How the Plutocrats are waging War on the Bureaucrats…
11 July 2017
In seeking to explain the 2016 EU referendum result, the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency and the rise of white working class right-wing nationalistic populism in general across much of Europe, many commentators, such as Rob Ford (2016) in The Observer, have portrayed these things as consequences of the relentless growth of globalisation. As the transnational corporations have created a New International Division of Labour pitching their operational bases where labour is cheapest – eg; North Africa, South-East Asia – so the traditional white working classes in the West have become the ‘left-behind’. As explored in Underclass: the Excreta of Capitalism and So the Turkeys did vote for Christmas?!?, the resultant competition for the jobs there are left make them particularly susceptible to racism, xenophobia and anti-immigration sentiment.
There is a complexity in this scenario, though, that is not always acknowledged – particularly in the way the mainstream media often tell the story. At the time of writing, as widely reported – eg: Mehreen Khan in the Financial Times – the UK has its lowest unemployment rate since 1975. One of the reasons this country has experienced such high immigration in recent decades is because there have been jobs to fill. What has changed and disadvantaged the white working class is that the nature of the jobs available has changed and the remuneration is far, far worse. Thus, there are far fewer jobs for steelworkers but more for fast food servers and delivery drivers. For males in working class communities with a proud tradition of mining or fishing or working in the steel mills, these jobs are not ‘men’s work’ and a man can’t provide a ‘good standard of living’ for his family on such low wages. Or, as one young Romanian immigrant told Lee Dalloway (2014, for Huffington Post): “English guys don’t want to do hard work for cheap money and the hard jobs are not well paid.”
In spite of the New International Division of Labour taking away British jobs over several decades, there is still something of the RED vMEME’s need for esteem in the indigenous male’s reluctance to take these kinds of jobs. Taking ‘woman’s work’ and still not being able to give your family a ‘good standard of living’ is hardly going to build up self-esteem when male identity is still tied up with the social role of provider.
The Observer’s Larry Elliott (2017) extends these ideas to explain how ordinary people in the West – particularly at the lower end – have become excluded from the wealth globalisation has generated – how they have become part of ‘the repressed’ in Zygmunt Bauman’s (1988) terminology. “Populism is the result of economic failure. The 10 years since the financial crisis have shown that the system of economic governance which has held sway for the past four decades is broken. Some call this approach neoliberalism. Perhaps a better description would be unpopulism. Unpopulism meant tilting the balance of power in the workplace in favour of management and treating people like wage slaves. Unpopulism was rigged to ensure that the fruits of growth went to the few not to the many. Unpopulism decreed that those responsible for the global financial crisis got away with it while those who were innocent bore the brunt of austerity. Anybody seeking to understand why Trump won the US presidential election should take a look at what has been happening to the division of the economic spoils. The share of national income that went to the bottom 90% of the population held steady at around 66% from 1950 to 1980. It then began a steep decline, falling to just over 50% when the financial crisis broke in 2007. Similarly, it is no longer the case that everybody benefits when the US economy is doing well. During the business cycle upswing between 1961 and 1969, the bottom 90% of Americans took 67% of the income gains. During the Reagan expansion two decades later they took 20%. During the Greenspan housing bubble of 2001 to 2007, they got just 2 cents in every extra dollar of national income generated while the richest 10% took the rest.”
Correctly Elliott identifies the increased disparity between rich and the ‘wage slaves’ as a key issue in the rise of populism. However, that is only one (key) part of the story.
Who’s funding and championing the populists?
It costs a huge amount of money to run a national political campaign. If, as the likes of Ford and Elliott portray it, the rise of right-wing nationalistic populism is a natural reaction to being ‘left behind’, then it would not be unreasonable to expect such a supposedly organic movement to have its leaders emerge from within it and for it to be funded by the embryonic movement’s own members – perhaps as the proto-Labour movement threw up miner Keir Hardie as its first leader at the end of the 19th Century and was funded by union subscriptions.
However, the leading nationalistic populists tend to be either very rich and/or have very rich backers. Trump is, of course, a billionaire. Nigel Farage is only a millionaire but UKIP bankroller Aaron Banks is a billionaire.
Aaron Banks funding UKIP is overt…but some of the backing for the nationalistic populists is less overt and possibly quite sinister in origin. For example, according to Time’s Rob Wile (2017), Le Front National took out a €9M loan from a Russian bank to fund Marine Le Pen’s 2017 presidential campaign in France. As political blogger Bill Palmer (2017) puts it: “That means that Marine Le Pen and her party have in fact been funded by Russia. Considering the extent to which Russian President Vladimir Putin unofficially controls all major aspects of business and finance in Russia, it’s fair to say that Le Pen and her party are in fact being funded by Putin.” Spiegel’s Melanie Amann & Pavel Lokshin (2016), while admitting hard evidence has yet to be uncovered of a financial tie-up, speculate on Russian funding for Alternative für Deutschland after connections with hard right Russian groups were uncovered. If Russia is funding nationalistic populists in Germany and France, could there indeed be substance to all the much-denied-but-consistently-repeated allegations that Trump’s fortune is, in part at least, linked to Russia?
So, is Vladimir Putin funding nationalistic populists in the West to disrupt their political systems to Russia’s advantage? More than likely, given Putin’s strong nationalistic beliefs – discussed in Has Vlad played a Blinder? – and his determination to make Russia a great power again. However, Putin is also a businessman, worth at least $70BN according to Wile. That’s not that far behind Queen Elizabeth II at £70BN, given the diminished value of sterling after the 2016 EU referendum in the UK. To give true perspective, the richest individual in the world is Bill Gates at $86BN.
Putin’s worth puts him in the Top 1% – the super-rich or ‘Plutocracy’, as Guy Standing (2009) terms them. Standing (2014) describes them as “a few super-citizens with vast wealth, mostly ill-gotten, and with vast informal power, linked in part to financial capital. They are detached from the nation state, often with passports of convenience from several countries. Much of their power is manipulative, through agents, through the funding of politicians and political parties and threats to move their money unless governments comply with their wishes.”
The Plutocracy, according to Standing (2009; 2011), are at the top of a social stratification structure. Below them are the ‘Elite’. Standing (2014) writes: “The two groups act as the effective ruling class, almost hegemonic in their current status. They embody the neo-liberal state, and manipulate politicians and the media while relying on financial agencies to maintain the rules in their favour.”
Although he is undoubtedly focused on building up his own personal worth, Putin’s zeal for Russian nationalism would appear to make him different from Standing’s (2014) description of the plutocrat. Rather more typical are financiers/speculators Warren Buffett ($75.6BN), Roman Abramovich ($9.1BN)) and George Soros ($25.2 BN), media mogul Rupert Murdoch ($13.1BN), industrialists David and Charles Koch ($48.13BN each) and Saudi Arabia’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud ($18.7BN).
Interestingly, according to the Finton O’Toole (2017) in the Irish Times, a company connected with Prince Alwaleed’s late uncle, Prince Nawwaf bin Abdul Aziz Alsaud, helped funnel £282,000 into the EU referendum via Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). The DUP then paid for a 4-page glossy supplement wrapped around that daily edition of the mass circulation Metro freesheet – see below. The supplement urged voters to vote to leave the EU. Bizarrely the Metro is not distributed in Northern Ireland which, at the time, was exempt from the UK’s requirements for the sources of large political donations to be declared.
An even more disturbing story of the way the Plutocracy seek to influence comes from The Observer’s Carole Cadwalladr (2017). She discovered that the Leave campaign used Cambridge Analytica to mine data on the preferences of British Facebook users and use that information to target them with the kind of pro-Leave ads they were most likely to personally find persuasive. Cambridge Analytica, she learned, were owned by the reclusive hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer. Since 2010 it is estimated Mercer has put $95M into far right campaign groups. $13.5M was given to Trump’s campaign. Cambridge Analytica’s services were donated free to both UKIP and the ‘official’ Leave campaign. No one yet has been able to find exactly what Mercer’s worth is – though Bloomberg’s Pamela Roux (2017) reckons $1.5BN is probably a very conservative estimate.
Trump 0nly has $3BN according to Bloomberg’s Caleb Melby (2016), making him arguably a member of the Elite rather than a true plutocrat.
Rupert Murdoch is just about in the Plutocracy. Many other media tycoons are in the upper echelons of the Elite. In the UK, working from the 2016 Sunday Times Rich List, Campaign’s Brittaney Kiefer identifies David and Frederick Barclay, owners of the Daily Telegraph, as having a joint worth of £7BN, Daily Express and Daily Star owner Richard Desmond is worth £2.25BN. Jonathan Harmsworth, controlling shareholder in the trust which owns the Daily Mail, is worth £1BN. In addition to being very, very rich, these media tycoons share an implacable opposition to institutions like the European Union and use their media outlets to champion nationalist populism. The small montage of front pages below illustrates some of the emotive (and often spurious!) headlines they use in their campaigns.
The people funding the nationalistic populist leaders are the plutocrats and their Elite allies – servants – the very people who have created the ‘left behind’ via the New International Division of Labour.
That doesn’t seem to make any sense until a vMEMETIC analysis is made of what is going on and what the nationalist populist leaders intend doing,
RED/ORANGE vs BLUE/GREEN
Although Murdoch denied it shortly afterwards in a letter to The Guardian, his former assistant Anthony Hilton has consistently stood by his 2016 report in the Evening Standard: “I once asked Rupert Murdoch why he was so opposed to the European Union. ‘That’s easy,’ he replied. ‘When I go into Downing Street they do what I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice.'” Murdoch’s assertion that he did not exert influence on Downing Street has been contradicted by meeting note evidence uncovered by The Guardian’s Robert Booth & Jane Martinson (2016). At the time Murdoch was trying to get complete control of Sky TV in face of opposition from the European Commission and wanted Downing Street to get the Commission to look upon Murdoch’s takeover bid more favourably.
In essence Murdoch’s intense dislike of the EU and the use of his media empire to promulgate anti-EU sentiment and pro-nationalistic populism encapsulates what increasingly seems to be a political war being waged upon the bureaucrats of the EU and other institutional and regulatory bodies by the plutocrats.
In Gravesian terms, this is a war of vMEME harmonics: RED/ORANGE vs BLUE/GREEN. By their very nature institutions and regulatory bodies are dominated by the BLUE vMEME. They formulate, pass, monitor and enforce laws and regulations. Many of these laws and regulations also come from GREEN’s passion for the wellbeing of people and the planet. As Hilton notes, when evaluating the worth of the UK being in the EU: “Size matters. Individual countries buckle but the EU is big enough to resist. British politicians have to fawn to foreign businessmen so they will invest here. The much-maligned bureaucrats in Brussels can afford to be much tougher — as Honeywell, Microsoft and Murdoch have found in the past and as Google is finding now. Thus, thirty years ago a large number of coastal towns in the UK still pumped raw sewage into the sea and polluted the beaches. It was Brussels regulation which forced a clean-up. Thirty years ago airlines in Europe were almost all state-owned and charged massively high fares. It was the EU which broke open the cartel and gave birth to EasyJet, Ryanair and low-cost air travel. Thirty years ago there was no requirement to allow disabled access to buildings and transport; it is EU regulation which forced the changes to these too. Currently there is a debate about the appalling air quality in central London. But the regulations which we so lamentably fail to comply with were developed in the EU not the UK.”
Sometimes, however, laws and regulations get in the way of profit-making. Laws and regulations such as working time restrictions, workers’ rights, health & safety, tax directives, environmental impact assessments, consumer rights, maritime safety laws, minimum wages, etc, etc, are considered to be necessary for quality of life for the vast majority of citizens. But ORANGE is self-focused on achieving for itself. Any benefit to others from its achievements is incidental – a mere byproduct. As for RED, it simply doesn’t see consequences. The utmost manifestation of Sigmund Freud’s (1920) concept of the Id, RED’s drive is to express itself in terms of pleasure and power and gaining esteem. Whatever obstacles there are must be overcome and/or destroyed. Thus, a harmonic of RED and ORANGE is dangerously short-sighted in its quest to achieve. If, as is likely, many of these plutocrats have high levels of testosterone – accounting for their drive – then the ruthlessness of the Psychoticism Dimension of Temperament will be added to this mix. These men – and the plutocrats are mostly men – have little care for the consequences of their actions upon others or the environment. Laws and regulations are nuisances to be got rid of if they impede the aggrandisement of wealth.
Although its influence can be seen as far back as the Enlightenment, the cultural domination of the ORANGE vMEME in much of the West really took hold in the early 1980s when Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan deregulated finance and worked for ‘smaller government’ in the UK and the United States respectively. In so doing, they pushed back BLUE controls to facilitate ORANGE wealth creation. The problem with that strategy is that the BLUE/GREEN harmonic focuses on the wellbeing of all while RED/ORANGE harmonic focuses on personal advantage. Said E Dawlabani (2013) is one 2nd Tier thinker who has traced and analysed the routes to the global financial crash of 2008/2009 and he attributes the development of what he terms ‘toxic [dysfunctional] ORANGE’ to the removal of effective BLUE fiscal regulation in the US. He writes (p127): “The newly empowered Enterprise [ORANGE] vMEME had found a partner in government that fully understood its right to make a profit over all other considerations. A business owner’s decision to relocate a factory to China became merely an accounting matter without a struggle with the moral obligation to provide local jobs, or a consideration of the patriotic duty to participate in the collective prosperity of America as a whole. Those days were gone…. During Reagan’s first three years in office, America permanently lost over 2.5 million manufacturing jobs.”
It need not always be war between BLUE/GREEN and ORANGE – eg: the EU’s break-up of the state airline cartels previously mentioned made millionaires of the entrepreneurs who set up the low-cost airlines, in addition to benefiting millions of travellers. However, those ORANGE-driven entrepreneurs of the 1980s and 1990s were, for the most part, able to work within the BLUE parameters set out by the bureaucrats. As Dawlabani has outlined, the continued weakening of BLUE laws and regulations throughout the remainder of the 20th Century and into the 21st by an increasingly toxic and corrupt RED/ORANGE harmonic has resulted in a weakening of GREEN intentions of egalitarianism throughout much of the Western world. The result of this is the kind of massive and seemingly ever-increasing inequality between the rich and the rest of society referred to by Elliott above. One recent measure of this is described by the International Business Times’ Mark Banham (2015): “The gap between the richest and poorest households in Britain is becoming ever more gaping as the top 10% of households got 21% richer in the period between 2012-2014 according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS). In comparison, the wealth of the poorest households increased by only 7% during the same period with the authority admitting that the ‘disparity in the change was large’.” As shown in the ONS chart below, the richest 10% of households hold 45% of all wealth. The poorest 50%, by contrast, own just 8.7%
It’s not just that there is this toxic RED/ORANGE culture of wealth greed but the plutocrats and the Elite seem dedicated to removing any and all obstacles to further wealth accumulation.
The RED/ORANGE drive to deregulate
In the US Donald Trump ‘deconstructed’ over 90 federal regulations between taking office and the beginning of March 2017. As a consequence, according to the New York Times’ Eric Lipton & Binyamin Appelbaum (2017), “Giants in telecommunications, like Verizon and AT&T, will not have to take ‘reasonable measures’ to ensure that their customers’ Social Security numbers, web browsing history and other personal information are not stolen or accidentally released. Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase will not be punished, at least for now, for not collecting extra money from customers to cover potential losses from certain kinds of high-risk trades that helped unleash the 2008 financial crisis. And Social Security Administration data will no longer be used to try to block individuals with disabling mental health issues from buying handguns, nor will hunters be banned from using lead-based bullets, which can accidentally poison wildlife, on 150 million acres of federal lands.”
Lipton & Appelbaum are in no doubt where the impetus for this deregulation comes from: “In many cases, records show that the changes came after appeals by corporate lobbyists and trade association executives, who see a potentially historic opportunity to lower compliance costs and drive up profits. Slashing regulations, they argue, will unleash economic growth. On a near daily basis, regulated industries are now sending in specific requests to the Trump administration for more rollbacks, including recent appeals from 17 automakers to rescind an agreement to increase mileage standards for their fleets, and another from pharmaceutical industry figures to reverse a new rule that tightens scrutiny over the marketing of prescription drugs for unapproved uses.”
Indeed, on the face of it, it would seem Trump has been too busy facilitating the plutocrats and the Elite by concentrating on deregulation to do more than just talk a bit about fulfilling his big promises to the white working classes whose votes put him in power. At the time of writing, there has been no major resurgence of jobs in American coal, steel and manufacturing – not even the publication of a plan to bring this about. And the much-vaunted plan to build a wall between the US and Mexico remains very much on the drawing board.
This favouring of the plutocrats and the Elite over the concerns of the white working classes leads Tyler Durden (2016) of ZeroHedge to question: “…is Trump a reflection of the frustration and defiance of the conservative population, or, is he a clever ruse by the establishment to co-opt and placate the conservative population before we rebel? The first and worst sign that Trump is not anywhere near ‘anti-establishment’ has been his complete reversal of his original ‘drain the swamp’ rhetoric. Trump is not only NOT draining the swamp that is the Washington DC and corporate elitist revolving door, he is adding even more creatures of varying ghoulishness. There is a good reason why Trump no longer wants to use that particular slogan – his cabinet is now filled with the exact same elitists he used to slam along with the Washington establishment.”
The Plutocracy’s obsession with wealth and increasing profit via deregulation – and arguably at all costs – is seen in the UK too. George Monbiot (2017) writes in The Guardian: “Above all, billionaires and the organisations they run demand freedom from something they call ‘red tape’. What they mean by red tape is public protection. An article in the Telegraph last week was headlined ‘Cut the EU red tape choking Britain after Brexit to set the country free from the shackles of Brussels’. Yes, we are choking, but not on red tape. We are choking because the government flouts European rules on air quality. The resulting air pollution frees thousands of souls from their bodies.
I suspect that the Barclay brothers, the billionaires who own the Telegraph, couldn’t give a monkey’s about bananas. But as their business empire incorporates hotels, shipping, car sales, home shopping and deliveries, they might be intensely interested in a host of similar public protections.
If the government agrees to a ‘bonfire of red tape’, we would win bent bananas and newt-squashing prerogatives. On the other hand, we could lose our rights to fair employment, an enduring living world, clean air, clean water, public safety, consumer protection, functioning public services, and the other distinguishing features of civilisation.”
Perhaps nothing more recently encapsulates the Plutocracy’s drive for deregulation and concomitant disregard for the potential consequences of such deregulation as June 2017’s devastating fire at Grenfell Towers. The local council’s repeated ignoring of residents’ concerns over inadequate fire safety is being seen even in some relatively-moderate quarters – eg: Pilgrim Tucker in The Guardian; Ian Johnston at The Independent – as the contempt of the rich for the poor. Installing inferior and much more flammable cladding to save Kensington & Chelsea Council £300,000 was seen as acceptable by the politicians of one of the richest boroughs in London. The council’s support for the fire’s homeless and traumatised survivors in the 3 weeks following the disaster – chronicled in detail by the Evening Standard’s Pippa Crerar (2017) – is widely perceived as incompetent at best but more likely simply uncaring about the needs of poor people. Left-wing commentator Yvonne Ridley of CommonSpace , who refers to the disaster as a ‘massacre’, writes of how survivors were treated: “Angry and grieving victims of the fire are coming forward now to say how they were given a £10 note and a hotel room for the night without any assurances about what would happen in the following days. Seriously folks, a tenner!?” The ultimate expression of the contempt of Kensington & Chelsea’s rich for their poor comes from Crerar: she reports senior Tory councillor Catherine Faulks describing it as “a tiny thing” when victims of the fire, both living and dead, had rent debited from their bank accounts.
Émile Durkheim (1893) posits that truly shocking and terrible things can be catalysts to increase social cohesion and produce social change. So could the horror of Grenfell actually produce a strong enough social reaction for this? Certainly, at the time of writing there are calls for this, such as Jason Michael McCann (2017) on Standpoint Zero. However, the media moguls’ tabloids are already working to shift attention (and implicitly, therefore, some of the blame) on to the residents. For example, the Daily Mail’s Richard Littlejohn focuses on illegally sub-letting to illegal immigrants (which also harks back to the immigration issue for Mail readers) making it difficult to ascertain the true death toll as these sub-lets won’t appear on official records. Also at the Mail Kate Ferguson & Katie French have made much of Grenfell survivors turning down the council’s offer of temporary accommodation. Such media shifts in focus can undermine attempts to build up a momentum for change.