Residents and business owners in Broad Channel, N.Y., are protesting skyrocketing insurance rates that are part of a new federal law designed to keep FEMA afloat. The new law increases the number of areas that are deemed flood zones and stipulates that homeowners in those areas raise their houses or face increased premiums. Don Dahler reports.
Congress tried to cut subsidies for homes in flood zones. It was harder than they thought.
Back in 1968, Congress first began subsidizing flood-insurance policies for homeowners across the nation. That change allowed more Americans to move into coastal areas and floodplains without paying full price for the risks involved.
Flooding during Superstorm Sandy in 2012 (The Washington Post)
By 2012, however, lawmakers were rethinking the whole scheme. The National Flood Insurance Program was subsidizing premiums for 1.1 million policies and running multi-billion-dollar deficits. On top of that, scientists were predicting that sea-level rise would make flooding even more common in the years ahead. Environmentalists and fiscal conservatives alike argued that it made little sense to encourage building in high-risk areas.
So, that summer, Congress voted to revamp the program.* The Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 aimed to end subsidized rates for 438,000 insurance policies in flood zones — mainly second homes, businesses, and repeatedly flooded properties. Subsidies for the rest (about 715,000 properties) would get rolled back more gradually, as the homes got sold. A separate set of properties could also face premium hikes as the government revises its flood maps.
Qatari women with their children and housemaid strolling in Doha. Photograph: Stock Connection/REX
Foreign maids, cleaners and other domestic workers are being subjected to slave-like labour conditions in Qatar, with many complaining they have been deprived of passports, wages, days off, holidays and freedom to move jobs, a Guardian investigation can reveal.
Hundreds of Filipino maids have fled to their embassy in recent months because conditions are so harsh. Many complain of physical and sexual abuse, harassment, long periods without pay and the confiscation of mobile phones.
The exploitation raises further concerns about labour practices in Qatar in advance of the World Cup, after Guardian reports about the treatment of construction workers. The maids are not directly connected to Qatar’s preparations for the football tournament, but domestic workers will play a big role in staffing the hotels, stadiums and other infrastructure that will underpin the 2022 tournament.
Our investigation reveals:
• The Philippine Overseas Labour Office (POLO) sheltered more than 600 runaway maids in the first six months of 2013 alone.
• Some workers say they have not been paid for months.
• Many housemaids do not get days off.
• Some contracts and job descriptions are changed once the workers arrive in Qatar.
• Women who report a sexual assault can be charged with illicit relations.
The non-payment of wages, confiscation of documents and inability of workers to leave their employer constitute forced labour under UN rules. According to the International Labour Organisation, forced labour is “all work which is exacted from someone under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily”.
Lack of consent can include induced indebtedness and deception about the type and terms of work, withholding or non-payment of wages and the retention of identity documents. Initial consent may be considered irrelevant when deception or fraud has been used to obtain it.
“Menace of penalty” can include physical violence, deprivation of food and shelter, non-payment of wages, the inability to repay a loan, exclusion from future employment and removal of rights and privileges.
When the Guardian visited in January, at least 35 runaway maids had sought sanctuary at the POLO in the capital, Doha, which provides support to 200,000 Filipinos in Qatar. The welfare officer said most complained of pay being withheld, insufficient food, overwork and maltreatment. Some said they had endured verbal and physical abuse by sponsors of different nationalities.
Eight Filipino workers interviewed by the Guardian said they had not been paid for six months, were sometimes deprived of food while cleaning for long hours and had had their passports confiscated.
“We are afraid,” said 28-year-old Jane*. “We don’t really know what to do. We are trying to survive. That’s why we do part-time jobs secretly.” If they are caught breaching their contract, the maids face months in a deportation centre. The repatriation process is often delayed when people do not have their passports, according to James Lynch, Amnesty International’s researcher on Gulf migrants’ rights.
Qatar vigorously denies it is a “slave state” and is understood to be reviewing the controversial system that governs migrant labour, and to have stepped up inspections of businesses that use migrant labour. The Qatari labour ministry said in a statement: “We have clear laws and contractual terms in place to protect all people who live and work in Qatar and anyone found to have broken those laws will be prosecuted accordingly.” It said that non-payment of wages and confiscation of passports were illegal in Qatar, and added: “The vast majority of workers in Qatar – domestic or otherwise – work amicably, save money and send this home to improve the economic situation of their families and communities in their home countries.”
But the Philippines-based OFW (Overseas Foreign Workers) Watch, which supports Filipino migrant workers, said physical abuse, delayed and refused salaries, the misrepresentation of employers and contracts and passport confiscations were common issues in Qatar. The Guardian has already highlighted this malpractice in its investigation into the mistreatment of migrant workers as Qatar gears up for the 2022 World Cup.
As with the construction workers, the abuse of maids is systemic and brought into sharp focus by a lack of legal protection and the kafala sponsorship system, under which workers cannot leave the country or change jobs without their employer’s permission, Lynch said.
“The women we’ve spoken to who have suffered abuses in the workplace, ranging from excessive working hours to physical violence, their employers came from a variety of countries,” he added.
Many maids say they do not get any rest days and that employers confiscate their mobile phones.
Several recruitment agencies contacted by phone told a Guardian reporter pretending to be a would-be client that they routinely withheld the passports of their migrant workers. One agency volunteered that it was up to the sponsor whether the maid had a day off. “If you want to give an off day, let them rest at your house,” an Al Hadeel Manpower representative said. “Don’t give them free days outside because there is more problems outside.”
Lapsi, Ukraine, February 25, 2014 — A partial view of a staggering 8,000 square metre residence that deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was building for himself along the Black Sea in the restive Crimean Peninsula. Work stopped on the project on Monday when workers figured out that Yanulovych, who is facing charges of mass murder, would never pay them.
LAPSI, Ukraine — Ukrainians were stunned by the opulent grandeur of Viktor Yanukovych’s presidential palace when the doors were thrown open last Saturday, hours after the deposed leader fled for parts unknown ahead of formal charges this week accusing him of mass murder.
If those who gazed in wonder at the palace in Kyiv could have traveled safely to the primarily Russian Crimean Peninsula — where ethnic Ukrainians from the north are cursed and reviled at the moment for having toppled the old, pro-Moscow order — they might have had an even bigger shock at what is being built on a remote mountainside.
Another grotesque monument to Yanukovych’s vanity and venality, with a commanding view of the sea, has been slowly rising for the past three years about 30 kilometres from the port city of Sevastopol. Or at least it had been until workers abruptly began to cart away building materials on Monday because, as several of them said, “nobody has told us anything, but we understand that everything is now frozen and we won’t get paid.”
A handful of Ukrainians and journalists was allowed into the massive work site Tuesday. What they saw was a villa so colossal that, at a guess, it was four or five times the size of the huge residence in Kyiv that provoked such disgust when the common folk were allowed inside to gawk.
A Russian website guessed that the “cottage” by the sea was about 8,000 square metres. It looked to be about six months to a year from being completed. But it was already possible to see that the basketball court-sized living room was about 20 metres high and includes a massive fireplace. Many of the floors have a network of wires running underneath to heat them.
KIEV, Ukraine — With his allies deserting him and his once-firm presidential power disintegrating, Viktor Yanukovych has fled Ukraine’s capital by car and aircraft, heading for the parts of the country where he is most likely to find friends, according to the acting head of the police.
On Monday, as Yanukovych’s exact whereabouts remained unknown, acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakhov posted on his official Facebook page a rundown of where Yanukovych has been sighted since leaving Kiev on Friday.
His departure came hours after signing an agreement on resolving Ukraine’s political crisis that reduced his powers and was seen by many as a tacit admission of defeat.
Avakhov said a warrant has been issued for the arrest of Yanukovych and several other officials for the “mass killing of civilians,” stemming from the deaths of protesters in Kiev.
Here’s a look at Yanukovych’s movements since Friday, based on one TV appearance and the account by Avakhov:
A TV INTERVIEW IN KHARKIV
Yanukovych surfaced Saturday in the city of Kharkiv, 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of Kiev, in the heartland of his base of support. In a videotaped interview, he bitterly likened opposition protesters to Nazis and declared he was still president and would not leave the country. That was his last public appearance.
FOILED AT THE AIRPORT IN DONETSK
From Kharkiv, Avakhov said Yanukovych, his chief of staff Andrit Klyuyev and his security guards flew Saturday by helicopter to the airport in Donetsk, his hometown, 230 kilometers (140 miles) to the south. There, he and his contingent transferred to two Falcon business jets and tried to fly off, but were prevented from leaving by border guards.
Seeking Viktor Yanukovych: A rundown of sightings in Ukraine
Jim Heintz, The Associated Press Published Monday, February 24, 2014 11:10AM EST Last Updated Monday, February 24, 2014 5:59PM EST
KYIV, Ukraine — With his allies deserting him and his once-firm presidential power disintegrating, Viktor Yanukovych has fled Ukraine’s capital by car and aircraft, heading for the parts of the country where he is most likely to find friends, according to the acting head of the police.
On Monday, as Yanukovych’s exact whereabouts remained unknown, acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakhov posted on his official Facebook page a rundown of where Yanukovych has been sighted since leaving Kyiv on Friday.
His departure came hours after signing an agreement on resolving Ukraine’s political crisis that reduced his powers and was seen by many as a tacit admission of defeat.
In this image made from video released by the Regional Administration of Kharkiv and distributed by AP Video, Viktor Yanukovych, president of Ukraine, speaks in Kharkiv Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014. (AP Photo / Regional Administration of Kharkiv)
Avakhov said a warrant has been issued for the arrest of Yanukovich and several other officials for the “mass killing of civilians,” stemming from the deaths of protesters in Kyiv.
Here’s a look at Yanukovych’s movements since Friday, based on one TV appearance and the account by Avakhov:
A TV interview in Kharkiv
Yanukovych surfaced Saturday in the city of Kharkiv, 400 kilometres east of Kyiv, in the heartland of his base of support. In a videotaped interview, he bitterly likened opposition protesters to Nazis and declared he was still president and would not leave the country. That was his last public appearance.
Foiled at the airport in Donetsk
From Kharkiv, Avakhov said Yanukovych, his chief of staff Andrit Klyuyev and his security guards flew Saturday by helicopter to the airport in Donetsk, his hometown, 230 kilometres to the south. There, he and his contingent transferred to two Falcon business jets and tried to fly off, but were prevented from leaving by border guards. Avakhov did not explain the basis for guards blocking the planes’ departure. Yanukovych spent a few hours in a state residence and then left about 10 p.m. in a convoy of automobiles, Avakhov said.
Why Taxpayers Will Bail Out the Rich When the Next Storm Hits
By Bill Dedman
GULF SHORES, Ala. — As homeowners around the nation protest skyrocketing premiums for federal flood insurance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has quietly moved the lines on its flood maps to benefit hundreds of oceanfront condo buildings and million-dollar homes, according to an analysis of federal records by NBC News.
The changes shift the financial burden for the next destructive hurricane, tsunami or tropical storm onto the neighbors of these wealthy beach-dwellers — and ultimately onto all American taxpayers.
In more than 500 instances from the Gulf of Alaska to Bar Harbor, Maine, FEMA has remapped waterfront properties from the highest-risk flood zone, saving the owners as much as 97 percent on the premiums they pay into the financially strained National Flood Insurance Program.
NBC News also found that FEMA has redrawn maps even for properties that have repeatedly filed claims for flood losses from previous storms. At least some of the properties are on the secret “repetitive loss list” that FEMA sends to communities to alert them to problem properties. FEMA says that it does not factor in previous losses into its decisions on applications to redraw the flood zones.
And FEMA has given property owners a break even when the changes are opposed by the town hall official in charge of flood control. Although FEMA asks the local official to sign off on the map changes, it told NBC that its policy is to consider the applications even if the local expert opposes the change.
“If it’s been flooded, it’s susceptible to being flooded again. We all know that,” said Larry A. Larson, director emeritus of the 15,000-member national Association of State Floodplain Managers. “FEMA is ignoring data that’s readily available. That’s not smart. And it puts taxpayer money at risk.”
The neighboring resorts of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach on the South Alabama coast include a stretch of beach that was flooded by Hurricanes Erin and Opal in 1995, Danny in 1997, Georges in 1998, Ivan in 2004, and Katrina in 2005. The map changes here offer a vivid example of the risks that come with such reclassifications.
The direct hit by Ivan was the worst, bringing not gently rising floodwaters but a 14-foot wall of water that leveled buildings and flooded more than a mile inland. That’s why flood maps show most of this beach as a “coastal velocity wave zone,” the area with the highest risk of damage from storm surge.
But nearly all of the condominium towers are no longer in that high-risk zone, including a 17-story condominium built where the old Holiday Inn was wiped away by Ivan’s winds and waves, and another where the McDonald’s was a total loss. From 2011 through 2013, FEMA granted applications remapping 66 out of 72 waterfront condo towers in Gulf Shores to lower-risk flood zones or off the flood maps entirely. Four others have applications pending. Just two applications have been denied. And next door in Orange Beach, the map lines have been redrawn around four high-rise condo buildings.
On a single day, Oct. 25, 2012 — a day when FEMA was closely monitoring Hurricane Sandy as it barreled toward the Atlantic Coast — a FEMA manager issued a document reclassifying a full mile of the coastal property in Gulf Shores. That document, just one of the 533 cases found nationwide by NBC News, redrew the lines to exclude 25 condo buildings from the highest-risk flood zone.
This beachfront condo, the Island Tower, collected $11,562 for its damage from Katrina, and more than $250,000 from Ivan.
The Island Tower’s condo association was paying $143,190 a year into the National Flood Insurance Program. Now that it’s been reclassified into a lower-risk flood zone, its premium is $8,457 a year, a saving of 94 percent, according to records examined by NBC News.
Just down the beach is the Royal Palms. It collected $58,230 for damages during Katrina, and $889,730 from Ivan. The Royal Palms was paying $218,484 a year, but after being changed to a lower-risk flood zone, now pays only $6,845, saving 97 percent.
The map changes in just these two towns resulted in at least $5 million a year in lost revenue to the flood insurance program, according to records examined by NBC News. All of these changes were approved by FEMA despite opposition from the city officials in charge of floodplain management.
Elsewhere in Gulf Shores, homeowners are paying as much as $12,000 a year in flood insurance premiums for their single-family homes, according to insurance records. These homeowners are paying as much as several large condo buildings combined.
Properties from Alaska to Maine
Because waterfront properties are expensive, and it costs thousands of dollars to hire an engineer to press a case with FEMA, the remapped properties tend to be luxurious, either the first or second homes of industrialists, real estate developers and orthopedic surgeons.
The 533 properties include a $4 million home in the Hamptons resort on Long Island, N.Y., owned by a married couple who direct Wall Street investment firms.
In Miami, the beneficiaries include the twin 37-story condos at ritzy Turnberry Isle in Sunny Isles Beach, and also the Regalia, “the most luxurious building in South Florida.”
In Naples, Fla., a $19 million home was remapped last year out of the high-risk zone. The owner, Robert A. Watson, former president and CEO of units of Westinghouse Electric and Transamerica, said his property is protected by a floodwall, and he sought the map change last year not to save money but because FEMA has changed the map elevations in that area so many times. He said he wanted to know for sure that a guesthouse would be permitted. (He called mandatory flood insurance “a massive scam on the American people.”)
In New York, FEMA granted the Mamaroneck Beach & Yacht Club’s request to be remapped from the high-risk flood zone in August 2012 — just two months before the club was damaged and its outbuildings destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, which stacked up yachts at its docks like pick-up sticks. The club told NBC that its engineering study showed that FEMA’s map was wrong.
“Sandy was a once in a millennium event, and therefore cannot be the sole determination for planning,” said Eric L. Gordon, attorney for the yacht club.
Baton Rouge’s Rich Want New Town to Keep Poor Pupils Out: Taxes
February 6, 2014 12:00 AM ET
By Margaret Newkirk
Saying they want local control, they’re trying to leave the 42,000-pupil public-education system. They envision their own district funded by property taxes from their higher-value homes, which would take money from schools in poorer parts of state-capital Baton Rouge, home of Louisiana State University. They even want their own city.
Similar efforts have surfaced in the past two years in Georgia, Alabama, Texas and Tennessee, some of them succeeding as the end of court-ordered desegregation removed legal barriers. The result may be a concentration of poverty and low achievement. A 2012 report by ACT, the Iowa-based testing organization, found only 10 percent of low-income students met college benchmarks in all subjects, less than half the average.
“It’s going to devastate us,” said Tania Nyman, 45, who has two elementary-age children in the Baton Rouge system. “They’re not only going to take the richer white kids out of the district, they are going to take their money out of it.”
U.S. educational funding varies by state, often relying heavily on local taxes. The South, once notorious for segregated schools, by 2011 had the nation’s second-narrowest funding disparity among districts, according to a study by the Federal Education Budget Project, a Washington-based research organization that is an offshoot of the nonpartisan New America Foundation.
Louisiana, however, scored worst in the nation, according to the study. A December report by three LSU economics professors found that breaking up the East Baton Rouge Parish school system would depress total per-pupil spending to $8,870 from $9,635. It would rise to $11,686 in the breakaway district.
Eighty percent of the current district’s students are black, and 82 percent poor enough to qualify for free or reduced school meals. Nyman and other district boosters say a split would set a dire precedent.
“Every affluent community in the state will want to create their own little school system,” said Carnell Washington, president of the East Baton Rouge Federation of Teachers.“They are taking money away that would help the entire school system and the entire city.”
Backers of the split, whose website is called Local Schools for Local Children, say the district has been failing for at least a dozen years, with some schools performing so poorly that the state took them over. In the 2011-2012 school year, six of 10 students attended a school ranked failing or almost failing by the state and the drop-out rate was 20 percent, according to Baton Rouge Area Chamber, a business group.
“Baton Rouge is one of the best job markets around, and the middle class is moving out,” said Republican state Senator Mack “Bodi” White. “Those who stay have their kids in private schools.”
About 30 percent of children within district lines were in private schools in 2009, according to Tulane University’s Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives.
Michael R. Bloomberg loves tropical fish. So when he was elected mayor, he installed two giant aquariums in City Hall.
The cost to him for having the tanks cleaned out every week for the past 12 years: around $62,400.
The mayor likes to nosh, too. So he paid to feed his staff daily a light breakfast (coffee, bagels, yogurt) and a modest lunch (tuna salad, PB&J, sliced fruit).
The bill for his entire mayoralty: about $890,000.
Mr. Bloomberg, above all, enjoys hassle-free travel. When he took his aides anywhere, from Albany to Athens, it was by private plane.
The price tag for all that jetting around: roughly $6 million.
When Mr. Bloomberg leaves office at midnight Tuesday, he will bequeath a litany of record-shattering statistics on crime reduction, sidewalk safety and skyline-altering construction. But perhaps the most staggering figure is the amount of his own money that he devoted, day in and day out, to being mayor — much of it unseen by the public.
An analysis by The New York Times shows that Mr. Bloomberg has doled out at least $650 million on a wide variety of perks and bonuses, political campaigns and advocacy work, charitable giving and social causes, not to mention travel and lodging, connected to his time and role as mayor. (His estimated tab for a multiday trip to China, with aides and security in tow: $500,000.)
In the process, he has entirely upended the financial dynamics surrounding New York’s top job.
In the past, the city paid its mayor; Mr. Bloomberg paid to be the city’s mayor.
When Qatar’s royal family was looking for advice on charitable giving, it turned to a well-regarded professor named Abd al-Rahman al-Nu’aymi. The 59-year-old educator had a stellar résumé that included extensive fundraising experience and years of work with international human rights groups.
But one apparent accomplishment was omitted from the list: According to U.S. officials, Nu’aymi also was working secretly as a financier for al-Qaeda, funneling millions of dollars to the terrorist group’s affiliates in Syria and Iraq even as he led campaigns in Europe for greater freedoms for Muslims.
Nu’aymi was one of two men identified by Treasury Department officials last week as major financial backers of al-Qaeda and its regional chapters across the Middle East. Although U.S. officials routinely announce steps to disrupt terrorist financing networks, the individuals named in the latest case are far from ordinary. Both men have served as advisers to government-backed foundations in Qatar and have held high-profile positions with international human rights groups. The second man, a Yemeni, is heavily involved in his country’s U.S.-backed political transition.
Their alleged dual roles — promoting humanitarian causes and civil rights while simultaneously supporting extremist groups — reflect a growing challenge for counterterrorism officials attempting to monitor the torrents of cash flowing to Islamist rebel groups in Syria, current and former U.S. officials say.
“Individuals with one foot in the legitimate world and another in the realm of terrorist financing provide al-Qaeda with a cloak of legitimacy,” said Juan Zarate, a former Treasury Department official and author of “Treasury’s Wars,” a book that describes U.S. efforts to penetrate terrorist financial networks. Zarate said such cases greatly complicate the “financial diplomacy” involved in attempting to disrupt terrorist support networks, especially private funding from wealthy Persian Gulf donors seeking to help Syria’s rebels.
Despite attempts by gulf states to crack down on jihadist financial networks, former and current U.S. officials have described a surge in private support for Islamist extremists in Syria, particularly in Qatar and Kuwait.
Here’s a statistic that illustrates just how bad the recession was: Despite U.S. households gaining $21 trillion in household wealth since 2009, the average family is still poorer than it was in 2007. That’s right, according to research from economists William Emmons and Bryan Noeth of the Center for Household Financial Stability, the average U.S. household’s inflation-adjusted net worth is $626,800, 2% below its 2007 peak of $645,100.
The green line in the above chart shows the trajectory of the average household’s inflation adjusted wealth. The red line shows non-inflation adjusted wealth per household, while the blue line shows the total net worth of American households–which is about 11.8% higher than its peak in 2007.
The differences are driven by the fact that the population has grown quite a bit since 2007, so while total wealth has more than recovered, per household wealth has not.
Photo By � STRINGER Italy / Reuters/ReutersThu, 12 Dec, 2013
Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi reacts as he attends a rally to launch the “Forza Silvio” (Go Silvio) club in downtown Rome December 8, 2013. REUTERS/Yara Nardi
PARIS (Reuters) – Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who lost parliamentary immunity when he was expelled from the Senate last month, said on Thursday revolution would break out if he were arrested and thrown in prison.
The 77-year-old media magnate was stripped of his Senate seat after he was convicted of tax fraud and sentenced to four years in jail. This was commuted to a year, likely to be spent performing community service.
But without parliamentary protection, he is now more vulnerable in other criminal cases where he is accused of offences including political bribery. He is also appealing against a conviction for abuse of office and paying for sex with a minor.
In an interview with France’s Europe 1 radio, when asked if he was afraid of arrest, he replied: “No, I’m sure they cannot, otherwise there will be a revolution in Italy.”
The creator of The Wire, David Simon, delivered an impromptu speech about the divide between rich and poor in America at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney, and how capitalism has lost sight of its social compact. This is an edited extract
David Simon, creator of The Wire, near his office in Baltimore. Photograph: Stephen Voss/Redux / eyevine
America is a country that is now utterly divided when it comes to its society, its economy, its politics. There are definitely two Americas. I live in one, on one block in Baltimore that is part of the viable America, the America that is connected to its own economy, where there is a plausible future for the people born into it. About 20 blocks away is another America entirely. It’s astonishing how little we have to do with each other, and yet we are living in such proximity.
There’s no barbed wire around West Baltimore or around East Baltimore, around Pimlico, the areas in my city that have been utterly divorced from the American experience that I know. But there might as well be. We’ve somehow managed to march on to two separate futures and I think you’re seeing this more and more in the west. I don’t think it’s unique to America.
I think we’ve perfected a lot of the tragedy and we’re getting there faster than a lot of other places that may be a little more reasoned, but my dangerous idea kind of involves this fellow who got left by the wayside in the 20th century and seemed to be almost the butt end of the joke of the 20th century; a fellow named Karl Marx.
I’m not a Marxist in the sense that I don’t think Marxism has a very specific clinical answer to what ails us economically. I think Marx was a much better diagnostician than he was a clinician. He was good at figuring out what was wrong or what could be wrong with capitalism if it wasn’t attended to and much less credible when it comes to how you might solve that.
You know if you’ve read Capital or if you’ve got the Cliff Notes, you know that his imaginings of how classical Marxism – of how his logic would work when applied – kind of devolve into such nonsense as the withering away of the state and platitudes like that. But he was really sharp about what goes wrong when capital wins unequivocally, when it gets everything it asks for.
That may be the ultimate tragedy of capitalism in our time, that it has achieved its dominance without regard to a social compact, without being connected to any other metric for human progress.
We understand profit. In my country we measure things by profit. We listen to the Wall Street analysts. They tell us what we’re supposed to do every quarter. The quarterly report is God. Turn to face God. Turn to face Mecca, you know. Did you make your number? Did you not make your number? Do you want your bonus? Do you not want your bonus?
And that notion that capital is the metric, that profit is the metric by which we’re going to measure the health of our society is one of the fundamental mistakes of the last 30 years. I would date it in my country to about 1980 exactly, and it has triumphed.
Capitalism stomped the hell out of Marxism by the end of the 20th century and was predominant in all respects, but the great irony of it is that the only thing that actually works is not ideological, it is impure, has elements of both arguments and never actually achieves any kind of partisan or philosophical perfection.
It’s pragmatic, it includes the best aspects of socialistic thought and of free-market capitalism and it works because we don’t let it work entirely. And that’s a hard idea to think – that there isn’t one single silver bullet that gets us out of the mess we’ve dug for ourselves. But man, we’ve dug a mess.
After the second world war, the west emerged with the American economy coming out of its wartime extravagance, emerging as the best product. It was the best product. It worked the best. It was demonstrating its might not only in terms of what it did during the war but in terms of just how facile it was in creating mass wealth.
Plus, it provided a lot more freedom and was doing the one thing that guaranteed that the 20th century was going to be – and forgive the jingoistic sound of this – the American century.
It took a working class that had no discretionary income at the beginning of the century, which was working on subsistence wages. It turned it into a consumer class that not only had money to buy all the stuff that they needed to live but enough to buy a bunch of shit that they wanted but didn’t need, and that was the engine that drove us.
It wasn’t just that we could supply stuff, or that we had the factories or know-how or capital, it was that we created our own demand and started exporting that demand throughout the west. And the standard of living made it possible to manufacture stuff at an incredible rate and sell it.
And how did we do that? We did that by not giving in to either side. That was the new deal. That was the great society. That was all of that argument about collective bargaining and union wages and it was an argument that meant neither side gets to win.
Labour doesn’t get to win all its arguments, capital doesn’t get to. But it’s in the tension, it’s in the actual fight between the two, that capitalism actually becomes functional, that it becomes something that every stratum in society has a stake in, that they all share.
The unions actually mattered. The unions were part of the equation. It didn’t matter that they won all the time, it didn’t matter that they lost all the time, it just mattered that they had to win some of the time and they had to put up a fight and they had to argue for the demand and the equation and for the idea that workers were not worth less, they were worth more.
Ultimately we abandoned that and believed in the idea of trickle-down and the idea of the market economy and the market knows best, to the point where now libertarianism in my country is actually being taken seriously as an intelligent mode of political thought. It’s astonishing to me. But it is. People are saying I don’t need anything but my own ability to earn a profit. I’m not connected to society. I don’t care how the road got built, I don’t care where the firefighter comes from, I don’t care who educates the kids other than my kids. I am me. It’s the triumph of the self. I am me, hear me roar.
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