Innumeracy and Class Domination

Book coverThe psychic effects of wealth are as fascinating as they are crucial, as shown here and here.

One major dimension of the mental distortion that tends to plague those who make it to the top in our radically unequal world is, ironically, innumeracy.

Consider the prevalence of the very strong tendency of tax resentment to increase as zeroes get added to incomes and wealth stocks. People who never would bat an eye at having taxes withheld from $50,000 incomes become irate crusaders when the base sum becomes $5,000,000 or $5,000,000,000.

Meanwhile, consider the patent stupidity of the latest pose being struck by the supposed genius, Jeff Bezos. $2 billion dollars for a “network of new, non-profit, tier-one preschools in low-income communities”? Jeff, honey: How many top-shelf schools do you imagine can be built and staffed for $2 billion? There are 8 million households living below the official poverty line, in many hundreds of communities. I hate to tell you, but you are therefore off on this one by at least one order of magnitude — and that’s presuming you’d be giving this $2 billion every year (schools, you see, need to keep going once they open), which you are not.

But, of course, this kind of wild innumeracy is part and parcel of the capitalist creed. We need, they say, to let our creative entrepreneurial class have an unspeakable amount of wealth, so that they will turn around and use it to help the rest of us. Simply putting limits on them and doing what needs doing ourselves wouldn’t work, they say, despite the Nordic countries’ existence and apparent thriving.

Stupid is as stupid does. (Not, of course, that the corporate media will ever mention it in their predictable paeans to private power.)

Layers of Exploitation

cookie jar photo Karl Marx saw exploitation as the core behavioral process in any class society. Overclasses always rule (and indulge themselves) by means of regimes for taking advantage of those who lack alternatives to being taken advantage of.

For rather obvious reasons, this remains a big and vastly under-researched topic. How exactly do rulers deploy threats and tricks to keep paying themselves from the sacrifices of others?

In the corporate capitalist epoch, one thing they do is big business marketing, which, as TCT readers know, is a form of class-struggle-from-above.

I mention all this because The New York Times today is running a letter from Lawrence D. Fink, CEO of BlackRock, to his firm’s shareholders. In the letter, Fink acknowledges that one of the foundational features of modern corporations is their ability to operate without direct accountability to the public that grants their charters:

Society increasingly is turning to the private sector and asking that companies respond to broader societal challenges. Indeed, the public expectations of your company have never been greater. Society is demanding that companies, both public and private,serve a social purpose. To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society. Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities in which they operate.

Behind closed doors, this is how CEOs understand their basic situation, though, as soon as the public inquires directly into this confidential fact, the CEOs of course flip over into insisting that even the largest corporations are merely enlarged mom-and-pop shops and thus nobody’s business but their shareholders’.

But, off the record, they know: Under present arrangements, one of the exploited parties is definitely the public in general.

Concentration and Centralization

As the continuing Reagan Revolution reaches its Drumpfian apotheosis, the always-undiscussed actually dominant institutions continue their normal development, with all the standard, dire consequences. To wit, here’s a visual from my present work on cars-first transportation. The sources here are Fortune magazine and the U.S. Census Bureau. Please don’t reproduce this image without respecting the CC 4.0 attribution limits linked beneath it.

Note that I chose 1994 as the middle case because that was the first year in which Fortune included service-sector corporations in its “Fortune 500” reports. 1954, meanwhile, was the first year covered by such reporting.

fortune-500-growth

cc-license CC BY-NC-SA

Liberals Can’t Read Graphs, Part 3

This research is exceedingly important. Yet, despite its overall quality and its stratospheric academic origins, it suffers from the de rigueur graphical illiteracy of modern liberalism.

Here is how the authors describe their findings in their own Executive Summary:

Wealth concentration has followed a U-shaped evolution over the last 100 years: It was high in the beginning of the twentieth century, fell from 1929 to 1978, and has continuously increased since then.

Here, meanwhile, is the author’s graph showing the wealth share of the richest 0.1% (one-tenth of one percent) of U.S. households:

Wealth Shares graph
click image for larger view

“Fell from 1929 to 1978” is an extremely peculiar way of describing the movement of that line over those years. As any child can see, the line has two declines — a minor one from 1968 to 1978, and the only major one from, of course, from 1932 to 1949, years when corporate capitalism was first dying and then under public command. From 1949 to 1968, the line is entirely flat, meaning that the richest 0.1% was maintaining its customary share of (rapidly expanding) wealth.

To conclude, as the authors do, that “there was a substantial democratisation of wealth from the Great Depression to the late 1970s” is profoundly crude, if not intentionally misleading. The supposed golden years of welfare state liberalism were exactly 1949 through 1968. But, as these authors themselves show but cannot acknowledge, wealth was not democratized one iota over that stretch!

The plain fact is that, under corporate capitalism, only systemic crisis and/or public anti-capitalist intervention ever democratize wealth. That simple fact, of course, is publicly unmentionable in our market totalitarian society, organized as it is around the thesis that the rich can never be rich enough.