Friday, August 15, 2014

The Bright and Shiny Lumpen Professional Class of the Post-Industrial Age

For Karl Marx, the lumpenproletariat -- I love the sound of the word, "lumpen" -- is the lowest stratum of the industrial working class, including also such undesirables as tramps and criminals.

The members of the Lumpenproletariat—this “social scum,” said Marx—are not only disinclined to participate in revolutionary activities with their “rightful brethren,” the proletariat, but also tend to act as the “bribed tools of reactionary intrigue.”

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I wonder what he would think of those well-paid, well-educated, employees of the state, usually with defined benefits pension plans, that make the system run and are as about inclined to bringing about any meaningful change to the present status quo as the "social scum" of Marx's day were inclined to participate in his so-called revolutionary activities.

Just as the lumpens of olden days gave no second thought to the well-being of the population at large, the same could be said of the bright and shiny lumpens of the post-industrial age.

Marx got it wrong.  Capitalism is much more resilient than he ever dreamed of.  There is no inevitability to its collapse in the foreseeable future.  Instead, increasing productivity brought on by technological change drives a deep wedge into what he believed to be the existing solidarity of the so-called working class.

Pay those who would otherwise "rouse the rabble" well enough so that the gulf between classes separates those who make the system run, (elected officials, school administrators, senior bureaucrats, doctors, lawyers, etc.) from those that the system is supposed to serve, the vast majority of those who have to work for a living, and you have figuratively cut the head, those who could lead, from the body politic.

Those who are able to climb the rungs of our meritocracy are much more inclined to pursue the material rewards that their taxpayer-funded salaries afford than to serve the real interests of those whose lives are affected by the quality of the social services that the state offers.

In other words, make the system run, not so that it runs well -- that would require a significant redistribution of wealth -- but that it runs well enough so that nothing emerges that would challenge the ever increasing share of the nation's wealth that is destined for those who never have to work for a living.

In exchange, the bright and shiny lumpen get a much cheaper and much more scaled down version of the lifestyle that the haute bourgeoisie enjoy, especially if two of the bright and shiny lumpens decide to marry and raise a family.

In this case, the lumpen couple can afford to live in a neighbourhood that offers a social milieu very favorable to the development of their children: daycare, schools, summer camps, access to private schools if necessary, and family vacations abroad, which gives them a huge advantage in performing well in our meritocracy.

Just as material wealth is transferred from generation to another, so are the soft skills and competencies that enable people to earn higher salaries.

Indeed, research shows that the only factor that is of importance in the prediction of the child’s educational attainment is the education of the parents. Most importantly, the children of parents with less than high school education are much less likely to proceed beyond high school than are the children of parents at other educational levels. And the children of parents with university degrees are much more likely to complete university themselves than are the children of parents with lesser education.

In general, people don't tend to marry others with lower socio-economic status.  As a result, those who could make a difference to the plight of Marx's proletariat don't make a difference.  They are too busy looking after themselves and their own.

With regard to being effective agents of social change, the bright and shiny lumpen professional class is as about as useless as Marx's lumpenproletariat for the former will never bite the hand that feeds it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Weight Loss Industry In North America Is Built Upon A Web Of Lies And Deceit

According to the data by Marketdata Enterprises, a market research firm that specializes in tracking niche markets, Americans spend north of $60 billion annually to try to lose pounds, on everything from paying for gym memberships and joining weight-loss programs to drinking diet soda.

Considering that as of 2012, the US led the way in obesity rates among OECD countries with Mexico a close second and Canada sixth, it would appear that the potential profit within this industry is, for lack of a better word  -- enormous.

How is that so many people could become so overweight and have such difficulty shedding the unwanted pounds, so many dollars spent with so little to show with regard to sustained weight loss?

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Well to begin, when it comes to food choices, the North American public was told one of, if not the biggest lie in the history of public health.  In short, they were told that if they wanted to avoid cardiovascular disease, they should eat a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol.  As a result, North Americans reduced their consumption of saturated fat and at the same time increased their consumption of trans fat and the simple carbohydrates proffered by the food industry, even though that research demonstrates that neither saturated fat nor cholesterol correlates with increased levels of morbidity.

To say the least, this change in the North American diet was an unmitigated disaster for the population at large, but was most certainly a boon for the weight loss industry. 

For example, between 1980 and 2000, obesity rates doubled among adults in the United States. About 60 million adults, or 30% of the adult population, are now obese.

Similarly since 1980, overweight rates have doubled among children and tripled among adolescents – increasing the number of years they are exposed to the health risks of obesity.
Direct health costs attributable to obesity have been estimated at $52 billion in 1995 and $75 billion in 2003.
In other words, there is a ton of money to be made once the population gets fattened up: some of it goes to the health care industry while another share makes it way to the weight loss industry.
Once declared obese, an individual is then subjected to the bogus promises of the benefits of following the latest diet or dietary supplement.
First, another deceitful line of reasoning must be planted into the unsuspecting mind:
when it comes to body weight, calorie intake minus calorie expenditure equals calories stored.
No shit Sherlock!  That's like saying that rich people are ones that make more money than they spend. 
Here comes the kicker: surrounded by tempting foods, we overeat, consuming more calories than we can burn off, and the excess is deposited as fat.
The simple solution is to exert willpower and eat less, which is another way of saying "go on a diet, you fat fuck!"
The problem is that this advice doesn’t work, at least not for most people over the long term.  According to Dr. Mark Hyman, the average person gains five pounds for every diet that they go on.

Even worse, when the lose weight, they lose muscle and fat. When they regain the weight, they gain back all fat. And since muscle burns seven times as many calories as fat, their metabolism is slower than when they started the diet, meaning that for 95% of those that set out on this course of action will be worse off than when they started.

Talk about repeat customers. 

Having been set up to fail, the average person, convinced that it is just a question of willpower and finding the right miracle diet, oblivious of the effect that dieting has on his or her endocrine system, is easily duped into buying the latest weight loss method endorsed by a celebrity spokesperson.
Too bad, we don't often hear the rather simple method of maintaining a healthy weight: be physically active (10,000 + steps a day) and eat a balanced diet like the Mediterean diet.

Such sound advice with so few takers.

Not enough hype.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Truth Be Told: The Rich Don't Give A Shit About The Economy That You Live In

It never ceases to amaze me that we continue with the charade of watching how the economy performs.  Last week, we learned that the American economy grew by a whopping four percent during the last quarter.

Whoopee shit!

Am I supposed to fall off my chair thinking about what a great job those in charge are doing in managing the economy?

Yeah, pretty much.  That way you don't give much thought to what really matters: for the last 35 years the vast majority of Americans have been shafted royally.

Think about it.  Since 1980 the US economy has grown roughly 4% annually.

Yet, during the same time the population at large faces what is at best an uncertain future.

Three things strike me to be a lot more important than the rate of annual economic growth.

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First, the percentage of workers that have defined-benefits pension plans has shrunk from 60% in 1980 to about 11% today.  This represents a massive reduction in the quality of life for an aging population, especially when we consider the vast wave  of baby boomers that are and will be retiring in the next 25 years.

Second, the cost of a university education has created an emerging generation of wage slaves.  Since 1985, the overall consumer price index has risen 115% while the college education inflation rate has risen nearly 500%.  Pursuing the American dream by obtaining a higher education has become a debt trap.  Indeed, low paying, precarious employment does not generate the revenue to pay down the debt and to provide for a middle class lifestyle.  Consequently, a great many millennials do not have the means to move of their parents' basements in order to make it out on their own.

Third, income growth has stalled for most Americans.  At $51,017, the real median household income in 2012 is even less than it was at the end of the eighties ($51,681) and down from 9% from its high in 1999 ($56,080).  Conversely, during this period (2009 to 2012), 95 percent of all income growth went to the top 1 percent of income earners.

Clearly, something is amiss and it what needs to be pointed out is that the scale of the problem suggests that it's not just a question of not following the right economic policies as would the progressive economists like Paul Krugman and Robert Reich would have us believe.

What's really at issue is that the super rich, those who make it on the Forbes list of the top 400 wealthy Americans, are no longer dependent on the performance of the American economy to increase their wealth.

Yes, there is still a great amount of money to be made from selling goods and services to the top 20% of American income earners, more so since production can be sent off shore where wages are significantly less, and corporations can be inverted so that on paper they appear to be owned in jurisdictions where the tax rates are lower.

But over and above these ploys that leave the majority of Americans out of the wealth generating loop, even greater returns can be had in the financial sector.  After all, it makes much better sense to pursue a greater return on investment in a sector that is not exposed to the risks of unfavorable economic performance and, in fact, has the risk of failure (too big to let fail) underwritten by the government and the American taxpayer.

What a sweet deal!!!

Seen from this perspective, the latest economic reports are of little or no significance.  What matters is what happening in the investment portfolios of those at the top of the food chain. 

And let's face it, the game is rigged in their favor.  Hedge fund managers can only make billions if they are able to make even more for their clients while the little guy is left to fend for himself, trying to sell his labour in a market in which there are less and less buyers.

So why bother?

In short, it keeps the natives from getting restless.  As long as progress can be shown on the economic front widespread financial difficulties within the population can be dismissed as nothing more than personal failure.

In other words, as long as the majority of Americans give credence to the existing economic discourse they remain effectively sedated.

So much so, they are unable to oppose the massive wealth extraction that is taking place by means of sustained wealth redistribution enacted through the political process.

As well, the population through their tax dollars continue to fund the largest military force ever assembled to protect American interests (American capital) abroad.

The overclass in America has never has it so good.

All it takes is a little statistical smoke and mirrors.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

By Now It Should Be Obvious: It Is Not An Invisible Hand But The Big Laughing Dick Of Wall Street That Runs Things

They say that a stiff prick has no conscience, but a stiff prick that laughs too is phenomenal*, especially when it laughs all the way to the bank after fucking you up the ass without any lube.

And that ladies and gentlemen is what has transpired in both the UK and the USA during the last ten years.  The wolves of Wall Street and the City have had their way and a bewildered population wonders what the fuck happened.

In the USA, for example, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom ninety percent became poorer.

Without question, the financially engineered Great Recession brought on the largest redistribution of wealth in a century.

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As Peter Van Buren notes in his wonderful piece, "Why Don’t the Unemployed Get Off Their Couches?", last year eight Americans — the four Waltons of Walmart fame, the two Koch brothers, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett — made more money than 3.6 million American minimum-wage workers combined.

Moreover, the median pay for CEOs at America’s large corporations rose to $10 million per year, while a typical chief executive now makes about 257 times the average worker’s salary, up sharply from 181 times in 2009.

At the same time, the inflation-adjusted net worth for the typical household was $87,992 in 2003.  Ten years later, it was only $56,335, or a 36 percent decline.

Overall, 1% of Americans own more than a third of the country’s wealth.

According to Van Buren, none of this is accidental, some sort of invisible hand at work.

Importantly, by owning more of everything, rich people have a mechanism for getting ever richer than the rest of us, because the rate of return on investment is higher than the rate of economic growth.

In other words, money made from investments grows faster than money made from wages.

According to Thomas Piketty in his highly acclaimed book, Capital in the Twenty-first Century, the wealth of the wealthiest Americans is rising at 6%-7% a year, more than three times as fast as the economy the rest of us live in.

Let's face it, the economy is for chumps. 

Guided by an invisible hand?  Give me a fucking break.  The latest figures on GDP, unemployment rates, and balance of trade are nothing more than statistical sleights of hand that distract the clueless while their collective pockets are being picked.

Forget trying to manipulate the levers of the economy in order to rev it up towards full employment.  The very idea makes the laughing dick chuckle.  Instead, focus on raising the minimum wage ,taxing capital gains, getting corporations to pay their taxes, and implementing a real wealth tax.

That would make even a laughing dick suddenly go limp.

*The stiff laughing prick image is from Henry Miller's Tropic of Capricorn.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Taking Back Sovereignty

Now, thanks to Thomas Picketty's highly influential study, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, we have historical confirmation that wealth begets wealth.  In other words, the rich are different from you and I.  Chances are that they were born into wealth and then used their resources not only to hang onto it, but to get a better rate of return than you and I could ever get on our meager savings.

The key to this process, of course, is to make sure that the masses keep their hands off of their stash.  To do this, it is absolutely essential that the redistribution of wealth be considered a mortal sin, and that it is more likely for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for an individual who thinks that wealth distribution is a good idea to get elected to a national assembly.

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Try as they may, progressives simply cannot garner enough votes to make a difference, especially when less and less people even bother to show up and vote.

Let's not be delusionally optimistic about this state of affairs in North America changing anytime soon. 

The playing field is not level.  The deck is overwhelmingly stacked to protect the status quo as a result of the electoral process.  If you want to get elected, you need money, and people who have money to give don't give their money to support candidates who propose to restrict their capacity to make it.

So, for those who know about such things as the common good and the social gradient with regard to health outcomes, it's time to get out of the electoral process altogether.

The Athenians figured this out about 2500 years ago when they set up the world's first democracy.  In order to prevent private interests from taking over, Athenians did not elect representatives.  They represented themselves in the citizens assembly and the officers of the assembly were rotated on an annual basis on the basis of a lottery.

Centuries later, the French political philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau, argued in his brilliant work, The Social Contract, that it is crucial that all the people exercise their sovereignty by attending legislated assemblies, for whenever people stop doing so, or elect representatives to do so in their place, their sovereignty is lost.

If sovereignty is lost by electing representatives, how can it be regained?

Do like the Athenians.  Refuse to elect representatives.  In the Age of the Internet, we no longer need them.

We already have the technology.  We can create a permanent assembly of citizens who meet and exchange their ideas and opinions and can vote for themselves on the issues that concern them directly in a virtual agora, free from the tyranny of private interests who more or less choose who will be the intermediaries that will distort the general will of the people in order to align it with their private gain.

A political party is nothing more than a corporation designed to transfer the sovereignty of the people to its executive body.  Once this is done, it is relatively easy for a privileged elite to influence their decision making.  This would not be the case if sovereignty remained in the hands of the people.

Put another way, a government of, by, and for the people only comes about when the people retain their sovereign right to vote directly on the matters that concern them.  Once sovereignty is transferred away, government becomes of, by, and for the wealthy, at the expense of the people.

As a result, if social outcomes are to change for the better, people need to stop shopping for the best political party they can find and get down to work on building a permanent citizens assembly in their electoral district.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Congratulations Ontario For Having Successfully Outsourced the Governance Function

Way to go Ontario!  When it comes to thwarting democratic rule in Canada, you continue to lead the way.

Not only did Ontarians peviously vote in a province-wide referendum against the notion of changing the anarchistic voting system (first-past-the-post) that allows a political party to form a majority government with less than 50% of the popular vote, they were able to elect a new government with the participation of about half the eligible voters in last week's general election.

Talk about efficiency!

In Ontario, depending on how the vote is distributed, a political party can go on to rule the province as if it had the support of the majority of the citizens with as little as the support of 20% of the electorate.

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For example, the Liberals garnered 38.65% of the votes cast by the 52.1% of the eligible voters that bothered to show up and vote on election day.  That works out to be the support of 20.14% of all of the eligible supporters.

Fuck democratic legitimacy.  Democracy is way too complicated and requires sustained effort in order to participate meaningfully.

Ontarians, as their recent history clearly demonstrates, would rather outsource the responsibility of governing the province to a single political party for four years and then decide whether or not to renew the contract at the end of its legislative mandate, unless, of course, the political party decides to force the issue earlier by calling another general election.

That way everyone can go on with their pursuit of the cheaper version of the American dream and leave the important decisions to be made by someone else.

After all, why devote any energy to a collective project where the benefits will be distributed widely to the entire population, when you can concentrate your efforts to endeavours where you as the individual will be the principle beneficiary.

Just make sure the trains run on time.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Unlanded Gentry Have Captured North America's Political Economy

During the first few decades of the industrial revolution in Britain, it was the landed gentry that ruled.  They did not have the good fortune of being born into a noble family, but they did have the good fortune to own considerable tracts of land.  As a result, they were able to get elected by other landowners to the House of Commons, the seat of real political power in Britain.  They wrote the laws, under the close scrutiny of the nobility, that ensured the mutual protection and further accumulation of wealth for the upper classes.

However, as the industrial revolution progressed and the creation of wealth shifted away from an agricultural economy towards a manufacturing economy, political power also began to shift.  A new merchant class needed to be accommodated.  As a result, the House of Commons broadened its electoral laws to grant the right to vote to more of the rising number of citizens with increasing means and appetites for more wealth.  Property requirements were kept throughout the 19th century and it wouldn't be until the beginning of the 20th century before universal suffrage would come into being.

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Essentially, two world wars and the Great Depression laid waste to the capacity of the landed gentry to control the political economy within the circumscribed territory of their respective nations.  The concerns of the working classes could no longer be ignored, especially with the spectre of communism looming on the horizon.  Much to their chagrin, increasing levels of prosperity brought about by technological advances wedded to the conspicuous consumption of the lower classes resulted in a much more egalitarian distribution of the nation's wealth up until the end of the nineteen seventies.

During the post war years of exponential economic growth, a new elite was born and began to take control of the richest political economy in the world in the United States of America.  These were the corporate men, the men who financed and ran America's mighty corporations.

No longer bounded by territorial limits, America's richest corporations expanded their operations across the globe and began to leave behind their national compatriots in their pursuit of profits.

Inevitably, this corporate elite would come to realize that their participation in a political economy that actually considered the well-being of the population at large placed limits of their ability to accumulate wealth.

This would have to change and change it did.

With the arrival of Reagan and Thatcher at the end of the seventies, the corporate elite began to claw back the portions of the economic pie they had lost to the lower classes.  Over the next thirty years, they were successful in re-establishing levels in income inequality that hadn't been seen since the gilded age.

In short, they leveraged their attachments to corporate entities that over time gained more and more of the rights normally reserved for humans so that they could maintain lower tax rates, gain favorable interventions into the political economy from Congress, and, most recently, monetize the electoral process to such an extent that have the members of the US Congress are millionaires.

America is now ruled by its corporations, legal fictions that have attained the state of person hood, marauding groups of individuals aided by limited liability to enhance their capacity to extract wealth from the ordinary Joes who slog away in the sometimes less than the cost of living wage economy.

Residing in their corporate principalities, the financiers and chief executive officers are seldom held accountable by the laws of the land.  Nevertheless, they are able to control how the laws are to be written and to maintain the world's largest military machine, ironically funded by a land-locked public, that serves to protect and uphold a socio-economic order that is wholly favorable to their desires.

In days of old, it paid to have passed on to you the property rights that were handed down from one generation to the next.

Today, it pays to inherit an investment portfolio and to gain access to America's elite universities, where the social networks that are forged more often than not open the doors for membership in the corporate social sphere, far from the maddening crowds who have lost all hope for a better future.