The first political slogan of which I was consciously aware was the old Communist Party of Canada-Marxist Leninist’s “Make the Rich Pay.” They had rented a flatbed truck or something during an election campaign in the early or mid- seventies and were driving it through my neighbourhood, trying to mobilise support amongst the miners who mostly lived there. The support, obviously, never developed, but it was a good slogan then, and an even better one now.
Two looming bankruptcies, one corporate, one civic illustrate once again the morally inverted world of capitalism. Those with already more than they need get more, those who can barely support their basic needs will be forced to make do with even less; those who preach responsibility litigate their way out of it, those to whom responsibility is preached are made to suffer the consequences of actions not their own.
On July 6th, 2013 a train hauling crude oil lost its brakes, rolled through the town of Lac-Mégantic, Québec, exploded, destroying the town centre. The company responsible, Montreal, Maine, and Atlantic Railway, a notorious cost and corner cutting operation, filed for bankruptcy on August 8th, 2013, in an attempt to avoid having to pay the clean up costs and compensation for the disaster to which its corporate practices contributed. Is it not amazing that the ‘self-made men’ of corporate Canada and America, who never tire of preaching pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps and-take-responsibility-for-yourselves bullshit to everyone else are the first to hide behind their lawyers when it comes time to answer for their mistakes? Like spoiled children, they always make themselves exceptions to their own rules.
On the civic side, my long-suffering neighbours in Detroit have had their democratic right to be governed by those they have chosen through election suspended by a state-imposed Emergency Manager. The Emergency Manager has put the city into bankruptcy, threatening the pensions of public sector workers and potentially putting the collection of the renowned Detroit Institute of Art at risk. (You can sign the petition to Save the DIA here). Pension theft is the latest fashion for the finance capital super-wealthy. It is strikingly immoral, even for capitalism, which claims to believe in the principles of reward commensurate with effort and the virtue of saving. Pensions are not gifts from government to citizens, they are deferred income to which workers themselves have contributed, and which most require in retirement to survive at any human standard of living. Eliminating or reducing pensions is the worst sort of criminal predation- attacking those least able to defend themselves and most in need of what they cannot defend. Food and shelter and electricity and heat– actual life-requirements of real human beings- are converted to money for the banks, where it is invested to make more money, and when and if those investments fail, more life-goods will be stripped from people somewhere else to pay for it. Life begins with debt to the banks, life ends with pension theft.
Family values 2.0: the kids graduate from university as debt-slaves to the banks at just the same time their parent’s pensions are being eliminated to pay off corporate debt to the same banks.
If one were to work through the arguments, it is most unlikely that one could find clear justification for the conversion of the life-necessities of the elderly to money for the super-wealthy on classical bourgeois economic, liberal-democratic political, or utilitarian-liberal moral grounds. Liberal-democratic-capitalist society was bad enough, but it is rapidly degenerating into a totalitarian plutocracy in which the rich live by stripping the common wealth (built through generations of labour and struggle against ruling class control over the surplus wealth which labour created for the sake of investment in shared life-goods) of assets and converting them into private money accumulations. The poor are exiled to the dimmest and grimmest suburbs and exurbs, far from the newly polished cordons sanitaires “creative capitalist” urban cores, the playgrounds of business people, sports celebrities, artist-entrepreneurs, and well-heeled tourists.
The problems run so deep, are protected by such thick layers of surveillance, armed security, and ideological mystification, that progress in solving the structural issues seem impossible. Perhaps, to begin, we need to set out sights lower.
When I was a student many friends avoided becoming debt-slaves to the banks by ridding themselves of their student loans through bankruptcy. The ploy worked too well. The banks lobbied and the law was changed, ensuring that thousands of young people begin their lives both over-qualified for the few shitty jobs that are available and permanently in debt to the banks. But the banks have at least proven that concerted effort can change laws. So let us follow their lead, and propose some changes of our own to bankruptcy laws. Real human beings get paid back before institutions, in order from the most to the least needy. If the corporation is seeking bankruptcy in the wake of a disaster it caused, corporate assets must be liquidated to repay public authorities and compensate individuals for losses first, before anyone else receives money. If corporate assets alone cannot cover the costs of damage, then the personal assets of the directors should come into play. And if the sale of corporate and personal assets is still not enough, then the directors should be jailed, housed in the same cell as the poor bugger imprisoned because he couldn’t pay his parking tickets.
Make the rich pay.