globalizationA friend of mine sent me a video link to a documentary on the Federal Reserve Bank. The documentary tried to establish a “proof” that a powerful international oligarchy exists that controls most national governments and, particularly so, the United States government. This is presented as an oligarchic conspiracy.

Whether or not there are one or more organizations in existence that have some or more of the features of oligarchic organization, I cannot say. Either way, I don’t think the conspiracy exists. At least not one of any real effectiveness. However, I do believe that there is a uniform mindset embedded in the population of the major financial centers. Everyone involved in finance believes their work is the key element of all economic activity and anything that is good for them is good, probably essential, for us.

That said, banking, since Jimmy Carter, has become completely international. Carter pushed through the removal of most serious obstacles to the free movement of capital between nations. At that point, finance became truly international and it became a global commodity. The banking industry is one of the very few industries that have a global viewpoint and unrestricted global reach with instant movement of its commodity. Other industries may have one or the other but rarely both, often neither.

It takes only minutes, sometimes only seconds, to move billions from New York, say, to anywhere in the world. Local banks, and branches of national and international banks, are put in the position of competing for capital with all other local branches and other capital outlets everywhere else in the world. The outlet that can afford, realistically, to pay the most for the capital gets funded.

There are less paranoid political theorists than those who made the video sent me, who would, never the less, agree with some of the video’s points. Even where there is agreement as to affect of a given political phenomenon, causation and attribution would be different. These other theorists would attribute the causation not to dictatorial instruction from an organized oligarchy. They would attribute it to the further emergence of a relatively new form of polity. They would attribute this to major international corporations becoming a new political form and one without any specific geographic “home.” Such polities have so many different governmental entities with which to deal and with each such government having its own laws and customs and procedures. The international corporations are forced to develop their own internal cultures and governing mechanisms. Some of these governing mechanisms would, by necessity, include efforts to curry favor with local power brokers, or somehow control the same. These local power brokers could be anybody from a warlord/tribal leader in an undeveloped country to the chairman of the US Senate Finance Committee in our country. (Corporations don’t care so much who is in charge or, even, what the rules are.  A corporation’s primary interest lies in being sure they have influence with whoever is in charge and whoever makes the rules. It is easier to deal with one SOB in charge than with a highly diffuse and changing power structure.)

All that said, I do think there is a fundamental shift taking place in how nation states are governed and how their economies are regulated and operated.

economy-cubeSome of this change is due to the massive transfer of wealth from the western countries’ middle class to the financial centers of the world. Since capital flows freely to wherever it can be most “efficiently” used, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that a whole lot of this capital transferred from the middle class to the financial centers will, sooner or later, head from those financial centers to underdeveloped countries.

Also, some of this political and economic change, documented with such suspicion on the video, can be attributed, perhaps accounting for more of this change than the capital piece, to the vast operational changes being wrought by the replacement of many human work skills by information technology. That advancement in artificial intelligence, combined with the improvements in telecommunications, mean a lot of jobs in both manufacturing and services can move from place to place almost as freely and rapidly as capital.

It is not a conspiracy so much as the rules of the game lead everybody in the same direction. As long as the only way to win the “game” is to make a profit, the direction of the game, regardless of the existence, or not, of an oligarchy, the direction of the game will not change. This isn’t a conspiracy; it is a failure of cultural values. (I take great comfort from blaming the entire cultural values thing on the University of Chicago. Even though that is probably too simplistic, it is comfortable, I enjoy it and it does no harm. So, I don’t care to be confronted with a different view.) If we want to change the direction of the game, we have to develop and accept a different set of cultural values. (Closing the University of Chicago might be a good place to start.)

I promise you, the people being pilloried by this video don’t have any idea why they are being demonized. Each and everyone of them believes he or she arrived at a point of power and influence by working hard and playing by the rules and being a law abiding citizen. They believe themselves, with considerable justification, to be  generous and deserving citizens who serve the greater interest as well as his or herself.

The truth is, the disconnect between how they view themselves and how the rest of the world is beginning to view them is based on a basic value difference.

The core values of a rigorous capitalist system are Darwinian. These core values discount the values related to social responsibility. The social responsibility called for in the Golden Rule, as one example, has been a staple of human society since, at least, the Axial Age. The idea that, within society, all members of the society serve the greater society as well as all other members in it, is not a tenet of capitalist thought.

I know I will hear from some of you that capitalism, as a system, does the best job of creating wealth because it is geared to award self interest. I suspect that is true, as far as it goes. Creating wealth is only a part of the solution. Once created, some means has to handle the distribution of that wealth. Further, within that distribution system, some means must be made to build a sense of “belonging,” a sense of being “invested” in the system to all strata of society. For that sense to take root and grow, there has to be a feeling of equity between and among all members of society. It is this last thing that capitalism cannot do. Indeed, capitalism absolutely stinks at it.

Like all things born of the human brain, capitalism carries within it the elements of its own destruction. No one remains creative, young, strong, energetic, good looking, powerful, etc. forever. At some point, everybody, even the very rich, must depend upon a civil society to protect them. That is the missing ingredient in capitalist thought; there is no accommodation for basic security.

So, I believe, whatever “it” is, it is never a conspiracy. It is always a mindset based on shared, cultural values. If we are going to make global capitalism work, there is going to have to be some system of global social services that offer every human a base of security. Otherwise, all that will happen is well intentioned people will go around corralling the world’s resources and telling themselves they are the bringers of “progress.” That progress will, as it has always done and always will and is doing so now, breed nothing but resentment and conflict.

Mike Copeland

Mike Copeland

I am old enough to know better. I have a B. A. from Birmingham Southern College and a Master's in City Planning from Georgia Tech. I have worked in SC State government for over a decade leaving as the Deputy Executive Director of the State Budget and Control Board, the state's administrative agency. I have owned the Fontaine Company since 1984 and am the managing member of a management, marketing and consulting company.

I am the author of several novels, some of which you may buy and read if you are of a mind to do so.