grants for their work (It is a hoax!). Whoever invented this red herring obviously has never interacted with scientists, each of which has a big ego, and the first of them to discover such a plot would gleefully expose his colleagues to shame and humiliation for participating in it. Most scientists minored in gloating in college.

So, what’s a citizen to do?

I think part of the problem has to do with the evidence not being on display. I hear Christian apologists often ask the question: Where are the transitional fossils? This questions goes back to the time of Charles Darwin when there was a very sparse fossil record. The key facts that the public needs to know is that fossils do not form all that often, so are passably rare and that with regard to transitional fossils, fossils that show one species transitioning to another, there are large numbers of them available. Maybe a video (to reach the masses) needs to me made of the amount of evidence underlying the Theory of Evolution. The amount of evidence, from many, many different and unrelated fields of science is incredibly vast. Just a list of peer-reviewed articles supporting the theory scrolling on like the credits of a Hollywood movie (like they do on TV, at super high speeds) would take hours. Flashing photos of all of the fossils that apply to animals no longer in existence but which fit into the evolutionary family tree of Earth, would also take quite a long time (blink, blink, blink, maybe a running counter would help: 1, 2, 3, …, 3008, 3009, …).

The same could be true for Climate Change. We could run publicity shots of the smiling faces of the scientists in the field who support the tentative conclusion that humanity is contributing to the current round of climate change (blink, blink, blink, maybe a running counter would help: 1, 2, 3, …, 178, 179, …). Then the photos of those reputable scientists who oppose the current consensus on climate change could have their photos flashed (blink, blink, blink).

There is no way ordinary citizens could be brought up to speed on these topics through educating them, because even with the head start in such training I have, I do not want to put in the effort. Instead, I trust the scientists in their field to represent their findings correctly (to the best of their ability) and I trust the egos of their colleagues to prick any intellectual bubbles that are flimsy or unfounded.

Another route might be to create an independent evaluation board to provide basic explanations of science topics to legislators and citizens. The Town of Brisbane, Australia did this a while back (don’t know whether they still do) when they created the office of Town Scientist whose job it was to explain scientific topics to the town governing board and citizens of the Town of Brisbane. For the longest time the State of California had an independent political official whose job was to explain issues voters needed to address and that office was never politicized or demeaned, and it worked really well for quite some time (don’t know whether it still does).

This is a modern problem, because back when “governance” was by autocrats/monarchs, they didn’t give a fig about whether the people understood or not. Ironically, it was the advent of merchants (aka business people) who accumulated wealth (aka power) enough to make it important that a wider swath of a country’s population be made to understand governmental decisions. With the advent of modern democracy, issues are now submitted to the ballot and candidates for office are voted upon, too. We need to figure out how to “reconcile the exigency of ‘purity’ inherent in scientific and intellectual work, which necessarily leads to esotericism, with the democratic interest in making these achievements available to the greatest number” and we need to do it fast. Life ain’t gonna get simpler.

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