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12/28/10

There's Only So Much West.

The Lincoln Highway Seen
by Kass and Eric Mencher

We in the "New World" have a handicap in that our entire history has been one of exploiting natural resources. "Go west young man..." is embroidered on our society's genes in orange thread.

The reason one could (and was expected to) "lift themselves up by the bootstraps" was the existence of vast tracts of virgin territory containing timber and mineral ores and ancient fertile soils and of course coal and oil and gas - all there for the taking, just a short ride off toward the sunset.

Of course we're currently burning through those gifts like the lottery winnings they are, but we've convinced ourselves it is us that is special, when it reality it was only blind luck that put us in the right place at the right time and the right color and (usually) the right sex. In other words, we were 'Born on third base and thought we'd hit a triple' – to mix metaphors.

As we subdivided and privatized and populated and mined the commons, "growth" was inevitable and so a "growth economy" made sense. The role of government was small since there was a huge surplus to go around and that always makes governing easier. Until, that is, the early period of industrialization when the production of "capital" wealth outran the ability (and will) of government to protect the populace from the rapidly concentrating power wielded by monopolists.

Teddy Roosevelt and the "Trust Busters" interrupted the march of the industrialists for a time but by the "Roaring Twenties" the wealthy overclass once again had money to burn - and gamble. They inflated another speculative bubble in commodities and the stock market that even the little guy eventually tried to ride. Of course when the little guy gets on board you better know it's time to get off - think real estate in 2005.

During the depression, income taxes on the rich were raised and the ensuing fifty years saw the most uniformly prosperous time in US history. Everyone prospered, the owners made money and the workers shared in the success. Unfortunately the political tides of the last 40 years have shifted and the citizenry duped into believing if you let wealth concentrate, eventually some will "trickle down" - contrary to past experience. As a result, wealth is concentrated more than at any time since the great crash of '29, the "rights" of corporations are judged to be protected by the Constitution and more and more, control of the very essentials of survival; food, shelter, heat and even water are being privatized, purchased and controlled by corporations simply because that's all that's the only place left for them to spend their vast cash reserves.

Our whole system is based on the government loaning money into the economy at interest. That interest has to come from somewhere and the somewhere is "growth". The problem of course is there can be no growth without the availability of cheap raw materials, the gold-nuggets-as-big-as-your-fist-just-waiting-to-be-picked-up and of course most other minerals, the big stands of timber, tall-grass prairies, endless fisheries, easy fossil fuels... are all gone or going fast.

So here we are at the end of another speculative bubble blown because too much money was in the hands of too few people with no adult around to keep them from betting it instead of investing.  Except this time IS different: all the "A better life for our grandkids" is gone - leveraged/strip mined/clear-cut/sub-soiled/off-shored/free-traded/trash-compacted and land filled.


There is no "west" left... it's all private property now...

NEAR THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY TERMINUS, SAN FRANCISCO
by Kass and Eric Mencher

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well said, sir. (Came across your blog from ChrisMartenson.com where you had posted a link.

Poet

Anonymous said...

we stole the land pops

pshcpa said...

While I don't categorically disagree with your observations about the aggregation of wealth and the polarization of the haves and have nots, I do worry that some impressionable readers may be lead to believe that the U.S. taxed it's way out of the depression, which we know is not true. Rather, it was the production demand for military products and the synergy created by that demand that jolted the country back into prosperity. An effective progressive tax system taxes the highest income earners at a rate that doesn't disincentivize (I think I just made that word up)them from continuing to produce. That coupled with the value of the government safety net will drive the effectiveness of a tax system. In other words, if one makes $100K and the federal government takes $60K away in taxes, yet the value of government support is say, $40K; a lot of people would say "forget the stress of working for the man, I'll just on the dole and relax." Then, to subsidize their income they go into the underground economy and complement their government support so that they are essentially in the same economic position without the stress. The preceding example was obviously hypothetical. Just a thought.

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