Something Strange Has Happened
“Something strange has happened … Something has changed over the last year or two.” You’ve probably been hearing people say these sorts of things lately. Come to think of it, you’ve probably been hearing yourself thinking and saying these sorts of things lately as well. And maybe you’ve got a sneaky suspicion that these thoughts, that these feelings of strangeness are not simply a product of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Good News, Bad News
The good news is: You’re not at all crazy for thinking and feeling these things.
The bad news is: You’re not at all crazy for thinking and feeling these things.
We as a nation and as a global economy have entered a post-capitalist era. What does this mean?
The Biggest Windfall In 72 Years
Before we get into the meat of the matter here are a few important bits of information from very recent economic news articles: According to the latest Market Watch Economic Report, U.S. corporate profits rose 25% this past year to an unprecedented high.(1) In fact, according to yesterday’s edition of Bloomberg Business Week, the wealthiest sector of American society has not seen a windfall like this in 72 years.(2)
Only Half Of The Story
Directly alongside these reports of never before seen levels of profit by 0.01% of the population, we are seeing reports of rising inflation and an upcoming level of recession (for the rest of us) that the US has not encountered in almost half a century. Some are saying that this “new” phase of the downturn is the result of the US’ involvement in the Ukraine-Russia conflict. This is simply not true. In fact, reports of an oncoming rise in inflation rates and a coming economic downturn were proliferating months before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.(3) What has happened this time (in 2021 – 2022) is not just a matter of the rich getting richer at the expense of everyone else. We’ve entered an era where that old adage is only half of the story.
As You Well Know
Since April 2009 there has been a steadily growing gap opening up between financial markets and the rest of the economy. This gap appeared and began expanding when central banks and governments decided, at the G-20 level, to print massive amounts of money in order to bail out huge financial institutions after the 2008 economic crash. Many of these institutions, as you well know, had been stealing large sums of money from their clients for nearly a decade. Instead of re-investing this newly printed money in the general economy, the heads of these giant companies kept the money for themselves by buying back their own stock shares. Ironically, these huge financial institutions bought back these shares with money that would ultimately come out of the pockets of the very taxpayers that these corporations stole from.
This same procedure of gifting newly printed money to huge financial institutions was repeated over the last two years as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. And of course, again, the monstrous profits that were the direct result of the suffering and misfortune of large swaths of the public during the pandemic will be subsidized via inflation and austerity by the very public who endured the suffering and misfortune.
The Difference This Time
The difference this time, in 2022, is that the market financiers have effectively exited the stratosphere, so to speak, while the rest of the economy is shrinking. The gap between markets and what is taking place in the general economy has become an abyss. We have entered an economic phase that amounts, literally, to socialism for the extremely wealthy and continually burgeoning austerity for the many. I had been referring to this phase as Inverted Socialism until I recently heard a better definition put forth by the Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis. He calls it Techno-Feudalism.
We No Longer Live Under Capitalism
We no longer live under capitalism. The last vestiges of a competition-driven market are all but gone. What we have now is a very small number of platform companies that effectively own the market. They don’t monopolize it, they own it. Take for instance Amazon and Facebook. As Varoufakis says, “When you enter Amazon or Facebook you are no longer in capitalism, you are in a kind of Soviet regime owned by one man. Meanwhile, the rest of the market economy is shrinking, it’s in stagnation. Money is being pumped in by the central banks that are struggling to keep the general economy alive. This money ends up with the large corporations that already have savings that they’re not investing due to the public’s decreased purchasing power, which is the result of austerity. And so these corporate financiers use the money to buy back their own stocks. The result is that you have the stock exchanges of London, Frankfurt, New York, etc. doing very well while the rest of the people are suffering.”(4)
What All This Is Doing To Our Democracy
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to connect all of this to what is happening to our already fragile democracy. In recent decades we’ve done away with pretty much all restrictions on the takeover of our major institutions by a handful of wealthy financiers. We’ve deregulated our banking system and our media and we’ve done away with any serious campaign finance restrictions.
When you have a handful of exorbitantly rich, unconstrained people dictating the terms and conditions of all the major aspects of a society, including who gets the donations necessary to run for government offices, you no longer have a growing democracy you have a growing oligarchy. If you think calling the US an oligarchy is an overstatement then you’ll have to take it up with the New York Times and Business Insider, who both published articles affirming that we are no longer living in an actual democratic state.(5)
The Oddly Hopeful Aspect Of All This
The oddly hopeful aspect of all this, to put it bluntly, is that just about everybody is beginning to realize that there is absolutely no way we can continue to carry on in this manner. Even if they can’t formulate it in words yet, even if they’re not clear on the details, huge numbers of people from every sector of society, from every income bracket, are FEELING more and more that something is fundamentally broken about the way we are living, about our beliefs, about our collective conception of what it means to be a human being on this planet called Earth.
Yes, the world does feel strange and sometimes scary right now, but this is because we haven’t yet broken out of our isolation. We haven’t yet broken out of a belief system that makes it seem that it is we, each of us, who are the problem. The belief that it is we who must continue to struggle to make the necessary grade to be worthy to live in a world with the 0.01% of the population who really matter.
A Stage Of Collective Acknowledgement
A stage of collective acknowledgement is going to eventually arrive. We’re already seeing stirrings of it in things like the huge resurgence of workers unions over the last 18 months.(6) We mustn’t forget that eleven years ago a global movement of millions formed in a period of a few months. We mustn’t forget that we’re living in a digital age, an exponentially changing age, not an incrementally changing analog age. We mustn’t underestimate ourselves. Almost anything could happen.