The Economic Determinant of Human Strife


Every time we hear about a war or other form of physical violence between humans around the world, we more often than not are presented with a backdrop of ethnic, racial, cultural, linguistic, and/or religious tensions, all of which have conspired to boil over into open warfare, with its accompanying atrocities of riots, rape, killing, etc…

But wait!!! What is really driving all of this bloodshed? Since time immemorial, what has driven man, and now man and woman, as well as children, to raise their fists in rage against one another, has been, and continues to be, economic inequality, poverty, despair, and oppression based on one group of persons having more economic power , opportunity, and prosperity, and another group who has less.

In the case of the Punic wars, Rome wished to destroy Carthage, not because the Phoenicians were evil people and had horns growing out of their heads, but rather because Carthage was becoming an increasingly pesky commercial competitor to Rome. Phoenician commerce, through its merchant fleet, was expanding, and so, therefore was Phoenician civilization, which Rome saw as a threat to its hegemony in the Mediterranean.

And so the now-famous cry of ‘Carthage must be destroyed’ came from the lips of the Roman statesman Cato the Elder. It became synonymous with the carrying out of total warfare and complete and utter vengeance, for Carthage was completely destroyed, ploughed into the ground, and its remaining citizens sold into slavery. All this for the sake of economic competition.

In the case of the Rwandan genocide, the Hutus slaughtered the Tutsis because, the Hutus were in the majority, while the Tutsis were in the minority, and, upon the arrival of the Belgian colonizers, they found the Tutsis to be already in a state of domination over the Hutus, so they built upon that relationship, making them their colonial middle class, giving the Tutsis all of the plum jobs in the Rwandan colonial administration, therefore making them more educated and prosperous.

This did not sit well with the Hutus, who, as soon as the Belgians left, looked for the first opportunity they could find to seek vengeance, many of them having been educated, by the way, in Canada, during the 1960s and 70s in Canadian universities. So ultimately, what looked like a mostly ethnically-driven genocide was really more of an economic nature.

The same goes for the violence we had here in Québec in the 1960s and 70s with the separatists. When Charles de Gaulle said ‘Vive le Québec Libre’ in 1967 from the balcony of Montréal city hall, he really hit a raw nerve amongst the average French-Canadian. He or she, at that time, even at the time of the October crisis, was still earning, on average, 20% less than their counterpart in Ontario, for work of equal value.

Furthermore, many French-Canadians could not use their own language on the job, either in the office or the mill, or even to negotiate a collective agreement with their employer. This frustration boiled over into open violence in the 1960s and came to a head with the kidnapping of James Cross, the British trade commissioner, and Pierre Laporte, the Québec Labour minister.

The same goes for the violence which erupted in the United States in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, between black and white people. Many people saw it as a racial conflict, but essentially it was a fight for greater economic opportunity through access to the democratic process of voting, education, health care, social services, and capital for the purposes of entrepreneurship.

African Americans had been ostensibly ‘liberated’ from slavery by Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War, only to have themselves, for all intents and purposes, ‘dumped’ unceremoniously onto the labour market by the thousands, and compelled to fend for themselves as sharecroppers. They therefore became tenant farmers; labouring in the same cotton fields as before, except they would get a share of the crop to sell, so as to eke out an existence for themselves. Or go work in one of the many factories which were built in the Post-Reconstruction South.

Being at the bottom of the ladder, so to speak, African-Americans would usually be willing to work for even lower wages than their poor white counterparts, thereby incurring the wrath of these latter folk. This therefore was the origins of racism in the USA against blacks. They were seen as an economic impediment or threat to the improvement in the standard of living of poor, lesser-educated white people, and these latter also were afraid that what little social standing they did have in their community, might get usurped by this newly-emergent class of African-Americans, who were now competing for scarce jobs, and wealth.

So it is no wonder that the backlash against black people was so furious in the USA, and in some ways, still is, because many still see their economic emancipation as a threat to the well-being of those who have wealth and property, and could find themselves in a position of being compelled to share it against their will.

And so, as the Temptations once sang in their song ‘Ball of Confusion’, when commenting on the state of the world, ‘round and around and around we go, where the world is headed for, nobody knows…and the band played on…’

I get the impression that we’re on the cusp of something very big. That we’re about to come to the end of one era and the beginning of another. Like John Mellencamp said in his song ‘Golden Gates’, ‘Ain’t no Golden Gates, gonna swing open, ain’t no streets paved in natural pearl, ain’t no angel with a harp comin’ singin’, least ways not that I know of in this world. In these days of uncertain futures, who knows what our masters might do. They’ve got their big deals, goin’ on, goin’ on, got nothin’ to do with me and you. If I could I’d get us a big suite, overlookin’ the park. The only promises I know to be true are the promises made from the heart’.

He alludes to the inevitable disconnect between the average person, and the true leaders of the world, and how ultimately, very few if any of the egregious inequalities on our planet will be abolished in our lifetime. The process of organic change has taken us tens of thousands of years and millions of lives lost so as to arrive at being able to, as JFK put it, ‘…abolish all forms of human poverty,and all forms of human life’ . This has led us to being able to have about 20% of the world’s population live in relative comfort and the other 80% in squalor, with the ability of the planet to sustain itself now threatened. Brilliant.

I think we’re on the the Titanic arguing over how the deck chairs should be arranged. If any of this 2012 business is true, we may find ourselves with another financial implosion, this time all orchestrated to put all of the financial calculators and accounting mechanisms of this planet back to zero. I think that the barons of high finance feel that the economic bubble of the last two hundred or so years, since capitalism came into being with the industrial revolution, has caused the cost of most things to rise out of control. A penny, whether it is Canadian or American, is essentially worthless and meaningless. It came into being at a time when goods actually could be bought with a penny, nickel, dime, or quarter. There were penny post cards. Within my own memory, there were Bazooka bubble gums for a penny. There were five and dime stores, where things actually cost five cents or a dime. Within my living memory we still had a five and dime on Maguire Street in Sillery called Proulx 5-10-15, which eventually closed, with the advent of dollar stores. Now even the dollar stores have to charge more than a dollar for their goods.

The cost of living has gotten so expensive for the average person, that people, including myself, have begun reverting to barter to obtain goods and services, because money is simply too scarce. A whole parallel barter economy exists now across North America, including construction contractors, dentists, chiropractors, massage therapists, tour guides, artists, etc… This same phenomenon occurred during the Great Depression in the 1930s, all across the western world, especially in the western parts of Canada and the USA during the Dustbowl. Farmers lost everything and began becoming disillusioned with the big banking interests back east, controlling everything from the price of the goods they bought to the price they got for their wheat and livestock.

So they began bartering amongst themselves like in the old days. Paper currency began to lose its value. People began to lose faith in it. After all, what is a bank note? It’s just a scrap of paper issued by the government which says that it’s worth so many units of currency. In economics class in high school, we learned that it’s really only our faith in the Bank of Canada’s ability to manage the amount of bank notes in circulation, and the controls that they put on the chartered banks’ requirements to hold a certain amount of hard cold cash notes in reserve to cover the expansion of the money supply which occurs through our use of checks, that keeps the system from collapsing.

As it stands now, the Federal Reserve Bank in the US is simply printing money to beat the band, and pumping it onto the market, wherein it gets scooped up by private banks, to buy up other banks. The Americans are not making a single payment on the principal of their national debt, and there are now probably more US bank notes in circulation outside the borders of the fifty US states than there are inside. Most of this money is in the hands of the Chinese and Japanese governments, and organized crime syndicates involved in international narcotics traffic, prostitution, extortion, murder, the slave trade, and so on.

So essentially, America has lost control over the financial system which it put into place with so much fanfare at Breton Woods in 1944. Now, sixty five years later, America is faced with the ultimate threat to its economic hegemony: Loss of control over global finance, and cries from all sides for better distribution of wealth, which brings us back to the original premise of this piece. That economic disparities are the principle determinant of human strife.

This leads me to believe that another major global conflagration is imminent. The Czars of global high finance will not stand for having their system of economic exploitation being rent asunder and disorganized. They will likely reorganize it on a scale heretofore never seen in the history of humanity. How many currencies will be wiped off the map is anyone’s guess. Not to mention how many humans will lose their lives if the whole global system of high finance, based on the US dollar, is allowed to collapse.

It could be that China will never even be given the chance of building a carrier fleet capable of challenging that of America. We may perhaps see instead the pre-ordained collapse of the global economic system, and a returning of all balance sheets on this planet to zero, with a new currency being floated in its place, which might form the eventual basis of a world currency.

Whatever the case may be, we only have to look to our history to see all of the examples of economic conflict leading to military and/or physical conflict of some sort, then a resolution, which heralds new problems, which bring about new solutions. Marx, when he borrowed his ideas from Hegel about ‘Thesis/Antithesis/Synthesis, he was right. Each problem in society has a solution, which creates new problems, creating new solutions, etc…

Carthage was long ago destroyed, the Rwandans, are still rebuilding after their genocide, Québec, thank God, is still part of Canada, and French-speaking Québecers are a lot more prosperous than they used to be, by the way, and black people have achieved some measure of justice in their struggle. So, all in all, a rather mixed bag of results, as usual. I wonder what our world would be like without any economic competition or disparity of any sort?

Kind of sound like ‘Back in the USSR’. I really like the Beatles and everything, but I think I’d still rather have the choice of going to the local diner and getting a burger and fries with a Coke and be served promptly, rather than being on a government waiting list for a Lada, and having to wait twelve years to drive an outdated, badly-built Russian version of an Italian car. I think Paul Mc Artney would agree, wot?

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