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Capitalism’s Achilles’ heel
A View From The Edge
The current estimate (made by banking groups and economists) is that by the end of 2010 the global super-rich had at least $21 trillion hidden in secret tax havens. How much is that? Try the annual economy of the United States and Japan — combined!
And then comes the current Supreme Court (somewhat accurate) assessment: Corporations are people too. They may have been referring to political rights (where they are wrong) but when it comes to human-like behavior, they seem to be proved right. In the U.S. banks alone, the U.S. corporations have $1.4 trillion in cash saved up. Who knows what they have saved up offshore?
Saved up for what?
John Atkinson Hobson, a journalist and anti-poverty crusader of the late 19th century, railed against imperialism as the true enemy of the poor. He wrote that maldistributed income and wealth result in the rich over-saving. The only real outlet for this over-saving was foreign investment. And the means of this foreign investment was governments being pushed to find new markets and resources for the investment and, when made, to spend money and soldiers’ lives protecting the foreign investment as a “national interest” when, in fact, it was merely coerced foreign policy to allow the rich to safeguard their investment. Of course Mr. Hobson was referring to the Boer War against the Dutch settlers who didn’t want to cede more land and power to the British gold and diamond mining families. But his argument strikes at the very core of our involvement in several wars, and the loss of lives of our soldiers.
You can dress up the continuing war in Afghanistan any way you want, but perhaps George Bush had it right when he said, “mission accomplished.” Al-Qaeda and the Taliban were punished and perhaps finished after the first few months. The rest was “mop up” and “protecting national interests.” Whose? Oil corporations anyone? The Trans-Afghanistan gas pipeline perhaps?
Economists will tell you that underconsumption at home drives foreign investment. Look at Germany following World War II. Underconsumption at home? How about no consumption at home, yet their economy soon got going and has boomed since. How? Foreign investment. And foreign investment drives imperialism, political diplomatic leverage and, in the end, the defense of those foreign interests. Hitler did that with the Sudetenland (German Czechoslovakian private wealthy “ownership” in coal and steel mining) which kicked off World War II when he annexed Czechoslovakia. Mussolini did it with Ethiopia. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, is muscling her way to being head of Europe (not if the French can help it) using international fiscal weapons instead of soldiers.
Now that corporations have come out of the closet as “people,” perhaps we can assess them as people and see that they do exactly the same thing. Commercial interests manipulate public and Congressional interest to protect so-called national interests here and abroad. We are asked, time and again, to protect the rights of U.S. nationals in foreign lands, and those similar rights of our allies (the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline is an Asian Development Bank project, about 75 percent funded by U.S. and British investors). But in the end, what does this protection do? It secures the profits, holdings and unrestricted access of corporations in foreign lands of their choosing. No one asked the American people if Mobil or Texaco should be drilling in Nigeria. They choose, we lose.
China has learned this trick of capitalism very well. They are in the process of buying up controlling interests, land, mining rights and water rights all across Africa. Their promise to the local people? Jobs, security and allied defense (weapons and training). In China’s case they have taken the definition of national interest back five decades to “fatherland.” Same game, different names, same risks for global peace.
Meanwhile, the world’s uber-rich have all this cash they cannot spend. They can loan it (risky and not so profitable), they can hoard it (inflation is coming back, diminishing their holdings) or they can invest it abroad and use their leverage in Congress to have our underpaid, underfunded men and women protect it for them. Part of the false argument here is that we have a volunteer Army now, so soldiers give their lives by choice, not coercion. The coercion is always there, every time you sew the American flag on their uniform. Put an Exxon or Texaco patch on the uniform and see how many want to die for the new generation of American “people” — corporations.
Are there wars when moral necessity drives us to battle? You bet. My father fought in that war against the Axis and many soldiers who were friends fought in Vietnam, serving for what they were told was a national interest to halt the tide of communism. Corporations and investors do get rich in wartime making the tools necessary for war, even morally driven wars. That’s OK. No, what we have to watch for are the closet imperialists, putting their investment protection before the needs of the nation, before the value of the lives of our fellow citizens. Corporations, like people, can be immoral.
Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico.