Democracy should include economic equality.

With a great deal of disgust I opened the website of the Guardian and stumbled upon this article: http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/jan/19/global-wealth-oxfam-inequality-davos-economic-summit-switzerland

Now these powerful and wealthy people can gather to discuss inequality all they want, but the statistics of disproportionate wealth inequality are racked against them. Neither I nor any other informed person should be under any illusion regarding the motives of these ‘philanthropists’.

Here are some statistics from the Oxfam report outlining wealth inequality and the centralization of wealth by a tiny elite:

https://www.oxfamireland.org/blog/inequality

  • The richest 1 per cent have seen their share of global wealth increase from 44 per cent in 2009 to 48 per cent in 2014
  • At this rate the richest 1% will own more than 50 per cent of global wealth in 2016.
  • Almost all of the remaining 52% of global wealth is owned by the richest 20%.
  • This leaves just 5.5%  of the global wealth for the remaining 80% of people in the world
  • The wealth of the richest 80 people doubled in cash terms between 2009-2014.
  • More than a third of the 1,645 billionaires listed by Forbes inherited some or all of their riches.

A person in denial could be creative with these statistics but the underlining feature to each one is that our current political and economic system facilitates the accumulation of wealth by a tiny elite. Democracy requires economic equality, not just equality at the ballot box.  Further below I’ll try to elaborate on how Capitalism is cyclical and make an analogy I believe is suitable.

Envisage the world economic system as the four climate seasons with which we’re familiar with.

Spring – Summer – Autumn – Winter.

Capitalism is on a cyclical pattern where one ‘season’ comes after the other and it has been this way since the development of global banking and the industrial revolution.

  • Spring, we see revived economic growth after the ‘Winter’ period and fresh initiative being taken. Spring is the period of ‘build-up’ towards the development of the economy, in particular by the government and the private interests. Note: Much like on an individual basis, it’s the people who have great wealth who survive these ‘Winter’ periods of economic turmoil and return in Spring to plant once more. It’s definitely not the people who suffered the most throughout the ‘Winter’ period.
  • Society develops and those who plant are capable of reaping what they sow. Simply put, the economic elite – those with mass amounts of wealth will be able to grow exponentially, mostly because those without the same amount of wealth don’t really have the space to do so! They can however take out loans and this is highly encouraged by both state and the establishment parties.
  • Autumn. It’s at this point where a change comes from, the ruling economic elite, well aware of the cyclical nature of capitalism begin to consolidate their gains and prepare for the downturn. It is arguable that the downturn of an economy is artificial i.e if capital is removed from weak financial institutions this has a domino effect. But more to the point, in Autumn people prepare for ‘Winter’ and the debts that were taken out by the middle/working class remains, gathering interest.

In Ireland it’s worth noting that the credit people took out was hugely disproportional to wages and unrealistic to repay. The “easy” attitude that both state and banks portrayed encouraged citizens to take out these greats which they would not be able to repay.

Of course those who are or were allies of the bankers and the high level politicians largely went away unscathed. The politicians who oversaw this great damning period are also on great fat pensions, ranging from 160,000 euro a year to 30,000, varying on ministerial portfolio.

This debt in Ireland has a variety of sources but the most important fact at this stage is who is paying the debt. It’s not the government officials which acted as guarantors for this credit, it’s not the big business which continues to evade corporation tax in Ireland and it is certainly not the big businesses that will pay.

We are all witness to who is paying the ‘national debt’ of every country; these are the average working class who during the ‘boom’ periods obtained only short term benefits while generally amassing quite significant debts. You might say that the people who took out debts for new cars, second houses and other luxuries “deserve” the debt they have and to some degree I’d even agree.

The role of the government as facilitator of debt

When society is wholly backed by the government and banks to encourage people to take out debt there is a dangerous trend. Long term interest rates and loans are so well promoted that not only do they stop sounding like ‘loans’ in the traditional sense, but they actually look appealing! Essentially, the significance of you as an individual taking out a loan and the repayment it entails is dumbed down to such a point where the threat is non-existent.

In such an atmosphere it’s hard not to take out some sort of credit for a luxury you or your family wanted. After all, the ultimate guarantor, the elected government encourages you to do so.  This series of events only re-affirms that the government acted on the interest of a small group of citizen’s i.e wealthy, powerful and influential. So what we ultimately have is a state backing the very generous temporary distribution of wealth – only to ruthlessly take it all back within a decade.

The above atmosphere can be clearly defined as the artificial generation of wealth, wherein large bank’s issue loans will then look at the loans, add on the interest and issue this new wealth as something that exists. Let me illustrate the point a bit better via an example:

I take out a loan from the bank worth 350,000 euro with an interest rate of 10%. What the bank does (quite cleverly) is take this sum, add the interest and work with it as already existing wealth. As in, before you pay anything back this wealth already exists in the books of the bank, ready to use. They take this wealth (not repaid) and use it in another venture. Now multiply this by a thousand times and you have huge amounts of unpaid loans. Worse yet, the loans that have not been repaid were used in other projects, well spread.

But it’s not the middle or working class that are at fault when it comes to small indulgences, it is those who withdrew millions on credit and escaped without repercussions. It is those politicians who actively facilitated this scam and subsequently defended their economically powerful friends from consequences.

Do not forget the role of the media which lies largely under the thumb of a few powerful financial institutions, individuals or indeed the State itself, which actively facilitates this farce.

This is only scraping the iceberg of how corrupt and self-serving politicians are – but I’ve come to realize that we ought not to misinterpret the patterns and connections. The statistics provided show that our social democratic governments have not been working in the best interests of humanity, but in the best interests of small select elite.

True and robust democracy ought not to be limited to the ballot box, but should also extend to economic equality.

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Ireland is a one party system.

Here I am presenting a topic that’s not really been discussed in any coherent manner, here’s my attempt, enjoy.

Historically speaking Irelands call for independence truly kicked off with radical Left Wing activists such as James Connolly, Jim Larkin and Padraig Pearse. The rhetoric, ideology and literature of all three paints a pretty clear picture for me; they strove for a Socialist 32 county Republic where the working class would rule themselves, free of the Irish aristocracy and free from the British aristocracy.  The result was rather unfortunately different. Further reading for this subject can be found in ‘Labour, Nationality and Religion’ by James Connolly.

While the martyrdom of these revolutionaries served to unite a nation in undisputed want for freedom, it did not take away the cancerous roots that the Church had in society nor that of the landed Irish elite. If anything, both of these elements selected the winning side, this winning side happened to be the Free State.  Fast forwarding to the Irish Civil War we can see that those who did not recognize or wish for there to be continued subjugation to the British Crown rose up in defiance, many of those who did so came from working class backgrounds and Socialist/Republican backgrounds. In achieving victory over the anti-Treaty forces the Free State prosecuted, interned and exiled many of these Socialist-Republicans and in doing so hugely diminished the left wing movement in Ireland.

In 1923 James Connolly’s son, Roddy Connolly established the first incarnation of the Communist Party of Ireland, a group that did not have tremendous influence and was dissolved shortly after. It took another ten years for the party to be properly reformed in 1933. Especially in the mid-1930s the Communist Party of Ireland showed itself to be the only true vanguard of the working class in Ireland, both on a domestic and international level. It was the “go-to” party for volunteers seeking to fight against fascist Spain and sent roughly 150 volunteers, for further reading on the Spanish Civil War and the role of the CPI, Blueshirts and the Irish Labour Party I’d recommend “The Connolly Column” by Michael O’Riordain.

During the 1930s the Irish Labour Party, Fianna Fail and what was to become Fine Gael were all very much divided on a number of issues and admittedly quite a lot of policies produced by both Fianna Fail and the Labour Party were progressive.  I would argue that these progressive roots have long been forgotten and set aside with particular emphasis on the moment Ireland stepped into the EEC in 1973.

You see, dearest reader, I’ve come to the conclusion that capitalism as an economic ideology diverts the necessity of political parties to maintain some sort of key principles and merely focus on short term populism. Now, a devoted and fervent member of the Irish Labour Party might of course disagree and they’d be fully in their right to do so! But the reality of the matter is that, the Labour Party which was found by a Socialist and Marxist would have never under his leadership co-operated with what was back then quite a well-known right-wing party, Fine Gael.

The erosion of political ideology comes with the implementation of short term political plans, by short term I largely mean 5-10 years. The most “devout” of capitalists have no understanding of the consequences that come with these “short term” deals. In Ireland some of these short term deals have permanently undermined both the people and the economy to such a degree that it now has no autonomy of its own. A solid example of this deal backfiring is the fishing rights which Ireland suspended in order to obtain short term economic aid from the EU, here’s a site that campaigns for a reformation of the fishing policies in the EU and states that the EU has made in excess of 140 billion euro from Irish fishing rights: http://fishingforjustice.eu/wp/

But the above is just basic background information, never the less it’s incredibly relevant background information that allows you, the reader to get a better understanding of the situation that has engulfed Ireland and dare I say other Western European nations.

A number of key concepts have made their way to the heart of the Irish political system, here’s just a small list of the ones that are now defining features:

  1. The complete and subservient acceptance of the European Commission. Personally as a non-native this is the one that I’ve found the most shocking. For a nation that maintains great pride in having fought off the British Empire, there are not a lot of questions raised regarding the position the Irish state and people have to the EU. Note: The Irish government has to forward its budget to the EU hierarchy before passing it themselves, freedom huh?
  2. Attracting direct foreign investment seems to be always on the agenda as a way of creating employment. To be frank, this is a rather resigned, uncreative and lazy method of creating employment. Not only does it place down the groundwork for cronyism but it also consciously chooses to lower the government’s involvement with its own citizens.
  3. Multinational companies that have provided direct foreign investment have also been at the forefront of dismantling the rights of workers in Ireland. In 2011, Abrakebabra, Supermacs (Irish), KFC, Burger King, Subway defeated the government and people by breaking the power of the Labour Court and their ability to set binding rates of pay. As a result the conditions and rates of pay across all five establishments and subsequently other large businesses have deteriorated.
  4. Again to re-iterate, the dictate of the European Union has rarely been challenged by the current or previous government on important measures by the establishment parties. The most important being the banking bailout. In Iceland, the people marched unto the streets and revoked their government and constitution (democratically) and elected a new government. They also arranged for a new constitution to be written by fifteen non-aligned citizens. Nothing of the sort occurred in Ireland.
  5. Looking at the “promotion” of policies by each major party, the lack of opposition provided to the EU, the blatantly obvious non-neutral international position and this great emphasis that multinational companies will save the country it’s pretty easy to conclude that with the co-operation of each group, Capitalism has eradicated ideologies from a wide variety of political parties.

It is imperative to understand that in the early stages of the Irish Free State, political movements and parties had a powerful feeling of both class and social consciousness. Many progressive projects were launched in particular by the Irish Labour Party and Fianna Fail during their first stay in power and it would be unfair to forget that. If we are to analyse these parties now, they would be very much left of centre on major economic policies, Fianna Fail’s connections to the Papacy however brought it to the right on social issues.

But not all parties had class and national consciousness, Fine Gael (a unification of the National Guard, Cumann na nGaedheal, National Centre Party). Each of these organizations had colourful backgrounds, one received considerable funding from ‘big farmers’ – another glorified Hitler and fought on the side of fascists in the Spanish Civil War and another was directly complicit in many executions of Irish Socialists and Republicans during the Irish Civil War. It was a series of movements that openly endorsed a “landed elite”, “big industrialists” and devolved ideas of corporatism.  Even more interesting is that the “Irish Unionist Alliance” also ended up in Cumann na nGaedhal and therefore subsequently Fine Gael.

Without drawing too much into the history of each political party however it’s time to bring this all up to date to 2015 and make it relevant. The five points mentioned up above can be brought to use; each “large” political party at the moment endorses the same sort of economic, social and political policies. This is a result of their surrender to the policies of capitalism and their pathetic subservience to the European Commission.

I’ve come to hold the belief that Ireland can be very easily classified as a “one-party system” because the parties that routinely rotate in power are not distinguishable from each other in any shape or form.  As a result, does it truly matter what banner these “parties” carry? If they promote the same policies domestically and internationally then they may as well be the same party. It is admissible that they have some differences in policy and occasionally this is reflected in their bouts of power. The reality is that these differences are characterized by promises made in elections or the active caring of their direct constituents whom they need to bribe for election.

But it’s not only these reasons explained above that make Ireland a one party system, it’s the very layout of the cabinet, parliament and upper house. The checks and balances that exist to some degree in other systems don’t really exist here; when a party is either (a) majority party of a coalition or (b) standalone majority party is has little to no constitutional opposition that can truly stop it from imposing its agenda.

In the parliament this is backed up by what’s known as the “party whip” which essentially means immediate expulsion from whatever party if you don’t whip along the guideline. A rather sinister and revolution distortion of democratic procedure, is it not? Representatives have to vote for something they may not believe in or support under the pressure of expulsion!

It gets worse, though, while we’re aware that Ireland has to submit its budget for “review” (real decision making) we also have to know who determines and discusses the budget. It’s the cabinet, sometimes, but it’s also this group here: http://www.taoiseach.gov.ie/eng/Taoiseach_and_Government/Cabinet_Committees/Economic_Management_Council_for_attachment_.html. The absolute centralization of power currently on-going in the Irish system is clearly defined. This committee that has four people makes the most “important” decisions; it passes them to the cabinet which is predominantly made up from one party, so the decision is obviously ratified rather quickly and then finally onto the rubber stamp that is the parliament.

I think the closest comparison I can make is that of the USSR. There was the Politburo which then had an inner circle of leaders, who made the real decisions. Then there was the central committee that was the rubber stamp for these decisions. What actual difference is there in the way that policy is passed? There is none.

As it stands, Ireland’s mainstream political parties are so similar and the legislative and executive branches are so intertwined to one-party domination that there is little opportunity for dissent and as James Connolly aptly put it:

“Yes, friends, governments in capitalist society are but committees of the rich to manage the affairs of the capitalist class.” Irish Worker (socialist newspaper) 29 August, 1915. Reprinted in P. Beresford Ellis (ed.), “James Connolly – Selected Writings”, p. 248.

The American Spring

A collection of ideas about the social upheaval in American society.

The American Spring

In order to broaden the understanding behind the tension in American society, one must first get a clearer understanding of what sort of society the United States is. In order to do so, let’s look at a few statistics that I’d consider important with their importance largely revolving around their impact on society.

In 2014 Business Insider reported that about 2.4 million people live behind bars in America, the highest number in the world. That’s roughly 700 people per 100,000 and slightly over 0.7% of the population. That’s bigger than the entire working population of Ireland that is in prison. An article by the Economist, from May 2014 which cites a report regarding prison population cites another shocking figure. Between July 1st 2011 and June 30th 2012, a total of 11.6m were admitted. Here’s another horrifying statistics, all the way back from 2007 – 2270 prisoners who were sentenced to life without parole as children.

Already from simply reading how many people the prison system administrates in the US one can come to the conclusion that the federal and state structures are quite rigid, harsh and very easily provoked into long sentences. This sort of “social system” is controlling and can most certainly be characterized as oppressive. But I do not believe that this information can paint an adequate picture of why there’s mass tension in America, let’s go further.

The Guardian had a very interesting and informative opinion piece about the deepening crisis of wealth inequality in the US, outlining specifically that not since the Great Depression has there been a huge concentration of wealth in the hands of so few. Specifically, as mentioned in the article among the “elite” of American society who constitute 0.1% of the population but have the same share of wealth as 90% of the population.

One can quickly see why there’s tension in the air, though at the same time not a lot of Americans are actually accurately aware of some of these figures. There’s a reason to that as well. It would categorically not benefit the ruling elite to educate the 90% and in any shape or form encourage a change of the system. The wealthy and powerful did not become so by “sharing” or “re-distributing” resources; but in amassing more for themselves to maintain and empower their position.

But I’m not going to lie or pretend I know American society extremely well, that would be posturing and unfair. Data and numbers however are as objective as they come and they paint quite a scary picture. But these are issues that only touch upon people in critical moments and for the most part they aren’t coherently expressed in strikes, protests or even riots.  These issues however are not the key feature to the current on-going social unrest, but eerily loom over the population, threatening to spill out.

But every uprising, revolution and social movement requires a spark and the death of Michael Brown on the 9th of August. The citizens of Ferguson deemed his shooting en masse and the secrecy surrounding the police officer that later shot him along with the crackdown by the police on the people continued to infuriate the people involved in the event.

A Washington Post article dated to the 10th of October highlights the fact that “hundreds of protesters have been arrested since August for violating unwritten rules and committing minor offenses”. These actions only seem to highlight the repressive methodology adopted by law enforcement agencies in the US. An article by the Washington Post again from the 18th of August states: “Overnight, several journalists reported being detained, threatened or otherwise prevented from covering the unfolding story. The arrest, late Sunday night of three reporters – Robert Klemko of Sports illustrated, Chicago-based Financial Times reporter Neil Munshi and Rob Crilly, a foreign correspondent for the Telegraph (and no stranger to war zones). – Reportedly came as the journalists attempted to gather more information while police faced off with protesters.

These events, backed with the initially provided statistics only confirm a stark reality regarding the US. It is anything but a free society, but in fact it is an incredibly restricted, monitored and controlled society. It’s no surprise that the US dropped fourteen positions in the Reporters without Borders index, all the way to position 46, right under Romania. Out of 180 countries the US is in position 46!

Now take everything into consideration and muse upon it – I think it’s pretty easy to see what sort of backlash is going to come from society and what sort of fury people have. Now, these are only a few statistics of very specific things, if one looks into college debt, unemployment, salary inequality between management and worker, the amount of police routinely killed by police annually you’ll find numbers that are terrifying.

For a society that advocates its freedom and pretends to stand on a pedestal of democracy it truly is not. So let me bring this wee article back to the title and conclude it up. When a society is consistently repressed, abused and mistreated it begins to seek for change; when the French aristocracy abused their people the people rose up; when the Russian tsars built palaces of gold, the people rose up; when the people of Ireland, horrified by the executions of the 1916 revolutionaries voted for Sinn Fein, they made a determination; it is better to die fighting than live a slave to the whims of others.

2015 is going to be a year of change for the American community, or it will in the least have a spark to start the great fire of revolution.

“The day has passed for patching up the capitalist system; it must go. And in the work of abolishing it the Catholic and the Protestant, the Catholic and the Jew, the Catholic and the Freethinker, the Catholic and the Buddhist, the Catholic and the Mahometan will co-operate together, knowing no rivalry but the rivalry of endeavour toward an end beneficial to all. For, as we have said elsewhere, socialism is neither Protestant nor Catholic, Christian nor Freethinker, Buddhist, Mahometan, nor Jew; it is only Human. We of the socialist working class realise that as we suffer together we must work together that we may enjoy together. We reject the firebrand of capitalist warfare and offer you the olive leaf of brotherhood and justice to and for all.” – Labour, Nationality and Religion, in response to Father Robert Kane’s lectures denouncing socialism, James Connolly.

Further reading

US Wealth Inequality: http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/nov/13/us-wealth-inequality-top-01-worth-as-much-as-the-bottom-90

US Prison incarceration: http://www.businessinsider.com/world-map-of-incarceration-rates-2014-1?IR=T

http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2014/03/americas-prison-population

Ferguson: http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/ferguson-police-continued-crackdown-on-protesters-after-federal-state-interventions/2014/10/09/15df8a2a-4e40-11e4-aa5e-7153e466a02d_story.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2014/08/18/police-in-ferguson-arrest-and-threaten-more-journalists/

http://edition.cnn.com/2014/08/19/us/ferguson-journalists-arrested/

The US is an oligarchy: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/10769041/The-US-is-an-oligarchy-study-concludes.html

http://www.businessinsider.com/major-study-finds-that-the-us-is-an-oligarchy-2014-4?IR=T

US law enforcement killing people:

http://www.businessinsider.com/why-do-us-police-kill-so-many-people-2014-8?IR=T

http://gawker.com/what-ive-learned-from-two-years-collecting-data-on-poli-1625472836