Friday, April 15, 2016

The Grapes Of Wrath - Ready For The Harvest

“and in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath.
In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling
and growing heavy,
growing heavy for the vintage.”

~John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

    John Steinbeck's brilliant novel "The Grapes Of Wrath" was published on April 14th  in 1939.
He documents how society is divided into the dominant  and the dominated and how people in the dominant roles in a society act viciously to preserve their dominance. The novel identifies that division as the primary source of evil and suffering in the world.

So Where Is Tom Joad Today?

   “And the great owners, who must lose their land in an upheaval, the great owners with access to history, with eyes to read history and to know the great fact: when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away. And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need. And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed. The great owners ignored the three cries of history. The land fell into fewer hands, the number of the dispossessed increased, and every effort of the great owners was directed at repression. The money was spent for arms, for gas to protect the great holdings, and spies were sent to catch the murmuring of revolt so that it might be stamped out. The changing economy was ignored, plans for the change ignored; and only means to destroy revolt were considered, while the causes of revolt went on.”~ John Steinbeck, The Grapes Of Wrath

   What have we learned? Where are we today in terms of combating the obvious evil that arises when any group of people assemble themselves as a force to dominate others? Whether it is politically or economically, the lesson history teaches us is ignored time and again.
Indeed what is the true nature of capitalism in today's world?
 Is it some grand national adventure, as politicians and textbooks preached when I was growing up? Is it some benign system in which markets provide framework for amiable competition, from which emerges the greatest good for the greatest number of people? Or is it merely the domain of class struggle, a “global class war,” as Jeff Faux’s book of the same title would have it, in which the “party of Davos” outmaneuvers the remnants of the organized working class and beats them down?

The doctrines of the “law and economics” movement, now ascendant in our courts ["law & economics" is the theoretical analysis of law focusing on efficiency. Basically a legal situation is said to be efficient if a right is given to the party who would be willing to pay the most for it.],  suggest that firms will adhere on their own to honorable conduct. That any public presence in the economy undermines this. Even insurance—whether deposit insurance or Social Security—is perverse in this belief system, for it encourages irresponsible risk taking. Banks will lend to bad clients, companies will speculate with their pension funds, etc. This movement has even argued that seat belts foster reckless driving. To adherents insurance creates a “moral hazard” for which “market discipline” is the cure-all.  It’s a strange vision, and if we weren’t governed by people like John Roberts and Sam Alito, who pretend to believe it, it would hardly be worth wasting our attention on.

“ Class struggle is the history of all hitherto existing society”-~ Karl Marx

  The idea of class struggle goes back a long way; it really is “the history of all hitherto existing society,” as Marx and Engels had declared. But if the world is ruled by a handful of monied elite, What role does the middle-class working citizen have today in the global society, or even in his or her own nation state?   None. It's a shell game, a hoax.  The political decline of the left flows in part from rhetoric that no longer matches experience; generally speaking, people in the developed nations do not feel they are living on the edge of a Malthusian catastrophe. Dollars mostly, but Euros and Pounds as well, command most of the world's goods...rupees not so much. So workers, as members in the "dollar" economy have been assimilated and in  today's world; are made complicit in sustaining and ever expanding the influence of the capitalist class.

 I grew up in the mixed-economy America. Yes, there existed a post-capitalist, post-Marxian vision of middle-class identity and indeed pride. It consisted of shared burdens, assets and entitlements.
The cornerstone of which was public education. Along with access to college, decent housing, full employment at living wages, Medicare, and Social Security.
    These programs, were publicly provided, financed, or guaranteed, and had softened the sharp edges of Great Depression capitalism, rewarding the sacrifices that won the Second World War. They also showcased America, demonstrating to those behind the Iron Curtain that regulated capitalism could yield prosperity far beyond the capacities of state planning. (This, and not the arms race, are what really ended the Soviet empire.) These middle-class institutions survive in America today, but they are weakened, diluted, frayed and tattered from constant attack. The division between those included and those excluded is large and growing larger exponentially with each year. This is frightfully obvious.

   The main feature today of modern American capitalism is certainly neither benign competition, nor class struggle, nor an inclusive middle-class utopia. No the main feature is predation. It has become a system where the rich come to feast on decaying systems built for the middle class.
I concede of course, that the predatory class is not the whole of the wealthy; it may be opposed by many others of similar wealth. But it is sadly the defining feature and the leading force in today's world. The agents of this bloodfeast are in full control of the governments under which we live.
Our rulers deliver favors to their clients.They have no interest in representing us, there's not enough cash in that. In the U.S. the predators range from Native American casino operators, to Appalachian coal companies, to 3rd world sweatshop operators, to the oil field operators of Iraq. They include the misanthropes who led the campaign to abolish the estate tax; Charles Schwab, who suggested the dividend tax cut of 2003; the “Benedict Arnold” companies who move their taxable income offshore; and the financial institutions behind the crash of 2007. Everywhere you look in the U.S or the U.K., you find public decisions yield gains to very specific private entities. We have become a predatory regime, and nothing is done for public reasons ever. Those in charge do not recognize that “public purposes” even exist at all. They have friends, and enemies, and as for the rest—we’re simply their prey.
    Remember what happened in New Orleans? Hurricane Katrina illustrated this perfectly, as Halliburton scooped up contracts and Bush hamstrung Kathleen Blanco, the Democratic governor of Louisiana. He stuck a guy who had organized a dog show in charge of the relief and rescue operations. The population of New Orleans was, at best, an afterthought; and once dispersed, it was quickly forgotten. In this predator-prey model, growth among the prey stimulates predation.
The two populations grow together at first, but when the balance of power shifts toward the predators
they swoop in and take everything they prey has accumulated. They have all sorts of tools for doing this; rising interest rates, utility rates, oil prices, crashing home prices by flooding the market with worthless mortgages, buying off the government, or outright embezzlement to name a few).
When any catastrophe occurs, from the 9-11 attacks to Hurricane Sandy,  the predators swoop in and use the catastrophe to enrich themselves. Yes, the Iraq war was nothing more than just that, vulture capitalism at it's worst, an excuse to loot the treasury and funnel money to the capitalist class. No one in government had concern for the suffering of the 1st responders, who sought to have their medical bills paid...14 years later the few who hadn't died from cancers as a result of exposure to toxins in the burning buildings they walked into on that day to save as many lives as they could, were still begging congress for a bill that would help with their medical bills. Gov. Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani like to cite the attacks as some sort of personal badge of honor, but politically they forgot entirely about the actual people who suffered loss and or disease in those attacks, they were largely discarded except for the occasional photo op. Christie thanks the first responders by not funding the states portion of their pensions, and has sought to bust the public employees unions, roll back healthcare & pay for them. 9-11 was little more than a cash cow to the predators. An excuse to undo the Magna Carta, to stick their bloated friends in cushy 'homeland security' positions, and to loot Iraqi oil fields.
Everything that happens is an excuse to prey.
Predator Capitalism Is The Enemy 
Of Honest Business As Well As Workers
    In a world where the "winners" are all connected, it’s not only the prey who lose out. It’s everyone who hasn’t licked the required boots. Predatory regimes are nothing more than protection rackets. They may be powerful and feared, but never loved nor respected. They do not enjoy a broad political base. In a predatory economy, the rules imagined by the law and economics crowd don’t apply. There’s no market discipline. Predators compete not by following the rules but by breaking them. They take the business-school view of law: Rules are not designed to guide behavior but laid down to define the limits of unpunished conduct. Once one gets close to the line, stepping over it is easy. A predatory economy fosters and rewards criminal behavior.

The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is To Own One
    Remember the Savings and Loan and Keating Five scandals?
  obvious examples where the leader of an organization uses his company as a “weapon” of fraud and a “shield” against prosecution.  Look at Enron, Tyco, and WorldCom, The Neil Bush S&L looting.  All examples of controlled fraud which was protected by clean audits from respected accountants. The large frauds were nearly all committed in institutions taken over for that purpose by criminal networks, often by big players like Charles Keating, Michael Milken,Bernie Madoff, and Don Dixon. There’s another reason people need to be concerned about predatory institutions. They invariably fail in the end. They fail because they are meant to fail. Predators suck the life from the businesses they command, concealing the fact for as long as possible behind fraudulent accounting and hugely complex transactions; and that’s the looter’s point.

     We have governments run by people rooted in this culture.
To expect that they should not also be predatory is lunacy.
The link between George H.W. Bush, who led the deregulation of the S&Ls, his son Neil, who ran a corrupt S&L, and Neil’s brother George, for whom Ken Lay sent thugs to Florida in 2000 on the Enron plane, could hardly be any closer. But aside from occasional references to “kleptocracy” in other countries, economic opinion has been slow to recognize this. Thinking wistfully, we assume that government wants to do good, and its failure to do so is a matter of incompetence.
This is not so. You can't complain if your wine is sour when you choose a liar to select the brew he pours you.

    One would think if our governments are also predatory, or at least controlled by predators, then they too will fail: not merely politically, but in every substantial way. Government will not cope with global warming, or Hurricane Katrina, or Iraq—not because it is incompetent but because it is willfully indifferent to the problem of competence.
    What mechanisms survive for calling the predators to account?
Unfortunately, at the highest levels, one cannot rely on the justice system, thanks to the power of the pardon. It’s politics or nothing, recognizing that in a world of predators, all established parties are corrupted in at least part.  So, how can the political system reform itself? How can we reestablish checks, balances, countervailing power, and a sense of public purpose? How can we get modern economic predation back under control, restoring the possibilities not only for progressive social action but also—just as important—for honest private economic activity? Until we can answer those questions, the predators will continue to rape and pillage. We can say Steinbeck's powerful observations are just as true today as in 1939. All the gains of our father's generation, and ours as well are now being looted.  Being taken back.  The question is, what will we do about it?
What has happened in the past when peoples are made necessitous?
When they hunger?
When they have been robbed?

“Whenever they's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Whenever they's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there . . . . I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad an'-I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry an' they know supper's ready. An' when our folks eat the stuff they raise an' live in the houses they build-why, I'll be there." 
~Tom Joad in John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath"

John Steinbeck


Jack Mahoney said...

Brilliant, Ben. You made a lot of puzzling actions make sense. Willful indifference to competence or depraved indifference is the Rosetta Stone. I believe you're right, that it's worse than we can imagine, and the end may be sooner than we think.

Benjamin E. New Esq. said...

Thank You Jack.
Much appreciated.