November 1997, Volume 5 Nr.3, Issue 51
During the last week of October, 1997, the world witnessed a number of significant events which only a few weeks prior, would have been noteworthy for their improbability. Who would have ever envisioned that the leader of the world's largest communist party and the head of most populous nation on Earth, China, a previous pariah amongst nations, would be striking the gavel for the opening session of the New York City Stock Exchange? This visitor to the land of the Statue of Liberty comes from the land where pro-democracy demonstrators were brutally crushed trying to erect a statue of liberty of their own in Tiananmen Square in June 1989.
Not only did Jiang Zemin, president of the People's Republic of China, enter and worship at the capitalist church of the almighty dollar, he did so after the Dow Jones Index and the stock market, registered its largest single day's losses in history a mere "correction" by stock analyst standards.
The Dow industrial average lost 554.26 points, or 7.2 percent overnight in the New York Stock Exchange. Coincidentally, it was the Hong Kong stock market, now part of communist China, that is blamed for being the triggered for drop in the Index. Just what is the Dow Jones index? Why has this index suddenly become the focus of so much attention? What does the stock market reflect and how relevant is it to the average working class person?Football
We have football-institutionalized the stock market with commentators, scorekeepers, statisticians, play-by-play reporting, video tape replay, excitement, cheerleading, icon recognition, etc. the latest addition of which is none other than the ruler of the country that brings you billions of dollars of goods made by prison slave labor Jiang Zemin.
The football sport attitude on covering the stock market puts forth the proposition that something other than what was happening in the United States was responsible for the recent mini-crash, recently and cutely referred to as a crashlet. It was Hong Kong versus New York to be followed by New York versus London. All the while, we just might miss the contributing domestic events at work.
Alexander Cockburn writing, "The Witch Hunt and the Crash" in the November 17 issue of The Nation, states,
The plunge on Wall Street had far less to do with the Asian markets than with what Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan said on October 8. In testimony before Congress he warned that the economy was growing at an unsustainable rate and inflation was a virtual certainty unless job growth slowed. Once the word 'inflation' starts forming on Greenspan's lips, everyone knows that the next shoe likely to drop is a hike in interest rates and economic slowdown. So here we come to a truth about one of the 'fundamentals' of today's economy. When Greenspan talks about wages rising too fast (thus threatening profits), what he really means is wages rising at all.
Imagine that. When wages go up, the stock market goes down. When workers' jobs disappear, CEO bonuses go up. When unemployment gets too low, more layoffs commence. Cockburn further states that "one-third of the US labor force makes $15,000 or less." God forbid these folks get a raise! Such action would severely negatively affect the stock market, bringing the Dow down. Why? Because the overabundance of cheaper domestic labor would begin to diminish, and in turn, cause wage demand to go up. Corporate profits would slow or decline. I can hear the stock market football fans cheer as the index goes up while the jobs go down. I can hear the cheering, "Give me a 'D'...an 'O'...a 'W'...an 'N'... What's that spell? Downsizing! Louder! DOWNSIZING."Bedtime
Imagine going to bed at night contemplating one's holdings in General Motors Corporation (or any other) stock, feeling satisfied by the daily turn of events which posted a large gain in stock value precipitated by massive layoffs. Imagine actually cheering for a rise in the Dow knowing that for every tick up, people lose their jobs and wages stagnate or go down. Then again, people cheer watching grown men wearing helmets and padding knock themselves silly while short skirted cheerleaders wave their rear ends at the crowd all the while hiding the reality that the main reason for the sports existence is to provide interludes on television between the (beer, tampon and McDonald's) commercials. Cockburn concludes,
Here's our fundamental truth. Today's "boom" -- a boom in which relatively few have struck it rich -- is in fact a wage freeze. And the minute it looks as though the wage freeze won't hold, the system goes into shock.
The Catholic Worker of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin would say that such profit, taken on the backs of working people, is unchristian, contrary to the teachings of Jesus, immoral and evil. "The aim of the Catholic Worker movement is to live in accordance with the justice and charity of Jesus Christ." The Catholic Worker newspaper, May 1997, states,
In economics, private and state capitalism bring about an unjust distribution of wealth, for the profit motive guides decisions. Those in power live off the sweat of others' brows, while those without power are robbed of a just return for their work. Usury (the charging of interest above administrative costs) is a major contributor to the wrongdoing intrinsic to this system. We note, especially, how the world debt crisis leads poor countries into greater deprivation and a dependency from which there is no foreseeable escape. Here at home, the number of hungry and homeless and unemployed people rises in the midst of increasing affluence.
In labor, human need is no longer the reason for human work. Instead, the unbridled expansion of technology, necessary to capitalism and viewed as 'progress,' holds sway. Jobs are concentrated in productivity and administration for a "high-tech", war-related, consumer society of disposable goods, so that laborers are trapped in work that does not contribute to human welfare.
Furthermore, as jobs become more specialized, many people are excluded from meaningful work or are alienated from the products of their labor. Even in farming, agribusiness has replaced agriculture, and, in all areas, moral restraints are run over roughshod, and a disregard for the laws of nature now threatens the very planet.
While Jiang Zemin might open the stock market, I doubt Jesus would have.The Alternative Index
Wouldn't it be more valuable to society if the most important indices reflected the state of people's lives rather than the supposed state of the economy through the stock market? I propose a streaming tickertape index, similar to the familiar fraction-based line which appears at the bottom of many news broadcasts. It would display an ever-changing poverty index, unemployment index, hunger index, homelessness index, illiteracy index, educational index and healthcare and medical coverage index.
We might even create a consortium of indices which reflect the overall state of the people. We could call it "The Standards of the Poor." A wonderful vision might be the market cheering at the end of the day, traders being proud of their hard work of staffing telephones, yelling at each other, satisfied as the closing bells tolls, that their day's labor has lead to the biggest drop in the homelessness index in US history! Imagine.
Jonathan Rowe, writing in Adbusters, Winter 1996 writes, economists " cant tell misery from well-being, only more from less." A society should be judged not on how the wealthy are doing but rather how the poor and the dispossessed are faring. A society is, after all, only as good as the condition of the worst of the lot within its midst.
Recently, a colleague and I traded words over the recent stock market events. I suggested that the stock market's operating philosophy is one which is leading the planet down the path of ultimate crisis and world-wide convulsion through inevitable stock market-precipitated non-market and non-market-controllable forces, i.e. monumental environmental degradation, diminished arable land, shortage of potable water, lack of clean air, new virulent diseases, global climactic change, terrorism, war, etc.
Discouraging witness can be found in the intensity of El Nino, the rapid increase in global warming, the reemergence of antibiotic resistant tuberculosis and pneumonia, phiesteria poisoning of southeast US waterways, horrendous smoke pollution of southeast Asia, biological dead zones (such as Chernobyl), teenage suicide, etc. It is, after all, consumerism, the spend, charge, buy, throw out, replace, cycle of then American, and now global, capitalism, that is the fuel for the stock markets' profit engines.
The idea that this can continue forever (or even much longer) without soon-to-be unignorable consequences is an illusion of short-term greed driven by ego self-interest. That is, as long as we believe it can continue for us, as long as we live and our profits are maintained and maximized, then we can conveniently ignore that it cannot go on forever. That convenience may soon come to an end.
We can turn the other way and revel in the mow profit without giving consideration to others. Perhaps, this is what we mean when we use the word entitlement. That is, while I am in a privileged position, I, am entitled. Everyone else is not entitled until they can raise themselves to at least the position where they can invest and be as smart as I am. In others words, their plight is their own fault.
So many people live their lives with a sense that something is amiss. Why do we persist in pretending otherwise? I believe we have been co-opted, even by ourselves. We have been duped by the same market forces that own the media, buy off the politicians, produce the magazines, print the newspapers, manufacture the food, control the health services, loan the money and own the wealth. Here is an example:
A number of years back, not that long ago, people believed in hopeful, opposition activism. They believed that they could institute positive change through personal involvement. This was, for the most part, how women achieved the right to vote, civil rights became a priority meeting with some success, a president was forced to resign, an unpopular war came to an end. When environmentalism became popularized as the new visible cause, Madison Avenue, the political mouthpiece and strategist for the stock market, created instruments through which one could be politically active through spending.
Contributing to a cause became as easy as using the credit card, all with a guaranteed small amount channeled to the movement or organization of our choice. With this shift from doing, to spending under the guise of doing, almost every cause and dissent has been effectively neutralized. We can invest in Green Funds, the Calvert Group, Peace Funds. We can buy products such as ice cream or candy, where profits presumably go to local native nut farmers who help save rain forests. We can even purchase eco-friendly toilet paper, paper towels, etc.
The president, Bill Clinton, knows the technique well. He has had years of experience co-opting any position which in any way challenges his standing, image or opportunity. That's how he got re-elected co-opting most Republican positions.
A recent example was Secretary of State, Madeline Albright's announcement that the US would not sign the landmine treaty, but rather go "beyond" the treaty, unilaterally deciding to remove landmines world-wide. They'll remain in those locations that suits our interest, however, such as the North - South Korea border, Guantanamo Cuba, etc.
I suggest that Bill and Madeline look into issuing a credit card called "The Free Land Card". It's motto might be, "The more you spend, the safer the world becomes." We could even have spots on television where government employees hold cute children in foreign lands suggesting that,
Pizza as Union Busting
Recently, JeanneE told me of a Pizza Hut commercial, which depicts strikers on a picket line. There is a large Pizza Hut delivery. The strikers ooh and ahh, and while eating pizza, gratefully look up toward management with thankful faces. Yet, when "Adbusters Magazine" attempts to buy time from the networks to air an uncommercial, they are turned away.
This wonderful uncommercial, in actuality an anti-commercial, begins by showing the outline of a naked model, as slim as fashion requires, with obvious references to perfume and glamour. As the camera slowly pans in, this woman, rather than being sexy, is doubled over throwing up into the commode. She has bulimia quite an indictment.
Even at the going rate, this uncommercial depicting the negative consequences of buying into consumerism could not find a network from which to purchase air time. When I brought this up to people who have faith in the system, their response was, "Well. It is a free market." That is, they have the right to sell and buy anything they want. Curious. It was my understanding that The People own the natural resources, and the air waves belong to them. People's access to the radio spectrum should be similar to the their access to air and water.
Uncommercials for International Buy Nothing day, the day after Thanksgiving - a Friday, were also refused the right to airtime. "A press release from Adbusters recently reported that the NBC, ABC and CBS television networks have refused to run a Buy Nothing Day campaign spot produced by the Media Foundation." The November 29, 1996 issue of Imprint, reports,
It seems that freedom of the press belongs to those who own one, and a commercial broadcast system is incapable of dissenting on such an important social and environmental issue. Without television selling millions of consumers to advertisers, what's the point?November
This is the month of Thanksgiving, that is as differentiated from Giving Thanks This year, the holiday falls on November 28. It marks the beginning of the holiday shopping season (or was that Columbus Day?). Called, Black Friday, this is the biggest shopping day of the year. The stock market faithful want us to spend, spend, spend and spend some more not only on that day, but all the shopping days till Christmas. Afterward, we can spend some more by buying the same items on sale that we overpaid for just a few weeks ago. Yes. Our economy is linked to our consumption and overconsumption. Is it not a good idea, and in all our best interest, to overeat, overdrink and overstuff on Thanksgiving? The stock market thinks so.
Giving thanks on Thanksgiving has become a minor aspect of the holiday, just as insignificant as celebrating the birth of the Prince of Peace on Christmas has become. These holidays, too, have been co-opted, becoming mere metaphors in name, in actuality synonyms for consumption. Wall Street, however, remains, expectant and optimistic, encouraging us to continue thinking less and buying more...much more.Turkeys
A case in point, the cherished US Thanksgiving meal with its obligatory centerpiece of turkey. Does it matter that the turkeys we eat differ vastly from wild turkeys which are free to roam and live a normal life. Our "eating turkeys" are the product of the artificial insemination of birds that are so pathologically obese that the males are too heavy to mount the females and thus require human intervention for procreation and propagation. Hillary Hannah, writing in the December 1992 and January 1993 issues of The Vegetarian explains,
Factory farmed turkeys are bred in huge breeder sheds known as either pole barns or broiler sheds where controlled lighting fools the birds into changing their breeding cycle. The breeding cycle is triggered by the number of daylight hours received, so by prolonging "daylight" hours artificially the bird is conned into producing turkeys ready for Christmas consumption...
Turkeys were not the hot holiday food product until the 1950's when the poultry industry went on a campaign to develop modern turkey semen extraction and insemination methods. Today, this, along with intensive artificial breeding, has contributed heavily to the successful marketing of turkeys and turkey meat as the staple food of the Christmas holiday season.
"Of the 300 million turkeys raised in 1996, an estimated 45 million (15 percent) are consumed at Thanksgiving, an average of 675 million pounds of turkey!", according to Stephanie Bergman of the National Turkey Federation. When we eat turkey, it is difficult, even numbing, to think about the implications of the statistics. That might be done before hand with a little bit of planning. We might think a bit more before we buy.
Hannah further describes the treatment of turkeys during the transportation and slaughterhouse cycle. That process, gruesome as it is, is well documented by inspectors and covered by numerous Internet sights and publications. Do we dare read it? Do we care? Wall Street does. Its betting, no counting on our not caring.
My intent is not to create new vegetarians, although that is a healthy option (and eating lower on the food chain is ethically, environmentally superior - yes - superior), but rather to point out that people have stopped thinking about what they eat, what they buy, where they invest, how they celebrate and how they live. Perhaps, it is too inconvenient for us to make changes in any of these aspects of living.
More to the point, perhaps, doing so would lead us back to the stock market, and in the process, bring us face to face with the option that we take responsibility for contributing to the profits of corporations that use inhumane methods of food production, prison slave labor which makes the trinkets and lights we put on our Christmas trees, child slave labor which manufactures handmade rugs, sports' equipment, and mass farming techniques which unnecessarily brutalize and contribute to most of our water pollution.
Finally, though it is extremely difficult in a capitalist society to extricate oneself and one's economic resources from the system, we might begin by making small changes in our investments and life style that slightly reduce suffering. With some success, we might prevent ourselves from completely becoming commodities, raised, educated, bought, sold and discarded (in our old age) like the products that we so blindly buy and throw away.Bibliography
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Nation. "The Witch Hunt and the Crash."
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© 1997 Jozef Hand-Boniakowski