Wednesday, 8 August 2012



A wide ranging consideration of our present financial crisis 
and its root in every one of us

A few days ago, I was traveling in a three-wheeled taxi in South India, through the small country town of Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu. We had to slow down to let a large truck back up across the way. While we were stopped, I looked over to my left and saw a large brown cow lying down by the side of the road. This is a very common sight around here. But, this cow had an open wound the size of a golf ball on its backside haunch. On the ground, just to the side of the cow, was a black crow, which would jump up onto the haunch of the cow and peck at its wound. Every time the crow would do this, the cow would lift its head in pain and mutely turn towards the crow, but the crow persisted.

As we sat there on the road, I watched the cow and the crow while this painful ritual repeated itself. Finally, just before we pulled off, the cow began to get to her feet. The only way that she could protect herself from the crow was to stand up, raising herself too high off the ground for the crow to jump. Otherwise, she would be allowed no rest from her torment.

The crow had no regard for the cow. It was oblivious to any suffering it may be causing. The crow was only after what it wanted- blood and flesh. This scene of suffering struck me. There is so much physical suffering in India. It is out in the open and nearly omnipresent here. But, it did not make me think of India, instead, it reminded me of what is going on in the United States today.

I have seen this painful vision re-enacted in the America of the second decade of the 21st century.

I saw it in Pay Day Lenders who pray on people desperately in need of money to survive and eat, charging outrageous interest rates to those who can least afford it.

I saw it in the telephone company in Florida who does not tell their mainly, elderly customers, that there are far less expensive phone plans, in which they would get even better service, if they would only ask for it. But their customers are old and do not know about the cheaper rates and the phone companies do nothing, continuing to take in excessive and wrongful money from people on small fixed incomes, who could make very good use of even a little more cash in their own lives.

I experienced it in credit card companies and banks offering debit cards, who do all they can to ‘allow’ people incur overdraft charges, hiding the fact that these individuals have gone ‘over their limit’, permitting that person to use their card again and again, racking up a ‘gotcha-type’, $35 penalty per usage, on top of, say, a mere charge of $1.50 for a cup of coffee and a donut. The banks claim they are doing this to provide a ‘service’ to their customers, but, interestingly, these banking ‘servants’, refused to allow people to ‘opt out’ of that ‘service’. Finally, a law had to be passed by congress, to force these banks to give people a chance to opt out of being given the ‘privilege’ of overdrawing their accounts unknowingly and being charged $35 each time they did so.

I saw it when large investment houses bet against whole industries, countries and cities, making huge amounts of money for themselves as they helped drive millions of people and their families into insolvency and suffering. Then, when these same large banks and mortgage companies who had been reaping tremendous profits on the backs of these people for decades, suddenly found they had gone too far, bet too much and were bankrupt and insolvent, then promptly, over a single weekend, they were bailed out with trillions of dollars by the taxpayers of our nation so that they would not lose a single penny, all in the name of the American people, the very same people on whose backs they had made such huge profits and the very same people who were now losing their jobs, houses, cars and being thrown out onto the street to fend for themselves.

There is no need to be an economics professor to tell this is a misleading, lying, cheap, lowdown, dirty, bad thing; what used to be called a sin. I don’t care what financial theory you believe in, even a child can tell it stinks. It is morally corrupt and terribly wrong.

To ask most economists what is wrong with our financial system is like asking a person who is selling a product to tell you about alternatives to it.

An economist will assume that you are asking how to get the financial system up and running again. He will talk of increasing or decreasing taxes on the rich or the poor, regulating or not regulating banks, privatizing or not privatizing social security and so forth. But, he ignores the fact that our financial/economic system has been a disaster for millions of people for a long time. People were starving and malnourished in the United States and around the world for decades.  People were without health care. They were not able to go to work. They were losing their homes. Their families were suffering. They were not even able to pay for gas so that they could go and look for work. All this was happening before our recent crash. The only thing that has changed, is that what was happening to fewer is now happening to many more.

What is going on today has been happening all around the world for a long time. For the first time since the great depression, it is occurring on a large scale. Whole cities are going bankrupt, schoolteachers are being dismissed, firefighters and policemen are being let go. In addition to the poor and previously dispossessed, this crisis is affecting big banks, large corporations and a huge slice of the middle class. The scope of what is going on is huge and by no means over.

Our financial economic crisis is the late-time result of a process that has been going on for a long time. The recent financial meltdown was just a straw that broke the camels back. However, we must not forget the huge load that had been piled on that camel before the last straw. No single straw ever broke a camels back. The financial meltdown that reached a crisis in 2008 was not the cause. It was an effect. All along the way, amazingly, nearly every single economist did not see it coming. Most of them said that things had never been better. It should be obvious what ‘ball’ they had their eye on.

A Ball hidden in the Himalayas

I am presently living in a valley, pressed up against the Himalayan mountains in northern India. It is projected that the massive glaciers of the Himalayas that feed the 5 major rivers which nourish 1/5 of the worlds people with their flow- the Indus, Sutlej, Ganga, Yamuna and Brahmaputra, which support tens of millions of people on the Asian continent are estimated to be gone in less than a century. Without those glaciers, how will these rivers flow? Without these rivers, how will these people live? Right now, there is little sign of what is about to happen on the plains. In fact, some of these rivers have a greater flow than normal as a result of all the melting glaciers and all seems well and good. Unless the situation is more ‘deeply considered’, there is nothing to worry about. The ‘ball’ that these environmental scientists keep their eye on, is not immediately apparent. Just like that, the ‘ball’ that economists had to keep their eye on was not apparent either but they completely missed it. Why did they miss it? Because the gaze of the economists was fixed on the world of finance and money and everything they observed, seemed to be flowing in abundance. But, there was something going on which they completely missed. They were blind to the actual situation of our economy, which like the Himalayan Glaciers, had been in trouble, fading away and disappearing. There was a terrible problem going on before this crisis and it had been there for a long time.

Perhaps, economists are not the right people to ask about the economy. We need to ask saints and religious people. We need to ask the poor and the needy. We need to inquire of those who have devoted their whole lives to helping those in need. We need to ask the right people, in the right way and we need to ask them the right questions. The questions we ask will always and ultimately come down to what we believe in, what our values are, or, as the Army lawyer Joe Welch said to Senator Joe McCarthy, it will finally come down to a sense of ‘decency’.

Joseph McCarthy and a Sense of Decency

In the 1950‘s, Joe Welch was the special counsel and chief legal representative of the US Army, when they brought charges against Senator Joseph McCarthy on a technicality. They were using this technicality as a front; the Army was fighting back against McCarthy’s aggressive and for many, life destroying investigations, slanders and accusations based on trumped up, false and inflammatory charges of Communist sympathies and spying. The investigations had begun to look at Army personnel. The Army, proud of its recent role in WWII, grew incensed at McCarthy’s accusations.  All of this took place on television, in the first nationally televised congressional hearings in America.

On the 30th day of the hearings, Joe Welch demanded, standing in front of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, that Senator McCarthy produce a list, that very day, of the more than a hundred and twenty people that McCarthy claimed were in the Defense Department and were members of the Communist party or spies. When McCarthy, ignored his request and went on to accuse and revile a young lawyer on Welch’s law-firm as a communist sympathizer, Welch stopped him and replied with a famous outburst, "Until this moment, Senator, I think I never gauged your cruelty or recklessness...". When McCarthy resumed his attack, Welch cut him short: "Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator... You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"
The gallery erupted with applause and this marked the beginning of the end of Joseph McCarthy and the witch-hunting frenzy that he led. Welch had returned the discussion to what was actually going on underneath all the accusations and suggestions of Communist spying. This was not really about Communism or spying, it was a hyperventilating 20th century witch-hunt, led by a hate-crazed man.

I am reminded of Savonarola, the priest who created the ‘bonfire of the vanities’ in 1497 Florence.
 “They sent boys from door to door collecting items associated with moral laxity: mirrors, cosmetics, lewd pictures, pagan books, immoral sculptures (which he wanted to be replaced by statues of the saints and modest depictions of Biblical scenes, gaming tables, chess pieces, lutes and other musical instruments, fine dresses, women’s hats, and the works of immoral and ancient poets, and burnt them all in a large pile in the Piazza del Signoria of Florence Many fine Florentine Renaissance artworks were lost in Savonarola’s notorious bonfires — including paintings by Sandro Botticelli, which he is alleged to have thrown into the fires himself.”
Driven by religious idealism, hidden behind a crazed fundamentalism, Savonarola led a hysteria that confused art and beauty with sin and the devil. Even Botticelli, afraid of the passions of the mob that raged around him, publicly threw his own paintings into the fires. McCarthy played a similar role to Savonarola. He was a hateful, drunken man who masqueraded behind the role of an American patriot and idealist. He aroused a wave of fear and named the devil- communism. Like Botticelli, many people, when called before his senate committee and hearing the loud, condemnatory accusations against them, became scared and betrayed their own friends, throwing them into the fire to be prosecuted. It was a perfect storm of the lowest denominator in man.

Animals, Man and Morality
Animals don’t have morals. They do not weigh the right or wrong in a situation like a human being can. They do not ask for ‘mercy’. In my opening story of the crow and the cow, I was talking about animals and the way they act. The crow torturing the cow was not evil or wrong. We would not call a lion ‘cruel’ or ‘evil’ for killing a baby giraffe in front of its mother. But, we would call a human being cruel and evil for killing a human child in front of its mother and that is what is being done all over the world today; only the people doing it, have no face and their killing is done impersonally; by destroying the livelihood of others and underselling the traditional indigenous crops of whole peoples with subsidized foreign imports. It is done by stealing the natural resources of a third world country and making billions off of it, while leaving the waste of their pillage in the rivers, earth and bodies of their victims. When they destroy a people’s ability to make a living from their own land, they undermine a culture and all the family values within it. Families are left to suffer all their lives. Worst of all, it is done in the name of capitalism, free trade, progress and democracy.

The examples above occur in our modern day society and business. They are practices, which show human beings and corporations acting like animals, instinctually, without morality but with far greater ability to do harm than the other animals. They are but the smallest taste of what is going on- the moral violation of humanity on a grand scale, enabled by advances in technology that allow people to cheat, lie and steal in ways unheard of and largely unnoticed.

Within the last few years, there is often no other ‘person’ when a collection agency calls you. It is a recording and you are put on hold, if you wait, wanting to talk to a human operator, they have no interest in you and address you very much like that crow did to that cow. This is, of course, ‘understandable’.  The operator has taken a job from a company whose whole reason for existing is the blood and flesh of money. It is just the ‘rules’, the ‘way it is’ or ‘just business’. They do not care if you have had an accident or a medical emergency or lost your job. They are not members of your family or part of your community. They are working off a script and the purpose of their job is to get money.

In ancient Rome there was an institution of tax collectors, they were called-‘Publicans’. They were extremely wealthy persons, who after posting the highest bid in an auction held by the state, would get the right to collect the taxes for that year from the people. They used threats, brutality, evictions, seizures and torture to get what they wanted. The amount they could collect, over and above the amount they paid the state, was pure profit. They were after one thing, money! They would use any means to get it. This makes for great movies and stories because the abuse is so real and can be connected with actual people. Now, however, although the seizures and threats continue, things have changed, we are one step removed from the club and torture.

Technology and the Results of Human Distance


The distancing of the criminal from his victim and the persecutor from the persecuted, is a phenomenon of our modern age and a hallmark of technology. Technology allows us to do things ‘impersonally’, with farther distance and more remove than ever before. Now, we stand so far away that we no longer sense the effects of what we do and as a result, no longer evaluate things properly. We have insulated ourselves from what we are doing. We have only ‘ideas’ about the suffering we cause. We have lost ‘touch’ with reality. When this happens, the relationship between cause and effect becomes unclear and as a result, we become stupid and coarse. Our natural feeling relationships to each other are ‘lost in the distance’ and we become cruel. The slavemasters by their very nature will abuse their slaves. If money is the new form of slavery, slavery now needs the impersonal nature of business and money to exist.

For many, our economic system, before the crash, was difficult and a terrible struggle. In other parts of the world, whole countries and culture were condemned to poverty and crushing debt, with all that implies about a destroyed and difficult quality of life. Even in America, poverty and the eternal suffering of a minimum wage job was occurring.

In addition to the struggles with an unfair financial system, large corporations sought to exploit the masses. Drug and cigarette companies turn out products that physically harmed and killed many people. They knew that their products were harmful and even lethal, but they sold them anyway.

Health insurance companies refused to pay for claims after they had accepted money for years from the very same clients who now actually  needed to use the insurance they had been paying for. These things primarily affected the common people. This time around, in 2008, even the rich were affected.

Goldman Sachs, using their technologically enhanced ability to play both sides of the game, ripped off their rich clients: They praised certain investments (bundled packages of home mortgages) as very good, A-1, perfectly safe and sold them to their wealthy clients. Then, they secretly bet against them, taking huge positions, believing that the investments they had just sold would fail. When they did fail, billions were lost by investors while Goldman Sachs grew richer. This lying, outrageous greed for money, not only deprived the wealthy clients of Goldman Sachs, it deprived millions of people all over America and led to the financial meltdown of the whole world.

Matt Taibbi, in an article for Rolling Stone gave the now well-known name of the ‘Vampire Squid’ to Goldman Sachs. He wrote:

The first thing you need to know about Goldman Sachs is that it's everywhere. The world's most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

However, we must not underestimate what is going on. Although terrible and harmful and exquisitely described, this 'blood-sucking vampire' is but a single tentacle of an even greater world-wide vampire that preys on human beings and society. It does not want to kill its prey.  It only wants to live off of them. Like any predator, it just does not care about the feelings, human relations or society of its prey.

Think of a lion that has brought down a zebra on the African Plain and begun to eat while it is still alive. That lion is not concerned with any pain the zebra may be suffering. That lion would not be concerned with eating a baby zebra right in front of its mother. But, of course, how else could a lion live if it did not kill its prey?

But, Goldman Sachs and the system it represents is not a lion and does not need to harm people to live. This is what makes its actions terrible and ‘wrong’. These predators are human beings that have no concern for the suffering of the other people they prey upon or the havoc that is wrought upon others. These are people who can hear and understand the cries of people suffering, the ruin of families as they are cast out on the streets, the inability of people to provide for their health or that of their loved ones, all because some bondholder wants his pound of flesh.  

The rise of rapacious greed and insensitivity are signs that have always preceded the collapse of economies. It is always accompanied by a growing inequality, giving rise to a wealthy few with all the rest of the people increasingly poor. That is what is going on in America and the world today. This is what was missed by the economists, who looking only at Wall Street and the great amounts of money that were flowing there, did not notice that the masses of people, had been greatly oppressed, were shut off from the wealth of the world  and were drying up like the Himalayan glaciers.

Revolutions are dramatic changes in how the world works. Usually, they occur in terms of economics, politics and society, although they can take place in technology or medicine as well. In our present time, we are experiencing a revolution in finance and economics. The system is breaking down. We are having a revolution whether people realize it or not, and usually, as history has shown, most people do not recognize what is about to happen, until it already does. The French, Russian, Chinese and Cuban revolutions were preceded by economic distress on a wide scale. Most people did not think that a revolution was coming. Certainly not the rich, they were too busy enjoying their life. But, when it happened, everyone was surprised.

Our financial system has been created to protect and satisfy the insatiable cravings of the greedy, the powerful, the rich and of course, corporations (which are now considered ‘persons’ by the Supreme Court and treated as such in nearly all things but hanging for murder and other serious crimes). Our economy has shown itself to be unsustainable in its present form. Prior to the crash, everything looked good, the same way an evening looks good to someone high on cocaine. That ‘cocaine’ was wealth and money. If you weren’t sniffing it, it was just another night of struggle in a low paying, second, nighttime job, to meet a too high rent and neverendng bills of a life of a difficult life of poverty.

Greed and the Zero Sum Game

Greed is the insatiable desire and pursuit of wealth, status, and power.  It is a desire that can never be satisfied. It used to be called, ‘avarice’, and is one of the ‘seven deadly sins’. These particular sins were considered by the Catholic church to be at the root of all the others.

The medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas said of Greed: “ . . . it is a sin directly against one's neighbor, since one man cannot over-abound in external riches, without another man lacking them." Mahatma Gandhi said something similar, “The earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed.”

The game of business in America (and increasingly all over the world), is principled by greed and as played by the big companies and moguls of Wall Street- a ‘zero sum’ game. This means that if someone wins, someone else has to lose. There is no change in the total wealth in this type of game. Actually, the outcome of any game of greed, always equals zero or nothing. There is no new wealth created. Someone else loses so that you can win. The ‘wealth’ is simply moved from one player to another. Over the past 50 years, we have not just grown as a people, there has been the largest transfer of wealth from the middle class to the wealthy class in history.

Consider the game of Monopoly- there is only so much money and so much property available. If you own a piece of property and control it, then someone else does not. In fact, they are penalized every  time they land on your property. The game continues to be played until one person owns enough of the limited resources, that the others either go bankrupt or give up. It is a zero sum game. It is the game played by Wall Street and finance. It is the game of finance that is played on our world today

Malthus, Buckminster Fuller
Enough to Go Around

Before the middle part of the last century, regardless of whether one had enough money or not, there was not enough resources to go around in the world to allow everyone a life at a high standard of living. Since the time of Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) an Englishman who was the first economist to gather information from all over the world (Remember that the sun never set on the English Empire at that time), it was considered an established fact that there was not enough life support to go around for all mankind. Malthus noticed that while food supply increased arithmetically, population was increasing exponentially. Therefore, he reasoned, over time, there will simply not be enough for everybody[1]. The principles of his observation came to be known as the Malthusian Doctrine.

It was no small piece of information. It occasioned huge political decisions. If you were a real thinker, you had to take a stand on it. Karl Marx spent considerable time responding to Malthus’ arguments. Malthus was reviled by Marx, who blamed the poverty and suffering of the masses not on population growth, but on an unjust system[2].

The Malthusian Doctrine came to be associated with the imperialist actions of the Western powers and their attempts to subjugate and exploit the natural resources of the third world in Africa, Asia and Central and South America. They believed Malthus’ Doctrine to be true, and thinking that it was either us or them, the Western Imperialists exploited the less militarily sophisticated countries of the world.

The Malthusian Doctrine even provides the basic assumptions for those who play the zero-sum game of those who make money on money. Based on the Malthusian Doctrine, they justify the financial crimes of what they do and at which they are ‘winning’. They are getting what they want in a dog-eat-dog world, which they see in a Malthusian Light. For them, the masses are superfluous- there are too many of them and there is not enough to go around. The rich, feel entitled to take it for themselves.

However, there is a fundamental problem with this. Thomas Malthus was wrong. He did not take into account the changes that technology would bring about in the world. Let me address that next. . .

Buckminster Fuller, Ephemeralization
and the
Malthusian Doctrine

In 1976, I received a scholarship to spend two months with Buckminster Fuller at the World Game in Philadelphia. He had come up with this event as a counterpoint to the ‘War Games’ that were regularly held by the armed forces, in their attempts to refine their own strategy and actions regarding any war or conflict that might arise in the world. 

Fuller, instead of preparing for war, saw the World Game as an opportunity to consider how to make the world work for everyone. He thought the world could ‘work’, not on the basis of any idealistic point of view or feeling, but rather, based on the observed fact that there had been a great revolution on the face of the earth":

Because of technological advancement, the ability of mankind to provide every person on earth a quality of life better than the kings of old had passed a threshold sometime in the middle 1900’s. This principle he referred to as ‘ephemeralization’. This is the ever-increasing ability of technology to accomplish more and more using less and less materials and energy. For instance, what was accomplished by millions of tons of trans-Atlantic cable is now carried out much more efficiently by a ten pound geo-stationary satellite. Or, the first general-purpose electronic computer, ENIAC weighed thirty tons and took up half a basketball court. It used large amounts of power. The present day computing power of a ¼” square silicon chip is more capable, far faster and more energy efficient. All of this is 'ephemeralization.'

Fuller said that Malthus never took the principle of ephemeralization into account when he gathered his calculations relative to economics. he found in this the root idea that drove society to be selfish.

``I had found out that Malthus was the essence of how and why it had to be either you or me, and why there is selfishness," said Fuller. ``I thought the economists might be wrong; that it might not be a generalized law that there will always be inadequacy. It occurred to me that if we keep on doing more and more with less and less, we might someday do so much with so little that we can take care of everybody. . . it is now highly feasible to (provide for) everybody on earth at a higher standard of living than any have ever known. It no longer has to be you or me. Selfishness is unnecessary and henceforth unrationalizable as mandated by survival.”
-Buckminster Fuller

Because of this critical omission, Malthus, although accurate[3] at the time when he put forth his theory, is wrong in our modern day world. Nevertheless, political struggles and financial wars continue to be fought for dominance in a world, in which it is thought that there is not enough to go around. This is the principle on which people live their lives and governments shape their strategies. Fuller pointed out that since the Malthusian Doctrine was no longer true, there needed to be a 'revolution' in peoples understanding or world-view, as well as their actions.

The figures vary, but in our country today, it is estimated that 1% of the people control 43% of all the wealth and the top 10% of the people control 93% of all the wealth. These are the kinds of figures that led to the Chinese revolution, the Russian Revolution, the French Revolution and the Cuban Revolution. There is tremendous inequality in America and all over the world.

Ancient cultures like the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Jews and many others, noticed an inevitable result in their economic systems- They always ended up in gross inequality. As the economies played out over time, these civilizations noticed an increase of indebtedness amongst most of the people and the owning of more and more wealth by the fewer. The Egyptians and Babylonians believed that such inequality would eventually destroy their society and remove the reason that the mass of people would fight for. . . they had no stake or possessions. It was for this reason that regular occasions occurred in which all debts were forgiven and released. 

For the Egyptians and the Babylonians, such release came at the whim or installation of a new ruler. For the Jews it was a commandment of their God-Yahweh and part of the seven-year Sabbath and the grand Sabbath or the Jubilee. The release of debts and the resetting of the economic balance of the society are practices that come to us from the ancient cultures of the world. Without the forgiveness of debts, society would become more and more determined by luck. fate and the principle of greed.

Not all people think greed is a sin. Ivan Boesky, an early Wall Street ‘personality’ who went to jail for his role in unethical trade deals based on insider information, famously defended greed in a May 18, 1986, commencement address at the UC Berkeley's School of Business Administration. He said, "Greed is all right, by the way. I want you to know that. I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself"[4]

It is interesting to notice that the referential value system with which he judged greed did not extend beyond himself- ”You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself". It was completely self-referential. At that time, Ivan Boesky lived in a very small emotional world. He was certainly not concerned with the poor. This was the same Ivan Boesky who once said "What good is the moon if you can't buy or sell it?" His primary concern, like so many today, was making money and lots of it.[5]
We should not go to a Used Car lot and ask a used car salesman about buying a new car- he is not in the business of selling  them. He is not the person to ask. We cannot ask most doctors about what is good for our health- they are in the business of treating symptoms of disease with drugs and operations. They are not in the business of creating health. According to their own studies, they (doctors) are the third leading cause of death in the United States after cancer and heart disease[6]. We cannot ask a hedge fund manager or an economist about what is best for our economy- they are in the business of making money from money, not contributing to the economic health of a people. What they do has nothing to do with producing goods or services. They are betting on horses and making money. Whether that horse wins or loses, it does not matter, they still make their money. These professions are invested in something different from what we naively used to think they were about and increasingly, they are doing something antithetical to life itself.

This is not a financial Crisis
It is a moral one

First of all, we need to recognize that we are not having economic crisis, we are having a financial one.  No sudden problem or lack occurred in the economy of America, Greece, Italy, Ireland or Spain. The things needed for everyday life; the food, grains, water, shelter, milk, olives, cheese and meat are all still there and still in abundance. This is a financial crisis. It means that even though we have enough food, many simply do not have the money to pay for it. Whether they are willing to work or not[7], they do not have the money. We have decided that people must have money to buy or use such things. This is the critical point around which which the forgiveness of debts and charity occurred in ancient cultures. It is the point at which revolution happened in more modern times.
An economy has to do with the tools and materials of living. Finance has to do with numbers, interest, loans, debt and repayment. Because of failures in our financial system, our economy has been affected, but, and this is most important, a breakdown in the economy is not the necessary result of a financial crisis. It is not necessary that people be put out on the streets because they do not have a thing called ‘money’.
It depends on how the ‘game’ is set up and what relationship is held to be necessary between finance and economy. I have mentioned the traditional 'release of debts' that existed in some of the ancient cultures of the world. These ancient cultures forgave the debts and reset their financial game because they wanted to preserve their economy. They forgave debts when the financial factors of inequality became harmful to the economy or the everyday life of their people. They put the economy first, not finance.
The fact that a financial crisis has been allowed to adversely affect our economy, shows that a moral judgment has already been made. We are simply unconscious of it. We may not think that it is a moral judgment, but that is exactly what it actually is. We are thinking and saying: ‘In spite of there being enough to go around, if you do not have enough money, you cannot get access to it.’ This moral judgment lies beneath the surface of our financial/economic crisis. It was considered a sinful disposition and action by Jesus.
The roots of this judgment go back to the Malthusian Doctrine and the zero-sum game that has been played throughout the world for ages. The unstated argument of this Doctrine is, since there is not enough to go around, we had better take it ourselves and prevent others from getting it. After all, it is either us or them.
Money has been given precedence over the quality of life or the economy. The right of a multinational corporation to make a huge profit is given precedence over the rights of a poor person to merely survive. We have decided to put finance first, protect greed, sacrifice our economy and abandon our ability to, take care of everyone.


To use a Biblical term, we are practicing what in ancient times was called an ‘abomination’- that which is exceptionally loathsome, hypocritical, lying, greedy, hateful, sinful, wicked and vile. This is not new. It has always gone on. All over the world, in every religion, most of the social criticism of over the past 2000 years has been aimed at various ‘abominations’.
In the first part of the 21st century, however, it seems something has happened in America, we have begun to take ‘abomination’ for granted. Technology has allowed us to distance ourselves so far from the hurt we inflict on others that we don’t even notice that we are committing an abomination upon them. We have moved so far away from each other that we no longer can find a particular individual to blame. And, since we find no one to blame, we are confused. One of the results is that our moral outrage has gone to sleep and we have lowered our expectations. It has all just become the way we do business.

Just as we have living creatures killed for our food without seeing the terror, fear, blood, gore or the transition from a vulnerable animal that looked us in the eyes to dead meat, we can also blow things up in Afghanistan without fighting our way all the way there like Alexander the Great. We can remotely control a Predator Drone over Pakistan, look on a video screen, confirm a target and push a button. That missile will hit whatever its laser guided system was aimed at within a couple inches. But, we do not feel a thing. Technology allows us to know things at a distance and to be insulated from what we do to what we know. This is why I consider technology to be the main difference between our modern world and the ancient one.

Technology allows us to reach out and touch millions of people with knowledge or spam, education or entertainment,  real violence or fake, a helpful application or a computer virus, pleasant advertisements for harmful food or information on how to eat better, false ‘facts’ as well as real ones. Madison Avenue is all about advertising. Advertising has become confused with the news and the selling of an idea for political purposes is the same as the selling of any product and money greases the wheels.

To exploit others has become a ‘business model’ for much of our economy. Many corporations take advantage of their own workers, plundering the poor and the vulnerable, keeping their employees poor while publicly giving a few millions to charity so that they appear to care. This way, they are left alone to rake in billions on the backs of those who are suffering.

I read in the papers recently about a coalition of for-profit colleges that invested millions of dollars in lobbyists for the sole purpose of keeping federal oversight out of what has become the big money making private enterprises of education. Why would they do that in the first place? Of course, this also happens in pharmaceuticals, health care and medical insurance when they became publicly traded organizations. By doing so, they declare themselves purposed to profit first and foremost. That sounds logical and rational and sort of OK. But really, they are declaring their dedication to ‘blood and flesh’ so people who invest in them can be assured of optimum returns on their money. They guarantee they will be there, pecking at the side of that cow and will do their best to make sure that cow never gets up off the ground for very long. Their concern for the health and happiness of that cow does not extend beyond keeping it well enough to be plundered for years to come.

Damn them! This is a moral  outrage, especially in the field of health and medical care! How can we trust a health care system that evaluates everything by how much money it will make for its investors? And, what kind of system is Western medicine? According to the AMA (American Medical Association) the third leading cause of death in America today, after #1-Heart Disease and #2-Cancer, is #3- Iatrogenic Disease (‘Iatrogenic’, means treatment by a doctor). What that says, is hidden just under the surface of this great world of Western medicine is a horrendous fact that not many of us know- it is the third leading cause of death in America. Imagine how many people are suffering and do not die!

There is a sickness spread over our land like a plague, there are thousands of crows pecking at millions of cows and particularly those who are weak, wounded or vulnerable. This sickness has spread insidiously, like a flood. People close their eyes, thinking they are safe within their houses, but the waters rise and before we know it we have drowned in our beds.

I do not see a circumstance that would cause people across America to rise up in moral outrage about what is going on. I am not sure what the ‘moral character’ of the mass of American people is any longer. I do not think such a thing as ‘decency’ matters anymore. It’s hard to even have a conversation about it. Most are too busy being entertained.

A large part of all this is that we have been misled on a grand scale. More and more people in power, presidential candidates, politicians, commentators, news stations, simply make things up about something or someone and then talk about what they have just made up as if it was true . . . Now, thanks to the technology of mass communication, millions of people can hear and are affected by the false information and then they also join in, talking about and protesting things that do not even exist. As Thoreau wrote in Walden, “One dog barks at his shadow and a hundred bark at his sound”. People have become dogs! What can you do in such a situation when you are dealing with millions of deluded people? What can you do when people are no longer even debating facts? Much of our political debate now is about something that is unreal. It is not a fictional debate. It is raving about fictions.

Our very news has become corrupted. One incredible example of this is a case involving Fox News that went all the way to the Florida Appellate Court. Essentially, the court ruled that it is not against the law for a news organization to purposefully lie and distort the news[8]. Fox News admitted to doing just that. The case was not about whether what they had reported was true. They agreed they had purposefully lied and obfuscated a story about Monsanto, suppressing the real facts and changing the reporting of two of their reporters about the harmful effects of one of Monsanto’s products (rgBH) used in milk and fed to an unsuspecting public. However, this was not what the case centered on. The case was about whether it was legal to purposefully lie as a news reporting organization. Believe it or not, FOX won! The courts said it was a First Amendment right for FOX NEWS to lie. The courts said it was OK for a news organization that sells itself as such and has a huge viewership in America, to just make stuff up, leave stuff out, change the facts and report known lies as if they were ‘news’.

These are unique times. Our largest buildings are dedicated to the ‘Gods’ of Finance and business[9]. These temples represent the ideals and organizations devoted first and foremost to making money, not, to creating a better world for people to live in. They might use nice sounding happy, benign words, ideas and slogans for selling their product and making sales. But, in increasing numbers of cases, their advertisements are false or misleading and just the opposite of what they try to put across, is true. Many really are making and selling extremely harmful and even lethal products. For example: Tobacco companies, in ads and press releases, from the mouths of doctors and young people,  for years, touted their products as healthy and even good for your health, until they were exposed as going against their own research of how harmful cigarette smoking was and they wre ordered by congress to cease such advertising and pay large penalties. For some reason, they were allowed to stay in business. Now, they have simply shifted much of their sales and advertising overseas, poisoning and killing people in other parts of the world. We, as the American people, have allowed them to do this.

Monsanto has invented and patented ‘Terminator seeds, which will not sprout again after their first harvest, they are 'terminated.' This takes away the farmers ability to grow their own seeds and makes them perpetually dependent on Monsanto for all future seeds.

Vandana Shiva, the Indian ecologist and physicist wrote: “A half-century after the Bengal famine (where, during British colonial rule, most of the food grown was exported for trade and for the UK, instead of feeding hungry local people), a new and clever system has been put in place which is once again making the theft of the harvest a right and the keeping of the harvest a crime. Hidden behind complex free-trade treaties are innovative ways to steal nature's harvest, the harvest of the seed, and the harvest of nutrition[10].
Monsanto sees Terminator Seeds as a business idea, a way to make money. However, they are doing so by taking away the spontaneous bounty of nature from farmers. Farmers all over the world see it as a criminal and destructive, wresting away a time honored tradition and the control of their own lives.
But, Monsanto is not only evil, it is aggressive. They are like the British, who  in 1839,  literally,  at the point of a gun, forced the Chinese to consume the British supply of Opium which the English had grown in Bihar and Benares in their stolen precious 'possession'- India. The British wanted to trade the opium to the Chinese to pay for their own export of tea from China. The British forced their opium into China in spite of strong objection to opium as harmful by the Chinese government[11]. The Chinese did not want their people to be ruined by an addiction to opium. The British East India Company didn't care. They simply wanted to make money by trading what they got almost for free- opium, to the Chinese. Finally, the British sent their armed forces to attack Chinese seaports and after two wars, appropriately called the ‘Opium Wars’, they seized Hong Kong and won the right to force drugs on the Chinese people. This began what was called the ‘Century of Humiliation’ for the Chinese[12].
Monsanto does not have an army with guns, but they have an army of lawyers. They sue many farmers throughout the world whose crops were involuntarily pollinated by Monsanto’s genetically altered crops for infringing on their (Monsanto’s) patents[13]. These are people who did not want and do not want Monsanto pollinating their crops and producing Terminator plants. In this way, Monsanto seeks to force their monopoly on the Terminator seeds down the throats of those (and they were nearly everyone) who do not want it. Many farmers were ruined financially by Monsanto's lawsuit, unable to defend themselves against the aggressive armies of lawyers representing one of the largest corporations in the world.

Poultry farms raise chicken in horrendously overcrowded, barbaric conditions and then lobby against inspection or rules by any government agency[14]. The list goes on and on and on. Our society is sick with hypocrisy, lying, greed and lack of caring for people, families, health, animals and our environment. It has been going on for a long time. It is a cancer that is spreading around the world.

Our financial crisis seems to be about money. But, we are not suffering from a lack of something called money. We are sufffering because people are being deprived of abundant resources. People are being kept from food even when it is available and will spoil if not eaten. People are kept from housing, even if it has to sit vacant. This is a moral crisis demonstrating the way we act and feel towards all of life. It is somthing to be ashamed of. A moral response or change is exactly what needs to occur. A new morality must form the foundation of any real and effective healing of our world.

Legislate Morality

People say that you cannot legislate morality. I do not think that is true. You cannot change people’s feelings about things. But, you can change their actions. In Southeast Asia, the penalty for drug smuggling is death and in Saudi Arabia, the penalty for adultery is also death. Certainly, these things occur in those countries, but not with the frequency that happens in the West. If we legislated a death penalty for the possession of marijuana, I bet anything that the occurrence of such possession would dramatically decrease. Personally, I do not think that adultery or marijuana possession should be punished in this way. I am simply using this as an example. 

However, I do think that the crimes of Monsanto, the crimes of drug companies and the tobacco companies and in general, any people or companies that knowingly and purposefully hurt other people  with their actions, can and should have harsh penalties attached and enforced. Sadly, however, this does not occur as justice has become so corrupted. Monsanto should be sued for pollinating farmers fields with their (Monsanto) pollen. Things are backwards.

Even with the legislation of morality, things will not change unless the heart is changed. There is always some way or another to get around the spirit of any law. To discriminate between one type of sin and another, we need to see with the eyes of the heart. .

President Bill Clinton was nearly impeached for lying about a sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky. President George Bush got off scott-free for lying about weapons of mass destruction, invading another sovereign country-Iraq, deposing and killing it’s leader, Saddam Hussein, signing off on the torture and abuse of many people, being responsible for the destruction of the infrastructure of the country of Iraq, the loss of life of millions of Iraqis, the deaths of thousands of US servicemen and the needless spending of hundreds of billions of dollars.  Think of all the suffering and pain. Think of all the destruction of families and children. Bush never apologized for any of it. I ask you, who was guilty of a greater crime? Bush or Clinton? Which crime should of been prosecuted? Who should have been punished?

I am not saying it is all right to lie. But, there is a need to discriminate between types of lies and reasons to lie. Sometimes, even a lie may serve a greater truth. I am saying that if we actually persecute those who do truly harmful things, only then, we may be able to answer the question of whether morality can be legislated. I agree with those who say we cannot change people’s feelings, but, we can and do and have changed people’s actions by laws. Action, over time will change feelings. Lack of action will do so as well. We must know the heart to be able to tell the differences.

There is no Crisis of Wealth in America Today

There is no crisis of real wealth in America today. This crisis concerns money, not what is needed by people and society to live. Amazingly, nothing has changed from one day to the next when it comes to what is necessary for people to live. There is more than enough housing, education and health care to go around. We have more than enough food to feed the world. But, apparently, there is not enough to pay for all of it. 

Currently, 10% of the world’s people control or own 93% of the wealth. If the materials for living, were distributed with charity and care as if everybody mattered, if, in our own country, we actually followed the United States Constitution and everyone was given the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the good news is that there is more than enough to go around.

This is a financial crisis (not economic) and a moral one. There is a widespread perversion of morality and ‘decency’, the exact same thing that Joe Welch accused Senator McCarthy of. This perversion shows itself in both finance and economics, but, these are only the results of this lack of morality. They are the leaves on a tree that is sick. They are the symptoms of the sickness. They are not the root of the problem. The problem is at the root of the tree, not the leaves. It is in the soil in which those roots draw sustenance. It is in the heart of every one of us.

If we want to change the world, political and economic changes are necessary. But, they are not enough. The heart of every one of us must change. How many times have we seen the idealistic proponents of a revolution become the new oppressors? Almost every time it happens that way. If we want to change the world we must start with those closest to us. We must start with our own intimates, our own family and our own community.

I live in India right now. Every day when I go out on the street there are beggars of all sorts, each one seems to need money desperately. The scale of poverty I see is vast and overwhelming. How can I help them all? I am faced with a daily choice to shut myself off from the pleas of individuals, or to give every one something and remain engaged with everyone. I have found no satisfactory philosophy to deal with it. India represents the dead ends of my idealism. There is simply too much here, coming at you and all at once. 

But, here is the test: Can I keep my heart open? Maybe, not with that person, because, I do not feel right about him, but, maybe I am wrong. Or, how about this person? They ask for so little and it will make such a huge difference. It is the same for all of us, whether we live in India or not. This is where the ideals of our heart are played out. This is where the world changes; Not just with the election of this or that politician or party, not just with a change in financial laws or a more equitable economic distribution to the poor. These are not the roots either. They are the branches and leaves of a feeling heart. With the heart we cannot make philosophy, for we are never sure. How can we be, when we are vulnerable and feel love?

Perhaps, this is why 'true', experiential religion is so important. Because religion, or the the eternal subject of religion-God, holds the soil that the roots of our individual life feed on- the great, infinite, unknowable, mystery in which we exist, floating on a green blue ball of earth and water in a vast galaxy of light and space. It spreads out beyond our comprehension. Our connection to this mystery, our connection to God is at the root of whether we feel nourished. Do we feel connected to the source and mystery of life or not? This ‘connection’ is our first and primary wealth. Those who have fallen from the breast of this connection, necessarily feel malnourished and unfed. As a result of their disconnection, they become dangerous and unloving. They feel there is not enough to go around because they have ceased to love, themselves. It is us, all of us, who have become a danger unto ourselves.

Over two thousand years ago, Jesus said,  “Lay not up for yourself treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:19)

This financial crisis has revealed not only miscalculations, but  sin. We have wrongly defined our wealth. We have placed our treasure in things and possessions, money and gold. We have misplaced our heart. We have become crows pecking at the side of a cow.

"Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." It is the only place to start and it is where we will finish.

Peter Malakoff
Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, India
Old Manali, Himachal Pradesh
e-mail: petermalakoff@gmail.com

[1] "The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man". –Thomas Malthus
[2] Marx reviled Malthus as a “miserable parson” guilty of spreading a “vile and infamous doctrine, this repulsive blasphemy against man and nature.” –Encyclopedia Brittanica
[3] Of course there was class oppression as Marx argues, but, even so, without the technology, it was not possible to accomplish the high standard of living for every man.
[4]The strangest thing, when we come to look back, will be not just that Ivan Boesky could say that at a business-school graduation, but that it was greeted with laughter and applause.” –Newsweek Magazine writing about the talk
[5] After serving time in prison, Boesky enrolled in Rabbinical Studies and became involved in projects to help the homeless
[6] According to the American Medical Association (AMA), iatrogenic disease or death is the third leading cause of death in America today after cancer and heart disease. Iatrogenic means disease caused by medical treatment.
[7] Minimum Wage Stuck as Poverty Climbs- http://www.accuracy.org/release/empty-anniversary-minimum-wage-stuck-as-poverty-climbs/
[8] In 1997, it was alleged a local FOX affiliate cooperated with Monsanto in suppressing an investigative report on the health risks associated with Monsanto's bovine growth hormone product, Posilac.[54] Posilac, a synthetic hormone used to increase milk production in cows, while banned in many first-world countries, is used in the United States. Steve Wilson and Jane Akre disagreed with the inclusion of material in the story they felt was slanted or misleading. Both reporters were eventually fired. Wilson and Akre alleged the firing was for retaliation, while the FOX affiliate contended they were fired for insubordination. The reporters then sued Fox in Florida state court, claiming they could not be fired for refusing to do something that they believed to be illegal. In 2000, a Florida jury found that while there was no evidence FOX had bowed to any pressure from Monsanto to alter the story, Akre, but not Wilson, was unjustly fired. The decision in Akre's favor was then overturned in 2003 by an appeals court because the whistleblower's statute under which the original case had been filed did not actually apply to the case. The court held that Fox News had no obligation to report truthfully, and the First Amendment protects their right to lie.[56] Therefore, the court held that firing a reporter for refusing to lie is not actionable under the whistleblower statute. –Quoted from a review of the feature length documentary film The Corporation
[9] Joseph Campbell said that you can tell the dominant theme of any culture by its tallest building when you come into town. It used to be religious temples. Then, it became political buildings in the West. Now, it is towers or temples of money and finance.
[10] Vandana Shiva, Stolen Harvest (South End Press, 2000), p.6
[11]Opium is harmful. Opium is a poison, undermining our good customs and morality. Its use is prohibited by law. Now the commoner, Yang, dares to bring it into the Forbidden City. Indeed, he flouts the law! However, recently the purchasers, eaters, and consumers of opium have become numerous. Deceitful merchants buy and sell it to gain profit. The customs house at the Ch'ung-wen Gate was originally set up to supervise the collection of imports (it had no responsibility with regard to opium smuggling). If we confine our search for opium to the seaports, we fear the search will not be sufficiently thorough. We should also order the general commandant of the police and police- censors at the five gates to prohibit opium and to search for it at all gates. If they capture any violators, they should immediately punish them and should destroy the opium at once. As to Kwangtung and Fukien, the provinces from which opium comes, we order their viceroys, governors, and superintendents of the maritime customs to conduct a thorough search for opium, and cut off its supply. They should in no ways consider this order a dead letter and allow opium to be smuggled out!”- Fu, Lo-shu (1966). A Documentary Chronicle of Sino-Western relations, Volume 1. p. 380.
[12] “In the 18th century, despite ardent protest from the Qing government, British traders began importing opium from India. The introduction of opium into China was caused by Britain's need to send something back to China in return for their highly consumed Chinese tea. Britain first tried exporting European clothes, but the Chinese preferred their own silk. With India and its poppy fields under Britain's command, the logical option to fix the imbalance of trade was to start trading Opium.
Because of its strong mass appeal and addictive nature, opium was an effective solution to the British trade problem. An instant consumer market for the drug was secured by the addiction of thousands of Chinese, and the flow of silver was reversed. Recognizing the growing number of addicts, the Yongzheng Emperor prohibited the sale and smoking of opium in 1729, and only allowed a small amount of opium imports for medicinal purposes.” –Wikipedia on the Opium Wars
The genetically modified seeds - also called "terminator seeds" - are seeds that are essentially sterile after a harvest so that farmers can't reuse the seeds.

Reuters says Mosanto is known for being aggressive in pursuing farmers who illegally use such seeds. Some farmers claim that they have no desire to use the Mosanto seeds but simply the wind blew the seeds over from adjacent farms.
According to Reuters " Monsanto filed 144 patent-infringement lawsuits against farmers between 1997 and April 2010, and won judgments against farmers it said made use of its seed without paying required royalties. Many U.S. farmers have said their fields were inadvertently contaminated with Monsanto's biotech seeds without their knowledge. The issue has been a topic of concern for not only farmers, but also companies that clean and handle seed."
[14] Factory-Farmed Chickens: their Difficult Lives and Deaths- http://advocacy.britannica.com/blog/advocacy/2007/05/the-difficult-lives-and-deaths-of-factory-farmed-chickens/

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