Category Archives: Capitalism

Begging in a welfare state – just neoliberal logic

If anyone in the 1970s had said that we were going to have beggars in the Swedish streets 40 years into the future, we would have presumed that some catastrophe, like a third World War, had to have taken place in between. But there are beggars here today, and the disaster that happened wasn’t a war but neoliberalism and globalization. And it’s not a few people shaking paper cups; they are deployed outside every supermarket and – particularly – at the doorstep of every liquor store (where the Swedish conscience already is sensitized).

It’s said that most of them are from Romania, and as EU citizens they are fully entitled to be here and try to make their living. The problem is that begging is so remote from Swedish social habits that there is no law saying anything about it. But there is an ongoing discussion on whether or not to ban begging.

We must go back to the 19th century to find visible begging in Sweden. Then it disappeared, but in the harshest years of the 1920s, poor people tried to get by through selling shoelaces and matchboxes in the streets. That was the closest we got to begging in that century. Until 1965 there was a law against vagrancy that could have been used for prosecution of beggars, but it was obsolete long before that year.

I think begging in most Swedish minds is a sign of a dysfunctional society. Poor people should be helped in more civilized manners. In the minds of neoliberals on the other hand, begging may be an example of private initiative, of people showing their will to take care of their own problems and not become a burden to society. On top of that, beggars serve as a warning to lazy people what can happen if they don’t accept the depressing and dirty jobs they barely are qualified for.

Neoliberalism didn’t just create the positive view on begging, it created the beggars themselves. Romania never was a rich country, but people were not left entirely by themselves in the old days, and they had no beggars. It was a poor but inclusive society. Then, like the other countries in eastern Europe, Romania was smashed to a pulp by the robber capitalism western powers introduce them to. The blessings of the free market shoveled most of eastern Europe back to the third world from which it came 70 years prior. And they all have a bumpy road back to some kind of normal standard.

The neoliberal “philosophy”, viewing the beggar as a responsible individualist, is of course self-serving for the wealthy, but is contrary to human nature. With Marx’ profound words (my translation): “A human is a zoon politicon (a political animal), which only in a society can isolate itself.” In the long run (provided the human species survives) socializing will defeat narcissism, firstly because it’s in accord with our deepest traits, secondly because it’s rational, thus follows from pure logic.

Ignorance supports one side in the class struggle – rationality the other

“Ignorance has become a virtue” is a theses argued by Tom Nichols in a timely book, reviewed in New York Times the other day. The author has of course plenty of recent illustrations with which to back up his supposition. But hasn’t this race into darkness been in the works long before Trump?

After the failed attempts of revolution in the 1960s, progressives had difficulties in dealing with their disappointment. Some of them (also “leftists” in their own mind) made an about-face and ended up in the arms of Saussure, Nietzsche, Heidegger and other solid reactionaries (and, occasionally, Nazis). They effectively declared the end of all factual knowledge, roughly claiming that reality existed only in language and nowhere else.

It all started in France but spread like a flu to the “soft” departments of western academia, such as literary studies, social sciences and the like. Their scholars, who had lived in the shadow of natural sciences, now got a weapon against the intrusive scientists with their annoying claims to know anything about the reality (that the “soft” scholars had no clue about themselves). These delicate minds called their teaching by different names, often beginning with “post”, but may for simplicity all be named “postmodernists”.

Michel Foucault, a kingpin among them, asserted that every narrative was as true as anyone else, only too late realizing that such theses can be aimed at itself, making it arbitrarily true or false. This is the level of postmodern thinking, only becoming increasingly absurd when the proud new thinkers ventured into science (hilariously undressed by Sokal and Bricmont).

The emperor’s new clothes come certainly to mind here. Postmodernists don’t seem to realize how naked they are. Noam Chomsky has famously said about them (paraphrasing): of the lashings of postmodern verbiage there is, I only understand a small part, and that is either truisms or false.

When large parts of the academic world have grown accustomed to believing in nonsense, it could not be surprising to find the political apparatus going down the same path. Is there even a class analysis to make here?

Postmodernism and neoliberalism are roughly contemporaries. The forceful counterattack by Capital, starting late 1970s, swept through the western world and stunned the progressives. Those “leftists” who retreated into the postmodern nonsense world became in effect fifth columnist. They distracted popular opposition by combatting the most important instrument for people’s struggle: rationality.

If I were a multi-billionaire, strictly caring about my own money, I would certainly encourage and support every stupid prophet who deceives people into all kinds of gibberish that takes their eyes off me and my absurd wealth. Postmodernism has served that duty quite well, as far as it reaches.

Now the political world itself has been endowed with a master deceiver who certainly will do as much he has time for to lure and betray his electorate. Ignorance has not just become a virtue; it has been made a main principle by a ruling class that has everything to gain from public stupidity and everything to fear from rational class analysis.

Dedication to achieve an unsustainable world

Making Scott Pruitt head of the Environmental Protection Agency is equivalent to making Sam Harris an Archbishop.

This willful ignorance, bordering to devoted stupidity, is a threat to the whole world (giving me the right to opinions in these Swedish postcards). But is the difference between extreme right-wing populism and ordinary right-wing politics a difference in kind or just in grade?

There can be no doubt that the last 35 years of neoliberalism, aimed specifically at enriching a miniscule minority at the expense of the large majority of ordinary employees, have paved the way thoroughly for any kind of revolt. That this revolt in the US took the shape of right-wing populism is certainly not surprising. The same tendencies are apparent in Europe too.

The entire US establishment in politics and media (including the liberals) has done everything to obscure the real reasons behind people’s grievances, and overlook the neoliberal mechanisms. This establishment has not given the people any comprehensible explanations, thus opening the floodgates for the stupid answers from extreme right-wing outlets: “your problems stem from others taking your money: the government, the immigrants, the lazy, the liberals – let’s get rid of them”.

The complacency against this fascist-leaning propaganda is nothing but logical. If I were a multi-billionaire I would gladly give room for such ideas, rather than tolerating progressive thought, which really would be a threat to my wealth. In the US it seems as if the established liberals in politics and media feel equally threatened by the real progressives. (It took some conspiratorial actions by DNC to keep Bernie Sanders away from power.)

United States harbor the most cultured people with the sharpest brains, and in politics they usually are dissidents. As such they are effectively barred from communication with the bulk of the population. It’s nothing surprising about that either, as those with economic power owns and controls the “free” media. But the progressive movements behind the scene are lively and bright. As seen by the Sanders successful case the possibilities for enlightened and organized young people to break through the iron curtain erected by the handymen for the economic power are encouraging.

Maybe we first must endure La politique du pire, as the French say, meaning that we are forced to let horrendous politics destroy everything before something entirely new can emerge from the rubble. That optimism in the long run makes it perhaps easier to live through the day ahead without crumbling from all the absurdities.

Americans prefer “Swedish” wealth distribution (would that it were!)

(Back to keyboard after necessary disturbances of different kinds during some months.)

Has the presidential election in the United States anything to do in a postcard from Sweden? Well, we will all be affected by the outcome, one way or the other, and it’s interesting and often telling to follow commentaries in our domestic MSM.

Most astonishing is the fact that income and wealth distribution, as well as justice and fairness, have come into focus, thanks mainly to Bernie Sanders. After decades of him tirelessly agitating from the back benches in the US Senate, to promote the interests of less affluent Americans, he surprisingly enters the center stage. (I happened to find him online some years ago, and have followed him with interest since. But until now I haven’t seen a single word about him in Swedish MSM – very typical).

From Noam Chomsky we’ve learned that a majority of Americans since at least some 30 plus years have preferred a policy similar to Sander’s, but that an effective propaganda apparatus has produced election results often diametrically opposed to people’s real wishes. But it seems as if the inequities finally have become too grotesque to conceal or brain wash away. And suddenly “everybody” talks about wealth distribution and the other progressive issues.

“Yes, the economy is rigged in favor of those at the top” says Hillary Clinton; “The deck is stacked against ordinary people” writes New York Times (N. Kristof) the other day. He goes on to present a study by two scholars (M. Norton and D. Ariely) showing i.a. that 92 percent of Americans prefer a wealth distribution of a “Swedish” type to the really existing one in the US. But this study has a serious flaw.

These are the three choices of wealth distribution laid before a group of nationally representative respondents (the labels “Sweden”, “Equal” and “USA” were not shown to the respondents).

 

wealth distr

The authors reveal in a footnote that the pie chart named “Sweden” depicts the income distribution, which was chosen solely to get some middle alternative between Equal and USA. The Swedish wealth distribution is something completely different, and in fact quite similar to the US one, as seen in this diagram:

The y-axis shows the sum of net wealth in billions SEK (§1 = appr. 9 SEK), debts subtracted, in the percentiles 1 to 10. Adding 9th and 10th percentiles one gets around 85 percent of total wealth, which is almost identical to the US figures. 60 percent of the population has no net assets at all.

Since Sweden endured its neoliberal, right-wing government (2006-14) the economic divide between rich and poor has grown faster than in any other European country. That government was lead by an empathy exempt man who as a young man was living an Ayn Randian wet dream. But that’s a story worth a separate chapter.

Sources:
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/18/opinion/americas-stacked-deck.html?emc=eta1&_r=0
http://www.people.hbs.edu/mnorton/norton%20ariely%20in%20press.pdf
http://ekonomihandboken.se/rika-och-fattiga-i-sverige/hur-rik-ar-varje-svensk/

Capitalism kills – even the middle class

This year’s Nobel laureate in economics[1], Angus Deaton (and his wife Anne Case, not to forget) has published an interesting study on mortality among white Americans compared to other groups and nationalities. Their astonishing findings can be illustrated in one single picture:

white americans

Sources: Anne Case and Angus Deaton; PNAS

Immediate reasons behind the soaring death rate among white Americans are self destructive behavior patterns such as alcohol and drug abuse, or direct suicide. As an explanation on the next level Paul Krugman[2] suggests existential despair.

Krugman points to the similarities between this US experience and the plunging life expectancy in Russia after the capitalist revolution in the 1990s that claimed ten millions lives, mostly men in productive ages (a catastrophe we have mentioned repeatedly on these pages). Two American scholars, David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, have described the post-communist mortality in The Body Economics: Why Austerity Kills (Basic Books, 2013). The following picture shows life expectancy from birth for men in USA and Russia:

Life expectancy

Source: Stuckler & Basu (2013)

The Russian experience in the 1990s was really dire. Multi-millions of jobs disappeared. Many of the small and medium-sized “mono cities”, with usually just one dominant factory, simply closed down, leaving abandoned and crumbling buildings and remnants of retired citizens behind. Men in productive ages couldn’t bear it and accounted for most of the ten million who just disappeared for ever.

Astonishingly similar in Russia and US are the causes of death. In both countries alcohol and drug abuse play an important role, together with suicide. In Russia also other diagnoses soared, such as myocardial infarction among young men, otherwise rare. Stuckler & Sanjay mentions “social stress” as a syndrome underlying the deaths. Many men seem to have an innate pride, requiring that they are able to support themselves and their families. Bereaved every possibility to fulfill this task they appear to lose the purpose of life.

Deaton & Case conclude that the absolute level of despair isn’t the decisive factor behind the self destructive behavior. Instead they suggest that the middle-aged whites in America have “lost the narratives of their lives”. It seems to be more a question about the distance they have to fall when they exit from a higher altitude. Or in Krugman’s words: “we’re looking at people who were raised to believe in the American Dream, and are coping badly with its failure to come true”.

Krugman again: “If you believe the usual suspects on the right, it’s all the fault of liberals. Generous social programs, they insist, have created a culture of dependency and despair, while secular humanists have undermined traditional values.” It’s exotic for a Swede that there are influential conservatives in the United States who believe the unbelievable, reject the obvious and denounce reason; more so that they dominate the Congress and threaten to capture the presidency; and are doing so supported by billions of dollars from the corporate sector. In the most powerful nation that ever existed! The world must take a deep breath.

 

Notes:

[1] This is an honor to mention only when one thinks the Prize Committee has made a decent choice. Otherwise it’s an affront to Nobel that the Swedish National Bank instituted this prize in his name for something that perhaps Nobel, like many of us, wouldn’t even call a real science.

[2] In a recent New York Times’ column.

Left and Right – Good and Wrong?

The old divide in politics between Left and Right can easily be condensed into the dichotomy: Left is altruism and Right is egoism. Translated into universal moral code it would be: Left is good, Right is bad.

There is on the other hand an old aphorism, which I suppose is international and goes like this:  If you are young and not a socialist you don’t have a heart; if you are old and not a conservative you don’t have a brain.

In my world this must have been concocted by an old reactionary, since it puts things on the head. If anything, conservative ideology is impregnated with emotion as opposed to cognition, whilst altruism requires ability to abstract thinking and conscious understanding, such as to identify oneself with other human beings with different backgrounds and traits.

As a slowly maturing child I had some vague political ideas of what we call here bourgeoisie character. In other words: as long as the naive boy was ignorant and immature he was politically a sloppy egoist (maybe evolution’s first choice). Then when he reached 20 in came the 1960s, and a whole new world opened to the post-teen as if he just had learned how to read. It was a revelation, never possible to rescind after that. Now as a rather old man his eyes are more open than ever.

People on the right-wing, if their thinking is not totally petrified, surely are aware of their ideology’s egoistic element. To comfort those people’s conscience there are a number of defense inventions made. On the economic front the most famous is the “Adam Smith gambit”. In short it says that prosperity for all will reach its optimum if everyone just strives for his own personal well-being, after which the famous “invisible hand” automatically will create a divine equilibrium, giving everyone his fair share.

To refute this gambit one just has to take a look at the world, and find – among many other deficiencies in the equilibrium – some three million small children dying each year from uncomplicated illnesses that would have cost us in the rich part of the world a pittance to cure. Empirically it’s thus obvious that the “perfect market hypothesis” has serious shortcomings. To Adam Smith’s honor it should be said that he is not at all so naïve in his main work Wealth of Nations as his right-wing interpreters want us to believe.

Smith was not just an economist but also a moral philosopher, and as such he had serious objections regarding capitalism, the way it functioned already in his days. He never used the term “invisible hand”, except one single time in the whole book, and then in a completely different context. He described how division of labor increased productivity, but at the same time denounced the kind of society it would create. He had not much sympathy for “the masters of mankind” as he called the capitalists of his time. To make Adam Smith a right-wing icon requires thus a very selective reading of his works.

That a socialized economy can function without central planning was not Adam Smith’s “discovery”, contrary to conservative idolizing. Mankind had presumably found that out on the shores of Africa a long time ago. It’s not much of a mystery either, rather a capability naturally produced by evolution. To take a really micro example: in my days we could be some twenty kids coming together on a grass field, one of us owning a football (“soccer” ball) – no parental supervision. In a moment we organized – democratically – two teams and started playing, each of us filling his specific role in the game. It required no planning whatsoever.

Since Left means good, and thus honest, we shall not overlook the benefits of market principles based on the “economic man” assumption (i.e. egoism). It’s obvious that we normally are more ingenious and work harder when we profit from the enterprise ourselves. But the profit mustn’t be in the form of money. The most decisive discoveries and inventions have been made by scientists and engineers who didn’t get a penny of the eventual billion dollar profits that could be the end result. They were happy with their professional achievement, which also is a benefit (but at the same time reveals the fraudulent money principles of capitalism, favoring the unworthy over the worthy).

Today’s China is held up as a triumph for market principles. Without diminishing the Chinese feat that example could require some analyzing. Indeed, a number of billionaires have emerged and a middle class of white color workers have prospered, but for the hundreds of millions on the impoverished countryside the outcome is more debatable. Before the capitalist era China was a much better place for the simple farmers than comparable countries such as India. Now the situation is more complicated.

The most abhorrent aspect of right-wing policy is the “winner takes it all” mentality, emphasized since the neoliberal seizure of dominance some 35 years ago. With just slightly less greed it would have been no big deal to eliminate the conspicuous manifestations of capitalism resulting in suffering for billions of people.

Worst of all is that our mentality has hit the rest of the world in the form of bombs and bullets, in short: with murder. But that’s another story.

Russia vs. Citizens United – corruption vs. supercorruption

My paper Dagens Nyheter (Daily News) has an editorial writer who is specialized in writing childish thinking in a causal and appealing style. Now he recently went to the cinema to watch the much praised Russian film Leviathan. His mission was thus to concoct an editorial piece combining his artistic impressions with the more notorious critique of Russian command politics and corruption.

The film obviously draws attention to corruption on the daily basis in Russia. According to my reporter the main character in the story has a dispute with a mayor over some property, and since his adversary has the justice apparatus in his hand the hero is rejected with his complaints everywhere. It seems like a traditional Kafka scenario. This is naturally not very gratifying for Russia, so my informer – the editorial writer – has to show how the officials have tried to hamper the movie in different ways.

It turned out not to be very easy. The film maker Andrey Zvyagintsev was already famous for earlier films, such as his debut The Return, which won a number of awards at the Venice Film Festival in 2003, among numerous other honors. Thus Zvyagintsev was granted money by the Russian Ministry of Culture to make Leviathan. But this, says my informer, was before 2012 which Kremlinologists hold as an important year in Russian cultural decline. Thus it’s in the monolithic system’s expected spirit that the minister himself has criticized Leviathan for not having real heroes and for spitting at Russian politicians.

Then, on the other hand again, this despicable nomenklatura system nevertheless selected the film to represent Russia at the Academy Awards. As a reader one may be somewhat puzzled by the contradictory signals here. But that’s unnecessary, my informer is a master of his art and easily sort things out: We are just witnessing the typical Russian capriciousness! The art of Tautology is namely also on his repertoire, in this case to express a conclusion that becomes true under every possible circumstance.

There was probably very little corruption in Russia before 1990. Then in the following decade the country was completely devastated by the roller coaster called capitalism. The breakdown of social cohesion that followed unsurprisingly prepared the ground for everyday corruption, in the beginning as a means of mere survival. Russia is a country struggling its way up from the chaos it was dumped into in the 1990s. Since Vladimir Putin marked the turning point we may ask ourselves if our hatred of him means that we had preferred a Russia remaining in the third world.

Small scale corruption is a dear subject in my paper. It could of course be a coincidence that such fraud provides the convenient weapons to use against countries and political systems we find most interesting to attack. Anyway, certain kind of corruption, incredibly worse, is typically and almost totally ignored.

I made a search in Dagens Nyheter’s online archive for the concept “Citizens United”, only to find just a couple of mentions and only one short description of that fundamental legitimizing of corruption on a gigantic scale. In Russia one can buy mayors and officers, in USA the already extremely powerful ultra rich and the corporations can buy the entire political monitoring system all the way to the very top. Alas, to survive morally in the West requires a well developed ability to become a hypocrite, that’s for sure.

Sweden is not at all innocent in these respects, even if the amounts of money are smaller. We were for many years criticized by international organizations for having secret lists of contributors to the political parties. Now some kind of compromise has been reached and the debate is silenced. But following the usual pattern we could expect to have the US system of legalized corruption on a large scale here in a few decades. Or – preferably – the US system has come to such an extreme that something radical has to be done there. Those who live will see.

2015 – the year of human beings, or business as usual?

Looking forward  to what this new year will bring one may wonder if there indeed will occur some unexpected changes for the better in world affairs. For five hundred years we, the Europeans and our off-shoots, have held large parts of the world in a violent grip, mainly for the purpose of enriching and empowering ourselves.

We started by continuously slaughter each other in Europe, thus making war our favorite hobby. With development of modern weapons we got an upper hand globally, and made war a science. From that point on we started to afflict the world with unspeakable horror in order to enlarge and secure our imperialistic conquests.

As late as in my first years in school, some 60 years ago, imperialism was described as a benevolent enterprise, almost a sacrifice made by the white man to help and lift the bewildered herds. The fact that we blessed the poor savages with our civilization by enslaving and slaughtering them was not really recognized. Nor did we hear that our missionary work, much lauded by our teachers, was just a matter of exchanging one superstition for another.

We have in many ways continued to use blinkers to shade off the unpleasant consequences of our efforts to dominate the world. The prime concern has always been to keep the poor majority of people down (if necessary with mass killings). We used small elites in the conquered regions to ensure that wealth and recourses from around the world ultimately landed in the hands of our rich elite.

Our rampage naturally fostered resistance and uprisings. Up came “communism”, a repressive system perfect as a pretext for continued military actions against egalitarian movements wherever they appeared. We left millions of corpses on battlefields all over the world, and hundreds of millions more as a consequence of an economic system that deprived people of elementary living conditions. And we ended up praising ourselves as some kind of saints, affording the world “freedom, democracy and human rights”.

Blatantly racist colonialism’s prime time ended in the 1960s, leaving room for more indirect, but no less effective, means of domination. In just recent years these methods too have met successful resistance here and there, perhaps most significantly in South America. With the convenient pretext “Soviet Communism” gone there were further hopes for our violent tendencies to calm down, but such niceties doesn’t fit our epigenetic habits.

“Communism” had been “the single question”, the all encompassing phenomenon we had to aim all our military capacity against. But that turned out to have been a lie for 40 years. As soon as the Berlin wall fell, we (US supported by EU) started to create capitalist Russia as the new suitable target, first by seceding large parts from the former Soviet territory, then by expanding NATO into Russia’s borders and installing offensive missile bases in Eastern Europe.

Finally we reached Ukraine, and the probably much anticipated Russian reaction took place. Our warmongers, for all their different reasons, got the fodder they had longed for.

And that’s where we are today. Let’s see if reason, sensibility and consideration can play a part this coming year 2015.

What if we tried to emulate instead of demonize Cuba?

The right-wing narrative on Cuba is so peculiarly imbecile and propagandistic that it takes properly educated intellectuals to swallow it. I mentioned a short editorial in yesterdays Dagens Nyheter, our most important paper, in which the Castro regime was described as “grotesque and disgusting”. The author claims that the Castro brothers have used the US embargo as an excuse for “tormenting their people”.

This torment must of course have been very sophisticated since it has placed Cuba at the very top, among Latin American countries, on United Nations Human Development Index list, second only to Chile. It has also given Cuba more medical doctors than any other nation in the world (6 of 1000 inhabitants), making it possible for the poor country to send 19 000 doctors and 10 000 nurses to help people in need around the globe. The Cubans, living on pennies, enjoy the same longevity as people in USA, and have a lower infant mortality. Adding also things like successful land reforms and an advanced educational system, most poor people in Latin America have a lot to envy the Cubans.

So, what torment is the author referring to? It seems first of all to be about freedom of expression, or the lack of it. “Dissidents, journalists and human rights activists are subject to harassment, random house arrests and other restrictions”, DN claims. The heart-felt concern for these indeed brave people is of course warming, especially since the traditional assassinations, which was the standard procedure for eliminating dissidents in the rest of Latin America through all the years, had left DN remarkably unconcerned. The endemic neo-Nazi and other extreme regimes on the continent were treated by DN as just some kind of quite natural disruption, nothing to lose temper about.

A childish narrative implies that the communists’ persecution and oppression of dissidents is part of their nature, and something they engage in for the pleasure of exhibiting their power, eliminating competitors, or something equally deplorable. But Stalin has been dead for 60 years, implications of which many right-wingers have difficulties accepting. Cuban leaders are in all likelihood aware of the bad PR that actions against dissidents generate in the world, and most certainly know that they would be much better off with a more lenient treatment.

To deliberately perform seemingly counterproductive actions implies some kind of necessity and coercion. I dealt in the previous Postcard with CIA’s horrible and numerous terrorist activities hitting Cuba during many decades. It’s likewise well known, and obviously trivial, that CIA has used its unlimited resources to conduct advanced espionage and unscrupulous provocations towards Cuba, using all kinds of obnoxious methods and crooked agents. No regime whatsoever could have watched these kinds of subversive activities by an enemy state without reacting. The repression in Cuba is in many ways defensive.

The Cuban situation is more revealing for us, the self-proclaimed saints of western “capitalism”, than for the island’s leadership. Living conditions when it comes to health care, education and other things we call quality of life, is arguably much better in Cuba than in many places elsewhere in the developing world. The very policies that have created these welfare conditions are the ones that right-wing westerners consider “grotesque and disgusting” and fight with utmost frenzy. We never seem to ask ourselves the simple question: Why is it that our abundantly wealthy societies have such difficulties in taking care of those who are most in need, at least in par with the poor country Cuba? We neither seem to reflect upon the quite obvious answer.

The economic life as a marbles game

When I was a kid every boy played marbles. Later my children did too, in their case with some girls also participating. It was an interesting schooling for the life to come.

The older guys had the most marbles to begin with, and at the end of the day the younger ones, less affluent, usually had lost the few marbles they had started out with. The older ones were also the strongest, so the outcome of any controversy about rules and other conflicts was given beforehand.

The reward for the small guys was the privilege to get to play with the big guys in the first place. And the fairness of it all lay in the fact that the younger ones one day became the older ones, thus able to retaliate for past inequities, bringing home large bags of marbles.

This game is a parable for life, except that in reality those who are poor from the start seldom get the chance to ever come on top, regardless of age. The well-offs in the world have the upper hand all the way, and the richer countries can indefinitely dominate the poorer and dictate terms.

This inequity plays out in trade rules. “Free trade” is a core concept seemingly promising the poor nations shelter under the umbrella of the rich world, which undertakes to open its borders to share its wealth. But just as in the marbles game, where the rules are the same for all, the real outcome is decided by wealth and strength.

The economic “sciences” provide convenient theories to prove that free trade brings prosperity to all. In the real world it’s an instrument serving above all the already rich nations. The most powerful are served the most. It’s no difference from the situation within nations: the rich have the most bargaining power to acquire even more wealth.

The mechanisms by which businesses in rich countries can use “free trade” to enhance their predominance are often equally simple and horrendous. One basic step is to overflow developing countries with cheap, heavily subsidized agricultural products. Thus imperialistic agribusiness effectively wipes out domestic farmers, and forces them to enroll the army of unemployed, serving foreign-owned industries with labor forced to work for pennies.

Absence of tariffs gives businesses in the industrialized world the opportunity to establish workshops in poor countries and profit handsomely on minimal wages. One result of this can easily be found in the numerous rust belts in the rich world, where material destruction leads to destitute societies where people lose hope.

Modern imperialism also uses free trade agreements to avoid all kinds of regulatory constraints, such as environmental regulations, laws ensuring workers security and other kinds of “unnecessary” obstacles to the ever growing profits. Other absurd clauses give corporations the right to sue countries that enforce laws which restrict possibilities to make profit.

The Nation provides a comprehensive and revealing text on the consequences for Central America of the free trade agreement DR-CAFTA. Recommended reading!