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Letters from Downunder

Beyond comprehension

Submitted by Lindsay
Melbourne Australia!

Money: n. A blessing that is of no advantaged to us excepting when we part with it. An evidence of culture and a passport to polite society. Supportable property. (Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s dictionary)

(7/2014) It might make the world go round, but nobody knows what it is. We call it money, but it’s a long way from the stuff that gave us our salary, the salt of Rome. That substance we could have used to keep us healthy, or trade for something we needed, and we had to keep it from getting wet. Some of it was salted away for a rainy day, and society had to have a form of payment that meant something to those that worked for it. In those days it was not the only thing they needed; today, it seems that it is.

It’s strange stuff. In a way, it does not exist, as it is created when we borrow to buy something and which vanishes when we pay it back. The bank transfers some electronic symbols to our symbolic account, we electronically use that to obtain goods or services, and do the reverse then or sometime in the future. There was no ‘money’ involved at all, nor was there any actual backing for the transactions. The promises made were tacit, the systems worked, and we viewed an electronic display to check that it did. Like religion, we take it on trust. We believe. And we believe in it a whole lot more than we do in God. Why else is it so ardently followed, stately temples built, sacrifices made, and continuing wonder displayed on every street?

Unlike God, however, we cannot do without it. In fact we aim to accumulate as much as we can. That is, we aim to see lots of zeros at the end of each number displayed on the screen. Many of us never get to see that, but it is still the aim. Some, however, do see it, some have to see it, and a few are never satisfied with the number.

Governments try to organize it, sometimes even regulate it; whole disciplines (from ‘disciple’ – ring a bell?) have formed around it, grand theories come and go, pigs get their snouts in, grubs burrow, cartels, pressure groups and sub-cultures form, the world of shadows and illegality grows ever stronger, and many have their lives ruled by it.

Consider poor former congressman Walt Minnick. Did he represent his constituents? Well, he tried, but found that once he lost his seat his time was spent raising funds for reelection. Not just any old amount, but at least $10,000 PER DAY! The supreme court has scrapped most of the controls governing political fundraising, meaning the rich have more influence than ever before, but also that every elected representative now spends most of their time raising money. It is their biggest objective. Minnick says that this corrupts everyone; everything you do and say has fund raising as its aim. Help is only given to those who help you.

Peter De Fazio, congressman from Oregon, says it threatens the very fabric of the US’s democratic institutions, and the sheer agony of pleading, conning and cajoling everyone for funds affects both sides of politics. He has been joined by others urging a rethink. It would not be hard to rewrite laws to reduce the need for so much cash (digital, of course), yet it is interesting , and appalling, to see the reasoning of the supreme court in this matter.

The conservative majority believes that because corporations are associations of people, they have a right to free speech. And because political speech is best bought with huge sums on money, more money equals more speech and even more freedom.

I do not know to which school of logic they got this from, as it equates corporations with government. These are not, and I trust never will be the same. It is beyond comprehension that it can become law, as corruption and brutality is unleashed when corporations run the country. You may recall they Hitler tried it too. Already the middle class is falling lower, the lower thus being forced beneath the surface. The gulf between rich and poor has never been as great. Fewer people have more of the wealth than ever before, there are more with less than ever before. That is not the mark of a healthy country, nor a civilized one.

The court also confuses the meaning of ‘free’. Free speech means the right to speak freely, without sanction. Speech is not free if it takes money to accomplish it. That is, in order to speak freely you have to pay for the privilege. That is now the necessity for all who would hold office, and alters the basis of representation. You may vote for the candidate of your choice, but that candidate will be beholden to those who contributed money to the campaign. You, your community, your needs will not be truly represented unless they fall within the same interests as the contributors.

This divides, it does not unite. It leads to sectarianism, separatism, alienation and hatred. It eventually destroys even the idea of equality, something enshrined in the constitution. Regretfully, for all their posturing, many right wing conservatives do not seem to acknowledge this. Community is a dirty word.

The mantra for ever more expansion is governed by the need for bigger dividends, and the banks that can never fail – the economy would collapse if they did - are the key in this drive. And some of those highly respected and wonderful institutions get away with more than murder; they sanction illegality as a way of life, and if caught laugh all the way to the – yes, the bank, because prosecutors who try to bring them to heel find they are likely to be out of a job. Instead of bank ceo’s being in jail, the very few banks who have finally been nailed sweetly offer to pay a fine from their coffers. Washington’s Riggs Bank paid a $16 million fine in 2005 for violating the bank secrecy act for failing to report suspicious transactions linked to Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Riggs never went to jail, which you could easily do if you sold some of the dictator’s drugs on the street. Other examples abound.

The share market is like the wheels of a juggernaut, ever turning, edging forward, uncaring where it treads, directed by drones with algorithms for brains. Many of us ride along in its entrails, happy with the nourishment, trying for that extra zero. Happy when obscene profits increase dividends, not willing to see the downside. Downside? Yes, the increasing inequality at home and abroad.

The ideas that growth means work, and that if the rich get richer, so will the poor, are simply false - but a slight fall in unemployment sends the stock market higher. Expansion is the word that is used in every company, for if you do not grow you will fail, (also incorrect), and the way to grow is by expansion. Sure, up to a point that is so, but growth has to be tempered by sustainability. Unregulated growth is short term gain; the role of government has to be the security of not just this generation, or the next, or the one after, but those that come after that. But today, all governments have brought their horizons closer. They do not have the capacity, or the will, to ensure the survival of the future. Perhaps you have a solution to this? Raise a few billion and get into power. Get all like minded people to do the same. Make sure you don’t get bumped off. It’s probably the only way.

I raise my glass to them, toast an an unwinnable cause.

From one land of growing inequality to another,


Read Past Down Under Columns by Lindsay Coker