Devolution. Evolution. Revolution. The Future Is Now.
This week, this month, maybe this year, the economist of choice is Thomas Piketty, professor at the Paris School of Economics. Very briefly, Piketty points to present developments in capitalism. Unchecked capitalism (as it exists increasingly in the present devastation of democracies and the empowerment of private corporations) leads by its very nature to unequal concentrations of wealth. No surprise. Put another way, when the rate of return on investment exceeds the rate of economic growth (a fundamental purpose of capitalism), the rich grow richer and the poor grow poorer. Uncontrolled capitalism creates returns on investment that drain wealth from the larger population and concentrate it more and more in the hands of a hereditary financial elite.
While Piketty’s research is interesting to fellow economists, we can’t be sure how widely the interest is shared – or even the direct relevance of the findings. A part of the power of the work is its return to basics and its refusal to mythologize greed. Those starving in off-shore industrial slums, and those looking desperately for a living wage in Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, Michigan – not to mention the 18 million in the United Kingdom unable to afford adequate shelter (to name only a few instances) – know there is a rough capitalist boot is in their faces. Piketty’s work doesn’t change that, and until political forces appear that can challenge the boot wearers, not much will change.
His book has landed with an explosion of interest – a sign the degeneracy of contemporary society has gone so far that a call for justice and a measure of equality is radical and almost shocking! Pointing to “Victorian” inequalities growing in our societies, Thomas Piketty has a name that might, itself, have been lifted from a Charles Dickens novel.
So far, there is no political force in the Western world challenging what is, in fact, an old, old process of greed in power. The force of the work of Piketty and those who assisted him is that they have managed, at least, to put the question of growing inequality forward as a distinct evil, not as the natural intention of human activity – and they have suggested a number of actions within capitalism that can ameliorate the greater human lot.
That is merely to say that Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century may not be as important nor as central to real issues as the first Capital published in 1867 ... which never goes out of fashion and is enjoying a quiet resurgence and reexamination in our time. Classics stay “classic” because they don’t lose the relevance they had when they first appeared.
Piketty is morally on the right side. He wants Progressive Taxation, taxes on extreme wealth, governments with reasonable power and real responsibility to the electorate - wielding humane policies. He has watched the intensification of private wealth, its move towards – in a few words – naked fascism, and he is arguing against all that evil. Piketty sees Devolution in action and argues for social Evolution. The author of the first Capital might still call for the dictatorship of the proletariat by whatever means necessary – by active and sudden change, sometimes called Revolution. All the possibilities are present and uncertain. The future is Now because an intense and brutal conflict is at work ... shaping and shaping what is, and what is to be.
Paul Krugman, U.S. economics guru writing for the New York Review of Books, says Piketty has created “a revolution in our understanding of long-term trends of inequality”. Except … except a lot of nobody commentators and non-famous commentators have been shouting that long-term inequality has very visible characteristics … re-appearing now … and becoming a key factor in the lives of the present generation. To them, Piketty’s work might be useful and another log thrown on the fire and – perhaps – attractive because it has Establishment blessing.
The signs that his work is just another log thrown on the fire go very deep. The European Union is in a state of self-destruction as a meaningful community. Robert Savio (May 28, 2014) of Inter Press Service observes that the values of social justice, participation, and accountability are gone from the European Union. As well, writes Savio, “Eurocrats have appeared more and more unaccountable and isolated, in a maze of bureaucratic values”. He might have gone on to say that Eurocrats are increasingly clubby, over-paid, and loyal to private corporations.
On June 19, RT quoted a study carried out by the University of Bristol revealing that poverty in the United Kingdom has doubled in the last 30 years. “Almost 18 million people are unable to afford adequate housing”. The poor are suffering deeper poverty and the gap between the rich and poor is growing says the University of Bristol study.
On Vancouver Island Derek Skinner writes an article called “The Dragon with Five Heads”. He shapes ways to confront the purposeful, growing inequality of our time. Early on, he states (in capital letters) that IN THE LAST 50 YEARS WE HAVE CREATED A CLASS OF MONIED ‘ELITES’ WHO CAN BUY AND SELL POLITICAL PARTIES AND GOVERNMENTS AND MANIPULATE MONEY MARKETS TO SUIT THEIR OWN INTERESTS AND AGENDAS. Skinner looks at the large picture from a province (British Columbia) that mirrors everything in the larger world of ‘devolution’.
In the last fifteen years the people-owned BC Gas was folded and sold to foreign private interests at on-going cost to British Columbians. The people-owned BC Rail was strangled and corruptly passed to foreign private interests. B.C. Ferries was removed from public oversight in a bastard privatization to become a source of fake accounting and in-group advantage – and devastating loss to coastal and island people.
People-owned BC Hydro has been semi-privatized to offshore ownership, and buried in barbaric accounting methods that the Auditor General of B.C. has refused to pass on for TEN YEARS!
All those ‘transactions’ deserve deep criminal investigation. But the RCMP, apparently, can find no way in. Alleged to have been grossly inadequate in the BC Rail Scandal investigations, the RCMP has been granted a twenty-year contract to police B.C. – some believe as a payoff for corrupt co-operation with the Gordon Campbell/Christie Clark cabinets.
What I am saying in those statements is that capitalism unchecked doesn’t only lead to an unequal concentration of wealth. It leads to the brutalization of all social values, to the perversion of almost all positions of trust in society, to fraud and bribery as the currencies of economic interaction and political behavior. So-called public contracting becomes a giant pigs’ trough in which the illegitimately powerful swill.
On the less visible but even more threatening side, several reports on new, so-called Trade Treaties – The Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Europe North American “trade” negotiations - point out they are being carried out in almost complete secrecy to keep general populations from knowing how totally the people are being betrayed by their governments.
Negotiations for TISA, the Trade in Services Agreement Financial Services Annex is, it is alleged, pushing for privatization of all public services. The secrecy of those negotiations is alleged to be even greater than the backroom silence of the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks. Those huge ‘international negotiations’ are, in fact, gatherings of capitalist club members using the governments they own to manipulate – even farther – the unequal concentration of global wealth.
Piketty arrives on the scene with academic knowledge of some use if there happens to be anyone with power who wants to see change in the present growth of inequality. But there appears to be no significant power that really wants change for the better. Only a growing portion of the human population wants change for the better … and it is presently shut out ... even from the programming of so-called “Opposition parties”.
Could there exist a more obvious collision course in process? That’s why the title of this column is “Devolution, Evolution. Revolution. The Future Is Now.”
For biologists, “devolution” means “degeneration” and “reversed evolution”. The biologists say those things occur, just as evolution and generation occur. Some observers look a long, long way back to observe the process of human biology, not – with Thomas Piketty – looking back only a scant three or four centuries. In one way or another concentrating wealth has always been about concentrating power – long before the word ‘capitalism’ was invented.
The images from history and what we can know of pre-history are pretty clear. Pharaohs, Emperors, High Priests, and other such tyrants only found in archeological remnants, amassed wealth, gave themselves divine connections, bought supporters, and walked on the faces of the powerless … for as long as they could make their systems work.
Sometimes, it seems, there was benevolence, storing of crops, building of granaries, holding of public holidays, even provision for care of the aged. We believe those systems arose because of the potential power of the people. To hold off revolution, rapid change, new beginnings that would empower the general population, a sense of sharing community was developed and honoured.
But greed, ambition, brutality, fear, and a desire to be exclusionary drive much of human action biologically. It is no accident that the Stock Markets of the world – called major engines of modern society – are said to be driven by “greed and fear”. Many of those who use the Stock Markets are driven by greed, by fear of “the other”, and by a desire for wealth they can never use. They frequently despise governments that seek to protect the vulnerable, and they seek the protection of exclusive clubs and societies. They make heroes of such people as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet who - using a system constructed to create inequality -store mountains of wealth while millions around them starve.
A society that places no inhibition on greed and ambition soon reveals the presence in power of psychopaths and sociopaths. The true biological degenerates assume social power and reverse (in the modern way of thinking) evolution. In many epochs, eras, civilizations, our present concepts of evolution didn’t exist. The intention of power in society was to keep things constant, fixed, stable, unchanging so that the powerful would not be challenged. And so a class system had to be fixed, had to be seen as natural and perpetual – in order to prevent ideas of change … of revolution … from appearing.
Today we say we are not in a fixed social pattern. Today we expect technological change, movement in the social order, the equality of women, the equality of people with every sort of sexual orientation, the equality of all races and colours.
We say that is what our society means – and conditions will change and shift before our eyes. But that vision is only half – or much less than half – true. For a gigantically powerful core group of the wealthy, using most governments of the day are – as this column is being written – moving heaven and earth, legions of lawyers, mountains of mercenary fighters, armies of bribed taste-makers and indoctrinators – called The Mainstream Press and Media – to guarantee the devolution, the degeneration of present society – to move it to a condition in which the tyrants return. Beneath the apparent variety and difference in our society a single message is being repeated and repeated:
The “evolutionary” phase of modern society that grew from the Second World War (at least in some nations) has been stopped in its tracks. Global directions are “devolutionary”, degenerative of community well-being, reversing social evolution. So obviously is that happening that a large, slow beginning of resistance is being born. A few South American countries are ending treaties that let corporations sue governments for alleged blocking of profit-making. Power in banks, financial houses, governments, and in mercenary armies is fighting those South American countries every minute of every day.
In Europe the Eurosceptics not only see the degeneration – the ‘devolution’ of European democracy - but they are forming parties to fight it.
Thomas Piketty, an economist, has written a book saying, in effect, that the present economy is anti-evolutionary and is run by degenerates possessing too much wealth – new wealth or inherited wealth.
The devolutionary surface is being scratched, but – so far – only scratched. The opposite of devolution is revolution, which is the product of devolution – when people see no other escape than physical conflict. Stephen Harper’s policies are policies of “incremental devolution” – meaning the slow introduction of fascism: the condition in which corporations own governments and use them to brutalize the population on behalf of the wealthy.
The Pharaohs, the Emperors, the High Priests – the tyrants – are always waiting in the wings, ready to don the robes of power and magic. Their moral eunuchs – the Stephen Harpers of this world – are always available to do their bidding.
“Let them eat cake,” Marie Antoinette is fabled to have replied … as the French Revolution was beginning. With rich (though grisly) poetic justice the people cut off Marie Antoinette’s head, as bread began to become available in Paris.
Pharaohs, Emperors, High Priests – all the tyrants – think nothing of erasing human lives in the way they would erase hills of ants. Think of Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Honduras, Chile, Palestine, Nigeria ….
Finally, the time comes when devolution meets resistance it can’t stop. The time comes when Pharaohs, Emperors, High Priests discover – too late – that their own lives can be snuffed out as easily as the lives of all the millions they have sacrificed in order to satisfy their greed and fear and ambition and their barely disguised love of brutality. The time comes when sharp and sudden change – called revolution – happens (the call for evolution having failed). Revolution lays the groundwork for another long term of social evolution – a period we describe as a time when there is a move towards equality, social justice, and security for all.
Written by Robin Mathews
The Straight Goods
Cheers Eyes Wide Open