Friday, March 4, 2011

The Revolution That Almost Wasn't (Part 1)

Dear Readers,

I'm having entirely too much fun with Alternate History themes. If it's alright with you (as if you have a choice), I think I'll continue this exploration from my barstool in the Best of All Possible Worlds...

Paging Dr. Pangloss!

Scrying my way through all of the possible Nows, that land of hungry ghosts of which, naturally and fortunately, there is only the One, I happened to stumble upon a particularly horrible universe.

It all started with a sidewise view of just a snippet of an article, which, through great effort and expense, I managed to salvage whole from a magazine called "The Atlantic". It was an article about some creatures called "the super-rich", who, apparently, subscribe to the extinct notion that they have somehow, through dint of personal will and hard work, through some archaic notion of rugged individualism, created themselves into successful business types. This peculiar psychosis of self-created material apotheosis, with absolutely no nod at all to the vast support structure known as "society" that actually provided all of their good fortune, I'd have thought discredited a long time ago. But then, in this awful world from which the article originated, only a very few enjoy comfort and material wealth, while the vast majority of the Earth's populace suffer unspeakable indignities, disease, squalor, and poverty. A truly psychotic world.

The clearest evidence of this psychosis is attributable to one quote in the article:
The U.S.-based CEO of one of the world’s largest hedge funds told me that his firm’s investment committee often discusses the question of who wins and who loses in today’s economy. In a recent internal debate, he said, one of his senior colleagues had argued that the hollowing-out of the American middle class didn’t really matter. “His point was that if the transformation of the world economy lifts four people in China and India out of poverty and into the middle class, and meanwhile means one American drops out of the middle class, that’s not such a bad trade,” the CEO recalled.
Of course, if the senior colleague had been dropped from the ranks of the super-rich, 30,000-40,000 people from China and India would have been lifted into the middle class -  a far more advantageous trade.

Considering the amount of dumb luck involved in entrepreneurial decisions, an arrogant and parasitic executive being replaced by an automated management device, or even a chimp operating a coin-flipping machine, would surely have produced the same or superior administrative performance. One wonders if the senior colleague would consider my assessment any more cavalier or callous than his, and given that I am not the sociopath, I think we know the answer.

Regardless, in this strange world, one barrier of predation after another was eliminated starting with the improbable election of a grade-B actor to the office of the President of the United States (following a whole series of unfortunate - and equally improbable events), resulted in something called the Neoliberal Revolution. There was nothing neo, or liberal, about it. During this period, all capital controls were done away with. Welfare payments (a form of government security to the unfortunate) were redesigned to "force the unemployed to look for work". (Though one would imagine a lack of income was more than incentive enough). Large swaths of regulation put in place after a fairly intense period of economic predation and collapse (during the 1920-30s) were cast aside as misguided hindrances to business. The shift lifted many protections that had shielded laborers from the harshest privations. In short, predation was proclaimed good behavior. Or at least, no longer considered bad behavior. And given that predation is merely the final form of parasitism, the parasite class, the top wealth holders, were allowed to suck all of the wealth from the wealth generators beneath them.

And that is the most amazing thing of all! That these rich creeps, through some bizarro logic, came to the conclusion that they were the true wealth producers, rather than those whose honest toil had provided everything. Everything. Incredible. Because, you see, in this nightmare shadow, in this palsied parody of a society, the Glorious Revolution of 1877 had never occurred!

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