History keeps repeating, and it gives me indigestion. In 1963 Bob Dylan wrote the famous words:
Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’.
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’.
Well, at the risk of speaking too soon, I have to say that this bit of history that’s got me all riled up has happened plenty of times before and the end is fairly predictable.
In case you haven’t heard, our Modern-Day Citizen Kane, Rupert Murdoch, is teaming up with our Modern Day Rich Uncle Penny Bags, Bill Gates, to limit content on the Internet, and block access to his information services, pulling all searches from Google and transferring them to Bing. I don’t mind that at all, to be honest. Good riddance to bad rubbish. Who needs yellow journalism anyway? There are plenty of other excellent news services, willing to supply a free-flow of balanced information for many generations to come. Where there may be gaps, creative human nature will be sure to fill them. So good luck with that, both of you.
Well, Penny, you say, if it’s not bothering you, why write a post? Well, it’s not the shift of the information to Bing that bothers me, it’s the arrogance behind it. The hubris, to be more accurate. The unfettered greed. There’s a lot of that going around, and it’s killing us slowly. That’s what roasts my toast.
This is not the first time in history that monopolies have gotten out of control, but the level it has reached in today’s world, certainly has had a dramatic, damaging long-term impact on Everyman. I cannot find a parallel in previous annals of history since the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. Don’t think in terms of the Great Depression, to me, that is an inaccurate parallel. During that period large corporations collapsed, and the wealthiest went tumbling down to poverty, and out of windows. What we are experiencing is much closer to that earlier Victorian age, when the gap between the rich and the poor was widened beyond all reason.
Whether you agree with my particular take on the historical reference point is a lesser point. We must all agree that it is high time for us to get riled up about the effects this is having on ordinary hard-working people. Recently, a wonderfully witty twitter, who I enjoy following as she rants and raves through her day, managing to remain fabulous throughout, made an important point. (If you’re not already following [at]smuttysteff don’t let the name fool you, she’s worse than all that, and well worth the follow.) Steff said that she was reminded and surprised just how relevant Charles Dickens is today. I agreed, but it is so sad that it is true. It shouldn’t be. We’ve been there. We’ve done that. We should have learned something. Only one word exists for what has brought us to this point: Avarice.
There is far too much of it. People, like Mr. Murdoch (and he is not alone) have forgotten that there should be a limit to growth in Capitalism. Not an artificial, arbitrary limit, but certainly a moral one. These are not my principles alone. I take comfort in the knowledge that Adam Smith, the father of Capitalism, foresaw a need for limitation on the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a very few.
Monopoly…is a great enemy to good management. The Wealth of Nations, Book I Chapter XI Part I
The monopolists, by keeping the market constantly understocked, by never fully supplying the effectual demand, sell their commo-dities much above the natural price. The Wealth of Nations, Book I, Chapter VII
The price of monopoly is upon every occasion the highest which can be got. The Wealth of Nations, Book I, Chapter VII
People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices. It is im-possible indeed to prevent such meetings, by any law which either could be executed, or would be consistent with liberty and jus-tice. But though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies; much less to render them necessary.
A regulation which obliges all those of the same trade in a particular town to enter their names and places of abode in a public register, facilitates such assemblies…
A regulation which enables those of the same trade to tax themselves in order to provide for their poor, their sick, their widows, and orphans, by giving them a common interest to manage, renders such assemblies necessary.
An incorporation not only renders them necessary, but makes the act of the majority binding upon the whole. The Wealth of Nations, Book I, Chapter X
More and more, we have seen the growth of unfettered super-corporations as the principle employers of far too many, exert too much power, on too many powerless individuals and smaller corporations. They squeeze them of both their lives and livelihood, and leave them out in the cold. Policies, where they exist, tend to favor these Goliaths at the cost of many Davids. If we do not take action soon to manage the situation, we will see poverty sky-rocket around the world. When the western nations have ordinary working people rushing to food banks, unable to find food, the problem has gone too far. That is already taking place, in New York City and far too many other cities.
Rosebud, was the symbol of childhood innocence, of Humanity, that Citizen Kane traded in to fuel his hubris and his avarice, only to realize too late that he had given up the only thing of value he ever had. When we support the monopolies we each put our Rosebuds into the furnace and watch them go up in smoke. In case you’ve never seen the film this is what I mean:
That brings us back to [at]smuttysteff and her remark about Charles Dickens. Dickens dedicated his life’s work to exposing these imbalances, these injustices. I remember the first time I saw a Christmas Carol, and I remember the thing that scared me the most. Ironically, it is the very thing that scares me today, not just about the movie, but about our society.
There is the Jolly Giant of Christmas Present, outwardly Merry, but with a dark secret under his coat. Under there we find two orphans, with terrifying, drawn, hungry faces. It is one of the most horrible sights I have seen in any movie, full of pathos. They are Ignorance and Want.
We can and must each do our little part to protect the children under Christmas Present’s coat. Ignorance & Want are still here, every bit as much as they ever were. Limiting the free flow of knowledge is abhorrent to the elimination of ignorance, but if Mr. Murdoch feels he must do that in order to add to his fortune and the fortunes of the limited few who profit from him, then fine. Let’s each help to support the institutions which respect the value of the free press, and disseminate information even to those to poor to pay for it. For all of the other monopolies that are stifling us, there are similar solutions. Elect to keep your funds in a Credit Union, up and coming Green Banks, Micro-Loan banks, or other community service banks, instead of one of the larger banking institutions. Elect to purchase items from known Fair Trade companies, from local shops and Independent Grocers, from corporations that respect Fair Wages, and do not use Slave Labor to produce their goods. There are plenty, and they need our support.
The monopolies will prey on our insecurities, and make us afraid that by turning our backs on them we will lose even more valuable jobs. This is only a half-truth. The greatest employers world-wide are smaller and medium-sized businesses, many of which are being put in peril by governmental neglect and unfair competition from the larger players. If we begin to support them, voting with our pennies in their favor, they will survive this recession, and each of us will survive it along with them. Perhaps, as the monopolies tumble, some may lose their jobs in those corporations, but if we ensure the safety net of strong small and medium-sized companies, focused on growth, those individuals will not be facing ages in the unemployment lines, and the peril of poverty. The smaller corporations, who know their employees faces, and their family histories, wince to have to let staff go, or cut wages. Their larger counterparts only see numbers on a spreadsheet.
In the hands of our neighbors is the promise of the future. Each of us needs to do his and her part to support those companies who will stand by us, not just the corporations that tread upon and feed off us.
A couple of weeks ago I saw a report about another “great man” who everyone respects so much, backing a new Chinese suit manufacturer. Perhaps you saw this news report on Mr. Buffet as well, perhaps you didn’t. It made me cringe. Not because he was buying Chinese suits, let the man wear what he pleases (although I certainly consider it more responsible to buy from Fair-Trade tailors paying Fair Wages to make suits that cost a little more and last a lot longer) but it was something specific he said on camera that made me nauseous: “I have thrown out all my other suits.” Really, Mr. Buffet? It didn’t even occur to you to call the Salvation Army or another local charitable cause. Did the thought of donating them to help the poor who need suits to go for job interviews, never cross your mind? You just placed them in the trash? Now THAT is avarice.
Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’.
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.
Because I love classics best, I’d like to close with a little Holiday Gift. I bring you Seymour Hicks who, plays the title role in the first sound version of the Dickens classic about the miser who’s visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve. It’s the entire movie (duration 1:17:35), so make some pop-corn, grab some cocoa, put your feet up and enjoy!
…and that’s a Penny for Your Thoughts.