Terminal Capitalism – “He’s Dead Jim.”
(Note: I started writing this entry two weeks ago before the Brexit vote.)
Two recent stories, one that was promoted by the Main Stream Media (MSM) and one that was buried and PR spun, display perfectly to me two things. One, capitalism is working perfectly. Two, capitalism is finally in its terminal phase due to the internal contradictions built into it reaching their inevitable conclusion as predicted so long ago by Karl Marx. Now, let’s be clear right off. I’m not a commie, I’m not a Marxist, and I’m not even a socialist. But, what I do say is that Marx’s analysis of how the internal contradictions built into the capitalist system would inevitably lead to its failure is spot on. What I admit publicly is that Marx was a better sociologist than he was a political theorist. In fact, just to make sure the spooks do not confuse me with a pinko-commie here I’ll share a story from the time I spent at the University of California, San Diego when I was there as a Fulbright Scholar.
During the time I spent at UCSD I had a chance to take a course with Herbert Schiller, author of Culture Inc.: The Corporate Takeover of Public Expression (1989), who was at the time Professor Emeritus of Communication. The seminar was actually quite surreal for me. First, Professor Schiller decided to have us meet at his home in La Jolla where, I kid you not, his wife would bake cookies for us. Second, as I walked around looking for the right house the day of our first class, the first thing I noticed when I finally found the right house was the little warning signs stuck in the lawn near the curb like the ones you see today when there have been pesticides sprayed on the lawn. Only these signs warned: “Caution – Armed Response to Trespassing.” Then I noticed how common these little signs were in that tony La Jolla neighbourhood. Third, Shiller could hold the seminar at his house because out of the 12,000 or so students registered at UCSD, only a paltry eight thought it was worth taking a class with this famous social & cultural critic. I was astounded at the lack of interest.
As for the seminar itself, Schiller organized it around his most recent book at the time, Information Inequality: The Deepening Social Crisis in America (1995). In it he links the pervasive control of the media and its cultural imperialism to the problem of increasing social inequality under capitalism and the media’s antipathy to democratic institutions. The book was not his best work, but I thought that was because it was motivated by his need to issue a heartfelt cry of warning about the worrying trends he saw developing even back then in the blissful 90s. Here is an example that reads as, perhaps even more relevant today than back then: “The ability to understand, much less overcome, increasingly critical national problems is thwarted, either by a growing flood of mind-numbing trivia and sensationalist material or by an absence of basic, contextualized social information.” Furthermore, it was Shiller’s strength, partly due to him also having a strong background in economics and Marxist theory, that he explicitly and strongly linked these cultural processes to disturbing political developments.
The seminar that I was to lead was on one of the later chapters where he laid out these connections to the political situation and offered his ideas about what could be done to avoid the worst outcome. Professor Schiller argued convincingly that the increasing corporate concentration of the media would lead to increased social inequality and an eventual undermining of democratic institutions. All good so far. Then, I felt he fell for the oldest trap in the world. That is the idea that when telling any story, no matter how real and depressing it may be, you always have to have a happy ending. But, in this case, professor Schiller really had to stretch to imagine a happy ending for his story of corporate control of media leading to social misery and injustice. I, on the other hand, seem to be terminally trapped in perspective, and have difficulty not being realistic about the world as we shall soon see. How Schiller handled the issue in his book was to resort to what I thought was some pretty classic Marxist theory. He appealed to the idea that the contradictions of capitalism would eventually produce the very conditions that would cause the next revolutionary impulse to break out and give the evil capitalists what for. Then he proposed, that because the USA was the world centre for the concentrated corporate media controlled empire, that the preconditions for revolution would actually be reached there in the USA first. He actually advocated that the next socialist revolution was most likely to begin in the USA.
I did not know what I though of this idea at the time and still do not. But, I was clear on one thing. Schiller sounded like he would welcome the proles pushing back against the media empire and ushering in some new information equality led democratic renewal of America. But, to me that all sounded like Marx’s unspecified but utopian ‘the state will wither away’ bit – naive and idealistic. So, I did my seminar on that. What I said was that, while I agreed with his analysis that social inequality, misery, a failure of democracy, and economic collapse would all eventually ensue, it was unfortunately the case that power never lets go of power without a fight. Consequently, I argued if revolutionary conditions ever did come to the USA, the fight would be vicious and deadly. Then I linked it to Marx and his utopian communism by going back to my anthropological roots. There is a term that was used by nineteenth century British social anthropologists for the lifestyle of hunting and gathering tribes which was “primitive communism” because hunter/gatherers tend to lack the concept of private property. So, for the conclusion to the paper I wrote and submitted for my seminar I said sure, the state could wither away and communism could come to the USA. But, if it did it would be the “primitive communism” of the survivors of a catastrophic collapse scratching in the dirt for scraps of food. Subsequently, one of my proudest moments as an academic happened when the famous Professor Herbert Schiller introduced my seminar discussion by saying: “If you think I’m a downer, wait till you get a load of this guy.” Then he asked me if he could keep a copy of my paper for himself.
Unfortunately, nothing has happened in the intervening years to change my analysis and instead, for twenty years I have watched the scenario develop pretty much exactly as Schiller envisioned it until today when I can say with confidence that the economic collapse is already well underway. It just hasn’t started down the big rollercoaster decline to pick up significant speed yet. But, like the rollercoaster as it ever so slowly creeps over the apex before the precipitous drop, today is all anticipation with no fear. It’s like the Jeff Goldblum scientist character says in the big dinosaur movie: “Oh, yeah. Oooh, ahhh, that’s how it always starts. But, then later there’s running and, ah, screaming.” And, like Herb Schiller, I write to try and warn you so you might have a chance to take action to change the outcome – not for society in general as Schiller believed – but to save yourself personally from the running and screaming part.
And that leads me back to the two recent news stories I mentioned at the start. Because taken together they show that indeed Schiller’s scenario is playing out and reaching its logical conclusion where revolutionary change, while long overdue, becomes inevitable and not in a good way.
The first story was the one about tickets for the final concert tour of the Tragically Hip being scalped for thousands of dollars. Tickets that were originally sold for $116 were apparently being resold for thousands of dollars. The second non-story was that automaker General Motors will probably be moving all of its production factories to the USA even though the Ontario government has invested around one billion dollars in the auto sector in Ontario over the last few years.
These stories illustrate how capitalism really works and is actually designed to work as opposed to the propaganda version of laissez-faire free-market capitalism that is sold to the proletariat. There is a simple phrase that nicely sums up the capitalist system as it really works. That is: socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor. There are variants of course. Martin Luther King Jr. said in a speech “This country has socialism for the rich, rugged individualism for the poor.” Gore Vidal, one of my very favourite intellectuals preferred to use “socialism for the rich and free enterprise for the poor,” which is the phrasing I prefer. I also really like its corporation specific corollary: “Privatize profits, socialize losses.”
The end result, to quote Harlan Ellison who in 1982 wrote the first ever negative review of a video game, is that “you cannot win” (“Rolling Dat Ole Debbil Stone”, available in Sleepless Nights in the Procrustean Bed, 1984). Now that we have had 34 more years of video-game-based operational conditioning of the proles in the central life lesson of you-cannot-win, we have finally reached the point where capitalism can enter its terminal phase and full blown fascism may easily be ushered in without the authorities worrying about any real revolutionary response. While instead, the properly preconditioned masses of sheeple respond in the only way they know – endless bleating. “It’s not fair, I couldn’t get Tragically Hip tickets because of the scalpers,” “It’s not fair, GM is closing plants even though we put over a billion dollars into their industry.” “Oh, woe is us!” “Someone ought to do something.” Blah, blah, blah Ginger, it’s like cussing out a dog in a Far Side comic. No, its not fair, no its never been fair, like a video game the system IS rigged against you – deal with it. But, please do not defend the system to me by offering up the red herring of pretending that anything like laissez faire capitalism or actual free markets in anything other than concert tickets have ever existed on the planet. And, please, really please, do not whine about concert ticket prices being set by an actual free market while simultaneously failing to whine about the myriad places where prices are not set by a free market and would be lower if they were – Ontario Hydro anyone? How about healthcare? Education? Etc., etc., etc. How about whining about the billion dollar socialist subsidy of capitalist automakers with your tax dollars? No? I guess PR works. Thank god at least GM says they are going to keep three R&D engineers working in Ontario after they move the rest of the taxpayer subsidized plant to the US.
Actually, instead you should all be rejoicing that we have finally hit the stage of terminal capitalism. That is because as the system runs out of proles to exploit it starts to turn on itself in a cannibalistic orgy of psychopathic capitalists preying upon other less fortunate psychopathic capitalists. This is first, fun to watch, and second, means they are increasingly too busy to worry about you and whether or not you have anything else left to steal. The spaces are starting to open up already to opt out of the system. Joseph Tainter’s prediction that people will begin to abandon the complex system and actually experience a net benefit in their lives as they choose to simplify them by dropping out of the rat race is already coming true. And, as Dmitry Orlov points out, in a collapse scenario there are extra benefits that accrue to those who voluntarily choose to drop out early and make the adjustments to a simpler lifestyle while there is still a quasi-functioning economy.
So, if you do not believe me that the economy is already dead, that the markets are insane and its already just limping along as a dead zombie market that just hasn’t realized it is already dead then recall the old saying for stock market speculators – the market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent. Then go watch the video Money as Debt.
But, even if you are still resistant to the idea that the economy is already a zombie you should probably spend a little time thinking about one thing that is overlooked in the Money as Debt video, and that is the simple fact that from the very beginning, all banking is based on a criminal collusion between government and capitalists in felony fraud. Yes its true, fractional reserve banking is technically based on fraud. The essential truth is that bankers lend out money they do not have and then collect interest on it. A pretty sweet scam to be sure. But, if you or I tried that we would do heavy federal time for it. And, the only reason the bankers get away with it is because the kings at the time of the start of banking sanctioned this colossal fraud in one of the greatest criminal conspiracies of all time.
The reality is that the kings sanctioned the banker’s fraud because the kings wanted to do something criminal themselves and it was the only way they could have their evil way as well. The kings, read government, wanted to do the criminal thing that governments always want to do and have continued doing regularly ever since. And that is, unless constrained, make war and commit mass murder. But, at the time the Banker’s fraud was discovered, waging war had already become way too expensive for even a king to pay for it without going into debt – huge debt. But, the kings wanted to wage yet another little war they could not afford and were not going to let a little thing like a lack of money stop them. So, when they found out about the felony fraud of the banker’s lending out money they did not have, instead of hanging them they made it legal for the banks to engage in fraud by issuing the banks a royal charter. What the kings realized was that they could also benefit from this arrangement by using the banker’s imaginary money from a limitless supply to pay for the war they wanted but could not afford. In this way the kings got to commit mass murder on an even grander scale and get away with crimes against humanity on a pretty much ongoing basis while the bankers became insanely rich. Win, win for them, a boot stamping on the rest of our faces forever to paraphrase Orwell’s “picture of the future.”
And that, dear friends, is the story of our modern capitalist system. It arose from the very beginning in a criminal conspiracy between government and capitalists that allowed the government to commit crimes against humanity and the bankers to become obscenely rich at the expense of everyone else left alive on the planet.
So, with a start like that how can you expect the capitalist system to work any differently today? Oh right, there was one small development since the kings handed out bank charters to their enablers. It is a subtle thing but it makes a fairly significant difference. When the kings handed out the bank charters the king’s authority was supreme and they ruled over the bankers. Now, the bankers rule is supreme and they rule over the government. Consequently, there is no longer any authority left that is capable of stopping the worst excesses of capitalism from developing at a headlong pace, which is exactly what is going on today. First, that is why we are finally hitting the stage of terminal capitalism. Second, there is actually a name for a system where corporate interests have taken over the government and installed red and blue puppets who do their bidding and rule only in the interests of the corporations. The term for this kind of system is fascism.
It could be a slightly interesting academic exercise to try and put a date on when the balance of power shifted from the sovereign governments to the banking and corporate interests, but I am not going to bother. Possibilities include 1913 when the federal reserve was instituted; or 1914 when the Ludlow Massacre happened and Ivy Lee, one of the founders the new field of Public Relations (PR) and inventor of the press release and “originator of modern crisis communications” (Wiki), was hired by Rockefeller to defend his image; or maybe it was around the time of the 1933 exposure by Marine Corps major general Smedly Butler of a plot for a fascist coup in the US led by the J.P. Morgan bank; or was it at the time of the 1961 speech by outgoing President Dwight D. Eisenhower warning Americans about the dangers of the military-industrial complex? I’ll leave it to the interested reader to find earlier examples of inflection points that may be chosen to represent the time when the authority of corporate interests became greater than the authority of legitimate government because, regardless, it is fair to say that technically the system has been fascist for a very long time already. It just has not quite fully metastasized into its overt form yet. So, even though all the warning signs of a blatant fascist dictatorship are already present, we are still waiting for the final step where the velvet glove is removed to reveal the iron fist of unbridled authoritarianism. But it is close, very close in my opinion.
Moreover, the only reason it has not already happened is that the scam of hyper-inflating the money supply to mask for a while the crashing economy of terminal capitalism is still working well enough to buy most people’s willing compliance in their own profound impoverishment. Some system huh? It’s enough to make someone want to go hide behind some stout walls as far away from the centres of power as you can get. I know I do.