This is my column originally posted yesterday on Truthdig.
Last week the stock market had one of its worst single-day plunges in history: 1,600 points at one point. All the corporate media heads ran around telling you everything will be OK and not to panic because your bichon frisé puppy still will be able to afford his mani-pedi. But the mainstream media are careful to avoid telling you the censored side of this story.
They’re not telling you that we have an economy that, at its core, is based on death, misery and hardship. It’s not based on health and happiness and life. When it’s humming along, that means our obliteration of the planet is running full steam ahead, and average workers are being appropriately repressed and held down, hoping to collect enough food stamps to papier-mâché a cast on their broken arm. In fact, The Washington Post admitted it last week—but acted surprised when they said it: “Many analysts pointed to a seemingly unusual cause for the turbulence: rising wages.”
No, it’s not an “unusual” cause at all. When we start doing better—when wages start going up–Wall Streeters shit themselves. This is the norm. They only celebrate when we’re fucked, when workers don’t have the ability to demand better wages, better treatment, health care, coffee breaks and less handsy bosses. Stock markets around the world panic when the workers are strong. The stock market is not for us.
According to Time magazine, “The Richest 10% of Americans Now Own 84% of All Stocks.” We’re told to all celebrate how well the market is doing, but it’s just the rich further enriching themselves by playing games with the lives of everyone else. It’s like Monopoly, except we regular people are the players—doing the grunt work, going straight to jail, working on the Pennsylvania Railroad all day and only coming home to a thimble full of soup. The rich are the giant human hands that come down to grab all the money and flick your house off the board.
Over the past year, as the Dow broke 24,000, 25,000 and then 26,000, all the news anchors had on party hats, rubbing their nipples on prime time. Donald Trump tweeted: “Dow rises 5,000 points on the year for the first time ever – Make America great again!” But it wasn’t a rally for us. It wasn’t a rally for the planet or the animals. It was only a rally for the parasites at the top. The regular humans work their asses off and the viruses are the ones reaping the benefits—and not even paying their taxes.
I’m pretty sure I’ve mixed my metaphors, but still, I think viruses should pay taxes. And tapeworms should have jury duty, too.
You want more proof? A leaked 2005 internal Citigroup memo, the parent company of Citibank, read: “The world is divided into two blocs – the Plutonomy and the rest … plutonomies are economies powered by the wealthy.” Ajay Kapur, lead author of the report, said powered by the wealthy, but he means exploited by the wealthy. The memo continued: “In a plutonomy there is no such animal as ‘the U.S. consumer’ or ‘the UK consumer,’ or indeed the ‘Russian consumer.’ There are rich consumers, few in number, but disproportionate in the gigantic slice of income and consumption they take. There are the rest, the ‘non-rich’, the multitudinous many, but only accounting for surprisingly small bites of the national pie.”
In 2006, “The Plutonomy Symposium — Rising Tides Lifting Yachts,” another internal memo from Citigroup (see page 155 of “The Zeitgeist Movement Defined") said: “We should worry less about what the average consumer … is going to do, when that consumer is (we think) less relevant to the aggregate data than how the wealthy feel and what they’re doing. This is simply a case of mathematics, not morality.”
There you go: The rich matter, the non-rich don’t matter. Morality matters to them as much as having skid marks on their underwear. They throw it out and never think about it again.
And then the 2005 memo puts the nail in the coffin: “The three levers governments and societies could pull on to end plutonomy are benign. Property rights are generally still intact, taxation policies neutral to favorable, and globalization is keeping the supply of labor in surplus, acting as a brake on wage inflation.”
Citigroup is saying that the levers of the state cannot stop us, the rich, from doing whatever we want, because we own the government. They’re our gimps on a chain in the basement. In case you’ve forgotten, WikiLeaks emails revealed that Citigroup chose nearly all of Barack Obama’s 2008 cabinet. They told him exactly whom to pick before he even became president. And Trump also has surrounded himself with Citigroup and Goldman Sachs affiliates. Makes you wonder if Citigroup could have tested out its power and been like, “For secretary of Housing and Urban Development, we need you to choose Carrot Top. Sorry, yeah, it has to be Carrot Top. That’s all we’ll accept.” And then that night, they’re all giggling to themselves in a boardroom in New York: “Oh, my God. He did it. What an idiot.”
Right about now you’re thinking, “But Lee, when the stock market goes down, it hurts productivity. It hurts the GDP.” Well, first of all, average Americans are not benefiting from the productivity gains. In 1968, the minimum wage was $1.60. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, “If the minimum wage had continued to move with average productivity after 1968, it would have reached $21.72 per hour in 2012. … If minimum-wage workers received only half of the productivity gains over the period, the federal minimum would be $15.34.”
According to the Economic Policy Institute, “In 2007, average annual incomes of the top 1 percent of households were 42 times greater than incomes of the bottom 90 percent (up from 14 times greater in 1979), and incomes of the 0.1 percent were 220 times greater (up from 47 times greater in 1979).”
Workers’ lives didn’t get better with productivity. Wall Street steals more and more of the money and gives less and less to the worker. The bottom 90 percent then fight over the scraps and hate each other for it. “Hey! Why do teachers get to have health care while the rest of us don’t? Fuck you, teachers! What have you ever done for society? I’m voting for whoever is taking the health care away from the teachers.”
The gains. Go. To. The. Top.
While the stock market has soared, 41.2 million Americans are food insecure, meaning they are forced to skip meals or eat less at meals, and that includes 12.9 million children. How can anyone say we are a successful country while an eighth of our population is food insecure? Sounds to me like you don’t know what words mean.
How do we rate success? We look at Gross Domestic Product—how much we’re producing. GDP doesn’t measure how many kids are drinking toxic water or breathing toxic air. It doesn’t measure how many dolphins are choking on plastic beer rings. It only measures how many beers you chug down. It doesn’t measure how many trees were planted. It measures how many trees we cut down to make the cardboard for coffee cups and condom boxes. It doesn’t rate how screwed the environment is, just how much stuff we buy to keep screwing. Buy a dildo? Good for the economy. Throw an old dildo out? Ends up in the ocean, gets stuck in a whale’s blowhole. GDP doesn’t care.
In China, the government builds “ghost cities”—massive cities where no one lives, because the act of building them is good for GDP. Of course, it’s disastrous for the environment, but who cares? It’s good for GDP. GDP doesn’t measure how many animals went extinct. It only measures how many animals we ate or sold. You could be eating a bald eagle roasted with giraffe bacon wrapped around it, but as long as you bought it at the store, it’s good for GDP. And besides the fact that our factory farms are basically government-subsidized pig and cow concentration camps, animal agriculture is the No. 1 cause of greenhouse gases. More than cars. So the No. 1 thing you could do for the planet is to eat less meat.
Recently a pledge to eat less meat has been signed by half a million people. It doesn’t even say no meat. It just says, “Take a breather. Slow down a little. Let the last ham hock get all the way down your throat before you stuff the next one in. Give it a second.” GDP is a measurement of destruction in a system that demands infinite growth on a planet with finite resources. Gross Domestic Product: We are the product, and it’s gross.
One country does it differently: Bhutan. It measures Gross National Happiness. I agree that that sounds like something singer Meghan Trainor would call her new tour with opening act The Wiggles. But still, it’s not a bad idea. Gross Domestic Happiness makes sense. If we’re not trying to get happiness and sustainability for the most people, then what are we doing? Isn’t that supposed to be the point of this ridiculous existence on this tiny spark of galactic light? Anything’s better than just measuring production and consumption. Gross Domestic Comfort, Gross Domestic Orgasms, Gross Domestic Roof Over Your Head, Gross Domestic Dude Not Working Two Jobs and Never Seeing His Kids and Can Afford a Movie Popcorn Without Putting His Daughter Up as Collateral. Any of those would measure our society better than Gross Domestic Product.
I mean, if that’s not the point, just let me know and I’ll get on board. Oh, the point is to make sure a tiny number of individuals can afford to purchase their own islands with helicopter landing pads? Oh, I had no idea that was the meaning of life. I’m sorry I’ve been resisting it so long. In that case, the stock market seems to be working perfectly.
Ecologically, our economy is killing the planet. That’s not up for debate. Imagine the aliens that come down here after we’ve eaten everything, killed everything, and turned it all to dust. Imagine them showing up and going, “What happened to these little fellows that used to be here?”
“Well, they imagined something called the stock market, where nonliving entities called corporations compete to see which one can exploit the earth the most. It eventually swallowed up the whole biosphere they lived on.”
“Oh, which corporation won?”
“Ironically, the one called Amazon, which used to be the name of the largest river in the world until they paved it.”
Here’s the thing: The stock market is life-blind. It’s also death-blind. It’s misery- and starvation- and destruction-blind. It doesn’t see people or happiness or art or beauty. It sees only profit, which means it is a cancer of our system of values. It’s like a guy driving a car and only seeing speed, being completely blind to how many people he runs down. He’d get to his destination in record time and say to the townspeople, who all had family members run over by this maniac, “We did it. I got here in record time. We should all celebrate together.”
One percent of America is celebrating. It’s time to do things differently.
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