Thesis Number: #1 (Page 5 of 7)
Estrangement from Society
In Europe, when the kings of old started to grab the commons, they did not just deprive people of their land. They also began to erase people’s authentic cultures. Over time, to secure the quiescence of the dispossessed, the statecraft that represented the interests of the rent-seekers substituted “patriotic” practises of the kind that served the purposes of the new culture of greed.
The degraded state to which society has now been reduced may be inferred from the unrelenting attacks on institutions that are supposed to serve the common good. The animosity is most explicitly articulated in terms of the resentment of taxation. The gulf between citizens and the institutions of state continues to widen as value-adding activities are subordinated in favour of schemes to avoid taxes.
The complaints against taxes on wages and profits from value-adding enterprises are legitimate. Public services are funded by arbitrary exactions on earned incomes; creating the discontent that corrodes a population’s collective consciousness. We need a debate that enables people to interrogate issues that are excluded from the public discourse by politicians who are locked into the modern statecraft. The awkward questions include:
- Does society generate a distinct and quantifiable value which, therefore, it can rightfully claim as its own?
- How can a community of people be held to account as a moral entity if it is separated from the material resources which it creates, and which it needs to fulfil its social obligations?
- How did the rent-grabbers of old wipe out memories of the moral status of the community, and its distinctive flow of rental income?
- Does each of us have a responsibility to restore that moral status to our communities?
As we now know, the advent of democracy was not going to be capable of restoring justice in a form consistent with natural law. One consequence is the routinisation of criminal behaviour as a social phenomenon in which the political system does more than merely acquiesce: it sponsors such behaviour by the fiscal incentives that it provides.
Champions of the liberal democratic model seek to explain pathologies like organised criminal behaviour in terms of idiosyncratic behaviour of individuals. This enables them to deny that the culture of the modern socio-economic system is responsible for deeds of individuals such as the oligarchs in post-Soviet Russia. Really? In the 1990s the West sponsored the campaign to privatise Russia’s natural resources. In 2012, $49bn was estimated to have been illegally withdrawn from that country by criminals. Most of the money derived from resource rents. Such activity would not be possible without the application of what Paul Farmer, in Pathologies of Power (2005), calls “structural violence”. Officials who dared to investigate tax evasion were assassinated (Clover 2013).
The corruption of the spirit of democracy may be traced in the history of the first democracy based on We, the People: the United States. In the 19th century, the Robber Barons bribed elected representatives with cash. The process is now more sophisticated, and it has been legalised in the form of the hugely profitable lobby industry based in Washington DC (Stiglitz 2012). Citizens collude by donating funds to achieve privileged access to law-makers on Capitol Hill. The corrosive effect is reflected in the enormous subsidies to some corporations and land-intensive sectors like agriculture. Tax breaks also result in discrimination that disadvantages those who rely on their votes rather than their wallets. In the Old World, the process of corruption is painfully exposed to public gaze in Italy, which was most embarrassingly displayed during the election of 2013 (see Italy: High Finance Incubates Mobsterism).