The COW, the CROW
and the AMERICAN DREAM
A wide ranging consideration of our present financial crisis
and its roots in every one of us
A few days ago, I was traveling in a three-wheeled taxi in South India, through the small country town of Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu. We had to slow down to let a large truck back up across the way. While we were stopped, I looked over to my left and saw a large brown cow lying down by the side of the road. This is a very common sight around here, but, this cow had an open wound the size of a golf ball on its backside haunch. On the ground, just to the side of the cow, was a black crow, which would jump up onto the haunch of the cow and peck at its wound. Every time the crow would do this, the cow would lift its head in pain and mutely turn towards the crow, but unable to reach its rear haunch with its head, the crow persisted.
As we sat there on the road, I watched the cow and the crow as this painful ritual repeated itself. Finally, just before we pulled off, the cow began to get to her feet. The only way that she could protect herself from the crow was to stand up, raising herself too high off the ground for the crow to jump. Otherwise, she would be allowed no rest from her torment.
The crow had no regard for the cow. It was oblivious to any suffering it may be causing. The crow was only after what it wanted- blood and flesh. This scene of suffering struck me; there is so much physical suffering in India, it is out in the open and nearly omnipresent here. But, this did not make me think of India, instead, it reminded me of what is going on in the United States today.
I have seen this painful vision re-enacted in the America of the second decade of the 21st century.
I saw it in Pay-Day Lenders who pray on people desperately in need of money to survive and eat, charging outrageous interest rates to those who can least afford it.
I saw it in the telephone company in Florida who do not tell their mainly, elderly customers, that there are far less expensive phone plans, in which they would get even better service if they would only ask for it. But their customers are old and do not know about the cheaper rates and the phone companies do nothing, continuing to take in excessive money from people on small fixed incomes, who could make very good use of even a little more cash in their own lives.
I saw it in credit card companies and banks offering debit cards, who do all they can to ‘allow’ people to incur overdraft charges, hiding the fact that these individuals have gone ‘over their limit,’ permitting that person even though over their credit limit to use their card again and again, racking up a ‘gotcha-type’, $35 penalty per usage, on top of, say, a mere charge of $1.50 for a cup of coffee and a donut. The banks claim they are doing this as a ‘service’ to their customers, but, interestingly, these banking ‘servants’, refused to allow people to ‘opt out’ of that ‘service’. Finally, a law had to be passed by congress, to force these banks to give people a chance to opt out of being given the ‘privilege’ of overdrawing their accounts unknowingly and being charged $35 each time they did so.
I saw it when large investment houses bet against whole industries, countries and cities, making huge amounts of money for themselves as they helped drive millions of people and their families into insolvency and suffering. Then, when these same large banks and mortgage companies who had been reaping tremendous profits on the backs of these people for decades, suddenly found they had gone too far, bet too much on a faulty horse and were bankrupt and insolvent, were promptly, over a single weekend, bailed out with trillions of dollars by the government of our nation so that they would not lose a single penny, all in the name and at the expense of the American people, the very same people on whose backs they had made such huge profits and the very same people who were now losing their jobs, houses, cars and being thrown out of their houses onto the street to fend for themselves because of the collapse of the world economy.
There is no need to be an economics professor to tell that this is a lying, cheap, lowdown, dirty, misleading, bad thing; what used to be called a sin. I don’t care what financial theory you believe in, even a child can tell it is rotten, morally corrupt and terribly wrong.
To ask most economists what is wrong with our financial system is like asking an SS officer what is wrong with the way the Jews were being liquidated during WWII by the Nazis. The SS played a major role in this genocidal crime and their answers, of course, would pertain to doing what they were already up to, only in a better, more efficient way. They would assume you are actually asking about the best way to erase all the Jews off the face of the earth.
Like this, an economist will assume that you are asking how to get the same financial system up and running again, only this time even better. He might talk of increasing or decreasing taxes on the rich or the poor, regulating or not regulating banks, privatizing or not privatizing social security and so forth. But, he ignores the fact that our financial/economic system has been a disaster for a huge part of the population for a long time. People have been uneccessarily starving and malnourished in the United States and around the world for decades. They have been without health care, unable to go to work, unable to pay for gas so that they could go and look for work, losing their homes to foreclosure while their families suffered. All this was happening before our recent crash (2008). The only thing that changed is that what was happening to fewer people then is now happening to the vast majority of people living on this planet.
For the first time since the great depression, whole cities are going bankrupt, schoolteachers are being dismissed, firefighters and policemen are being let go. In addition to the poor and previously dispossessed, this crisis is affecting big banks, large corporations and a huge slice of the middle class. The scope of what is going on is huge and it is by no means over.
Our financial economic crisis is the 'late-time' result of a process that has been going on for a long time. The recent financial meltdown was just a straw that broke the camels back. However, we must not forget the huge load that had been piled on that camel before the last straw and we must remember that no single straw ever broke a camel's back. The financial meltdown that reached a crisis in 2008 was not the cause. It was another effect and there will be others just like it as the cause has not been addressed. All along the way, amazingly, nearly every single economist did not see it coming. Most of them said prior to the crash that things had never been better. It should be obvious what was the ‘ball’ they had their eye on. Let me clarify:
A Ball hidden in the Himalayas
I am presently living in a valley, pressed up against the Himalayan Mountains in Himachal Pradesh, northern India. It is projected that the massive glaciers of the Himalayas that feed the 5 major rivers which nourish 1/5 of the worlds people with their flow: the Indus, Sutlej, Ganga, Yamuna and Brahmaputra, which support tens of millions of people on the Asian continent, are estimated to be gone in less than a century. Without those glaciers, how will these rivers flow? Without these rivers, how will these people live? Right now, there is little sign of what is about to happen on the plains. In fact, some of these rivers have a greater flow than normal as a result of all the melting glaciers and all seems well, Unless the situation is ‘deeply considered’, there seems nothing to worry about.
The ‘ball’ that these environmental scientists are keeping their eye on, just like the ‘ball’ that economists had to keep their eye on, produces effects that are not immediately apparent. Both the environmental scientists and the economists completely miss it. How could they miss something this huge? Here is one answer: Because the gaze of the economists was fixed on the present-day world of finance and money, everything they observed, seemed to be flowing in abundance like the present day Ganges. But, there was something going on which they missed. They were blind to the actual situation of our economy, which like the Himalayan Glaciers, were in trouble, fading away and disappearing. There was a terrible problem going on in our economy long before this crisis and it had been there for a long time (and it is still there).
Perhaps, economists are not the right people to ask about the economy. Perhaps we need to ask saints and religious people. We need to ask the poor and the needy. We need to inquire of those who have devoted their whole lives to helping those in need. We need to ask the right people, in the right way and we need to ask them the right questions. The questions we ask will always and ultimately come down to what we believe in, what our values are, or, as the Army lawyer Joe Welch said to Senator Joe McCarthy, the questions we ask, the things we seek for, the way we judge and the goals we seek, will finally come down to a sense of ‘decency.'
Joseph McCarthy and a Sense of Decency
In the 1950‘s, Joe Welch was the special counsel and chief legal representative of the US Army, when the Army brought charges against Senator Joseph McCarthy on a technicality. They were using this technicality as a front; the Army was fighting back against McCarthy’s aggressive and for many, life-destroying investigations, slanders and accusations based on trumped up, false and inflammatory charges of Communist sympathies and spying. The investigations had begun to look at Army personnel and the Army, proud of its recent role in WWII, grew incensed at McCarthy’s accusations; all of this took place on television, in the first nationally televised congressional hearings in America.
On the 30th day of the hearings, Joe Welch demanded, standing in front of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, that Senator McCarthy produce a list, that very day, of the more than a hundred and twenty people that McCarthy claimed were in the Defense Department and were members of the Communist party or spies. McCarthy ignored his request and went on to accuse and revile a young lawyer on Welch’s law-firm as a communist sympathizer, Welch stopped him and replied with a famous outburst, "Until this moment, Senator, I think I never gauged your cruelty or recklessness . . ." When McCarthy resumed his attack, Welch cut him short: "Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator... You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"
The gallery erupted with applause and this marked the beginning of the end of Joseph McCarthy and the witch-hunting frenzy that he led. With his request for common decency, Welch had returned the discussion to what was really going on underneath all the accusations and suggestions of Communist spying. This was not really about Communism or spying, it was a hyperventilating 20th century, aggressive witch-hunt which was using the American flag as a cover, led by a hate-crazed, alcoholic man.
I am reminded of Savonarola, the priest who created the ‘bonfire of the vanities’ in 1497 Florence.
“They sent boys from door to door collecting items associated with moral laxity: mirrors, cosmetics, lewd pictures, pagan books, immoral sculptures (which he wanted to be replaced by statues of the saints and modest depictions of Biblical scenes, gaming tables, chess pieces, lutes and other musical instruments, fine dresses, women’s hats, and the works of immoral and ancient poets, and burnt them all in a large pile in the Piazza del Signoria of Florence Many fine Florentine Renaissance artworks were lost in Savonarola’s notorious bonfires — including paintings by Sandro Botticelli, which he is alleged to have thrown into the fires himself.”
Driven by religious idealism, hidden behind a crazed fundamentalism, Savonarola led a hysteria that confused art and beauty with sin and the devil. Even Botticelli, afraid of the passions of the mob that raged around him, publicly threw his own paintings into the fires.
McCarthy played a similar role to Savonarola. He was a hateful, aggressive drunk who masqueraded behind the role of an American patriot and idealist. He aroused a wave of fear and named the devil- communism. Like Botticelli, many people, when called before his senate committee and hearing the loud, condemnatory accusations against them, became scared and betrayed their own friends, throwing them into the fire to be prosecuted. It was a perfect storm of the lowest denominator in man.
Animals, Man and Morality
Animals don’t have morals. They do not weigh the right or wrong in a situation like a human being can. They do not ask for ‘mercy’. In my opening tale of the crow and the cow, I was talking about animals and the way they act. The crow torturing the cow was not evil or wrong. We would not call a lion ‘cruel’ or ‘evil’ for killing a baby giraffe in front of its mother. But, we would call a human being cruel and evil for killing a human child in front of its mother and that is what is being done all over the world today; only many of the people doing it have no face and their killing is done impersonally; by destroying the livelihood of others and underselling the traditional indigenous crops of whole peoples with subsidized foreign imports. It is done by stealing the natural resources of a third world country (such as oil or timber) and making billions off of it while leaving the waste of their pillage in the rivers, earth and bodies of their victims. When they destroy a people’s ability to make a living from their own land, they undermine a culture and all the family values within it. Families, fathers, mothers and children are left to suffer all their lives. Worst of all, it is done in the name of capitalism, free trade, progress and democracy.
I am reminded of the resignation letter written in 2012 by Greg Smith, a Goldman Sachs executive director and head of the firm’s United States equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. He wrote:
"I attend derivatives sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients. It’s purely about how we can make the most possible money off of them. If you were an alien from Mars and sat in on one of these meetings, you would believe that a client’s success or progress was not part of the thought process at all.
"It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as “muppets,” sometimes over internal e-mail. No humility? I mean, come on. Integrity? It is eroding. I don’t know of any illegal behavior, but will people push the envelope and pitch lucrative and complicated products to clients even if they are not the simplest investments or the ones most directly aligned with the client’s goals? Absolutely. Every day, in fact.
It astounds me how little senior management gets a basic truth: If clients don’t trust you they will eventually stop doing business with you. It doesn’t matter how smart you are.
"These days, the most common question I get from junior analysts about derivatives is, “How much money did we make off the client?” It bothers me every time I hear it, because it is a clear reflection of what they are observing from their leaders about the way they should behave. Now project 10 years into the future: You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the junior analyst sitting quietly in the corner of the room hearing about “muppets,” “ripping eyeballs out” and “getting paid” doesn’t exactly turn into a model citizen.”
– Greg Smith, ex- Goldman Sachs executive director and head of the firm’s United States equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa
These things are occurring in our modern day society and business. They are practices, which show human beings and corporations acting like animals, instinctually, without morality, but with far greater ability to do harm than the other animals. And this is but the smallest taste of what is going on; it is the moral violation of humanity on a grand scale, enabled by advances in technology that allow people to cheat, lie and steal in greater and more widespread ways unheard of before while largely unnoticed by the everyday man on the street.
Within the last few years there is often no other ‘person’ when a collection agency calls you. It is a recording and you are put on hold, if you wait to talk to a human operator, they also have no interest in you and address you very much like that crow did to that cow. This is, of course, ‘understandable.’ The person you are now talking to has taken a job from a company whose whole reason for existing is the ‘blood and flesh’ of money. It is just the ‘rules’, the ‘way it is,’ ‘just business’. They do not particularly care if you had an accident or a medical emergency or lost your job. They are not members of your family or part of your community. They are working off a script and the purpose of their job is to get money.
In ancient Rome there was an institution of tax collectors, they were called: ‘Publicans’. They were extremely wealthy persons, who after posting the highest bid in an auction held by the state, would get the right to collect the taxes for that year from the people. They used threats, brutality, evictions, seizures and torture to get what they wanted. The amount they could collect, over and above the amount they paid the state, was pure profit. They were after one thing, money! They would use any means to get it. This makes for great movies and stories because the abuse is so real and can be connected with actual people. In our present time, although the seizures and threats continue, things have changed; because of technology, we are one step removed from the club and torture.
Technology and the Results of Human Distance
"Money is a new form of slavery, and distinguishable from the old
simply by the fact that it is impersonal;
there is no human relation between master and slave”
– Leo Tolstoy
The distancing of the criminal from his victim and the aggressor from the aggrieved, is a phenomenon of our modern age and a hallmark of technology. Technology allows us to do things ‘impersonally’, with further distance and more remove than ever before. Now, we stand so far away that we no longer sense the effects of what we do and as a result, no longer evaluate things properly. We have insulated ourselves from what we are doing. We increasingly have only ‘ideas’ about the suffering we are causing. We have lost ‘touch’ with reality. When this happens, the relationship between cause and effect becomes vague to us and as a result, we become stupid and coarse. Our natural feeling relationships to each other are ‘lost in the distance’ and we become easily and spontaneously cruel.
Let us not forget, for many, our economic system before the crash was a difficult and a terrible struggle. In other parts of the world, whole countries and cultures had been condemned to poverty and crushing debt, with all that implies about a ruined quality of life. Even in America, widespread poverty and the daily and year-round suffering of no work or a minimum wage job was everywhere.
In addition to the struggles with an unfair financial system weighted against the poor, large corporations sought to further exploit the masses. Drug and cigarette companies, even food companies, turned out products that physically harmed and killed many people. They knew that their products were harmful and even lethal, but they sold them anyway; it was perfectly legal.
Health insurance companies refused to pay for claims after they had accepted money for years from the very same clients who now actually needed to use the insurance they had been paying for. These things primarily affected the common people. But this time around in the crash of 2008, even the rich were affected.
Goldman Sachs, using their technologically enhanced ability to play both sides of the game, ripped off their rich clients: They praised certain investments (bundled packages of home mortgages) as very good, A-1 and sold them to their wealthy clients. Then, they secretly bet against them, taking huge positions, knowing and believing that the investments they had just sold would fail. And when they did fail, investors lost billions while Goldman Sachs grew richer. This lying, outrageous greed for money, not only deprived the wealthy clients of any real benefit from Goldman Sachs; it deprived millions of people all over America of their ability to live and led to the financial meltdown of the whole world.
Matt Taibbi, in an article for Rolling Stone gave the now well-known name of the ‘Vampire Squid’ to Goldman Sachs. He wrote:
“The first thing you need to know about Goldman Sachs is that it's everywhere. The world's most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”
However, we must not underestimate what is going on. Although terrible, harmful and exquisitely described, this blood-sucking vampire is but a single tentacle of a world-wide way of thinking that preys on human beings and society. It does not want to kill its prey; like any predator, it just does not care about the feelings, human relations or society of its prey. This is far bigger than Goldman Sachs; it is a weltanschaung, a complete and nearly all-consuming worldview, that has spread through our society and the world like a plague.
Think of a lion that has brought down a zebra on the African Plain and begun to eat the beast while it is still alive. That lion is not concerned with any pain the zebra may be suffering. That lion would not be concerned with eating a baby zebra right in front of its mother. But, of course, how else could a lion live if it did not kill its prey?
But, Goldman Sachs and the system it represents is not a lion and does not need to harm people to live. This is what makes its actions horrendous, terrible and sinful. These predators are human beings that have no concern for the suffering of the other people they prey upon, or the havoc that is wrought upon others. These are people who can hear and understand the cries of people suffering, the ruin of families as they are cast out on the streets, the inability of people to provide for their health care or that of their loved ones and all because some bondholder wants his pound of flesh.
The rise of rapacious greed and insensitivity are signs that have always preceded the collapse of economies as well as cultures. It is always accompanied by a growing inequality and the rise of a wealthy few with all the rest of the people increasingly poor. That is what is going on in America and the world today. This is what was missed by the economists who looking only at Wall Street and the great amounts of money that were accumulating there; did not notice the masses of people, the real source of wealth in the world, had been greatly oppressed and were drying up like the Himalayan glaciers.
Revolutions are dramatic changes in how the world works. Usually, they occur in terms of economics, politics and society, although they can take place in technology or medicine as well. In our present time, we are experiencing a revolution in finance and economics. The system is breaking down, debt is overwhelming the lives of people and whole countries. A revolution is coming whether people realize it or not, and usually, as history has shown, most people do not recognize what is about to happen, until it does. The French, Russian, Chinese and Cuban revolutions were preceded by economic distress on a wide scale. Most people did not think that a revolution was coming. Certainly not the rich, they were too busy enjoying their life, and when it happened, everyone was surprised.
Our financial system has been created to protect and satisfy the insatiable cravings of the greedy, the powerful, the rich and of course, corporations, which are now considered ‘persons’ by the Supreme Court and treated as such in nearly all things but hanging for murder and other serious crimes. Our economy is unsustainable in its present form. Prior to the crash, everything looked good, the same way an evening looks good to someone high on cocaine. That ‘cocaine’ was wealth and money. If you weren’t sniffing it, it was just another night of struggle in a low-paying, second, nighttime job, to meet the too high rent and bills of a difficult life of grinding poverty, and this was life for the vast majority of citizens of the world.
Greed and the Zero Sum Game
Greed is the insatiable desire and pursuit of wealth, status, and power. It used to be called, ‘avarice’, and is one of the ‘seven deadly sins’. These particular sins were considered by the Catholic Church to be at the root of all the others for greed is a desire that can never be satisfied.
The medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas said of Greed: “ . . . it is a sin directly against one's neighbor, since one man cannot over-abound in external riches, without another man lacking them." Mahatma Gandhi said something similar, “The earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed.”
The ‘game’ of business in America (and increasingly all over the world) is played based on the rules of greed, especially by the big companies and moguls of Wall Street and it is being played as a ‘zero-sum’ game. This means that if someone wins, someone else has to lose. There is no change in the total wealth in this type of game (Wall Street is not creating anything, it is only making money on money through betting). Actually, the outcome of any game of greed always equals zero or nothing. There is no new wealth created. Someone else loses so that you can win. The ‘wealth’ is simply moved from one player or group of players to another. Over the past 50 years, there has been the largest transfer of wealth from the middle class to the wealthy class in history.
Consider the game of Monopoly– there is only so much money and so much property available on the board. If you own a piece of property and control it, then someone else does not. In fact, they are penalized every time they land on your property and must pay you rent. The game continues to be played until one person owns enough of the limited resources, so that the others inevitably go bankrupt or give up. It is a zero-sum game. This is the same game played by Wall Street and finance. It is the game of finance that is played throughout our world today.
Elizabeth Magie is the lady who invented Monopoly, originally called the Landlords Game. To play this game of ‘chance’, as she called it in her patent application of 1904, each player would roll the dice, moving continuously around a board, benefitting from good and bad luck, buying property, paying rents, taxes and penalties, attempting to become the ‘winner’. The triumphant player would have the greatest amount of wealth at the end of the game, bankrupting all the others along the way.
According to Magie, the reason she developed the game, was not mere fun and entertainment. She developed and patented the game to teach something: to demonstrate the harmful effects of Capitalism and the ‘monopolization’ of land as they existed at the turn of the century in the West.
She sought to demonstrate in her board-game, how the rents charged on the various properties enriched those who owned them and eventually drove those who did not, into poverty. She wanted to show, not just the innate greed of people for wealth, but, that there was something fundamentally wrong with the whole system of Capitalism, how it was practiced, how it was set up and how it all turned out.
I didn’t think about this as a kid when I rolled the dice in Monopoly. I don’t think my parents knew anything about it either. My friends and I loved the game, the competition and the ‘chance’ of winning it all. Looking back, I clearly see this game actually mirrored the inequality in distribution of wealth in our society . But, I didn’t think about that at the time, nor did I recognize the moral lesson of what was going on in the game of Capitalism that we were living in.
Elizabeth Magie wanted us to discover a moral lesson and learn by playing the game that the only way to win in Monopoly was by driving all the others into poverty or bankruptcy. The game of Monopoly is a dramatic example of how not to bring wealth to all.
Enough to Go Around
Before the middle part of the last century, regardless of whether one had enough money or not, there were not enough resources to go around in the world to allow everyone a life at a high standard of living. Since the time of Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) an Englishman who was the first economist to gather information from all over the world (Remember that the sun never set on the English Empire at that time), it was simply considered an established fact that there was not enough life support to go around for all mankind. Malthus noticed that while food supply increased arithmetically, population was increasing exponentially. Therefore, he reasoned, over time, there will simply not be enough for everybody.(1) The principles of his observation came to be known as the Malthusian Doctrine.
This was no insignificant piece of information. It formed the basis of huge geo-political strategies and if you were a real thinker or politician you had to take a stand on it. Karl Marx reviled Malthus and spent considerable time responding to Malthus’ arguments. Marx blamed the poverty and suffering of the masses not on population growth, like Malthus, but on an unjust system.(2)
The Malthusian Doctrine came to be associated with the imperialist-colonialist actions of the Western powers in their attempts to subjugate and exploit the natural resources of the third world in Africa, Asia and Central and South America. They believed Malthus’ Doctrine to be true and thinking that it was either us (the First-world countries, population and culture) or them ((the third-world countries, population and cultures) will survive and prosper in this ‘not-enough-to-go-around situation.’ Because of this way of thinking, Western Imperialists felt justified in their domination and exploitation of the peoples, goods and wealth of less militarily sophisticated countries of the world.
The Malthusian Doctrine provides the basic assumptions for those who play the zero-sum game of making money on money. Consciously or unconsciously, based on the Malthusian Doctrine, people justify the financial crimes of what they do and at which they are ‘winning,’ after all, it is those who win who write history. They are getting what they want in this dog-eat-dog world which they see in a Malthusian Light. For them, the masses are superfluous- there are too many of them and besides, there is not enough to go around. The rich feel entitled to take it for themselves, for their own survival and because they can.
But, there is a fundamental problem with all this . . . Thomas Malthus was wrong. He did not take into account the changes that technology would bring about in the world.
Let me consider that next . . .
Buckminster Fuller, Ephemeralization
In 1976, I received a scholarship to spend two months with Buckminster Fuller at the “World Game” in Philadelphia. He came up with this event as a counterpoint to the ‘War Games’ that were regularly held by the armed forces, in their attempts to refine their own strategy and actions regarding any war or conflict that might arise in the world. Fuller, instead of preparing for war, saw the World Game as an opportunity to consider how to make the world work for everyone. He thought the world could ‘work’, not on the basis of any idealistic point of view or feeling, but rather, based on the observed and provable fact that there had been a great technological revolution on the face of the earth which Fuller thought had been almost universally unrecognized.
Because of the advancement of technology the ability of mankind to provide every person on earth with a quality of life better than the kings of old had passed a threshold sometime in the middle 1900’s. The principle of this life-changing phenomenon he referred to as ‘ephemeralization’: the ever-increasing ability of technology to accomplish more and more life supporting effects using less and less materials and energy. For instance, what was accomplished by millions of tons of trans-Atlantic cable is now carried out much more efficiently by a ten-pound geo-stationary satellite. Or, the first general-purpose electronic computer, ENIAC, weighed thirty tons, took up half a basketball court and used huge amounts of power. The present day computing power of a laptop computer using a ¼” square silicon chip is more capable, far faster and vastly more energy efficient than the vacuum tubes, resistors, capacitors, switches, and relays of the ENIAC. The principle that makes this difference is ephemeralization and that is the direction in which technology proceeds.
Fuller said Malthus never took the principle of ephemeralization into account when he gathered his calculations relative to economics and food-supply. He wrote:
"I found out that Malthus was the essence of how and why it had to be either you or me, and why there is selfishness," said Fuller. ``I thought the economists might be wrong; that it might not be a generalized law that there will always be inadequacy. It occurred to me that if we keep on doing more and more with less and less, we might someday do so much with so little that we can take care of everybody. . . it is now highly feasible to (provide for) everybody on earth at a higher standard of living than any have ever known. It no longer has to be you or me. Selfishness is unnecessary and henceforth unrationalizable as mandated by survival.”
Because of his critical omission, Malthus, although more accurate at the time when he put forth his theory,(3) did not foresee the future accurately and is terribly wrong in our modern day, technologically advanced world. Nevertheless, political struggles and financial wars continue to be fought for dominance in a world in which it is still thought, that there is not enough to go around. Th Malthusian doctrine remains the principle on which people live their lives and governments shape their strategies. Fuller said that since the Malthusian Doctrine was no longer true, there needs to be a revolution in peoples understanding or world-view, as well as their actions and this is why he started the 'World Game.'
The figures vary, but in our country today, it is estimated that 1% of the people control 50% of all the wealth and the top 10% of the people control 93% of all the wealth. It is said that the richest 83 people in the world own more than 50% of the world’s population combined. These are the kinds of figures that led to the Chinese revolution, the Russian Revolution, the French Revolution and the Cuban Revolution. There is outrageous inequality in America and all over the world.
Ancient middle-eastern cultures like the Egyptians, Babylonians, Jews and many others, noticed a repetitive result in their economic systems; they always ended exhibiting a gross inequality between the rich and poor. As their economies played out over time, their rulers noticed an increase of indebtedness amongst most of the people and the owning of more and more wealth by fewer and fewer people. The Egyptians and Babylonians believed that such inequality would eventually destroy their society and remove any reason that the people would fight for their king and country and fighting was a necessity in ancient times . . . if they had no stake or possessions, what would they be fighting for? It was for this reason that regular occasions were created in which all debts were forgiven or released. For the Egyptians and the Babylonians, such release often came at the inauguration of a new ruler. For the Jews, who also had such a practice, it was a commandment of their God-Yahweh and timed to their seven-year Sabbath and the grand Sabbath (7 times 7 years) or what is called the Jubilee.
The release of debts and the resetting of the economic balance of these ancient societies form the basis of our modern laws of bankruptcy. The ancient cultures of the west and middle east thought that without the practice of the forgiveness of debts, a society would become more and more imbalanced, a situation they saw determined by the luck of fate and the principle of greed, both of which if left unchecked would destroy a society.
Now not all people think greed is a sin. Ivan Boesky, an early Wall Street ‘personality’ who went to jail for his role in unethical trade deals based on insider information, famously defended greed in a May 18, 1986, commencement address at the UC Berkeley's School of Business Administration. He said, "Greed is all right, by the way. I want you to know that. I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself".(4) It is interesting to notice that the referential value system with which he judged greed did not extend beyond himself- ”You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself." It was utterly self-referential. At that time. Ivan Boesky lived in a very small emotional world. He was certainly not concerned with the poor. This is the same Ivan Boesky that once said "What good is the moon if you can't buy or sell it?" His primary concern was making money and lots of it.(5)
We cannot ask a SS officer about the Jews- he is in the business of killing Jews. We cannot ask most doctors about what is good for our health- they are in the business of treating symptoms of disease with drugs and operations. They are not in the business of creating health and according to their own studies, treatment by a doctor (iatrogenic disease) is the third leading cause of death in the United States after cancer and heart disease!(6) Just so, we cannot ask a hedge fund manager or an economist about what is best for our economy unless we realize that they are in the business of making money from money, not contributing to the economic health of a society. What they do has nothing to do with producing goods or services. They are betting on horses and making money. Whether that horse is a pork belly or mortgage payments, the cost of money or the fall of a corporation; whether their bets succeed or fail, it does not matter; investors, hedge funds and Wall Street can still make money. These professions have changed the meaning of the term– investor to something different from what we used to think an investor was about. Now, and increasingly, investors and what we call Wall Street have become antithetical to life itself.
This is not a financial Crisis
It is a moral one
To begin with, we need to recognize that we are not having an economic crisis, we are having a financial one. No sudden problem or lack occurred in the economy of America, Greece, Italy, Ireland or Spain. The things needed for everyday life; the food, grains, water, shelter, transportation, milk, olives, cheese and meat are all still there and usually in abundance. This is a financial crisis. It means that even though we have enough food, many do not have the money to pay for it. Whether they are willing to work or not,(7) they do not make enough money or have enough money and we have arbitrarily decided that people must have money to buy or use such things. This is the critical point at which the forgiveness of debts and charity occurred in ancient cultures and the same point at which revolutions occurred in more modern times.
An economy has to do with the tools and the materials of living. Finance has to do with wagers, betting (investing), numbers, interest, loans, debt and repayment. Because of failures in our financial system, our economy has been affected, but, and this is most important, a breakdown in our economy is not the necessary result of a financial crisis. It is not necessary that people be put out on the streets because they do not have a thing called ‘money.’
It depends on how the ‘game’ is set up and what relationship is said to be necessary between finance and economy. I have mentioned the traditional release of debts that existed in many of the ancient cultures of the world; they forgave debts and reset their financial game because they wanted to preserve their economy. They forgave debts when the financial factors of inequality became harmful to the economy or the everyday life of their people and their society.
The fact that a financial crisis has been allowed to adversely affect our economy, shows that a moral judgment has already been made. We may be unconscious of it, we may not think that it is a moral judgment, but that is exactly what it is. Fundamentally what we are thinking and saying: ‘In spite of there being enough to go around, if you do not have enough money, you cannot have access to the goods of life and living.’ This is the false, destructive and hurtful moral judgment that lies beneath the surface of our financial/economic crisis.
The roots of this judgment go back to the Malthusian Doctrine and the zero-sum game that has been played throughout the world for ages. The unstated argument of this doctrine is, since there is not enough to go around, we had better take it ourselves and prevent others from getting it; after all, it is either us or them.
The making of money has been given precedence over the quality of life. The right of a multinational corporation to make a huge profit is given precedence over the rights of a poor person to merely survive. We have decided to put finance first, to honor greed, sacrifice our economy for financial values and ignore our technologically enabled ability to take care of everyone.
To use a Biblical term, what we are doing today was called an ‘abomination’ in ancient times; an abomination is that which is exceptionally loathsome, hypocritical, lying, greedy, hateful, sinful, wicked and vile. This is not new. It has always gone on. All over the world, in every religion, most of the social criticism of over the past 2000 years has been aimed at various ‘abominations’.
In the first part of the 21st century, however, it seems something unique has happened in America - we have begun to take ‘abomination’ for granted. Technology has allowed us to distance ourselves so far from the hurt we inflict on others that we don’t even notice we are committing an abomination. We have moved so far away from each other that we no longer can find a particular individual to blame. And, since we find no one to blame, we merely complain and don’t know what to do, we are confused. As a result, our moral outrage is without object and our radar of sensitivity finds no objects so we go to sleep on a bed of naive idealism and ignorance. It becomes ‘just business.’
Just as we have living creatures killed for our food without seeing the terror, fear, blood, gore or the transition from an animal that looked us in the eyes to dead meat, we can also blow things up in Afghanistan without fighting our way all the way there like Alexander the Great. We can remotely control a Predator Drone flying over Pakistan, look on a video screen, confirm a target and push a button. That missile will hit whatever its laser guided system was aimed at within a couple inches. But, we do not see or feel the suffering it caused from collateral damage, we do not see the horrifc damage it does to bodies of men women and children, we do not know exactly who we have killed, we need not feel a thing. Technology allows us to know and touch things at a distance and to be insulated from all of it. This is why I consider technology to be the primary difference between our modern world and the ancient one.
Technology allows us to reach out and touch millions of people with useful knowledge or wasteful spam, destructive bombs or a computer virus, pleasant advertisements for harmful food or information on how to eat better, false ‘facts’ and opinions, as well as real ones. Madison Avenue is about advertising which has become entertainment and they are confused with each other and the news. The selling of an idea for political purposes is the same as the selling of any other product and money greases all the wheels.
To exploit others has become a ‘business model’ for much of our economy. Many corporations take advantage of their own workers, plundering the poor and the vulnerable, even while publicly giving a few millions to charity so that they appear to care. This way, through fake empathy, they are left alone to rake in billions on the backs of the suffering masses.
I read in the papers recently about a coalition of for-profit colleges that invested millions of dollars in lobbyists for the sole purpose of keeping federal oversight out of what has become the big money making private enterprises of education. Why would they do that in the first place? Of course, this also happens in pharmaceuticals, health care and medical insurance when they became publicly traded organizations. By becoming a publicly traded business, they declare themselves purposed to profit first and foremost. That sounds logical and rational and ‘sort of’ OK, but really, they are declaring their dedication to ‘blood and flesh’ so people who invest in them can be assured of optimum returns on their money. They guarantee they will be there, pecking at the side of that cow and will do their best to make sure that cow only gets up off the ground for as long as necessary so that they can continue to profit from its suffering. Their concern for the health and happiness of that cow does not extend outside of keeping it alive to be plundered for years to come.
Damn them! This is a moral outrage, especially in the field of health and medical care! How can we trust a health care system that evaluates everything by how much money it will make for its investors? And, what kind of system is Western medicine? Hidden just under the surface of this great world of Western medicine is a horrendous fact that not many of us know . . . our health-care system is the third leading cause of death in America . . . and imagine how many people are suffering and do not die!
There is a sickness spread over our land like a plague, there are hundreds of thousands of crows pecking at millions of cows, particularly those who are weak, wounded or vulnerable. This sickness has spread insidiously like a flood. People close their eyes, thinking they are safe within their houses, but the waters rise and before we know it we are drowning in our beds.
I cannot see a circumstance that would cause people across America to rise up in moral outrage about what is going on. I am not sure what the ‘moral character’ of the mass of American people is any longer. I do not think such a thing as ‘decency’ matters anymore. It’s hard to even have a conversation about it.
A large part of all this is that we have been misled on a grand scale. More and more people in power, presidential candidates, politicians, commentators, news stations, simply make things up about something or someone and then talk about what they have just made up as if it was true . . .. And now, thanks to the technology of mass communication, millions of people can hear what they concocted and are affected by false information and then they join in, talking about and protesting things that do not even exist.
As Thoreau wrote in Walden, “One dog barks at his shadow and a hundred bark at his sound”. What can one do in such a situation when you are dealing with millions of deluded people, barking at the sounds of others who are deluded as well? What can you do when people are no longer even debating facts? Much of our political debate now is about something that is unreal. It is not a fictional debate. It is a debate about fictions.
Our very news has become corrupted. One incredible example of this is a case involving Fox News that went all the way to the Florida Appellate Court. Essentially, the court ruled that it is not against the law for a news organization to purposefully lie and distort the news(8) and Fox News admitted to doing just that. The case was not about whether what they had reported was true. They agreed they had purposefully lied and obfuscated a story about Monsanto, suppressing the real facts and changing the reporting of two of their reporters about the harmful effects of one of Monsanto’s products (rgBH) used in milk and fed to an unsuspecting public. However, this was not what the case centered on. The case was about whether it was legal to purposefully lie as a news reporting organization. Believe it or not, FOX won! The courts said it was a First Amendment right for FOX NEWS to lie. The courts said it was OK for a news organization that sells itself as such and has a huge viewership in America, to just make stuff up, leave stuff out, change the facts and report known lies as if they were ‘news’.
These are unique times. Our largest buildings are dedicated to Finance and business,(9) not to God or even politics. These temples represent the ideals and organizations devoted first and foremost to making money, not, to an all encompassing ideal or creating a better world for people to live in. They might use nice sounding happy, benign words, ideas and slogans for selling their product and making sales. But, in increasing numbers of cases, their advertisements are false or misleading and just the opposite of what they try to put across, is true. Many are making and selling extremely harmful and even lethal products. For example: Tobacco companies, in ads and press releases, touted their products as healthy and even good for your health, until they were ordered by congress to cease and ordered to pay large penalties. For some reason, they were allowed to stay in business. Now, they have simply shifted their sales overseas, poisoning and killing people in other parts of the world who are not so well informed, and we, as a people have allowed them to do this.
Monsanto has invented and patented ‘Terminator seeds, which will not sprout again after their first harvest. This takes away the farmers ability to grow their own seeds and makes them perpetually dependent on Monsanto for all future seeds. Vandana Shiva, the Indian ecologist and physicist wrote:
“A half-century after the Bengal famine [where, during British colonial rule, most of the food grown was exported for trade and for the UK, instead of feeding hungry local people], a new and clever system has been put in place which is once again making the theft of the harvest a right and the keeping of harvest a crime. Hidden behind complex free-trade treaties are innovative ways to steal nature's harvest, the harvest of the seed, and the harvest of nutrition.(10)
"Monsanto sees Terminator Seeds as a business idea, a way to make money. However, they are doing so by taking away the spontaneous bounty of nature from the farmers. Farmers all over the world see it as a criminal and destructive, wresting away a time honored tradition and control of their own lives."
Monsanto is aggressive in its greed; they are like the British, who literally forced the Chinese in 1839, at the point of a gun, to allow the British supply of Opium, which they had grown in Bihar and Benares, India, into China and to be sold to the Chinese people. The British, functioning as state, Mafia-type-drug-dealers forced their opium into China in spite of the strong objection to opium as harmful by the Chinese government.(11) The Chinese did not want their people to be ruined by an addiction to this drug. However. the British East India Company wanted to make money and the British sent their armed forces to attack Chinese seaports and after two wars, appropriately called the ‘Opium Wars’, they seized Hong Kong and won the right to force drugs on the Chinese people. This began what was called the ‘Century of Humiliation’ for the Chinese.(12)
Today, Monsanto does not have an army with guns, but they have an army of lawyers. Recently, they have gone on to sue many farmers throughout the world whose crops were involuntarily pollinated by Monsanto’s genetically altered crops for infringing on their (Monsanto’s) patents.(13) In this way, they sought to force their monopoly of Terminator seeds into use. Many farmers were ruined financially by the lawsuits, unable to defend themselves against one of the largest and most corrupt corporations in the world.
Poultry farms raise chicken in horrendously overcrowded, barbaric conditions and then lobby against inspection or rules by any government agency.(14) This type of action goes on and on. Our society is sick with hypocrisy, lying, greed and lack of caring for other people, animals and our environment and it has been this way for a long time. It is a cancer that is spreading around the world and has reached a critical mass of 'Utopia or Oblivion' as Buckminster Fuller titled one of his books.
Greed for money is taken for granted all across America and the world. Why else do we not take apart Wall Street or break apart big banks? Why else do we not repurpose ourselves towards the good of all instead of protecting the rights of the wealthy few? This financial crisis seems to be about money, but it is actually a moral crisis about the way we act and feel towards all of life and it is a moral response that needs to occur as well as all the actions that flow from it. A new morality must form the foundation of any real and effective healing of our world.
People say that you cannot legislate morality. I do not think that is true. You cannot change people’s feelings about things. But, you can change their actions. In Southeast Asia, the penalty for drug smuggling is death and in Saudi Arabia, the penalty for adultery is death. Certainly, both these things occur in those countries, but not with the frequency that happens in the West. If we legislated a death penalty for the possession of marijuana, I bet that the occurrence of drug possession would dramatically decrease. Personally, I do not think that adultery or marijuana possession should be punished in this way. However, I do think that the crimes of Monsanto, the crimes of drug companies and the tobacco companies and in general, any people or companies that hurt large amounts of other people knowingly and purposefully with their actions, can and should have harsh penalties attached and enforced. Sadly, however, this does not occur, as even justice has become corrupted.
Even with the legislation of morality, things will not change unless the heart is changed. There is always some way to get around the spirit of any law. To discriminate between one type of sin and another we need to see more clearly and with the eyes of the heart.
President Bill Clinton was nearly impeached for lying about a sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky. President George Bush II got off scott-free for lying about weapons of mass destruction, invading another sovereign country (Iraq), deposing and killing it’s leader, Saddam Hussein, signing off on the torture and abuse of many people, being responsible for the destruction of the infrastructure of the country of Iraq, the deaths of millions of Iraqis, the deaths of thousands of US servicemen and the needless spending of hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars. Bush never apologized for any of it. In fact, he joked about it even after no weapons of mass-destruction were ever found. I ask you, who was guilty of a greater crime? Clinton for lying about an affair or Bush for lying about weapons of mass destruction? Who should have been punished and how?
I am not saying it is all right to lie. But, there is a need to discriminate between types of lies and reasons to lie and the effects of lies. Sometimes, even a lie may serve a greater truth. I am saying that if we actually persecute those who do truly harmful things, then, we may be able to answer the question of whether morality can be legislated. I agree that we cannot change people’s feelings, but we can and do and have changed people’s actions by laws; and action, over time will change feelings. Lack of action will do so as well. We must listen to the heart to be able to tell the differences. If we have lost our heart we have lost our moral compass.
There is no Crisis of Wealth in America Today
There is no crisis of real wealth in America today. This present crisis concerns money, not our true wealth or what is needed by people and society to live. Amazingly, nothing has changed from one day to the next when it comes to what is necessary for people to live. There is more than enough housing, education and health care to go around. We have more than enough food to feed the world. But, apparently, there is not enough to pay in cash for all of it. As I have already mentioned, currently, 10% of the world’s people control or own 93% of the wealth. If the materials for living, were distributed with charity and care as if everybody mattered, if we actually followed the United States Constitution and everyone was given the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the good news is that there is more than enough to go around.
There is no economic crisis. There is a financial crisis and a moral one. There is a perversion of morality and ‘decency,’ what Joe Welch accused Senator McCarthy of. This perversion shows itself in both finance and economics, but these are only the results of this lack of morality. They are the leaves on a tree that is sick, they are the symptoms of the sickness. They are not the roots of the problem; the problem is at the root of the tree, not the leaves. It is in the soil in which those roots draw sustenance. It is in the heart of every one of us.
If we want to change the world, political and economic changes are necessary. But, they are not enough. The heart of every one of us must change. How many times have we seen the idealistic proponents of a revolution become the new oppressors? Almost every time it happens that way. If we want to change the world we must start with those closest to us. We must start with our own intimates, our own family and our own community, we must start with ourselves.
I live in India right now. Every day when I go out on the street there are beggars, all kinds of beggars each of whom seem to need money desperately. The amount of poverty is vast and overwhelming. How can I help them all? I am faced with the daily necessity to shut myself off from the pleas of individuals, give at least something to everyone and remain engaged with all or start a small operation or business that employs people and serves the community. I have done all of the above; but I have found no satisfactory philosophy to deal with it. India has confronted me with the dead ends of my idealism. There is simply too much here, coming at me from all directions and all at once. I have no philosophy to deal with it.
Over two thousand years ago, Jesus said,
“Lay not up for yourself treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
– Matthew 6:19
Our financial crisis and economic distress have revealed a fundamental error and sin. We have wrongly defined our wealth. We have located it in things and possessions, money and gold. We have become like the crow, pecking at the wounded cow, but we are not crows, we are human beings. We should know that there is enough to go around. What can be said? We have wrongly defined what is our treasure and we have misplaced our heart. We must repent of our ways and change our action. There is no other way.
As it is said in the Lord's prayer of Jesus:
"Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors."
It is a place we will return to and where we finally must begin.
 "The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man". –Thomas Malthus
 Marx reviled Malthus as a “miserable parson” guilty of spreading a “vile and infamous doctrine, this repulsive blasphemy against man and nature.” –Encyclopedia Brittanica
 Of course there was class oppression as Marx argues, but, even so, without the technology, it was not possible to accomplish the high standard of living for every man.
 “The strangest thing, when we come to look back, will be not just that Ivan Boesky could say that at a business-school graduation, but that it was greeted with laughter and applause.” –Newsweek Magazine writing about the talk
 After serving time in prison, Boesky enrolled in Rabbinical Studies and became involved in projects to help the homeless
 According to the American Medical Association (AMA), iatrogenic disease or death is the third leading cause of death in America today after cancer and heart disease. Iatrogenic means disease caused by medical treatment.
 Minimum Wage Stuck as Poverty Climbs-
 In 1997, it was alleged a local FOX affiliate cooperated with Monsanto in suppressing an investigative report on the health risks associated with Monsanto's bovine growth hormone product, Posilac. Posilac, a synthetic hormone used to increase milk production in cows, while banned in many first-world countries, is used in the United States. Steve Wilson and Jane Akre disagreed with the inclusion of material in the story they felt was slanted or misleading. Both reporters were eventually fired. Wilson and Akre alleged the firing was for retaliation, while the FOX affiliate contended they were fired for insubordination. The reporters then sued Fox in Florida state court, claiming they could not be fired for refusing to do something that they believed to be illegal. In 2000, a Florida jury found that while there was no evidence FOX had bowed to any pressure from Monsanto to alter the story, Akre, but not Wilson, was unjustly fired. The decision in Akre's favor was then overturned in 2003 by an appeals court because the whistleblower's statute under which the original case had been filed did not actually apply to the case. The court held that Fox News had no obligation to report truthfully, and the First Amendment protects their right to lie. Therefore, the court held that firing a reporter for refusing to lie is not actionable under the whistleblower statute. –Quoted from a review of the feature length documentary film The Corporation
 Joseph Campbell said that you can tell the dominant theme of any culture by its tallest building when you come into town. It used to be religious temples. Then, it became political buildings in the West. Now, it is towers or temples of money and finance.
 — Vandana Shiva, Stolen Harvest (South End Press, 2000), p.6
 “Opium is harmful. Opium is a poison, undermining our good customs and morality. Its use is prohibited by law. Now the commoner, Yang, dares to bring it into the Forbidden City. Indeed, he flouts the law! However, recently the purchasers, eaters, and consumers of opium have become numerous. Deceitful merchants buy and sell it to gain profit. The customs house at the Ch'ung-wen Gate was originally set up to supervise the collection of imports (it had no responsibility with regard to opium smuggling). If we confine our search for opium to the seaports, we fear the search will not be sufficiently thorough. We should also order the general commandant of the police and police- censors at the five gates to prohibit opium and to search for it at all gates. If they capture any violators, they should immediately punish them and should destroy the opium at once. As to Kwangtung and Fukien, the provinces from which opium comes, we order their viceroys, governors, and superintendents of the maritime customs to conduct a thorough search for opium, and cut off its supply. They should in no ways consider this order a dead letter and allow opium to be smuggled out!”- Fu, Lo-shu (1966). A Documentary Chronicle of Sino-Western relations, Volume 1. p. 380.
 “In the 18th century, despite ardent protest from the Qing government, British traders began importing opium from India. The introduction of opium into China was caused by Britain's need to send something back to China in return for their highly consumed Chinese tea. Britain first tried exporting European clothes, but the Chinese preferred their own silk. With India and its poppy fields under Britain's command, the logical option to fix the imbalance of trade was to start trading Opium.
Because of its strong mass appeal and addictive nature, opium was an effective solution to the British trade problem. An instant consumer market for the drug was secured by the addiction of thousands of Chinese, and the flow of silver was reversed. Recognizing the growing number of addicts, the Yongzheng Emperor prohibited the sale and smoking of opium in 1729, and only allowed a small amount of opium imports for medicinal purposes.” –Wikipedia on the Opium Wars
The genetically modified seeds - also called "terminator seeds" - are seeds that are essentially sterile after a harvest so that farmers can't reuse the seeds.
Reuters says Mosanto is known for being aggressive in pursuing farmers who illegally use such seeds. Some farmers claim that they have no desire to use the Mosanto seeds but simply the wind blew the seeds over from adjacent farms.
According to Reuters " Monsanto filed 144 patent-infringement lawsuits against farmers between 1997 and April 2010, and won judgments against farmers it said made use of its seed without paying required royalties. Many U.S. farmers have said their fields were inadvertently contaminated with Monsanto's biotech seeds without their knowledge. The issue has been a topic of concern for not only farmers, but also companies that clean and handle seed."
 Factory-Farmed Chickens: their Difficult Lives and Deaths-