Vulnerability Roulette

Posted: May 18, 2020 in Conspiracy, Culture, Economics, Nomenclature, Outrage, Politics, Torture
Tags: , , , ,

/rant on

Had a rather dark thought, which recurs but then fades out of awareness and memory until conditions reassert it. Simply put, it’s that the mover-shaker-decision-maker sociopaths types in government, corporations, and elsewhere (I refuse to use the term influencer) are typically well protected (primarily by virtue of immense wealth) from threats regular folks face and are accordingly only too willing to sit idly by, scarcely lifting a finger in aid or assistance, and watch dispassionately as others scramble and scrape in response to the buffeting torrents of history. The famous example (even if not wholly accurate) of patrician, disdainful lack of empathy toward others’ plight is Marie Antoinette’s famous remark: “Let them eat cake.” Citing an 18th-century monarch indicates that such tone-deaf sentiment has been around for a long time.

Let me put it another way, since many of our problems are of our own creation. Our styles of social organization and their concomitant institutions are so overloaded with internal conflict and corruption, which we refuse to eradicate, that it’s as though we continuously tempt fate like fools playing Russian roulette. If we were truly a unified nation, maybe we’d wise up and adopt a different organizational model. But we don’t shoulder risk or enjoy reward evenly. Rather, the disenfranchised and most vulnerable among us, determined a variety of ways but forming a substantial majority, have revolvers to their heads with a single bullet in one of five or six chambers while the least vulnerable (the notorious 1%) have, in effect, thousands or millions of chambers and an exceedingly remote chance of firing the one with the bullet. Thus, vulnerability roulette.

In the midst of an epochal pandemic and financial crisis, who gets sacrificed like so much cannon fodder while others retreat onto their ocean-going yachts or into their boltholes to isolate from the rabble? Everyone knows it’s always the bottom rungs of the socioeconomic ladder who unjustly suffer the worst, a distinctly raw deal unlikely ever to change. The middle rungs are also suffering now as contraction affects more and more formerly enfranchised groups. Meanwhile, those at the top use crises as opportunities for further plunder. In an article in Rolling Stone, independent journalist Matt Taibbi, who covered the 2008 financial collapse, observes that our fearless leaders (fearless because they secure themselves before and above all else) again made whole the wealthiest few at the considerable expense of the rest:

The $2.3 trillion CARES Act, the Donald Trump-led rescue package signed into law on March 27th, is a radical rethink of American capitalism. It retains all the cruelties of the free market for those who live and work in the real world, but turns the paper economy into a state protectorate, surrounded by a kind of Trumpian Money Wall that is designed to keep the investor class safe from fear of loss.

This financial economy is a fantasy casino, where the winnings are real but free chips cover the losses. For a rarefied segment of society, failure is being written out of the capitalist bargain.

Why is this a “radical rethink”? We’ve seen identical behaviors before: privatization of profit, indemnification of loss, looting of the treasury, and refusal to prosecute exploitation, torture, and crimes against humanity. Referring specifically to financialization, this is what the phrase “too big to fail” means in a nutshell, and we’ve been down this stretch of road repeatedly.

Naturally, the investor class isn’t ordered back to work at slaughterhouses and groceries to brave the epidemic. Low-wage laborers are. Interestingly, well compensated healthcare workers are also on the vulnerability roulette firing line — part of their professional oaths and duties — but that industry is straining under pressure from its inability to maintain profitability during the pandemic. Many healthcare workers are being sacrificed, too. Then there are tens of millions newly unemployed and uninsured being told that the roulette must continue into further months of quarantine, the equivalent of adding bullets to the chambers until their destruction is assured. The pittance of support for those folks (relief checks delayed or missing w/o explanation or recourse and unemployment insurance if one qualifies, meaning not having already been forced into the gig economy) does little to stave off catastrophe.

Others around the Web have examined the details of several rounds of bailout legislation and found them unjust in the extreme. Many of the provisions actually heap insult and further injury upon injury. Steps that could have been taken, and in some instances were undertaken in past crises (such as during the Great Depression), don’t even rate consideration. Those safeguards might include debt cancellation, universal basic income (perhaps temporary), government-supported healthcare for all, and reemployment through New Deal-style programs. Instead, the masses are largely left to fend for themselves, much like the failed Federal response to Hurricane Katrina.

Some of this is no doubt ideological. A professional class of ruling elites are the only ones to be entrusted with guiding the ship of state, or so goes the political philosophy. But in our capitalist system, government has been purposefully hamstrung and hollowed out to the point of dysfunction precisely so that private enterprise can step in. And when magical market forces fail to stem the slide into oblivion, “Welp, sorry, th-th-that’s all folks,” say the supposed elite. “Nothing we can do to ease your suffering! Our attentions turn instead to ourselves, the courtiers and sycophants surrounding us, and the institutions that enable our perfidy. Now go fuck off somewhere and die, troubling us no more.”

/rant off

  1. Greg Knepp says:

    “But in our capitalist system…” Definitions are often a problem because language, as wonderful a development as it has proven, is imperfect. We place the ‘word’ on a pedestal and fail to give it the routine maintenance it needs.

    Far from being a ruling principle, Capitalism hobbles to its demise as a vestigial shadow of better times. Ideally, Capitalism is an organic (rather than invented or constructed) system whereby excess product or service (that which exceeds subsistence needs) is allocated to the creation of more product and service, such allocation accomplished directly through business investment, or, more indirectly, through consumption, which then creates more demand for product and service. And, while individual enterprises may be meticulously planned and strenuously executed, on the grand scale Capitalism has been largely self-organizing, and works best in a free society where competition and creativity may flourish, and where personal risk incentivizes the business process.

    However, through a long period of transition Capitalism has morphed into Corporatism – an entirely different animal. The large corporations are answerable to their major stockholders (forget the tens of millions of smalltime investors) and to no one else; not even to their customers. In fact the typical consumer, due to product standardization and outright price fixing, has plenty of choices, bit little actual choice.

    Corporations are often international in nature so, despite their pitiful lapel flag pins and their patriotic mumblings, corporate big wigs’ love of country is mostly patina, and strictly limited by corporate interests. The institution of slavery is carried forth as ‘out-sourced’ subsistence-level labor. Pollution is handled in much the same manner. And personal risk is obviated by bankruptcy laws…After all, are not “corporations people too”?

    Corporatist leaders assure themselves near-absolute control by purchasing the services of congressmen, senators, governors and Presidents. Government activities become theater-of-the-absurd as corporate masters conspire in ad-hoc rule, not unlike the Supreme Soviet of days of yore. Competition is stifled, and a blandness settles into what remains of a once-interesting, if haphazard, culture.

    This is nor Capitalism, this is bullshit! Capitalism is made of sterner stuff. I know…I’m a Capitalist.

    PS: other than this point, your article was right on the money – quite comprehensive.

    • Brutus says:

      Thanks for your comment. My failure to use your preferred term, corporatism instead of capitalism, is basically a semantic argument. I’m actually in substantial agreement with you up until you self-identify as a capitalist but not a corporatist. The distinction seems to me too subtle and abstract. I appreciate the observation that capitalism is self-organizing. By now, it’s also been reified. Perhaps if I had used the term late-stage capitalism, or harkened back to Eisenhower and written military-industrial-corporate complex as some do, you and I would be in full agreement. Either of those suggests that corporatism is more of a capitalist endgame than a completely different beast as you aver.

      • Greg Knepp says:

        It can’t agree that the distinction is merely semantic….”When a company gets so large that it crushes all the competition, that’s not capitalism; that’s anti-capitalism.”…Bill Maher.

        Teddy Roosevelt held the same belief. Unfortunately, there are no Teddy Roosevelts on the horizon.

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