Occupy: populate for poverty

Brian Sanderson

The Occupy Movement is infuriatingly vague in a refreshing sort of way. Scattered around the globe, pacific clusters of people are camping out in very visible places, not so much to loudly protest or impose some well-defined agenda as to simply draw attention to financial and political inequity. Of course, the great majority of the worlds citizenary know inequity well, they see it from the bottom, looking upwards at the rich and powerful few.

Everyone knows the rich and powerful, they are the ones to which our elected leaders defer and consult and entice with all manner of subsidy. What Prime Minister hasn't kissed the hand of Rupert Murdoch as a rite of passage? I well recall a photograph of John Howard, the famous Prime Minister of Australia, struggling out of his sick bed, too ill to attend parliament, but not so ill that he would pass up a visit from Rupert. (Strangely, that photograph seems to have been airbrushed from history, testament to the power of the great media mogul?) I'll never forget all those politician's creaming their pants like pubescent school boys when Billy Gates came to town. The ultra rich are the ones who get honorary degrees, and whose words the press breathtakingly reports, no matter how ill-thought or self-serving or banal their message. The rich and powerful are glorified whereas those less fortunate are ignored, condemmed for their incompetence, or presented stereotyped with a wrapping of dignity-draining social welfare --- always the pawns in someone elses political agenda. Let's not forget the middle classes (they're so obvious, everyone does). The middle-classes vote therefore they think they matter. They don't. Every election the politician's throw them a bone, with a string attached. After the votes are counted, the politician's tug the string and go back to bed with the plutocrats.

That the poor will be with us always, has always been a given for those of a literalist-Christian persuasion, and provides a convenient crutch for right-wing literalist-religious politician's. Left-wing religious politican's are more in tune with the biblical exhortation to be charitable. But left-wing or right-wing, no politician has ever come close to demonstrating the wisdom required to prove the bible wrong: "The poor you will always have with you" Matthew 26:11. Perhaps a politican that was neither religious nor left nor right might do better, but I have seldom seen such a beast. Religions have a complex relationship with the poor. I lived in St John's when Newfoundland had not but cathedrals were magnificent, a time when priests were authority. Religions sustain the poor with charity and symbols of pie in the sky. The poor sustain religion with faith and unthinking subservience. Each needs the other. They were co-created. The declining Roman Empire spawned many poor which provided the foundation for the rise of that greatest of monotheisms, Christianity. And few feudal masters taxed their serfs more severely than the Pope, you can tell by the still great wealth of the Catholic Church and the continuing nonsense of devine Papal power.

Monotheistic morallity preaches charity as a virtue to alleviate suffering of the poor, much like modern medicine prescribes NSAID's to alleviate arthritis. The ultimate charity would be to distribute the world wealth equally among the world population. That would amount to about $8000 for each of us. For me, the bulk of that $8000 would immediately disappear down Wolfville property tax gurgler.. The impact on me would be minimal, however, compared to the thudding blow that such an arrangement would deliver to the likes of Kevin O'Leary and his dragons-den ultrafinancial-droogies. Obviously, if world wealth were uniformly distributed then many of the services and products of the modern world would simply evaporate into a poof of unaffordability. The world economy would collapse, into a new dark age.

Wealthy capitalists have a different response to the Occupy Movement. Kevin O'Leary advocates for the removal of a minimum wage and investing offshore, wherever growth is highest. Way to go Kevin, bugger your countryman, move his job offshore, just like QANTAS. Of course, this is no more than the classic argument for globalization, the free movement of cash and materials (but not people) to wherever they can be used to maximize profit (perhaps production, also). The idea is, if everyone gives up their minimum wage and works for Kevin then productivity will increase, Kevin will get even more obscenely rich, and the wealth will trickle down making us all better off. It all sounds plausible, and I have this used car that you might like to buy... We've been experimenting with this globalization free-market ideology for quite some time. Now there are billionaires in China and India, so it worked, right? Well, yes, except not for the vast majority of people. Wealth does not trickle down, it trickles up!

Kevin's penchant for outsourcing afflicts us in so many ways. For example, ...the increased number of products and raw materials coming from plants in China and India results in uncertain supply.. of medications. I doubt that Kevin will hang around the Canada Health Careless system to share your suffering.

Never mind, the wildly-wealthy have a palliative plan for you. It's called watch my unreality TV show or buy my twaddling financial advice and you too can become just like me and him, a filthy-rich blow-hard. This is just more pie in the sky drivel. Like the church, they feed of the faithful. Be sure to buy their latest book, it'll be sure to bury you in a financial dungheap. Let me give you one example, they're all the same. Garth Turner, 2020 New Rules for the New Age , tells us to aggressively invest in a financial fairy-tale, you know, the one where the Dow may be achieve 30,000 or even 50,000 by 2015! This former politician has invented a new game, it's called dodge my financial wrecking ball.

One theme from the Occupy Movement is the notion that 99% of the population gets a raw deal and the other 1% should be more severely taxed. The simple fact of the matter is that many in the 1% are quite free to take their wealth elsewhere. Indeed, here in Nova Scotia we tax the commoner and hand that ill-gotten loot over to big business, to entice them to set up shoppe. Who can forget Double-D Darrel Dexterous Dexterman, our dashing socialist leader, smooching with the President of Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering. Cheesy grins all round, and a $90 million subsidy to build a couple of wind mills. Elsewhere, no subsidy, no business ---- although Nova Scotia Travel Guide hasn't quite figured it out, yet.

This is not to say that some taxation doesn't trickle down, it does. Historically, this is an anomoly. Through most of history tax revenues have flowed to the ultra-wealthy and the bureaucratic class. Charles 1, King of England, 1625-1649, unfairly taxed and plundered his subjects until they, reluctantly, cut his foolish head off. In our modern era, public administrators continue to profit from taxation, almost as rapaciously as Charles. And who profits more than the politician who puts $1 into his/her/it's pension fund and has Joe Middle-Class Public add another $22! Taxes strip money from the middle classes. I think it unlikely that egalitarianism can be achieved through taxation as we have come to know it.

Charities, taxing-bureaucrats/overlords, and globalization-spewing economists have never solved the poverty problem because they don't understand it.

  1. Poverty is not a local phenomenon. In a global economy, capital and resources flow to where they realize the greatest profit. Citizens throughout the world compete for access to resources, jobs, and wealth.
  2. In a world where resources are not limiting, poverty is not structural. In such a world, poverty can be overcome (if it existed in the first place) with sensible social policies. Of course, social policies would be sensible, in such a world...
  3. In a world where resources are limiting, poverty is structural. It might be briefly or locally ameliorated --- but usually at the expense of someone else somewhere else or at some future time.
In the 20th Century, scientific/technical/organizational advances have enabled us to better access and use resources. However, population has exploded, offsetting the advantage won. I urge you to read "Why Big Fierce Animals are Rare" by Paul Colinvaux. This book --- and Fates of Nations: a biological theory for history --- builds the empirical case for an ecological law of poverty, viz. Poverty is caused by population growth in excess to available resources. Colinvaux wrote his books more than 30 years ago. The big picture of our world is evolving as predicted.

We are now balancing on the crest of peak oil production. Population continues to grow at 80 Million a year. It's going to be nasty. There are things that we can do to minimize the suffering but religious/political/business/economics/social "thinkers" prefer the truth to be as they prefer rather than preferring to accept the truth as it is. This is the problem, we have far too few people capable of staring down the real world, eyeball to eyeball.

Actually, I have to back-track. One politician has the sense to see the real problem and the fortitude to stand up and be counted, standing tall is a field of mushrooms. He's not Canadian, obviously. And the business world has also thrown up one champion, Dick Smith talks down-to-earth sense.

Then there are the others, the ones who know there is a problem but shrug because

Bullshit, I say: You can't blame scum for being scum. The real problem is that our society can't distinguish swampwater from a fine Australian Shiraz. Today I'll blame it on a long-standing tradition of mediocre journalism in our mainstream media. John Farrands implored, "If we are to make reasonable judgments in the public domain, we need to generate a climate of scepticism by education". Still, our under-educated press can be counted upon to present two sides of every argument but to seldom discern any semblance of sense.